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Rant #492
(published June 24, 2010)
Nature Lessons
by Wayne Scheer
You ask: why don't you write about nature? Butterflies and trees, and the lessons we learn.

I answer: I'm a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn. What do I know from nature? In the summer, you open the windows; in the winter, you close them. What else is there to know?

As a boy, I knew if it was a sunny summer day, I could play stickball in the street. If it was raining, I was stuck indoors. That meant reading comics and Mad magazine, but I could always do that at night. Rain wasted precious playing time.

There was one good thing about the rain. When it stopped and the sun came out, my friends and I would get a cheap high by getting down on all fours and inhaling the steam off the sidewalk. I guess that means there's always an upside, even to rained out stickball games.

What? That's not enough nature talk? You want more?

On windy days, you never knew when a girl's dress might blow up and you could get a look at her underwear. So you should always be alert on windy days. I learned that as a kid, and it's still good advice.

Snow, too, presented opportunities, especially if you lived in an apartment house. You could make snowballs and drop them off the roof onto unsuspecting people. You had to be careful, though. I remember dropping a load of snow on some poor schmo, but he turned and ran up the five flights of stairs faster than Jackie Robinson stealing home.

The nutjob came at me like a mad dog. "Don't fucking mess with me, you little shithead." He wasn't much taller than I was, but he could beat the crap out of me. That I knew.

"I was just having fun, Mister," I pleaded. "It's just snow." I tried sounding tough, but I could hear my voice crack.

"Just snow? You could fucking hurt somebody with snow. I catch you doing that again, I'll turn you into a goddamn snowman."

I had no idea what that meant, but I was careful the next time I dropped snow off the roof not to hit anyone who looked like he could run up five flights of stairs and still beat the crap out of me.

Girls made safe targets.

What? That's not quite nature? Saving your skin isn't natural to you? Okay, I'll give you more

In the summer, Mr. Klein, who owned the grocery across the street from my apartment house, wore short sleeve shirts and he had the hairiest arms I ever saw. He also had a tattoo of an anchor on his forearm. My father told me he was in the navy during World War II. I remember Johnny Renzuli and me asked him about it once.

"Wish I had a tattoo like that, Mr. Klein," Johnny said, his eyes wide open. "When'd you get it?"

"The war." Mr. Klein was adding numbers on the side of a paper bag. He barely looked up at us.

"I hope there's another war when I get older," Johnny said, "so I can get me a tattoo."

Mr. Klein stopped what he was doing. "You want war?" He lifted his shirt and showed us a jagged scar running across his hairy belly to his chest. It was so ugly I remember it to this day.

"This is war," he said. "Only little boys and fools want war." He went back to his work and never said another word about it. I can't speak for Johnny, but I put away my toy soldiers after that.

School started back in the fall, so autumn wasn't my favorite season. But there was always the World Series to look forward to.

Brooklyn was a great place to be that time of year. The Dodgers and the Yankees always played in the Series. Well, maybe not always. But when the exception happened and they didn't play, like 1954, we called that a "Do Over year."

I always tried convincing my mother I was sick during the Series, so I could stay home to watch it on TV since most games were played during the day back then. I remember one time convincing her I was coming down with something when my father reminded her I had the World Series flu. "Come home straight from school," he said. "You could still catch the last few innings."

I remember rushing home. The game started at one and school ended at three thirty. I figured I'd be home by the seventh inning. As I was nearing my street, some loud mouth ran out of his apartment building shouting, "Larson pitched a perfect game! Larson pitched a perfect game!" Couldn't be, I thought. Sprinting the rest of the way, I made it home to the post-game wrap up with Happy Felton. Saddest day of my life. The Dodgers lost and I missed seeing a perfect game. I refused to talk to my father for the rest of the Series.

Okay, maybe that doesn't count as a nature lesson.

Did I already share the one about staying alert on windy days?

Wayne Scheer currently lives in the great state of Georgia. His short stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net; his collection of flash fiction, Revealing Moments, is available free online.

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