Football at Cape Howl: Blame It on the Band


DSC_0437 (2)

TV station vans parked near the football field at Cape Howl High School twice in October 2005.  I saw them when I took my son to marching band meetings before football games.  On the first occasion, a reserve linebacker had died that morning in an accident near the school.  He had been riding a motorcycle, and a collision cost him his life.  Mini-cam journalists hoped to coerce heart tugging statements from teammates, cheerleaders, teachers…The second news infestation occurred after police arrested the football team’s head coach for having sex with a sixteen year old girl, a student in one of his classes.  Deputies found a memory stick loaded with pictures of their liaisons.

The team limped through the rest of the year under the guidance of a school dean.  The pool of in-house coaches had been drained earlier in May when an officer walked into a park’s men’s room and discovered an assistant coach gratifying another man with his mouth.  My son reported that opposing fans catcalled the band and the team during away games.  The abuse focused on Cape Howl’s apparent culture of perversion.

A coach hired a few years later decided to turn the program around.  The football team, even when not distracted by hovering news crews, leaned hard toward ineptitude on special teams.  It had become something of a tradition for Cape Howl to allow opposing teams to run back opening kicks for  touchdowns.  They lost a game in the fourth quarter when the Cape Howl long snapper bounced erratic two-hoppers to a kicker on a punt and to a holder on a point after attempt.  Both screw-ups lead to touchdowns for the other team.

The new guy had to come up with a plan to unite his team, to revive flagging spirits.  He didn’t quote military heroes, didn’t call on players to summon their inner fortitude, didn’t shame or threaten them into trying harder, didn’t profess his deep allegiance to higher moral standards.  Instead, he encouraged players to blame the marching band.

His players fumbled, failed to cover kicks, couldn’t protect the quarterback, seldom ran the football for more than two yards, and rarely stopped an opponent with a goal line stand.  Most years they managed to win one or two games.  But none of that was their fault.  The geeks with the instruments were the real culprits.

The band received orders to quit playing music in the stands when Cape Howl had the football.  The coach singled out band members in his classes for humiliation…The first bold steps on the path to victory had been taken…

The team won half of their games that year and qualified for a play off tournament.  No news crews appeared in the parking lot near the football field, and the band no longer played “My Girl” when Cape Howl threatened to score.

Win!  Win!  Win!



A Professor’s Dream

Last night I dreamt that I was teaching math to a college class.  The lesson involved finding a way to analyze cargo manifests to determine how a shipment had been packed.  I didn’t fully understand the formula myself until I went through it with them for a third time and was pleased when the light fully dawned on me.  And suddenly I realized that this was my last class with them and began to give a closing speech.  I told them that I was really pleased by all the hard work they had put into learning the course material and that I had enjoyed our interactions, but half way through the speech they grew restless and began to talk among themselves.  I raised my voice to regain their attention, but was interrupted by a young man who started to complain loud and long about the treatment he received when he bought, say, shaving cream at a local drug store.  He grew increasingly vehement and wouldn’t let me finish the class.  I yelled at him, told him to shut up, but he kept going.  I walked toward him and explained that I had nothing to do with the drug store and his purchase of shaving cream, but he refused to stop.  I snapped my fingers and turned him into an apple pie.

The apple pie began to rant about shaving cream, however, so I put it on a picnic table outside.  The students were still friendly when I returned to class saying that Brian, the ranter, had been acting like an ass.  Snacks had appeared during my absence, and everyone helped themselves to a treat.  One woman said, “I’d sure like to have some of that pie.”

I realized that I hadn’t turned Brian into an apple pie, but had merely entrapped him inside a pie someone brought for our celebration.  I decided to retrieve it and release Brian, but they were no longer directly outside the classroom.  It turned out that I had placed the pie in a location far away.  I hopped into my car and drove down a highway.  I spied a pie sitting on a table at a roadside park on the opposite side of the road.  I turned my car around but didn’t drive all the way back to the park.  I got out and began to run.  I took off my shirt (it was hot) and noticed that my chest and belly had become chiseled and that I had the endurance of a twenty-year-old man.  I sped up as I saw Brian (freed from his crusty prison) near the pie.  I feared that he would eat it.

When I arrived, I saw that all that was left was a bit of crust and a smear of filling.  I carried the dish up a hill to return to class, and students milled about on either side.  Buildings sprang up around me, and I took for granted that I had instantaneously returned to campus.  I plotted ways to flunk Brian or give him a much lower grade, but realized that he had hurt himself by eating his way out of the pie from the inside.  He had consumed most of his body and spirit and greatly diminished himself.  There was no need to punish him further.

I woke up with an ache in my lower back.  I had fallen asleep fully clothed with the lights on, and the alarm clock read 5:30.  I knew that I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep and blearily stumbled off to the bathroom to take my morning piss.  I sat on the toilet, thought about the dream and realized that “Brian” looked a lot like Brian Ferguson,  a guy who attended Fairmont East high school with me forty some years ago.  High school Brian had never treated me badly.  His appearance as a rotten student in a teaching dream must have been the odd byproduct of reading Facebook posts about our recent fortieth class reunion.

Class Ring

My Dad did independent contracting jobs in the 1970s to earn extra money.  When I turned thirteen he drafted me as his laborer for glorified donkey work.  I dug ditches for foundations, scraped wood siding on houses before painting them, hauled bundles of shingles up ladders, trundled wet cement in wheel barrows, and cleaned trash and discarded belongings out of abandoned rental units.  He paid fifty cents less than minimum wage, but I knew better than to complain.

Dad landed a cement job the summer before my junior year.  A man who owned a frame house in east Dayton wanted a front porch.  I helped dig a trench for the foundation.  The project was on time and profitable until a neighbor saw that my father hadn’t posted a work permit on the site.  He reported us to the authorities, and they did a surprise inspection after the foundation of concrete blocks had been laid.  They fined Dad and told him that the foundation was a few inches too shallow.  We had to pull out the blocks and dig deeper.  The foundation was reset, and a cement mixer truck rumbled up the street early one morning and poured a load into the wooden forms Dad had built around the foundation.  He and I spread and smoothed the heavy, gray sludge with shovels, rakes and trowels until we had a fairly uniform slab.  The cool, overcast weather kept the cement from hardening quickly.  Dad decided to knock off for lunch figuring that we’d have plenty of time to do the final surfacing work that afternoon.

While we were away the sun came out and the temperature shot up five degrees in an hour.  We discovered when we returned that the cement was nearly rock solid.  He and I worked frantically with our tools but couldn’t properly trowel and edge the slab.  Dad swore at the concrete, at me, at his edger, at the sun.  We all had conspired against him.

The owner refused to pay for the porch.  He knew a shoddy job when he saw one, and so did my Dad.  The next week we took sledge hammers, broke it up and hauled away the debris.  Then we hired a cement mixer to dump another load into rebuilt forms.  This time we stayed on the job until the surfaces were slickly finished on the edges and across the whole expanse of the porch.  At the end of the day the owner finally handed my Dad a wad of cash.

I hadn’t gotten a cent up to that point, but when we got home Dad kept his wallet firmly wedged in his pants pocket.  A few weeks later school started, and the juniors got order forms for class rings.  My sister had gotten one, bought and paid for by my parents a few years earlier.  But Dad’s company was in the process of laying off workers, and our family finances were about to take a severe blow.  I didn’t know how my parents would react when I showed them the photo of the gold and garnet ring I favored.  A few days went by before my Dad spoke to me about the ring.  He grumphed, “I took a loss on that porch job.  That’s why I didn’t pay you.  I’m going to buy you your class ring, and we’ll call it even.”  I nodded in agreement even though I knew that he was shortchanging me.  I figured that something was better than nothing.

Dad got laid off in November right before Thanksgiving.  His former employer mailed him his twenty year pin a few days after giving him a pink slip.  The pin came with a letter thanking him for his loyal service.  Dad decided to turn his back on finding another factory job and attempted to grow his part time work into a full time business.  We scraped along for the next eight months on savings and the cash he brought in from remodeling and light construction projects.

I got the ring and enjoyed wearing it until I lost it midwinter.  It snowed one night in January, and on the following day the weather stayed frigid and dry.  My brother and I fought a snowball battle in the side yard after school, and we had to take off our gloves and use the heat of our bare hands to pack snowballs that held together when thrown.  I bombarded Tony for as long as he was willing and taunted him when he retreated inside.  That evening I noticed that my ring was gone.  I searched my bed covers, the kitchen counter and table, under my bed, on my dresser.  Then I remembered the fight, how cold my fingers had been, how my ring slid up and down easily on my wet finger.  I realized that I must have thrown it off my hand when I whipped a snowball at Tony.

I desperately searched the yard the next morning but couldn’t find it in the melting snow, mud, and needles from a nearby evergreen.  When I went to school I noticed guys twiddling their rings on their fingers, tapping them on tables.  I saw girls wearing their boyfriends’ rings on chains around their necks.

I reported the lost ring to my parents that evening and asked them if it could be replaced.  I wasn’t surprised when the answer was “no”.  They weren’t going to pay for a second ring when I had been stupid enough to lose the first.  I didn’t argue that I had paid for the first with my labor. At that time our grocery supplies came up short by the end of each week, our cars were old and dying, and Mom wore a strained look on her face whenever the topic of finances came up.  A ring could wait.

That spring my Dad gave up on his dream of self-employment.  He couldn’t afford the necessary equipment to make his business profitable enough to support a family.  He took the first of a series of dangerous and unpleasant factory jobs while still doing small projects on the side.  I continued to work for him in the summer.  He bought us lunch and cheap beer for the end of the day, and he paid me fifty cents less than minimum wage.  I took it, saved it.  Something was better than nothing.

I met my first girlfriend while working with Dad building another concrete porch.  Marge brought me lemonade and asked if I wanted a radio to listen to as I shoveled and hauled.  Dad let me off early one afternoon a few weeks later when she invited me to come with her to a swimming pool.  I gave him a look of stunned disbelief as we pulled out of her driveway, and he grinned back.

I spent all the money I earned that summer on dates with Marge and forgot all about buying myself another ring.

Death Trap: High School Shakespeare



We urgently need legislation banning productions of Shakespeare’s plays in high schools.  I  have nothing against The Bard.  I don’t think that his sophisticated explorations of the human condition should be withheld from adolescents.  They’re old enough to to discover that their futures will be fraught with complications when it comes to matters of love, ambition, politics, prejudice and greed.  Let them read the plays in their classrooms.  But I believe that high schools should no longer be allowed to put on yet another public massacring of Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer’s Night Dream.  Let there be Not Much Ado About Anything.  I say this in the fervent wish to prevent cardiovascular events striking down parents forced to watch these dramatic bloodbaths.

I admit that this recommendation is based on a limited set of traumatic experiences at Lake Howell High School.  But I fear that even if most high school productions are just one quarter as injurious to the physical and psychological welfare of their audiences as Lake Howell’s, that a severe threat to public health is imminent. Secondary school theatrics should be limited to musicals and Neil Simon plays for safety’s sake.

My first encounter with a disastrous production of Shakespeare happened when I attended a back to back performance at Lake Howell of Julius Caesar and Antony and  Cleopatra.  The director thought that we needed to hear both in one sitting to understand that period of Roman history, but was forced to crudely condense both plays to cram them into a combined running time of two hours.  The stage wasn’t miked, the students hadn’t been taught to project, and the theater had the acoustics of a bus station.  In other words, the audience could hear about half of the lines spoken.  Which was an unintended act of mercy.  The verses that could be heard were recited woodenly as if the actors were growing ever more bored as each new syllable was uttered.  The part of Julius Caesar was given to a boy with a protruding Adam’s apple and acne, and when he was assassinated he looked peeved more than anguished.  He wore the same expression as the knives plunged downward as that of a teenager sulking after being told that he was grounded for a month.  Brutus was about four feet ten inches tall. As he struggled to decide whether or not to help kill Caesar, his friend and mentor, he emoted his painful state of indecision by frowning like a constipated person trying to move his bowels.  I don’t remember much about Antony and Cleopatra beyond two things:  the boy played Antony the way Travolta played Danny Zuko in the movie Grease; and the second act was interrupted, for no apparent reason, by a Las Vegas style girly review danced to the tune of Black Velvet by a troupe of barefoot young women wearing lingerie and heavy mascara.

I know that none of these minor horrors appear to you to have the potency to cause harmful impacts on the health of the audience, but you have to consider the plight of the adults.  The ones who had children in the plays had to grimly witness their sons and daughters participate in theatrical abortions while deluding themselves that their little Becky or Johnny wasn’t as atrocious as the rest of the cast.  The strain, as I sat next to them, was palpable.  And even though I didn’t have a child in the cast I too suffered damage to my well being.  I’m sure that my lifespan was shortened from watching these two plays.

I flirted with having a stroke as I sat through Julius Caesar.  My children were safely beside me in the audience, but our seats were among a group of parents of the actors.  I had to violently suppress the urge on several occasions to howl with laughter.  My shoulders began to shake, tears ran down my face and I almost fell out of my seat.  Annie and Alan looked at me with concern as I appeared to be quietly having a psychotic spasm.  My wife reassured them by kicking me in the leg and hissing, “He’s trying not to laugh.”  The moment that nearly ruptured my spleen began when Brutus (the constipated boy who stood four feet ten) stabbed himself with a rubber sword that wobbled as he stuck it under his armpit. A lumbering jock playing Mark Antony watched nearby.  The hulking lummox then stood over Brutus’ somewhat motionless body and solemnly intoned, “Brutus–there was a man.”  I almost blacked out as I barely managed to hold in, “Whah-hah-hah-bwahhah!”  When I got home I had to lie down for an hour until my pulse returned to normal.

I witnessed another parent suffer from a similar episode of distress, but his suffering was caused by anger.  It was induced during a performance of Macbeth so horrible that words cannot fully describe its staggering lurch from the encounter with the witches to the battle at Dunsinane.  Poor Tom couldn’t flee when he felt the first flames of rage erupt.  He had a son in the play.  The veins in his neck swelled in the second scene, and as the play progressed his face gradually colored until it became a deep, purplish red.  He muttered to himself and clenched his fists and rose half out of his seat on a number of occasions.  At the end I think that he wanted to storm the stage, chase the bowing actors off into the wings and throttle the director.

The bad costumes, poor sets, and awkwardly delivered lines didn’t set him off.  The additions to the staging of the play such as Banquo’s ghost (costumed and made up as Frankenstein’s monster) spilling his guts (cooked spaghetti) into a punch bowl didn’t  enrage him.  The witches miming “In the Afterlife” by the Squirrel Nut Zippers while playing with hand puppets around a cauldron may have contributed.  A voice-over recitation of a section of “The Telltale Heart” by Poe was disturbing.  It was coupled with the witches creeping up on a little boy.  Before the crones attacked he turned to the audience and displayed building blocks with letters spelling out, “RED RUM.”  The link between “The Shining” and the Scottish play was never explained, but Tom seemed to weather that incongruity fairly well.  And the fact that the director, who admitted in the program notes that he had written this revision of the play, had decided to cast both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as women didn’t quite push Tom over the edge.  It bothered me that there was no indication whether the two were engaged in a lesbian relationship, or whether one had gone through an unlikely gender transformation, but Tom’s anger wasn’t provoked by this oddity.

What truly outraged him was that Macbeth wore a flesh colored body suit under her costumes.  The staging of the play called on the young actress to approach the front of the stage on at least three occasions to change her clothes by first stripping down to the body suit.  Her figure was so tightly encased that I had to look away and tell myself that I wasn’t really looking at the nude body of a seventeen year old girl. I was shocked but not surprised. Poor Tom, having witnessed fewer debacles on the Lake Howell stage, wasn’t fully prepared for this assault on his sense of decency and propriety.

I wanted to take him out for a beer afterward to calm him down, but decided to let him go his own way. I feared that alcohol might set him off on a blood soaked rampage truly worthy of the play.  And I had to step away from him to tell my daughter, who had played several minor roles, that the production had been interesting.

The next time I saw Tom he had developed a nervous tic.  It could be aggravated by saying, “Macbeth”.  I was in no better shape.   I suffered from heart palpitations and fits of uncontrolled laughter whenever I encountered a passing reference to Rome and Julius Caesar.

It’s been seven years since the performance of Macbeth, but we two are still much diminished as functioning members of our community.  He is in intensive aversion therapy. I am on blood thinners and tranquilizers.

Don’t let this happen to you.  Stop this scourge before it’s too late.  Verily.




Psyching the Psych Teacher


When I was a senior in high school I took a psychology class as an elective.  The teacher, Mr. K., was a heavy set man in his forties who had an odd sense of humor.  He displayed black, suction cupped, funeral flags on his room’s door frame on the day of a test, and hung a rubber chicken at odd moments from the cord of the Venetian blinds by his desk.  He once stared at my chest with a bemused smile on his face that eventually made me to look down.  I had my glasses in my shirt pocket and wore a sweater on top of my shirt.  I realized that the bump on my chest looked like I was wearing a falsey, and I made a big display, to his added amusement, of pulling the glasses out to show him that his assumption was incorrect. He liked to tease certain students about their supposed love lives, and frequently focused his attacks on one poor soul who was dating the daughter of a much feared and despised civics teacher.   And the psych teacher told us repeatedly to ask an English teacher about his middle name.  We asked, “Why would we want to know that?”  And he always answered, “Trust me.  It’ll be good when he tells you.”  It turned out that Mr. M., the English teacher, and Mr. K. had gone to the University of Dayton back in the day and had drilled together in ROTC.  Mr. M. reluctantly told us after weeks of badgering that his middle name was Joaquin, and the psych teacher was delighted that he had forced this mildly humorous revelation.

I enjoyed the psychology class and the teacher’s penchant for spreading a little in-house gossip about the faculty politics of the school.  His teasing, even when directed at me, seemed all in good fun.  But I didn’t appreciate his unexpected appraisal of my romantic capabilities.  I heard his assessment when my girlfriend interrupted a kiss during a Saturday night date and told me a little story.   Mr. K. was her adviser for the school’s radio club where she served as a DJ at our FM station.  She mentioned to him that we were dating, and he told her that he was surprised.  He said, “Isn’t he a bit slow?”  I was one of his best students, so I knew that he was referring to my reserved nature and conservative life style rather than my mental abilities.  My girlfriend was more experienced than me, and he had assumed that she would have picked a guy who smoked, drank, drove a hot car and had deflowered a cheerleader or two.

On Monday morning I sat at my desk and stared at him as he taught the class.  He asked a few questions, and I didn’t raise my hand or make a comment during a discussion.  He finally  caught my fish eyed glare and asked, “Are you all right, Dennis?  You’re not answering any questions.”  I growled, “I’m feeling a little slow today.”  His eyes popped open wide and his face flushed a deep crimson.   He didn’t call on me for the rest of the class.

Later in the semester some of the other students found an opportunity to bedevil the  psych teacher.  Someone brought in a mechanical duck that made a quacking sound when a button was pressed on its belly.  Mr. K. was lecturing at the front of the class when he heard a quack coming from the back.  He ignored the interruption at first, but demanded the toy when the quacking continued.  No one moved or said a word.  He began to talk once again, but suddenly rushed to the back of the class when he heard another quack.  He searched up and down for the culprit, but was surprised when another quack came from the front of the class.  He said, “All right, fun is fun, but that’s enough.”  It was all quiet for five minutes, and we saw him relax as he continued his lecture.  But then the quack came from the left side of the class.  A few minutes later he was out of breath, angry and frustrated as each one of his increasingly desperate raids resulted in a quack from the opposite side of the class.

I was happily amused by his distress and hoped that the duck would eventually be slipped to me so that I could join in.  But I never saw how it was being passed, and it never came closer than three seats away from me.  I later figured out that the duck wasn’t being passed at all, but that four or five students had each brought in a duck and had coordinated their attack.

Mr. K. never caught the culprits, and they judiciously limited their prank to a one time event.  But he had the last laugh during the final exams.  He hung a rubber chicken from the blinds, flew the funeral flags on the door, and asked as many obscure and difficult questions as he could muster.  We sweated and scribbled and puzzled our little puzzlers as he watched us with a thin smile on his lips.  And the room was silent.

Shot Down in Flames: Asking a Girl Out for the First Time

I was getting my books out of my locker when an old friend approached.  X was a starter on the football team and I was a dweeb.  We had been good friends in grade school, and I think that he kept me around in high school because he looked that much better when he stood next to me.  Anyway, he came up to me and we had a minor argument.  X demanded that I apologize and grovel before his all American greatness, but I refused.  He decided to put me in my place and choked me with one hand around my throat.  I knocked it off with an elbow chop.  He seemed surprised, and decided to reassert his dominance by choking me with two hands.  I chopped with both elbows and squared to him with my fists up.  He could have beaten me to a pulp, but I wasn’t willing to be humiliated by him.  A crowd had gathered around us, and X glanced left and right and sensed that he wasn’t going to win any points by pushing the issue any further.  He walked away.

Valentine’s Day came a few weeks later, and in home room I received a white rose with a note.  That meant that I had a secret admirer.  I had no idea who could possibly like me.  I was genuinely puzzled.  My social standing at that time was somewhat above a leper and somewhat below the nobodies who were mostly ignored.  Most girls made a point of avoiding my company in the halls and classrooms fearing that any association with me would tarnish their reputations.

One girl occasionally spoke to me, however, and seemed to enjoy our brief conversations.  I decided that she must have sent me the white rose.  I looked up her surname in the phone book and called her one night after supper.  Our one phone was on a counter that divided the kitchen from the dining room, and the living room was just a few feet away.  My mother, father and little brother were gathered around the television set, and I had an audience whether I wanted one or not.

Kathy answered the phone and I proposed a date.  She was struck dumb for a few seconds, and then told me that she couldn’t go out on that particular night.  She had to wash her hair.  I proposed other dates, and hair washing always ruled them out.  I realized that I must have been mistaken about the rose, and that she’d never go out with me.  But I was struck by an odd thought before I hung up and retreated to my bedroom:  I envisioned Kathy as Rapunzel trapped in her tower by the constant need to clean her long, long tresses.  I laughed, somewhat involuntarily, and she hung up on me.

X told me a few months later that he got his girlfriend to send the flower and sign the note that came with it, and that I had been the butt of their joke.  He had included a few other people in on the gag, and they had a fine time watching me react when I got the flower.  Somehow the news of my rejection had been spread around the same crowd, and X assured me that it had all been very funny.  He smiled and waited for me to congratulate him on the cleverness of his trick.

He also told me that Kathy was mortified that I thought she might be willing to date me, and was worried that people who mattered would find out that I had called her.  He added that she pined after a football player who wasn’t interested in her because she didn’t look like a cheerleader.  He may have said that to console me.

He had been a good friend for ten years, and I was surprised that he had used me so poorly.  I mentally wrote him off the list of people I trusted, and no longer considered him a friend.

Our little talk wasn’t the end of the trouble, however.  Kathy and I never spoke again, but she had a friend who was willing to torment me for my effrontery.  Ellen made a point of making snide remarks whenever we ran into each other, and I learned to duck down side corridors whenever I saw her coming. We were in a trig class together our senior year, and I continued to pay the price for bringing shame down on Kathy’s head.  Ellen seemed perpetually outraged that I had dared to assume that Kathy and I were social equals.

Five years later I served as a groomsman in X’s wedding.  He married that same high school girlfriend who had sent the white flower. I hadn’t made a point of letting him know what I really thought about him, but he wasn’t thick enough to make me his best man.  He chose a guy who had once punched me in the mouth in eighth grade.

I rode around with X and his intended as we ran errands and drove downtown to get fitted for our tuxes, and she continuously whined and complained about the arrangements that were being made.  I felt sorry for him and asked him when we had a moment alone why he wanted to marry this woman.  He told me that he knew that she would never leave him.

I did my bit at the ceremony and went to the reception.  It reminded me a lot of high school in that no one seemed willing to talk to me, and the bridesmaids didn’t give me a second glance.  The bride, most likely, had told them stories and warned them away.  I made it through a few toasts and the serving of the meal, but left before the cake was cut, the garter removed and the bouquet tossed.  I didn’t say goodbye to the happy couple.  I was sure that I wouldn’t be missed.

Snow Days

When I was a kid growing up in Dayton, Ohio in the sixties it didn’t snow all that often.  Winters were inclement, cold and wet, and dull to look at.  The predominant colors from late October to the beginning of April were black, brown, tan and gray.  The grown ups, if they leaned in that direction, usually began to drink more heavily come the February thaw that promised so much and delivered so little.  It teased us with a glimpse of spring, but quickly withdrew its offer of false hope  and slammed us with more ice, sleet, muck and misery.  The days when it snowed stood out as a relief from dreary monotony even when the temperatures dropped down near zero.  Sunlight on fresh, pure, crystalline snow looked quite lovely, especially when the viewer was too young to shovel, too young to have to drive in dangerous conditions.

1.  When I was in eighth grade it snowed fairly heavily in late January, and it stayed cold long enough for us to fully exploit the opportunity.  One day at recess three of my friends and I decided to play king of the hill on a slope leading from a ditch up to the baseball field.  Jerry and I dominated the throne, and I remember happily tossing Angelo and Mark down to the bottom several times.  Jerry was more of a problem.  He was about my height, was stronger and weighed more.  He got the better of me in most of our wrestling matches, and I had to fight my way back to the top over, through and around Mark and Angelo.  We got hot and sweaty from our combat even though the temperatures hovered near freezing.  My coat and hat were smeared with mud and snow, and I knew that my mother would have a fit if she saw me rough housing.  That was part of the delight.

A few minutes before the bell rang I was at the crest of the hill with Angelo in my grip.  He dared to challenge me, so I grabbed his coat collar, twisted and pushed him down the hill.  It was satisfying to watch him slide to the bottom on his ass.  Jerry decided to take advantage of my moment of gloating to circle behind me.  I sensed some movement, had a premonition of imminent danger, and crouched down abruptly.  Jerry sailed head first over me.  I watched his body glide through the air as it passed three feet above my head, and it seemed that I was watching him move past in slow motion.  His eyes were popped wide with dismay and surprise as he looked back at me while yelling my last name, “Schmalstigggggg,” as he made his long descent to the bottom of the ditch.  He must have sailed fifteen feet through the air before hitting a mound of snow.

My triumph was sweet.  He had decided to spear me in the back by launching himself at me at full speed like a football safety trying to take out a receiver.  His attempt to humiliate and possibly hurt me backfired on him.  At that moment it was good to be king.

2.  In 1977 I was a senior in high school and the winter was unusually cold and snowy.  The temperatures were twenty below at night and didn’t rise much above zero during the day for a whole week.  To make matters worse, there was a coal shortage and the utilities ordered their customers to turn down their thermostats to 65 degrees.  The Kettering school board decided to shut down the schools until the weather changed for the better, and we got five days off.  I missed half of my senior exams, including a test in physics that, based on the reports of students who took it early in the week before the closure, was impossibly difficult.

A few weeks later when we were back in school it began to snow heavily mid morning.  We hoped that the administration would let us go early before it got hard to travel home, but the principal held out until after lunch.  We had already burned through our allotment of bad weather days, and if we made it past the halfway mark of the school day we wouldn’t be forced to make it up at the end of the school year.

We heard an announcement that we could leave at 1:00.  I lived about two miles away and was driven back and forth to school every day by my mother.  I considered calling her but didn’t have a quarter to my name, and finally decided to trudge my way home through the rapidly accumulating snow.  I made it through a park, a sprawling neighborhood of two-story split level houses and across Woodman Drive.  I decide to take a short cut through an old corn field behind Bell Telephone, and there the going got rougher.  The snow had blown off the field and onto the path that ran alongside it, and soon I was slogging through two foot high drifts without boots.  I jumped a fence and cut through the back yard of the house that was across the street from my parents’, and the dogs in nearby yards barked at me.  When I got to my street I stopped to look around before crossing.  The snow fall had dwindled to a stop and start flurry.  The sun came out and I felt that I had stumbled out of a dark and dreary world into a crystalline fairy land unmarked and unspoiled except for my tracks.

It was good that I took some time to look around.  Some guys from my high school came down the street driving too fast in a muscle car with jacked up rear tires.  As they swerved and shimmied between parked cars on either side of the street, narrowly missing them when the driver came close to losing control, one of the backseat guys leaned halfway out of the window and shouted an obscenity at me.  I didn’t take offense.  He did it for pure joy, and I wanted them to stop and take me with them.

3.  It was the winter of 1978.  I got home early from classes at the University of Dayton at around 4:00.  The sun was still up and the sky was partly cloudy.  My Mom was cooking supper in the kitchen and I was looking through my class notes when my Dad came home from work.  I happened to look out the door before he closed it and saw that it had begun to snow lightly.  A few minutes later I looked out the living room window and saw the snow blowing horizontally in a high wind.  The storm howled and thickened until I couldn’t see more than five feet beyond the front porch.  It snowed hard for a couple of hours beyond sunset.  I had never seen a blizzard before, and was very glad that my family had made it home before it hit.  It came down upon us without warning.

When we woke up the next day the world outside had been transformed.  Two or three feet of snow had fallen, and the ground and streets outside had such a thick, general covering that I couldn’t figure out where the road started and our lawn ended.  Many of the familiar landmarks were buried in deep, windblown drifts, and our section of the neighborhood, a clump of houses, yards and streets that I knew by heart, was unrecognizable.

Schools cancelled and most businesses shut down for the day, but my father got a call from work.  He was a general maintenance and fix-it man for a plant that made windows for motor homes.  One of his supervisors told him that he had to go out to the plant and make sure that the furnaces were still running.  Dad asked me to come along with him.  We shoveled out the driveway, swept snow off the car and warmed it up.  I cleared off some of the road in front of our house to give some space for the car to get up to a decent speed before it began to plow through the drifts.  We threw the shovel onto the back seat and dumped a bag of salt in the trunk to give the rear wheels more traction.

It was hard going through the deep snow as we forced our way up the street.  Woodman Drive was a little better.  Passing cars had packed the snow down along some stretches of the road and gave us a track to follow.  The shopping centers, apartment complexes and businesses set further back from the road looked like the abandoned buildings of a town that had been lost to the encroachment of a desert of white, quartzite sand.  It was still difficult to figure out the boundary lines between road and sidewalk and grass, and I was afraid that if we drifted a bit too far off to the right we might bang into a fire hydrant.  We drove all the way to north Dayton to Dad’s plant.  He fooled with some valves on the furnaces, made sure that the oil hadn’t frozen into sludge and checked the water lines.  Everything was copasetic, and we began the long journey home.  The car’s heater finally kicked in and the interior became warm and toasty.

Dad decided to stop for groceries at Bob’s Food Warehouse.  He was a Depression baby and loved the store for its low prices.  The high ceilings, dim fluorescent lights and boxes of generic food on the gray painted shelves depressed the hell out of me, and I was glad when we left.  We still had a half mile to go to reach home.  We traveled five feet across the partially cleared parking lot and got stuck in a drift.  I reached for the door handle to get out and shovel, but stopped when I heard a shout. Four guys came up to our car and started to push.  My Dad honked his horn in thanks when we broke free, and our gang of helpers gave us a little cheer.  When we got home we made some hot chocolate, eggs and bacon.  We were glad to be out of the storm, so to speak, holed up in a warm, cozy house.

I realized that we had been very lucky to make it there and back without getting stuck along a deserted stretch of road.  It would have been tough to find shelter if we had to abandon the car somewhere in north Dayton, and too far to slog it back home on foot.  My Dad was resourceful in a pinch, but I wondered what we would have done.

I heard a few days later, when the snow had nearly melted and the curbside remainder was a few inches of gritty, black slush, that one of our neighbors nearly died during the blizzard.  She had walked out to her mailbox as the first few flakes fell wearing just a shift, a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, and was caught by the storm before she could make it 20 yards back to her door.  She got lost in the blast and wandered around her yard looking for her house.  It should have been hard to lose, but the whipping wind swirled the snow in contrary directions and she couldn’t find any points of reference that lasted more than a few seconds.  She eventually found her front door, but had to be hospitalized for frost bite and the effects of hypothermia.  I’m not sure how long she had to wait  huddled under a blanket in her living room for an ambulance to arrive, but she ended up losing a couple of toes and a finger.