A Far-Off Kingdom

It’s easy to have an opinion when you don’t have to take any responsibility for it. I’ve been dining out on that concept for over fifty years. So settle back and remember; you don’t know where I live.
Once upon a time in a land far removed from this one there used to be a school which graduated a lot of students, many of whom went on to become very successful; it was called Hard Knocks. If you’re over forty years of age then you know the drill. There was no degree to put on your office wall at the end of the ordeal, and that’s the thing. Your lessons didn’t stop when you left the classroom. Your teachers weren’t always kind and gentle and they didn’t write nice things on your report card about all the great potential you had even if you were often disruptive in class and seldom did your homework.
It started with the neighbourhood kids on the street or in the yard at recess. Your mom hadn’t phoned her friend and then driven you across the neighbourhood because there were rumours that some middle-aged pervert in a white van was cruising your street offering Smarties to stray young innocents. The neighbourhood gang probably included one overweight kid who was known as Fatso or Tubby, another boy who wore glasses and was called Foureyes and if there was a disabled youngster included he was known as Crip. Most of your time was spent running around playing Cops and Robbers or pickup sports and if you just weren’t very good at that stuff you were picked last, probably damaging your psyche for life. The littlest brother was called ‘Kid’ and he was always put in the nets or in the outfield and had to chase the ball down the street or to the far reaches of the park when it went astray. I’m just talking boys here; girls were alien creatures who were always put in separate lines at school and to tell you the truth, I really don’t know how they amused themselves. To be totally honest, I still haven’t figured them out to this day. Most women who know me could vouch for that.
Your dad had lived through the Depression and may have fought in the Second World War and now he had a house full of kids, some of whom he didn’t know what grade they were in. You didn’t have a lot of heart-to-heart chats and he didn’t have to drive you to the arena an hour before the game so that you could jog around with the team trainer in your team warm-up suits and get “mentally prepared.” In fact, there probably wasn’t an arena in your town. The hockey season started after Christmas and wound up by the beginning of March.
And so there you go. Another time and place. People didn’t wear seatbelts and bike helmets and there were things called ashtrays lying around the house and offices that were always filled with cigarette butts. I shared a bedroom with one brother for nineteen years. That doesn’t necessarily make for a close family; I haven’t seen him in over two years. Another brother died five years ago and probably some of those lifestyle patterns mentioned above had something to do with that. Even the humour was a lot more rough around the edges. What kid didn’t love watching The Three Stooges calling each other names and cuffing one another on the head. And could Jackie Gleason get away with threatening his wife and promising such repercussions as “One of these days, Alice! To the moon!” My siblings used to love listening to my father talking to service people on the phone, where he would meet up with one bumbler after another. “You don’t know very much, do you?” he would growl into the receiver, blowing cigarette smoke out through his nose. “Put me on with someone who knows something !”
The older I get, the more I understand the old man. I try to keep most of my opinions to myself; I don’t want to get committed. Like my mother before me, the older I get, the less sure of my opinions I am, but the less I care what others think of me as well. But there is always my daughter to keep me in line.
“Have you ever known me to be wrong, Boo?” I have a nickname for everyone.
She looks up from her texting for a second and rolls her eyes. But what does a kid know !

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