Saturday, March 20, 2010

The People Upstairs

I never had a dog when I was a child. My parents owned what was called an income house; a two story house with the upstairs being a unit unto itself. So essentially my folks were the landlords to the people living above us. The basement (or "cellar" as my New Jersey relatives refer to it) was common ground to both households. There were two large cages in the basement. These were used as storage facilities; one for us, one for the people upstairs. Ours held suitcases, Christmas decorations, "For Lease" signs, and an assortment of boxes of keepsakes and family memorabilia. The second cage was generally empty. My parents preferred renting the upstairs to recently married couples without children. These type of people rarely had extras that needed separate storage. They were generally starting out in life and had not yet accumulated enough furniture and other household items to fill a home, let alone a storage locker. I always thought that the second cage would be a perfect place to keep a dog. My parents did not agree. They did want a dog, in fear of its canine manners disturbing the people upstairs.

The People Upstairs! Those dastardly bastards that deprived me of a normal childhood. I lived the first fourteen years of my life walking on eggshells, trying not to disturb the people upstairs. "No, you can't have a radio. The people upstairs will hear it." "No, you can't play in the backyard. The people upstairs are hanging their clothes to dry." "No, you can't have friends over. There are people living upstairs." "Be quiet, Johnny, the people upstairs are gonna hear you." "Don't talk to the people upstairs unless they talk to you first. AND BE POLITE!"

When I was in fourth grade (the year the Beatles first appeared on Ed Sullivan) I had created some type of noise that could potentially drive out the tenants. I tried using the metal kitchen trash container for a drum. It had a hinged lid that opened with a foot peddle. It reminded me of a bass drum. After letting it slam shut five or six times in a row, my mother appeared. She was furious. As punishment for making the noise, she was going to throw out my comic books. It would also be a demonstration of the proper way a trash can should be used. She had a few comics in hand and was about to rip them up when I lunged to grab them from her. All I wanted to do was protect my comics. I had no intention of hitting my mother. Yet I did. It was an accident. While trying to get hold of the books, my mother turned away from me, and in doing so, my reaching hand struck her shoulder. She was not harmed, except for her Motherly dignity.

Needless to say, when my father got home from work that night, I was given a spanking. My father kept a well-maintained razor strop for just such an emergency. I never seen my father use anything other than a safety razor for shaving. To my knowlege he never possessed a single bladed collapsible razor, the kind professional barbers hone to sharpness with a strop. I can only assume the reason he kept a strop was for corporal punishment of his child. His father had used a strop on him, so in a way he was keeping alive a family tradition. Funny how my parents never worried about disturbing the people upstairs during my screams and cries when being punished.

That was the only time in my life that I had hit my mother. And I strongly reiterate "it was completely by accident." Yet, up until the day she died some thirty years later, everytime we got in a disagreement my mother would say, "Go ahead. Hit me again!"

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