Childhood: an essay

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My childhood home. The big picture is the same, but the details have all changed. It's a duplex now, with front stairs where there used to just be a door that opened to a four foot drop. Plus, the bottom floor is a horrible "old Ford van" green. It used to be a horrible "mushy jack o'lantern" orange.

This is the house I grew up in. Don't let first impressions fool you. On the inside it was really quite nice. It had a nice backyard, too. I got to mow it.
When I was tiny, I had a room to match. Stretch your arms out. That's how wide the room was. It was twice that in length. I should note, however, that I was much smaller at the time.
When I was a bit larger, my parents had the house raised, turning the crawlspace into a bottom floor. That's when I moved in to the big bedroom on the top floor. In honour of my move to a larger room, my dad painted it. He ran out of paint, meaning that for a most of a decade I lived in a room with a white ceiling, one white wall and three blue walls. It was the decorating equivalent of breaking the fourth wall. Then he repainted it. He ran out of paint. Again. My father: nice man, terrible estimator.
When I was larger still, my parents (whose bedroom was the bottom-left room in the picture) switched rooms with me. I didn't have a choice in the matter. I'm guessing that they did it so that I could sneak out and do the things that teenagers are wont to do. I did. Dungeons & Dragons, baby! Woo!

My park. This picture was taken from where the swings would be, if they were still there. (Inset: The park's activity centre. Plywood plus no windows plus padlock equals excitement!)

This was my park. It's a block and a half away from my childhood home. Notice how it's empty? It was always like that. All the cool kids hung out somewhere else. I, obviously, hung out here. One summer while I was still in the early grades of elementary school, my parents "enrolled" me in a day camp here, paying for me to do the same things here that I earlier got to do for free. That's not entirely true. The program had arts and crafts. For "arts", we played on the swings. For "crafts" we shot hoops. All for ten bucks a week. Woo.
One summer, I found my dad's golf clubs and brought them here to try them out. I played for an hour, found success only in making divots, and never touched them again. Within weeks, a No Golfing sign was put up. I like to think that sign indicated that I had left a mark on the community. At some point they redid part of the fence, replacing that sign with one about dog poop. I assume that whomever replaced me had a dog.
Oh! I found a twenty stuck in the fence once. It was awesome. That was in the 80's, back when nickel candy only cost a dime. The candy flowed like wine that week, I tell you.

This used to mostly be a field, where butterflies fluttered, and a movie screen, where films flickered. Now, it's mostly a parking lot, where cars idle, and a mall, where people do the same.

This used to be a drive-in theatre. I remember watching the big screen from my living room window while my parents watched Barney Miller on the TV. The discordance between what I saw and what I heard, I'm sure, would've destroyed a weaker man.
Sometime in my early youth, back when the mysterious art of shoelace tying was still an unsolved riddle to me, they tore it down and put up a shopping centre. Yes, they replaced a drive-in (a local centre for teenaged dry humping) with a mall (a tombstone marking the grave of civilization). They replaced the field around it with parking lots. For the mall.
The only good part about the mall was that it had one giant, windowless wall, beside an always empty parking lot. That lot was always empty because it was in front of Eaton's, which was like a store, but without employees and shoppers. Many an evening were spent with tennis racket and balls, boy (or boys) vs wall. After a good rain, the balls would leave a baroque pattern of dirty, round marks on it. It was high enough that it generally took several hours to accidentally hit all the tennis balls I had on me onto the roof. A while ago they replaced that perfect wall and that perfect lot with an Old Navy and some kind of department store that apparently specialized in going bankrupt.

This was my elementary school. Most of my memories here involve being equal parts smart and bored. The latter made room in me for an imagination. The former made me a nerd. I got picked last or second to last in every single game in phys-ed here for seven solid years. Even for baseball. I was good at baseball. Yes, I'm still a little bitter. Time has lightened the emotional baggage, somewhat. It helps that, statistically, some of the people who got picked before me are dead.

Some time in the last 20 years, they replaced the merry-go-round with "kidsafe" stuff (just out of frame on the left. I couldn't be bothered to take a picture of a three foot slide and a ladder with one rung). The three rusty metal jungle gym things, in a macabre snub to the entire concept of "kidsafe", are still there. And, yes, the rocketship on the right is just as awesome as it looks. More, probably.

Oddly, I never got beat up here. Mostly, they'd wait until I was on the way home before trying anything. One kid jumped me on the walk home one day, and hit me with his lunchbox. It shattered (stupid, cheap, Dukes of Hazzard lunchbox, natch). While he was bent over picking up the pieces, I whacked him dead center on the back with mine, an old "construction worker"-style one. He went down like a bag of cement (specifically, a bag of cement that got unexpectedly hit between the shoulder blades with a heavy lunchbox). For the remainder of my walk home, I heard him wailing away. Wailing! It was the soundtrack to bliss.
The front side of the schoolyard has a giant sports field. The other side of the school has another that's even bigger. I mention this only because for a couple years we spent lunch hour running around it to get "in shape" and "raise money" for books or some shit.
There was also this kid who dug in the sandbox on the far side of the school, looking for gold or sunken battleships or UFOs. That was the kid that took all the beatings I avoided. My human shield, as it were. I hope he's as nice now as he was back then ("nice" in elementary school qualified one for bullying. That "digging for UFOs" thing couldn't have helped). If not, avoid him (being freckly and pale with a mushroom haircut, he should be easy to pick out in a crowd). If he's not nice, he's a serial killer. I hope he's nice. He had a little brother who was even weirder than he was and together they'd built a tree house in their backyard in a tree so spindly that the mere weight of the tree house alone was enough to bend it. There's no way it was up to code.
The school also had one of those kickass merry-go-rounds with the hollow, spoked center. You could load the middle with kids, get them all running in the same direction and have it literally turning faster than light itself. The best part was that it was surrounded by asphalt. They eventually welded it in place. Then it was just a sit-there-and-do-nothing. After a few years, weather and time wore away all the red streaks that surrounded it. Now, it's a not-there-at-all. I hope they gave it a proper burial.

In '89 my parents got the "invest in real estate" bug, which was widely considered to be a path to wealth so simple that anyone could do it. By '90 we went broke and had to move, ironically into the massive duplex (correction: the massive six bedroom, two bath, two kitchen, two utility room'd monoplex that had been hastily, and ultimately temporarily, converted into a very illegal duplex before my parents go to it) that they'd bought to get rich. I would put a picture of that house here, but I hated it. The walk to high school went from an hour to over two (buses ended up not being any faster, as this house was off by the highway, in between Fucksburg and Poorly-Lit Industrial Park. While a bicycle would've technically been much faster, there was that whole "house out in the middle of nowhere, conveniently located right beside a highway with speeding cars" problem. A car would've been fastest, but that would've meant getting a job. The guys I knew in high school that had cars only got to use them to drive to the job that paid for the car that they used to get to work, which isn't nearly as sweet as it sounds). The place had an obscenely massive lawn. I got to mow it. To ease my travails my parents eventually bought a "self-propelled" lawn mower. Its minimum speed, the "turtle" on the throttle, was like standing still but slower. The "rabbit" speed wasn't quite that fast. I used to store it on its side so that it would burn oil for a couple of minutes after startup (that being after ten minutes of "prime, set cord, pull, curse, repeat"). That meant that two out of the ninety minutes (every seventh day during spring and fall, and weekly for most of the remainder) of sweat and sheer boredom weren't completely wasted. Instead, they were completely wasted in a haze of blue smoke.

There's a car parked where the tree used to be. Destro (who is still in the backyard somewhere) is, no doubt, plotting to take it over. Hopefully he'll be careful. There'll be hell to pay if he scratches the paint.

In '91 or so, my parents came to the conclusion that they couldn't afford it, and we moved to a place that, while smaller, didn't suck. Thankfully, it was slightly less far away from everywhere than the giant house. I have no pictures of that house, either. Oddly, I still have the key on my keychain.
So, instead of those houses, I'll put this picture of the childhood home of my best friend from elementary school, which is maybe half a block away from mine (the distance seemed much greater at the time). We made the best tree house ever in the giant tree in the front yard. On occasions too numerous to count, the nefarious duo of He-Man and Skeletor fell to the combined forces of GI Joe and Cobra in its tangled branches (I'm pretty sure that Zartan is still hiding in the shadows somewhere, just in case Trap-Jaw comes back to find his missing arm. Plus, he has to take care of Torpedo, after that little rubber band that held his legs on broke. He lost both of his thumbs in the war, too). The tree is gone. I cried for an hour after walking past it for the first time in probably ten years and noticing that it was no longer there. Seriously, it was a wicked tree house. I fell out of it once. Even the fall was awesome. That's how great this tree house was. Your jealousy is understandable.

This was my high school. Besides the additions in between the gym and the school and the one jutting out from the gym, it's pretty much the same now as it was back then. Like elementary school, I was a smart kid. Unlike elementary school, which mixed the smart and the dumb in the same pond, this high school had separate classes for the smart kids. On the negative side, this put a smart fish in a bigger pond of smarter fish. On the positive side, this meant that there was always someone smarter and more awkward than me to attract the ire of the large and slow. I never got stuffed in a garbage can or a locker. Not once. If anybody tells you that I was, they're a dirty liar!

My high school. They filled in the alley where the teachers, bad kids and bad teachers smoked. (Inset: Beside the choir/band building, they've added two annexes, which are buildings that schools add when they have more students than money. The right one is a double-wide. Classy.)

Highlights include having the same teacher for French and phys-ed in grade eight. He was Scottish or English or some shit, whichever results in teachers that suck more, and his French accent lacked that je ne sais quoi. Mostly, when he taught French, we played soccer. He was a douche. The next year was even worse, as my French teacher would rather watch episodes of Floyd on France, pausing to throw chalk at the kids that weren't paying attention, to actually do his job. At the end of the year, my grade was 49.5%. I got him up to 50% by using the magic of bafflegab and desperation on a couple of questions on the final. It helped that he didn't want me back.
In grade ten, I finally got a French teacher that taught French. I totally parlais'd francais that year. You should've seen me. It was awesome.
Due to an administrative screw-up in grade 10 that sat, waiting in my permanent file to bite my ass, I got to take grade 10 phys-ed in grade 12. I still got picked last every time. Fuckers. Some of them are probably dead now too.
The final highlight was spending a few years in the school "graphics" program, where we learned things like film and offset printing. I enjoyed it enough that I wanted to do it as a career. After high school, I spent the better part of a year in post-secondary school seven hundred kilometres away realizing that I'd made a terrible decision. Even better, I only had that epiphany after it was too late to get my money back, stranding me in a nice city, broke, in classes that I no longer cared about and, eventually, no longer attended.

But that's another essay entirely.

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