K Through 5

Photo on 10-5-14 at 10.30 PM

Kindergarten. There was that one where I went to that lady’s house in the basement. She lived in jasper. We sang religious songs. I remember it as being dark down there.

There was the other kindergarten, West Birmingham Christian. I went to that boy’s house who was in kindergarten with me. I think his last name was Skelton. That kind of freaked me out because it sounded like Skeleton and I had some pretty imaginative ideas about what the skeleton family might look like. They had a crocheted poodle toilet paper cover on the back of their toilet. Something bad happened there.

There was a girl at that kindergarten who could do perfect cartwheels. I think her name was Martha Mobley.

I have a bad, sad, scary feeling when I think about kindergarten.

1st Grade. Mrs. Pearl, my first grade teacher had polio she was all stooped over and walked by strenuously shuffling along the floor. Because I was so tall, I was nearly as tall as she and she held onto me as we walked along the hall. She pulled down hard on my arm.

We grew butterbean plants in milk cartons in the window.

I remember looking at the black kids’ skin and thinking it was beautiful. I wanted to touch Aaron Hunter’s stomach and see if it was as velvety as it looked. He had an outie. It was in the first grade that I was more exposed to racism and it scared me and made me sad.

Lynn Shepherd and I were the best readers in class. She and I had been on the front page of the Daily Mountain Eagle, the local newspaper on Valentines Day. I was kissing her on the cheek and she was holding a big (empty) box of Valentine candy that I had supposedly given her. It was actually a prop provided by the newspaper. I think I remembered thinking I couldn’t have afforded such a big, nice box of candy. Lynn was actually the second girl they tried to do the photo shoot with. The first was Regina Hyche but she pitched a fit and screamed and cried. Regina Hyche grew up to be a lesbian but I don’t think I had anything to do with that. Maybe that was why she was so averse to being kissed by a boy, because it felt unnatural to her. Kissing Lynn Shepherd felt unnatural to me too but having the attention and being on the front page of the paper in color was worth the price of admission.

Second Grade. In second grade I put and extension cord in my mouth and ripped a big hole in my cheek. It’s really a wonder I didn’t scar badly since I tend to keloid but you can’t even really see it now. It ripped my mouth open kind of like the way they cut the Black Dalia’s mouth. Uncle Frank grabbed me and slapped me to make me stop screaming. While it was happening I could only see gray static and smell my burning flesh. I was embarrassed to return to Mrs. Barker’s 2nd grade class because I felt disfigured. I did not feel like I was a good-looking boy.

There was another little boy in the other section of the 2nd Grade. I can’t remember his last name but I think his first name was Rodney. He lived over in Taylor subdivision. I thought he was beautiful! Dark hair and eyes, olive skin. Every time he saw me he would punch the palm of one hand with the fist of the other like he was saying that we were going to fight. It scared the shit out of me because I was afraid of fighting but I was so absolutely smitten with him I started to make the same gesture when I saw him and welcomed the terrifying interaction.

Third Grade. In 3rd grade they tried this thing where we had different teachers. We stayed in the same classroom but different teachers came to our room each period to teach us their area of expertise. Mr. Powell was one. He was a sweet man who wore huge trousers pulled up to what I imagine was just below his nipples if he had them. He kept track of time by a large windup alarm clock he kept in one of his enormous pockets. Earlier in life, Mr. Powell had been driving behind a logging truck when one of the huge tree trunks slid off the pile, through his front windshield and into his face. It was before the days of advanced plastic surgery so they did the best they could. They could basically only pick one permanent expression so they picked smiling in an attempt to portray a pleasant disposition and hopefully win him future friends. It made for an odd experience when he was angry with the class. He’d basically stand there grinning and yelling at the class. It was hard to take him seriously.

Ms. Guthrie was one of the other 3rd Grade teachers. She wore bellbottom pantsuits every day. Her favorite was power blue, which she matched with her eye shadow. She liked to paddle us in the palms– a lot. All my teachers in my school liked to paddle. Ms. Guthrie eventually ran afoul of one of the redneck moms by bruising her little princess’s palm. Ms. Guthrie disappeared and I feared (but sort of hoped for) the worst. About a year later I saw her taking orders and McDonald’s so I imagine her penchant of punishment eventually proved her ticket out of academia and into fast food. I was happy becaused I hated her for hitting me.

4th Grade. In 4th Grade we went back to having one teacher per class and ours was Mrs. Rowland. She picked her nose with the long, meticulously manicured fingernail of her index finger. She’d basically scrape the caverns of her enormous proboscis with a talon that had been shaped into a glossy red spade. It was disgusting and I was transfixed by it. She loved talking about the Russians and the threat of nuclear war. She would go on and on about the Soviets which she pronounced “Sah-viet.”

One day I worked up the courage to ask Tim Buzzbee to show me his penis. I told him I’d be happy to show him mine in return. He declined and his rejection wounded me deeply. Looking back, I must say that I’m impressed with my level of courage to propose such a thing in the first place.

Having been rebuffed by the cutest boy in class, I turned to the company of girls– sort of the reverse, I think, of what a lot of straight boys have done to end up with their dick in the mouth of another boy. The girls sure welcomed the attention though so I spent most of “play period” hiding in the bushes with them. I talked Marie Dykes into walking underneath the monkey bars while I was hanging upside down from the and pulling out her shirt to show me her breasts. I was crestfallen to discover that at age ten, her chest looked exactly like mine. I still found her interesting enough to make another proposal and we set up a system where we would signal each other by holding up our pencil in class and sort of waving it around inconspicuously. That was our cue to meet in the cloakroom where the pencil sharpener was. One of us would put in a pencil to make the grinding noise and we’d perform a perfect and innocent little peck on the mouth. One day I decided we needed to take it to the next level so Marie Dykes has the distinction of being my first French kiss. She was wearing faded bellbottom blue jeans frayed at the bottom and a white, button-down boy’s dress shirt tied up like a halter. How she got away with dressing like that I’ll never know, the little temptress. The feel of our tongues intertwining gave me a thrill, sort of a pleasant version of putting the extension cord in my mouth. She’d been eating Fritos and I love them especially, even to this day. It’s a wonder our parents didn’t go broke buying us pencils that year.

5th Grade. When Mr. Blair came to the middle school to show us the line of instruments the band students would need to buy, I fell in love. I fell with a nickel-plated Bundy trumpet in a faux-fur lined case. I knew I must have it. I don’t remember how much it cost but whatever it was sounded like a fortune. I talked my parents into letting me cash out my college savings account they had stared for me. I think it had $200 in it. I bought this most beautiful trumpet and set out to become Doc Severinsen.

At S.J. Hembrick Middle School, sometimes they’d give the kids a “free day.” That meant that after lunch there would be no class and we were basically allowed to roam free outside. (I know! Can you believe it?) We’d never know “free day” was coming until we got to the lunchroom and saw brown paper sacks lined up like soldiers on the lunch counter. That was cause for rejoicing. We’d snatch the brown bags and head for the outdoors where we were allowed act like guests of Gatsby for the rest of the afternoon until time to board the school buses home. We’d burn up the rest of the school day playing on the playground and, if you can believe it, running through the woods next to the schoolhouse. There were trails aplenty and ample opportunities for mischief. Melinda Kemp had supplanted Marie Dykes as my make-out partner and we did plenty of it in a little alcove down one of the darker trails. Roslyn Stewart and I became best friends and she and I would sit on the hillside and ramble out “Rappers’ Delight” down to the last perfect syllable over and over. Roslyn is black and our friendship afforded both of us some taunting and bullying, me probably more than her. “Nigger Lover” was added to the already growing list of nicknames I had acquired– such monikers as faggot, sissy, and queer.

It was in the 5th Grade that I had my first real drink too. Tim Buzzbee (yes, the same Tim of “no you cannot see my cock you freak” fame) gave me a pull off his hidden bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. I guess if he wasn’t going to let me suck on one thing, another would do. I later learned to love cheap sweet wine. It goes especially well with marijuana in a dark air-conditioned apartment in the summertime.

Phillip Johnson rode his motorcycle to school (God, this all seems so weird now! We were in the 5th Grade for God’s sake!) I knew then I wanted to have a motorcycle one day but of course we couldn’t afford it. I talked him into letting me sit on it at least. I’d already discovered “huffing” gasoline at home so I screwed the lid off the gas tank of Philip’s bike and stuck my nose inside. That’s where the principle found me, passed out and high as a kite. He took me over to the high school where my mother was a teacher. I spent the rest of the day in the band room with Mr. Blair. Surely no one could have considered this punishment.

God, how I wish I could have had a conversation with my 12 year old self.

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