Thursday, March 27, 2014

Still King of the Playground

Not Danny Boy (although the crown would fit)

My siblings and I grew up on the mean streets of San Francisco's Sunset District ... where "mean" translates to Funyuns and red cream soda, a four-block stroll to the Pacific Ocean and smoking bammer weed in the baseball field by the library.

Tough stuff.

Well, some stuff was hard.

Our mother (known with deep admiration as Whore Mouth), came from a large Irish family.  She had nine brothers and sisters.  These were our Drunk Uncles.  All beer and bloody knuckles.  The Aunts could be equally ferocious.  We were simultaneously fascinated and fearful.  Motown music was the soundtrack of our childhood.  Spankings were delivered with the crack of a wooden spoon, often accompanied by a swift pop to the mouth.  Dinner was often a pickled jalapeno wrapped in a blistered flour tortilla.  We can tell you twenty ways to cook ramen noodles, another hundred for hamburger.

Our father was an addict of extraordinary proportions.  Do you want to be woken up at two in the morning to discuss life on other planets?  No?  Too bad.  One day he was a roofer, the next an aspiring drummer.  Rarely did he have a paycheck and if he did, it was spent on one extravagant meal that consisted of jumbo shrimp, three kinds of grapes and a bowl of cocaine to be split amongst friends.  He would fight with our Mom singing, "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead," which you secretly thought was funny until he'd leave for four days and you were left with the pissed off, over-worked carcass of a woman who thought bleaching walls on a Sunday was family therapy.  He had the heart of a hobo and would have been tremendously successful at that if the women in his life would have just let him.

And while the Uncles fought each other, the women fought their men and chaos was the only constant, we, the wild kids of this clan, played outside all day long.  To be caught inside meant you would spend the next three hours disinfecting the bathroom, scrubbing grout lines with an old toothbrush or moving furniture for no particular reason.  So outside was where we were, doing whatever we could think of that didn't cost any money.  The result:  whipped cream wars, mud fights, flag football and bikes without brakes (who needs brakes when you have two feet?).

It's definitely a memory lane full of beautiful and sometimes scary things.  But we all managed to grow up and become relatively normal with a relatively law-abiding outlook on life (I say the latter under my breath and without much conviction).  Only one of us, however, has been able to remember what it's like to play.  To actually play for the fun of it and not because you're too tired to say no when the kids keep begging you and your eyes glaze over and you finally give in to a Jenga tournament.  I don't know what the definition of play is, but I know who knows how to do it.  It's the oldest among us, the one and only Danny Boy, aka Deputy Dan, aka Brick Head.

Danny Boy is shaved down to his skull and stands just over six feet tall.  Inked from the neck down, his tattoos tell a story of faith, a deep love for his family and his thirteen years spent in the California prison system.  This might not be the man you expect to devote two hours every night playing with his niece and nephew but there he is, hiding under a bush, armed with only a Nerf gun and a prayer.  He painstakingly created a war zone in my front yard.  A world in which my children take on Middle Eastern names and waterboard each other in the garage.  On more than one occasion I have seen the interrogation of my son -- his hands tied behind his back, a blanket over his head, unwilling to give up U.S. intelligence while being told he is American scum.  So, I have to ask myself, how can a man who spent so many years incarcerated, tap into that tiny fraction of fun buried deep in your adult soul?

I'm stumped.  

Make no mistake, Danny Boy is no Sunday school teacher.  You still don't want to call him a chump.  Certainly don't call him a bitch.  Don't mess with his family or his money.  He's a Say What You Mean And Mean What You Say kind of guy.  Still, he's more than willing to hide in your closet until you go to bed and then scare the shit out of you right before you fall asleep.  Although now that I think about it, that's more along the lines of terrorism.

I may write, but he's the real storyteller, the real comic.  And I suppose I just have to admit that he's still the fun one, still King of the Playground.  


  1. WOW!! That brought me waaaay back !! As I read this I'm thinking I need a baloney sandwich on rye with orange sunkist soda OR some salami with liverwurst on a piece of french bread ( I prefer the heel!) go ahead and put some white american cheese on that !!

  2. Turkey and rice soup for days ....