Cut to me, at 11 years old, in a dirt hole at our neighbor’s house in the central Michigan countryside. Dead summer.
Our neighbors, the Compases, were a large family in a very small house. 3 boys, 1 girl, a full-time working mom and a big-rig, truck-driving father who was rarely home. They had live-in help from their grandmother. She would come out and pull the daughter back into the house when she got frisky. Little Jackie learned to cuss loudly at nothing from their front stoop when she was about 6 years old. “Fuck! Fuck and sex!” Looking back on it I probably could have been great friends with her.
We were a very small family in a very large house. Just me and two old people who came home around 5:30 and fed me. The loneliness and boredom was less of an issue during the school year, definitely less when I got older and could drive, but we’re talking dead summer here at 11 years old.
Get out, I’ve got things to do.
As a feral gay child at home in the summertime, I’d wake with my parents, wave them off around 8:30am then feed myself breakfast. I’d clean the kitchen, watch bob barker, make lunch, then check out the Compases from the front window.
Their house was across the street and nearly 300 feet away from our own. In the country there were no sidewalks or paved driveways; each of us with long winding private lanes to our front door. But I could still watch their ways whenever I felt like it. And judge them.
This activity was one of a dozen I relied on that also included: pre-teen gossip on the phone with classmates, re-arranging furniture to surprise my parents, re-enacting scenes from Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Pippi Longstocking, and also hiding from my parents before they got home to surprise/scare them.
I’ve always been able to judge anyone regardless of income or status.
The Compases were middle class like us. This didn’t keep me from looking down my nose at their gleaming white, slightly used Monte Carlo SS, their above ground pool with gloss printed wood finish or their large white satellite dish. I know that’s not “wood.”
I had watched Johnny and Billy Compas dig this thing all summer. They had been dumping wheelbarrow-fulls of dirt, seemingly from nowhere, into a pile that by late June was nearing 10 feet in height. It even had ruts where the wheelbarrow would be pushed up the slope of it to dump more on top. “What is going on? Are their parents watching this?”
I was on good terms with these two the previous year when we moved in. But something had happened that I didn’t fully understand. It might have been that I didn’t really care for them and the gig was up. Or that they never really liked me and their mom made them be nice to the new guy.
Clearly the new-guy-status was over. When I’d meticulously mow the yard in perfect diagonals I could sense their unfriendly stares. When I’d venture out on my bike past their driveway they’d regularly ignore my, “Hellos.” They never once complimented my landscaping skills.
So it was a surprise to see Jimmy ride his bike up our driveway one day. “Wanna come see our tunnel?”
A Dumpy Clubhouse
Lickety split I’m across the street looking at the “Tunnel.” These idiots had dug a trench, 6 feet deep, 4 feet wide and 10 feet long. Resting on top to make it a “tunnel” was a single wooden pallet.
“That’s not a tunnel,” I said quietly. “It’s a hole in the ground with a wooden pallet on top.”
“It’s a tunnel, Ridley. Come inside.”
I went inside. We sat for a few minutes and I fake marvelled at the engineering concept of it all. “It’s our clubhouse.”
“Really? Hmm… it’s pretty dirty. Why are there so many flies? And for who? Who else have you invited? You might get one more person in here.” Club house? Jesus… these two were complete morons. Dank. Dirt and mud. No comfortable seating. I couldn’t even breath.
Several days later I invited them to a superior clubhouse in one of the barns on our property. It was part of an unused chicken coop up 10 feet off the ground. Once up the ladder, my guests were offered hay bale seats, an array of snacks and several options of board games. Mostly it wasn’t dirty.
That first time in the club house was great. I ended up bringing out my entire he-man and the masters of the universe play castle, my coveted stereo cd player, and more food with soda.
The End Of All Things
The Compases were so impressed that the next day they invited other, lesser known neighbors (to me) to the club including Jimmy Donelly and Tim Small, two older boys who didn’t like me but heard about my awesome club.
It sucked. For one brief, gleaming moment I thought I had created something great, only to watch helplessly as it degraded into a raging hormone teen den of bragging storytime with stolen beers.
Alchohol freaked me out. Sex stories freaked me out.Regardless, for a few days I let them bring in their stories and filthy booze.
I shut it down for good when Tim Small brought a bunch of dirty magazines. I saw the handwriting on the wall.
I borrowed a padlock from my dad’s toolshed and shut down my own shit show club for good. I left the Hustlers and Playboy on the ladder for Tim… lord knows I didn’t need that trouble.
For the next several years I had limited contact with the neighborhood kids. Those who were kicked out of the clubhouse ignored me completely, while those who just heard about it looked at me skeptically when they rode past the house. Sometimes I would catch one of them sneaking back to the barn, then come out sad-faced, crestfallen.
Years later after my father passed away and my mother was selling the house, I climbed the ladder and looked through the chicken wire at my clubhouse masterpiece.
I’d removed everything but the hay bales.
This is part of a series I’m calling A Feral Gay Child. I’m also working on a series of stories when I was a teen. By that point in my life I was something other than feral, so I’m working on that title. Also, I couldn’t find a pic of the compas’ house so I found one that reminded me of it courtesy of https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hartford_Residence,_Bridgton,_ME.jpg