Summertime Part III: Banana Seat Vengeance

With the ending of summer, I decided to do a series of posts reflecting on what the summer months taught me, that my years in school never could. If you missed the first 2 posts in this series, you can read them by clicking here and here.

 

Matt lived one block over, was 4 years older than me, and made my life, the lives of my friends, and anyone he happened to trip over walking down the aisle of the bus, miserable.  He sat in the back and barked orders to the minions who danced around him ready to do his bidding and execute his judgments against the common people.

I hated Matt.

I used to watch him in action; squeezing my friend Aaron’s neck until he cried and then laughing at him the entire bus ride home. I wondered what his parents were like….if he even had parents. I wondered if he ever cried at night? What made him tick? What made him explode with such fierce anger?  Where did he get all that leather and those AC/DC t-shirts?  

One afternoon, at the start of summer, my older sister and I were arguing,  which transitioned nicely into wrestling. She pinned me to the floor and then finally let me go and stormed off to her room, leaving me fighting back tears as I cursed her name.

I ran outside and stood in the garage, kicking random objects and telling my sister things I could never say to her face.  I kicked the tire of her bike and mumbled, “stupid sister” under my breath. The bike was pink and white, with white handle grips, and pink and white streamers that poured from the ends of the handle bars.  Pink, purple and white polka dots decorated the banana seat and a white plastic-weaved basket sat on the front.

My sister needed to pay….and the bike was right there.

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I ran inside to my parent’s desk drawer found the plastic container, pulled out a couple of items and slipped them in to my pocket.

I stood in front of her bike and stared at the tires. I rehearsed in my mind the crime I was about to commit….I took a deep breath….and knelt down.

Hours later, I was inside watching an episode of The Great Space Coaster when I heard Jennifer screaming. I jumped up and looked around. My dad came running down the steps and looked at me for an explanation. I gave him a look that said, “honestly Father, I too am puzzled by the cries of distress coming from the next room….shall we go inquire about it together?”

We ran outside and into the garage to find my sister kneeling by her bicycle that now had 2 flat tires.  She was crying as my Dad explained to her that the tires could be fixed in a few days.

My Dad looked at me, calculating my response to his gaze so as to determine if I had a part in this injustice.  My look back said, “Oh Papa, surely you don’t believe that I would stoop to such a level and deprive my eldest sister of the joy that comes from riding her bike in the warmth of summer?”

“What did you do??” my sister shouted at me through clenched teeth. “It wasn’t me” I screamed back.” “yeah right!” she said.

And that’s when I played the best card in my hand.   Years of injustice and abuse were about to be made right with just a few words.

“All I know is that I saw Matt walking by our house just a little while ago, and he was staring into the garage.” “Maybe it was Matt.”

“What a jerk” she yelled as she ran into the house crying.  “Who is this Matt kid?” My Dad asked me. I looked at him as if to say, “dearest Father….I am not one to bring accusation against my neighbor unjustly….how can you now ask me to…”

“You are not in trouble, just tell me….”

I spelled his last name slowly and clearly.  “I’m not sure, but I think he lives on Karen Drive” I said.

With that my Dad walked in to the house to find a phone book.

The next day my friends and I were riding our bikes down Karen Drive, and we passed by Matt’s house.  He was outside staring into his mom’s car, holding the light while his Mom’s boyfriend worked on the alternator. He looked up to see who was riding by and I locked eyes with him. Even with a dirty face I could easily make out the dull bruise on the side of his face. He stared at me for a moment, and then looked back down at the alternator.

That summer I learned that while I say I want justice, too often I am perfectly willing to settle for vengeance.  Justice is the long hard earthly fight that ultimately cries out to the God we believe will have the final word and make all things right.  Vengeance is the cheap imitation that is more about me than about making right any wrongs.  Left in my hands, vengeance gives me the power to “win” for the moment even if I must use injustice to do so – be it with the bully on the block or the gossiping, scheming, know it all in the next cubicle.

I never told my sister that I was the thumb tack terrorist until about 15 years later. I guess there is always time to make things right. Matt, I can’t imagine  you are reading this, but I’m sorry….please forgive me….wherever you are.

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I was Saved in the Summertime: Charcoal Living in a Propane World

This post is the first in the return of my blogging season (which strangely follows the schedule of Network TV).  With the ending of summer, I decided to do a series of posts reflecting on what the summer months taught me, that my years in school never could.

I learned early on to watch my Father closely when he arrived home from work. I tapered my response to him based on recognizing the signs of happiness or stress,  sadness or contentment that shaped the lines on his face.  It wasn’t that he was moody, as much as it was that I was a child, and as such I had the innate ability to study, download, and cross check the body language of my parents.  I learned to recognize the smile on his face, put on for my behalf, that  betrayed the reality of a long, hard day.   I’ve learned to imitate that same form of facial camouflage with my own children.

In the summertime, our family stayed alive by grilling.

This was my Dad’s responsibility. He worked very hard to convince my Mom that grilling was hard and dangerous work.  This one lie has been upheld for thousands of years. Most men willingly join in this deception for fear that if their wives actually came outside, stood around the grill, and saw what little work it was to cook meat, then women all over the world would head outside to start the grill while the Fathers were left to prepare the rest of the food, set the table, break up fights between the children, all while talking on the phone to their mothers. No, it was best to carry on the illusion that sitting on the driveway watching coals ash over was some kind of sacrifice performed for the good of the family.

I followed my Dad out to the garage, watching him wheel the black, round grill out to the driveway. He grabbed a vinyl tube strap lawn chair, carried it out next to the grill, and sat down. I followed close behind, grabbing another chair, dragging it out of the garage and setting it up next to him.  My Father was an architect when it came to charcoal placement. He meticulously placed each briquette in the bottom of the grill; replacing broken pieces with better looking ones; constructing and deconstructing until a replica of the pyramids of Giza stood before us.  He poured a quart of lighter fluid on the structure, lit a match, and set it ablaze. He sat down in his chair, put his toothpick in his mouth, and opened The Daily Journal newspaper.

I sat next to him, in silence, and studied Him as though He was someone I had never met yet seemed so familiar.  I watched his eyes through the thick lenses of his glasses, roaming back and forth across the pages of the newspaper.  I noticed His fat, flat fingers grasping the thin pages. His jean shorts, once a pair of pants, had tentacles of white thread that hung down his legs.  The hair on his legs was thick but tapered off toward the bottom of his calf. Years of wearing the same length socks day after day had left the area around his ankles hairless.  He had no idea how much I studied him as we sat in the stillness of those afternoons, the cooing of the mourning doves and cries of cicadas forming the soundtrack of my examination. Little was said in those moments, it was enough to sit next to him, feeling as though I had a place in the long line of flat-fingered Dupuis men providing food for the family.

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Of course, when you cook with charcoal you are forced to sit, to wait, to anticipate and respond.  The extra time needed to prepare to grill provides  just enough space for you to lift your head, see the world around you, and take a deep breath.  In the waiting, in the quiet, you see and hear all of the things you miss in the rush of life – listening to the far off voices of children riding bikes down the street, waving to neighbors driving home (before pulling in to the garage and closing the door behind them).  You begin to notice the trees with thick trunks and gangly roots pushing the sidewalk up a little more each year.  This is lost with the rise of propane grills.  Now I walk outside, push a button, turn a knob, and 15 minutes later we are eating dinner. Convenience has once again trumped the intentional, production has conquered the experience of producing.

So last week, I went out to start the grill for dinner. After I pushed the button and adjusted the temperature, I grabbed a lawn chair, and sat down beside our propane grill. A few minutes later, my Son found my hiding spot, walked outside, grabbed his lawn chair, and set it up next to mine.  I was staring out into the woods, trying to triangulate the position of a noisy woodpecker, when I could feel I was  being watched. I looked over to find my son, staring at me….studying me….curious. I smiled at him and rubbed his head. “What?” he asked with a grin. “Nothing “ I said.

I don’t think there will ever be a wholesale return to charcoal grilling. But maybe, maybe we can return to charcoal living, even in a propane world.  In a culture that thrives and feeds on business and schedules, and productivity; a world in which one’s self worth is derived from how many plates one has spinning at the same time.

Maybe in this world, there is still space to be found, silence to be heard, and life to be observed, even as it is lived out.