Parents were never mom or dad to us. They were pa-rentals and we were tenants. There were five of us friends and we fended for our own fun. We climbed fire escapes, slept on rooftops, slipped under fences. We scooped up stones and tossed ’em at birds or anything that moved or didn’t move like our elementary school’s earth science window. We were half way home before the shattering and splintering stopped.
The school never found out, but our little brothers ratted. It didn’t matter anyway because parentals couldn’t do anything right, not even punishments. What they perceived as cruel, we grew to love.
We had no interest in being Boy Scouts and wearing those ridiculous scarves and pledge pins and yet, our parentals felt all-powerful in denying us what they thought was such a “golden opportunity.”
And so they enrolled us in Indian Guides instead and we loved the names assigned each of us; leaping lizard and stalking bobcat. We were excited to trap squirrels and make fires, build tepees from birch branches and maybe most importantly, we met Jeff Minchkins. He was the sixth member of our assigned tribe and the only one without a father escort because Jeff came by choice, as an exercise of his own free will. He wanted to be an Indian Guide.
We met in each other’s basements. Jeff Minchkins was the only one who moved around, from black leather couch to bar stool, standing and then sitting, but not nervous, more graceful with no father hawking his every move and weighing him down. He talked about things other parents knew nothing about; like Moses J. Yellow Horse striking out Babe Ruth and a team of Mohawks playing in the Quebec Provincial League and the more Jeff talked, the more parents fidgeted and referred to the Indian Guides rule book. They insisted we call them “elders.”
Each of our basements resembled a bar with a stocked mini fridge, a shiny wood rail and a massive beer can collection; typical Milwaukee relics. The McCauleys also displayed Hartland Baseball Statues and not surprisingly, all of them were Milwaukee Braves – Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Warren Spahn, but what was surprising was the number of them. There were 30 in all, but only of those three players…a battlefield of red, white and blue clones.
Jeff slipped around to the other side of the rail and sat beside a Blatz Beer Statue instead. It was strange, almost eerie looking, nothing you’d find in an art museum, but I liked it just the same…a runner sliding into a pile of dirt that looked more like quicksand or vomit, a catcher reaching up to catch the ball or keep his head from pezzing off its axis – a stretchy freak house mirror at the carnival. An umpire in albino Mario stash signaling safe. All of ’em ankle deep in dirt. The catcher with one foot on land, bodies shaped like Blatz beer bottles; one can, one bottle, and the umpire with maybe a fat-mouthed Blatz barrel we didn’t know about?
It was wonderful and Minchkins thought so too because he stuffed the statue under his sweatshirt. No one said a word either. It all happened real fast the next day. We dragged real estate signs, a hammer and a bag of nails to the railroad tracks at the outskirts of town. We dug a hole, 3 feet deep. Minchkins dropped the Blatz statue in. We covered it up and went to work like squirrels, fast and furious, paranoid and industrious:
Fit abandoned railroad ties into 8×12 diamond shape.
Stake four smaller ties as corner posts.
Nail real estate signs to ties.
Incline smaller sign as roof.
Gather up evergreen and spruce branches and
nail them into side walls and roof as camouflage/cop repellent.
We plastered the inside walls with different things over the years – baseball cards, album covers, beer labels. We drank Blatz beer in there, Miller and PBR as well. We ate all kinds of food. We called it “fort” but there were no wars fought unless inner ones count.
Minchkins stalked us throughout our 20’s and 30’s with postcards at every solstice, never saying much, but there was always a sketch of a tree or moon and a reminder that even our own bodies would come and go but “it” would last forever.
He never explained “it” and as much as it reeked of a religious message we all returned to the fort. I can only speak for myself, but being there aroused a sensation; of fetching water from a well and quenching a thirst I didn’t even know I had.