Sunday, April 6, 2014

Picnic

You made your plans with absolute care, even to the point of securing a large red handkerchief of the sort cowboys were known to wear about their neck.  The long stick was a bit of a problem.  There were no sufficient tree branches in the neighborhood.  The closest thing you could find was a length of lath, discovered in the immense vacant lot that fronted on Wilshire Boulevard and at the moment featured two large billboards.

Hobos were known to sleep in the protective cover of the billboards; you'd seen at least two of them, known to you as hobos because they wore fedora hats, darker versions of your father's.  They were a distinct class above bums; some hobos even carried tools with them, allowing them to take occasional jobs to earn their meals and perhaps a bit left over for a sack of Bull Durham smoking tobacco.

As your determination grew, so did the need for drastic measures, thus your focus on the detachable handle of the family mop.  By putting your treasures into the red handkerchief, drawing its corners together, then tying them, you had a stick on which to hang your handkerchief/suitcase.

You wanted this to be right.  Perfect.  You were only going to run away from home once.  You had no wish to botch the job, turn it into one of those family secrets where all would laugh, such as the time when you were being scolded for something, but your mother and sister laughed with abandon as the scolding progressed, unable to contain themselves at the Groucho Marx-type mustache you'd given yourself from drinking a glass of grape juice.

Your run-away-from-home toolkit included a Big Little Book, Don Winslow of the U.S. Navy, a small-but thick copy of Don Quixote, a Boy Scout knife (with which you somehow planned to do work), a pair of Haines undershorts for boys, a Duncan yo-yo, and a small, battery driven Morse code sender, a treasure you'd gleaned thanks to ten cents and a box top of Ralston whole wheat cereal.  You also had a small box of wooden matches from a neighborhood restaurant, Tips, Famous for Thick Steaks and Thin Pancakes.  You debated about a magnifying glass souvenir from the Captain Midnight weekly radio serial, then included it, thinking all the while of preparedness.

You also had a tin of Tiny Tots sardines and a packet of wafers filled with mashed raisins, and a small compass, the circumference of a dime,  You also had a small, pocket-sized notebook, one of many, even though you despaired having things of any importance to record in them with your stub of a Number Two Dixon-Ticonderoga pencil.  If nothing else, this would be your means of letting your family know of your adventures.

To your credit, you'd opted to leave your Little Orphan Annie Shake-up mug behind.  Even to your then sensitivities, Little Orphan Annie Shake-up mugs and hobos did not seem an effective combination.  You had nearly forty cents, which kept buttoned securely in your rear pocket.  By your reckoning, you could buy seven or eight Baby Ruth candy bars or a medium-sized can of Lindsay olives, which you could use to celebrate either being given a job or completing one.  

Hobos traveled light. Anything you read about hobos said they eschewed--ah, how you loved that word!--too many non-functional attachments.    They traveled far.  Your goal was at least the huge billboard facing Wilshire Boulevard at Crescent Heights, beyond, as it were, the horizon.  Who could possibly know you at such a remove from your home?

At the time of this adventure, you were about five one or, at most, five two, given to squinting behind horn-rimmed glasses.  You were destined for another inch or so, there to remain until your freshman year in high school, where you grew past being Shorty, hit the six-foot mark then continued for another inch or so.

Your decision to run away from home had little or nothing you can remember about grievances with either parent or your sister.  Rather is was born of a wish--and need--to experience real adventures, events beyond the things boys not much older than you got into in adventure and mystery novels.

Looking back, there were considerable adventures you and your family were living through as your generation lurched from what was called The Great Depression, into what is called World War II.  You could not see such things as adventures then.  Having shoes where the soles parted from the last, then began to flap as you walked, was a mere annoyance.  Losing hours in empty lots, burning holes in plant leaves or blades of grass, by using your magnifying glass was something you took for granted.  Having, finally, a list of garages from whose roofs you'd jumped was the closest thing to a secret you had.  Knowing when patches of oxalis, also known as sour grass, came into bloom, was another secret.  So was the knowledge that berries from eugina shrubs, if squeezed just slightly before they were thrown, left blueish stains on walls and clothing.

Hunger of one sort or another seems to get the best of you.  You'd got to the lot at Wilshire and Crescent Heights well before you thought, early in the afternoon.  The sardines were the first to go, then the raisin-filled crackers.

Often, in later years, you find yourself making a spot for yourself at the beach or park, therein to lie on your back and stare up at the cavalcade of clouds passing overhead.  Since that day of deciding to run away, to find adventure, to make your way as a hobo, the clouds have been spectacular, but never as they were that day.  Your tummy filled with sardines and the sweet cracker, stuffed with raisins, you embarked on a career of spontaneous picnics, celebrations of the hunger wishing to be fed.

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