As far as what I did or did not know about death, as a child, I experienced a few circumstances of what could have ultimately been. Since then, I have been in situations with handguns, rifles, drunken drivers, muggers, hard narcotics, and seemingly accidental circumstances which have brought me as close to my Maker as He will charitably allow.
Have you ever sniffed up a line of rat poison? How about a bag of Ajax that you just had to have? If so, would you admit this to your loved ones? When I was about four years old, I snorted up a whole salted Spanish peanut. It got way the hell up there, and I got an infection in my sinuses that made my nose and ears bleed profusely. As a four year-old, it was hard to admit, finally to my adults, what I had done up my nose... It required an operation, which, I suppose saved my life. I think I got off light. In my twenties, I experienced another, more harrowing, death-defying food experience from someone other than myself; a guy at a barbeque in Tennessee fell backwards, drunk, off an outdoor bench, onto a glass pickle jar; the jar smashed, a shard piercing one of his kidneys. You want to talk about ants or rain spoiling the picnic? How about Emergency Medical Services?
It wasn’t but a year or so after the peanut incident that I jumped into a swimming pool, for the heck of it, at a motel on a family vacation. To this day, as then, I swim like a pebble. I remember looking at the bottom of the pool and looking up through the water, which I was breathing, at the refracted rays of the sun. I was relaxed, and I suppose I felt confused, but not panicked. My uncle Bill Sitnik swam like a seal over me and plucked me out by my shoulders. I was not embarrassed by the worried response of my adults. It was one of those things I did.
When I was about seven, now in Portland, Maine, I was on my way to school, and I was not paying attention while crossing the street. I don’t suppose I had the light, and a car screeched to a halt, inches from clapping me to the pavement. The driver blasted his horn in guilty, frustrated fury. My wrist stung from where the car’s grille had rapped it, and I ran away, scared as hell, across the intersection. Quite an intersection it was. It was known (and still is, as far as I know) as Morrill’s Corner. It was home to The Brass Rail, a hard bar where I saw my very first bullet hole in a window. A few months after the personal bounce with the Ford Town & Country station wagon, I was walking home from school, regularly, crossing toward The Brass Rail; figure that this was about three-thirty in the afternoon. As soon as I crossed Forest Avenue and got onto the sidewalk in front of the bar, a man in a Fox Lumber uniform stumbled out. Fox Lumber was just the other side of the railroad tracks from there. The man was white-haired, balding, red-faced and short. He had to have been in his sixties. He was reeling drunk. He had a handsaw in his hand, and I caught his attention.
“I’m gonna saw your head off,” he slurred, and he stood so not to let me pass.
“Oh, no you’re not,” I gave him and went to take the circuitous route around him, streetside.
He blocked me, I, wearing a Catholic school tie and hauling my damn bookbag.
He growled, “I’m gonna saw your head off.”
Fear crept into my voice. “Oh no you’re not.”
“Oh yes I am! I’m gonna saw your head off!”
I darted one way and the other, but this drunken little man expected each move I made to get past. He laughed a hearty drunken laugh and said again, “I’m gonna saw your head off!”
What an adversary! I was trembling. I could not imagine, in any capacity (pun intended), what was going to happen to me in that moment. There was a grassy alleyway next to The Brass Rail, and I had never dared to explore it; it led to Hell. Would he drag me down there to kill me? To saw my head off?
“Oh no you’re not,” I quavered.
“Oh yes I am!”
From above my shoulders, in a deep voice, came the words, “Oh, no you’re not.”
I turned my chin straight up, and I saw a cop, a glimmering Police Officer. He was staring down the guy from Fox Lumber who had the saw. He told me to get home, and I did not look back. I have never, before or since, seen a cop walking a beat anywhere near Morrill’s corner. The only guys around there with guns – and saws - were always in The Brass Rail.
The rock 'n roll element