Growing up was a painful process for me. It was quite possibly more grievous than what anyone else could have went through. You kind of get used to daily emotional and physical torture, but I never pulled a gun on anyone. I could have. After all, the Army does not hand out sharpshooter badges like they do with ammunition and highly dangerous explosives. Those tortuous and torturous days flew by though, and now the only thing that is eruptive in my life is my IBS.
I remember the good old days of console televisions where you used to have to loathe what was on the tube enough to actually get up off of the olive-green sofa, and walk your butt over to the t.v. knob to turn the channel. We were too poor to afford cable, so the pickings were slim to say the least! I became a fan of The Price is Right when I was home sick from school. I never watched Bob Barker again after we could afford cable when I was in my mid-teens. Food was, well, food. It’s amazing how many ways you can make macaroni and hamburger on a tight budget. Throw in some stewed tomatoes, and you have homemade goulash. Yum. There were plenty of days where we could not even afford the luxury of meat, and macaroni with tomatoes was the “new” goulash. There’s a dish I will not touch, unless I am poorer than I already am, and I’m starving to death! Let’s head back to the t.v. for a bit.
Television in my house consisted of having the choice of watching what mom was watching, because my dad was busy hauling products around the country in a semi truck to put goulash on the table. I wonder how many times I can incorporate the word ‘goulash’ into a story? The thought is making me nauseous! Anyway, it was wholesome t.v. with “Little House on the Prairie,” “Leave It To Beaver,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and “The Waltons,” of course. I like to revisit “Little House on the Prairie” from time to time, but I cannot get over the goodness of a handful of shows. Does anyone live such a seemingly Godly life like Charles Ingalls and his family did? What about Ward and June Cleaver? Surely my mom was trying to instill some old-fashioned family values in me. It is a miracle that I survived “the good, old days,” and I have to thank Atari for that!
Kids these days use two hands and all of their fingers, plus a few of their friends’ fingers in order to play the complex games out today. Games like Call of Duty Black Ops II must require the use of your feet as well! I liked the Atari console for its simplicity. It sort of reminded me of goulash though, but it had a lot of meat in it! Ponging a digital ball back and forth off of a wall, shooting imaginary ducks, killing Space Invaders, helping that poor, green frog cross that L.A. freeway, and graduating to Pac-Man was part of my free time duties to help save the planet. It was enough to give me a bad case of Asteroids by the time I grew up! Or is that hemorrhoids? Then came Nintendo, and the rest is history.
I must digress for a moment. Christmas when I was growing up actually involved my mom making multiple batches of popcorn for my sister and I to thread with a fine needle, and a string so thin it made a bikini look like boxer shorts! I was so anxious to get up Christmas morning to open up my presents that I felt like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story.” That movie was not made until after I grew out of Christmas, but you get the point! Christmas was almost ruined one year, like burned hamburger in macaroni and stewed tomatoes, when the family cat, Socks, decided to climb the fake Christmas tree. We woke up to broken bulbs, what was left of the popcorn Socks did not eat, and a half-eaten fresh loaf of bread. Socks was an outdoor cat, and he got worms. I know it sounds gross, but he was treated for it, and that cat lived two months shy of twenty years! Speaking of worms.
I will never forget the infamous bus ride home from school when the bullies liked to play a game of truth or dare minus the truth! The earthworm cookies were actually not bad at all. I would like to think of it as a nutritious little snack before I arrived home to eat a real snack of fruit or cheese and crackers. Then it was play time!
Before my friend Atari came along I had to make do with what I had received for Christmas or hand-me-downs. I was a t-shirt and jeans kind of kid after I outgrew my train conductor bib overalls. Shoes during summer were only for a car ride to the grocery store where I carefully eyed my dad’s meat picking skills for later use. He used to eyeball those packages of beef and pork like a western gun fight scene with the zoom-in shots of the gunfighters ready for a kill. The meat picking and shooting came in handy! Back to the sandbox now.
I had one way in the back yard. My mom watched me like a hawk through the kitchen window, and if I got thirsty I could come inside for a nice, cold glass of milk or juice fresh out of the olive-green refrigerator. Everything was either yellow from smoking or olive-green back in the 1970’s. I could play all day in that sandbox. Detached from reality, I would make war with my plastic, green army men and my Matchbox, real metal cars. Good luck finding either one of those in the stores these days! The cars are now plastic, and I think the green army men are in that Call of Duty game. I eventually outgrew my sandbox, and my hole-filled bib overalls mysteriously disappeared in the wash like the rest of my clothes did. I wised up, and I watched mom do laundry enough times, so by the time I was in my early to mid teens I could do my wash. Those holy clothes were not blessed for life though, and when I left the house to go out and play, my plaid, flannel shirts that were not meant to be see-through would vanish into thin air! They were not in the garbage can. Did that woman have a vendetta with my cherished clothes? I think she either swallowed them whole like a giant python, or she had one of those vaporizer guns like the little martian had in the Bugs Bunny cartoons!
I am lost now. Lost without clothes. Oh, the sandbox! The sand was removed, and it was ceremoniously dumped into the gravel driveway. All was not lost! What better way to construct a dam for the rainwater to flow around and drown my army men than building strategically placed walls of sand and gravel. I was growing up, and I did not even know it. Soon, I mastered the art of dam building in my area in the back of a long driveway where mom could still look out that kitchen sink window to spy on my secret military skills. Then, it was off to bigger tasks like trying to shore up the flood of water rushing along the side of the curb. I can tell you with great certainty that the only way to accomplish this monumental feat is to just give up, and start looking for something else to do.
Like Sheriff Andy Taylor and his son Opie, another t.v. staple, I used to fish in my spare time when I was not busy doing homework using a book, a number two pencil and too many notebooks to count! There were no computers back in my childhood. At least no computers that were not the size of a school bus! Ah, those lazy, summer days are still relaxing, and there is nothing more exhilarating than hooking a nice size catfish or northern. I could, and still do, sit out there all day, and come home with a few keepers to clean and eat. I am pretty sure that I had the best farmer’s tan on the block. Nobody could out-fish me…except dad.
Dad was larger than life. I could try to beat him at anything, but I would always walk away in frustration and defeat. It did not matter what the game was. Whether it was an impossible game of chess or billiards, my dad would somehow manage to stymie my genius plan of David vs. Goliath. Coincidentally, his name is actually David, but he was Goliath as well. I felt worse than Frogger did when my joystick somehow malfunctioned, and the little guy went to froggy Heaven! I am not sexist either. Had the name of the game been Froggett, then I would have used ‘she’ instead of ‘he.’ My dad was gone for one to two weeks at a time hauling beer and produce around the country. He became a successful pool shark while he was at it.
One clear, cold winter day when I was not busy building the world’s largest snow fort in the back yard, and piling up snowballs for my perimeter defense, my dad and I went into the haunted basement for a game of pool. It really was and still is a frequently visited ghostly underground porthole where the dead like to visit, and they play some pretty freaky tricks on you when you are brave enough to venture down those creepy steps! I studied my dad’s every move like I was prepping for a school test with that number two pencil that was always a requirement. Why wouldn’t a number 1 or 3 work? What was so special about number two? Whoever invented those pencils was a sick person! Playing with kids’ minds like that when we had to study for tests, and worry about whether or not we had enough number two pencils and erasers! I bet the same person who invented the number two pencil also invented goulash! What a mean-spirited soul he or she must have been!
I willingly walked down the creeky basement steps into the main room where the old slate pool table sat. It still sits in the same place today! I practiced playing pool, until I was half way through high school when dad’s fateful day came. It did not matter that there was not enough physical space on two sides of the pool table to shoot straight without having to raise the cue-stick about three-quarters up the wood laminate wall to get off a shot. The stare-down commenced. The room felt like the meat section at the grocery store, and my dad was eyeing me up like a chunk of beef roast to check to see if the marbling was sufficient. I was the marbling, but I had my marbles in order, and I was prepared to fight until that eight ball sank in my favor. I wanted out of that dungeon once and for all to claim victory on behalf of all of the spirits that were wandering around or that my dad may have been sipping on! There was no going back. I could not find my lucky plaid, flannel shirt, so I had to make do with a newer model. It would become my new lucky charm, since the old one ceased to exist again. I started off colder than my frozen hands and feet after a wicked game of winter football during a blizzard with 30 below wind chills! Oh, this was not pretty, and I had to forget about that C that I got in speech class, because I was more introverted than a submarine implosion. I rebounded faster than Superman did in my favorite cartoon the Super Friends! Surely, I could defeat David AND Goliath! At five feet and 11 inches, my dad was about five feet taller than me. I could not use a stone and a slingshot to defeat this behemoth. I needed to use Superman’s or Wonder Woman’s telekinetic powers! My confidence grew with every shot that I sank into the thick, plastic pocket. I swear to God that my dad was growing too like Apache Chief did when he appeared out of thin air to Kracken-like proportion to rescue my core Super Friends who had been thwarted by that evil Lex Luthor! It came down to the last shot. Our eyeballs met like two wild west gunfighters in a noon shootout contest. The sweat was now running off of my palms and creating a pool of water beneath me. I inhaled what could be my last breath as I sunk the eight ball into the pocket, and this master of manipulation defeated the giant! As I watched him sink into the pool of sweat that was now several inches deep, I cheered in all of the glory like I had just won an Olympic medal for a game of pool in a pool!
Alas, I can retire to my bedroom upstairs, and watch my 13 inch black and white t.v. which was two inches higher than I was. It sure felt that way when I had to reach up high on top of my clothes dresser that was devoid of any holy, ripped, torn or see-through clothing. Maybe it was time for a celebratory game of Atari! How far can they really take technology these days I wondered then and now? Cell phones replaced that old phone that I had to stand at attention to in order to talk to my friends. No more wild cords that wrap around everything in sight while you stretch the phone to barely reach the other side of your bedroom door just to get an ounce of privacy! I can have my television record “Little House on the Prairie” for me now. No need to sit through 45 minutes of commercials for 15 minutes of a show! What could possibly be created next? An eternal orgasm machine, so I can feel happy 24 hours a day instead of eating chocolate every 15 minutes and looking like a beluga whale? That reminds me. It’s spring, so now would be a most opportune time to dust off my exercise bike that even tells me how many times a minute my heart is beating, and my regular bike like I used to ride before getting my driver’s license. But that is a whole different story that unfortunately involves goulash!
By John E Loeffler – Fountain City, Wisconsin