“They say children in kindergarten must play in order to learn. What do you mean children? Crossword puzzles learned grown folks more words than school teachers. What arithmetic the women folks know they got at a bridge table. Our splendid English comes from attending the movies. My geography comes from an airplane window. Yes sir, there are 120 million in the American kindergarten.”
When I was a young teen, my brothers and I would play with the other neighborhood kids. We lived in suburban America, just like everyone else did. We lived in what I’m sure is still referred to as “tract housing.” There were four or five different designs of houses on the older blocks, there were four or five different designs of houses built on the new blocks; and four or five designs of houses being designed to be built on the newer blocks that were being built on the lemon groves that we always played in.
Of course, it was against the law for us to be running around in the lemon groves, but the farmer didn’t seem to mind as long as the lemons we were throwing at each other were ones we picked up off the ground and not pulled from trees. Never-the-less, if a policeman saw you in the lemon groves, they’d try to chase you down — Good luck trying to chase down a 13-year-old kid who is in good physical shape, wearing sports shoes; and who knows the inside of the grove like the back of his hand. Would it surprise you if I told you that none of us were ever caught even once? (Notice that I am not making any references to so-called “insurgents” in Iraq.)
Even though all of the tracts, new and old, had new and newer designs of homes being built on them; they all looked basically the same.
Every time a piece of the lemon grove was ripped up for new houses and the land leveled, my brothers and I would go and destroy whatever they were building; in just about anyway imaginable, in an effort to raise hell in the new neighborhoods. Of course we knew that this was completely illegal too; but we did it anyway.
I don’t think we had really thought it through completely why we did this at the time; but we despised the new tract housing. Why? Well, I reckon there were three reasons for this: One is we wanted our houses to be the newest ones in the entire tract home area — we felt sorry for our parents hard work if our houses weren’t the newest. And two; they were destroying our play area when they destroyed our lemon groves that also stood in as our World War II sets and Vietnam War scenes. And three; when they destroyed the nature and the fields, the lizards, toads, snakes, as well as various other crawlies, seemed to disappear. And, darn it, we collected those as pets.
When we weren’t flooding newly flattened streets by busting water pipes and letting them run all night, or jumping up and down and eventually collapsing flimsy second floor homes that were just being constructed; we did normal things that young teen-aged boys in America do:
We’d steal wood from the construction sites and build go-karts.
We played with fireworks — completely illegal in California — the government excuse was mountain fires. I don’t ever remember setting a mountain on fire when we were blasting firecrackers in our front lawn, though.
We also would make explosives. Simple to do really. Hydrogen gas bombs? No problem. You can buy everything you need to build one at the local convenience store… (What am I saying!? Every single household in America today most likely has all the necessary tools and ingredients for Hydrogen Gas Bombs right under the kitchen sink at this very moment!) Those were fun, but a bit scary because they sure did make one hell of a loud bang and one huge ball of fire.
When we weren’t doing “dangerous” things, we’d do other things that I’m sure were illegal at the time: Like playing baseball on some street or alleyway.
I had two brothers, so three people don’t make very good football or baseball teams, so we always needed at least one other warm body. Anybody.
There were several other “cool” kids in the neighborhood that we liked to hang around with, but our mothers did not want us hanging around with them and theirs with us. Because whenever we all got together our folks would figure out that we were up to no good. Now I wonder how they ever figured that out?
Perhaps it was the time when I was about 11 and my friends and I were out making trouble; and one of my crazier friends, a guy named Dave, just hauls up and throws a rock through some guy’s car window. A bit surprising, yes. So we all take off running like rabbits towards Dave’s house. I hear some guy yell, “Hey!” And I’m really worried because I was the slowest runner of the bunch; I was always the slowest runner. But there is a God! The guy jumps in his car, screeches his wheels as he takes off in our direction.
We all run into Dave’s backyard and what do you know? There’s Dave’s mom and dad sitting in the backyard enjoying some tea. We all stop running and try to act nonchalant (Like I said, I’m the slowest runner so Dave’s parents don’t even see me). Dave’s dad says:
“David!? Does that car’s screeching wheels have something to do with you?”
Well of course Dave lies and says, “No!”
And just right there we can see the guy speeding down the street and he is looking straight at us. I can’t remember what happened after that, but even though the car’s owner exonerated me for any wrong doing, my mother grounded me for three months and forbade me to hang out with Dave anymore.
Which is probably OK, because the last rumor I heard about Dave was that he was in prison for stealing a car or something. But, then again, isn’t that what all dis-enfranchised youth in Middle America do? Either larceny or drug-abuse; or both.
Anyway, my mom wouldn’t let us hang out with any of the cool kids, so since there were only three of us, we needed one more kid to play with. And we found him in a kid named Terry. His mom probably let him play with us because she didn’t know any better or because she didn’t like her 13-year-old son playing with kids who were still in the 4th grade.
Terry was very un-cool. He was 13 or 14 but acted like a eight-year-old — at least that’s what we all thought of him. He went to church on Sundays; called his mom “mother”; and was always home before dark. We thought he was a total dork.
Terry was the kind of kid who was allergic to weird things too; like bee stings. And when we’d be running around the lemon groves, you know who would be the only one to get stung by a bee, don’t you? Yeah, Terry. Not only would he get stung, but he’d get stung inside his mouth! How? You say? Because as he was running away from the bee, he’d have his mouth open, and the bee would fly in his gaping trap and sting him. You have to be especially God-given dorky to have stuff like this happen to you.
Years later, when I would play in a Punk Rock band, before anyone had ever even heard the word “Punk Rock,” Terry made a band too. His band was called “Shipwrecked” or something very lame like that and I think they played Foreigner and Journey songs. Now, if that isn’t un-cool, I don’t know what is.
Anyhow, we’d play baseball with Terry. He would drive us all nuts. Because during the game, if he was pitching, he’d be talking to himself, loudly, saying things like:
“Here’s the Pittsburgh Pirates Ace pitcher on the mound, man on first, two outs. He gets ready to deal. Here’s the wind up… He stops, steps off the mound…. The crowd grows silent…”
Yeah, yeah. If I did this, it would have been funny; once. But as any half-assed comedian could tell you, you don’t tell the same joke twice. Terry would go through this spoken ritual every time with every pitch! I’d be pulling my hair out!
“Terry! Will you just shut-up and pitch the ball?”
But no matter how many times we’d all get mad at him, he’d keep doing it. Like I said, he was 13 or 14 but acted like a eight-year-old.
Finally, after a few years of this, we got sick of it and couldn’t handle hanging around him anymore.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about his talking to himself all the time. Hell, I talk to myself all the time. And I’ll bet you do too! What drove us mad was his obliviousness to his own dorkiness. The guy was a complete klutz; a buffoon. And he didn’t have a clue. He thought he was, well, not cool; but normal.
He was indeed Oblivious Terry: He wasn’t normal. We were normal; he was a dork.
Ah, but now in my old age, I look back and I think about all this. You know what? Even though, if I met him now, he’d probably still drive me crazy, he is a truly nice guy. And he tries to be a nice guy, I’m sure. I regret that I was mean to him (if I was).
The last time I saw him, he was in my same high school. I’m sure he never had a girlfriend; he was too accommodating to people at that time. He might be married now. If so, I hope he is happy and has a happy family.
In fact, I’d bet, he and his family (if he has one) would be happy… For they would be oblivious to the world; they wouldn’t realize just how un-cool they really are.
Or perhaps, Terry is the kind of guy who would become the father of a guy like my old friend Dave, who grew up such a troubled child that he became so disenchanted with everything he got his butt locked up behind bars. Yeah, maybe that’s how these types of things happen.
It’s the oblivious people who are so un-cool, so stuck in a box, that they cannot see outside of their little cubicle. I guess that’s the way most people are.
These are the truly happy people in our world: They have no idea of what’s really going on, nor do they care. These are the everyday, normal people.
And I do feel bad that I wasn’t at least nicer to Terry. Heck, he didn’t realize that he was an idiot and brought up in what, seemed to me, was a Draconian Christian household. How would he know any different? Why should he know any different?
Maybe I am too sentimental about some things. But in the Lord’s Prayer, which I recite every-night before I go to sleep, it says:
“…And forgive me for my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me…”
I feel bad when I think that I could have been kinder to Terry; and not to just Terry, but to all the people like him I’ve known in my lifetime; and there have been many. There are so many people just like Terry; so many clueless people that I have come to the conclusion that they are the normal ones and I am not.
Oh, how many times have I pointed the finger at someone and exposed their screw-ups or lies, or I exposed the crimes of someone I knew for everyone to see. Not only that, I would insist that they pay for their mis-deeds.
And now, the more I think about it, the more I realize that our president, George W. Bush, is just like Terry; he is completely oblivious. I am beginning to think that he doesn’t even know he is a tool; he doesn’t even know of his wrong-doings; nor does he even wish to know.
And when the election is over, he is going to be the “fall guy” and take the blame for what has happened these last few years; while the truly criminal ones will walk away scot-free.
Perhaps that is the way it should be and the way it must be; it seems like that’s the way it is. But that still does not stop me from being sentimental and feeling sorry for the fall guy somewhere in my heart.
Because, I believe, that he just doesn’t know any better; he doesn’t know that he is a dork; he is oblivious. He doesn’t understand what is actually going on, nor does he care; that’s just the way he is and the way he was raised: Oblivious.
Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has worked as an independent writer, producer, and personality in the mass media for nearly 30 years.