THE DAY I ARRIVED ON PLANET EARTH
There were two things I hadn’t got used to about my father’s small Toyota truck—the smell of cigarette smoke and the condensation on the tan vinyl. It was humid in Houston, something else I wasn’t used to, and moisture seemed to permeate everything.
I was twelve years old that foggy fall morning. It was my first day of seventh grade and my father was dropping me off at school, on his way to work at the family roofing company. I had no idea what new world I was about to step into, I was just looking forward to getting back to my Rambo action figures.
Located on the southwest side, Jane Long Middle School had a horrible reputation. It was the school the kids from BBH were bussed to. BBH stood for Bad Boys Home, which was the nickname for the local juvenile detention center. This meant there were several older kids at the school, aged fifteen and up. But I knew none of this on that first day.
As we approached the fenced-in concrete-block compound of the school, I started looking for the horses. This was Texas, after all, and a newly-transplanted blonde-haired boy from California, raised on a solid diet of Hollywood, certainly knew cowboys were from Texas and cowboys rode horses.
As for myself, I was all gussied up in a big ol’ felt cowboy hat with a feathered band, a shiny silver buckle slapped onto a cowhide leather belt with my name stenciled on the back, and brown leather Durango cowboy boots. I wasn’t sure what embarrassed me more, the fact I wasn’t wearing spurs or the fact I’d be getting dropped off in front of school in a truck, an import at that, instead of riding up on a pony like the Lone Ranger.
As we approached the front of the school, I started to get the jitters. I hadn’t yet seen a single horse or any stalls or even a corral on the school grounds. As my father came to a stop to let me out, what slapped me across the arse like a bullwhip was the realization I hadn’t seen a single cowboy at all.
Maybe they’re in the back, I thought. Maybe there’s a barn back there.
“Alright, son, go on. Have a good day,” my father said in his lazy drawl as I opened the door of his Tacoma.
Hearing the word “son” come from his mouth still didn’t sound natural. We met only a few weeks ago, so I was still getting used to hearing another man call me that.
There was a throng of kids hanging around the front entrance of the school, waiting for the doors to be unlocked. As soon as I stepped out of the truck and shut the door behind me, I could hear their laughter. I looked back and my father’s truck had already sped off. There I stood, looking like Howdy Doody in a cloud of dust, with a hundred pair of eyes and pointed fingers at me, kids falling over each other in hysterics at the sight of my getup.
I ran back to my father’s small blue house on Carvel, the one with the white trim and well-manicured yard, my boots clomping on the sidewalk giving me blisters on my heels, tears blurring my vision. I waited in the backyard all day until he came home from work.
He laughed when I told him about it. Of course, it was my idea. I had moved to Texas and I was going to be a cowboy, wasn’t I? Never mind the fact my father, at thirty-one years old, should’ve had the wherewithal to guide me in another direction. But, poor guy, he was probably just as disconnected from reality as I was. Though I was told he was “a schizophrenic” I didn’t understand what that meant, but I knew something was off that very moment he laughed about my humiliating wake-up call in front of what felt like the entire school body.
Fortunately, he understood I needed some new clothes pronto. I almost convinced him to send me to another school, instead he let me stay home for a few days. In the meantime, my grandmother Honey took me to JC Penny and I got some Levi’s 501s, some polo shirts, and a pair of red Chuck Taylors.
I also called my dad in Fresno and asked him to ship me some clothes I left behind. See, since I was moving to Texas and was becoming a cowboy, what need would I have of them plaid Bermuda shorts, my white Vuarnet sunglasses, my Sideout volleyball shirts, all of that west coast surfer stuff I used to wear? I gave several t-shirts to my friends, then boxed the rest for Dad to hold onto.
I even got my blonde locks buzzed off by a barber my father took me to. He was an older guy, balding, and the hand he worked the clippers with was more claw than hand, as three fingers got blown off by a short-fused grenade he threw in World War II. He told me this story when he saw my eyebrows raise when he approached me with the clippers in his claw and a lit cigarette perched between his soup coolers.
I made a call to Dad in California. He immediately sent a box of my clothes along with a brand new G&S Neil Blender skateboard, one of the coolest decks in 1986, so I could ride to school.
At this point, if you’re confused about who I’m referring to as my Dad and who I’m referring to as my Father, good. You’re not confused, you’re paying attention. I was certainly confused about all that for the first twelve years of my life.
I was adopted. But I was never told as much. An attempt was made by a social worker when I was five, but he sat down in a little red plastic chair in my bedroom and broke it, so whatever business he came there to handle was promptly forgotten. And it was never discussed again. But when my parents split in June of 1986, my mother told me I was adopted.
Two weeks later I was on a PanAm flight to Houston to meet my biological father.
Two weeks after that I was living with him.
Meanwhile, my mother packed up and moved the rest of our lives to Texas. Gone were the dreams of going to Tenaya Junior High with my friends in Fresno, me dressed like a wannabe Sinjin Smith.
Instead, I was a baby-faced geek going to Juvenile Hall Junior High dressed like Conway Twitty about to perform at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Two weeks later I got knocked out by a big black chick with fists the size of holiday hams. We were in the hallway, standing at our lockers. I was so oblivious, I didn’t know she was there. I popped my combo lock off that steel door and swung it open, smacking her on the forehead. She stood over me until I was in her shadow, and I watched her fat hand reach up near the ceiling lights and then, like playing Whac-a-Mole, she brought that mallet of a fist down on top of my head. My teeth clacked, my eyes rolled back, knees buckled, and I slid to the floor in a crumpled heap. The poor gal immediately picked up my limp body and held me in a bear hug, bouncing me up and down with my legs jangling beneath me, till I came to. As my eyelids fluttered, I could barely hear her apologies over the cacophony of laughter and the sea of pointed fingers around us.
Two weeks after that I joined THE THRASHERS to prevent any further knockouts.