Saturday, March 28, 2009

There's More Than One Way Home

As a sophomore in high school, I used to hang out at a friend's house nearly every night, eating dinner there most nights, and then I would walk home to my house just a few hours before bedtime. On weekend nights, I would hang out with my friends at the same house, and I would walk home in time for my 12:30am curfew.

On one Friday night, just before school let out for the summer, I was walking home from my friend's house, and I found a small wheel that had fallen off of a wheelbarrow. I thought it might make a good go-cart wheel, so I picked it up and carried it home with me.  (This is despite the fact that I did not own a go-cart. I figured, sometimes all you need is a good reason to buy a go-cart, and this may have been mine.) The night was beautiful and clear and hot, and the street lights and porch lights lit up the roads for me. 

While I walking along Gillaspie, a road that ran alongside two large, empty soccer fields, I heard the strangest noise, like someone on my heels snoring lightly. It was wet and glottal, and it made the hair on my neck stand up. I spun around and saw nothing. I looked for bats or birds in the air above me, but there were none. I started walking again, a little faster.

After a moment, I heard the sound of tiny hooves behind me: "clip, clop, clip," and a little bleat. I whipped around again and saw nothing to the side or behind me. I spun the other way and saw a tiny, white baby goat prancing around the side of my feet. He looked up at me inquisitively with his bright blue eyes and bleated again. It was all I could do not to scream loudly. 

My skin crawled. I looked around, searching for someone else who might also be seeing this, or perhaps something that would indicate I was dreaming. The world appeared normal. No shifts in the light and every familiar house in its place. Strangely, I was holding a small, rusty wheel, but I could explain that. I surmised that this was really happening.

I bent down and laid my hand on the goat's head. I looked at his eyes, which were beautiful and blankly staring at me. A hairy little bump under his chin was forming. His tiny pink nose sniffed at me. His hair was a little bit course and bristly. His ears flopped around, listening.

I sat there for several minutes, just soaking it in, trying to decide what to do next.

Just two blocks away from where I was lived a friend of my mom's, a woman named Joan. I had grown up with her kids, and I thought about her every time I passed her house. I thought she might be home, but there were no lights on. I walked up the front lawn with my tire and the baby goat behind me. I knocked. Nothing. I knocked again. I heard some shuffling inside, and I stood back a ways from the door so she could see me through the window.

"Who is it?" I couldn't see her. She was standing behind the door.

"Hi, Joan. It's me, Ross. I need your help. I have a baby goat out here."

"A what? You what?"

"A goat. It's following me. Can you call Animal Control?"

She opened the door slowly, peaking through. When she saw my face, she opened the door wide, bringing her face close the the screen door to look at me closely. "Ross, what's going on?"

I turned sideways and pointed to the goat, who now had his front hooves up on her stoop.

"OH MY GOD!" she said. "Ross, I thought you were on drugs! That's a real live goat!"

"I'm glad you see it, too. Can you call Animal Control?"

She brought me into the house and we put the goat in her garage while we waited. At one point, I asked her if I could call home to explain why I would be late for my curfew. She said yes. When I told my mom what happened, she didn't believe me, so I had to put Joan on the phone with her. She said, "I know! I thought he was on drugs! And then when I saw it, I thought I was on drugs!" She handed me the phone again, and, feeling vindicated, I asked my mom to come pick me up. She said, "Sweety, I know that this has been a strange night, so you are excused for being late. But that doesn't mean I have to get out of bed to come get you." 

"So no ride?"

"See you in the morning."

Animal Control came to pick up the little one, and I headed home with my tire.

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up.

Boulder Day Nursery, where I started school at the age of three, was the stereotypical Boulder pre-school. At the time (1980, or so), it was run by some of my mom's hippy-dippy friends.

I loved it there. We spent our days playing in large tubs of soapy water, learning to tie our shoes, and singing "I'm Being Followed By a Moonshadow."

From the three years I spent there, I can remember quite a few full days. I can even remember some of the daily routines. For instance, at lunch several kids would be chosen to shuttle food to and from the kitchen. We would wait patiently at the kitchen door for more vegan soba noodles or large pitchers of milk (both soy and dairy), which were normally handed to us by a perpetually old-looking woman named Bee.

At reading time, we read great books by authors like Maurice Sendak (In the Night Kitchen and Where the Wild Things Are), Shell Silverstien (Where the Sidewalk Ends), and, my favorite, Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola.

My first girlfriend was a student at Boulder Day. Her name was Sonja, and she had a huge, curly head of hair and olive skin. She convinced me to touch tongues with her one day, and the feeling scared me horribly.

I also remember the various injuries and emergencies that happened while I was there. I fractured my collarbone when I tripped over the exposed root of a tall tree on the playground. While visiting Pearl Street Mall as a group outing, I slipped on a slick rock and bit right through my tongue. I was also nearby when several of my friends got caught eating berries from a bush, which may or may not have been poisonous. I pled innocence, but, "just to be safe," they made us swallow syrup of ipecac, which makes kids and adults alike explode with projectile vomiting. Between heaves, I pointed down into my bucket of throwup, saying "See? SEE? I didn't eat any!"

I can remember the day we learned how to wash our hands. I can remember making pinhole cameras out of Quaker Oats cylinders. I can remember a scavenger hunt wherein the prize was a plastic piggy bank from the credit union down the block. And I can remember the day after my fifth birthday, when I brought my new fireman's helmet to school and wore it the entire day.

I was friends with most of the kids there, but on weekends my mom would hang out with some of the other parents, and I would have playdates with their kids. One of my favorite friends was named Keggie (kedge-ee), a girl who was as cute as a button. She had a little round face framed by straight straw-colored hair, huge blue eyes, a golden laugh, and she always seemed to be wearing overalls.

I've been told that remembering this kind of detail from childhood is rare.

Years later, when I was maybe 19, I was waiting in line for a keg beer at a Hawaiian luau in Boulder, and the same girl, Keggie, walked up to the other side of the keg, cutting in line in front of a half-dozen guys at the party. I hadn't seen her since my last day of pre-school, but I recognized her instantly.

No one said a word to her about cutting in line; Keggie had grown into a full-fledged knockout, and she knew it. There was only one guy in front of me, so I said something to her. "Hey, I think I went to pre-school with you!"

She looked at me and pulled her head back, crinkling one eyebrow and raising the other. She said, "Oh?"

"Yeah!" I said, "Where'd you go to pre-school?"

With the same look on her face, she said, "Listen, I'm here with my boyfriend..."

I started reeling off details about Boulder Day. Keggie's mother was a potter, and she had a kiln and some half-finished pots in the back yard. We once spent an afternoon smashing pottery scraps. I could even remember exactly what her room looked like: "You had the alphabet as wallpaper in your room. "A" was for apple, "B" was for boat, and "R" was for robot."

She stood there, speechless, her beer now running over from the flowing tap.

I looked her right in the eye and said, "Yeah. I wasn't hitting on you. Don't flatter yourself." Then I took the tap from her hand and started filling the cup belonging to the guy in front of me.