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Missteps

by Artie Richard

The dictionary defines a misstep as a false step, blunder, mistake, error, or faux pas or a lapse, oversight, or gaffe.

Sometimes I marvel that I survived being a kid in Gerritsen Beach. I wonder why any of us survived. At least twice I recall having jumped, with well-worn Keds, onto a rusty nail. There is nothing else like that feeling. It is an unforgettable experience to pick up your foot and have a board attached to it. Every kid in my circle did it at least once. If you were like me you never said a word about it to the family. You didn't want to hear about what an idiot you were. We knew nothing about tetanus shots or lockjaw. My folks were so used to seeing me limp from time to time that it was no big deal. Kids today are farther removed from the late 40s early 50s than we were from the 1880s. Think about it.

Our generation started with black telephones with the ear piece at the end of a wire and we played phonograph records with wooden needles on a victrola. Commercial airliners had two propellers and portholes like ships. I remember seeing a doctor twice as a kid. Once to have my tonsils out and once when a hatchet slid off a roof and did a Comanche on my skull. Now, think about today. Prenatal care, postnatal care, special shoes for the growing foot, a trip to the doctor for every sneeze or cough. We have fibre optics, Dolby sound, Stealth aircraft.

The Muldoon family lived across the street on Bevy Ct. Herbie was the youngest of five kids and about a year older than me. I was first drawn to him because of his ability to project a tiny ball of spittle from between his front teeth over a trajectory of about 6 to 8 feet and usually hit a target. The Muldoons had two pets. One was Trixie the German Shepard who never left Herbie's side. Trixie was a great dog. The other pet was a big, green parrot whose name I must have blocked. Having never come across a pet like this I immediately attempted to make friends. That bird bit the snot out of me. To this day I don't have much use for parrots. We figured Trixie would come in handy if Prince ever got out. Prince was a big, male German Shepard who lived behind a high, iron gate and both guarded the property of Mrs. Olsen. We tormented the hell out of Prince and knew if he ever got out we were toast. Right next to her, on the corner of Bijou, lived Mrs. Johnson. There is a reason I mention Mrs. Johnson. For the information of the young'uns, Ole Olsen & Chick Johnson were vaudevillians who rode the popularity of their Broadway hit "Hellzapoppin" to TV. They were very big in the wake of Uncle Miltie. But I digress from my original digression.

So, to get to my first big misstep: one lovely summer day I met Herbie, who was trying to move a very large rowboat from his yard to the water. The boat was perched on a tiny dolly which was really a board with four roller skate wheels. For youngsters who do not remember, the streets in those days were not paved. Actually they resembled pictures I have seen of the surface of the Moon. You can imagine Herbie's plight. Move the boat two feet--bam, down goes the bow. Move the boat two feet--boom, down goes the stern. It was a two man job but I was the only other man there. There was a problem however. For some previous kid discretion I had been restricted to the block. But at this time Herbie was my best friend since Tommy Keefer moved. This was even more important on a block infested with girl kids. Obviously something had to be done, but cleverly done. Since my grandmother, the formidable Molly, would look out now and then to make sure she was being obeyed, guile must be employed.

So I went into the house and made a big deal about getting a drink of milk, making sure that I was seen. That should buy me some time. Molly was reassured that I was obeying. Was I slick or what? We each grabbed an end of the boat actually making some headway and soon reached Channel Ave. Then down the avenue, avoiding the worst holes, until the Tamaqua was in sight. Struggling mightily, we finally got the boat to the edge of the float. The stevedore's union would have been proud. Just as we were about to get the damn thing into the water I stepped on a slick spot and instantly was in the briny deep. Here we have a text book misstep. This was not good because a.)I was not supposed to be off the block and b.)I had not yet learned to swim. On touching the bottom I sprang upward as hard as I could. When my head broke the surface all I could scream was "I CAN'T SWIM." I went under again and this time took on some water. When next my head appeared Herbie grabbed some hair and held on. Glad to be alive I sat on the float recalling how quickly my life had flashed before me. It doesn't take long when you are just a kid.

The new problem was my T-shirt, shorts and sneakers which were now water-logged and creek-slimy. Let's face it, it was not the deep end of the pool at Ramada Inn. There was stuff in that water that we don't want to describe on a family web site. More guile was desperately needed. Herbie and I decided on a "water fight" which would be more acceptable to Molly. So the cover story went like this-- "Me and Herbie had a water gun fight. It was his idea. (Important detail) But his water gun clogged so he grabbed the garden hose." Actually he did hose me down pretty good. It was necessary. It worked.

Then there was the incident with the muck some years later. Along with John Kauffner, Joe Reigler and Eric Nordgren I was exploring "The Weeds." Yeah we had "The Weeds" and "The Sands." We knew which was which. It all depended on the substrate. If you could only see a few feet, it was "The Weeds." If you could see a mile it was "The Sands." The muck (local name) was the stuff that had been pumped from cesspools since the Dutch were given their walking papers. We trooped along single file walking as close to the stuff as possible. Guess who slipped and went knee-deep in the stuff. Yep. Guess who was wearing new, white sneakers. Yep again. This time it was Mrs. Reigler to the rescue. Joe must have told her my plight. Jeans washed and machine dried. Sneakers washed, dried and whitened. There is not much I don't know about missteping. I have a Phd in Misstepology. By the way, it WAS Mrs. Reigler who appeared in "City Actoss the River" hanging laundry in the yard across the street from her house. Apparently the director felt she was photogenic with her thick black and silver hair.

Then there was that Thanksgiving Day. In our house was an attic that was always very mysterious to me. I'm not sure it was a true attic since it was located on the second floor and accessed via a closet at the head of the stairs. There were three light bulbs overhead which were turned on and of by screwing and unscrewing them. We were big on simplicity. Whenever I was in an adventurous mood I would push through the hanging winter clothes and explore. There was an 1861 Springfield cap & ball musket. There was an ancient English racer. There were old, one sided Caruso records. There were old photo albums dating back to Frederick the Great. There was a big, old, rusty Flexible Flier sled. There were assorted articles of clothing in large boxes. What there was not was a floor. Simplicity. One must walk on the beams. Usually it was OK. The panic that swiftly consumed me as my foot went through the floor/ceiling will forever be vivid. The errant foot was quickly followed by the entire leg right to the loins. There was no leverage to withdraw the offending leg. All I could do was peer down through the hole which was ever increasing in diameter. It was interesting to note that I had been above the kitchen. Until then no thought had ever been given to details like these. Looking down I could see the large turkey on the counter being prepared for dinner on this most important of holidays. In our family it was second only to Christmas. But almost immediately my fevered eyes began to focus on the figure looming below me but above the turkey. It was Molly glaring right up at me, one hand still poised to jam her special dressing into that unfortunate bird. On one lens of her glasses was a small piece of plaster. On her forehead, a larger piece. More plaster was liberally sprinkled about on the counter and floor. I could not help myself. I cut loose with hysterical laughter in the true sense of the meaning. What did it matter? I was dead meat. I'm not sure, but I believe the laughing saved my life. Expecting the usual whining and cringing and poor, ridiculous excuses she got rip roaring laughter. Whatever the reason, I survived. Like the man said--Don't question success. You'll notice I am here to tell the story. That's more than the turkey can say. Heh, heh, heh.

Last changed: June 28, 2002