Thursday, November 3, 2011

the X-Ray Specs




The X-Ray Specs

A memoir by Rick Diehl

One

The X-Ray Spectacles dangled seductively from a hook on the very top shelf of the cart that sold gag gifts and practical jokes outside of the Sears at the new shopping mall in Pompano Beach, Florida. My older brother was walking away from the cart, the giant, horribly disfigured plastic thumb on his hand making him look like he had stuck it in the car door and slammed it again and again, a big dopey grin on his face, oblivious to the miracle dangling just inches away from us. When I caught sight of the specs, the can of peanuts my mother had bought me that was actually filled with snakes that sprung out at you when you opened it suddenly felt cold and worthless in my hand. Just a moment before it was without a doubt the coolest thing I had ever seen in my life, and now it was nothing, less then nothing.

I had seen the advertisements for the X-Ray specs in my comicbooks for as far back as I could remember. Almost always on the inside back cover in black and white there was a page filled with tiny little ads for all sorts of unique and miraculous items. There was the six foot tall, glow in the dark Frankenstein Monster that you hung on your wall, the special miniature 2 man submarine that shot real missiles, had a working periscope and promised hours of fun in your living room, the hand buzzer that sent a high voltage shock through the bodies of whoever was foolish enough to shake with you and mounds and mounds of plastic vomit and dog doo. And always nestled somewhere in these pages, among all of the other wonders sat a small panel for the X-Ray specs.

The X-Ray Spectacles were made out of flat white cardboard with folds put on them to work the earpieces. Plus they had some kind of odd gray cover over the lenses, but I couldn’t quite figure out exactly what that was made of. They were huge and looked like the glasses that they wore in 3-d movies only the words X-RAY SPECTACLES were written on each side in huge red letters, and they had red lighting bolts around the eyepieces. The spectacles, lying inside of a plastic bag, were attached to a piece of cardboard that was covered with drawings demonstrating some of the amazing uses that these miracles of modern science could be put to.

One drawing was of this creepy frizzy haired guy wearing the miraculous X-Ray specs and looking at his outstretched hand. The man in the picture was short and squat, with a big hooked nose and hunched shoulders, and he had this huge grin that really should only be considered normal if a mad scientist or an axe murderer wears it. Still, since jagged beams were shooting out of his amazing glasses, allowing the man to actually see inside of his own hand he had a pretty good reason to smile.

It was truly a miracle, the smiling man was actually viewing the bones and veins, sinew and muscles that lay just beneath the surface of the skin as casually as a normal person would exam a wart on their wrist. Through whatever power that the X-Ray spectacles possessed, the guys hand might as well have been made out of the same plastic as the visible man model that sat on the shelf in my room. A second drawing pictured the same nutty looking, frizzy haired dude standing dramatically in front of a huge closed door, legs apart and hands firmly against his hips. Once again the jagged beams fired out of the amazing X-Ray spectacles and the crazy looking man was staring past the thick wooden door at a well dressed middle aged man smiling and smoking a pipe, waiting patiently for him on the other side. And finally the last drawing of the same crazy frizzy haired man, this time with a maniacal grin on his face as he looked at a pretty girl with a pony tail, looking right through her skirt and seeing the stockings with garters underneath. The frizzy haired mans hands were at his side but his feet were up in the air and in a little word balloon over his head exclaimed “Whoo Hoo!”

I gasped and turned, shook my hand from the grip of my mother and stared up at the drawing of those garters and felt something stir that had never stirred before. I was nine and by nine I had desperately wanted everything from a set of GI Joes, to vampire fangs to my own bike, preferably with a banana seat and at least 3 speeds, but the X-Ray specs were something different, something more. With those glasses I could be Superman. I would see through walls and look for spies, criminals and communists, I would be able to stand outside of movie theaters and watch for free, I could see inside the TV, and best of all I could look at Nancy Craig, the raven haired goddess of the playground, and see her underwear anytime that I wanted.

As I stood there looking up on those glasses sitting on the hook at the joke store, I felt a tingle, sort of like what I felt when I would slide down a pole or the swing set bars. I couldn’t really completely describe the feeling, but it felt pretty good, so I was going to go with it.

I turned to my mother and calmly explained to her that I had just seen the most amazing thing in the entire history of the world and that she had to stop whatever she was doing right then and there and buy the magical X-Ray Specs for me RIGHT NOW!!

Just as calmly, but also with that sort of cold exasperation a parent will shoot out to an ungrateful child, mom explained to me that she had already bought me a present, one I had in fact begged her for and besides that the X-Ray glasses cost almost $4.00 and she wasn’t going to spend that much money on a pair of paper glasses.

Clearly she did not understand, could not understand, and so I tried again and I told her that the price didn’t matter and that I personally had that much money at home, left over from what my grandparents had given me for my birthday a few weeks before, and if she would just buy them for me now I would happily pay her back for them just as soon as we got home. But she just shook her head firmly, and told me no. She said that she had already spent was she was going to spend and that was it. And she said it with that tone that all kids understand as the “one more word I am going to smack you on the ass, so knock it the hell off “sound.

My heart broke, my universe crumbled because I was doomed to spend a life of boring normality, dully going through my plodding day to day existence without ever once having tasted the true majestic power and mystical force of sciences greatest invention, the X-Ray Specs. I was a boy who had seen the water, but who was never going to be allowed to drink. There was just no point in going on, without those glasses, life was going to be worthless. How could she do this to me, how could she not understand that right in front of us was the most important item I would ever have the opportunity to posses. With the X-Ray spectacles, my entire life would change. No even more, OUR entire life would change.

Why didn’t she see the possibilities?

My mother was an intelligent person, so why couldn’t she see, that with the X-Ray specs I would be able to look into a safe, find out its combination and grab a million dollars for the family to live on in no time. With the X-Ray specs I could save people a bunch of money by just telling the doctors were their legs were broken instead of making them pose for X-Ray pictures. With the X-Ray specs I could go and become a professional card player like Maverick on TV and just look through peoples cards and see what they had. The possibilities were endless.

With the X-Ray spectacles, we could do anything we wanted and no one would ever be able to stop us because we would see them coming before they got to the door and when they knocked, just not answer. The X-Ray specs were everything we ever needed and my stupid idiot of a mother was just too blind to see it. At first I thought about throwing a tantrum to see if that would work, but instead I instantly decided on another plan and instead just sort of sulked and pouted a bit, but did not argue with my mom.

I lived in an apartment where both parents worked. Until the end of second grade, every day after school my brother and I went over to the house of one of the neighbor ladies and hung out there until my mom got home, but somewhere in the summer before third grade my mother had given Matt and me keys, her phone number at work and set us off on our own.

The obvious advantage to this situation was that during the summer my brother and I were left with huge chunks of time all to ourselves without any kind of adult supervision what so ever. Now these days parents who would leave a kid as young as me and Matt alone at home would probably find themselves in prison, but this was 1970 and the term “latch key” child hadn’t even been coined yet, besides my mother worked less then five minutes away if there was an emergency anyway. Being a “latch key” back then wasn’t really all that different from how things were for most kids. Really, you got up and you ate breakfast, maybe hung around the house watching the morning cartoons, but on the average summer day, by
9:00 if you were a kid you were outside and your parents didn’t expect to see or hear from you until lunch. In my case, my Mom and Dad left the house at 8:30 every morning and came back through the door at around 6:00 every night, unless they decided to stop off for a drink somewhere, which was more often then not, in which case they could be as late as 8:00 or 9:00, and my brother and I would feed ourselves tv dinners.


The city of Boca Raton is nestled along the Atlantic coast of southern Florida, just south of West Palm Beach and about 25 miles north of Ft. Lauderdale. It is a new city with the vast majority of its growth being over the last 50 years, although there have been huge, ornate, mansions stretched out along the coast for almost a century. While it is true that Boca Raton is one of the playgrounds for the filthy rich. It still needed people to sell their tires, be tellers in their banks, work in their houses and wash their cars. Most people who worked for the rich people of Boca lived just north of the town in the city of Delray Beach. The vast majority of people living in Delray Beach were black and since this was the South in 1970, there was no way in Hell that my Dad was going to live there. So instead we lived in the only place that we could afford and still be in Boca, the “village” of Spanish Oaks.

Spanish Oaks was a sprawling apartment complex in the northern part of Boca Raton, made up of about 30 buildings each standing three stories tall with 20 or so units in each building, 5 swimming pools, a couple of playgrounds and a river running along the back of the complex that was the home to water moccasins, one very large alligator and all his alligator friends. Because it was one of the few apartment complexes that allowed children in that part of
Florida, it was also teeming with dozens of them of all ages from baby to teen in their little cliques and gangs. And because I knew there were that many kids living at Spanish Oaks, I was certain that the first part of my plan was going to work, because it certainly was not going to be hard to steal a bike, the hard part was going to be figuring out which way was Pompano Beach and seeing if I could get all the way down and back without getting caught and while also having very little choice but to go right by the garage where my dad worked, but most dangerous of all right directly by where my mother worked the window at the Boca Raton Savings and Loan.


I had paid close attention on the way home from the mall making as certain as possible which way I needed to go, and looked for a few landmarks to look for on the way, noticing most especially the large car wash with the big mechanical sign of a black man tipping his top hat at passersby.

The day after the trip to the mall in Pompano, it was mid afternoon and like all Sundays my parents were laying out on deckchairs by one of the adults only pools at the complex. It was hot and bright out and my parents were enjoying their normal Sunday ritual of working on their perfect tans and nursing their normal Sunday morning hangovers. My mother wasn’t even 30 in 1970 and my father wouldn’t see 35 for awhile either, they were young and lived like young people do. Lying all around them on their own deckchairs were close to a dozen other grown ups in their late 20’s and early 30’s, all nursing hangovers of their own. Each chair lined up one after the other forming a rectangle around the pool, like an outdoor hospital ward, all filled with some hurting man or woman suffering unjustly from the night before.

Walking around the group, administering to the sick were me and my brother. Each one of us had a pitcher of Bloody Mary’s and we were busy running back and forth from the house with new pitchers, refilling everyone’s glasses as quickly as we could, then zipping back to the house to make up the next batch for Mom, Dad and their friends. Bloody Mary’s had been the first drink that my Dad had taught Matt and me to make and so it wasn’t hard to get them mixed right, and to keep them flowing so that nobody worried about running out. Matt and I had tied aprons around ourselves and we were busy doing our best to act like proper waiters as we served our tasty beverages to our welcome “customers”. Still when we got back to the apartment and started to mix up the next batch we got into an ice fight and accidentally spilled some tomato juice on ourselves which for the rest of the day made us look more like dangerous waiters.

At one point after the fifth or sixth pitcher, while Matt mixed up the newest batch, I went over to where my Dads friends had put their clothes when they got into their bathing suits. Then as carefully as I could, making sure to remember exactly the position everything was in, I started going through them until I found the wallets. There were four or five of them, so with Matt occupied making the drinks I quickly went through them and grabbed one or two dollars out of each and then put the wallets away. I had done this petty thievery before and had never been caught, and if I was going on my mission I would need more money then the $5.00 in my drawer. The Specs were $4.00 and already at nine I knew all about tax, and I would need money for food and soda on the ride so I helped myself.

While Matt went out to pour drinks I went into the bathroom and counted my haul. When I finished counting I was happy to see that I had $8.00 and if I threw in the $5.00 I had on me, it amounted to a small fortune. I smiled went into my room and hid the money in my crayons. The first part of my plan was accomplished. I had the money, Monday was coming up and it would be time to make my dreams come true and at last gain the power of the X-Ray Specs.

Sitting in my room, my mind wandered as I thought about the glorious X-Ray spectacles. I pictured myself on a dark and foggy street, standing alone under a lone street lamp. I was wearing a trench coat with a broad fedora on my head hiding my face in shadows. It was cold, but I was warm inside because of the sense of danger, I lit a cigarette without a filter like my grandpa had, sucking the tasty smoke down in deep gulps. Suddenly in the distance, walking up the street, I saw him creeping along stealthy like a cat. The other spy was dressed very much like me, only where I was wearing dark colors, this guy was covered almost completely in white. Stepping out of the light I watched him walk toward me noticing that in each hand he carried a small briefcase.

Reaching into my coat pocket I pulled out my trusty pair of X-Ray specs, put them on and looked toward the enemy. And through the power of the amazing wonder of modern science the X-Ray Specs, instantly I was able to see inside the two cases. One held top secret documents and a gun, while the other was in reality a bomb. I looked at the spy and saw that he was carrying a gun in a holster under his shoulder and had a blackjack in his pants. He was one dangerous spy, so deciding to not take any chances, I reached into my pocket and pulled out my Man From UNCLE disc gun, took careful aim and before the other spy could react, I fired off a fuselage of colorful spinning discs that cut the enemy agent into little, bloody pieces.

With my disc gun in one hand and my X-Ray specs on my face I stood over my defeated rival with one foot on his corpse and one hand against my hip. Victory was mine, and suddenly Nancy Craig ran up to me to give me a kiss and congratulate me on saving
America. I slipped my glasses back on and smiled as I saw panties. Realizing what I was doing Nancy only smiled and blushed.

With a deep sigh I got up off my bed and headed out to schlep more drinks for my parents, I knew that tomorrow was going to be the big day.

Two

It had been pouring rain for most of the night leaving me depressed because even though everything was set to go, Mother Nature, knowing what the power of the X-Ray Specs would do for me had shown that she was determined to stop me. I knew for certain that if I had to wait one more day I would simply die from waiting and was prepared to just go back to bed but luck was with me and by the time I got up, put on my shorts, t-shirt and sneakers and ate breakfast, there was barely anything but the slightest drizzle going down the window and there was every sign that it would be a normal hot Florida day.


After seeing my parents off to work and telling my brother that I was going to go and hang out with Bobby Kite, I grabbed my knapsack, stuffed my oversized black raincoat inside and set off on my quest. I had eight, maybe nine hours at the most, and a long way to go, so the first thing to take care of was transportation. My own crappy one speed bike was down with two flats that my dad kept promising to fix, but that he never got around to, and Matt’s bike was equally trashed as well. But luckily down on the lower level of the parking lots, there was a corner in the back filled with bicycles sitting on stands, and while most of them were locked, most of them were just sitting there ready for me to help myself.


My plan was to steal either Mike Richardson’s 3-speed bike or maybe even Brad Johnson’s 5-speed with the big banana seat and the sissy bar that went up four feet high and had the gearshift attached to the center bar instead of on the handlebars. Either of those would fit my needs perfectly, but when I got to the racks I faced my first crisis since not only were Mike and Brad’s bikes both locked up, but so was just about everyone else’s too. After looking around I realized that there was only one bike out of the lot that was the right size and unlocked, but just looking at it made me hesitate and seriously think about the nature of my mission.


The bike had a banana seat and a sissy bar, but it was a girls bike missing the center bar, and it was this ugly bubble gum pink and had flowers as part of the design. It was exactly the kind of bike that a boy riding around in some strange neighborhood was very likely to end up getting into a fight over. I heard a car up on the upper level and thought about the incredible X-Ray Specs down the road in Pompano, calling my name and made my decision, looking around to make sure nobody was going to see me, I jumped on the girls bicycle and peddled swiftly out of the garage, down the sidewalk and out the gates to Spanish Oaks before anyone had a chance to see me.


My plan was pretty simple. I would start out by going over to the
Boca Raton Recreation Center about a mile south of my house. During the summer it was open every day as a place for kids to go and hang out at. There were games and crafts and they would show movies, have public swimming, that sort of thing. The place was free and open to kids who came and went as the saw fit so it was always packed with kids I wanted to stop there because on the main wall of the community center’s entrance was a huge map of Boca Raton and the surrounding areas. I had never really paid much attention to the map before, but knew how to read one from Cub Scouts, plus I had paid very close attention on the way home to the directions we took to get to the mall, and best of all, since the road we had been on was the famous Dixie Highway, it was easy to remember what street to look for and when I saw it on the map it was one of the easiest streets to locate.


Seeing the map showed me that I had better get moving, the mall was in
Pompano Beach and the problem was that most of Boca Raton and all of Deerfield Beach was between it and me. The mall was right next to a small airport and only about 8 blocks from the ocean. Being a kid I really didn’t understand the concept of distance so well at that point, but the thing I was certain of was that in the car it took about a half hour to get there from the house so it certainly wasn’t close.


The distance was not the only problem that I was looking at on my trip. Only a short distance down the
Dixie, but certainly much farther away from home then I was allowed to go was the bank that my mother worked at. To get where I was going I would have to go right past where my mom was at and I since the bank had a glass front there was a very real chance that she would see me. The other problem is that the garage that my father managed was only a few blocks from the mall and just like my mothers bank, I would need to get past where my father was to get to the mall. I did not know the areas well enough to trust moving to a different street and I was sure that if I was careful I would not be caught, but extra care was going to be needed.


I had only been peddling for about 15 minutes when I saw the most dangerous part of the trip ahead of me, the bank where my mother worked just a few blocks away. When I was close to the place I stopped and looked around and decided that maybe I would try one of the side roads instead anyway, just to be safe. So I went a few blocks west, away from the ocean and then started south again, bypassing my mother’s bank completely. I was enjoying the ride and saw some puddles up ahead and rode the bike through them as fast as I could, enjoying the splash of water and the freedom of unknown territory. I stopped and took off my shoes and since it was drizzling again, put on my jacket. As I started to ride off, a man across the street from me, got out of a car and yelled “Hey kid, hold on for a minute.”


I had seen the man a few minutes before down the road with a camera taking a picture of a puddle. He was middle aged and pudgy, but he had a soft friendly face and I smiled back at him when he smiled at me as I rode by. I was surprised when he pulled up and called to me but I stopped and waited for the tall, sort of funny looking grown-up to come up to me. I asked him what he wanted, since I knew all about scary perverts from what they told us in class, but he looked normal enough, not like the sweaty guy in the business suit in the film they showed us in class, he said he was with the paper and was taking pictures of puddles and stuff from the storm last night and that he wondered if I would mind if he took my picture while I rode through the puddles, because that would make a much better picture. I figured that this sounded too cool for school so I said sure and he followed me in his car as I back peddled a few blocks to a side road a little distance away from any houses.

The odd looking man got out of the car and came up next to me and asked me what my name was, I told him and he wrote it down into a little notepad that he had and then asked the name of my parents and where I lived. I told him all that stuff and he seemed surprised that I was that far from home. I told him that I was staying over at my Aunts house and that was why I was on a girls bike and way across town.Then I rode back and forth through the puddles he took a whole bunch of pictures of me riding my stolen bike.

He thanked me and said goodbye and heading our separate ways, he got into his car and drove away.


I peddled back toward the Dixie and pretty soon it stopped raining completely and started to get warm so I put my jacket back into the knapsack and threw my sneakers back onto me feet. As I headed back east toward my goal, I suddenly ran out of road and found myself right up against the Atlantic Ocean. Somehow I had missed the Dixie and had instead run out of land all together.


There I was, standing on the walking path that ran along the shoreline trying to figure out which way I was going. There were hotels to the left of me and hotels to the right and behind me the ocean laughed, telling me that it was going to stop me from reaching my goal, from reaching the marvelous X-Ray Specs. I saw myself ancient and bent standing at this same exact spot never having been able to find my way either home or to the mall, just stuck for all time looking out at the sea. I was young and suddenly being lost sent a surge of real panic through me. I thought for a few minutes and realized that the best thing to do would be to head back the way I came and hopefully find the right street.


I peddled for a long time, and still hadn’t found the Dixie, when I stopped at a street corner looked down the street and saw the comforting sign of the smiling black man tipping his top hat at me. With a heavy sense of relief, I smiled back at him and headed south on the
Dixie.


For a long time there was nothing but constant peddling. Block after block of it turning into mile after mile, with me making pretty good time, zipping along the sidewalk trailing next to the long straight boulevard. I was getting close but it was also getting hot and I hadn’t worn a hat, so I stopped at a store and bought myself a soda and a Jack Kirby Jimmy Olsen comic and sat down to catch my breath. But soon enough I was back on the bike with the glass bottle returned and the comic in my knapsack and once again I was heading south.


I knew I was getting close to the mall, but I was also getting close to the garage where my dad was the service manager. After getting lost earlier I wasn’t willing to get this close and then end up getting lost again, besides it was about
noon at this point and I was starting to get pressed for time. I had made sure that I was across the street from my dads shop and figured that if I cut through the parking lot of the stores across the street, that my dad would never see me.


Halfway across with safety just a few yards away, my dad and a customer stepped out of his store to go look at the mans car


I was directly in his line of sight and all he would have to do is actually focus on me and I would have been caught right then and there. But again fate smiled at me, and I saw that my dad was completely oblivious to my being on the other side of the street. Not willing to give him a chance to figure out it was me, I hopped back on the bike and peddled furiously away.



The mall was getting closer and I was riding along at a quick pace when I had to stop my bike and walk back a bit to ask a question. There was a teenage boy in his families’ driveway setting up a large tinfoil cone on top of a folding table. And along with the table there were all sorts of things from a chemistry set spread all over the place. As close as I was from the amazing X-Ray Specs I still couldn’t resist, and I went and asked the boy what he was up to.


He explained that he was about to set off a volcano and that if I wanted to watch I could, but I would need to stand back. I looked at him like he was nuts, trying to tell me that he was going to make a volcano erupt just sounded weird. And of course I didn’t really believe him, but as the X-Ray Specs could tell you, it was a day for magic, so if I could see through clothes, why couldn’t this guy make a volcano.


I stood there for about five minutes when the older boy poured some kind of chemical into the cone and then lit a fuse on the bottom as well. Instantly the cone started oozing out this nasty looking red goo that looked like lava, but smelled really bad, and then the fuse hit its mark and a small set of firecrackers went off on the side causing part of the cone to collapse and sending the goo toward a small toy village at the bottom of the cone.


Suitably impressed, I asked the boy how he had done it and in a superior voice he told me that he was going to be a scientist and how he did it was nothing that some kid would understand. Insulted by his casual brush off I laughed and told him that I was just about to get my own little scientific miracle and that with-in the hour the power of X-Ray vision would be min and that they would be better then any stupid volcano. The older boy pushed me and told me to go away, or he would beat me up. And then he sneered at me and told me that he hoped that I enjoyed the X-Ray Specs, and that he just knew that they would be exactly what I hoped for.


Not really understanding why he was both threatening me and at the same time congratulating me, I just got on the bike and rode away. His words had bothered me, but I forgot them because the mall was just down the road. I had gotten here despite my parents, the distance and everything else, and I wouldn't let this one weird kid through me off.


The volcano was cool though, I will admit that. But the Mall was right there and soon, very soon I would finally have in my hands something far better then some stupid desktop volcano, in minutes, the X-Ray Specs would finally be mine.


Three

It was the afternoon when I turned my bike into the huge parking lot of the Pompano Mall, peddled across the parking lot and stopped right in front of the mall entrance. I hopped off the bike and quickly leaned it up against the wall. I wouldn’t be in for long, so I figured that the bike, especially beings a girls bike was safe, leaving it there, I rushed inside the mall.

The blast of cool air conditioning hit me and for just a minute I got a little dizzy. But quickly recovering, I practically ran while making my way across the hallway to the cart filled with magic tricks and practical jokes, and there on the very same hook it had been two days, right next to the joy buzzer and the whoopee cushions hung the incredible, the magical, the glorious X-Ray Specs, waiting just for me. With my heart leaping into my throat, I slammed my money on the counter, pointed to the X-Ray Specs and asked for my prize. The owner gave me a small smile took my money and handed me what I was certain was going to be the most amazing item modern science had ever created.

I had them; at last, the X-Ray Spectacles were mine and mine alone, I had managed against all odds to get across two towns and back to the mall to have for myself the wonder of the X-Ray Specs. Holding up the package, I looked once more at the tempting illustrated label and quickly tore it to shreds getting to my prize, until finally there I was holding the X-Ray Specs in my hands and ready for the magic they would bring me. Trembling with excitement I raised the glorious X-Ray Specs to my eyes, knowing that in just a few seconds I would be looking at a room full of skeletons if I even saw the hallway at all. I smiled with joy and with the X-Ray Specs, this most amazing of modern devices on my face, I opened my eyes.



Now childhood is often described in beautiful words, and loving phrases, it is often written about in happy and classic poems as a time of joy and innocence, a time when people live in a world of wonder and amazement, where each new days brings on a new discovery, a new way to see the world and the beauty of what is all around us. And who knows, somewhere for some children this might just even be true. But sometimes, okay, most times, childhood is really nothing more then an introduction to the harsh, mean spirited reality of the real world and the basic unfairness of life, and the first time that the world makes us their bitch, is certainly the hardest time of all.

When I opened my eyes, my eyes were opened. My innocence was lost, my sense of wonder dashed and the harsh reality of life was shoved down my throat, and the taste was bitter. Because when I opened my eyes, all I saw around me, was a mall.

No skeletons, no girls in their underwear, no transparent wall, nothing. I looked at a lady walking by and I didn’t see through her clothes at all, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t see anything at all out of the ordinary. I pulled off the glasses and examined them. At first I didn’t quite know what the filter in front of the eye pieces were but when I examined them I knew instantly what I was looking at. We had birds at home, so I certainly could tell what a feather was when I saw one.

The X-Ray Specs, that modern wonder of science, that glorious device that was going to open up the future to me and allow all of my dreams to come true was nothing but a dammed fraud, a fake a phony. I had been conned, lied to and cheated, my X-Ray Specs were total fakes and only then realizing that why they had been hanging on the joke rack was because I had fallen for the “gag”. After all my effort and time and the threat of punishment beyond belief, I had been had.

Leaving the mall, I slowly walked back to back to the stolen bike, the X-Ray Specs sitting loosely over my face as I kept on hoping against hope that somehow, my magical glasses would suddenly turn out to be real and begin finally to work. But by the time I got to the bicycle, lying on the ground exactly where I had dropped it just moments before and I sat down beside it. I looked at the useless paper glasses in my hand and began to cry.

I really tried to not blubber, but I just couldn’t help it. I had wanted those glasses more then anything ever in my entire life, and here they sat in my hand, nothing but a total fraud. All that planning, all that effort and it had all been for a lie. It had been just a colossal waste of an entire day for nothing but a bitter dose of reality. After a few moments, I finally pulled myself together and was soon just sniffling a bit. I looked at my prize, the amazing X-Ray Spectacles sitting in my hands and thought about everything involved with getting them. After another moment or two I took my magical, glorious, scientific wonder of the age, my incredible X-Ray Specs and threw them in the trash.]

I looked at the big clock hanging off of the main sign for the mall and saw that it was after
1:00, which meant that I still had plenty of time, but that I still needed to head back the other way. So I got on the stolen girls bike and started too slowly and with the weight of the world on my shoulder, make my way home. When I peddled past the house of the volcano boy he was still out in front of his parents garage working on some project, when I rode by he waved and laughed at me, but I didn’t even look at him. I was ashamed of my own ignorance and gullibility, but I wasn’t going to give him any satisfaction.

And so I began to peddle back toward home, back toward Spanish Oaks and managed to get past where my father worked and thorough most of
Deerfield Beach. But eventually I became to wear out as I had been riding hard all day so finally I decided that I needed to stop.

I parked in front of a diner along the road and went inside. I went up to the counter and ordered myself lemonade and some pumpkin pie. The waitress behind the counter was obviously surprised to have a 9 year old customer come in on his own, but I had money and she had pie, so that in the end I went through 6 pieces and had a happy full stomach that made me at least feel a little better about the disappointment of the X-Ray Specs.

I was getting ready to go, but all that pie managed to go through me pretty quick and suddenly I was in desperate need for a bathroom. I was in the one at the dinner for a good 10 minutes or so, reading the walls and trying to figure out what some of the words meant, but I felt much better when I came out. I said goodbye to the waitress, and even remembered to leave a tip like I was supposed to do. I walked outside of the diner and went over to where I had left the bike and it was nowhere to be seen. While I had been in the toilet, someone else had come along and stolen my stolen bike.

It was close to 4 and I was still several miles from home, I knew that I could walk it, but I also knew that without the bike it was going to take some real time. At least I still had my knapsack and money, but I was angry about the bike being taken from me and kind of sorry that whoever it had belonged to wasn’t going to get it back. But I didn’t really have to much time to think about that and started to hoof it back toward
Boca Raton and the little complex of Spanish Oaks.

Sometime after 5, after walking and running for what seemed like a marathon, I was finally close to the apartments, almost home, almost safe and sound when I suddenly realized that even though I was almost home, I was also on the wrong side of the river that ran along the side of the complex. And I also realized that the bridge to get across was more than a mile behind me in the other direction. It would take me forever to back track and then go back on the right side of the water and that I would never get home before my parents if I did.

I was starting to get a little panicked but before I could get too flustered, I looked over at a pile of boxes sitting in front of a house waiting for the garbage pick-up and saw sitting on a pile of trash exactly what I needed to get home in just a few minutes without any problems. There was a large box used to hold a new refrigerator and inside the box were several huge pieces of Styrofoam, one of which was more then large enough to work as a raft for me to cross the river to the safety of home. Hauling the large piece of foam as well as a smaller one to work as a paddle I placed the foam in the slow moving river and gave it a test to make sure it would hold my weight. I was right and the thick piece of foam easily held me and my stuff, so starting just a bit upriver from the apartment I hit the water and started to float across the river toward home.

The pie, the adventure of the day and now this unexpected river journey had done a lot to cheer me up and make me forget about the bitter disappointment of the X-Ray Spectacles, even if they were nothing more then a scam, at least I had gone and seen places that none of my friends, let alone my older brother would have dared to have gone. I set out alone and managed to take perfectly good care of myself. Here I was in the middle of the river, in charge of my life, in control. I felt this surge of pride in myself, this sense of self confidence and for the first time that day contentment. It was also at this very same moment that I saw the alligator that lived on the other side of the river from where we lived at Spanish Oaks slide into the water and begin to move at a leisurely, but steady pace toward me.

Now the alligator who lived across the river was an animal that all of the kids had seen, but or some reason none of the adults ever seemed to believe existed. My brother, me and our friend Smellyit Elliot had tired to use his dad’s Polaroid camera to take a picture one evening, but despite the loss of a Sunday roast to draw the gator near, our picture was a complete failure and we were never able to prove that the alligator was really there. But believe me, he was. It was this gator who had gone through fairly quickly the young swans with the clipped wings that the Oaks management had once placed by the river as a sales tool to show of the beauty of the area. It was this gator that had jumped out and tried to grab Micky Pierce but missed, and now as I said, it was the very same gator heading right toward me.

Grabbing the piece of foam I had brought along for a paddle I began to row toward shore with fast, full strokes. The gator was at least 100 yards away and the shore was maybe 30 feet away, but as I kept paddling to the shore, I clearly saw that the gator was getting closer to me much quicker then I was getting to the shore. I began to paddle harder and faster, trying to clear the distance before the gator got to me, and finally when I was only five feet or so I jumped from my improvised raft, had my feet barely touch the water and I landed on shore, making a quick side step as I landed to avoid stepping on a water moccasin lying on the shore soaking up the sun.

As I landed on ground I ran several feet past the shore and turned around just in time to see my foam raft torn to pieces as the gator bit into it and began spinning around in the water in its attempt to kill my transportation. For just a moment I sat there watching the gator from a safe distance, but then in the way that sometimes only kids can do, I just sort of shrugged my shoulders and walked across the grass and around the corner to my apartment, arriving home not five minutes before My Mom and Dad.

And so the story draws to a close with me safe and sound, no worse off then when I had left that morning, but no better off either. And that would be where everything would have ended, but there was one more little part that by the time I went to bed that night I had completely forgotten.

The very next morning, my father and mother woke me up in the morning with serious and slightly angry looks on their faces. Once I was awake, my mother asked me where I had been yesterday, and I told her that I had been at Spanish Oaks all day hanging out with my friends Jeff and Bobby. My father gave me an angry look and then asked me why if I had been at Spanish Oaks all day that I had managed to pose for the picture that was on the lower part of the front page of that morning’s paper?









Better yet, he wanted to know just whose bike that was I was riding anyways.

And so in the end the whole story came out from the joy of seeing the X-Ray Specs, the trip across town (I admit that I didn’t mention taking the money. I was caught, but I wasn’t stupid), the pictures, the volcano boy the bike being stolen out from under me, and even the meeting with the gator. My bottom was bright red for at least a day and I was grounded with neighbors keeping an eye on me for at least a month.

But I also remember late that night after getting caught, I was feeling all sad and put upon. My dad had found out the name of the people who I had taken the bike from and let them know that he was going to replace it, but that it pretty much wiped out the plan to get me a new bike for the Fall. So I wasn’t happy about that at all. The damm X-Ray Specs had brought me nothing but trouble and I wished that I had never seen them. It was well after I was supposed to be in bed, I got up to go to the bathroom and on my way, I heard my parents sitting in the kitchen laughing and talking. Listening in where they didn’t see me, I heard them both talking about my journey with a combination of frustration and anger, but also with more then a little bit of admiration and pride that I had taken it upon myself to pull something like that off.

I went to sleep that night happy and not caring about the bike, being grounded, my butt hurting or the embarrassment that the picture in the paper got my age wrong. I had thought that my trip to get the X-Ray Specs was a total disaster, but after hearing the tone in my fathers voice and the surprise in my mom’s, I realized that in fact I had gotten far more out of that mission, then I would ever have gotten from seeing though walls, though maybe still not as cool as seeing Nancy Craig’s undies.


1 comment:

  1. This is brilliant, and so is your blog - I don't visit it enough (and sorry for not commenting before to express my appreciation...)

    ReplyDelete