Lansing, MI

Up the hill lived Joey Zale who was a biter. He had gotten me a few times and bitten my brother bad enough that my mom took him for a tetanus. Joey Zale was the grandson of the champion boxer Tony Zale. One of his belts was hung on the wall. The biter must have been a great disappointment to the family. Joey Zale later drowned his sister's rabbit in the swimming pool. It was after that he bit my brother and my mom said I couldn't see him anymore.

Next door to the Zales was a strange family with a young girl who didn't talk but was always naked. In the summers she liked to run around the neighborhood naked. She ran around naked after dinner one evening. It was dusk. She ran down the hill and her father and mother chased after her. I watched it from the window. She was running around naked so much nobody cared.

Charlie lived next door and he was my best friend. His mom bought him all the Star Wars my mom didn't buy for me. He had a tv and we didn't and I went to his house as much as I could. We knew we were really brothers. My little brother wasn't really my brother. Charlie and I were together every day, all the time.

Then when we were 6 years old Charlie died. I was with my brother and my parents at church when it happened. Charlie was being babysat by his older sister and he didn't want to take a bath. With the tub filling he snuck out of the bathroom and into the garage where he grabbed his BMX bike and hit the button to close the garage door. The door clipped him as he tried to ride out under it. The door came down on top of him on his chest. His father had been working overtime on the GM line and hadn't had time to fix the safety. The door just kept pushing and pushing on Charlie. When his sister found him he was blue. He was on the machines a few days and then they took him off. At the funeral my brother kept asking why Charlie was sleeping and when he was going to wake up to play.

After that my mom cried a lot. Charlie's mom came over and they cried together. Charlie's mom quit being an Avon lady. She had an oil painting done of Charlie and put it up in their den. She got a replacement kid from the orphanage and my mom said I had to play with him. His name was Chad and he wasn't anything like Charlie. My mother was angry with me after I ditched that kid in the woods. He was a weird kid.

Fat Matt lived up the street. I learned how to say "ain't" from him until my mother stopped it. Matt's father was a hunter and gave me deer jerky. One day I sold Matt a lot of fool's gold but his mother made me buy it back from him. His mother was real fat and there was always a glass of pop sitting out on their kitchen table. Anybody could take a sip if they wanted it. I would drink the glass of pop and watch Gilligan's Island and when I came back the glass was full again.

Black Andre was the best bike rider in the neighborhood. We'd go up on the hill and Andre would take your bike and you'd sit behind him on the seat, him standing on the pedals and you'd go down that hill so fast with him you'd think you'd crash but you didn't. His father had to go away to the penitentiary and then Andre moved away.

We moved away too. When we moved out of that house and went to Chicago I heard the family that moved in after us kept snakes. Big snakes. Lots of snakes. I didn't like to think about snakes in my room. I didn't like to think about that.


  1. I can't help but imagine my own block when I read this. But we didn't have Stars Wars figures on my block - on my block it was G.I. Joe.

  2. The GI Joes came later. All the thumbs broke off the figures so they couldn't hold the guns anymore. That production defect was later corrected--perhaps a different plastic polymer was used. It was around that time they added the upper arm swivel, which made them even more exciting to play with. It was a very good time to be alive.

  3. Tony Zale was a champion though. Goddamn.


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