Date: February 02, 2023 08:22PM
I had hosed off the narrow sidewalk alongside my house and was about to put up the hose when the odor of chlorine tickled my nose, and I went Billy Pilgrim. I was eight, and it was a hot, dry summer day in Citrus Heights, California. The side sidewalk was wet underfoot, and I was wearing a swimming suit and running with my brothers, my sister, and the Flint kids, Jane, Russell, and Barry, from across the street. Both our families had above-ground pools in our respective back yards. We ran back and forth, pool to pool, trying to determine which was cooler. Our filters hummed underwater.
My brothers and I liked to lie face-down on the concrete sidewalk while soaking wet. When we pulled up, it would make a suction sound, and there would be dark skeletal impressions of our bodies that would fade in the brutal sunlight like a vanishing Shroud of Turin. I popped a whole roll of caps on that sidewalk with a hammer. The bang echoed off the sides of garages and houses. It was like a firecracker.
There was an empty house about halfway down the street. The Flint kids said not to mess with it, which I took as a challenge. My two brothers in tow, I opened the gate to the empty house’s backyard. There was a large window on the back of the house, with the living room behind it, like our house. Back then I guess people wanted to look at their back yards instead of facing the grim reality of neighbors as financially nervous as themselves. Inside the window I saw that someone had painted an entire wall with a Hawaiin beach scene. Hawaii was considered Shangi-La to Californians. “How About a Nice Hawaiian Punch?”
There was a shed right against the house, and I calculated that I could climb it and gain access to the roof. That would be cool. So I did get up on the roof, and my brothers got up too. We found dozens of these tiny flat packages. They contained new razor blades, so we had that going for us. Some kind of loot. You could use the razor to amputate or decapitate a green army soldier. Melt him on the sidewalk with a magnifying glass.
On the way back to our house, my brothers and I saw a bright object in the afternoon sky. It was tiny and squarish, like a postage stamp seen from across the room. But it was sun-bright, and it hurt our eyes to look at it. I didn’t think of metal reflecting sunlight at the time, so I couldn’t understand the light source. It moved too slowly to be an airplane. Surely it was a sign of end times in the sky, which was something I was taught in Sunday school and a favorite obsession of my father’s. Naturally, I told him about our sighting.
“Ha ha,” he laughed, “you boys have some imagination. You won’t be shown signs until you have the priesthood like I do.”
I didn’t think I wanted the priesthood, as it insisted upon itself so much. They taught me at church that dinosaurs never existed. But at school I saw photos of the bones. My father was losing credibility one thin slice at a time, like those razor blades we found on the roof. It was as if he dropped them into a well, one by one, every time he told me a lie. “No one can ever be successful without the church.” One razor goes whirling down into darkness. “Coffee is evil and of the devil.” Another razor flashes once or twice on its way down. “Our church authorities have warned us about the Beatles.” Throw down two Occam’s for that. The man could make reason stare.
Then I was back in the present moment, and I put up the hose. I had the feeling that there was another chore that needed my attention, but that runaway had already stepped into the van.