Cousin X: Skippy (1950s-60s)

 

Cousin X: Skippy 

I referred to Skippy, whose real name was Robert, as being my cousin, despite the fact that we not really related to each other. But since both his father and mother respectively became Godparents to my brother and sister, and because Skippy’s mother, Margaret was my mother’s best friend, I guess that made it close enough to be real family.

None of this was my idea in the first place, but rather a relationship my parents had invented before I was born, probably because Skippy’s father and my father were World War II buddies, which was good enough to make them blood brothers connected to the same umbilical cord. Anyone who knows the real truth about it is either now dead or senile, and even though I repeatedly questioned its fallacy, I never got a straight answer. The truth became a rhetorical question.

Skippy got his nickname because his parents had saved money for him in a Skippy Peanut Butter jar, meaning there was nothing either Protestant or Italian about his moniker but was rather just an inside joke between his parents. Even if they had intimately reminisced about peanut butter and jelly having had something to do with the night of his conception, they always held that card close to the vest. Then again that was how it was with the spate of babies born after the veterans came home from the war. The men were horny, the women were sex starved and the country was making up for a great deal of lost time and many lost lives.

I couldn’t say Robert when I was a toddler so it came out instead as “Burr.” He couldn’t say Alan, so his interpretation came out as “Ado.” Neither of us could say hello either with that word then coming out as “Ho.” We greeted each other for our entire lives with:

  • “Ho Burr” and “Ho Ado.”

Skippy was a free spirit who was born to run.

He could not conform at all to norms or normal behavior and was always in trouble for something. Or in finding any excuse to go to extremes not to help around the house or to study, made him the complete antithesis of Little Jimmy

He also had asthma, which may have evoked excessively effusive parental sympathy for him as a child, and was a disability that laid the enabling groundwork for the numerous excuses that forgave any aberrant behavior. Sucking up to that big nipple then, Skippy really knew how to play the sick or sickly card. For example, it was oddly peculiar how the “grass pollen” inducing asthma always became worse on the day it was time to cut the lawn, such that his father, Nick, usually ended up behind the lawn mower.

What his parents didn’t know was that Skippy also knew how to self-induce wheezing, one day not only confirming that fact, but also giving me a private demonstration by sticking his finger down his trachea

It was ghastly. First he turned blue, then he couldn’t breathe, then his mother became frantic after the pseudo-alarm bells went off. 

This enabled behavior was similar to that of a drug addicted; hepatitis-C positive patient I once knew who also had advanced coronary disease, all facts that he used to repeatedly call 911 with a pseudo-complaint of chest pain. Then he would embellish the scene by running into the dense woods behind his house and flop down until he was finally ferreted out then dragged into the Emergency Room where he got the intravenous narcotics and sedatives he was craving in the first place. After falling for this one a few times the ambulance drivers refused to chase him into the woods anymore, called him out with bullhorns and told him if he wanted a ride he would have to show himself. 

One day when he did not want to go to school, Skippy woke up, dissolved some chocolate in his mouth, ran into the bathroom while his father was shaving and pretended to violently throw up old digested blood into the toilet. It might have worked except for the fact that his father happened to have a nose that could easily detect the smell of Hershey’s chocolate, at which point Skippy was loaded into the car and personally hand delivered to the school. 

When my father put braces on him, he progressively and systematically ripped little parts of them off his teeth, and then later never wore his retainer.

He did not take well to tooth pain, so my father eventually had to give up on manufacturing a straight smile and handed him over to another dentist out of pure frustration. Skippy could have cared less about having crooked fangs, so he simply took the second set of braces off too. 

His parents sent him to parochial school where he managed to get expelled from The Arch Bishop Stepinac High school for flushing cherry bombs down the toilets that blew up the pipes halfway down the interior walls. 

He was always on the wrong side of the authorities, but his saving grace was his absolutely wonderful personality. He was always happy, cheerful, funny, and seductive in a natural way that disarmingly put everyone around him at ease by making them laugh. You could not get mad at him, or if you did, you could not stay mad at him for long because he fixed everything by joking you to death. 

He also had a wild imagination and lived completely in a fantasy world, which made the time that I spent with him both highly enjoyable as well as fantastically unpredictable. Because we lived about an hour car ride apart, when we did get together it was usually for the entire day.

Sometimes I would be greeted with a long staged puppet show, or sometimes an afternoon of artfully contrived games, but whatever the case I knew I would never be bored.

On one visit to my house our mothers gave us two or three dollars, told us to walk to the store to get some Popsicles, Fudgesicles, and Creamsicles, then to bring them straight home. They were ten or twenty cents each.

It was a ferociously hot day and both mothers were looking forward to a nice cool treat that everyone could share. On the way to the store, Skippy explained that there was no reason to get twenty items when we could get two or three hundred items of penny candy for the money; as well as touting the logic that the ice cream would melt by the time we got home, thus rather easily convincing my brother and myself to indulge in the candy scenario.

However, he next proceeded to extend the logic one step further by persuading us that because we were specifically defying our mother’s instructions, we should sit and eat all the candy before we got home; tell our mothers the ice cream melted, ask for more money and then go back to the store again. We then proceeded to eat one hundred penny candies each while sitting on a hill by a highway watching the traffic go by.

Three green-gilled little boys without the ice cream in tow or anything else to show for it either arrived home late to face the wrath of two overheated mothers who had also been expecting a cool treat for themselves and our sisters. They also did not buy into the fabricated story; which broke down miserably after triple and separate interrogations.

We were all punished for being selfish and although I shamefully took it all to heart it just typically rolled off Skippy’s back like beaded water off the feathers of a duck.

His hardheaded and occasionally impractical side was demonstrated on the day that my cousin Byron, my brother, Skippy and I went for a hike in the woods behind our house.

We had stepped into a nest of yellow jackets that swarmed up to give us all numerous nasty bee stings, forcing us to run as fast as we could out of the woods and down the hill behind the house seeking the safety of our basement. The only problem was that after reconnoitering Skippy was nowhere to be seen.

His mother was beside herself with concern that he may have had an allergic reaction to the bees envisioning him dying a lonesome death under the tree canopies in terminal bronchospasm, just gasping away blue faced into eternity.

Of course none of us faint hearted boys who had escaped the swarm and abandoned him wanted to go back to see what had happened. But then about ten minutes later Skippy sauntered in.

As a result of the stings his face was blown up to twice its normal size making his eyes into little slits. When things settled down and he was asked why he didn’t run away with us, he said he had heard on TV that if a person remains perfectly quiet or doesn’t move the bees will not bite you and will leave you alone. He thought if he did that they would be going after us instead, making it so much for that theory as well being even on the score of our individual or collective self-sacrifice and guilt.

One day when I was about twelve when we visited his house in Scarsdale, Skippy told my brother and me that the entire day would be devoted to a fabulous pirate treasure hunt.

He had drawn a map, with a long laid out trail culminating in an X, and told us to “follow the leader.” Because he possessed the paper scroll and we were on his home territory there was no choice but to obey, so we then spent the entire day following the map’s instructions, tromping around Scarsdale making all of Skippy’s social stops, lighting a campfire in the woods, fighting each other with our plastic swords, walking the plank, and swash buckling our way through a typical afternoon’s pirate adventure.

All day long he kept telling us how great the treasure was going to be having led us to believe there was something valuable he wanted to share with his loyally faithful pirate crew. He had carefully built the anticipation to a great crescendo, but as the day wore on, the map seemed to be bringing us closer and closer to our starting point, where in fact the final stop was full circle back to his house. We then climbed the attic stairs where the map had finally directed us to a loose floorboard painted with a red X which when pried loose revealed a small wooden pirate’s treasure chest.

By this time my brother and I were climbing over each other to see what was in it as we breathlessly waited while Skippy opened the box to give us our reward. He said:

Go ahead. Take it. The treasure is all yours.

Nestled inside the box, neatly wrapped in purple velvet cloth were two small golden cylinders that my brother and I couldn’t wait to unwrap. However when we picked them up for closer inspection the dismal discovery was two partially desiccated dog turds that he had sprayed with gold paint. It was a veritable fortune in Fool’s Gold.   

If we had real swords we might have killed him on the spot, but because we were laughing so hard at the absurdity, it was impossible to really feel very murderous.

All in all it was a good lesson about the rewards that sometimes go with blind devotion or unquestioned faith. When I told my mother the story she said to go re-read the story of the Pied Piper; but only after I washed my hands.

At the end of every rainbow there is a pot of gold.

 

And if you believe that one I recently heard about an antique bridge in Brooklyn that was just posted for auction at Sotheby’s. Bidding opens later today.

 

Rainbow

 

 

Joke them if they can’t take a fuck

(Robin Williams)

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