Lighting out For ‘The Woods’

We called it “The Woods.” Well, I did. Sometimes, I referred to it as a “forest,” which it most certainly was not. Our backyard ended at a line of trees and dross beneath them; the lightly manicured, suburban lawn did not grow beyond that line, despite my teen-aged lawn mowing efforts to expand the lawn by clearing the dead leaves and branches away. That tight boundary made The Woods appear all the more elemental, foreign, forbidding, and, of course, inviting.

There was nothing truly elemental or extra natural about The Woods, though; it was not even a particularly non-developed land that surrounded our development. High tension power lines that fed electricity to our thousand-house neighborhood ran along an unpaved road about three football fields away from our back door; thus, the three-hundred-yard-deep stretch of trees that ran the entire backside of the neighborhood, from the Metro-North train tracks along the Hudson River on up and away from the river, merely existed to separate us from the taller-than-average power poles.
Read More

Advertisements

When I Was Ten …

The child has few memories, so those he has are detailed.

We were in my hometown for some reason one summer Sunday afternoon a couple years ago and I said to my girlfriend that I wanted to show her where I grew up. (As if adulthood is a condition I suffer from or enjoy.) We drove down roads I used to bike on, walk on.

I grew up in the suburbs, in upstate New York, in the 1970s and ’80s, a neighborhood without sidewalks, where kids biked across their neighbors’ lawns (well, I did) without fear of criticism. (Well, I wasn’t.) I remember that I knew which houses had dogs that were poorly restrained (so I could avoid those lawns or else find a new speed in my pumping little legs) and which houses were simply scary for reasons no one could explain but everyone knew which houses simply seemed scary.
Read More

Now, and Then, Voyager

If the photo above is not of the actual car that my family owned in 1979, it is the same model Chevy Malibu station wagon that my memory has chosen to remember as the actual car that my parents drove to cart my sister and ten-year-old me around that summer and every other summer, before 1979 and after.

(My memory is not what it used to be: It is better!)

Our family road trips over about two decades included vacations in Vermont (to see family), weekends on Cape Cod and in Pennsylvania Dutch country and along the Connecticut shore. We were not a wealthy family, so our family vacations were always road trips to a destination that we could reach in one day or less of driving. My father was the only driver, so this was more than fair. The long(ish) car ride was simultaneously unendurable and somehow, maybe sometimes, the only part of the trip that was worth remembering.
Read More

Red Tie Formal

“Tails.” I spoke the word out loud with my indoors voice. I ordered white tails to wear at my high school prom.

For many American high school students, senior year means at least two things: Graduation and Senior Prom Night (and the morning after). With no research, I can tell you that “prom” is short for “promenade,” which is long for “prom.” For naive bookworm me, the prom, far more than graduation or even thecontinuousthinkingofthoughtsabouttheentirerestofmylife, was the source of many anxieties.

(There is an ancient cliché about how native peoples who live in the Arctic have 1000 words for snow because they know snow so intimately that they have 1000 words to describe 1000 unique realities. Replace the word “snow” with “anxiety,” and you have me. A thousand different anxieties.)
Read More

Snap, Crackle, Broken!

(Revisiting an anecdote … other projects have my attention at the moment.)

My lust for toys went through phases when I was a kid, from action dolls to Matchbox cars to magic kits to a brief fling with fully functioning model trains, to video games.

The most “useful” action doll was “Stretch Armstrong,” which was the one doll that lived up to its name and moved just like the cartoon character. It stretched. Thus, it was “realistic.” One of my friends had one of these. The least useful was the “bionic man” Steve Austin doll, which was easily broken yet completely indestructible. His bionic eye was not a telescope but instead a simple hole drilled through his head with a glass tube inserted. The tube was cloudy with dust within months or minutes of opening the doll’s box. Thus, it was “real” as opposed to “realistic.” And that of course was the doll I owned.
Read More

Long Ago and …

If the photo above is not of the actual car that my family owned in 1979, it is the same model Chevy Malibu station wagon that my memory has chosen to remember as the actual car that my parents drove to cart my sister and ten-year-old me around that summer and every other summer, before 1979 and after. (My memory is not what it used to be: It is better!)

Our family road trips over about two decades included vacations in Vermont (to see family) and weekends on Cape Cod, in Pennsylvania, along the Connecticut shore. We were not a wealthy family, so our family vacations were always road trips to a destination that we could reach in one day or less of driving. My father was the only driver, so this was more than fair. The long(ish) car ride was simultaneously unendurable and somehow, maybe sometimes, the only part of the trip that was worth remembering.
Read More

Through a Window

A heavy rain drowns each raindrop; a light rain, like the kind I saw in the woods out behind my house when I was a child, a light rain striking the leaves and branches of trees, further slowing their impact, that rain produces the strongest petrichor of all, the one that renders me into an seven-year-old noticing the world for the first time.
 
The lightest of rain after the driest of spells leads to the most argillaceous petrichor, which is the kind that humans smell as relief, the thought that things will start growing again.—”Petrichor,” Jan. 26, 2015

We called it “The Woods.” Well, I did. Sometimes, I referred to it as a “forest,” which it most certainly was not. Our backyard ended at a line of trees and dross beneath them; the lightly manicured, suburban lawn did not grow beyond that line, despite my teen-aged lawn mowing efforts to expand the lawn by clearing the dead leaves and branches away. That tight boundary made The Woods appear all the more elemental and foreign.
Read More

Magic! (Real Magic Not Included)

I wanted the ultimate magic kit when I was a kid, but as with so many things in life, disappointment lay in the fact that the magic kits grew more complex, more “magical,” only with higher prices.

Each of them included a “magic wand,” which was just a wooden dowel painted black, or, in the more expensive kits, painted black with a white tip, because a white tip equals classy. The photo of the kid on the magic box with the white tipped wand often showed the kid in tails and with a top hat. (I am sure that because of kids like me, or because of just me, the toy companies needed to add the disclaimer, “Hat and tails not in package.”)
Read More