Mommy’s alright, Daddy’s alright,
They just seem a little weird

                                   -Cheap Trick

Chapter 1
There’s two things I have never known my mom to do: drive a car, or have a job that involves bringing home a paycheck. Her only job is to do what she does best. Holding down the fort.

Mom has been holding down the fort since before I was born. It’s where she is most comfortable. The only time she desires to leave is when necessity calls for it. If she’s not at the homefront, she’s either copped a ride to pick up some groceries or to pay a bill. On a holiday it’s possible to find her at a family function. Extremely rare occasions like a freak funeral (or wedding) could do the trick as well. Otherwise, I had only known her and dad to go out together once a year, on their anniversary. This was always dinner at the cheapest all-you-can-eat buffet in town, and then straight home.

Early in life, Mom was doing the children’s home shuffle. She didn’t receive an education beyond the ninth grade, so it didn’t make her the prime candidate amongst potential employers. I would assume, with no job skills and after years of being shuffled around with no stable place to call home, when she finally did find a firm foothold with Dad, she wasn’t taking any chances on leaving her newfound home. Literally.

Mom can also be described in two words: Paranoid schizophrenic. She’s always worried or freaking out about something or another. She’s a functional paranoid schizophrenic though, I’ll give her that.

I’m not completely sure why Mom doesn’t drive. I could tell you what I’ve heard but you’re liable to hear anything these days, so it’s best left to speculation. She is about the most annoying passenger you can ever imagine. She spends most of the ride with her head down and her hands covering her face. The rest of the time she’s telling you to slow down or watch out. And she’s constantly wondering if the car is going to break down or if the brakes are working properly.

“Come on, Bobby, slow down! I mean it! You’re going to get us in an accident.”

“Mom, shut up! I’m going the speed limit. Jesus Christ!”

“Damn-it, Bobby, I mean it! If you’re going to keep driving like this you can take me back to the house, right now.”

“Mom, relax. Damn! I don’t know why you have to be so paranoid. Shit!”

God forbid it be raining.

“Bobby, are you sure you can see? I can’t see a thing.”

Maybe you could if you’d uncover your face.

Or snowing.

“Bobby, maybe we shouldn’t be driving in this weather. It’s dangerous.”

She really meant driving period.

Or should she hear a sound.

“What was that sound? Is there something wrong? Bobby, are you sure the car’s going to make it? We should turn around.”

Sometimes, for a good laugh, I’d look worried and pretend I was pumping the brakes as if they had just gone out. I could also get her riled up without even leaving the driveway, burning out and throwing rocks all over the place.

“Come on, Bobby, knock if off! I mean it, Bobby. If you don’t cut if out, I’m never going to ask you to take me anywhere ever again.”

My point exactly.

As a teenager, to preserve my sanity, I tried to avoid that fiasco as much as possible. She’s been known to backseat-drive a sane person nuts. Just look at my dad. For this reason, I had no qualms about standing in the check-out line at the supermarket with a box of maxi-pads in handwith a smile.

I empathize with my dad and his many excuses not to have to give mom a ride anywhere. Even though, when I was a youngster, he would use many of the same excuses not to have to give me a ride anywhere either. And I always needed a ride.

I’ve copped many rides from Dad and they go one of two ways. It was either a rather pleasant bonding experience, or, most often, I was catching grief. This could be for interrupting an episode of Star Trek, wasting gas, adding mileage to the car, wear and tear on the engine, tires and brakes, or worst of all, interfering with the nightly ritual: The forty ounce of malt liquor. Which varied from Rhinelander, The Eagle, Mt. Everest, Colt 45, or King Cobra, depending on whichever had the cheapest price tag.

When I’d phone home for a ride, I would have to carefully listen to my dad’s harping in the background. This gave me an idea as to what I would have to be dealing with. Because you never knew what type of mood he was in. Or what type of ride you were in for.

“Jesus fuck-hell! Where must I drive to now? Better yet, fuck-it. I drive nowhere.”

“Damn-it, John. He’s got no other way home, Just go pick him up.”

“How in the fuck-hell did he get there in the first place? He found a ride there, he can find a ride home. As far as I’m concerned he’s got two feet and he can walk the fuck home.”

That was the usual spiel before Mom would tell me to be on the lookout for him. Even though, before hanging up, he hadn’t agreed to come get me, I knew I could trust Mom’s persistence in bugging and nagging him until he would say, “fuck-it” and come get me just to keep her from “bitching and moaning”, as he would put it.

Being a kid stranded without a ride is no fun. Especially if it’s cold or dark outside. Waiting by a pay phone for whoever knows how long, scanning for Dad’s car, can be distressing. But nothing compares to the short-lived assurance that arises from seeing Dad’s car approaching from a distance, which can quickly turn to fear the closer he comes into view. On a clear night when visibility into the car is a good half block or more, if you can see his mouth moving and his arms flailing around the front seat area, as if you’re already in the car catching grief, it’s best to get in the back seat out of arm’s distance. Otherwise, you’re sure to catch a healthy rap to the skull.

“Compliance with the law? Compliance with the law? Put on your fucking safety belt heathen and start praying that Star Trek’s a rerun tonight. You do this shit every fucking time. You wait ‘till the last fucking minute before Star Trek comes on. The only thing you’re good for is another fucking tax deduction. If it wasn’t for that, I could give a fuck less if you’d just di-eee. Next time find your own fucking ride home.”

There’s no forgetting that spiel. I’ve heard it a thousand times. It was just Dad’s way of saying, “I love you.” It was much worse if I had a friend with me. Not only would he make a show out of tearing into my ass, he would indirectly slander my friend too.

“How come his fucking parents didn’t come and pick you up? I’d be willing to bet they own a couple a flicking yuppie rides or some type of fucking Gook mobile or Jap ride that gets twenty-five flicking miles to the gallon. I bet they’ve got full flicking tanks too, when I’ve got just enough gas to get back and forth to work each day. I suppose I’ll have to drive all the way across flicking town to drop his ass off too. Of course I will.”

On a couple of instances there would turn out to be a yup ride, or two, in the kids driveway and I would never hear the end of it. That’s why copping a ride from Dad was reserved for last resort or emergencies only.

Mainly because the car itself was embarrassing to ride in. Dad’s never had a nice car. Or a car thats year coincided with the current decade. Rust splotches, dents, sun-weathered dashboards, and loud exhausts were the standard options in his price range. I honestly couldn’t tell you which ones were worse, the late sixties station wagons or the early seventies Impalas.

Yes, that’s plural.

Walking a couple of blocks through the freezing rain or snow was a small price to pay to avoid the heat you could catch from your peers for being caught riding in a hooptie. Especially at school. It was a regular request of mine to be dropped off at least two blocks from my intended destination.

As if a ride in the “Yellow Submarine” or the “Rotten Banana Mobile” wasn’t drawing enough unwanted attention. To add to the mayhem, during the summer months, Dad would blast the stereo as loud as possible with the windows down. Eventually I would grow to appreciate my Dad’s taste in classic rock. But as a kid, it was embarrassing to hear my friends call my dad “The Pin-ball Wizard” or “Mr. Roboto” all the time.

He really overdid it with the Tibetan Monks Chanting cassette.

The highest point of humiliation was during my freshman year of high school. It was the winter he wrecked the Vega into a guardrail while driving me to the skating rink. He was employing his scare tacticstrying to prevent me from asking for future rideswhen things got out of hand.

You see, it was more of a hassle to get my dad to give me a ride toa destination than from one because he knew there was a possibility he would have to pick me up later. So if I needed a ride to the skating rink, I would start pressing Mom about it before Dad got home from work. This way she would be ready to drive on him as soon as he pulled in the driveway, because my chances decrease drastically the moment he shuts off the engine. He stands on the belief that it uses more gas to shut off a car and restart it than to just leave it running for a few minutes.

All Mom had to do was approach the car window and he knew what was coming before she could say a word.

“Where in the fuck-hell must I drive to now! I bet that heathen needs a ride to that precious fucking skating rink of his. Does it ever end? I swear to God I’m gonna burn that mother fucker to the ground one of these days. Tell him to come the fuck on before I change my mind. I suppose I’ll have to pick up five or ten of his precious fucking butt-buddies along the way. I know this, he better have a fucking ride home or he’ll be walking. Cause I’ll rip that fucking phone cord right out of the fucking wall if he calls here collect for me to come rescue him and his precious butt-buddies. If he calls here period!”

Along with the initial grief I would hear it all the way to the skating rink. Exiting the vehicle and closing the door, I could still hear him harping about it. And, on the way there, he was guaranteed to flip-off or cuss-out a couple of motorists who may have failed to use a turn signal or come to a complete stop at a stop sign.

“I can’t believe they gave this flicking idiot a license. Where in the fuck-hell did this idiot scum learn to drive? Not on this planet! That’s for sure. You ever heard of a fucking turn signal? Oh, that’s right. I almost forgot. That year, make and model didn’t come equipt with turn signals. What was I thinking! Fucking yup mobiles.”

I recall, more than once, having to plead with the driver of another car to ignore my dad and leave us be. I think my dad secretly relied on my presence in such situations, believing the other guy wouldn’t crack his skull in front of his son. I’m not sure that would be much of a deterrent these days.

If all of the yups are using their turn signals and making complete stops, he would complain about something else. Like how it never fails that he must hit every red light along the way. Not to mention that it won’t turn green until he comes to a complete stop.

“Wear and tear on the brakes. Wear and tear on the brakes. Stop, go. Stop, go. Jesus fuck-hell, must I hit every light red in this world. Can I get a green light once in this lifetime for a fucking change?”

He would go as far as putting the car in neutral and coasting up to a red light to save gas and prevent wear and tear on the brakes. However, when employing scare tactics, he was known for contradicting his wear and tear theories, taking certain curves at forty plus miles per hour. I literally feared for my life on the S curve in Park 101. The squealing tires and skidding on dry pavement, inches away from head on collisions with oncoming traffic, was enough to bring tears to a grownup’s eyes, let alone give my mother a heart attack just hearing about it.

The S curve, ice, and a guardrail put an end to his scare tactics once and for all. It’s a good thing there was no oncoming traffic; the roads were empty. What sticks out in my mind the most is the moment of serenity that followed the accident. Silence carried away every audible trace of it into the crisp evening air, never to be heard from again. It was beautiful.

Dad and I were both calm. His whole demeanor had quickly changed, His voice became all soothing and apologetic.

“Bobby, are you okay? I don’t know what happened. I must have lost control on a patch of ice underneath the snow. Are you sure you’re alright. You have to keep this between you and I, do you hear? Promise me you won’t tell anybody about this, especially your mother.”

“Sure thing, Dad”

He was clearly more shook-up over it than I was. Then again, I was used to not being in control. He wasn’t.

After a few cranks of the ignition, we were on our way. He apologized until we reached the skating rink and then, for the first time ever, he asked me when the session was over and told me not to worry about finding a ride home because he would be back to pick me up.

I needed more guardrails in my life.

Dad had always backed his cars into the driveway, but, that nightto hide the minor damage along the drivers side from Momhe pulled the car in head on. He knew better. He would have never heard the end of it. Later on, if he had to, he could always blame it on some “idiot-flick” driver at the grocery store.

In my life, a good side to something does not come without a bad one. In this case, the good side, I was guaranteed a ride for a few months without catching any grief for his being a personal taxi for me and my precious butt-buddies. The bad one, for the remainder of the winter, if there was snow, ice or rain, my dad would be wearing the biggest, blackest, roundest, crash helmet you could ever imagine.

It was one of those motorcycle helmets from the seventies. Think C.H.I.P.S, but bigger. It was bigger than a basketball and it had about two inches of foam separating its exterior from your skull. No matter how hard I tried, or cried, to get him to lose the helmet, I was wasting my breath. There would also be no help from Mom on this one because in her mind it was perfectly rational for someone to be driving with a crash-helmet wrapped around their noggin’ during inclement weather conditions.

It’s a good thing there wasn’t two of those helmets around because Mom would have suggested that I wear one too.

The helmet didn’t go unnoticed. And for the kids who were smart enough not to believe my story about my dad being a part-time race car driver, the helmet became major ammunition to be used against me in many jonin sessions.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “jonin” (joe-nin), it’s where one kid disses another kid, using a tailor made joke meant to personally offend. It’s also referred to as “heating” on someone. And before my time, it was referred to as the “Dozens”. Basically, a jonin session is a battle or ongoing war of character assassination – held face-to-face – taking place amongst so called friends, acquaintances, small cliques, and occasionally, strangers.

I’m unsure where the term “jonin” stems from. But if I were to speculate, I’d say it evolved from the cliche’ “keeping up with the Joneses.” If in any way you weren’t up to par with the majority or commonplaceeither physically, mentally, or materialisticallythen you’d be “Jonsed out” or joned out for those reasons. Hence the term “jonin.”

I was the perfect candidate for being joned out because I lacked in all three categories. Very seldom did one come along who I could successfully jone out. Despite winning a few jonin battles, in the long run, I would become a casualty of war.

One of many strikes against me was getting caught scavenging for food in the garbage dumpster at Farmer’s Market. Like an idiot, I left my bike where a few peers from my junior high school could see it. I may have gotten away with my cover storyfinding food for my pet rabbitif I hadn’t been caught with a mouthful of fruit. Fresh from the trees or fresh from the dumpster, the taste is nearly the same. It’s a matter of perception.

Try explaining that to the jonesters.

Getting caught up in a web of lies, trying to escape the wrath of the jone, will only make it worse. When your cover story is inevitably uncovered, it’ll give your opposition more ammo against you. It would have only been a matter of days before I would have had to pull a rabbit out of a hat or prove beyond a reasonable doubtin front of a jury of my peersthat I had, or did have at the time of my offense, a pet rabbit. My having been no magician, it would have been impossible.

Other strikes against me ranged from my clothes, hair, bicycle, teeth, shoes, free lunch ticket, food stamps, all the way to the Two-Eight-Five and its cockroaches.

The Two-Eight-Five is the house I grew up in. Over the years, it had become such a popular place to hang out that it developed its own social status. Like a club or a bar, it needed a title. Therefore, by simply adding a “the” to the address, it was dubbed The Two-Eight-Five. Or for short, The Deuce.

The mother of all jone material always hits close to the homefront. Straight to the roots so to speak. Targeting the things you couldn’t change if you wanted to: Mom, Dad, and the house.

When targeting these three categories, there seems to be a commonly shared modus operandi in which warfare is generally conducted. Specific order can vary, depending on the circumstances, but, mothers are attacked on appearance, fathers on their occupations, and houses on their condition.

I did have one good thing going for me: my mom wasn’t fat. There were enough “your mama so fat” jokes going around back then to have the most popular kids in school contemplating suicide if the word got out their mama was fat. “Your mama so fat, when she stepped on the scale it said, ‘to be continued . . .”, “Your mama so fat, she has to wear two watches; one for each time zone she’s in.”, “Your mama so fat, she’s got WANTED posters posted up at all of the buffets in town.” The list goes on.

I may have been spared the fat jokes but I still took major blows on Mom because she had rotten teeth. “Do you know why they don’t have BBQ’s at Bobby’s house? Because his mom’s grill’s flicked up.”, “Your mama’s got more black teeth than an afro comb,”, “Your mama’s teeth so dark that her tonsils need a flashlight to function,” I’ve been hit with them all. Worse yet, the bad breath jones can go hand-in-hand with the rotten teeth jones for an extra bonus blow.

Mama jones are usually saved for a last resort or a final battle. If not regulated, mama jones between two close buddiesjust funning aroundcould easily spark a heated dispute, settled with fists. More than half of the fights at school, or in the neighborhood, could be traced back to a jonin session involving somebody’s mama. Defending the jones against my mom brought me daily drama.

The house could be a target for a slew of reasons. But after the sight of a cockroach, the enemy needs to look no further. It could spur an arsenal of ammo. At The Deuce, we didn’t just have roaches; they were part of the family. “I went to Bobby’s house and when the front door opened, I could hear the roaches singing ‘we are fa-mi-ly’.”, “Your carpets are so dirty that the roaches need dune-buggies to get around.”

When it comes to jonin, anybody’s open game. Out of nowhere you’ll hit your best friend with a crucial jone just to shift the heat elsewhere. Anywhere but on you, But you have to be careful, crossing the line can go both ways, and it can render a best friend into an archenemy of war. Why? Because it’s usually your closest buddies that have the most dirt on you. And you won’t be able to count on Mom’s support. She seems to be more of an ally to the opposition. Try explaining to her that your so-called friend is really an enemy spy whose sole purpose for being at your house is to gather intel to be used against you in the next jonin battle. And you’d think a paranoid schizophrenic would understand, not Mom. She was quick to play gunrunner for the enemy, bringing them fresh ammo, under the guise of Kool-aid. More like a glass of flavorless, colored water with no sugar, a guaranteed blow against me in the next battle. Especially if it contained a floater.

I stayed armed with an arsenal of excuses to avoid going to my house and took major precautions to prevent the arrival of a peer. But it was inevitable that my house would be discovered and only a matter of time before a surprise visitor arrived. I was sitting there watching cartoons and the next thing I knew, Mom was telling me I had a friend in the driveway, he’s here to visit. I was thinking, yeah right. He’s no friend. And he’s not here to visit. He’s here on a high tech, undercover surveillance mission: to watch daily operations and evaluate the conditions of my environment.

I never underestimated the intentions of my peers. First of all, his arrival was not by chance. It was premeditated, so there must have been a motive. How the hell did he find out where I lived in the first place? There must have been an investigation on his part because I didn’t give him directions and he surely wasn’t invited. Furthering suspicion, he showed up in the middle of my after-school cartoons. This meant he had sacrificed G.I. Joe and Transformers to make the trek to my house. How could I not be wary of his intentions?

As far as I was concerned, the driveway was too close for comfort. I had to react fast before he dismounted his bike and proceeded to infiltrate the fort. This meant I had to shut off the T.V. because God forbid I waste any electricityget to the basement to retrieve my bike, and make it out into the driveway before his kickstand could be activated. Chances are, his bike may have already hit the gravel because if he was anything like me, the kickstand was the most useless feature on a bicycle. In this case, I would have to work hard to distance him from Mom because she was an automatic two strikes against me. In her mind, this kid has just crossed the Sahara to come visit me, so he was bound to be thirstystrike oneand if she opened her mouth to offer him some “Kool-aid,” he would see her teethstrike two.

If he was already in her sphere, all he had to do to infiltrate the fort was to ask to use the toilet. Trying to persuade Mom to tell him he can’t use the toilet would be impossible. And even if I told her he was a thief, she still couldn’t tell him no. I would have no choice but to face the wrath of the jone upon returning to school. And this is what happens when you don’t beat the kickstand.

I was hard on bikes. I would just hop off the back of my bike, while it was still in motion, letting it coast to its final resting place in the yard or driveway. Therefore, I had to quickly learn how to fix a bike on my own. Because relying on my dad to fix it meant that I would have to press Mom to press him, which meant grief.

“John, will you fix Bobby’s bike so he has something to do after school tomorrow?”

“Mother fuck-hell! I just fixed the son-of-a-bitch the other day. What does this heathen do, run through every fucking pile of glass or over every broken bottle he sees? I’m beginning to think he makes it a fucking point to come home with a flat tire just to flack up my evening of peace and quiet. I’ve been fixing shit all day at work and now I have to come home and fix shit. Fuck it, he can learn to fix it himself or do without. Or better yet, he can die.” My dad doesn’t just say the word “die”. He has to emphasize the E, stretching it out so it sounds like, “di-eee”. I don’t believe he meant for us to literally die because he needed the tax deduction. It was just his way of telling us to go away and leave him alone.

I had plenty of motivation to learn to fix flats and make bicycle repairs. It was either that or do without, doing without was not an option. The bicycle was my number one learning instrument. It was my tool for exploring the world beyond the neighborhood, whichaccording to my dadwas nothing but piles of glass and broken bottles.

Actually, I had as much of a chance of catching a flat in our own driveway as I would have elsewhere. And my chances increased if I rolled in after dark, falling victim to one of my dad’s booby traps. You see, The Deuce was one of only two houses on our block with a driveway. Therefore, when there was a train blocking the flow of traffic on the one-way street, adjacent to ours, people would pull into our driveway to turn around and go the other direction.

At night, when the front door was open, the car’s headlights would shine right into the house where Dad’s recliner sits, blinding him during his evening television. Not to mention the wear and tear on the driveway. Front-wheel drive cars were beginning to leave a rut at the foot of the driveway. On rainy days, it would fill up, creating a mud puddle. These things would drive Dad absolutely nuts. But it was the simple fact they were trespassing that bothered him the most.

Dad had an orange and black NO TRESPASSING sign on the front of the house and a two foot wide, yellow and black TRESPASSERS WELL BE PROSECUTED sign on the back of the house. I tried to explain to him that these signs were more of an instigation than a deterrent. A trespasser knows when they’re trespassing; they just don’t care. Who’s going to worry about an officer pursuing them for turning around in a driveway or taking a shortcut through a yard? The sign is only a reminder of what they already know. What good is that?

From my own personal experience, I’ve noticed a BEWARE OF DOG sign is much more effective in making one think twice before trespassing. It also caters to the illiterate. If, for whatever reason, they have trouble with the word BEWARE, trust me, they’ll have no problem with the word DOG.

The signs were ineffective. And they don’t call my dad “Crazy John” for nothing. Due to a spell in Vietnam, he fancies himself as an expert in the art of booby-trapping. If he could have legally gotten away with it he would have had deadly booby-traps scattered about the backyard for unsuspecting trespassers. Just like in the jungles of ‘ Nam.

The “evil trespassing, driveway invading scum”or the unexpected visitorwere open game. Dad had two thin wooden boards with nails hammered through the center. At night, he would place them in the tire tracks at the foot of the driveway and cover them with gravel. The protruding nails were virtually invisible.

I didn’t see it as a way of solvingor preventingthe “wear and tear” problem. It was more of a punishment for contributing to it. Countless hours were spent peering through the cracked curtains of an open window, waiting for potential victims. First you would see the lights, then hear the tires gripping gravel, and then—if you were luckymaybe a faint puncture, followed by a steady hissing. When they were gone, Dad would creep out and retrieve the spikes. I remember it being all fun and games until the hissing. That was when I would get scared. Minutes would turn to hours, wondering if somebody was coming back to crack my dad’s skull. Surprisingly, nobody ever did.

It turned out to be a fool proof booby-trap. The victims would be blocks away before they knew what hit ‘em. If by freak chance the flat tire was traced back to the Deuce, or an unexpected visitor fell victim, there would have been a perfectly sound explanation: somebody meant to sabotage my dad. Anyone who knows my dad, knows, chances are, he had recently gotten lippy with anywhere from six to ten people from the neighborhood, so it was quite possible the spikes were intended for him. To this day, I cringe at the thought of turning around in somebody else’s driveway; I would go miles out of the way to avoid it.

Dad was high strung. He could easily be wound up to go on one of his off-the-wall tangents. There was no stopping him. For this reason, if a so called friend had befriended Momwhich has been known to happenand infiltrated the house, he was definitely ushered out before Dad got home.

Dad could become the Iwo Jima of all jonin material. All it would take was for him to walk in wearing his Red Carpet Car Wash hat and it would be curtains.

The car wash, when applied to the employee’s offspring, is one of the few places where the term “occupational hazard” goes beyond the workplace.

Dad not only worked at the car wash, he was a walking billboard for it. He wore his Red Carpet hat and shirts daily. Even on Sunday, his day off anytime we were out, engaged in small talk with a woman for instance a bank-teller or grocery clerkhe was guaranteed to bring it to her attention. “By the way, I’m an employee of Red Carpet Car Wash and every Tuesday is ladies day. Bring in your car, and you’ll receive half off the regular price of a full service car wash.”

Embarrassing? You have no idea.

Dad took any job seriously. And to him, the car wash was a serious job. “How would all of the yuppies survive if they had to drive their Beemers and Jags to work dirty?” he would say. His job, for more than two decades, was to ensure the “yup-mobiles” were clean. He just may have the world record for the longest running car wash employee. Could somebody check on that?

The car wash is the bottom of the barrel. It’s one of the only places where your chances of employment actually increase when you answer “yes” to the question on your application, Have you ever been convicted of a felony? Dad, however, has never been convicted of a felony, but he would be the first to agree that most of the workers at the car wash were “idiot scum of the Earth” and weren’t worth a “cat’s ass.” (I still haven’t figured out how much a cat’s ass is worth. I would assume it depends on where you’re at).

Dad wasn’t your average nine-to-fiver. After washing, vacuuming, and doing windows all day, he stayed past business hours to maintain the equipment and do the odds and ends. An average day for him was twelve hours; when Star Trek was a rerun, he was known to put in fourteen. Now you would think someone putting in twelve to fourteen hour days would be bringing home the bacon. Not Dad. Working at the car wash, in spite of countless hours on the clock, is more like bringing home the wieners, and I’m not talking Ball Park or Oscar Meyer, either. If you add up every hour my dad’s ever worked for the car wash and divide it by the total amount of pay he’s ever received from them – before taxes – the figure would be less than minimum wage. Factor in the loose change found in the floor boardsor pilfered from the ashtrayof cars, the few dollars lifted here and there from the tip boxusually spent on the precious forty-ounceand the money saved on toilet paper because Dad would occasionally swipe a few rolls, then it just might equal minimum wage.

Dad’s paychecks were affected by the weather because people aren’t big on washing their cars when it’s raining or snowing. There were times when the car wash was open maybe two days a week. Hard times. Thus, The Weather Channel to my dad was like the Dow Jones to a stock-broker; he watched it religiously.

Dad knew the weather so well, he could have been a weather forecaster. Actually, he could have been God because he knew how to control it. For example, if he washed his car today, there would be a ninety-percent chance of rain tomorrow. Most people don’t want it to rain on their day off. Not Dad. He preferred it. Consequently, there was only a thirty-percent chance of rain on his day off. And if Mom was behind on the bills or we were out of groceries, he could guarantee a five-day forecast of “something or another” falling from the sky.

By all American standards, we were shitty poor. Anyone who knew my immediate family would testify to that. For years I loathed my dad working at the car wash – until I got a car of my own. But now, I don’t hold it against him. Even though he’s never made much money, or didn’t have any time to spend with us, I respect his dedication to the job and how hard he worked to bring home the little that got us by. To me, my dad’s an ordinary hero.

Try having had to explain that to the kids at school,

“Hey Bobby, where does your dad work at?”

Good question.

To answer that truthfully would have been setting myself up for a jone blast. Even kids know the car wash is by far a low-standard job. I was ashamed of what my dad did for a living, so I would lie about it. I had always wanted to fly in a plane or go to the circus, so, naturally, I would say he was a crop-duster or a clown. In retrospect, both alternatives were just as ridiculous. Then again, anywhere was better than the car wash.

“Bobby, where does your dad keep his crop-dusting plane?”

Sure enough, Mom would be holed up in a trench, ear-hustling for an opportunity to ambush. “Bobby’s Dad doesn’t have a crop-dusting plane. He works at the car wash.”

Thanks Mom.

She had no idea how damaging that was to my social life. Then she would wonder why it was such a daily fiasco, ushering me off to school. You can’t play sick for the entire school year so you may as well prepare to face the wrath of the jone and get it over with. I learned the hard way that, no matter what I said, I was getting joned out anyway. And lying only made it worse. Not only did I get blasted with the car wash jones, but the crop-dusting and the clown jones stuck as well.

Some jones could be down right far-fetched, but the ones that hit the hardest were the ones that mocked the reality of your situation. It hurt, but you learn to smile and laugh your way through it, masking your humiliation with the you‘re not laughing at me, you‘re laughing with me defense. Either way, you’ll get laughed at. Your best defense is to waste no time contemplating a good comeback. A solid counter-strike makes all the difference. Thus, many hours were spent infiltrating enemy territory in search of crucial jone material. But with Mom and Dad stockpiling ammo against me, I was in a no win situation.

Ironically, it was an object designed to prevent injury that inflicted the most trauma. My hardest hit ever was that damn crash helmet. Its durability would finally be tested, come spring, when I hurled it, with everything I had, over the top of the Garfield St. overpass into the train yard. Sure, it may have landed in one piece, but its whereabouts were never to be revealed to my dad.