Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Folks like to talk about how dangerous it is these days, how you can't walk down the street anymore without fearing for your life, and they long for the good old days where every evening Dad took you down to A&W for Burgers and a Frostie.
But it just wasn't that way.
It wasn't that way at all.

Hell, when I was a kid I had to watch out for about three dozen different bad-asses that would give me a thorough ass whuppin anytime I might stray off my particular block. And it wasn't too safe at school either.
Remember the "Swirlie" hair-do? That's where they stick your head in the toilet and flush. Ever get one of those?

Dan Jensonowski was one of the most misogynic and sadistic Safety Patrol Guards you would ever want to meet. If he is not incarcerated now, then he is surely a Prison Guard, and kickin' some poor innocent Con's ass somewhere. Dan used to give me nuks when ever I had to cross the street at his corner which was twice a day. Some days, if I was feeling particularly puny, I would go two blocks out of my way to avoid being brutalized by Dan Jensonowski.

Then there was James Glowers. He was a fat kid that would sit on you and blow cigarette smoke into your face. He had bad hair, bad breath and bad acne. He was like some kind of villain out of a Batman episode, with weird henchmen and everything. Put poor asthmatic Bill Spencer in the hospital one day, he did. Bill didn't breathe right for years.

I grew up in Detroit during the riots, and there was smoke blowing through our windows every night. Dad woke me up and took me down to Jefferson Avenue at 3:00AM to watch the National Guard* move in.
Don't give me any shit about how its "dangerous" these days....Downtown Detroit was 3 miles away, you could hear the Rat-a-tat-a-tat of gunfire and the whole city was on fire. The result was forty-three dead, 467 injured, over 7,200 arrests and more than 2,000 buildings burned down inside of five days.
Hell, even in my rich-kid Mafioso neighborhood, Grosse Pointe Park, the Mob told the cops to stand down and black limos patrolled the streets for the duration of the riots.
Its all true, my own  mother will testify to it.

So will the mother of Tanya Blanding, a 4 year old girl, who died as a result of a gunfire from a National Guard tank stationed in front of her house.

Every time I hear the Ice-Cream truck coming down the street, I shudder and say a prayer for little Georgie, Georgie Duke, who was run over and paralyzed from the waist down while he was eating his Strawberry Shortcake Good Humor Ice Cream Bar at the ripe old age of 10 in the summer of 1967.

Yeah baby, those were the good old days.

* 8,000 Troops with Tanks. Yes, Tanks, two blocks from my house.

Jefferson Avenue, July 1967

And it wasn’t much different when I moved back to Texas .
I made friends with the guy up the block, Jeff Bargren. He was my first friend here in Texas .

We were friends for all of two weeks when he got hit by a car on the 121 access road coming off the pedestrian bridge on his way to Shady Oaks Elementary. Nearly killed him, and left him with a fair amount of brain damage.
With a Herculean effort and a year of intense therapy, he learned to walk and talk again and was able to join us mates in school.

School, where he was mocked, teased and bullied quite a bit, even by myself though not directly to his face.
In the end the metal shop Hoodlums and car repair guys took him in.
I think of Jeff and those Metal Shop Hoods whenever I start feeling a little judgmental, a little abrasive to other people, and try to remember that just a little kindness can go a long, long way and that kindness can come from some unlikely places.
Meanness too.


SkippyMom said...

Wow. I know Pooldad remembers the riots in DC growing up, but I was just a wee baby. Anything I see now is from film and history books.

It simply isn't the same as reading accounts such as yours. wow.

Barbara said...

I learned a lot about those wonderful days in Motown when I read Middlesex. Have you read it?

Anonymous said...

Ok. Wow. what a history you have to hand down to your grandkids (when they happen).

One thing I'm maybe too innocent or whatever, what are nuks?

Martijn said...

Note to self: never jump to conclusions again. When I saw "The good old days" I shuddered and thought: 'oh gawd, please don't let him tell happy childhood memmories', cause I have more than enough happy memmories then I can bear. But see, it was another fabulous story about brutality. All this makes me so glad I was born & raised in Holland, probably the most friendly country in the world. When you're older that atmos gets nausiating, but is like a warm blanket for children. I was never bullied nor have seen anyone being bullied. That thing was seriously frowned upon, a sign of very bad manners... bad sportmanship. And tanks... oh wait, I suddenly remembered that the '68-'69 riots in Amsterdam (squatters & left wing militants against the cops) let my parents decide to move to the country. Oh well, never mind. Enjoyed your stories Steve!

Angela said...

Oh my God, what a childhood! I just love honest memories! Thanks for these, Steve.
And thank you also for your thoughtful comment on my blog. I was impressed by what you said, I was!
But when will you ever solve that Rhinestone Cowboy riddle. Thanks to Water Baby I know now what a rhinestone is, but has the cowboy got to do with them????

Angela said...

What!! WHAT has the cowboy...?

West Texas Insomniac said...

"Good Old Day Syndrome" is surely selective, as it should be. Pick an era, and you can find something to romanticize about it and/or something to show how rough it was.

Dad took me outside of Buffalo Gap, Tx once to show me the house he grew up in during the 1930's & 40's. No electricity. No indoor toilet. The only thing still standing was the cistern. He didn't have to say anything. Just a few generations earlier they'd come west in covered wagons.

I had a car at 15, cable TV & a phone in my room. He did his homework by a lantern. My 7 year-old granddaughter can do hers on a laptop. I know it's a little off-topic, (and obvious), but the "Good Old Days" are relative to your experiences.

Stu J 2.0 said...

sounds like a personal sob story to me...out here in Cali they raised our state taxes by like 2 cents per kilowatt hour...we rioted and then ate at Coco's...they actually did not honor our CoCo' Apple Pie coupons so we rioted again...and received free BlockBuster movie passes...and then I used that pass on a movie with Jennifer Aniston in you can truly see how much I suffered during those harsh times.........

Angela said...

Excuse me, Steve, me again. I got such a nice and interesting comment from Martijn but cannot reach him, and you two seem to be friends. If he doesn`t have a blog (?), maybe he has an email? You could give him mine if he wants it.
Water Baby explained about the rhinestone cowboy to me!! NOW I see... I got still a lot to learn about America, good to have friends who can help. Thanks to her and you!

Martijn said...

Angela... thanks so much for the compliments about my comment. It wasn't much in comparrisson to that wonderful posting of yours. I'm a little reluctant of placing my e-mail address on the web out of spam fear, but either Steve can give it to you, or I myself when I can find yours on your own weblog... I'll go check now. Hey!

Martijn said...

Hi Angela, I couldn't find your e-mail address on your blog, but I'm sure Steve will be friendly enough to send it to you.