GI Joe and the Johnny Pump
I was once one of God’s little soldiers, off to church to confess my sins and make an act of contrition.
Forgive me father . . .
Say three Our Fathers and two . . .
In the name of the Father . . .
Once cleansed, I’d make my way out into the broad daylight to start it all over again. I’ll be back, church. You wait and see.
Every month, or so it seemed to me, our 5th grade class would be herded like wayward sheep in school-ties to the local church. A three block trek. All this fuss so we could confess our little lies and misdemeanors.
I always felt I was wasting the churches time. My sins were so shallow that they were probably given to third-rate angels to deal with.
God: I have no time for that runny-nosed ten-year-old whiner, and all his damn lies about not being envious of his sister’s Easy Bake oven. I can’t go around making all these boys alfas. He’ll just have to deal with what I gave him. Hand his case over to that shaky new angel Harold. Those two should get along fine.
God is hedging the facts a bit. Truth is I’m a little bit alfa and little bit Easy Bake Oven. I have a Donny and Marie ying yang bouncing ball in my head. I want my cake, and a GI Joe, too.
My religion started the moment my mother gave birth in a catholic charities hospital in the winter of fifty-three. I was a December baby, born a week before Christmas. Which meant, of course, that I’d be screwed out of any and all prime birthday gifts.
On my tenth birthday, for instance, I was given a toy electric-shaver by my godmother. It had a cord with a suction cup at the end that you’d lick and slap on your bathroom mirror. You put in a battery and it made a buzzing sound. Totally useless as toys go, but my godmother seemed to think that the height of birthday joy to a ten year-old was mowing his upper lip with a vibrator.
Where’s my damn GI Joe! was more in line with my thinking. At least a doggone Slinky to calm my ten-year-old jitters.
Note: I would eventually get my GI Joe. And we did make beautiful cakes together.
Misericordia was the name of the hospital that welcomed me into the world. If you look at the picture — link at the end of story — you can see that it looks more like a Dickensian workhouse than a place where sweet little babies like me were born. Unless it really was a workhouse and my parents were keeping secrets. Which would explain my obsession with Oliver, the movie musical. In the great metropolis of Manhattan, darker secrets were known to be kept.
Though I was born on the isle of Manhattan, in a hospital that had a clear view of the East River, I never suspected it was an island at all. Growing up it was simply a place where my neighborhood happened to be. And, unless you were born with the water slapping at your doorstep, you never thought of yourself being surrounded by shipyards and sea creatures. As a child my whole world was concrete streets and tarred roofs. Nothing watery about that.
After writing the above I find I have to take it back. There definitely was something watery about my childhood in Yorkville. The fire hydrants of summer.
Johnny pumps, as we called them, were a hot item in the summer. On those sweltering days, when you could grill steaks on the sewer covers, you were sure to find a sensible neighbor with a monkey-wrench opening up a nearby fire hydrant. City ordinances be damned.
After that it was all calamitous fun. A near-naked crowd of neighborhood kids in joyous cahoots with the raging waters at our feet. Grab a coffee can that’s had its top and bottom lids removed and you could direct the escaping waters flow.
Chevy convertible at three o’clock! Splish!
Kid with a rotten disposition at ten o’clock! Splash!
Smelly old guy who chases kids off the stoop at noon! Splot!
When the police and fire departments finally showed up to shut it down, we’d all run like sewer rats. But not before we’d had our fun.
At night you’d get relief from whatever source was at hand. Fire escapes, roofs, wet sheets and fans were favorite options. Especially on a sweaty night in August.
May all good things come to the man with the monkey wrench. Amen.
Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?search=easy+bake+oven&title=Special%3ASearch&go=Go&ns0=1&ns6=1&ns12=1&ns14=1&ns100=1&ns106=1#/media/File:Premier_model_Easy_Bake_oven_cropped.jpg