A place for thought.

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Jimmy, Super Kid (part nineteen)

At first we just wander around looking at the cars and then we walk down the beach. Ricky starts dropping one popped corn every ten feet or so as we walk. A single seagull walks along behind us scooping up the corn. And then another seagull joins him and the two of them fight over each puff of popped corn. And then seven or eight seagulls walk and squawk behind us getting closer and closer until fifty or more seagulls are watching Ricky’s hand go into the bag, trying to catch the next piece almost before it leaves his hand. We start to jog. The seagulls walk, fly, run to keep us with us, all of them begging for another bit of corn. We run. The fifty seagulls take flight, some in front of us some behind, most swirling around our heads. We fear the droppings seagulls are famous for. Ricky does the only thing he can and dumps half our bag of kettle corn in a pile in the sand and we head up the beach toward the houses built next to the sand. The gulls stay behind and fight over the white pile of popped corn.

“Remind me not to feed the birds,” Ricky says, still breathing hard from the run up the beach in the soft sand.

“Hey, Ricky.”


“Don’t feed the birds!” Ricky thinks that’s funny, he has a pretty good sense of humor. The sidewalks of the small beach town are crowded with car show people and the main street is a slow moving, unbroken line of old, fixed up cars. We know this town pretty good; it’s the closest beach from our house. The best bakery is a secret. I’ll give you a clue; it’s not a cute little shop with wooden tables and a view of the water. With most of our corn used as a decoy we walk to the north end of the main street and between the gas pumps of an old gas station. Inside the unpopulated gas station’s shop and go market, past all the packaged snacks, past the machines dispensing soda, against the back wall is the best bakery in town.

“Cheese Danish,” Ricky says to the person standing behind the glassed-in counter.

“Berry scone,” I say in answer to the counter person’s questioning glance.

Outside, after we both have sampled our snack I decide it is time to follow Ricky’s instruction once more, “Hey, Ricky.”

“What?” he knows what’s coming but he’s a nice guy and plays along.

“Don’t feed the birds.” We both think it’s funny. I can be a pretty funny guy when I put my mind to it.

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Jimmy, Super Kid (part eighteen)

Just before dinner Ricky shows up at our door. He carries an old, green, heavy, Coleman sleeping bag over his shoulder, the edges of a white pillow stick out of each end of the rolled up sleeping bag. Everything else he may need is rolled up in there too.

I go out the door instead of inviting him in, “My stuff is already up there,” I tell him as we walk around to the backyard through the carport. It takes two tosses to get the bag up to the deck.

“What’s your mom cooking?” as we go up the steps to the back door.

“Smells like fish.”

“Your mom makes good fish.”

“She does pretty good,” I agree as we walk into the dining area, which is also the kitchen.

“Who’s she?” my mom asks as she places a pile of dishes on the table and nods at us to spread them around.

“You are she,” I answer and start dealing out the dinner plates.

“What do I do pretty good?” she asks while putting some potatoes into a bowl.

“Some people say you’re a good cook,” I say with a quick look at Ricky.

“Thank you Ricky. That is very nice of you. I hope you like chicken,” she puts the mashed potatoes on the table and gets the chicken out of the oven. “Go find your father.”

We spread out both sleeping bags and completely cover the plywood deck. We kick off our tennis shoes; one of Ricky’s shoes slips between the railing and lands in the grass below.

“I can get that in the morning,” Ricky states.

With pillows leaning against the newly installed two by four railing we lay on top of the bags, it’s still too warm to get inside. The sky is almost black; the moon is still below the horizon, stars shine.

“This is nice,” I say while looking up at the stars.

“That was fun, working with your dad.”

“My father comes through every once in a while,” I tone it down a little so as not to get too mushy.

“What’s that?” a light streams across the sky.

“A falling star?” I suggest.

“If a star fell to earth the earth would burn up in a fiery ball long before the star got anywhere near us. Stars are huge,” Ricky informs me.

“A meteor, a falling meteor,” I correct myself.

“I think it was a spaceship,” Ricky says just looking straight up into the night sky.

“Sure, Ricky, and it just crashed into the ocean.”

“Do you really think that?”

“No Ricky. No I don’t.”

A car show took over the whole beachside town. Ricky’s dad wanted to see the cars so we tagged along. Perfectly restored cars fill every empty lot.   People have opened Kettle corn shops on wheels and there are lines in front of all the fish places. One place known for its bread bowls of clam chowder has a line half way down the street.

As soon as Ricky’s dad parks the Honda N360 he has a line of his own.   Most of the people want to see the engine – it’s very small. They seem willing to overlook all the body rust. Ricky’s dad gives the same speech over and over about the car’s mileage and what needs to be done to keep it in top running condition. Occasionally when the size of the crowd increases he gives some history that dates back to his college days. I don’t know if he ever gets around to looking at the car show cars. Ricky and I purchase the over sized bag of kettle corn to share and leave him to his audience.

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Jimmy, Super Kid (part seventeen)

I pull on my tee shirt, my shorts with extra pockets, white socks with a red stripe near the top, and my older pair of tennis shoes; I’m ready for anything. My father is already at the breakfast table sipping a cup of coffee and talking to my mom like it was just another day. I slip into my chair and dip a spoon into the bowl of Cheerios my mom sets in front of me. The conversation between my mom and father is about something Aunt Sarah is going to do. She’s all the time flying a single engine plane somewhere. I’m not sure if she’s a drug dealer or a missionary but she is my favorite aunt. Nothing is said about what my father has planned for Ricky and me. When I drink my last bit of milk from my bowl my father motions with his coffee cup that it is time to go. With my father still sipping coffee he stops our 54 Chevy in front of Ricky’s house and beeps the horn.   Ricky must have been watching out the window ‘cause he’s out the door and running to the car immediately. Ricky opens the back door and climbs in as I move from the front seat to join him in the back; it’s the polite thing to do.   The bench seat in the car is plenty big enough for the three of us but when my father installed seat belts in the ’54 he only put two sets in the front. We drive to my father’s construction yard and he parks in his usual spot. A row of white pick-up trucks sit against the back chain link fence, resting until Monday morning. My father lowers the tail gate of the one with a little black twenty-five stenciled on the upper right corner and then he starts pointing to things we are going to need. Ricky and I are busy lugging boxes of brand new nails, tools, and electric cords. With all the small stuff loaded my father puts the tail gate up and the three of us load a full sheet of three quarter inch plywood into the back, its been used before and has concrete stains and several finger sized holes drilled into it.   My father places an extension ladder on top of the plywood.

“We might need two,” my father explains. The plywood sticks out over the tail gate only two feet but the ladder sticks out over four feet so my father finds a red flag and ties it to the end of the ladder. We all hop into the front, and only, seat of the pick-up and drive to the lumberyard where my father makes a purchase of several brand new two-by-fours.

With the pick-up backed into our carport my father lays the ladder next to the truck and pulls the plywood out until it falls to the ground behind the pick-up. He starts giving instructions, “set up the saw horses there,” he points. “Run a cord there,” he points to the same place. “Carry the skill saw there too.” As he carries the ladder to the tree and sets it up against the deck we built he says, “put the nails here,” and he climbs the ladder. While we get our jobs done my father makes one measurement under our deck.   He plugs the skill saw in to the extension cord and does a test to make sure the cord’s working. The saw whines like it should. “Set your ladder on the other side of the deck,” he says as he marks and cuts one of the two by fours.   My father grabs a few nails, a hammer, and the board he has just cut, “two nails and a hammer,” he points toward our ladder as he climbs his. Ricky grabs the nails and hammer is up the ladder just as fast as my father. My father hands him the board under the deck. Ricky catches the end of the two by four and slides it between two of the two by fours we installed yesterday. “Little to the left,” my father instructs Ricky. “Your left,” Ricky moves the board the other way. “Nail it!” They both start nailing the new support for our floor in. The new, sharp, clean nails go easier than the old bent nails we used yesterday. My father drives them in with his over size hammer with just two hits for each nail. As they climb down the ladder my father says, “plywood.” The three of us meet at the truck and carry the plywood to the sawhorses where my father pulls out his measuring tape, a pencil and a special box filled with blue chalk and a string line for marking things. “This will take a few minutes,” he says. We just stand and watch as he takes out his note pad and starts measuring, making pencil marks, and snapping blue lines with the special string. When the blue lines take on a shape much like our quadrilateral deck he adjusts the depth of his saw and cuts along the blue lines.   He stands back and looks Ricky and I over. He checks for muscle in my right arm. “One of you climb the backside ladder and help me move this into place.” He picks up the cut plywood sheet and holding it over his head walks up the ladder on his side without even a single handhold while I climb up the other side. With our heads above the planks we nailed yesterday my father gives me a stern look, “don’t fall,” he tells me, like I’ll get in bad trouble if I do. The board covers our deck perfectly. My father climbs up onto the deck and starts to snap blue lines around the edges and one across the middle above the one new two by four. As we climb together down the ladders he says, “one eight every six inches in the center of every blue line.”

I just stare at him, wondering what this new language is. Ricky asks, “eight?”

“These nails,” he nudges the box with his foot. “This far apart,” he shows us with his hand. “On every blue line.” He goes to the sawhorse area and we start hammering. For quite a while it sounds like a real construction job with all the hammering and sawing going on. Just as we finish nailing down the plywood my mother comes out with tall glasses of lemonade with lots of ice.

“Something for the workmen,” she says as we take a break and take a glass each. “How’s it going?” she asks.

“Going great,” my father tells her. “Got a good crew here.” All three of us are dripping in sweat and my father is covered in sawdust. My mom goes back inside to clean something and we finish about half our lemonade. My father has built three ladders and a couple of squares out of two by fours while we were nailing down the plywood. “Take the sixteen’s up to the deck,” my father states in his special language.

Ricky gives him a look.

“The box of long nails,” he explains. “And bring your hammers.” My father carries the two by four ladders up the ladder one at a time and lays them on their sides along the edge of the deck, while we hammer them in with sixteens, making a safety rail all the way around the deck with an opening where our rope is tied. Following my father’s lead we climb down and start putting everything we haven’t used back into the pick-up truck. With the tools and left overs back in their places in the construction yard my father drives us in the car to a hamburger stand and we sit at an outside picnic table with fries, burgers and sodas.

“Okay,” my father starts, “you have to promise me.”

We look up from our lunch and ask together, “what?”

“When you fall out of that tree you won’t hurt yourselves!” he says with a big grin and a little seriousness in his eyes.

“Agreed,” Ricky and I say with one voice.


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Jimmy, Super Kid (part sixteen)

“Wish I were a bird,” Ricky says, more to himself than to me.

I watch the town from our bird’s eye view for a minute and then say, “you wouldn’t like it.”

Ricky doesn’t react at all for another minute, he just looks out over the town with me and then he asks, “why not?”

“Your brain would be this small,” I show him a space between my thumb and index finger about three eights of an inch long.

He thinks on that for a few seconds, “I could be a really big bird with a human sized brain,” he states real mater-of-factly without even cracking a grin. Just something about the totally serious look on his face starts me laughing and I almost fall out of the tree. Ricky waits until I’ve settled down and says, still dead serious, “we need to find something to build some walls out of.” Which just starts me laughing all over again.

As we slide down the rope my father’s nineteen fifty-four Chevy Bel-air power glide pulls into the driveway and stops. He comes through the carport to the back yard to greet us but before he speaks he sees the tree house. He walks around the tree and looks at the deck from several angles. He mumbles to himself, shakes his head a few times and heads back to the car. In the trunk of the car he finds a tape measure. He returns to the tree and leans the ladder against one side of the deck, climbs up so that his arms are above the deck, stays on the ladder and takes some measurements. He writes down a bunch of numbers on a pad he always keeps in his shirt pocket. He looks over the branches real good and makes a couple more notes in his pad before he nods happily to himself and puts the pad back in his pocket. Instead of a greeting or an I’m home hug he suggests we stay off the platform until he can make a few changes and leaves us in the backyard as he goes into the house.

Ricky looks at me and raises his shoulders, his way of asking why?

“Somehow he heard about the cave cave-in,” I answer his unspoken question.

He keeps looking me in the eye, which means he needs more answer.

“He thinks we are going to kill ourselves,” Ricky accepts this answer.

“So, what now?” Ricky asks, using his words now.

“Wait and see,” I think for a second and add, “he wasn’t mad. He was kind of excited,” I look over at Ricky, “did you see the way he was smiling when he put his pad back into his pocket?”

Ricky just nods.

“He has a plan. I don’t know what it is, but the wheels were turning,” I point to my brain and tap the side of my head a couple of times. Rick calls for Sally who has been sleeping under my back steps waiting for us to come down to her level. It’s Friday evening. Ricky’s parents are having people over for a swim and barbeque so we are not allowed to mess up the pool. The three of us run and walk around trees and down the sidewalk toward town. It’s kind of scary when a parent takes an interest in one of our projects. We check into the bookstore and try for forget about what the morning may bring by reading the latest comic books but in the back of our minds we both are pestered by thoughts of a huge sledge hammer knocking all of our hard work out of the tree.

When I get home, just in time for dinner, my father asks me to give Ricky a call on the phone and ask him if he can be ready by seven in the morning. He gives no explanation and all we talk about at dinner is stuff like, “pass the gravy,” and “would you like some more milk?” My dad can play the cards pretty chose to his chest when he wants to.

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Jimmy, Super Kid (part fifteen)

With the extra material the plans for the deck of the tree house change. The triangle becomes a quadrilateral.   Each of our four sides ends up being a different length because of the way the branches of the tree have grown. After trying everything from bracing a two by four on the bumper of my dad’s car to one of us standing on a two by four while the other works the saw we find that if we nail the two by four into place on the tree we can take turns with the saw and eventually get the board to the proper length. Without the use of a level we determine level by looking across the boards.

“Up just a little,” Ricky instructs. I already have a nail started and nailed completely through the board; all it needs is a quick tap with the hammer in my right hand to tack it into place.

“How’s that?” I ask while keeping my feet planted firmly on the ladder, my left arm wrapped around a branch and pushing up on the two by four with my left hand from the backside of the board.

“Just a hair more,” Ricky replies as he squints from the first board we nailed to the one I am holding. I nudge the board up another quarter of an inch.

“There!” he shouts and I give the head of the nail a quick hit with the hammer. Once the board is held by the nail I can adjust my hold on the tree and get a better angle to finish hammering in the nail. Each end of each board gets two of our longest, thickest nails. As soon as all four of our foundation joists are in place we lay our fence planks side by side across the two by fours giving us a place to sit while we nail them into place. I hammer three nails into the West side of a plank, hand the hammer to Ricky and he hammers the three nails into the East side of the plank. It’s much faster, easier work now that we have a comfortable place to sit. My father wants his ladder back so we head for Ricky’s garage. Ricky’s garage is piled high with boxes on every wall and there is no way a car could ever fit inside but it is a great source for specialty items, like a way to get up to our tree house.

“How’s this?” Ricky holds up an old wooden stepladder. “It’s way too short but we could nail it half way up the trunk” I can tell he doesn’t like the idea any more than I do so we keep looking.

I find three short planks held together by thin ropes Ricky’s mother must have made to hold potted plants, “how’s this?” I ask knowing it won’t work but I ask anyway just to let Ricky know I’m still looking.

“Rope.” Ricky says. I know he’s on to something from the satisfied look on his face but I have no idea what he means. I tilt my head sideways like a German Shepherd dog.   “We can tie a length of rope to a branch and climb the rope to get up to the tree house.” With this decided our search narrows to a search for a good, thick rope, which we find by going through only about twenty boxes.

I hold the ladder while Ricky ties the rope to a branch above our deck with a couple of good knots.

“Try it,” he says as the ladder is laid on the grass. I grab the rope and climb hand over hand, pushing with my feet. Ricky watches my slow progress from the ground. I make it to the platform breathing hard, my hands sore. “We should put some knots in the rope,” Ricky states, already putting a knot in the rope about a foot up from the ground.   He ties a knot every foot or so. He ties a forth knot about four feet up and starts his ascent. As he reaches the deck, not nearly as winded as I was, we pull up the rope and set to work tying four more knots.

“Hey, this works for keeping unwelcome guests from coming up,” Ricky notices while we tie the knots.   We sit on our newly completed tree house deck looking out on the world from our perch.

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Jimmy, Super Kid (part fourteen)

Most of our creek hunts take place along the banks but today, with the water running so high, the best game is floating down stream. I follow Ricky’s example, find a nice long stick and watch upstream for my victim.   And then I see it – the mother lode of rusty nails – a complete wooden gate, with hinges and latch floating heavy in the water. I brace myself at the water’s edge, stick at the ready; I see ahead how the current will turn the gate and where my purchase will be the most effective. The moment comes and I jab my stick into a crack between two of the planks nailed to the front of the heavy gate.   The stick takes hold and the gate spins in the predicted direction. As the gate hits the bank at my feet creek water backs up and spills over the top of the gate filling both my shoes with water as it helps me lift the gate out of the water and up the bank enough to keep the raft of a gate from continuing its journey downstream.

“Hey!” I yell across the water to Ricky who has watched the capture from the other side of the creek, he gives me a cheer and takes off running for the next bridge.   I pull the gate up the bank a few feet and sit on my bottom in the mud, drain my shoes and wait for Ricky’s help getting this prize home. I count five two-by-fours at least four feet long, enough one-by-six for a four foot by five foot deck, and everything comes with its own supply of nails!

“It’s a beauty Jimmy!” Ricky shouts as he slides down the slippery bank to where I sit.   We sit and admire our conquest and get our breath, the real work will be dragging this mess to my carport but the battle for materials has been won. When we are rested I cup my left hand under the top rail of the gate, Ricky cups his right hand under the top rail of the gate, we drag the gate up the bank and to the sidewalk next to the road. We leave a trail of sawdust as the concrete sands the bottom edge of the gate. The scraping noise fills the neighborhood. People come to their porches. Ricky and I with big grins on our faces wave with our free hands. Some people just shake their heads and go back inside their homes, some wave back, one old guy on a front porch swing gives us a big thumbs up and shouts, “Way to go boys!”