Saturday, November 21, 2009

orange chair pictures

My old, orange chair began its life as a different color, and so long ago I no longer have even the slightest recollection of its original print or shade, except that it was definitely not orange (the orange cover arrived by mail, from Sears). It was stuffed with foam rubber, the usual treatment for lower-priced furniture in the 50's and 60's.

It's anybody's guess the first day I discovered the small wooden table leaf, or that it would fit exactly between its arms, but from then forward the chair became my personal throne and drawing bench.

Squished into that orange polyester cockpit is where the best pieces of my mind met paper. Two-man submarines figured heavily in that mix, as did dark and elaborately dangerous funhouses. From here I also mapped out my future (if not highly unlikely) adventures, as well as an plethora of "scientific" notions, their topics ranging from spacecraft to motorcycles to a breed of deadly advanced lasers fashioned from common light blubs. Among others. These were lovingly rendered in pencil, and later by felt tip pen or colored marker, as my budget would allow.

Although my chair also served me as something of a small, privare bubble, it could not completely isolate me from the household events that swirled in shallow orbit. It was a decade in which we packed up and relocated on a pretty regular basis, a new boyfriend or husband entering or exiting with each move. Next we'd moved to a farm in Ferndale, a tattered horse trail of a town near the Canadian border. Here Till re-married for a first time, and then moved to Bellingham when she divorced Don just a year later. We moved back to Sedro-Woolley when she had began dating again, eventually marrying Burt. In another year we moved out yet again - on this occasion just across town - when the new husband took to gambling his paycheck away on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, while my orange chair was no match for bucket seats in James Bonds' Aston Martin, the 007 spy car continued to be one my most extensive and pet projects. This was a vehicle whose arsenal I judged to include far too few machine guns, not to mention ground-to-air missiles, and booby traps and countless other secret weapons still in development by both me and govenmental agencies unknown.

Then came the blueprints for my future Adult Home, a design born by equal parts Playboy magazine and Edgar Allen Poe. A five story A-Frame, it was both a vision only a boy could adore and even believe even possible. Unencumbered by the faintest grasp of architecture (or laws of gravity), my drawings called for the ultimate playhouse, replete with a swimming pool penthouse, sliding bookcases and gothic stained-glass windows that stretched from the ground floor to the astro observatory five stories above. My palace to be.

Despite all of my full-color illustrations, real life was pale. But no matter when or where we moved, my archive of drawings would follow. Eventually this came to be a huge floppy-eared grocery box, which though kicked and clobbered with each subsequent move, protected my orange picture collection like a behemoth cardboard vault.


As had become the norm, our next move arrived again on the cusp of marital dissolution. On this occasion we'd be moving on a Saturday, just across town.

Saturday arrived but, I had privately declared to take this Moving Day off -- my butt hit my bicycle seat and I was gone for the day, who knows where. When I returned later it was nearly dark, with all the packing nearly entirely finished, it seemed. As I rolled my cruiser into a silent driveway, I spotted my mother in the back yard out by the burn barrel, the two of us avoiding both eyes or answers.

It was only weeks later, having settled into our new address on Jameson Street, and all boxes unpacked, that I realized what had actually taken place on that particular Saturday, and in the burn barrel specifically.

So many dreams, up in smoke.

Forty years has shed little wisdom on the wound. Clearly, while there was much we didn't share that long Saturday, my mother had moved to impart a notion that she had long and deeply embraced. As viewed from my own twelve-year-old haze, that notion still remained faint, but was no less impressive.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Bruce, down the street

Until I was almost seven, Bruce lived just down the street. At that time there were precious few people in my world who supplied as many "firsts" as did Bruce, this the domain of my very early years, when I had first awakened to the unwritten life, such as it was. Firsts were aplenty: The climb to his bedroom was the first stairway I ever explored, and his mother, Rosemary (another first - I'd never met a Rosemary or knew any other child who addressed his parents by their first name) was also the first woman, besides my own mother, I ever kissed goodnight. The first brown bat I saw (not on television) came flapping out of Bruce's brick chimney, and together we built our first coast car, in his empty garage. To a boy under six, this is a landmark list.

His home was a white, two story affair, and next to it grew a tall, peculiar apple tree. Plain by most standards, it had the distinction of being the first apple tree I ever recall seeing, and grew the first apple I ever tasted: green and sour - the way I still prefer them. Far more significantly at the time, anchored up at its shoulders with a pound or so of rusted nails, stood the first tree house I would ever lay eyes on. It was not a complex or fanciful structure, even by a five-year-old's estimation - hardly more than a platform pieced together from a few scraps of plywood, cedar fencing and 2x4s - but the very idea of such a thing was in itself a revelation. With its frail rope ladder dangling from the trap door entrance, I confess that any tree fort I have imagined or seen since is still compared to it in one way or another.

Bruce himself was, in the parlance of that era, a tow head. That meaning his five year old head was a mop of silken hair and as white as fresh meringue. If I picture him then, it is beneath that white mop, with him stretched out in a lawn chair in front of his house selling Kool-Aid for a penny a cup. The other image would be him lined up in front of my sandbox with the other neighborhood hombres - but this is a photograph more than an actual memory, for I am there, too.

In those days Jameson Street, unlike many of the other side streets in Woolley, was paved, although it would not boast an actual curb for ten more years. Asphalt was still a decade away at that time, so cement was it, flat, plain and gray.

On the best summer days I could squat low over that street and pull the heated black tar out from between the cement slabs like it was hot bubble gum, only better. It was a delight indulged in without a lick of shame or single ounce of presumption, only because it was there and impulse demanded me to do so, that simple.

As for Bruce, we picked up our friendship some years later, when I had finally moved back again to Woolley, my Mom having re-married not once, but twice more in the process. The day I re-entered Junior High, Bruce would be waiting for me, although being one year younger we never actually shared what was then called a "home room".

Surprisingly enough, at school Bruce was bestowed a robust popularity usually reserved for the athletic or handsome - neither being a rank he could honestly qualify for. But he did possess a certain spirit, it being a singular and unique quality I am still at a loss to fully explain or grasp, except to describe it as being a quick and unusually sarcastic wit, well beyond his years. This, and much more, certified Bruce at a very early age as being both extremely bright and a child whose precocious, mischievous nature had little or no respect for the law, including those of gravity, chemistry and common sense.

I must stop to observe that while the details of these ancient events continue to fade, their colors persist, and vividly so. As does Bruce.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

the haunting

For one week during my thirteenth summer, my hometown shrank to the size of my sister's single-bedroom rental as, alone on her white vinyl couch, I drilled into her battered copy of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. While my niece and nephew played, ate, or slept, I was passed the sordid family secrets of Hugh Crain, and his legacy of evil, insane obsession, now made ghostly. With gaining apprehension, I wandered the vast halls of Hill House alongside poor Eleanor, and like her, labored to pretend that the real world no longer existed outside of our respective walls. While she avoided a smothering, manipulative mother, my hope was to squelch the celebration of Loggerodeo (one word), a fevered state of timberland clamor that descended (and still does) upon my hometown and its people once every year, on or around the Fourth of July, complete with parade.

Fact is, my town of Sedro-Woolley (two words) had one other standing claim to fame at that time, Loggerodeo being the lesser and the considerably less infamous of the two. It was also home to Northern State, a sprawling state facility for the mentally ill located just outside town, an institution which at that time employed nearly everyone that the local timber industry did not. So great was the hospital's reputation that its name had eventually become synonymous with Sedro-Woolley itself, the two freely exchanged for one another in discussionss of current events exclusive, but not limited to, regional gossip and goings-on. A junior high student at the time, I shared the universal, communal cringe at the out-of-town mention of Northern State, for fear that I should also be stamped with its indelible reputation.

More secretly (and key to the true grip which Hugh Crain held over me), was yet another relationship I shared with the book: a decade earlier, my own father had been committed to Northern State, as a patient.

I read on. My young, rural mind might have been too blunt an instrument to appreciate the wry lesbian overtures flittering between our sweet Eleanor and the cruel, beautiful Theo, but the big headline, the message of familial craziness and generational codgery rang true: there are some houses, and the people who live in them, who truly are haunted. By madness.

Eight or ten blocks away, the
Skagit County Sheriff's Posse led the annual Fourth of July parade down the center of main street, sparing no shit, horse or otherwise.

This entry was originally published as Field-Tested on .