(A Lake Boy Tale)
The first love of my life was Mary Von Zastrow. Her family lived next door to us on Gayle Road in the bucolic Finger Lake Village of Skaneateles, NY.
What does a five year old kid know about love? In retrospect, not much, but to me at that time, my undying love and devotion to all things Mary was very real.
With the exception of my older brother Alfie and Scotty Gregory, I didn't like playing with boys on Gayle Road. They were older, and they treated their little brothers like crap. They were rough. They hit, and they played with Tonka Trucks. I didn't understand them, and I never gravitated towards them. And they never lifted up their skirts in the back blue bathroom on 12 Gayle Road, and pulled their panties down around their ankles so I could initiate and then continue my life long interest in that particular area of female anatomy.
I guess I was an early bloomer.
She had a page boy haircut, and her mom always dressed her impeccably in little plaid or gingham dresses, white leggings, and patent leather mary janes. She was all girl to me, and she was my girl.
Mary and I were inseparable. She was the first person I wanted to marry other than my mother, and I would publicly declare my intent of betrothal at any opportunity, much to my mother's chagrin.
The only obstacle between Mary and myself riding off on a white steed into the sunset forever was her father, Etto.
Etto was an imposing figure. He was extremely tall and wiry, bald as a cue ball, and spoke in a low, thick and menacing Germanic accent. He had zero body fat, and his face looked positively skeletal. There was a rumor going around that he was a concentration camp survivor, or maybe a Nazi war criminal in hiding among the little kids of Gayle Road. He was mean.
All I knew was that he was having none of me. Probably because he knew just how much Mary and I were obsessed with investigating each other's genitalia every chance we got, but he never really directly confronted me with that particular parental conundrum. He just figured if he scared the beejeezus out of me, I'd keep my distance.
One Saturday morning, perhaps inspired cliche "Mad Scientist" and "Dr. Jeckyll" characterizations found in cartoons of the day, Alfie and I decided to play at fantasy chemistry. We got two plastic buckets, and started raiding the house for any type of toxic chemical we could find, along with other items such as condiments from the fridge.
We mixed lawn fertilizer with mayonaisse, a dash of vinegar, two teaspoons of comet cleanser, laundry detergent, kool aid, toothpaste, etc. All assiduously measured and the amounts recorded just in case we happened to accidently discover something of real value that might need to be re-created.
We were scientists, you know.
I think that perhaps the object of these experiments were two-fold. The first was to practice our Mad Scientist cackles and "MWU-HA-HA-HA-HA" evil laughs to perfection as we tried to best each subsequent attempt at creating the foulest mixture of toxic crapola ever known, stirring our respective buckets with Mother's wooden spoons.
The second was to hopefully come up with an accidental chemical cocktail that would smoke like dry ice, although at the time we didn't know what dry ice actually was. The reason Alfie was recording measurements and amounts was probably in case we did in fact, hit the right combination to cause that particular chemical reaction, we could re-create it for time immemorial.
So as the lazy day progressed, Alfie and I mixed noxious goo in buckets, laughed like "Eville" mad scientists, realized were weren't going to get the desired smoking result, dumped the buckets in the back field behind our house, rinsed them out, and started over again. It was a good way to pass a Saturday with your big brother.
By the time we got to the last batch, Alfie got bored. He floated a couple of ten-cent smoke bombs that were readily available at Talbot's Five and Dime on top of the goop in the buckets, lit them, and we had the cackle fest to end all cackle fests in clouds of sulpherous yellow and pink smoke.
Right at that point, I had a five year old epiphany of science.
What if the smoke bomb made the goop into something that we weren't originally looking for? What if the smoke bomb was some kind of catalyst? What if we had accidently created something like Flubber, but hadn't realized it?
Perhaps inspired by multiple Saturday morning viewings of "The Rabbit Of Seville" Bugs Bunny cartoon, where Bugs as the barber pours hair tonic and Figaro Fertilizer on Elmer Fudd's bald pate, and grows stemmed flowers on Elmer's head, maybe I had concocted my own five year old version of Rogaine and didn't know it. And if I had....
I would give it to Etto the next-door obstructionist.
If I could create a magic tonic that would grow hair atop his furrowed brow, he would finally love me as the discoverer of a miracle, delivering him from baldness and allowing Mary and I to live happily ever after with his consent!
I informed Alfie of my intent, and we designed an experiment.
So I collected six rocks, and placed them in a shoe box. Then I dug into the storage shed of the garage to find a trim paint brush, and on our backyard patio slathered five of the rocks with noxious goop, leaving one as a control.
I can remember the sun setting in the west over Lakeview circle, the sky ablaze with red and purple as I did this with Alfie looking over my shoulder. It was a beautiful and hopeful moment, and I knew in my heart that I would succeed.
As I layed me down to sleep, it was just like going to bed on Christmas eve. I couldn't wait to wake up to see the results (hopefully succesful), and then announce my triumph of science and social engineering to mean old Etto. I nodded out dreaming of Mary, and our possible impending happiness.
Well, Alfie had an epiphany as well. After I went to sleep, he grabbed a pair of scissors and snipped just enough fur off of Harvey, our family basset hound, to make it look good. And then he artfully pasted clumps of Harvey's hair on the five rocks, leaving the control rock hairless.
Just like a kid on Christmas morning, I woke up early at around 5:00am with the rest of the Rossi clan still snoozing away. I looked to my box of rocks on the nightstand, and slowly lifted the lid with the Buster Brown logo on it, praying to God for the results I so desperately needed. Buster had a page boy haircut too. A good omen. Tige not so, but I wasn't aware of Alfie's chicanery.
EUREKA! I had done it!
I grabbed the shoebox, and dashed to the Von Zastrow's front door, practically kicking it in as I leaned on the doorbell screaming, "Mr. Von Zastrow! Mr. Von Zastrow!"
The gaunt visage of Etto appeared as he slowly opened the door. He was dressed in blue striped pajamas, that due to his frame, he was swimming in.
I excitedly babbled as a five year old kid would under these miraculous circumstances and explained to him my experiment: that I had discovered a magic hair tonic and that it grew hair on rocks, see? Here's the rocks and here's the evidence and if it can grow hair on rocks it will grow hair on him and he didn't have to be sad or mean anymore and I did it for him so he would finally like me.
I was positively beaming. Radiating with love.
Frowning, Etto reached down, and with his bony index finger and thumb, delicately pulled a clump of freshly glued dog hair off one of the rocks in the shoe box that I held up to him like a gift of the Magii.
In the morning silence, he held the clump of fur aloft and against the sky, backlit from the orange light of the rising sun. He slowly inspected it, rotating his bony wrist as he did.
And then without a word spoken, he gently shut the door in my face.
After that, the reciprocal agreement that my mother and Mrs.Von Zastrow had to watch each other's youngest children came to an abrupt end. Mary announced that she was no longer allowed to even speak with me, let alone play with me.
The Von Zastrow's moved from Gayle Road shortly thereafter.
"You may shoot for the stars and end up in a back alley behind Pluto, beaten and bloodied, but at least I dare to dream, and that’s better than being Earthbound.
I judge my forward progress and success by the crushingly epic nature of my failures.
The more epic the crash, the more I’m convinced I must be doing something right"
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THANK YOU KINDLY,
COLONEL BEAUREGARD "IRON THIGHS" JEFFERSON, A.K.A. "THE MANAGEMENT"