Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Oct 02 2008

Biscayne Blvd

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Google’s street view has recently been extended to include another one of the places I grew up: our house in El Lago, Texas, seen above.

I spent six long years in Texas in the late 70’s, from 2nd grade at Edward H. White Elementary through 6th at the hellish Seabrook Intermediate School (Home of the Spartans, where we had to wear purple gym outfits). I had been quite happy in Orlando prior to the move, but it seemed that my parents viewed their time in the Houston area prior to my birth as a kind of golden age they hoped to repeat. Also, my dad’s job as an aerospace engineer required it.

History was not to repeat itself, at least not as far as I was concerned. Houston, and America in general in the late 70s, was apparently a far cry from the heyday of Space-based optimism and good taste of the 60’s. I was yanked out of 1st grade at Dommrich Elementary halfway through the year and put into a dismal, dark, violent school in Texas where being the new kid just meant fresh meat for the other students. We moved first into a small house a block from the bay of Houston, but after nearly being flooded out during a hurricane (thanks to which our ’73 Pinto “Squire” Wagon rusted out enough that it didn’t end up being my first car) we moved to the two-story house, built in 1960, on Biscayne Blvd. shown above. We’d been looking at a dreary place across the street for some reason, as I recall, when we noticed the for sale sign. It was painted dark brown, with a red door. After we moved in we painted it mustard yellow, re-roofed it and eventually did something with the foundation that I never understood. The back yard was huge and full of trees as well as a semicircular garden, a portion of railed wooden fence and a tool shed. In the living room we put down puke-green carpet (a fortunate color as our Cairn Terrier Bobby often puked on it), with yellow linoleum in the kitchen, later replace with fake brick linoleum. The den, of course, was covered in wood, with a rope carpet coiled in front of our giant Zenith.

My brother Kevin and I shared one of the upstairs bedrooms at first (the upper window on the right), but after our sister left for college at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacadoches, I got her old room (the one on the left), which was next to the attic over the garage and painted excessively blue. I’d have wondered if that had an influence on my personality or predilection for early blues, but Texas was more than enough of a reason all by itself.

Whereas in Florida I’d managed to make a few friends and had a pretty positive outlook on life, I was instantly and spectacularly unpopular in Texas. Uncaring teachers turned a blind eye to most of the fights I got into, and I got into plenty. I destroyed my lunchboxes by kicking them down the hall. I explored storm sewers and old graveyards with my Husky “Bandit” bmx bike during rainstorms. I failed English in 5th grade after my teacher, Mrs. Van Artsdalen, who was always sporting some kind of racquetball injury, seemed to have assumed that I had done a project that I actually hadn’t done, and I was disinclined to disabuse her of the notion, so I just went along. Not an ideal strategy. In fact, most of my strategies didn’t work out at the time. My strategy for losing a fight was to refuse to give in even though my attacker was straddling my head and beating my face, thus prolonging said beating.

At the end of one year at Ed White, I was ambushed by a group of kids who scattered my belongings over the adjacent field. As I was running around trying to gather the papers flying in the wind, an older man approached. When I explained what had happened, he cussed me out for making him think there was some kind of emergency. The ambush point was a sidewalk bottleneck in the neighborhood, the only way to get from one half of the neighborhood to the other. It was the point past which, if I could make it in time, I knew I’d be reasonably safe from, say, Russell Puchinski’s fists.

I spent most of my years on Biscayne Blvd alone, except for the occasional company of a small asthmatic boy named Richard Koester who laughed at my jokes. Both my parents worked, and soon enough my brother went to Texas A&M. I had a key to let myself in after school.

My years in Texas had an effect on my personality. I’d say they were the biggest influence, actually. I had become withdrawn and suspicious, disinclined to respond to other people. I figured that if I was to have no friends, I would just learn how to enjoy being alone. My parents even sent me in for counseling at the University of Houston, which produced nothing except a report detailing the fact that I liked riding by myself in the back of the Pinto. I hated having to wear cowboy boots and large belt buckles, I hated the mandatory square dance classes in gym, the sadistic coaches, the occasional suspensions and the visits to Principal Haas.

There were some good things, though, I have to admit, small things like my shiny “astronaut” jacket, and when the Shuttle Enterprise flew over our schoolyard on the back of a 747. Our cat, which bore the unimaginative moniker “Grey Kitty”. Christmas concerts at Jones Hall downtown, followed by hot cider at the old houses downtown. Reading Gone-away Lake while eating sandwiches in the backyard fort. Picking and eating berries by the field when I was able to get away from the bullies. Buying gum and MAD magazines at the U-Totem or the Stop-N-Go. Going down to the yacht sales yard with my dad and pretending that we were going to buy a huge boat. Saving up $1.29 for a new Matchbox car from Lack’s that I would lose in the mud of the foundation work around the house. Whenever I hear the song “The Things We Do for Love,” I’m brought back to a more ideal version of that time.

But these things were few and far between. The general reality, the day-to-day mean nature of the people around me just wore me down. The boys across the street ran over my sister’s kitten with a car, on purpose. My parents quarreled with her and my brother, both of whom were too much older than I to really be friends, and with our grandparents when they came to visit. I couldn’t get away from the bullies at school during the day, and I listened to my AM radio in bed at night. I read a lot and made recordings of TV show themes onto cassette tapes.

In fifth grade I was relentlessly bullied and then suddenly, mysteriously befriended by two kids, Steve Smith and Mike Kopel. But our strange friendship only lasted a few months, during which I never overcame my suspicion that it was all going to turn out to be a big joke; after sixth grade ended we moved back to Florida (I never told my new friends I was leaving; I just disappeared), a move I had been yearning for for what seemed like an eternity.

We moved back to Florida in 1981, which I saw as a dream come true. At that point, Florida had become a paradise in my mind, a place where I had had friends and good weather, not to mention Disney World. But things weren’t that simple. I wasn’t the same kid that had left Orlando in first grade. Though I didn’t get into nearly as many fights, I found myself having trouble making friends again. It wasn’t the paradise I had envisioned. The people there hadn’t changed; I had.

I suppose I should be happy that we did eventually move away. Who knows how I would have turned out if we had stayed. But then again maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference; after all, the damage had already been done.

posted by Poagao at 6:48 am  


  1. You turned into a good man, TC. An irritating, withdrawn, sarcastic bastard — my kinds a’ people.
    You did just fine, actually. I’m proud to call you a friend (on my good days, that is. Other times, you’re “that fucking twat down the street.”)

    Comment by sandman — October 2, 2008 @ 7:49 am

  2. Thanks, Sandy.

    Comment by Poagao — October 2, 2008 @ 12:18 pm

  3. I was quite moved by this and think you are courageous to post it.

    Comment by Prince Roy — October 4, 2008 @ 10:08 am

  4. Courageous or stupid, I don’t know which, but I’m glad I was able to get some of it across.

    Comment by Poagao — October 4, 2008 @ 1:30 pm

  5. This could be turned into a novel or a script like “stand by me”.

    Comment by Ray — October 5, 2008 @ 11:09 am

  6. This is truly a touching story about your childhood. These are the kind of posts I like to read better than anything else. I hope we get to read more. It takes courage to post about your past. I’m really impressed with your honesty. Thanks for sharing, TC.

    Comment by Carrie — October 9, 2008 @ 1:17 am

  7. Ray: ha.

    Carrie: Glad you liked reading about it. It’s something I’ve (obviously) thought about a lot over the years.

    Comment by Poagao — October 9, 2008 @ 2:54 am

  8. how could your parents let you get bullied like that? didn’t your mom at least have sympathy for you? what is going on with your family now?

    Comment by v — October 10, 2008 @ 11:17 pm

  9. That’s another story, V. And I should admit that I was the instigator of at least some of those fights. Despite my best efforts, I’m afraid Texas gave me a bit of a mean streak.

    Comment by Poagao — October 10, 2008 @ 11:24 pm

  10. Hey, I’m glad to have come across this website. I read your book about time in the ROC army a few year back. It’s cool and interesting.

    I’m ABC and I grew up in Houston, Texas. Sorry to hear about your Texas experience. Where did you live in Texas? If it’s Houston, where did you go to school? I grew up in Alief. Just curiou!


    Comment by Lee shih — October 26, 2008 @ 10:35 pm

  11. Sorry, I started reading the blog form the middle of the writing. So, obvious;y, I didn’t need to ask those questions. Sorry.

    Comment by Lee shih — October 26, 2008 @ 10:38 pm

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