by: Chris Thompson
The tireless youth of front porch America seek adventure in the golden depths of summer…
It was a perfect summer afternoon. The kind you could just exist in forever. The blue cloudless sky stretched endlessly above me as I stood there barefoot in my parent’s backyard, my head tilted impossibly back and the too-long blades of grass tickling as they threaded themselves between my toes. I could’ve stood there in that moment for all eternity, looking up into that cloudless sky, with the warm kiss of the midday sun alight on my freckled skin.
“Hey Fawcett!” A familiar voice intruded on my moment of solitude. It was my next-door neighbor Manny and as I turned to face him he emerged from the dense row of boxwood separating our backyards, a chubby looking Hispanic-American kid being birthed by a sea of fluttering green shrubbery.
“Fawcett! Whaddya’ doin’ out here all by yourself?” He continued as he sauntered over to me, his small hands pulling at the twigs and dead leaves that had stuck to him on his journey through the boxwood.
“I’m charging my batteries dummy.” I replied. “Didn’t you get the news? I’m a robot.”
“Funny.” The voice replied “You’re hil-ar-ious, you know that Fawcett? Really. Like you should be a comedian or something.”
“And you should be the president of people who ask dumb questions.” I shot back.
That got Manny good, and he was on me in a flash. Like a wolf going in for the kill he dove at my legs, letting out a throaty growl as he knocked me onto the soft grass of my parents backyard. We rolled around for several tense minutes, a roiling cloud of howls and exclamations, sticks and twigs, insults and guffaws, each of us the others equal, and neither one able to get the upper hand. Finally exhausted we collapsed onto our backs, spread-eagled in the grass and looking up into the clear blue sky, beads of perspiration mixing with the tiny clods of dirt and grass upon our faces.
“You all set for tonight?” Manny asked me, putting his hand behind his head as he looked up at the sky. An airplane was heading West, chasing the sun, its rays glinting harshly off the metallic hull as the plane passed silently overhead, carrying an endless caravan of travelers to far off places. Manny made a gun with his stubby little fingers and shot it out of the sky.
“Yeah, I’m ready.” I replied “How ‘bout you? You steal your dad’s hatchet yet?
“Not yet, but I’ll get it.” He replied, his interest lost in the plane. “I’m gonna’ grab one of his hunting knives too. It’s a big one. Like what Rambo used in First Blood. I’m gonna grab ‘em both right before we leave.”
“Cool. Well Simmons should already be over at Tyler’s house and Kimmell and his cousin have the tent and camp stove all taken care of and are meeting us at the usual spot. Soooo basically, I think we’re all set.”
“Cool. I’m psyched.” Manny said, rolling over onto his stomach in the grass.
“Oh and one more thing,” I said, throwing in a long pause before I spoke again. “Cough wants in.”
Manny looked right at me and rolled his eyes. “Cough? Really? C’mon, he’s like a walking downer!”
“He’s OK once you get to know him. He’s just shy.”
“Shy is an understatement. That kid’s straight up frightened of the world.”
“All the more reason he should come along with us you know? Plus, he asked me if he could come. Said he needed a break from his three sisters. I figure maybe he’s trying to climb outta’ his shell.”
“Fine, he can come along but he’s your responsibility. I’m going to be too busy at the lake making out with freshmen girls to worry about the likes of you two.”
“You wish.” I said, smiling as I punched him in the shoulder.
Sitting up on my knees I took in the wide expanse of our neighborhood from my backyard, watching as it vibrated in the warm summer sun. Everything was as it always was and it gave me peace. Mr. Johnson was out in his cut-offs and v-neck tee, a red bandana fastened around his neck as he mowed his impeccably maintained lawn for the hundredth time this summer.
And Mrs. Holt, widowed last autumn when Mr. Holt came down with pneumonia, was sitting once more in her screened-in back porch. The lemonade in her hand was forgotten, its ice cubes long since melted away and that far-off look was firmly present in her eyes as she stared off blankly into the distance.
And the grade school twins Remy and Lentil, our neighbors on the other side, were jumping off the edge of their above ground pool, splashing into its blue rippling waters again and again, like a perpetual summer cannon ball machine. Their shrieks of childish laughter adding to the symphony of summer sounds drifting in on the fragrant breeze.
“Alright, well I’ll call you later on the walkie-talkie Manny.” I said as I stood up.
“Sure thing Fawcett.” He said as I climbed our back porch stairs, crossing between my dads new summer toy, a shiny Weber charcoal grill, and my mom’s idea of summer relaxation, a double wide quilted reversible hammock.
Before I opened the sliding screen door I turned and watched as Manny hopped to his feet and smoothed the wrinkles in his blue linen shorts. He paused for a moment and cocked his head as if contemplating unspoken options and then, nodding as if coming to a decision, choose to leave the same way he came, by threading himself between the tightly packed boxwood.
I heard his own screen door creak open and slam shut as he entered his house, his characteristic “Ma! Estoy aqui!” drifting out through an open window. His mothers two little Bichon Frise’s, Jelly and Oscar, tiny terrors on four little legs, yipped up a storm as Manny entered, and the noise and chatter of his animated household rose proportionally to meet his arrival.
Quietly, like a cat-burglar breaking into a home, I slid into my own house. I was grateful there were no barking dogs to announce my arrival and no lively, animated, Latin-blooded mother to squeeze my cheeks and tell me how handsome I was. No, those sort of intrusions would do me no good. And as I moved cautiously towards the back stairwell, careful not to invite the attention of my perpetually half-drunk father, a man who excelled at giving out a beating whenever he was disturbed, my only thoughts were about that blue sky and how I wished I could find a way to just disappear into it.
I called Manny several hours later; after I had cleaned up the dinner dishes and put the last few items I would need for our trip into my backpack.
“Come in Ranger Two. This is Ranger One.” I offered, the crackle of static as I pressed the talk button on my plastic REMCO walkie-talkie soundly lightly.
“Ranger Two here.” Manny’s voice hissed over the walkie’s speaker. What’s your status? Over.”
He sounded out of breath, like he had just run up the stairs or something. I knew it wasn’t the case though, Manny was just overweight and out of shape, a victim of his ethnicity and his mothers indulgent Latin cooking. “I’m just making sure there’s enough of me to go around.” Manny would joke when the topic of his weight came up.
“I’m good to go.” I replied. “Already eaten dinner. Got my bag all packed and grabbed some supplies from the pantry. How ‘bout you, over?”
“All set too. My parents think I’m spending the weekend at Kimmel’s house. How about you? Your dad asking any questions?”
“Nah, he’s been on the couch all day watching baseball and drinking beer. He won’t even know I’m gone. And my moms still upstate visiting my aunt.”
“Errr OK, well I told my parents you’re staying with Kimmel too just in case.”
“OK, thanks Ranger Two. Anyway, let’s meet out in front of the widow Holt’s house in fifteen minutes. See you there. Ranger One out.”
“Will do. Ranger Two out.”
The walkie hissed a final time before I turned it off and put it back on my bedside table. Walking over to my closet I grabbed my blue raincoat and my Adidas tennis shoes. I made my way silently down the carpeted back stairs, taking my time with each creaking step. I paused before entering the kitchen, listening for any sound of my father. Hearing nothing I peeked my head around the corner, my free hand clutching at the wooden moulding of the kitchen’s door frame.
My father’s was still there on the living room couch, sitting in the dark, awash in the spectral glow of colors emanating from the television. There was a sitcom on and I flinched instinctively as my father let out a roaring laugh, slapping his thigh as the show’s protagonist danced comically with a stuffed tiger. He took another swig of his beer and laughed rancorously yet again.
Emboldened, I took my father’s sudden infatuation with the show as my opening to leave, and tip-toeing quietly across the kitchen’s linoleum, I carefully slipped out the sliding back door and onto the porch, our tabby cat Hawkeye passing silently between my ankles, his evening of terrorizing the neighborhood wildlife just beginning.
Sitting on the edge of the stairs I put on my tennis shoes and tied my raincoat around my waist. Looking up into the twilight sky, the last traces of sunlight throwing long shadows across the clouds, I watched silently as the heat lightning danced in the upper atmosphere, stupefied by the brilliance of their silent illumination.
Giving a silent nod to Hawkeye as he left to explore the neighborhood, I made my way to the side of the garage, where we kept our rusty aluminum boat and the dented garbage cans. It was right below my bedroom window and my backpack was there in the grass where I had dropped it, my tightly rolled bedroll laying nearby. I picked them up, grunting a bit as I slung a strap of the heavy pack over my shoulder and made my way to the front yard.
I tucked my bedroll into a side-pocket on my bag and grabbed my bike from where it was laying in the tall grass. I was vibrating with the promise of a new adventure, and as I made my way down the driveway and out into the street I sang a favorite song of mine under my breath:
Well the good ol’ days may not return
“And the rocks might melt and the sea may burn
I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing
Well some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown
So I’ve started out, for God knows where
I guess I’ll know when I get there…”
Read Part Two of Extraordinary America here!