BELOW THE WATER LINE
As it came down to being, I just let it be :
when Barbara Fehring moved to Inman Avenue
the whole block went crazy - the boys anyway.
I never knew what it was about, but she somehow
did bring on a frenzy. It lasted a year or two, and
then, as happens, everything faded. Onset of puberty,
who knows. Baseballs to brickbats. While it lasted,
however, it was a real pointillist fantasy of boys
playing up to her, trying each to outdo the other
in some silly youth-boy display of value and worth.
I mean to say, really, what is the value of being the
'best' in baseball card flipping, or the best in the
street-wiffle-ball tournaments we'd play for her
attention. Male dominance? To prove our value
as species propagator? A masked idea of young
boys' sexual competitions? Already? Her mother
was in on the joke. I remember her mother, one cold,
wintry morning, standing at the front door looking
out as I passed by and calling in to her daughter -
'Barbara, your boyfriend's passing!' in her game
tone of voice. At the same moment, while walking,
I somehow hit a deadly patch of early-morning ice
and flipped head-over-heels right over, slapping
down on the street ice with a vengeance. Joke's on
me, I've flipped for you! Yep, flipped head over heels
for that girl. Which brings up another point - there was
am early time too when we all collected 'Crazy Cards'.
Had to be about 1958, '59. Just like baseball cards, they
came, for 7 cents, in a waxy package, 5 or 6 cards and a
square slab of flat bubble gum. Each card was a joke,
with an illustration - something like really bad
vaudeville shtick. One I remember is a few guys
sitting around a tavern table, or a restaurant, and the
waiter is shown tripping as the drinks fly all over these
guys, soaking them. For the caption, one guy is saying,
'The drinks are on me!' It was that sort of humor. And
there were also something called, 'Hollywood Cards'.
We got those too, same deal, gum and cards and waxy
wrapper. I can't remember the year or any cards, but
they each had like a Hollywood Studio picture or a
movie-action still of the 'star' or 'starlet', and a nicely
printed name, while on the back was a short bio and
a list of movie credits and role histories and such. I
remember the big thing that year was Eddie Fischer
cards and Elizabeth Taylor cards, the two having
just run off with each other on the set of a film, or
something - and then she again ran off with Richard
Burton, or something. I forget, but those names and
cards were big deals. Don't ask me why. The boredom
of captive-nation children, perhaps. We used to play
marbles, but I truly hated that - they meant nothing
to me and I almost detested all those stupid angle shots
and the bumping of another's marbles and the different
valuation put on the various types of marbles. Cat's eyes.
Puries. Clearies. Milkies. Whatever; what a dumb, useless
set-up Reptilian in the way such 'valuing by quality' of
things usually is. Snarky, competitive, reptilian thought.
We flipped baseball cards against the school walls too -
also almost endlessly. I forget how it worked. Closest
to the wall won, unless it was bested by 'leanies', which
I think was a card that tee-pee'd up onto the wall, as if
leaning there. The craziest stuff. Slow-witted penny
commerce by boys learning their Trader Joe skills. In
my own later years, the coolest thing I ever heard was
my own eight or nine year old son, on the porch, trading
baseball cards with the neighbor boy, as hearing them
announce, as their ground rules, meaning as if to say
you could only trade for guys on the same team, not
for mixed-trades with cards of guys from other teams
(?) - anyway, as they announced it, these two boys
proclaimed : 'Angel for Angel, Twin for Twin' - those
were baseball teams at that time. I thought that phrase
There were a few real loser kids around - no names, but
the most fearsome thing projected to us was 'reform school.'
Whatever it was then, it seemed like the one place not one
of us would ever wish to be sent but which possibility -
we were made to believe - was always present, always.
In much the same way as the omni-presence of God,
who knew all and saw everything, the idea of getting
picked up for mis-deeds and being sent there was used to
keep us in line. most certainly. It wasn't until later in life,
funny enough, that I began knowing of biker dudes who'd
been their ('Middlesex County Youth Correctional
Institute', formally), and it wasn't so much just for 'youth'
anymore. Guys in their twenties were sent there too - to
await trial, answer for stabbings or gun-shots and robberies.
Still scary after all these years, as Paul Simon would say.
All that stuff was far into the future from the little days of
my guys - we'd report to each other the next morning on
that episode of 'The Untoucahables' we'd seen the night
before. Robert Stack as Eliot Ness, collecting and getting
all those really nasty Chicago hoodlums (for whom we
secretly rooted?). I recall the great thrill of having a Clark
Place friend named Robert Moran, Bobbie, to us, and then,
soon after seeing an episode of The Untouchables about
Chicago gangster Bugs Moran, (Bugsy Moran) - him
forevermore being referred to as Bugs, by us. The crime
wave heats up the sordid streets of Inman and Clark!