The Man Cave

The Man Cave
Jack's Man Cave (Click on the photo to enter the Cave)
Showing posts with label Life Lessons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Life Lessons. Show all posts

Friday, October 2, 2020

Not All Witches Fly on Brooms


Not All Witches Fly on Brooms

But they all laugh the same


My year abroad in Spain was just beginning

It was my Junior Year of College, and I was studying abroad in Spain. I’d spent the beginning of the summer of 1989 staying with my high school friend Mike Heinz at his grandmother at her house on the outskirts of Madrid. Mike interned at the American Embassy, as his Mom was Spanish and his dad German, so he spoke three languages fluently. Once we got off the plane, Mike spoke only Spanish to me, and while it was painful at first, it really did help me later.

As Mike put on a suit and tie and went off to work each day, I kept busy just wandering around magnificent, but sweltering Madrid, going to the parks and museums, seeing what mischief I could get into. Sadly, not much exciting happened then, as I was early in the Hero’s Journey of my year aboard in Spain.

Everything changed in July when I headed off to the city of Valencia, just south of Barcelona, to join the program through American University in D.C. In Valencia, the two-month program was my “Real World MTV” experience, with all sorts of partying, drama, and life-changing experiences, all of which I’ll tell you about another time.

Living in Toledo was like like in a real-life Fairytale Kingdom

Toledo is the magical walled Medieval city, forty miles south of Madrid, where the ruling government once resided. A favorite subject of the Spanish master painter, El Greco, who often painted it in a surreal swirling manner, the city levitates over the surrounding countryside. As the sun moves in the sky, like El Greco’s painting, the city elongates and shapeshifts, and the clouds dance above it.

From a distance, the city seems to be made of one single type of brick, like a dribble sandcastle. But up close, it’s a beehive maze of hundreds of narrow alleyways, tunnels, bridges, and archways. The whole city circles around the Cathedral tower, and while it is like something out of a fairytale, like all things classically Spanish, it is austere.

Pixabay, Toledo Spain looking from North to South (I think)

My program was through the University of San Diego, and we were a group of half American students and half students from Latin America.

I sat by myself at a café on one of the narrow streets for which Toledo is famous. Most of the alleyways and cobblestone streets are too narrow for a car to fit on. Groups of tourists passed me by, going to the tour busses to take them back to Madrid.

I just read the last page of James Joyce’s Ulysses, and I slammed the book cover with a great flourish. “Wow!” I said, proud of myself, but really just kind of relieved to be done with it. My friend David Rosenberg had taken a class at U.C. Berkeley wholly devoted to Ulysses alone. David gave me the professor’s bound notes, which were supposed to serve as some accompanying guide to the text. Sometimes I looked at it, but sometimes it was just too much, taking away from the experience of just reading the book.

I finished the short glass of beer, and my “Sandwich mixto con huevo” meaning a ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg in the middle of it, with the yoke popping up through a hole in the bread, made with a shot glass. I asked the waiter for the bill, paid, and started heading back to the University.

Looking up at one of the street names, it read “Callejon de Siete Revueltos.” I had just read a passage in Ulysses which referred to the “something or other of Seven Returns.” I got goosebumps and felt like there was more than a coincidence. Halloween was right around the corner, and that is my favorite holiday. It felt like there was magic in the air.


Every night was a party for the “The Big Spender”

It was a Friday night, which made little difference to me, as I went out to the bars nearly every single night it seemed. There was always a group of students going out, while others stayed in and studied. I became the rotating “Entertainment Director” and went out with each group on different nights, it seemed. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I had a lot more money to burn compared to the other students.

My parents gave me a hefty allowance and wired me money every two weeks. They never seemed too upset, even when I told them I spent a little extra or needed more money. 

Only much later in life did my parents reveal that they viewed this year abroad in Spain as being a splurge or reward for me having earned just short of a full-ride scholarship to the college I attended, the University of San Diego

I did not leave home to go to college. I lived in my family home, Freshman, and Sophomore Year. So again, my parents viewed themselves as way ahead of the game compared to the other people they knew who were paying full fare, tax, and tip for their kids’ to go to Notre Dame, Georgetown, or some such other bank-breaking school.

Since I went to college practically for free, my parents gave me a blank check that year in Spain. I did not go crazy, because I did not know I had a blank check at the time. But I never held back from doing anything, and sometimes I even paid for my friends when they said they did not have enough money to go out.

My dorm room was a narrow little monk’s cell, with a desk, a single bed, a bathroom, and a window with a wooden shutter that looked out over the terra cotta tops of buildings toward the River Tajo, which encircles the city.

The sun was going down, and the sky was turning burnt orange and purple. I saw bats fluttering about. One time a bat flew right into my room, and I had to use a towel to trap it and throw it back out the window.


I put on my favorite outfit, a cheap herringbone three-button jacket made of very light material, with a white shirt buttoned all the way collar. I had bell-bottomed jeans made by a company called “Big Star.” I wore shoes that I called the “Bumper Cars,” but could right be called clown shoes. They looked like Doc Martins, but they had these ridiculous soles that had no tread on them.

The shoes really did look like bumper cars with the bumpers on the bottom. Sadly, a chunk of one of the soles came off and looked like it had been bitten off by a dog. I wasn’t ever able to find replacements for them, so I simply wore them with the chunk missing. Since the shoes had no real tread when they hit water, they hydroplaned. I took many a spill both outdoors and indoors.

The Big Spender, wearing the “Bumper Car” shoe

My outfit was just a mess of different influences. Certainly, the jeans and the rave shoes were a nod to the “Madchester” house music scene and The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays from England. The Stone Roses album came out in 1989, and I still loved that music. None of the other kids on the program knew what I was talking about. They all dressed in J. Crew, Tommy Hilfiger, and Guess. They stared at me with their mouths agape.

But the real shocking piece of my ensemble. The real piece d resistance was my hair. Copying my best friend Chris back home, I had let my hair grow for all the months I was in Spain, and I was now sporting A Prince Valiant sort of cut. This was two or three years before grunge rock, so it was still very unusual for a guy to have long hair. There’s a person who inspired this long hair look, but it’s so embarrassing to talk about now, I’ll save it for another time.

The Author, Hair guy

As if the outfit with the ridiculous baggy jeans, the shoes, the three-button jacket was not enough, the hair put it over the top. I was surprised and gratified that the Spanish guys did not catcall or give me a hard time in the streets or the bars.

Having traveled in Europe on a “grand tour” trip at the end of High School with Chris, I knew that in Italy, France, or especially England- if I had done anything to stick out like this, I would suffer some abuse. Without even trying to be flamboyant at all, Chris and I almost got into fights in each of those countries.

Staring in the mirror, I applied the Loreal Studio gel just so and combed my hair back into a short ponytail. That was for the beginning of the night. Later, when we’re out dancing and getting sweaty, I pull the rubber band out and let the freak flag fly. I looked in the mirror-like the Fonz, and I felt good.

Time to get this party started.

Meeting new people from all around the world

As I entered the dining room, I got a few teasing whistles from my new buddies from schools like the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the Notre Dame kids too.

Finishing dinner, an American student named Kristen came over and said,

“Hey Jack, Juan Pablo and I are going up to the observation tower if you wanna come up there and join us before you go out and go crazy."

“Sure, I’ll meet you guys up there,” I said.

Kristen was a girl who was from Wellesley College, and I have to admit, I’d never met a girl quite like her before.

“Dude, what’s up with that chick Kristen,” I had asked my friend, Chet Carmichael, early in the program, when we were all meeting one another. Chet was from South Carolina, and he was really down to earth and cool.

“What do you mean?” asked Chet in his slow southern drawl.

“Why does she talk like that- with her chin jutting out? Like Thurston Howell the Third from Gilligan’s Island?” I asked.

“Ah, ha, ha,” Chet chuckled. “She’s from Wellesley College,” said Chet. Chet went to Notre Dame.

“Yeah, so what? What’s Wellesley College,” I asked.

I was from Southern California, and I could only name about ten different colleges off the top of my head. My school had no college football either, so I didn’t follow the sport, and I did not get the benefit of knowing every college name in the country that way like all the dumb jock guys did.

“Wellesley is like the Harvard for chicks. They all talk like that,” said Chet. “Wellesley’s for all the weird smart chicks, and it’s all like Feminist and Lesbian professors and shit. You gotta watch what you say around her. But she’s really cool once she knows you, though” said Chet, smooth as Tennessee whiskey.

“Thanks, dude,” I said.

I really did appreciate Chet warning me about Kristen. I had already put my foot in my mouth so many times over here in Spain, with the East Coast kids on the Valencia program, and even with Mike and his Grandma. It’s amazing how you can become inappropriately “patriotic” and other obnoxious things like “West Coast v. East Coast” when you go to a foreign land and feel insecure. I was learning a lot and becoming much more sensitive to people's perspectives from other parts of the U.S. and the world.

. . .

Life in the Ivory Tower (or as close to it as I ever got to it)

I never got to talk to Kristen until after I met Juan Pablo first. Juan Pablo was from Columbia- the country- and he and Kristen became boyfriend and girlfriend seemingly within the first week of the trip. Kristen looked like the nurse “Hot Lips” Houlihan from M*A*S*H. Juan Pablo looked, dressed, wore round glasses like, and spoke like the Mike Myers character “Dieter” from the SNL skit “Sprockets”- with a Columbian, not German accent, of course.

Juan Pablo was a real live Intellectual with a capital “I.” He was skinny and frail-looking. Again, his trademark was his Jean-Paul Sartre round glasses, with stylish black plastic frames. He smoked very pungent cigarettes, drank coffee and espresso all day, and he wore turtle neck sweaters even when it was very hot. “J.P.” as Kristen called him, would not have looked at all ridiculous wearing a beret.

Dieter/Juan Pablo

Juan Pablo was a true bohemian, scholar, and I was intimidated when I spoke to him the first couple of times. But over the first few weeks of the program, we reached a nice friendship.

Chet and I were two of the very few “American Guys” Juan Pablo could tolerate talking to for more than a minute or two. Chet and I were a little lower on the scale of the “Drunken American Idiot Abroad Spectrum” than the rest of the “bros” in their Nike T-Shirts. Chet and I had both read The Stranger by Albert Camus, so we could fake it with J.P. when we needed to sound smart.

I once caught myself during a conversation with J.P. saying something like “That reminds me of that scene Georges Battailes’ “Story of The Eye” . . . And the internal voice in my own head said (to myself)

“God, what a pretentious Dickhead you are . . .”

It was true, I had no idea what I was talking about. I had picked up that book because it was next to The Stranger in the library, and it looked short and had a really cool book cover. The book was gnarly, with all sorts of “transgressive” sex and violence in it. I did not understand the book, but I was glad I read it and could name drop it in situations when I had to talk to people like J.P.

I climbed the stairs to the reading tower, and it was only then that it struck me that I never came up here enough with its 360-degree panoramic view of the city. The sky was still burnt orange, but now with some purple too, with the sun seemingly taking forever to set, and it was almost 10:00 P.M.

J.P was seated on the octagonal bench seat, which ran along with the windows, and Kristen was already curled up against him, with her head on his lap, like a cat.

“Ah, Monsieur Clune, the Existentialist,” said JP. “Have you been contemplating Man’s struggle against the Absurdity of existence? You seem far too cheerful to have been doing that.”


“Only thing I’m contemplating is which bar to I’m goin’ to first,” I said stupidly.

Kristen laughed at my dumb joke. It was all in the delivery.

“Kristen says you are the life of the party,” said JP. “She tells me you’re a great dancer, and you put on a real show for the whole group.”

Kristen had gone out solo with us plebs, the whole party gang of students, last weekend when we went to the bars and danced. She had to come and see what all the fuss was about, I guess.

“Yeah, it’s kinda embarrassing,” I said, feeling ashamed and actually picturing myself all drunk and acting like a fool. I could only imagine what Kristen told Juan Pablo.

“No, no. Kristen says you dance very well. She says you even do . . .” 

Juan Pablo’s English was excellent, but he was struggling to find the words, so he used his hand by pointing it down and making two fingers spread wide.

“The splits!” said Kristen, smiling.

“Yes, the splits!” said J.P.

Now I really felt like a jackass. All the students who went out and danced together would form a circle, and we’d all take turns going in the circle and doing ridiculous dance moves. It was true. I would go into the circle and do the splits, trying to imitate Terence Trent D’Arby, who was popular at the time.

“I would love to see that. But I will not embarrass you and ask you to do it now,” said J.P.

“You should come out with us tonight!” I said.

“Ah, thank you, Jack, but I am not a person like that,” said JP. “I prefer to stay home and read or work on my thesis.”

He actually said, ‘I need to work on my thesis.’ On a Friday night. I only said things like that when I was joking.

“C'mon on J.P.,” said Kristen sitting up, and running her hand along J.P’s face. Don’t you want to wear baggy jeans and big bumper car shoes, and do the splits?”

Kristen said it sweetly and jokingly, and we all three laughed. The image of scholarly J.P. acting as foolish as me was just too much. I could tell J.P. was in for a night of passion. Kristen was head over heels in love with him, staring at every move and gesture he made. We were never going to see her out at the bars or dance clubs ever again.


“Look at the orange sky! It’s so cool. I half expect to see some witches flying around on broomsticks!” I said since it was so close to Halloween.

“You like witches Jack?” asked J.P.

“I love Halloween, it’s my favorite holiday. I like scary things and dressing up,” I said.

“Mi abuela era una bruja,” Juan Pablo said to Kristen.

Kirsten sucked in her breath.

“Oooooh, really?” asked Kristen dramatically.

“Si, de veras,” said Juan Pablo.

“My Grandmother was a witch,” said J.P.

. . .  

Juan Pablo’s stories from the Columbian countryside

“My grandmother was a ‘Bruja’ — do you know that word, Jack?” asked J.P.

“That means witch, right?” I said.

“More or less, yes,” said J.P.

“What do you mean J.P., was your grandmother a good or bad witch?” asked Kristen.

“I would say . . .” Juan Pablo stopped short. There was an uncomfortable silence.

“What did she do? Did she have magical powers?” I asked.

“It was said she could predict the future. And she cured people who were sick,” said J.P., “They say one time, she put her hands on a child and fixed his broken arm,” said J.P.

“Oh, how interesting,” said Kristen.

“Whoa. Do you believe it?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” J.P. said, distracted, and giving a far off look.

. . .

Then Juan Pablo told us this story. Sometimes he spoke in Spanish, and Kirsten translated as she somehow already spoke perfect Spanish it seemed. She must have been one of those annoying and freakish people who actually learned how to speak the language from the high school classes we took. Most of the time, I could tell what Juan Pablo was saying, but it made it easier to enjoy the story when Kristen translated.

“We lived in a big house in the country, with servants who lived in separate quarters out in the crop fields. My parents left my older sister and me with my grandmother when they went to the city.

Abuela (Grandmother) made us play hide and go seek with her. But she did not hide in the normal places, like a closet or behind a shower curtain.

Instead, she would hide in crawl spaces, or contort herself into cabinets, or climb into . . .

Kirsten had to help him with this one.

“Ventilation shafts?” she confirmed.

“Yes,” said Juan Pablo.

She curled up under mounds of suffocating blankets or went deep into the attic, or down into the dark basement, where she knew I was afraid to look for her.

Sometimes it took me hours to find her. My sister, who was about ten years old, and I, who was about seven years old- we cried, and begged her to come out and end the game.

There were times when I collapsed on the floor, desperate, waking up later, and searching for her again. But she never revealed herself.

And then finally I’d find her in the dark corner of the attic or the basement.

She pretended to be dead.

I tugged on her clothes and cried. I struck her with my fists, begging her to stop. And I fell on her and hugged her.

Still, she would lie silent. Then finally, she started laughing her crone’s laugh.

Laughing at my pain and fear. A horrible, joyless laugh.”

“A witch’s laugh."

. . . 

“Oh my God, that’s so terrible, J.P.,” said Kirsten, grabbing his hand and putting her face to the back of it, and temporarily breaking the spell of the story.

“I told my parents, but they said we were exaggerating. Children are to be seen and not heard where I come from. My father got angry at me, telling me it was a sin to speak so badly of mi Abuela. 

He shouted, ‘Enough!’ when I told them of her games. My mother was powerless to help- it was my father’s mother.

My sister told my parents I was lying and exaggerating.

“My parents left us with her again, and Abuela made us play the game again. Actually, she just disappeared when we were not looking. The hacienda was so big. Do you know that word, Jack?

“Yeah, like a big farm, a big country house,” I said.

I was just thinking of the Mexican restaurants we had back home in San Diego. Some of them were called Hacienda this, or Hacienda that. There was also the famous dance club in Manchester, England called the Hacienda, where all my favorite bands made their starts.

“Yes,” said Juan Pablo.


At first, I ignored her, and I refused to play. But as the day went on, she never came out of hiding. After a few hours, I went to the places she hid before. I found bedsheets that did not belong where they were, and I knew the sheets were from a chest in the guest’s quarters.

I opened the trunk in the guest room, and my grandmother was curled up inside. She refused to get out. When I touched her face, she was cold. She was pretending to be dead.

I still did not believe her. I did not believe she was dead. There was a smile on her face. When they came and took her body away, I still was not sure she was dead.

To this day, I still expect her to laugh, and come around the corner.”

Juan Pablo lit up one of his rich European cigarettes.

“Oh my God, J.P. What a strange woman, to cause you so much pain as a child,” Kristine said.

“She passed it on to my sister,” said  Juan Pablo.

. . . 

It was now dusk outside the observation tower. The rims of the hills in the countryside were brimming and outlined with the dying of the light. I thought of the final scenes of Stephen King’s ‘Salems Lot’ where the heroes, the writer, and the teenage boy wind up in a small Mexican village, hunting down the vampires who wiped out their town in Maine.


“Yes, she taught my sister Valentina how to make things appear and disappear,” said Juan Pablo.

When my parents left us alone now, my sister and I played a game. We sat on opposite sides of the large room, and we dared each other not to look at the windows behind each of us. Whoever looked first was the loser.

“There’s someone at the window,” my sister would say.

I refused to look.

“It’s a man. He has a beard and scar on his face.”

I waited as long as I could.

“There’s a devil in the window behind you,” I said to her. “It has fangs and blood dripping from its mouth.”

“It’s a pirate. The man is a pirate,” my sister said.

It was always me who looked first. My sister never looked, even when we made it extra scary, and turned down the lights and lit a solitary candle.

When you play this game, you concentrate so hard that when you look at the window, for an instant, you see the pirate or whoever else she has described. It terrified me. I could never be sure whether the faces were really there or not.

Valentina laughed and laughed when I lost the game.

. . . 

“One night, when we were alone again, the moon was full,” Pablo continued.

“She made me play the game before I could have my supper. She turned out all the lights, except for the fireplace, and we faced each other in the moonlight.


“There are three men at all the windows behind you,” she said.

I did not believe her, of course. I wanted to simply look and lose quickly. But before I could turn around, a man’s face appeared in the window behind my sister. 

I leaped to my feet, ‘there’s a man, there’s a man!’ I screamed.

My sister did not move. She smiled and giggled at my play-acting.

“Sister, sister, no there is really a man!” I shouted.

Valentina refused to look.

I turned and looked at the windows behind me, and there were three men, two of whose faces were in the windows, and one whose whole silhouette was there in the glass door to the patio. A poor farmer dressed in rags, holding a machete in his hand. He pulled at the door handle, but it was locked.

I screamed in terror.

My sister did not move.

The men turned and disappeared at once. I ran to the window and saw four or more men running towards the cornfields. They disappeared into the tall leaves swaying in the moonlight.

Outside the glass door, the machete lay on the patio.

My sister laughed and laughed. The same horrible laugh as mi Abuela.

. . . 

Funny, I never saw much of or spoke to Juan Pablo and Kristen on the program after that. When somebody tells you a story that strange and personal, it kind of colors things. Whatever the case may be, I kept my distance after that.

Unlike Juan Pablo and Kirsten, I had enough being holed up in a room reading books. I sat in my bedroom and read books all through High School and living at home for the first two years of college. Instead, I determined to pack in as much as I could every day and night that I was in Spain, and that’s exactly what I did, and I never looked back. 

Years later, when I saw the  Blair Witch Project in the theater, I felt like I was having deja vu all over again, remembering Juan Pablo’s harrowing stories.

And whenever I see a story in the news about some cruel act done by an adult to a child, I think back to Juan Pablo’s stories of his Abuela in Columbia.

And I hear the Bruja’s laugh.

© Copyright 2020 Jack Clune

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Any Cars Coming?

Any Cars Coming?

It took less than a cell phone to distract kids in simpler times

Photo by Andhika Soreng on Unsplash

It was the weekend before Halloween, and there was still a sense of mourning in the neighborhood for the end of the Indian summer. It was overcast, and the air was crisper and cooler than before. People say there are no real changes of season in Southern California, but they are wrong.

We kids were riding our bikes in the semi-circular driveway in front of the Johnson house. When neither of the parents’ cars was parked in the driveway, we rode our bikes in one entrance and out the other back into the street.

Lifting the front tire over the lip of the driveway, we veered left up a gentle slope past the front of the house and rolled back down onto Sunray Place. It was like the drop-off in front of a hotel, but in my imagination, it was a suburban Velodrome.

In the middle of the semi-circle was a garden of sorts protected by a tall hedge with waxy leaves. The arc-shaped bush was bookended by brick columns on either side, one of which had a mailbox in it.

The hedge created an enchanted hollow, with ornamental Chinese grass and miniature footpaths, which would have been a perfect place for a few half-hidden garden gnomes.

Photo by Sarah Brink on Unsplash
Eric Johnson, or “E.J.” as we called him, was in the garage fixing his bicycle. I was bored waiting for him, so I rode my bike around and around the driveway. I imagined I was Speed Racer, competing against an evil motorcycle gang in a surreal cartoon landscape.

E.J.’s younger brother Colby climbed up on the brick column, which had the mailbox in it. Colby dangled and alternately kicked his legs as he held a paper towel under what looked like a soup can. He jabbed a fork into the can and shoved the contents into his mouth.

“Yuck! What are you eating?” I asked Colby.

“‘Beanies and Weenies,’” he said, holding up the can for me to see.

“Gross!” I said, completely stopped in my tracks. I gagged a little.

“Aren’t you supposed to put that in a pot and heat it up?” I asked.

“I like ’em cold,” said Colby.

I straddled my bike and stared up at Colby on his perch, contemplating the slippery, cold pellets in his mouth. I thought of my mom spooning ALPO dog food into the bowl for our untrainable Kerry Blue Terrier named 'Finn MacCool.'

I almost vomited.

To get some fresh air, I resumed my laps around the driveway. Colby was on my left as I came around the semi-circle down the slope of the driveway, then out onto the street again. As I re-entered the driveway, E.J. was still bent on one knee, working on his bike. The Styx song "Renegade" blasted from the radio on the smooth garage floor.

I came back around the front of the house, and this was the most fun part of the trip, reaching the top of the driveway and then hauling ass down the incline into the street. The problem was that the hedge of bushes blocked the view of the road.

"Tell me if any cars are coming, okay?" I said to Colby as I approached him.

"Uh-huh," he grunted, slurping some slime off his chin.

I popped out onto the street again and turned left, starting another lap. I entered the driveway, passed E.J. in the garage, went up the slope, and came around the turn.

"Any cars?" I shouted.

"Nope," said Colby, hunched over and engaged like an ape cracking open a coconut.

As I exited the driveway, I looked to my right and saw our teenaged neighborhood hero Pete Overlund hugging, and just about to kiss a girl near the Knudtson's lawn. Pete stood about two feet taller than the girl, and I found that funny, but I dare not make a sound.

I pedaled again up Sunray Place and entered the driveway. In the East County, a kid's BMX bike was as vital to him as a horse to a cowboy, or a surfboard to a beach kid. Unfortunately, I had a piece of crap bicycle at this stage.

It was a Huffy bike that was more of a toy than a real dirt bike. I longed for a Redline, Torker, or even a more lowly Schwinn. My bike did not even have hand brakes. Pedaling up the street took all my effort because the crankshafts were so short on the pedals, and the bike so heavy and unwieldy.

Exhausted, I made it back into the driveway, to the top of the curve, and I started cruising towards Colby again.

"Any cars?" I asked Colby.


I stopped cruising and stood to pedal harder down the slope to gain maximum speed. I exploded out of the driveway.

That’s when I crashed into the passenger side of a Lincoln Continental barreling down the street at about 35 miles per hour.

My front tire slammed into the car, like a Jet Ski into the side of a battleship. I felt like the guy falling off the ski jump on the introduction to ABC’s The Wide World Sports. Instead of flying over the hood of the car, however, I simply hit the steel beast head-on and helicopter-spun in a 360-degree turn, falling directly to the street.

The landing was gentle, all things considered. In fact, the collision went well but for the fact that the back tire of the colossus ran over and crushed my right foot.

The Lincoln Continental slammed on its brakes, laying down ten feet of smoking tire tread marks, then it stopped. I lied on the ground staring up at the dark gray sky.

Colby dropped his can and slid off the brick mailbox column. Eric ran out of the garage. I was whimpering but not crying. When Pete Overlund and his babe walked up near me, I leaned up on my elbows.

“Jackie Blue’s hurt,” said Pete. Pete’s nickname for me was Jackie Blue, after the AM radio song. It sounds cool now, but it irritated me back then. Pete would never have called me that if I liked it.

The girl wore Dolphin shorts over a one-piece bathing suit. She never spoke, but simply clung to Pete. I’d never seen her before, nor would I ever see her again. I wanted to hear her talk. We had no girls in our neighborhood.

“I’m not hurt,” I said.

“Yeah, you are Jackie Blue . . .” said Pete, with a smirk that told me he knew I was not going to die, and that whatever injuries I had, it was already a funny story.

“No, I’m nooooooooot,” and at that point, I started heaving and sobbing uncontrollably. Pete’s wisecrack broke the seal, and I started bawling.

I reclined back on the street and gave in to crying, not so much out of pain, but out of a primal realization that I had just escaped death.

The driver was the neighbor Mr. Avery. He had dark, slicked-back hair, big round eyes with thick glasses, and he looked like Lon Chaney. The Averys lived in a house on a hill that loomed over the cul-de-sac, at the end a long steep driveway. To us kids, it was like the house from Psycho because it was hidden, and we rarely saw its inhabitants.

Mr. Avery got out of the car, marched up the street, and scooped me up off the asphalt, like the Tall Man from Phantasm. He lowered me into the dark velour back seat, which had sconces on the padded sidewalls, like a haunted house. Placing my bike into the trunk, Mr. Avery pushed the door down gently, and the diabolical death mobile engaged and shut the trunk itself automatically.

Mr. Avery turned ‘The Car’ around and drove it up the hill to my house on the corner. As the hearse pulled into the driveway, my mother was where she always was, at the kitchen window, working over the sink doing dishes or cooking. I saw her eyes bug out of her head.

Mr. Avery walked my limp body up to the window and lifted me up, like Frankenstein offering up to the villagers the child he just suffocated by accident down by the lake.

My mom dried her hands, ran through the garage, and opened the side door for Mr. Avery to carry me into the house, and put me down on a couch.

 . . . 

Colby had failed to spot a Lincoln Continental, the largest U.S. production model of car ever made available to a non-President.

We did not call my Dad because it was the early 80’s, and you never called Dad at work unless it was a real emergency. I was still alive, so my Mom, my brother, and I all agreed there was no sense in pissing Dad off.

Dad was a doctor at the same hospital where they would put me in a cast. Mom figured we would probably see Dad in the parking lot anyway.

Photo by the FDA

Copyright © 2020 Jack Clune

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

What Not To Do On Your First Day of Elementary School

What Not To Do On Your First Day of Elementary School

Don’t wear a neck kerchief

 Next week was my going to be my first day of First Grade. This was the summer of 1976, and my family had moved into a new house, in a new neighborhood. In the kitchen, my mom was reading a letter from the new school.

“Oh, how exciting! Your new school is having a Bicentennial Celebration the first week back. They’re having a costume contest on the first day. You can wear your George Washington outfit that Grandma Clune made for you!”

An electric current shot through my body, and my face got red and hot.

“I’m not sure about that one, Mom. I don’t think I want to wear that on the first day to a new elementary school,” I said.

“Oh God, are you kidding me? You have to wear it. Everyone will love it.”

 . . .

On the first day of school, we pulled up to Avocado Elementary School in Mom’s white Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Low flat buildings sat squat with a listless American flag hanging in the front. Yellow school buses pulled up and dropped kids off. I scanned the crowd, desperate to find someone in a costume. I did not see a single costume.

I was wearing a replica George Washington Revolutionary War outfit. I had a filigree neck kerchief, a vest, and a long coat with lace wrist cuffs. Grandma Clune made me the outfit when I was on a Revolutionary War kick. I used to wear it when I played ‘war’ with the kids in the street in the old neighborhood. That seemed like a very long time ago on this sweltering morning.

The Author

“Mom, nobody else is wearing costumes,” I said.

“Sure they are, look at that girl over there.”

A girl stepping off the bus was wearing some sort of Little House on the Prairie outfit, with a scarf around her head. One or two other girls, dressed similarly, climbed out of their mother’s cars or appeared walking along the dirt shoulder of the road from their houses nearby. No boys had dressed up. I sat frozen in the car.

“Yeah, see. There’s plenty of costumes,” said my little brother from the back seat.

“Shut up, Brian!” I shouted. “Mom, I wanna go home and change clothes,” I pleaded.

“Stop it. Get out. I have to get your brother to Kindercare.”

“Mom, I’m serious. I wanna go home,” I begged.

“Get out of the car, now! I don’t have time for this!” said my Mom, reaching over and undoing my seatbelt. “I’ll come back to the school with a bag of clothes for you, and I’ll leave it at the principal’s office.”

I climbed out of the car like a pilot getting out of a fighter plane that had crashed behind enemy lines. I closed the door, and looking through the car window, I saw my brother grinning like the kid in The Omen in the back seat.

. . . 

First day at a new school and I’m dressed in a Revolutionary War jacket with gold buttons, cravat, tri-corner hat, wrist kerchiefs, and buckled shoes, I thought. I’m basically asking to be bullied for the next six years at this elementary school.

I gulped and, carrying my Mead notebook and lunch sack, I walked away from the car into the fray. At first, the kids did not notice me, as they were too busy greeting each other after a long hot summer. Slowly, however, I felt the bright glare of kids staring at me.

“My what a wonderful outfit!” said a little old lady, as I walked by her near the Principal’s office.

“You’ll be in the running for best costume for sure,” the lady said. She looked like my Grandma McHugh, not the one who made my outfit, but the other Grandma. Then it dawned on me, this ancient lady was a teacher at the school.

Two or three boys and girls standing near her looked at me in complete bewilderment and horror. They were not in costumes.

Inside the school, I reported to my First Grade class with Mrs. Sanders. She too seemed very old to me, with her white hair. But her eyes sparkled with youth, and she smiled warmly when she did attendance roll call, and she saw me sitting there in my outfit, with my hat still on.

“Andy Bloom, there you are, . . . . John Clune, oh, there you are… .what a wonderful costume John!” said Mrs. Sanders.

I blushed.

“John, I have a note here that you like to go by the name ‘Jack’ is that correct ‘Honey?”

A couple of the boys sniggered.

“‘Jack Off, Jack’. ‘Jack Me-Off’ . . .” I heard them whisper.

“Yes, M’am,” I said.

“Well ‘Jack’ you are then!” said Mrs. Saunders.

All the boys laughed. Mrs. Sanders looked around with slight confusion. Even my name causes me grief. And now I’m sitting here in this costume, I thought.

Why do my parents torture me like this? Why is it my fate to endure things no other kid does?

“Charles Schmit . . . Charles, please take off your baseball hat,” said Mrs. Sanders.

“Why does he get to keep his hat on?” asked Charles Schmit, pointing at me, in my tri-corner hat.

“Charles, I am not going to argue with you Sweetie, take off your hat,” said Mrs. Sanders.

Charles Schmit looked at me with contempt. Charles was shorter and smaller than me.

I’ll call him ‘Charles Shit’ if he keeps this up, I thought to myself. I’d have to get the lay of the land first, as this was a new school to me.

 . . .

The rest of the morning went okay, as the kids in my own class got bored staring at me. There was a 15-minute break, however, where we had to go out on the playground and that was a different story. I tried to hang out in the classroom, but it did not work.

“Jack, Dear, you have to go outside. The janitor is coming by to vacuum the class, and he needs all students outside,” said Mrs. Sanders.

This school was weird and different from my old school. All the classrooms had moving walls that the teachers could push around and reconfigure. The moveable “walls” were like thick vinyl drapes that moved on tracks.

I heard the janitor’s vacuum coming closer. Then he came around the corner, and he was scary looking. Dressed in a dark green work outfit, like a military man or car repair mechanic, the janitor had a flat top haircut and he wore big black boots. Tall and menacing, the janitor had a permanent scowl on his face. The overall impression on me was that he was Michael Myers from Halloween, without the mask on.

I willingly ran outside after I saw him.

 . . .

Standing in the prison yard now, I hugged the wall and ate the cheese and crackers snack my Mom packed for me. I was digging the cheese out with the red plastic stick when Charles Shit and the two or three other boys approached me.

“This is Jack Meoff,” said Charles, seemingly introducing me to the other kid next to him.

“Where the hell did you get this costume Jack Meoff?” said the tough-looking kid.

“My grandmother made it for me. I didn’t want to wear it, but my mom forced me to,” I said, regretting the words the moment I uttered them.

“Actually, the costume is pretty cool. Do you have a gun?” said the tough kid.

“Yeah, I have a musket but I left it home,” I said.

“Do you like Led Zeppelin?” said the tough kid.

He had a shock of black hair, twinkling light blue eyes, and a crooked smile like Mr. MaGoo. He reminded me of Charles Bronson.

“Yeah,” I said.

“What’s your favorite song?” he asked.

“That’s hard because they’re all my favorite songs. “Kashmir,” “The Ocean” “Trampled Under Foot.” But right now, ‘Dancing Days’ is my favorite.”

“Cool. That’s a good one. You know a lot of Zeppelin.”

The bell rang, and we went back to class. Knowledge of Led Zeppelin songs and trivia had saved the day for me for the first of many times. I had no idea that Chuck and the tough kid Paul Otis would become my good friends for the next eight years.

The Author

 . . .

Back in the classroom, Mrs. Sanders was teaching us something, when a woman came around the corner holding a brown paper grocery bag.

The woman approached Mrs. Sanders and whispered in her ear. Mrs. Sanders pulled back and looked shocked at the woman. Then both the women talked under their breath to each other and then turned to stare at me.

“Jack, would you please come up here, Dear,’” said Mrs. Sanders.

I got up and walked up the row of kids to see Mrs. Sanders.

“Jack, your mother dropped off these clothes for you,” said Mrs. Sanders pointing at the bag.

Thank God, I thought, reaching for the bag.

“But I simply will not allow you to change out of that wonderful George Washington outfit until after the Bicentennial celebration. I am in charge of the ceremony, and it would disappoint me so very much if you changed now, do you understand me?” said Mrs. Sanders, looking deep into my eyes.

She looked and talked like the old lady in the Sylvester and Tweetie cartoons.

“Can I change after it’s over?” I asked.

“Well, yes. After the costume contest is over, you can change in the boy’s bathroom if you still want to, after all the wonderful attention you are going to receive.”

“Can I have my bag now?” I asked.

“Yes, but do not change your clothes until after, do you understand?”

“Yes. I promise,” I said.

I clutched the bag to my chest, like Linus from Peanuts gripping his safety blanket.

 . . .

At lunch, all the classes gathered in the open-air courtyard for the Bicentennial celebration, and the costume contest.

My teacher, Mrs. Sanders was the master of ceremonies, and she approached the microphone.

“Students and teachers, welcome back to the Avocado Elementary School, welcome to a new school year, and welcome to our 200 Year Bicentennial celebration!”

Everyone clapped politely.

“We are going to have a few speeches from some of our Sixth Grade students on the meaning, and importance of the Bicentennial of our great country. But first, please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, and if you are wearing a hat please take it off.”

Chuck Shit leaned over and made sure I took my tri-corner hat off. I put my hand up to my heart, still holding tight to my grocery bag full of clothes.

“Thank you, students. Now, before we start the speeches, I would like everyone who wore costumes to please stand up and be recognized,” said Mrs. Sanders.

Oh, God.

I stood up and looked around. Five or six girls stood up, and they were all dressed the same, in their Melissa Gilbert Little House outfits.

“Would those students now please come up here to the stage, so they may be properly recognized,” said Mrs. Sanders.

There was no use trying to run and hide. I just had to go face the firing squad.

 . . .

The girls and I filed onto the “stage” which was really just the sidewalk in front of the cafeteria. We climbed a few steps up from the open-air courtyard where all the kids were seated on plastic chairs and picnic benches. I still hugged my grocery bag with the clothes in it like it was a parachute.

“Now please stand on the chairs if you would children. Thank you to Janitor Bruce, and the Sixth Grade boys for providing the chairs.”

Bruce, the Michael Myers janitor, and a few Sixth Grade boys dragged seven or eight plastic chairs behind us to stand on. I heard one of the boys behind me whisper “Pussy” in my ear as they pulled the chair up behind me.

“Initially, we were going to have a costume contest, but so few of you dressed up, and the costumes were all so good, we simply want to recognize everyone who dressed up, ” explained Mrs. Sanders.

I stared out at all the faces and realized the worst-case scenario had come true. I was the only boy in the whole school who was dumb enough to wear a costume.

“The only boy who wore a costume is Jack Clune, and what fine costume it is. Jack please stand on the chair and be recognized.”

I heard the crowd laugh at my name ‘Jack.’ I put my grocery bag down, and I climbed up and stood on the chair. I felt like “Carrie,” under the gaze of every child, teacher, and administrative person. I looked out and saw Bruce the janitor staring at me, chewing on a toothpick.

“Now girls, would you please stand on the chairs as I call your name . . . Suzanne Coke . . . Melody James . . . .”

Soon it was me and all girls standing there. Like Bob Barker and the Price is Right girls.

“Let’s give these students a big round of applause,” said Mrs. Sanders.

The sea of kids applauded very weakly.

“Okay, thank you, students, you may return to your seats.”

I dropped to the ground, grabbed the grocery bag, and ran for the boy’s bathroom.

 . . .

In the bathroom, I saw myself in the mirror as I ran to one of the empty stalls.

Jesus Christ. Why did I ever have this suit made?

I bounded into the stall and began taking off the hat, jacket, the cravat, and the vest first. Afraid the floor might be wet with pee, I started removing the costume from top to bottom.

I stood in a dry corner of the stall and got my corduroy pants on. Next came my favorite terrycloth shirt. I threw the buckled shoes in the paper bag and got my sneakers on. I felt relieved.

Then I heard the bathroom door slam open against the wall, and someone entered clearing their throat with grotesque sounds.

. . .

The intruder walked over to the sink, then it scraped up from its throat a big loogie and spit it out, retching. Then it turned on the water.

“Urgh. Urgh. Oh! Ooomph,” the creature was making guttural humanoid noises. Then it finally spoke.

“Urgh. Someone’s in here already taking a shit huh?” said the Klingon.

Whatever had just walked into the bathroom, it was talking to itself. I felt like I was in Jack and the Beanstalk, hiding from the giant.

“Hey how long you gonna be? I gotta take a shit too!” said the monster.

There’s another stall in here. Why is this happening to me? I don’t dare say anything, I thought.

“Hurry up! I want that stall!” said the beast.

Using two fingers, I turned the disc opening the stall and I stepped out tentatively.

Standing in front of me was a big kid twice my size, with an ugly face, narrow forehead, with strangely receding stringy hair. He looked like Ben Franklin, except he was dressed like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. He wore maroon corduroy pants and a puke green T-shirt. The boy’s eyes seemed to droop, and it looked like his red face had been scalded- recently. His mouth hung open.

“You’re the kid that was in the costume . . .” said the Toxic Avenger.

I gave up lying after the incident in Georgia when I got caught for breaking into my father’s car and stealing his doctor’s stuff- tongue depressors and penlights. I was on the spot here. I did not know what to say, but I instinctively knew to deny I was ‘costume boy.’

“No. No, no, no, that was not me,” I said, trying to buy time to think of what to say next.

“Yeah, it was you. And your costume’s in that bag,” said Quasimodo.

“No. No. No, there’s no costume in here,” I said, stupidly.

“Then what’s in there?” asked The Hills Have Eyes.

“This is my lunch bag. I have my lunch in here,” I said.

It was partially true. I had thrown my lunch bag in with the clothes.

“Let me see,” said the inbred from Deliverance as he reached over to grab my bag.

The bathroom door slammed open, even harder than when The Goonies came in.

“David!!! What did I tell you before, David! Are you ever allowed to go into the bathrooms without a teacher David?! No, no, no, you’re not!” shouted some angry man who looked like Neil Sedaka from the album cover Greatest Hits.

‘David’ cowered in fear and made whimpering noises like Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein. It would not have surprised me if Neil Sedaka started whipping him. I ran out of the bathroom without even washing my hands.

. . .

That night I had my mother zip my George Washington outfit in a plastic garment bag in a permanent retirement ceremony.

Thankfully, within a day or two, Patty Hearst was captured by the police, and everyone forgot about me and my costume.

The Author

P.S. This story is an excerpt from an upcoming Novel which will be edited by someone who knows what they are doing.

Copyright © 2020 Jack Clune

Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Epic Saga of the Biscuit with the Loose Trucks


The Epic Saga of the Biscuit with the Loose Trucks

It’s a miracle more people weren’t hurt

The Author 

The skateboards looked so cool. Like surfing on the street!

One day I was scrolling through Facebook when an advertisement came up and magically transported me back to my youth. The ad was for some skateboards that looked like giant surfboards on wheels.

The ad showed skinny, blond-haired surfer kids using these skateboards to “land surf” all over the boardwalks, and parking lots at the beach. The kids were “hanging ten,” twirling around, and grabbing the rails of the boards and making deep carving turns like the way surfboards turn in the water.

There was even a video of a big chubby guy who kinda looked my same age (50), riding the tiniest version of the surfing skateboard, the model called “The Biscuit.”

If he can do it, I can do it, I thought.

 . . . 

I don’t get to the beach as much as I used to

These days, I only go “real” surfing during the summer, when the water gets warm. There was a time when I was going surfing every day after work. Three or four years ago, however, some sleaze shattered the back window of my car and stole my laptop bag with all my banking information in it while I was surfing.

As fun as it was working on the project of canceling all my credit cards, and re-doing all the paperwork for virtually every single aspect of my personal and business life, I found it hard to regain my surfing  mojo after that. I don’t know why.

 . . .

One of those skateboards would solve all my problems

I have to get one of those skateboards, I thought. Then I can just go outside my house in the cul de sac, and go “surfing.” I won’t have to park the car at the derelict beach ever again. I won’t have to wake up early in the morning and put on a cold wetsuit.

The videos showed some of the kids using these special poles to push themselves along on the longboard skateboards. The whole set up was meant to approximate paddleboarding on land.

I’ll get that pole too. After a few weeks of pushing myself along with that pole, I’ll have a six-pack of abs. Thank God I saw this ad for these skateboards today. This is going to be killing two birds with one stone. I won’t have to get sandy at the beach anymore, and I won’t have to go to the gym, because I’ll be so ripped from using that pole to push myself along in the cul de sac.

. . . 

The purchase

Hearts were popping out of my ears as I went straight to the website and bought the cheapest, smallest model of skateboard called “The Biscuit.” I ordered the purple one, called the “Deep Space” Biscuit.

I was kinda shocked to see that the “Sweeper” pole cost nearly $150.00.

What the hell? Why is this pole so expensive? Oh well, I’ll probably be canceling my monthly gym membership, and it’s cheaper than a Peloton.

I ordered the pole too.

. . . 

The arrival in the mail

When the day of the Biscuit arrival came, I ran out to greet the UPS truck like a kid at Christmas. I ripped open the box and delighted at the psychedelic purple skateboard. It was short and fat and ready to go.

Wait a sec. Why are the trucks so loose? Is that what makes the board turn so loosely, like a surfboard in the water?

The “trucks” are the T-shaped metal axels which are bolted to the bottom of the board and have the wheels on the end of them. These were super duper trucks, much more substantial than regular skateboard trucks. But for some reason, these trucks were bolted onto the board very loosely, such that I could jiggle the whole truck far too easily it seemed to me.

Can this be right? Is that how that girl in the bikini was able to make such sharp turns?

I jiggled the trucks and filmed it with my phone. I sent the video to a few of my friends with whom I used to skateboard 35 years ago. Pardon the bad language on the video.

I got a return text.

“Cool. Crazy looking board.”

“ . . .”

“Don’t kill yourself.”

. . .

The maiden ride and the “stick”

The next day, the “Sweeper” pole arrived in the mail. It was made of graphite, and thus, it flexed and provided some thrust when I planted it on the ground and pushed off.

It was time to make the maiden ride on the Biscuit. In no time, I was pushing myself around like a pro. I was so proud, I even had my wife Tracy film me.

As you will hear, unfortunately, Tracy ruined the audio on the video when she made a bunch of smart-ass comments. She insisted on calling my Sweeper pole, “the stick.” Please try to ignore her comments if you watch the video link here:

“Oh my God, you’re going to kill yourself on that thing someday,” Tracy said off-camera.

. . .

The incident at the park

The next day Son #2 had soccer practice at the park near the beach.

What a perfect place to really stretch out and ride the Biscuit and use the pole, I thought.

When we got to the park, I began riding the Biscuit, first without the pole, because there were people around, and I was a little embarrassed to use it.

The Biscuit was enough of an attention-grabber as it was I guess because people were staring and pointing at me a lot.

It was a hot day because I got really sweaty after only 4 or 5 minutes of riding. Then involuntary thoughts flooded my mind, some of which seemed contradictory. I could not shoo the thoughts away:

Time to quit. You haven’t killed yourself yet, so that’s great. How long are you going to keep riding? Until you fall down and hurt yourself?... But you haven’t used the pole yet. You gotta try the pole. It cost so much money. Just a couple of rides with the pole, to get a jump start on that six-pack of abs.

I got the pole and rode back over to the open space around the bathrooms. Round and round I went, pumping and unweighting, and using the pole to push off whenever the board threatened to stop. More involuntary thoughts entered my head.

That’s good enough for today. You should wait until the helmet arrives, it’s coming in the mail soon. Let’s quit while we’re ahead . . . Let’s just go one time down behind the bleachers for one long run beside the baseball third baseline. Then we’ll come back and put everything away.

So I rolled down an incline and headed behind the bleachers along the third baseline. I pushed down on the pole a couple of times and got lots of speed.

That’s when the two front wheels hit the crack in the pavement, and the board came to a complete stop, while my body kept going, flying in mid-air.

 . . .

The Wreck of the Biscuit with Loose Trucks

As my body transitioned from an upright surfer stance into a Pete Rose head-first slide into home plate, I put my arms out in front of me but neglected to drop the pole.

The pole now served as a sort of rolling pin. Like a giant rolling pin from the Spanish Inquisition, that they used to force confessions from people accused of being witches and heretics. As I landed upon the medieval rolling pin, it slowly and methodically cracked all of the ribs on my right side.

As the pole cracked my ribs, a sound emitted out of my body. It was not the cute little sound the Pillsbury Dough Boy makes when the finger pushes against his rib cage. Instead, it was the sound that the lady reporter made when she fell down, squishing grapes with her feet, on the first video ever to go viral on the internet. Please click on the link provided that is underlined, it’s really worth it to refresh your memory of that sound.

I sprawled out on the sidewalk twitching like a fly smashed with a fly swatter. A guy from the softball field ran over and asked through the chain-link fence.

“Dude, are you okay?! That was gnarly!” he asked, genuinely concerned.

I looked up at him, and for some odd reason, my first impulse was to say, “Thank you.” But there was no air in my diaphragm, lungs or mouth. There was no air in my bloodstream for that matter.

Any air that had been in my body when I slapped against the pavement was expelled from my body on a molecular level. This was more than just “having the wind knocked out.” This was something more serious like “the bends” that a deep-sea diver gets.

I stared into the guy’s eyes, and I made a wheezing sound like the cartoon dog Muttley when he laughs. Like a carny holding the lip of a balloon, letting the air out slowly. Both the guy’s eyes and mine got wide when we heard the sound I made.

I picked up my Biscuit and my pole and started walking to my car. I sobbed a little bit, like Ben Stiller in There’s Something About Mary.

As I walked, I could feel there was something wrong with my body. There was definitely something very, very wrong. It felt as though I might have exploded my kidney or something. It felt like my spleen, or some other organ was in the wrong place. I felt misshapen and cold.

I knew a kid in elementary school who exploded his kidney doing a jump on his BMX bike. He never grew after that. I was worried. Not that I am still growing or anything.

I went to the car, and put the driver’s seat back, turning it into a makeshift hospital bed, or dentist’s chair. I felt my chest, trying to assess whether I needed to drive to the hospital. I might have passed out. Son #2’s soccer practice came to an end, and he opened the back seat door.

“Dad, are you sleeping? What’s wrong, Dad?” Son #2 asked.

“I think I have internal bleeding son.”

God, is there any way I can avoid telling Tracy about this?

. . .

The pain, the excruciating pain

When we got home, I told Tracy about it.

“It’s not my fault. I’m telling you the trucks on that board are too loose! Ow. Ouch!” I buckled over in pain.


“I told you you’d get hurt. What kind of person takes up skateboarding at age 50? You really are a buffoon!” said Tracy, going back to cook the boys dinner.

“It wasn’t my fault!” I said, gripping my chest, because it hurt when I got excited.

I had to sit down. Sitting hurt too much, so I laid down on the couch in my man cave. The only position I could find that didn’t hurt was lying down, but not with my head propped too high. I had to lie like a corpse and stare straight up.

“There’s a delivery at the door!” Tracy yelled from the other room. We have a doorbell at our house that makes no noise, it only rings to Tracy’s cell phone. Nobody else can hear it. That’s a subject for another day.

I tried to sit up.

Oh my God. I can’t move. The pain in my chest felt like a butcher knife. I whelped in pain. This is the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.

I had to slide sideways off the couch. Like I was limbo dancing at a Sandals resort. Then I had to grab onto something, like a chair or an end table, and sort of do a corkscrew motion to get myself fully upright. Electric jolts of pain shot through my chest, into my brain.

I staggered into the man cave bathroom and threw two Advil liquid cap gels into my mouth. Then I was ready to go greet the UPS man. By the time I got out to the front gate, he was gone.

The box was left on the front step. It was my helmet. The manufacturer of the helmet is called Nutcase.

The Author

. . . 

The letter in the mail

Somehow I went to work the next day, even though I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. I got home and resumed lying like a corpse on the couch.

“Here, this is for you,” said Tracy, throwing an envelope on my desk in the man cave.

“What is it?” I asked, whimpering.

“I don’t know, but it’s from the skateboard company,” said Tracy.

I pretended like I did not really hear what she said. Of course, I wanted to jump up and get it and read it, but I did not want Tracy to see the process I had to go through to stand up. As soon as I was sure she was gone and occupied with something else, I got to work.

I limbo’d sideways off the couch and gripped the ottoman. The process of me sliding off the couch, and crawling towards the desk was similar to the scene in The Wolf of Wall Street when Leonardo DiCaprio gets into the Lamborghini.

I ripped open the letter. Inside the envelope, there was a plastic baggie filled with some sort of nuts or bolts. I opened the plastic baggie and unfolded the letter inside it.

The Author


We have had a few complaints that the truck mounts on our Biscuits were loose. If this happened with your Biscuit, we are sorry for this inconvenience. We think we’ve figured out the root cause and we’ve made corrections at the factory. For your board, we also have a fix. We have provided you with 8 split lock washers, one for each bolt that holds the trucks to the deck. If your board has loose truck mounts, please remove the lock nuts, install one split lock washer and then tighten down. You’ll need a Philips screwdriver and a #10 metric box wrench. Your board should be fine from there.

By way of explanation, when we built and assembled these boards, they were perfectly tight. We think that what happened was that, over time, the plywood glue cross-linked, and the natural wood moisture level dropped causing the plywood to shrink a little bit. When it’s hot, the bolts expand and “get longer.” We think that these tiny changes combined to cause the connection to loosen.

To be honest, we don’t have this happen all that often, but we hear about it on the Biscuit more than other boards. If you recently purchased a Biscuit and there was an extra set of silver bolts included, those bolt threads don’t match the locknuts. Please discard those silver bolts and use the split lock washers.

We’re very sorry for the inconvenience.

CHEERS — Donnie

. . .  

Agonizing vindication

My bottom lip trembled as I finished reading the letter. A tear fell from my eye onto the letter.

I knew it. I knew it wasn’t my fault that I crashed.

I was overcome with emotion. At first, I was happy. Happy that the accident was not my fault. Then I was mad. Mad that they almost killed me. Then I was astonished. How could they write such a dumb letter?

As a personal injury attorney myself, I know that this company must not have an attorney working for them. No attorney would have ever let the company mail this letter. This was a bald-faced admission that they had sent me a defective product and nearly killed me.

“Hey, Tracy! The trucks were loose. I told you the crash was not my fault!” I screamed.

“Hoo-ray,” said Tracy. Then I think I heard her say “You know it was still his fault right?”

“Yep,” I heard Son #1 say.

Then I heard some sarcastic slow hand-clapping too.


My email to the company

I climbed into my chair and opened the laptop. I wrote the skateboard company an email. I described the fall at length and told them I did not want to fix my “Biscuit,” I wanted a new one, free of charge. I was really proud of this paragraph:

I don’t want to sue or make any sort of claim against [Skateboard Company]

I am a personal injury attorney. That’s what I do for a living. I appreciate [Skateboard Company’s] laid back marketing and family-owned business culture. But I gotta tell ya, receiving an envelope in the mail with eight (8) washers in it made my jaw drop. I felt like I was living out an episode from the first couple seasons of Saturday Night Live, the ones where Dan Akyroyd played a crooked business owner that sold ridiculously dangerous defective products for kids.

One episode features him selling a “Bag o’ Glass” for kids to play with. I am not interested in suing or making an insurance claim against [Skateboard Company]. I can guarantee you if I was more seriously injured, I would do it, and I would win. That’s not what this is about.

. . .

The Skateboard Company’s response

The Skateboard Company responded quickly, saying they would give me a full refund, and send me a box to mail the “Biscuit” back to them and they would fix it.

I emailed them that it was okay, they did not need to fix my “Biscuit,” as I was permanently retiring it, and hanging it on the wall of my man cave.

Tracy’s brother, who is a contractor, and almost as handy as Tracy, fixed the “Biscuit” later. He sat in the man cave and used his drill to take the board apart, and then put the washers on in less than a minute. Then he held the “Biscuit” up and inspected it, with an amused look on his face.

“You actually tried to ride this thing, Jacky?” he said chuckling, as he put the “Biscuit” back up on the wall mount he had installed too.

The Author

“Next time you’re gonna ride it, can you give me a call, or film it? I don’t want to miss it!” he said.


. . . 

Later I broke down and bought the “Logger” model, and it’s a beauty

The Logger model arrived, and I promptly hung it right on the wall. I didn’t actually ride the thing until months later. Only months after my ribs finally stopped aching, I finally took it out for a spin.

The Author

It took no less than 8 weeks for my ribs to finally heal and stop aching after the fall off the Biscuit.

I sneezed exactly seven times during those 8 weeks.

Copyright © 2020 Jack Clune


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