There is a period in every young boy’s life in which he transitions from childhood into young adulthood. I can only assume that this is true, since it was my experience. That transition typically happens when the young boy discovers girls, booze, drugs, or a completely different set of friends. This experience is accelerated by being tossed from elementary school into middle school or “Junior High” as it was called in my day. I can only conclude that everyone’s experience is similar to mine, so please bear with me if this does not jive with your version of reality. I am pretty sure you will still be provided with a modicum of enlightenment.
At the tender age of 12, I was displaced from my safe little neighborhood of close friends on Crescendoe Road, just at the point where elementary school was being left behind and the anxiety ridden transition to Knox Junior High was before me. Most of the anxiety revolved around being thrust into a new school that included kids from multiple elementary schools. There were cliques and gangs, and lions, and tigers and bears. My old set of friends were mostly younger than me, so they were still traversing the la la land that was elementary school, while I was entering what can only be described as a version of Lord of the Flies.
It was at this time that I, and I’m sure many of you, sought out a safe set of compadres. My geekiness and interest in science, rockets, and the space program led me to join that pinnacle of nerdiness club called “The Rocket Club”. The year was 1970 and we had just conquered space by landing on the moon. I had all of the various plastic Aurora models including the Saturn Five, the Lunar Lander, and the Mercury Space Capsule sitting on my dresser. Each was garishly painted in some version of the official colors of NASA. Also in my possession was a vast armada of Estes rockets, including the Big Kahuna of rockets called Big Bertha. Thus I had some cred with the gang in the Rocket Club. In the Rocket Club, I was to meet two people that would forever define my life, what I was to become, who I was to marry, and the members of the tribe that I would belong to for the rest of my life.
A brief side note needs addressing here. Big Bertha was a rocket that was shaped like a V2 missle and weighed about five pounds. If you stuck a big old C or D engine in this thing and fired it up, it would majestically rise off of the launch pad and sail maybe 200 feet into the air, before deploying the parachute and gently floating back to earth. It was truly a magnificent sight to behold. But back to our story.
Upon my first visit to The Rocket Club, I met Mark and Michael. Two more odd characters one could not have pulled out of a comic book. Mark was a tall skinny fellow and Michael was a chubby and un-handsome teenager. Both were very intelligent and had similar scientific interests, so we hit it off immediately. They were both one year ahead of me in school so we had no friends in common and belonged to completely different tribes, and yet our lives would be irrevocably intertwined.
We had our first jobs as dishwashers at the Holiday Inn, smoked our first bongs together, went to high school and college together, and continued to hang together into adulthood. Mark’s sister would eventually become my wife, after I worked my boyish charms on her over a couple of years. Mike would sadly die by his own hand after a bout of extreme depression. Mark would be diagnosed as schizophrenic and ultimately be cured through the magic of chemistry.
I have this theory about life based on a metaphor that I have concocted. Let’s say that a meteor is headed towards Earth. When that meteor is a gazillion miles away, the slightest push will deflect the meteor just enough that it will avoid hitting the Earth and ending civilization as we know it. Now let’s say that the meteor is now much closer to the Earth. It’s gonna take a nuclear blast to deflect that thing from hitting. As it gets closer and closer, it becomes more and more difficult to deflect it enough to avoid catastrophe. Such is the way with life. Small things done early on can define who you are and who you will become. I am pretty sure that at this point, my trajectory is clearly defined and virtually unchangeable, lending truth to the adage that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.