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The Life of Riley

November 19, 2015


Tonight I tried reading some of what I wrote over the past couple years.  The bummer is that I have been repeating the same damn stories to an unacceptable degree.  Example:  How many times I gotta tell you how I carry my bike in the trunk of the car?  How many times I gotta tell you about the library, about the homeless people of Billings?  Twice is too many.   I need a new slant.  When I think of that I think of my illustrious childhood.  I was born with a grin on me.

As a kid whose mother had recently gotten a television, I’d say in 1958, give or take a year, I loved to watch the popular sitcom, “The Life of Riley,” starring William Bendix.  First off, that particular show was crap.  At least I think it is now, when I bring it up on Youtube.  However, in those early days I had lost my father to a brain tumor and Mr. Bendix seemed like a damned good substitute.  He played Riley, who was good natured, gentle, kind, and altogether a harmless old doofus.  My kind of adult male.  I needed a safe one.

Monday I told one of my co-workers that I was a happy first grader.  At 6 years old, I chirped, smiled, and loved school and all the kids in it, especially the children from my block who were my age.  Both Kathy and Mike were in my first grade class.  I’ve seen pictures of myself with a wide grin, the happy grin of innocence.  This was the large smile and chirping that got me into deep shit with our first grade teacher, Mrs. Clemens.  Mrs. Clemens gave no clemency, so her name was misleading.  The first day of school she moved my desk into the hall and I didn’t even knew why.  I am indignant now.  What a … bitch!  Nothing for a 6-year-old to chirp about in the hall.  She soon found out that I was unrepentant.  I had no idea why I was in the hall.  I thought everyone should speak whenever they wanted.  Mrs. Clemens had it with me and my lack of manners.  She told me she had been lenient with me.  What the hell did the word “lenient” mean, I wondered.

I wondered about lenient all the way to Mr. Sayer’s office.  He was the principal.  He looked scary.  He smoked all of the time.  Of course, he was in his office and he was permitted to smoke.  He had been a soldier in the Pacific during WW II and he had fungus infected fingernails that mixed nicely with the nicotine and smoke stains from the cigarettes.

Mr. Sayer looked scary.  He had a bald head and funny cupped-shaped yellow fingernails.  The other kids were afraid of him, and so was I.  I remember going to his office as a 6-year-old, explaining to him that Mrs. Clemens said I should go to him.  Only I didn’t know what for.  Mr. Sayer didn’t hurt or threaten me.  As I recall, I sat in his office and watched him smoke.  He may have had post traumatic stress from the horrible battles of the Pacific.  I didn’t know anything about that.  I probably just grinned at him until he figured I’d been away from Mrs. Clemens long enough so that he could send me back.  Where I grinned and chirped.

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