From about five years of age to ten, most of us don’t think much about the outside world. That’s how it was for me. Inside my home I didn’t waste a second thinking about the outside.
I had friends during that period, but once playing was over, and I came home, I forgot everything else and cocooned in my home.
(The literature on child development contradicts my assessment. It suggests the outside world and friends are very important.)
I disagree. Events could go good or bad on the outside, but once I hit home, all was forgotten. I could get in a fight with a friend playing outside, but win, lose, or draw I would go home and not think anything more about it.
This is a wonderful age. Your home is your fortress. My home wasn’t exceptionally big, but I can’t remember judging it based on size.
I had a number of friends come over. They were all boys, and we did a lot of interesting things like make each other faint by taking a series of deep breaths and having the other person bear hug us from behind until we passed out. We played marbles, watched Sheriff John, played red light, green light as we drank our milk, and when my mother went shopping we played strip poker. When one of us lost and was naked, the penalty was we had to run around the outside of the house. A neighbor saw one of us doing this, informed my mother, and I ended accompanying her to the market for the next few months.
I wasn’t unhappy during this time of my life. I wasn’t happy either. I was content. Not too much phased me. Peaceful bliss, like a yellow lab.
But my peace ended. And wouldn’t you know it, it happened when I crossed over and turned eleven years old.
My parents had a pool put in so I could swim every day to strengthen my leg that was stricken with polio. (Praise be unto my parents for making that sacrifice.) Within eight blocks there were only two family pools, so my friends were constantly coming over to swim. Two in particular wanted to swim, Jim and Marvin. They were one grade ahead of me in school. I hung out a fair amount of time with Jim.
One day they asked if they could come over and swim. They had done it before many times. To my knowledge I never turned anyone down who wanted to come over. But when Jim and Marvin asked that particular time, I turned them down. They protested and even talked to my mother. She thought it would be fine, but asked me what was the reason I didn’t want them to go swimming. I couldn’t give her a clear answer. Nevertheless, she supported my decision.
Jim and Marvin were so mad at me, they told their buddies at school that I was a “prick”.
With that particular group, I couldn’t recover. To them I was that little prick. It got to a point where I kind of felt like one. Why not, these kids were bigger, stronger and more popular than I was. And when I reached twelve years old it started to matter a lot what people thought of me.
A year after that started, a horrible event took place with Jim’s family. Jim killed his father. He stabbed him at least thirty times with a butcher knife. He was in ninth grade when this happened.
Years later Marvin died at age twenty seven in what news reports said was a “tragic death”. He was a big tough guy – just about the toughest guy in high school. I had seen firsthand one of his more violent confrontations. He continued this kind of violence after he graduated. Evidently, it ended tragically.
A third kid, Chris, who hung with Jim and Marvin started calling me the same name, but lengthened it to “little prick”. Between Marvin and Chris, you had the two toughest guys in the school. Chris was a well-known hood.
When Chris was in his mid-twenties, he was caught in a drug bust carried out by LBPD. Chris ran and tried to hide. One of the cops found him, and pointed a shot gun at him and ordered Chris to give up or he’d be shot. Chris complied, was arrested and sent to jail.
I know this because the policeman who confronted Chris had become a friend of mine.
We were at dinner with our wives when he told me about Chris. I was twenty five or six at the time.
I told him about my experience with Chris, Marvin and, Jim. He knew all of them.
I told my friend how I had gotten on the wrong side of these three. I also admitted to him that down deep I kind of felt like a spoiled prick for turning Jim and Marvin down.
My policeman friend said that was the best thing I ever did. To him these guys were hoodlums. Violent. Full of criminal intent.
How odd, how bizarre, and most of all how ironic. What are the chances of such a random event coming full circle like that? Events that eventually make sense, but at the moment they occurred and in the immediate aftermath not making any sense at all to me when I was living through them.
I’m not a moralist. I don’t believe in vengeance being played out on the heads of the bad to the benefit of the good.
I do believe in irony though. Life is full of surprising self-revelations.
I don’t believe I am or was any better than those kids. They have their own stories, especially Jim. It happened that his dad was beating his mother to death, and he saved her by killing him. (Long Beach Press Telegram, 1958.)
Marvin’s death was reported by his high school girl friend, who years after stayed in close contact with Marvin, because he was such a good guy.
Chris was a hood for sure, but a funny hood, who though he gave me a rough time, I could tell he liked me around at times. He had self-deprecating humor that made him fun to talk to. When we would go to Hof’s Hut restaurant after school, he’d make sure there was always room for me at his booth, even if someone had to vacate their place. He’d say, come here you little prick, I want you at my table.
Truth is, others do not serve as supporting actors in a stage play acted out around you as the lead character. That’s not how irony works.
Irony is the personal awakening of how your life plays itself out on itself.
I was able to see the full surprising circle of that episode, not about what happened to others, but what happened to me.
My cop friend said it best. “Roger, you were lucky.” Until that moment I hadn’t seen that. I thought I was one thing, I turned out to be an additional thing – meaningful only to me. I may have been a prick, but a lucky “little prick”. And maybe just purely lucky. That’s irony. Believe me, it shows up when you least expect it, but it is always playing itself out.
Irony is the surprise ending, the twist of fate to a supposedly predictable ending, a flash of hidden insight. Irony is there, always. Sometimes you have to live long enough to see it played out in your own life. Sometimes there are those who are bright enough to figure it out early in life. Either way it’s there.
The irony of my life is that I have had some surprisingly good luck. The more I live the more I see my luck.
I have another friend named Glenn. Glenn lives the good life. He spends a third of his time paddle boarding in Hawaii, a third of his time in Ketchum, Idaho skiing, and a third of his time in Seattle water skiing. Besides that he’s known for being a very good gambler.
We were talking one day and he said, “I’m trying to have more of a family life like you Roger.” I replied, “Funny Glen but I’ve always admired your lifestyle.”
“Looks like we’re trading places, Roger,” he reflected in an uncharacteristically serious tone.
That’s when he told me what his nickname was when he was growing up – Lucky. Guess what his last name is? Wright. Lucky Wright.
You can’t make this stuff up. Luck and irony. In my life, two sides of the same coin for this lucky little “p _ _ _ k”.