Keith had a birthday party at his house. My younger brother and Jimmy’s younger brothers were there. My brother, Daniel, and Jimmy were not there. They often made the long walk to visit with their friend, the older John. Mike Holly was not there. Mike had told me that since it was his last year at Wakefield, when his family moved to McArthur street, he had been allowed to remain at Wakefield instead of being transferred to Utterback. He often went visiting with his friends from Wakefield. Keith went to Utterback. It was amazing the rivalry between these two junior high schools. Janet Holly and Keith’s sister were there.
Keith wanted to arm wrestle with me. He always seemed to want to do this when I was at his house. He would always beat me but this time I had a strategy. I acted like he was winning and kept letting my arm lower back. At the same time I was letting him waste his energy by giving just enough resistance to his pressure. When my arm got rather low to the tabletop I started slowly pushing back until our arms were in the starting position again. Keith was getting frustrated and started pushing with all his strength. I just held the position, not trying to push forward. When I could see that his arm was getting tired I slowly started pushing his arm back. I kept doing this slowly while resisting his frantic efforts to push my arm back. A little at a time I was able to push his arm back until I could see that his arm was getting really tired. Then I pushed down on his arm as hard as I could, slamming his hand down on the table. “Damn it!” Keith yelled. “Mark beat Keith!” I kept hearing the other kids saying. I felt a little shocked that Keith would cuss in front of the little kids. Keith was mad. He wanted a rematch. I didn’t want to but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I tried to use the same strategy but Keith got frustrated and lifted his elbow high off the table to push my arm back. I just said that was cheating and he didn’t really win. He wanted another rematch but he did the same thing again, lifting his elbow off the table.
I said I wasn’t going to arm wrestle with him anymore if he was going to cheat. I was glad that I said this because I was tired of the way he always wanted to arm wrestle. I remembered when he wanted me to hit him in the shoulder as hard as I could and I didn’t want to. He kept insisting. He said it didn’t even hurt. I said I didn’t hit him as hard as I could have. He said he wanted me to hit him again as hard as I could. I must not have had the ability to want to hurt someone so I couldn’t hit him with all my strength. He just told everyone that it didn’t even hurt.
Keith’s sister brought Janet Holly to me and said she wanted to see which of us was taller. Keith’s mother wanted to see, also. They had us stand back to back. They told me to stand up as tall as I could. They had a ruler to put on top of our heads for measure. Janet’s body felt so warm and soft against my back. Even the back of her head with her soft hair was against mine. I marveled at her softness. Keith’s sister said, “She’s taller than you!” Keith’s mother said, “She’s taller than you!” The kids chimed in, “Janet is taller than Mark!” Keith reappeared to keep shouting at me, “She’s taller than you! She’s taller than you!” I didn’t see why that should be such a big deal so I just smiled and shrugged.
Keith’s mother couldn’t understand why I didn’t want more cake and ice cream. I actually had a low tolerance for too much sugar. Ice cream made me feel a little queasy in my stomach. The cakes that Keith’s mother had made seemed to have double the amount of sugar in them. They had about an inch of frosting on top and a lot of frosting in the middle. After she asked me if I wanted more cake and ice cream and I said, “No, thank you”, I just ate some potato chips and drank some punch. She came back and asked me again if I wanted more cake and ice cream. She seemed frustrated. She just couldn’t understand why I didn’t want more cake and ice cream. I walked back home with my little brother from the party to our house on E. Illinois St. I couldn’t stop thinking about Janet Holly.
On summer nights I and my two brothers often slept outside in the back yard in sleeping bags under the sky since the summer nights were so warm and beautiful in Tucson. Countless stars were everywhere in the sky. Even without a moon there were so many bright stars because of the clear, desert sky that there was light. My father had built a small fire pit on the ground with red, clay bricks and cement that he called a fireplace. We would build a fire from scrap wood and sit around the fire on large, smooth stones my father had collected.
My mother and father said it would be okay to invite Jimmy, Ronnie and Donnie over to sleep outside in the back yard. Keith was invited, too. We roasted hot dogs on long twigs from the weeping willow tree. Then we had fun roasting marshmallows. We twirled the red burning embers at the end of the twigs in the air to make circles of red orange light in the darkness. I even got fancy and tried to write longhand words with the glowing embers in the dark. The boys loved this.
I had read a book from the Tucson public library of ghost stories for children that was published by Alfred Hitchcock. Although it took me awhile to finish the book when I did finish on a Saturday I was so impressed that I read all the stories all over again.
I gained a reputation with my brothers for telling ghost stories around the campfire. They wanted me to tell ghost stories. I started to tell the same stories again. I told the story about a man who had bad luck because he had been tricked into walking a widdershin. A widdershin was a counter clockwise circle and this was considered to be bad luck. Then my brothers asked me to tell the story of Old McDonald. It was the story of a farmer named Old McDonald who stayed too late in town and had to walk home in the dark. Along the way he encountered a ghost. He had a conversation with the ghost. As I was telling the story I looked at the faces of the boys in the firelight especially the little ones, my brother, Ronnie and Donnie. They had smiles on their faces and listened intently. I told a few more stories and they wanted to hear the story of Old McDonald again. Even my older brother wanted to hear the story again because he said it was one of his favorites. Story telling was interesting because I found myself embellishing the stories just because of the reactions and sometimes questions from my audience. It was as if they wanted me to add to the stories. I had to admit that the telling of the stories was never the same and they seemed to change over time.
After the fire had turned to glowing embers I walked to another part of the yard and was talking with Jimmy and my older brother. Soon there was a hissing sound. I looked to see that Keith was urinating on the embers. There was steam from the fireplace and a horrible smell. “Uuhh!” I exclaimed and moaned a little. What kind of person would do such a thing? I was in disbelief. I walked over to Keith and scolded him. It didn’t seem to phase him any.
The little boys were still running around the back yard playing when I retired to my sleeping bag. I couldn’t sleep. I was lying on my stomach. I drew in the dirt with a stick, “Mark + Janet” and started singing quietly to myself with the melody of a pop song, “I love Janet Holly”. The little boys noticed and started to tease me. I messed up what I wrote in the dirt and turned on my side to go to sleep covering up my face with the top of the sleeping bag. I still sung very quietly to myself, “I love Janet Holly” a couple of times before going to sleep.
It wasn’t long before Keith invited us to sleep in his back yard. His backyard was entirely under all of these trees so there was only dry grass and some patches of dirt underneath. My brother, Daniel, and Jimmy weren’t there. My little brother, Ronnie and Donnie were there. First I had to deal with Keith’s now overly friendly German shepherd trying to lick my hands and slobber on me. I was starting to feel dirty and grimy. Then Keith’s mother gave us packages of hot dogs. When I went to open the packages I noticed there was a white, milky liquid in with the hot dogs. I pulled one of the hot dogs out to see that the milky liquid was sticky. I smelled the hot dogs and they had a sickening, sweet smell. I realized that it would be dangerous to eat these wieners. I told Keith and the boys that the hot dogs were spoiled. I had eaten supper at my own home earlier so I wasn’t too hungry.
There was a spotlight in Keith’s backyard. There was the yellow, incandescent light, shadows and darkness under the trees. It was perfect for making the little kids want to play tag. I played tag with them as they ran around. At a certain point I emerged from under some trees to find myself facing Keith who confronted me. He grinned and punched me in the stomach. I doubled over with pain. My little brother ran up and asked me what was wrong. I told him, “Keith punched me in the stomach”. “Keith punched you in the stomach?” he exclaimed. I starting walking to my sleeping bag with my hands over my stomach still doubled over. My brother, Ronnie and Donnie ran up. Ronnie and Donnie asked, “What’s wrong with you?” I said, “Keith punched me in the stomach”. “Keith punched you in the stomach?” they said and then they ran off. I was lying in my sleeping bag on my side. I had never been punched in the stomach before. I had no idea how painful it was. The little boys continued to run around the back yard playing tag.
The next morning I walked home with my little brother. I knew that the days of sleeping in back yards with the other boys from McArthur Street were over. My brothers and I still slept in our own back yard with a fire and ghost stories the way we had always done.
Why I continued to remain friends with Keith seems like a mystery. I actually felt a sense of being understanding towards him. As young as I was I read a lot of articles in magazines about all the social problems in America. I understood that Keith was the product of his background and that he went to a tough public school with a bad reputation. I still liked his sense of adventure. I sometimes would see his father coming home from work. His father was a tall, chubby, burly man. He looked like a worker, wearing his blue jeans and white, cotton undershirt. He often came home with a case of beer.