Monday, October 09, 2006
6016 Clippert Street
I lived at 6016 Clippert Street for most of my childhood and all of my grade school years. It was a small subdivision like an island in our city. Four streets facing north/south and one down the middle east to west. Clippert was first, then William, Dudley and Katherine with Avalon running down the middle. So you pretty much knew who belonged there, who didn’t and who all the kids were.
At our bus stop were the kids from Clippert and William Streets. Some of the families of this neighborhood were transient as the houses were simple slab structures, small and humble (to put it nicely). Only a few of us remained throughout our grade school years. There was Marsha and her family up the street. I’m not sure but I think they had 120 kids. Marsha was bigger than me and had greasy brown hair worn in the mandatory girl fashion of the 1970s, parted down the middle and straight. She was my first best friend and she called me “kid”. She taught me that when you crossed Avalon and a car stopped to let you by, you waved back and yelled “thanks man”. Or maybe you would flash them the peace sign. Marsha had an older brother that my dad hated. He would drive fast down Clippert Street to our corner, which is where my house was. Then he’d whip around that corner so fast that his tires would squeal never tapping his brakes for a second. My dad was sure he was going to hit either me or my sister and then he’d have to shoot Marsha’s older brother. With 120 kids living there, I’m not sure he’d have been able to identify him. My dad called the police lots on that kid. But he still kept driving fast around the corner of Clippert and Avalon, where our house sat. One day a neighbor knocked on our door and said she was collecting money for Marsha’s family because their dad had shot himself. I was standing behind my mom at the front door when the neighbor lady said this, and my mom got some dollars from her purse to give. I felt bad for Marsha but she never acted like anything happened, although she came out to play less often.
Three doors down lived Robert’s family. . They were the Browns. Mrs. Ann Brown and her oldest son Robert Brown. Robert was retarded. You could say “retarded” in the 70s if you whispered it. My mom mostly said “slow” and I thought that was nicer because when the kids called Robert “retard” it was in a mean and hateful voice that made Robert cry. Robert was the same age as me. He had big brown eyes like a calf and a soft shaved head that felt like peach fuzz when I ran my hand over his scalp. Robert had bucky big teeth and he could not say his R’s very well, they sounded like W’s and I was Sawa. I didn’t mind. You had to be very gentle and patient with Robert if you were going to be his friend and I was his friend. Robert was very dirty and his pants were too short. He had lots of bruises and cuts. And Robert was gentle almost like a girl, he didn’t like rough games or horse play. I think the world was scary to him. I don’t think I ever saw his dad but in the late afternoon when Mr. Brown came home from work if Robert wasn’t there he’d yell in a mean voice “Robert ” and Robert would run scared and clumsy home again. Usually Mrs. Ann Brown would come nervous and talking fast to our yard to tell Robert to hurry home before his dad got there.
Robert had twin younger brothers named Willy Ray and Billy Ray. I thought that this was stupid because Willy and Billy were both short for William, so did they have the same first names? Willy and Billy looked like Robert but with quicker eyes and sharper tongues. They would look at you and it looked like they didn’t like you. They were wiry and fast and tough and bad. They would steal from you or break your toys so you tried not to play with them. They beat on Robert even though he was bigger than they were.
Pretty soon Robert started going to a different school for retarded kids. He would stand at the bus stop right in front of our house alone in the cold winter morning without mittens or a hat or a warm coat. And shiver with snot running down his nose. My mom gave Robert mittens and gloves and hats and scarves all the time and the next morning, there he’d be shivering again. She never gave up though. I don’t know where she got all those mittens and gloves and hats and scarves but if she had anything to say about it, Robert would be warm at least while he waited for the bus. I bet she fed him too, I’ll just bet she did. After a while Robert went to live with a different family and we didn’t see him anymore. One day after we had moved away we saw Mrs. Ann Brown in the K-Mart at the snack counter and she had a pretty little daughter with her. She said Robert was doing real good. Mrs. Ann Brown seemed proud to tell my mom that and to show my mom her pretty daughter. I hope Robert is still doing real good. And I hope he has gloves and a hat and warm coat in the winter.
On William Street lived my friend Renee for a while with her two moms. I had never encountered such a strange thing. Her moms wore blue jeans and flannel shirts and talked loud and swore and smoked. But they were real nice to me. I liked those two moms until they moved away. I wonder what became of them? Down the street at the end lived the Dalpe’ family and they had two beautiful big girl daughters. Renee and Darlene Dalpe’. They went to the big kids school and wore hippy clothes. Renee had long hair and a thin face and wore round glasses. She was nice but very quiet. Darlene had thick brown hair and didn’t mind playing with little kids. She was a figure skater and sometimes she baby sat me. When my mom needed a babysitter she’d tell me to run around the block and get Darlene Dalpe’ and Darlene would come over smiling with straight white teeth.
Down the other end of William Street was Missy and her mom and sisters. Missy’s mom was not married. That was very strange and I wondered where her dad was and how she got there in his absence. Missy’s mom never knew when school was starting and she would walk to my mom’s house in August to find out what day to send Missy to the bus stop. Sherry was Missy’s older sister and she wore hip hugger jeans and had red hair and freckles. She would lay on the parkway of the house behind us right there on Avalon Street and “make out” with her boyfriend. My mom forbade me to go to Missy’s house. I didn’t want to anyway, I didn’t like that Sherry and her boyfriend.
Across William was Mark Prince. Mark Prince was the ugliest boy that ever lived and in kindergarten he had pimples. I always thought he looked like a toad and in this concept discovered irony; prince was a toad That Mark Prince never played with us. We only saw him at the bus stop on William and Avalon and that was enough. He would wack you with his lunch box and in those days lunch boxes were made of metal And he had a fat white pasty face and little pointy lizard teeth. He wore old man shirts tucked into high waisted pants and if there was anything at all to make fun of you for, Mark Prince pointed it out. One day Mark Prince the toadboy got in a fight with another kid, which wasn’t unusual. But on this morning down William charged Mark Prince’s mom And from the distance you could hear her screaming “MARK ”. That Mrs. Prince was as mean as her toadboy son and you could see the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. She came charging up to the bus stop where she grabbed Mark by the collar of his navy blue windbreaker and then something unprecedented happened....a grown up lady said a swear word. Right there in front of everybody at the bus stop Even Renee’s two moms didn’t curse in front of little kids Mrs. Prince yelled real loud “Stop it right now Do you want to knock the damn tubes out of your ears ?” This was a shocking revelation In addition to the unexpected profanity, we all learned that our nemesis Mark Prince, the ugly toad boy had tubes in his ears What are tubes in your ears? We don’t know but it proves we hate him Not only did he have pimples in kindergarten, he had some kind of tubes in his ears and by the way, he also had sweaty armpits. It was a done deal. He was mean and weird and ugly. His mom marched him hop-step crying home. I did feel a little bad for Mark Prince after that because I wouldn’t want tubes in my ears or my mom to swear at me. But pretty soon he was wacking me with his metal lunch box and I was back to hating that toadboy Prince.
On Dudley Street lived the Zorns. The Zorns were Mr.and Mrs. Zorn, Fred, Christine, Tom and an older sister whose name I never knew. They had a very nice and neat little house and today Fred Zorn works for the mayor of our city. Tom Zorn was the same age as me and he had red hair, brown glasses and very clean fingernails. He dressed like a business man in grade school and was very serious, pushing up his glasses with his index finger to try to explain to you whatever he was talking about. He didn’t like teasing but he was a nice boy to play with because I didn’t like teasing either. Christine was beautiful like Penny on Lost in Space with shiny black hair. She was very clean as well.
On Katherine Street was the most important kid...my best friend Dawn Garrison whom I met in Mrs. Steen’s kindergarten glass in 1972. Everyone said we looked exactly alike so we had to be best friends. Dawn’s family was not as clean as the Zorns. If you walked on their kitchen floor, it was crunchy. Dawn was the oldest with a brother James and a baby sister. Eventually there was also a baby brother named Ralphy, which is not a very good name for a baby boy. I told Mrs. Garrison we were Baptist so she would like me. We were really Pentecostal. My mom said it was best to let that one go. The Garrison kids were like wild Indians compared to me and the Zorns. Their mom would kick them out of the house, and me too if I was there, first thing in the morning. At lunch time she would put a bag of potato chips on the front porch and relock the screen door. When you were lucky enough to get inside the house, you could play in Dawn’s front bedroom which had a trundle bed and smelled like baby diapers. There were always lots of baby diapers in the Garrison’s toilet too. One day we were playing in Dawn’s dad’s little blue pick up truck and we accidently knocked the gear shift into neutral and down it rolled into the street Dawn ran in the house crying to get her dad and I was left out there trying to hold that little blue truck back from killing everyone in its path. After that her dad said I better go home. Across the street from Dawn was Donny. He was a big boy and his mom was divorced, and you always whispered that word. She was beautiful and blonde so I didn’t see why the neighborhood moms would shake their heads about her. Donny was tall and skinny with hair that curled around his ears. One day in the lunch line I was behind him and I noticed that he breathed through his mouth with his tongue hanging out like a dog. I figured since he was the coolest kid I knew, being that he rode a ten speed, that I would breathe the same way. My mom asked me why I was breathing like that and I told her that was how Donny breathed. She said, “He needs to get his adenoids out. Close your mouth.” My mom never did know what was cool.
Down the street from Dawn on Katherine Street was the worst family ever. They were so bad Dawn got smacked with an orange plastic race car track for going in their back yard. I hoped my mom was far enough away on Clippert not to know I played with them. They were just that bad. They were Denny and Danny Gillespie and they would do anything. They would jump their bikes over ramps. They would swear all day long. They would kick dogs and play in the woods that separated our neighborhood from the freeway and throw rocks at cars that went by. They would ask to borrow your bike and never give it back until you cried and acted like you were going to get your dad. I bet Denny and Danny Gillespie are in jail. Mrs. Garrison said that’s where they end up. And if you didn’t want a smack with an orange plastic race car track, you better stay away.
Finally years later, just before we moved, Kimberly Carol George moved in down Clippert Street. She was my new best friend after Dawn moved to Lincoln Park after Ralphy was born. Kimmy was the skinniest girl ever and she had buck teeth. Her mom was a security guard at Penney’s. I didn’t know anybody whose mom had a job. Her dad was a “hill billy and proud ” She told me he was a bonafide member of the KKK I told my mom figuring she’d be impressed with my connections. My mom said I better never repeat that to anybody and I should find a new best friend and that was terrible. I figured that’s why Kimmy said it was a secret. Kimmy had an older blonde haired sister named Sissy and a big brother named Howard who was not very friendly and yelled “Get out of here ” whenever we crossed into his line of vision. Kimmy had lots of chores to do and I had none so our time together was limited because I usually had to help with her chores if I went over there. This was not one of my major interests in life, so I generally steered clear of that house, what with the mysterious and terrible KKK and all the dishes to wash. It made me miss the Garrisons with their crunchy floors. At least they locked you outside and didn’t make you do chores.
Looking back that little neighborhood of 4 streets one way with Avalon down the middle represented quite the melting pot of the 1970s. The family whose dad committed suicide. The mentally challenged and probably abusive. The clearly lesbian household and the single mom of unknown origin. The forward moving and impossibly clean Zorns, the divorced and beautiful mother of Donny and the bad bad bad Gillespies. The Baptists with their many children and the “hillbillies” with connections we shouldn’t have tolerated. It’s really no wonder I’m so sophisticated and world-wise today.