Friday, January 15, 2010

Once Upon A Lifetime Ago

For a moment yesterday I was 12 years old again. While it was cool to be the only sixth grader with a beard it was a bit deflating to observe the percentage of whiskers of the "salt" persuasion. Man has it been a long time since anyone shook a pepper shaker anywhere near my chin.

I am not the most technologically proficient person I know. Hell, I am barely the most technologically proficient person I know named Adam Kenny and I am in fact the only person I know toting that name across this mortal coil. Yet on occasion the god of technology smiles upon me. Yesterday was such a day.

Through the magic of on-line social networking (which I used to hope was an oxymoron but now I think is an eerily prescient description of how we really interact with one another here in Century 21 - feel free to pick up your mustard-colored blazer on your way out) I managed to reconnect with an old friend of mine. A man who I last saw face-to-face when we were kids. And damn it if he did not appear to have aged thirty-eight seconds or so in a quarter-century. The more photos I see of other people in their early 40's the more I wonder what it is they have been snacking on all these years for they all seem so remarkably well-preserved. I knew that all my years of dedicated service to the Smirnoffs could hit me hard in my liver but no one told me about the flock of crow's feet and graying hair. I feel betrayed.

Our parents bought a 3.5 acre piece of property in Neshanic Station, New Jersey when I was not quite nine years old, upon which they erected a home. It was "the home where we are going to retire", which presupposed two things that both knew would never occur (Hell - I was nine years old and I knew it for crying out loud): (1) Dad would never retire; and (2) in the unlikely event he did, there was no chance that Mom would live out her golden years freezing her way through New Jersey winters. I would invite you to ask her yourself if you wish. As soon as she comes back from her daily, all-day session on the Florida sand she will give you a holler. Be patient.

Neshanic Station is squarely located on the outskirts of the middle of nowhere. Our house was built in the middle of a 3.5 acre lot because that was essentially how big every piece of property on our block was. As desolate as it was, given that we had lived on Canal Road in Belle Mead up until that point in my life, where my only human contact was the family that ran the Molly G Ranch (continue on up the common driveway past our house) who owned a collie - Blue - who bit me in the face at least one time that I can remember, it seemed like a move to midtown Manhattan. Actually Blue might have bitten me twice. Candidly I was a bigger pr*ck of misery then than I am even now and I most certainly asked for it.

I was in 5th grade when we migrated to the Shangri-La known as Wertsville Road. About eleven minutes or so after we finished taking the last box off of the Conestoga I made the acquaintance of Doug. As it turned out he was a year younger than me and he lived across the street from us with his Mom, Dad and older brother Rob. He and I became very good friends very quickly.

Please remember that we were kids in late 70's rural New Jersey so while I had friends of mine at Wardlaw whose homes were wired for HBO (or at least WHT) Matthew Broderick could have lived to a ripe old age on Wertsville Road without running afoul of Jim Carrey. Thus not a lot of time was spent watching TV - unless we were watching sports. Doug and I spent most of our time playing sports. We played basketball for hours in our front yard off of the hoop that Dad had nailed somewhat cockeyed onto a utility pole. The hoop was crooked and the ground was uneven but we played too many games of H-O-R-S-E and one on one out on that "court" to count.

I smiled thinking this yesterday: in the Spring of 1981, on the afternoon that I almost burned my parents' home down all because Dad insisted on feeding our collie (who never bit me in the face) hot dogs, Doug and I were in the middle of a particularly spirited game of one-on-one when Dad bellowed for me from the kitchen. Doug was a good athlete when we were kids but he was not lightning fast......except for that day. He was up the driveway, across the street and out of sight as if he had been launched from a crossbow. For some reason Dad found implausible my claim that I had only been outside for a few minutes. Perhaps it was the thick black smoke throughout the house? Perhaps it was the burned-black bottom of the pot on the stove that at one time contained both water and hot dogs? Perhaps it was the fact that the smoke alarms in the house had screamed themselves hoarse? Perhaps it was the wiener remnants Superglued to the ceiling of the kitchen - having been ejected from the metal pot that had been their home once every ounce of water had boiled off? Whatever the reason - he bought not a bit of what I was trying to sell him. Doug and I laughed about it the next day and I never for a moment faulted him for abandoning me to take the thrashing by myself.

There were not a lot of kids our age in our neighborhood but fairly soon after I moved in, Doug and I started playing 2 vs 2 in just about every possible sport with two guys who lived down the road from us: Bill and Dave. Bill, Dave and Doug all went to the same school, which I did not so while Doug regarded me as his neighbor and friend, Bill and Dave always kind of, sort of viewed me as an alien invader or some such thing. They were two guys who I spent a lot of my leisure time as a kid between age 12 and age 16 hanging out with although I do not recall the two of them liking me particularly well. I was a necessary evil - a 4th guy to even out the teams.

Truth be told, when the four of us played 2 on 2 games the teams were never even. We must have played 1000 games of touch football on my front lawn. Doug and I always played Bill and Dave. We never lost to them. Candidly, they had no answer for our superior offensive wizardry. We would run reverses and halfback option passes and throw spot passes on kickoff returns and every other thing under the sun. They would simply have one of them throw passes to the other. It was a mismatch in every sense of the word and yet because those two were as close as Doug and I were none of us ever posed the suggestion of changing up teams. The teams were uneven but not unfair. They simply were what they were.

The four of us would also wage war on one another in basketball. At some point - probably when we were all 7th and 8th graders - Bill lowered the hoop that his parents had nailed up above the garage from regulation height down to 8 feet. At that height even the most vertically-challenged among us ("Please allow me to introduce myself") could dunk.....or come really, really close. And we would spend hours trying to posterize each other in Bill's driveway. Again, the teams never changed: Bill and Dave always played Doug and me. While it is possible that at some point they might have actually gotten a game off of us, I think we were close to as dominant in 2 vs 2 hoops as we were in football.

It never really occurred to me as a kid living in the middle of nowhere that I was missing something but not living someplace else. To the contrary, I recall the few summers after Dad died - when we no longer made the pilgrimage to the Grotto - as being a great time to be a kid. Living in the middle of nowhere - among people who you do not really know because you do not go to school with them and you leave for school, which is 30+ miles from home, in the darkness and return home in the darkness - could have been a real drag had I not had a partner in crime. It was not because I did.

But for the advent of modern technology I likely would not have crossed paths with a very dear old friend again. And I would have been all the poorer for it. I think I am going to Google both Bill and Dave. See what they are up to and see if, perhaps, the next time Doug is back East we can find a piece of grass and get together for some 2 vs 2 two-hand touch.

I am older now but I can still throw a pretty mean spot pass. And as Doug has proven on at least one prior occasion in his life, when sufficiently motivated he can run like a gazelle.

I like our chances.

-AK

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