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Green Side Up

    That was the joke, when I worked for a lawn crew one summer at Leisure Village. (We called it Seizure Village.) Besides cutting grass, we installed sod for new lawns, and to relieve the tedium we would shout, "Green side up!"  to each other, as we rolled out the sod.
    We were also in charge of maintaining existing lawns, and the way we zipped around on those big Gravely tractor-mowers, we would sometimes give ourselves more work installing fresh sod, because in an instant, you could scalp a nice patch of grass right down to the gravel. We didn't mean to do it, but we would laugh like idiots if we did. However, the homeowners would not see the humor; they were neurotic about their lawns, and competitive with their neighbors about the slightest wisp of crabgrass or heaven forbid a dandelion. They would get furious if we left the least little irregularity, let alone a huge black patch of dirt where grass used to be.
    So, of course if the front end of one of these big mowing machines, where the exposed edges of the massive knives whirled just inches behind the open cowl, if this machine were to crash into a prize rose bush in full bloom, completely shattering and mulching the trunk and spreading shredded roses everywhere, this would no doubt cause some dismay to the property owner.
    But that is exactly what happened, and here is how, and the way I narrowly avoided getting seriously maimed. My friend John Brady was driving the big Gravely that day, and towing the sweeper behind him. We had to leave the lawn looking like an immaculate green carpet, so naturally we had to sweep up the unsightly clippings left by our mowers. That day I was operating the trimmer, just an ordinary gasoline push mower, to trim around the bushes.
    In the middle of the lawn of this one house, there was a garden which contained the magnificent rosebush in bloom; the pride and joy of the resident, as we had been warned. I was trimming the bushes next to this garden, and now there were fresh clippings on a section of the lawn where Brady had already mowed and swept. As he came around the house for his next pass, I motioned with hand signals, over the roar of the tractor, that he should make one more pass through here, so his sweeper could clean up my fresh clippings. Brady didn't understand what I meant and motioned to me that he had already mowed there, and he continued on his path around the outside of the garden. As he approached I kept signaling: "No, this way, this way- go through here."
    At the last second, too late, he panicked and heaved the big machine over, to try to go the way I was motioning. Unfortunately, his maneuver swung the machine directly towards me, and in that split-second I leaped up and sideways. I'm not exaggerating to say that the huge cutting maw of the machine chopped past where my feet had just been, while I was still in the air. In any case, there was a loud rending crash, the roar of the machine was suddenly choked off, and I looked back to see the tractor hanging at a forty-five degree angle on top of the wrecked rosebush, and Brady hanging over the handlebars amidst a swirling dust cloud. My impression was that Brady's eyes were actually rolling around and around like in a cartoon. In any case, he had a most unusual shattered look, worse even than the rosebush; his panting mouth hung slackly open, his eyes were staring and he looked demented. Having just narrowly escaped getting my feet chopped off, I probably had an odd look myself, but all I could think of was how funny Brady looked hunched over the ruin, and I began to laugh uncontrollably.
    As I doubled up in my fit of laughter, Brady continued to stare blankly right through me, completely in shock; but gradually his eyes focused, and finally a grin spread across his face. We had just averted what could have been a much more serious disaster, and presently, he too was laughing uproariously. So there we were, cracked up like our wits were astray, as our supervisor came around the corner to find out what all the commotion was about. He froze for a moment at what he saw; his icy look taking in the situation. This quickly put a chill upon our hilarity.
    The only thing he said was, "Get the hell out of here before Parker sees you." Parker was the big boss. So we slunk away quickly, to occupy ourselves somewhere else. Our long-suffering supervisor presumably made some story to Parker, and Parker presumably made some sort of restitution to the homeowner. What it was, we never found out, nor did we ever ask.
    Amazingly enough, Brady and I weren't fired, but I don't think we shouted "Green side up!" so much, for a while.

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Itching Powder- a very improbable mistake

     Who put itching powder on their principal's seat when they were in grade school? Just me?
     Well, the fact is, I would never have done it on purpose.
     In our town, there was a little corner store called The Spot, which sold much more interesting novelty items than you can get today. By saving my milk money for two days, I could take the two nickels and buy a tin of cigarette loads. These were little slivers of wood, covered in a white powder (which was highly toxic lead azide, as I found out years later). It did say on the tin, Do Not Put in Mouth, but it didn't mention why, or that the powder was poisonous just to get on your fingers, which it easily did. Or, that it wouldn't be so good for your victim either, when he inhaled the exploding gasses.
    However, what we did know, is that the loads worked really well. You would insert one into the end of a cigarette, and when the unsuspecting smoker applied the match, the load would explode with a ringing crack, shattering the end of the cigarette. I only tried this on my mother once; the shredded bits of tobacco and paper were still fluttering in the air when she rounded on me; she was very free with the back end of a hairbrush for lesser pranks than this, but it was (almost) worth it this one time.
     Another item that could be purchased at The Spot, besides whoopee cushions of course, was itching powder. I have no idea what this material was made of; probably asbestos, or shredded fiberglass. In the instructions on the package, the powder was recommended to be dropped down someone's shirt. Boy, didn't we have fun in those days?
    Now, the principal of our school, Mr. Stouter, was a kindly, balding man who always had a smile for us children when he saw us in the hall. He seemed to always be on our side, whatever might happen.
    For instance, one time Mr. Stouter was called upon by my second grade teacher to reprimand me. The teacher, Miss Skidmore, was a crabby, cross-grained old lady who was always finding something to lose her patience over, and this morning she hauled me down to the office to present my latest crime before the principal.
     Here is what I had done: after the morning's recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, and during the Lord's Prayer, when our heads were bowed and eyes closed, I had been attempting to point with my finger at my girlfriend Carol a few rows away.
    However, what I was not expecting to see when I opened my eyes, was the glowering, outraged face of Miss Skidmore standing right in front of me. She had observed my peculiar gesture (as a matter of fact, my finger was pointing at her), and had interpreted it as some devilish sort of blasphemy.
    "Let us see what Mr. Stouter has to say about this!" she intoned ominously, taking me roughly by the ear. With my face burning with shame and terror, she marched me down to the office.
    When we were standing before the Presence, she commanded, "Tell Mr. Stouter what you were doing!"
    I told him exactly what I had done, and his face took on a look of serious concern, tinged with bewilderment. To my secret relief, I could see that he didn't share Miss Skidmore's high degree of indignation over my behavior, but it was also obvious that he had to support her for the sake of discipline. So he did his best to give me a speech; telling me I must never do such a thing again, etc., and then he dismissed me back to class. He and I understood each other better than my teacher ever suspected.
    So, considering my liking and respect for Mr. Stouter, one would assume that I would never do such a thing as mischievous as putting itching powder on his chair. And I certainly wouldn't have, but it happened anyway.
    It was in the following year, third grade. There was a certain kid in my class who had the unfortunate gift of being the one who always gets picked on by the class brats. So naturally, he's the one I picked on, to test a bag of itching powder that I had recently acquired. I had no idea if it worked; I certainly wasn't going to test it on myself.
    So, before class one day, I sprinkled a liberal amount of the itching powder on the chair of my classmate Eric, and I sat in my own seat to watch and wait. Unfortunately, of all days, this was the day that Eric did not show up for school, and his chair remained vacant. Then, about 15 minutes after class started, our teacher Miss Lane announced that Mr. Stouter would be visiting our class for awhile, and we were all to be on our best behavior while he was here.
    Presently Mr Stouter arrived, beamed his smile of greeting upon the class, and of all confounded bad luck, he chose Eric's desk to sit at, among the several vacant ones in the back of the room.
    In helpless dread, I watched as his posterior settled into the anointed seat. After a short while, he began to shift uneasily in the chair, and his expression became somewhat preoccupied. OK, so the stuff seems to work, but this was not good. I could hardly bear to look at him, between guilt, fear and remorse; mostly fear.  I did manage a few covert glances, and it was obvious that he was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, trying not to twitch.
    But being the deep old file that I am, I gave no hint that I was aware of anything unusual going on. Miss Lane was perhaps a bit surprised when Mr. Stouter's visit ended up being shorter than she had expected; however, he soon rose from his seat, gave us a brief smile, and briskly took his leave.
    All of us had noticed that Mr. Stouter hadn't said much on this special occasion, which people found puzzling, even though it did seem that he had approved of our general conduct. In any case, Miss Lane never found any reason to find fault with my good behavior, on this special day.

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I Don't Do B and E's -chasing down a midnight burglar

         I once made a man cry. He was a big tough guy, a punk, and he was on a crime spree. At first glance, he was not the sort you could picture breaking down and blubbering like a baby. 
         I was in my thirties at the time, living in the city, and I spotted this man out my window at about 2:00 in the morning. He was moving like a ghost in the shadows between the buildings. Burglaries were common around where we lived; as a matter of fact, our house had been burglarized just the week before. Fortunately, that job had been interrupted in the very act, by one of our housemates returning home late at night, and scaring off the intruder. We had found all my tools piled in boxes by the back door, ready to go.
         You can imagine what I felt seeing that: "Sure, take whatever you want; it's all free!"  I was working as a cabinetmaker at the time, and these tools were my livelihood. Plus, I had been collecting tools since I was a boy, and this was a very personal violation to me.
         So, just a week after this event, I saw a suspicious character sneaking between the houses across the street at two in the morning, and I became furious; my heart instantly began pounding with adrenaline.  I was wearing only shorts, a T-shirt and slippers, but I had no time even to grab a jacket. I slipped silently out the front door into the cold darkness, in pursuit of the pale figure which had slipped out of sight around the corner.
         I followed him down the block, keeping within the shadows myself, as I watched him darting into alleys and inspecting locked windows. I had no thought except to keep him in sight, and maybe to dash back to my house to call the cops if  I saw him enter a building.  
         This was the situation as we reached the end of the street, and he crossed the brightly lit but deserted intersection. I saw him crouch down and examine the lock of a bicycle which was chained to a lamppost. I had no way to stay concealed at this point if I still wanted to follow him, and without really thinking about what I was doing, I strode across the street right towards him and said, "Nice bike."
         As I approached him he stood up and fixed me with an intense and venomous look of hatred. He seemed suddenly to tower over me, his eyes an ugly red and his body tense like a coiled snake. The first thing he said was, "If you called the cops on me, I'm going to beat the **** out of you while they watch."
         I started talking fast. I told him to relax; I didn't call the cops, but I couldn't let him do what I saw him doing. He kept calling me "you little toad" and telling me how stupid I was and how little I understood my danger. I told him to stop calling me "little toad"; I told him I understood what I was doing, and that I was just trying to stop a crime, because this was my neighborhood.
         We went back and forth in this way for a while. We were both still quite heated, although the dangerous intensity had relaxed a little. I wanted to get through to him somehow, and I began to spin a little yarn. I didn't want him to know where I lived, so I didn't tell him that we had been broken into just last week. So I made up a story, telling him I was an auto mechanic. I told him my shop had been broken into, and that all my equipment had been stolen. I said I was now completely busted; I worked hard all my life and now I can't even pay my rent. It was the best I could come up with on the spur of the moment.
        "How do you feel about that?" I asked the man. 
         "I don't give a **** about that", was the man's response." It was your fault for leaving the door unlocked." 
         "I didn't leave the door unlocked,"  I said.  "The guy broke the door in."
          "I don't do B and E's" the man told me.  I told him it doesn't matter if you do breaking and entering, you're still a thief and you're hurting innocent people. Doesn't that matter at all to you? 
          It didn't matter to him. Nothing seemed to matter to him. I was running out of things to say, when the man suddenly got quite emotional and blurted out, "I don't care about anyone but myself. Myself, and my mother."
         So I asked him, "Well then, what would you do if you came home someday and you find that your mother has been hurt? Some punk knocked her down, cut her purse and ran away with it. All her money gone, and she got hurt when she fell down. How would you feel about that?"
         "I would kill the **** who did it.  I would kill him."  he told me passionately, the red light burning in his eyes again.
         "No you wouldn't,"  I told him. "The thing is, you never find the guy. By the time you find your mother hurt, it's already three hours since she was attacked, and you never find the guy who did it. Now, how do you feel?  How do you feel, knowing that there are people out there who don't care about you or anything, as long as they get what they want?"
         It was at this point that the man started crying. He just literally broke down in great heaving sobs, telling me he would be good some day, he was just too angry, he was so sorry but he would be good some day. 
         All of a sudden, reaction set in with me as well. I started shivering. I looked up and realized it was getting  light out. The man was sobbing and calling out after me,  but there was nothing more I could do. I was freezing there in my shorts in the cold light of dawn, and I ran home.

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Laundry Bag / Pipe Bomb -unusual adventures of a 14-year old

    Can you picture a 14 year old boy getting stopped by the police, for suspicious behavior? What might he have been doing?
    The boy had been riding his bike one-handed down a main road, with a large canvas sack perched on his shoulder. This was an ordinary routine for the boy, and so he was quite surprised when a cruiser pulled him over with its lights flashing.
    The interruption - inconvenient - became amusing when the boy dumped out the contents of the sack, at the insistence of the officer. This revealed nothing more than piles of soiled socks, T-shirts, underpants, and the like.
   "I told you it was just my laundry," the boy was telling the now bewildered cop.
    The boy himself found nothing unusual in carrying his sack of laundry down to the local laundromat, for he was used to being a bit out of step with other boys his age, and I know this because the boy was myself.  My mother was who knows where at the time, possibly off on one of her weekend jaunts with her acting troupe or perhaps just working late at her hat check job in the local night club.
    I  got used to not seeing my mom around, a lot of the time.  Starting back when I was about twelve, I can remember my brother and I finding a note and some money on the kitchen table, and taking our bikes down to the food store and coming back with TV dinners and ice cream pops. It was all just routine to us.
    It could lead to problems though; I once lost a friend due to my unusual circumstances, through a frustrating misunderstanding. I had met another student when I was a freshman in high school, and we hung around that day. We had a lot to talk about: music, guitars, visions of grandeur. He asked me for my phone number so we could get together after school.  When I informed him sheepishly that we didn't have a phone, he found it so unbelievable that, in short, he didn't believe me. We had just met; he had no idea that my mother had a tendency to run up a large phone bill, and then be unable to pay, so that our phone service would be shut off. This happened periodically, and we were sometimes without the phone for extended periods of time.
    I tried to explain it but he thought I was trying to trick him or fool him; his feelings were hurt and he was suspicious of me from then on. We drifted apart and never became friends. The thought still rankles me. 
    Probably most boys feel at some time or other that they have no one that they can tell their problems to. In my case, I developed some unusual leisure time activities, such as making large firecrackers, and pipe bombs. I used to set off explosions in a vacant lot near my house late at night, just to hide in the woods and watch all the lights in the houses go on, up and down the street. I just wanted people to know I was there, even if they didn't know who I was.  It sounds kind of stupid to say it now, but I meant no harm.
    Now, picture a boy getting stopped by the police, carrying, not a bag of laundry this time, but a thick chunk of iron pipe with a long section of red fuse sticking out the end. This time I was 15 years old, walking down the street with my friend Dave, in about the same place where the laundry incident happened.  There was a large vacant gravel pit behind the the shopping center where I did my laundry, and that's where we were heading, Dave and I. We had not a care in the world, just joy of our newest pipe bomb and anticipation of the huge boom it was going to make when we got it out to the gravel pit.
    Now, the cops in my town at that time during the early 60's were actually pretty suspicious. It was a time of national unrest and local crime, and I was not unused to being stopped and questioned. Sometimes it just happened when I was riding my bike late at night. Sometimes it was just because I looked like a hippie and they wanted to find drugs. But I never took it personally, and I never got busted for anything.
    David, on the other hand, had a real grudge against the cops. For instance, one time we stopped to investigate a local disturbance where a man was raving and yelling, and it turns out he had been sniffing glue and was acting threatening. Dave and I were watching from some way off, having stopped our bikes by the road, and we got approached by two cops. Of all weird things, they searched Dave and confiscated his pocketknife, and he ended up never getting it back. They hardly looked at me. Stuff like that was always happening to Dave, and he was mad at all cops.
    Me, I didn't mind 'em. Even when I was carrying a large explosive device, it never occurred to me to worry. 
     On this occasion, Dave said, "Len, could you please stick that thing up your sleeve? What'll you say about it if the cops stop us this time?  'Oh, nothing, officer. Just an ol'  bomb.' " 
           Well, Dave was right, there.  It couldn't hurt anything to stick it up the sleeve of my coat, so I did, and we had no trouble. We didn't get stopped at all, and we had a lovely time setting off the bomb, back in the gravel pit. It shook the ground with a profound thumping boom, accompanied by a plaintive whining hum of shards of iron spinning away into the distance. I thought, "I bet they heard that one!"
    Unusual experience, perhaps, in the life of a young boy, but all just routine to me.

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    I got voted "Did Most To the School" by my high school senior class, with a corresponding picture in the yearbook. Toms River High School, class of '69.
    This title was awarded to me in part because of a prank I had pulled, in which I had poured a quart of bubble bath into the courtyard fountain. I can't remember what gave me the idea to do this, but I bought a large bottle of bubble bath, poured it all into a wide-mouth jar (to ensure a quick deployment when the time came), and I carried the jar to school under my coat. Ducking out of lunch period early, I dashed to my locker to get the jar, then I contrived to walk briskly through the school's outdoor courtyard when no one else was there, dumping the scented goop into the gurgling basin of the fountain.
    In a short time, the fountain was foaming up beautifully, and when classes changed after the next period, there was a minor riot outside as students frolicked and threw the billowing foam at each other. Due to these unplanned revels in the fine spring sunshine, many students ended up being late for next period's classes. Not me, though. Although I did manage to be "passing through" after the following period, and I noticed sadly that the foam seemed to be slumping a bit. Even so, the event created something of a buzz that day.
    I had confided in some of my friends, and somehow word had spread to those who shouldn't have known. There was an Earth Science teacher, Mr. Smith, who had designed and built the fountain as a project with one of his classes, and it was he who had been lovingly maintaining the fountain. By some means on this day, Mr. Smith was alerted to the identity of the culprit in this prank. So during the last period of the day, Mr. Smith came storming into my class, in front of my astonished teacher and classmates, and hauled me down to the office, there to be judged and sentenced by our stern principal Mr. Donald.
    My [fitting] punishment ended up being that I had to stay after school, and bail out the fountain with a paper cup.
    This I did, under the baleful glare of Mr. Smith, carrying each cupful of suds a long walk out to the woods behind the school. Eventually, he relented and brought me buckets, mops, squeegees and a hose, to do a proper workmanlike job of the cleanup.

    So when graduation time came on, I got the nod for the distinction of "did most to the school", according to the vote of the students. My lovely confederate in the yearbook photo had nothing to do with it. Her name was Patti, and she never gave me any specific reason for why she got voted to share our title, just that she was "sometimes rowdy". The set up in the photo was my idea; I made the "detonator" out of a shoebox, painted black. Not quite visible in the photo, the cable is going under the door, which bears the title, "John Donald, Principal". The old bulldog had a good sense of humor.
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Road Band

A reminiscence from earlier days-

    The big Indian lunged at me, with a sudden wild swipe which would certainly have laid me flat like a busted reed, if it had connected. I am hardly built for such swipes, but fortunately I am built for speed, and I twisted backwards and away as the maddened lurch missed me by a whisker. As is usual in such cases with me, I then broke into hysterical, adrenaline-fueled laughter, which did nothing to soothe the savage breast of my antagonist. He fairly roared, and hurled himself after me, but his game was fled and he knew it; I was too quick for him. After a halfhearted lumbering attempt to catch me, he gave it up; his baleful glare being the worst damage he was able to do.
     Still grinning like an ape, but keeping out of the hostile perimeter, I resumed carrying the heavy amps and other band equipment off the bar stage, and out to our truck. The evening was over, and my band mates and I were roadies as well as being the main attraction. And in that part of Idaho in the 70's, drunk Indians, not to mention drunk cowboys, were just part of the territory for a road band.
    There was a large reservation out in the lava desert near by, Blackfoot and Shoshone, and everything around that was the wide open ranch country of the real Out West. On a Saturday night, the towns would see a large influx of men with nothing on their mind but to find a little excitement. Our job was to keep them dancing, and keep them drinking, and to remind them, don't forget to tip your waitress. And don't throw bottles at the band. Southern Idaho was a wild enough place for a kid from back East, just out of college, and it seemed like more fun than being a music teacher.
     This particular encounter with the drunk Indian was nothing; the hulking fellow had been trying to pick a fight with our lead guitar player, Kevin, for no other reason than that Kevin was a big man; this wasn't unusual. Kevin was trying to ignore him, but when the fellow resorted to shoving, I stepped in. I came up behind the man, reached up and tapped him on the shoulder and began circling my fists like an English pugilist, all the while chanting, "C'mon, c'mon!"  My intention was joking; I was half his size, and just trying to make him laugh and leave Kevin alone. But to my surprise, he exploded with rage and lunged at me. Yikes!  But no harm done, luckily, and he did forget all about Kevin. He kept his eye on me for the rest of the time we were loading out; each time I passed near him, he would swing his head around drunkenly, and make a feint or two to keep me alert, but he wasn't really mad anymore.
     This was one of many towns that we played in our circuit; bars were numerous and bands were few in those days. On a Saturday night in some of those places, driving on the sidewalk was not just a metaphor. At least once I actually did see a car bump up onto the curb, narrowly miss a building, and then reel off swerving back onto the road and away.
    A bar band in Pocatello in the early 70's didn't have to worry about much besides keeping the tempo upbeat, once the people started to dance. If you tried to play a slow ballad at the wrong moment during the evening, the people could get ugly in a real hurry. One night, early in the evening when the people had all left their tables and were just starting to get sweaty and rowdy, I decided that I was in the mood to play a slow number that we had just learned. My bandmates assured me that this was the wrong time for it; we needed to play another dance number, but for some stupid reason I insisted. About half a minute into the song as I was crooning, the people were standing and glaring at us with increasing hostility. We cut that nonsense very short and went back to what they wanted; boogie-tempo. Kevin gave me a significant look. I was learning who was making who dance, here.
    Our lifestyle was interesting, for awhile. We were a four piece country-rock band, working full-time. When we really got cooking on a night, and all the bodies on the dance floor would be moving frenetically to our rhythm, I would reflect that there were worse ways to be making a living. Here we were, getting paid for doing what we would probably have been doing anyway, right about then. The four of us shared a house in Pocatello; one hundred bucks a month split 4 ways, and the living was easy. When we weren't working, we were always practicing, and there were always people coming over to hang out at the house to listen, to party, to eat whatever food we had, to leave their empty beer cans lying around. I was the house maid (as well as playing 2nd-lead guitar, as we called it), and I was always trying to keep the house in a condition something like what a civilized creature would live in. When I grumbled about the constant mess I always had to clean up, everybody would protest, "Lenny, we'll help you clean the place up! Relax. We'll help you tomorrow." Uh-huh.
    There were some hard cases that would hang at our house. There was one guy that we called Klauser, who looked like he shouldn't still be breathing. He was a generous fellow, and would always offer to share whatever he had going, for instance the case of morphine ampoules he had just stolen from a hospital. I was a little too straight to appreciate this sort of generosity, but the other guys didn't mind it. One night I bought a mess of beets, turnips, spinach, celery, potatoes, and I cooked a huge pot of vegetable soup. Klauser gratefully accepted his steaming bowl of broth and vegetables, with a kind of awe and reverence. I don't think he had seen something like that since he had been a child.
     One night, Fleetwood Mac came to Pocatello, to play in the somethingDome at the local college. They were kicking off a nationwide tour in our little backwater town, and it was a really big event for the town. A great many people went, and since it was a night off for our band, we went too. I was excited that I would get to see Christine McVie, who I thought was very fine. The other girl in the band, Stevie Nicks, was actually drunk during the concert. She disrespected the audience; she didn't seem to care about the show, just because we were hayseeds or hicks or something. During the show, she kept leaning drunkenly on Christy, who shrugged her off several times, and at one point gave her a very angry look right on stage. It was clear that it was important to Christy to do a good show even if we were just ignorant cowboys, and I loved her even more for it.
    My friends and I didn't pay to get in to the concert; we just walked in during the long set of encores. And I have to admit that we had all had a few drinks ourselves that night. For my part, I stood transfixed by the sight of beautiful Christy McVie, live right in front of me. As they were taking their bows after the last song, I just started walking towards her, as the crowd was dispersing. I was only half-conscious of climbing over a barricade as I moved forward towards the stage. I only had eyes for her; I wanted to speak to her, touch her hand.
     As I dream-walked toward the stage, I suddenly felt myself become airborne. Literally. I was up in the air and moving sideways, my legs paddling the void like a turtle's when you pick it up by the shell. A giant security guard had come up behind me and lifted me up, and set me back down on the other side of the barricade with my legs still moving. So I just kept them moving in the direction he had put me, towards my laughing friends hooting and shouting at me. Christy never even glanced my way.
     So the boys and I lived at our house, and we rocked the little bars in town for three or six weeks at a stretch, before moving to a different town on our circuit, driving through great expanses of panoramic mountain scenery to get to the different towns we played in.
    In two years of driving around Idaho, I did see some interesting things. Our bass player, Kuta, was a local boy, and he knew the parents of Evel Kneivel, the stuntman. Kuta showed us their hometown once, and the parents' little grocery store, Kneivel's. We drove out to an awesome stretch of the Snake River Canyon, at the spot where Evel had tried to jump his bike over the canyon for his last big public stunt. (It didn't work, and he swung down on the emergency parachute, breaking a few bones as usual.)
    Awesome canyon views, and then we were off to Sugar City to play for another week in another local bar; another five nights of boogie-woogie all night long. As most boys in a band do, we had big dreams at first. Kevin and I had been best friends since 4th grade back in New Jersey, and we had had visions of glory since we were boys. Al Hat our drummer was also an old NJ friend, and we had often discussed the idea of getting rich and famous. But in reality, our present routine had gotten monotonous. We were always getting to another town much like the last one, staying at motels or campgrounds for a weekend, a week, or two weeks, and then we would be off again, down the long road to the next place. Not much pressure; not much satisfaction either.
     I started to miss my home. I would think of my old grandparents and my mom, still living near where the big farmhouse used to be, back in New Jersey. For how much longer, would they still be there?
    So much for rock and roll; I was lonely. We had had a few shining moments now and then, but it was going nowhere. So at last, having a few hundred frugal dollars in the bank, the fruits of my brief rock and roll career, I changed them to traveler's checks, and told my mates of my decision to leave.
    I gave my dear little Volkswagen bug a careful tune-up, changed the oil, and packed my guitar and few belongings into it. Then I pointed East, and was gone.

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Luck 'o the Green

    A leetle google-eyed pilgrim, an American Green Tree Frog,  jumped out of a bunch of kale I had put in the sink to prepare for dinner. The kale had been in our fridge for three days, and who knows how many days had passed since it was picked, stored and shipped from its origin in Florida, to arrive at our store here in the frozen Northeast?
    The teeny green, golden-eyed hopper, as big as the end of my finger, looked healthy and was quite active, in spite of what must have been the awkward accommodations of his trip. I first saw him hopping along the counter behind the kitchen sink, and to begin with I was completely dumbfounded. It was a frigid snowy winter night, here in Massachusetts. Can frogs teleport? Then I remembered the kale I had just finished washing and chopping up.
    I cornered the little critter and got him to climb onto my hand, with his little splayed sticky-toes, and he sat for a moment and then leaped onto my face. Why, I take that as friendly!
    Since it was the middle of winter here, the usual flying and crawling critters, suitable for frog food, were all socked in until spring. I could leave a banana on the counter for two weeks at this season, and not a single fruit fly would appear. So where do I get anything to feed a tiny frog? He is counting on me now, even though that was surely not his original plan.
    I dangled a scrap of chicken on a toothpick, and made it twitch enticingly like a bug within striking distance of my unexpected dinner guest. The frog continued to look stonily into space, meditating on who knows what profundities. He didn't seem much impressed by me, anyway.
    I clapped the frog into a little glass terrarium I had, misted him with some water, and then thought about what to do. The first thing was, wash the kale again, anyway.
Eating kale:
    Crunch crunch, crunch crunch, >squish<
    "Say... I wonder what that was?"
    No, thankfully, that didn't happen.

    But how do I feed the frog? I remembered one cold winter a few years ago, I had been looking for something in the back shed and I turned over a wheelbarrow. Inside the wheelbarrow, I had found a number of adult mosquitoes clinging motionless to the underside of the metal. They winter over under such shelters, moving very slightly if they are touched.
    Mosquitoes would be a perfect size for the frog, so I suited up now, and took a flashlight out there to see what I could find. It actually didn't take me long to find several mosquitoes in a similar situation as before, under a plastic bucket. I picked them off with a tweezers and plopped them into a plastic box and brought them inside. They were moving around within a few minutes of warming up, and before they started to fly, I dumped them into the frog's terrarium. One landed and was twitching right in front of the frog. He ignored it. Presently, I had a nice screened terrarium filled with buzzing flying mosquitoes, in my living room. The frog might not have been hungry, but the mosquitoes certainly seemed to be. I really hoped the frog was appreciating all this, but after a few hours the mosquitoes seemed to have all died, stuck to the moist glass inside, and I hadn't seen the frog eat any of them.

Two weeks later:
    Bruno the castaway tree frog is doing well, eating two little crickets a day. I've set his terrarium up with a nice pool, a bed of live moss, a branched frond of spruce to climb, and an electric warming rock from the pet store. This same pet store provides little crickets that are conveniently bite-size for the frog. When I dump in a couple of crickets, the fierce predator looses no time in pouncing on his prey, with a lunge that is almost too swift for the eye to follow. I got the crickets the day following my discovery of the frog, but he didn't eat until two days after that. However, he is now settled in and doing fine. He dug himself a cozy hutch among the damp moss, and I see his golden eyes peering out.
    When I first set up the cage with the pool, I never saw him go near the water. He's a tree frog, but frogs like water. I thought that maybe he didn't know the pool was there, and I mentioned to my son Jake that maybe I should put the frog into the pool, so that he would know it was there.
     Jake replied, "Papa, suppose you were staying in a really nice hotel with a pool. How would you like it if the housekeeper came and grabbed you and threw you into the pool, in case you didn't know it was there?" Good point. Anyway, a few days later, I happened to come by just as the frog was climbing out of the water, looking content, so evidently he discovered the accommodations and found them satisfactory.
    But the sad thing about Bruno the Leetle Google-Eyed Tree Frog, is that he will never get married and have a family, unless Bruno is a she, in which case, she never will. Because there's only one of him/her. But considering where he might have landed, he's one lucky frog to have landed in my kitchen.

You can watch a short video of Bruno catching a cricket:

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Wing and a Prayer

    A year and a half ago, I broke my leg. It's not that uncommon for people to do it, but in my case, it was fairly humiliating as well as being a major ouchie; my last words before the accident were,
"What could go wrong?"
    One bad thing about having no fear and demonstrating a fast cornering maneuver on your bicycle, is that when you slide out and bend your leg sideways the way it doesn't bend, after that you will have fear and will always have fear, instead of the feeling of exhilaration and invulnerability you used to have. I used to take a certain corner as tight and fast as possible, to see how far I would coast afterward, compared to my previous attempt. At 60 years old, I suppose it was inevitable that I would screw up eventually.
    Well, I wiped out while giving a triumphant demonstration on one of my practice courses, while my wife was watching. Then I was lying on my back, aware that things in my hip area were not in their usual places. I figured by the feel of things, that I had dislocated my hip joint, and I pushed my leg back into place as well as I could.
    "Should I call 911?" asked my slightly horrified wife.
    "Call 911," I told her. That's the first time I've ever said that, but I had a good reason. I had tried to move my leg, and it had just flopped over; a really bad feeling to know.
    Lying helpless on my back, staying as motionless as I could; ambulance coming, being shifted to a stretcher, to a gurney, a receiving room, down long cold corridors to an x-ray room.
    "No," I was finally told by a nurse, who had a sympathetic smile, "No, you're not going home tonight. You better forget about that idea."  Where I was going, was surgery; which finally happened about 30 hours after the accident.
    The good surgeon went in there, bound up and trussed my snapped thigh bone using metal rods and cords, and at last I was put in a recovery ward. I found myself among old people who had broken their hip, doing things like turning around a little too fast while standing in the kitchen when the phone rang, and losing their balance. Well, these are my people now. My body breaks just the same as theirs does.
    But soon I found out that most of these people here were in this place because they had come in for elective surgery, not because of an emergency; most of the patients were people who had made plans to be here. Consequently, the place was set up like some grotesque vacation resort.
    I've got to give the staff credit for trying to keep the mood cheerful for people in pain. But I wish the social worker who bustled into my room a day after my arrival, would at least have read my chart before she chided me that morning; she said she hadn't seen me much in the social room at the activity sessions! Tut, tut! Well, what I knew and she didn't know, is that I had been in pure survival mode for the past several days; not really in a partying mood at all. Having to use a walker to painfully make my way to the bathroom, hadn't been in my wildest imaginings a few days earlier. Biking, running, doing my comedy shows (which I had to cancel), hopping, juggling: these were the things I had planned.
    Two weeks I was in that ward: needles at 6:30 in the morning; no privacy; loud voices perpetually discussing medical issues around the adjacent bed in my room; TV's blaring everywhere; a stoic attempt at cheerfulness on my part. On the morning of my discharge the social worker bustled in again, and gave me a pen with a big pom-pom on the end of it, and a parti-colored guest book to sign.  She  asked me brightly, "Had I enjoyed my stay?"
    This was an unexpected and dumbfounding question. Considering that this had been the most grueling two-week-long nightmare of my entire life; that I was eternally grateful that I was finally leaving here and going back to my home; the answer would have to be: not that much.
    But I replied, "I'm truly grateful for the compassion and skill of all the wonderful staff here. I couldn't have done it without their care." Her face fell a little, in confusion; she left the book with me and bustled out. I read some of the entries in the guest book; they were all very upbeat, and I wrote something like, "Keep up the good work!" Then I laid the pom-pom down on the ribbon-bedecked book, and got ready to leave.

    I got back on the bike in a little over two months, before I could walk very well yet. I had just gotten off crutches and I could hobble for short distances with a cane. I really missed biking, so I tried it, carefully, and I found I could go a few miles the first time out. It really felt great, though I couldn't push much with the injured leg, and I didn't do any extreme cornering (ha ha). I felt like I was flying.
Flying slowly, with the immediate possibility of crashing and burning, but still, back in the saddle again.

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