Sunday, November 05, 2006

Neighborhood Football

Most of my stories are about growing up, but more importantly, they are about growing up during a time that was really different than it is today. In so many ways, we were thrown out of our house by our mom’s in the morning and told, “Go outside and get some sunshine”.

This story again includes the Stoll brothers. The family of four brothers that my brother Charlie and I had the fortune to grow up with. Like most young boys, sports figures were our hero’s. In our neighborhood our hero’s were Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson, Brooks Robinson, John Brodie, Daryl Lamonica, etc.

So often on weekends, rather than go all the way over to the junior high school, (3 blocks, we were lazy) for a game, we would play 3 on 3 football on the front lawns of our houses. This is amazing to me because we would tear up people’s yard, break plants, trees, flowers, (accidentally of course). Maybe only once that I could think of, a neighbor yelled at us to get off their yard. My conclusion is that our parents were more lenient back and they were cool as long as we did not intentionally try to do something evil. Either that, or my neighborhood just did not really care about their yards. I think it was the former.

The teams were usually, Eddie, Howard and Charlie against Andy, Mason and me. The combination of skill and age was comparable. The game was tackle football, just like to pros; however, without helmets and pads. We were young and stupid. We would play on the front yards of 3 houses. The homes we grew up on were not very large. All were small 3 bedroom, one bath homes on modest size lots. The homes were built in the early 50’s and typical starter tract homes. Each front yard was about 20 yards long.

The real challenge was dodging trees, shrubs, and bushes and avoiding getting tackled on a concrete driveway. A play called in the huddle went something like this, “Ok, Steve, snap the ball, use the bush on the Millers lawn to screen Howard and I’ll hit you there. Ready Break!” Or the inevitable, “Everybody go deep, I’ll run it and you guys block downfield.” Or always the trick, “Snap the ball, Steve you block, Mason you stay behind me and when I am getting tackled, I’ll lateral you the ball”. We were always lateraling the ball, workin for the quick 6. Half the time, the lateral was being questioned, (Stoll brothers again) as a forward pass and the other time the ball would get fumbled and become a mad scramble for the ball, either way, it was not boring. We were always competitive and the games did not end smoothly. Nevertheless, had so much fun.

These days, unless you are part of organized sports, today’s youth are in front of a video games. I believe that is a significant reason our youth are overweight

Monday, October 16, 2006

Goin to the Moon

As I mentioned, we were bored all the time. Frequently, nothing to play with, no video games, some organized sports, but we did have our imagination, (see marshmallow fights). During the summer, we played baseball and went swimming. During winter months, there was not much to do. Our Dad , Sal was a US Air Force mechanic and he was always pretty excited about space and flying. He would take my brother and me to air shows. We would see F-100’s Thunderchiefs, F-102, F-104 delta winged fighters, etc. He took us a couple of times to the Reno Air races. All propeller driven WWII aircraft modified to go real fast. Very cool stuff.

Of course, we always tuned into the color Magnavox to see space shots, Mercury, Gemini and eventually the Apollo moon missions. I know I am rambling; however, I am getting to my point. When we were bored my brother and I would play, “Goin to the moon”. I think I was 11; my brother was about 7, so 1968-69, right at the height of NASA’s space program to the moon.

Our game was really very simple, we would imitate blasting off into space, landing and exploring the moon. Stay with me here because you really have to have an imagination.

The “capsule” was my mom’s linen closet; we would wear our football helmets as space helmets, long pants, shirts and gloves. We would empty the closet which was only about 2ft by 3ft wide by 3ft high, pretty small. Thus, only one of us could get into the “capsule” at one time. Because we watched nearly all of the blastoffs from Cape Canaveral and memorized the sequences, we would reenact the entire sequence. The game would go as follows
• Have a meal before liftoff including Tang, (official drink of spacemen)
• Get dressed in our space uniform and get escorted to the capsule.
• Get assistance into the capsule and ceremonial closing of the capsule.
• Follow launch procedures.
• Liftoff countdown and blastoff
• Communicate with Houston control on the way to the moon.
• Land on the moon, exit the lunar module and go for a walk.
• Fly back to earth.
• Splashdown in the Pacific.
• Meeting with the President

You have to remember, everything was imitated. Once on the moons surface, we would move like we were in zero gravity, very slowly, observing items now seen on the moon and reporting it back to mission control. If my brother was “goin to the moon”, I would play mission control, disguising my voice to sound like the garbled transmission you would hear on television.

This game was only fun a few times, not enough action. The “fun” would start when I did not let Charlie out of the pitch black closet. He got scared, maybe a little claustrophobic and began screaming at me to “open the door!” calling for mom and trying to move around in the closet so he could kick the door open. The closet was so small; you were pretty jammed in there and very hard to move around.

The game usually ended after I pulled that crap. I would wait a few days, we were bored again and Charlie would play again only if I was the spaceman in the capsule. I would get in the closet and he would not let me out.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Marshmallow Fights

Frequently we had nothing to do so we had to make our own fun. Well, my brother and I came up with quite a few. One of my favorites was playing war in the house with marshmallows. Pretty simple, playing war meant that we tried to “shoot one another” in some fashion. Instead of fake bullets, marshmallows were a good substitute. If you missed hitting your target, nothing was broken in the house, (my mom was always pissed at us for breaking something).

More importantly, a marshmallow was heavy enough that it would fly fast. If you got hit, they were soft enough that it did not hurt much. We each had about 5 or 6 marshmallows, hid behind furniture, walls and appliances and threw the mallows as hard as possible. The game would continue until the marshmallows were beat up and would get sticky. No fun to throw once they get sticky, accuracy would be lost. It was fun racing around house in our stockin feet picking up marshmallows and firing them off as hard as possible to hit my brother. A shot in the face was the best.

There was one hidden benefit from the game. My sister and brother still tease me for this. I was building a model car and I needed more light to work on the model. The dining room lamp could rise and lower to accommodate any needs. I lowered the lamp to better see what I was doing and low and behold an old marshmallow from one of our war battles was there. It was stale, dusty and a bit hard. That did not stop me, I took a bite and liked it, sweet, chewy, just the right combination of soft and hard. Upon learning this new delicacy, I began to put marshmallows on the lamp deliberately to allow them to “season” for a month or so until they were just right. Wadda treat.

P.S. My wife now buys me “Peeps” at Easter opens the package and leaves them in the pantry so that I can replicate this childhood treat……………… I hate to tell her, it’s not the same.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Fried Eggs in Bacon Fat

Some things are just good!! My mom would make an all American breakfast, bacon and eggs. I miss the way she made them. My mom would fry up the bacon in a black cast iron skillet. Once cooked, the hot bacon fat was the grease for frying the eggs. She would drop a couple eggs in the pan, the whites would start bubbling. She would flip them and take them off after a couple of minutes. There was so much fat in the pan it was almost like deep frying the eggs. Together with the crisp bacon, white toast, (rainbow preferably, no wheat or anything brown) and cold whole milk, nothing better. The eggs would taste like bacon and have drippings and some bacon bits on it. It should be ok to eat this at least once a week.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Slave Labor

In the late 60’s and early 70’s in my neighborhood, a dirt bike was “the” way to have fun. Owing a dirt bike at 13 was full of fun, speed, danger and independence. However, asking my parents to buy one for me was useless. I already knew the answer. Nobody’s parents in my neighborhood had the dough to buy them a motorcycle.

The object of my desire was a yellow 1970 Kawasaki 100 Enduro. It has probably about 12 hp, but a lot to handle for a young kid. The cost was about $450. I had to figure out a way to earn the money myself. Everyone mowed lawns, but you were unable to make any real money. The best job for a 13 yr old was a paper route. Once a day for an hour and a half to deliver the paper and once a month collecting the subscriptions was the only commitment.

The routes were so popular, they were willed down from brother to brother almost like season tickets to the Giants. In our neighborhood, the Barrow brothers had a route, the McDonalds, the Walsh’s, and Dahlquist’s. I ultimately took over a route about a half-mile from my home. One of my friends knew somebody, who knew somebody, who knew somebody, who told his district manager that I was responsible. That’s how I got it.

The paper I delivered was the Sacramento Bee. Afternoon delivery on weekdays, mornings on Saturday and Sunday. Delivering the paper was indeed an introduction to business. Once a month, the paper would send you a bill for all the papers you delivered during the month. By the 10th, you were responsible for delivering that amount to your district manager. Anything you collect above the bill amount was yours to keep; alternatively, anytime a customer stiffed you, you ate it, not the paper.

Thinking back, what a great way of doing business for the Bee, the paper assumed no risk, just passing that onto teenage kids peddling their brains out trying to make a few bucks. My route was pretty big, (140 papers on Sunday) and had a couple of low-income apartment buildings on it. Many apparently did not care if they stiffed the newspaper boy. I think someone recognized this was illegal and changed the system. Today, most subscribers pay in advance, no collection responsibilities for the carriers. Imagine, young kids walkin door-to-door collecting for the paper, carrying cash, no wonder more didn’t get robbed. My robbery at gunpoint, that’s another story.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Summer Baseball with the Stoll's

Where do I begin? My brother and I were blessed with the perfect family down the street. Four brothers all about our age, Eddie, Andy, Howard & Mason. I was born in 1957. Ed is 3 years older than I, Andy, one year older, Howard, one year younger and Mason, four years younger. My brother Charlie is the same age as Mason. So, between them and us, 6 boys, perfect for two teams of anything, (Baseball, Football, Basketball, etc). What make them so fun was the constant drama. At any one time, one of the brothers was feuding with one of the others, fights all the time.

During the summer, we played baseball nearly every day at the local Jr high school, Will C. Wood. The most unbelievable thing is all the while we played, we NEVER finished one game. NEVER!! Because we were very competitive, an argument always started with a disputed call. One team would shout “Your out!” with a response of, “no I’m not, I’m safe!” with a retort of “your out!, anybody could see that, are you blind, pull your head out of your ass!”

This led immediately to arguing every ball vs. strike, hard slides, throwing at the other player and then ultimately Andy and/or Eddie’s verbal taunting. Once that started, you knew the game was going to end in less than an inning. Someone would leave yelling obscenities taking their bat or ball. Game over. The next day we had nothing to do so we would move players around, pick teams again and start all over.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


In Sacramento, the summer days were hot, usually in the high 90’s often above 100.We were always dreamin up ways to keep cool. Everyone remembers the Slip n slides, the only problem is that after one use, the front lawn was trashed. Lots of water and teenage boys running and slidin for about 4 hrs, what do you expect. The slide would not last long. We would usually tear it the first day.

We did not know anyone with a pool; however, that did not stop us. We did know a couple of families that did. In the middle of the night, we would hop their fence, strip down and swim usually until Andy got us all laughing so hard that would wake up the resident. The funniest part would be jumping out of the pool, putting your clothes on as fast as you could, (we would swim naked to keep our clothes dry) then jump the fence and scramble home. The challenge is that we would normally have to hop many fences to get to safety. That’s fine if the moon is out, try hoppin a fence in the dark .We all still have scars from scraping or cutting ourselves or falling and landing on junk in neighbor’s yards.

Our parents agreed to let us “sleepout” in the backyard. We would lay our sleeping bags on a plastic tarp on the back lawn under the stars. Part of the whole sleepout plan was to wait until our parents went to sleep and then we would go cruising the neighborhood and figure out somethingout to do. We thought we were cool to hang out after curfew. Minors were not allowed alone at night past 10pm.

Other pastimes included shaking out the street lights. If you were strong enough, if you shake a lamppost vigorously, the lamp filament would break, putting the light out. My friends Eddie and Andy were pretty strong. Their brother Howard and I were always close and could never quite do it, but we tried very hard. They would tease us unmercifully. Our younger brothers, Mason and Charlie had no chance. Every summer our parents would call the city to complain about the street lights, little did they know, we were shakin them out as fast as the city could fix em.