Editorials

Scenes Of My New England Boyhood
by: Max Burbank

It was a different time.

Adults were in short supply, more flinty and aloof in affect. Those that were not teachers were store keeps, police or firemen, one's parents or the parents of others. All were suspect.

An hour lasted at least seven of what you have now and a mile was half again as long on any given day, particularly the miles between home and school.

In autumn we burned our leaves without resort to permit, and their aroma could be smelled for miles and days beyond the burning. Fires might spread to fields and yards, structures, children, dogs: all were abundant. The loss of some few was bittersweet but unremarkable.

You could see further then, especially if trouble was coming and you squinted. Playgrounds were our battlefields. In the woods beyond low stone walls there was certainly quicksand. It was widely rumored the railroad tracks led to china, but I never followed them that far.

The wheels on our skateboards were made of stone that sparked against asphalt. If you lost a leg, it grew back, like a starfish, but it was a torment to resist picking the scab.

We feared and admired the French Canadian heathen in their shantytowns and tarpaper shacks down by the river. "Canucks" I'd whisper under my blankets in the flash lit light, imagining their ridged brows, their ruddy skin, their beaver pelt coats, their hockey sticks.

My brother and I, the loose knit band of nearly feral youth we ran with, swam the fall of the Nixon administration like it was a river, forded the Ford and came ashore on Carter, never once knowing our games of army and Red Rover were played out upon squares of yellowed Kodachrome.

THE ENERGY CRISIS

This was several years before the Crisis on Infinite Earths, around the time of Giant Size X-men #1 in fact. Gasoline became so scarce our fathers stood in lines for it. They gambled for it, traded food and women. I once came upon a family of seven, mummified in their station wagon for want of gasoline, even the dog, mummified. I snapped a finger off the Grandma for a souvenir and kept it in a Lost in Space lunchbox like a reliquary. My father once traded me to a traveling gypsy knife sharpener for a jerry can of watered down gasoline, but it was understood if I could use my wits and lock pick tools to escape I would, and so I did after a week and made my way back, but had to sleep on the porch having lost my share of the bed to our dog Stephen Foster. That was the summer I ate lightning bugs. The use of electrical devices including the telephone machine was curtailed to necessity and enforced by law, personal shame, and roving gangs of Baseball Furies, Lizzies, Rogues, Riffs, Hurricanes and Boppers.

For a year we were forced to forego daylight savings time and so walked to school before sunrise in the pitch black. We carried various flashlights, Coleman lanterns, torches, but still passing cars picked us off here and there. A Billy Macavoy, a Mary Lee Porrier did not answer 'present' when their name was called and that was how you found out the dark had got them.

SCHOOL

Steven Shaheen's head was torn clean off by an expertly thrown package of grape Bazooka and so all gums were outlawed. We made do smuggling in Blowpops, which had gum at their center. Owing to a general lack of coordination and a paralyzing degree of self-awareness, I was consigned to 'special gym' with three retarded children and a legally blind child who wore glasses so thick they required a delicately balanced counter weight to remain upon his face. We were told we could tell the other children that our gym was not 'special' it was 'extra', but any damn fool knew an idiot pen for what it was. I excelled, particularly on the balance beam. Our English teacher, Mizz Della Dinowski was over three-hundred-years-old and lived with her mother. She routinely ran children down with her Oldsmobile for spite and no one did a damn thing, crushed them to death like squirrels under her wheels and drove on. My friends and I attended many funerals.

I played harmonica at graveside. The preacher remarked on the fragility of modern children, which is what we were to him. He was seventeen feet tall and his skin was so dry it had peeled away at the nose entirely, revealing the bleached cartilage beneath. At assembly I was required to explain what Jews were, and at this I failed. To this day the town I grew up in is unclear on the nature and status of Jews, to my great and lasting shame. On the playground, the law of the jungle prevailed. A child might be stoned to death for swinging out of turn or crucified upon the monkey bars to appease an angry God before a science test. My best friend Mike was often called upon to fight for our lives, but I became expert in burrowing, weaseling, slipping between the edges of things and becoming invisible. In extreme need I could sometimes summon a short burst of speed that would leave me in a neighboring town, shoes burned away at the sole, smoking, hungry beyond words. I grew my hair to tremendous proportions and refused to brush it, so I could blend seamlessly into thickets. We would meet up at the fire station, Mike covered in swellings and bruises, me with half the forest in my hair, and buy pop from the soda machine and stare at the firemen who might have been chainsaw carved stumps and spoke in a language comprised entirely of curse words.

THE WOODS

My property abutted a large parcel of disputed acreage, owing to surveying irregularities dating back hundreds of years. Nothing could be built upon the contested area and it had run wild. This no man's land connected to a friends field and woodlot at the end of which was a swamp that if crossed let out on the town cemetery. In all, seventeen thousand square miles into which we could and did disappear regularly. One of the Donahue boys did not return at all from play, but they had almost a dozen and didn't notice until five years later when a small portion of the swamp was drained to build a filling station and the boy was discovered living with beavers. After several failed attempts at reintroduce the boy into society, he was put down.

Indian caves could be found in those woods, as could the skeletal remains of bandits, more than one hobo jungle and a species of salamander the size of a German shepherd long thought extinct by science. We built a machine gun nest overlooking a valley and took note of Nazi troop convoys until I got cholera. The cemetery was a great place to be reminded of mortality, skateboard and get flowers on Mother's Day.

ENTERTAINMENT

The music was a hellish torment. One foul July Saturday, the American Top Forty featured 38 songs off the soundtrack album of 'Saturday Night Fever', 'Saturday Night' by the Bay City Rollers and 'The Night Chicago Died' by Paper Lace. All across town people beat their skulls in with their own clock radios until the local emergency room nailed it's doors shut. There were four channels on the TV machine and also UHF if you were a man of science. Mike and I tried to assemble a UHF antenna from salvaged washing machine parts, my mother's hair drying machine, tin foil and tape but succeeded only in creating a sentient computer which we were forced to go back in time and prevent from coming into existence. Only we remembered. 'Star Wars' debuted at the cineplex and many of us took up residence therein to facilitate continuous viewing. We built ourselves hanging nests of found twine and hanger wire like giant featherless weaverbirds. We would drop from the ceilings between showings and forage for spilled popcorn, petrified gum, orphan Ju-Ju Bees, our ranks thinned by rickets, typhus and a host of other sailor's diseases brought on by malnutrition. Comic Books cost fifteen cents, were 100 - 3000 pages long and printed on a wood pulp so cheap that I once turned an issue of The Brave and The Bold featuring Batman and the Metal Men to dust by simply by speaking to it.

THE BLIZZARD OF SEVENTY-EIGHT

The Blizzard of '78 was actually several storms coming together on each other's heels and generally overlapping. Trapped in place by a Canadian high-pressure system, hurricane force winds battered us and snow fell twelve inches an hour for most of February. An atypical development of vertical storm clouds brought thunder and lightning as the temperature dropped to Seven Hundred and Twenty-Eight bellow zero. Unlucky dogs sailed through the air and shattered like life sized glass dog statues against equally unlucky frozen weathermen. At the height of the storm, snowmen came to life and slid about ravenous for human flesh and the wind blew so hard the First Congregational Church of Gloucester was turned inside out. When the sun finally came out, we awoke to find ourselves buried beneath fourteen miles of snow. A complicated system of connecting tunnels were dug out in a showing of classic New England spunk that soon turned sour when it became clear their primary purpose was to facilitate cannibalism. Spring came, but many were too snow blind to believe it and continued to freeze to death in their dreams or brag so much their lungs exploded.

Scattered now, like the autumn leaves that smoldering lit on the sheds and garages of our youth and burnt them down, we survivors of those old days will fade into memory. One by one until all are gone, like the last veterans of the great wars or aging Apollo astronauts winking out in nursing homes, we antiques born before the Internet machine, the cell phone machine, the Head-On applied directly to the forehead medicine device; keep off our lawns, don't back sass us, salute as we go by and for God's sake, pull your pants up, pants are not meant to be worn that way.

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Reader Comments

Esq.
Jan 29th, 2008, 05:18 AM
I may only have been born in 87' but I still remember cell phones being a strange thing to have, Dial-up internet and windows 94 being "the shit" and even indoor plumbing was strange to see, well no I'm not that old, but great peice Max, enjoyed it.

" "Canucks" I'd whisper under my blankets in the flash lit light, imagining their ridged brows, their ruddy skin, their beaver pelt coats, their hockey sticks."

Better watch out for us Canucks, we are biding our time, when you least expect it, we will strike.
grants but one wish
Jan 29th, 2008, 06:45 AM
y'know, the school playground hasent really changed much over the years...
Clap if you love Dynamo
Jan 29th, 2008, 07:55 AM
If you think canucks are scary with "their ridged brows, their ruddy skin, their beaver pelt coats, their hockey sticks" are scary, wait till they come at with their round bacon, maple syrup, and those funny hats. *Shudder*

Did you know they have a place where they harbor the French?!
hanging out
Jan 29th, 2008, 11:33 AM
using a cassette tapes on Vic-20

My Dad's Dumb joke whenever we were in a store that sold computers to command them to scroll "Terry is Cool" Terry is King" "Terry is the Best" But it suddenly being the coolest thing ever when he taught me to do it. "Lou is Smart and Monica is Dumb"

1984 in the house.
Waiting for the worms.
Jan 29th, 2008, 11:35 AM
I've got one of those funny hats...I wear it when it is cold, to keep my ears toasty...
Wait. Does that mean I'm a communist?
Forum Virgin
Jan 29th, 2008, 12:50 PM
My name is Mike. I am the best friend in the story. It is all true, and he left out the time we played dyanmite tag in the crumbling two hundred year old barn, and the time my elbows got ground down to the bone skateboarding in the graveyard.
From the Home of MST3K
Jan 29th, 2008, 01:24 PM
This reminds me of Pete and Pete.
The Moxie Nerve Food Tonic
Jan 29th, 2008, 01:29 PM
Mike is correct, and there's a bucketload of other stuff left out too.
Forum Virgin
Jan 29th, 2008, 07:47 PM
When I talk to my grandchildren about the good old days, I'm just going to make shit up.

They'll be all: "Gwanpa, what was two fousand like?"

And I'll be all: "Ah, two thousand... the year the time-traveling Nazis invaded DC..."
after enough bourbon ...
Jan 29th, 2008, 08:48 PM
The only characters missing were Soda Pop, Darry and Pony Boy.

Hell, back then we didn't have "eye-pods", the interweb or "sell-phones" - we had to tough it out with M-80's, beer bongs and porn for entertainment. And rocket-propelled grenades, of course (how silly of me to almost forget!).

You "whippersnappers" have it so easy.
Fookin' up planets!
Jan 30th, 2008, 02:19 AM
Max Burbank.... I am only 27 with a 4 year old and a mean ass... I mean, 29 year old wife.
I have to say though... I wanna be just like you when I grow old and angry.
Your Illegitimate Child
Jan 30th, 2008, 04:11 AM
Max, I may not have been alive, but I remember it all as well as you do because I am secretly a time-traveling dinosaur.
The Moxie Nerve Food Tonic
Jan 30th, 2008, 10:32 AM
Flagg; Astute comment, as "The Outsiders" was like a bible to me and my gang. A couple of years later, they actually introduced it into the English Curriculum, giving it's coolness cache a nasty chest wound in the process, but also a much wider readership. Not that it wasn't very popular when the 'Mike' from the story loaned me his copy, but it hadn't yet become as ubiquitous among my demographic as re-runs of 'The Brady Bunch'. I haven't read it in at least 30 years and never saw the movie. I've been meaning to do both.

Pirateface; I'm nowhere near as much like me when I grow up as my writing is.
after enough bourbon ...
Jan 30th, 2008, 10:09 PM
I like the movie, not because of the acting, but more for the unintentional humor value. Everytime someone refers to "Ponyboy" I break out into uncontrollable laughter.
The Moxie Nerve Food Tonic
Jan 31st, 2008, 10:54 AM
Yeah, that name didn't have a lot of shelf life, did it? It's friggin' hysterical to call someone 'Ponyboy' now.
Crazed Techno-Biologist
Feb 1st, 2008, 12:29 AM
honestly, this was the most ridiculous pile of words i have ever read, but for some reason i could imagine it all vividly in my head like some kind of mad max of ww2 + galactica and schizophrenia.im pretty sure this isnt good for me. but i read it anyways. =[
Is a thin donkey
Feb 1st, 2008, 12:52 AM
'The Outsiders' is one of the best novels/movies ever.
The Moxie Nerve Food Tonic
Feb 1st, 2008, 11:18 AM
Dungeonbrownies; You like me against your better instincts. It's okay. Go with it. That's how I met my wife, and fifteen years later she only regrets it most of the time.
Official Punching Bag
Feb 2nd, 2008, 06:10 AM
Firstly, in a "New England Boyhood" article, I would have expected Shoggoth-fighting involved, but you showed incredible restraint Max!

Yeah, at my age (I was born in 1990) I'm old enough to remember a time without the internet and iPods. If you told me you could fit 500 songs on a gizmo of a size less thick than a GameBoy Pocket... I would have believed you, because I was very imaginative back then. I still am in a way. Back when I was a kid, I thought you really could fit cute monsters in a tennis-ball like item, and it wasn't that out of the question for Superman to fly, because I knew the secret to his flying was not that he was fictional, but because he was an alien. This was why I never attempted flying like him myself, while other kids had broken arms in droves. It was because I understood the mythologies of the modern age. Not just because I was a gullible wide eyed kid.

I didn't even have a Game Boy Pocket as a kid until my brother got one for his 13th Birthday, and then Colour ones were released and Pockets were out of vogue. I remember a simpler time when a piece of electronics could last ages without being obsolete. I keep my simple phone that doesn't have internet access or a flip-screen in memory of when phones were real phones, not overpriced media centers, you were supposed to use them to talk to people. Now you use them to avoid talking to people as you download annoying ringtones for them.

I still consider myself an elder-innocent. There are some things that I don't think I want to be exposed to, because I already know well enough they're not good for me. Alcohol was one of them. I waited so long for my 18th Birthday (the legal Aussie drinking age) so I could drink my first legal beer with my friends (my first illegal alcohol was wine at an art gallery, which ended up with me annoying Ex-Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in drunk happiness. This is not a lie, this really happened), only to find that I didn't like the taste of beer at all. I suppose its one of the mythologies of society that beer + friends equals fun, but I never figured out why that was. Maybe I just wasn't drinking enough of it.

People at school sometimes make fun of me because they think I'm too stupid to know what they mean by "do you do it with girls?", but I do know full well what they mean, and when they ask stuff like that I hate the way that they believe asking this to prove my naivety will make them laugh. I learned the hard way that even if you are a high-functioning Asperger's kid, some people are just bastards.

But it's not all bad news. I learned that there was honour amongst geeks and nerds. In Australia you don't get the stereotypical geeks who never had a girlfriend because nobody likes them, a geek/nerd is usually defined as a reader of books and watcher of cinema that has merit. Geeks and Nerds don't tease you like Jocks will because they know how it feels to be left out.

One of the other mythologies that I found untrue is the myth of the lesbians who swing both ways. Female homosexuality is called homosexuality because they have no interest in dating men. They'll be your friend, for sure, but they won't love you the same way a straight woman will. I discovered this when I asked a girl out. She liked the same Anime and books as I did, and she was really nice too. Then she rejected me on the grounds that she "already had a girlfriend". She wasn't bluffing. She really did have a girlfriend. And she was happy with her. I stayed friends, because I soon learned this truth: a girl can be your friend without being your girlfriend.

Besides, out of all of the mean teasing and being stood up I endured from the opposite sex, that girl chose the most honest and thoughtful way of letting me know she wasn't romantically interested.

After a life such as this, I can begin to understand why you feel the way you do Max. Your experiences have shaped you, whether this article had any truth in it or not. I just hope that you have some cheer in your life, like I'm trying to find, and being more successful at finding it than you may believe.
The Goddamned Batman
Feb 2nd, 2008, 03:51 PM
Haha, Max, I only just read this, but it was great. I loved The Warriors reference.
GoldMember
Feb 2nd, 2008, 04:47 PM
Woah, epic!
Will chop you good.
Feb 2nd, 2008, 07:29 PM
One of the best pieces I've seen from you in a while, Max. It was sort of like Alzheimer's with the fast-forward button getting stuck.
Official Punching Bag
Feb 3rd, 2008, 05:12 AM
Max scares me even more each time he makes a new article. He should write more novels.
age 8 1/2
Feb 4th, 2008, 01:59 AM
Just remember kids; These ARE the [your] good old days.
Forum Virgin
Feb 11th, 2008, 07:34 PM
Holy shit, the building in that pic at the top is the Stevens House in North Andover-my hometown!
The Moxie Nerve Food Tonic
Feb 12th, 2008, 10:24 AM
Indeed is is, oh eagle eyed science man! PM me your secret identity and when you lived there and where, as that is my hometown too!

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