When I was 5, I had a “friend” named Larry Schmidt. I remember little about him. He wore glasses, had a cute sister named Dawn and lived in a house I assumed to be built for a wealthy family, even though it was just across the street from mine.
My father told me a tale more than once, a scene featuring Larry and I and our home’s concrete front landing. We boys were sitting quietly, likely discussing the political ramifications of a recent elementary school board election, when suddenly I started screaming. My dad ran to the door, looked out and saw Larry had a clump of my hair in each hand while repeatedly pounding my head into the stoop. Dad roared, Larry ran, I sobbed inconsolably for hours and that was the end of that so far as I know; we were friends the next day and thereafter until I moved.
I only mention this because it surprises me I have no memory of so traumatic an incident. I do recall the event my story “Preteen Pugilist” was based on, wherein I was challenged to a fisticuffs duel before the entire neighborhood and I hid in my closet while my dad demanded I “be a man”. That had to have been within a year of the stoop pounding, and nearly the same time as my being cut out of a trash burner by firemen while the neighborhood kids jeered. I am clear about my having baked an almost flawless custard pie while my parents were away for an hour or two, jabbering with the scary people down the street. Distinctly I can visualize my mother’s face as she bit into her first mouthful of my 7 year old chef’s delicacy, and clamped down upon one of many whole cloves I’d dumped into the mix when I couldn't find ground cloves and figured “what’s the diff? A tablespoon of cloves it is!”
Sure, I can think of the time I was delivered to my house by a copper who had found my 6 year old carcass wandering through the giant earth moving machines on a construction site nearby. I can still hear the screen door slamming behind me, and the shouted “and stay there or the next time it’s jail for you!” And there was Nikki Olson’s father Quentin, a 6 foot 6 inch mass of blubbery flesh supporting Popeye arms and a Brutus head, chasing me across the lawns of Washburn Avenue just because I’d stood at their house’s back door screaming vulgarities at Nick for having prematurely killed my bazooka squadron with his Stukka dive bomber and then running home to brag to mama about what a perfect little general her son was.
But I don’t remember the head slamming.
Perhaps it knocked something loose; something that to this day remains dislodged, askew, flibberty-jibbetted. Something that sparks occasionally, like a shredded power line seen snaking through felled trees, peering from the underside of innocent looking leaves lying in the center of a flooded main thoroughfare after a tornado has turned a beautiful, sleepy village into a blackened, disfigured wasteland. Something that enables recall of every single wrong suffered, every kick in the pants, each humiliating moment, all of a life’s insults heaped upon me each in turn… all except the head thumping that Larry Schmidt gave me.
Or… maybe I can’t remember because I only have space for one Larry Schmidt memory, and I have a good one stored, so, sorry… no room at the inn for bashings. There is of course one other possibility; that my dad just made it up to keep me humble. He might have thought to falsely recount one ass whooping I took early on so as to assure me that I was not and never would be invincible. Surely, if Larry Schmidt could kick my ass, what with his black horn rim glasses with the tape in the middle holding them together and the cute sister named Dawn that was stuck up and wouldn’t talk to me even though I was her brother’s best friend, then damn near anyone could whop me upside the head with malice.
While any of those scenarios may be true, and even others that have more to do with extra-terrestrials or World Bank conspiracies than mere human foibles, I would choose to believe that I can only evoke the name Larry in a good light, as I have limited brain cells and he only deserved one pigeonhole. That may be a terrible mistake, as that head bashing may be what changed me from budding superhero to emo clod; but Larry gets a bye on his malicious attempted murder, as he just may have destroyed the brain cells meant to store the memory.