TWO SPANKINGS and a Martian Invasion
All Original Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
Throughout my uneventful childhood, I was always "a good boy". Too good, really; a halo, not visible to the naked eye, floated above my head, at all times. I was bless-ed in my Mother’s eyes, and wore "Fruit of Thy Womb" underwear.
Maybe that's why nothing exciting ever happened in my life, apart from a few memorable nightmares. And in some respects, I enjoyed those thoroughly, like a free pass to my own Horror movie. I had no cause to fear anything, except social situations and gym class, and I was definitely never traumatized. I was only spanked twice, and I certainly deserved it. I never forgot those two occasions, even though, they really didn't hurt me.
The first time, I was standing outside of my house in Berkley. I was five, whiling away a lazy afternoon by throwing rocks at cars. Don't ask why; but it seemed like a good idea, at the time. To fully appreciate the situation, you must realize that cars passed our house at the rate of only two or three a day. One might better say that I was standing beside the deserted road, in front of our house, for an eternity, waiting in vain for a car to pass, with a ready rock clutched in my sweaty little hand! Finally a car did mosey by, and I let the missile fly!
In what was, possibly, the best throw of my life, before or after, the rock sailed though the air and broke the windshield of the passing car. The vehicle screeched to a halt. The door flew open, and from it emerged an angry soldier, in full uniform, and full pursuit, as I ran for my life. Fortunately, I had my wits about me, so I headed for my own front door, which was nearby! And once inside I hid behind the sofa. While I shook with fear, I heard my mother answering the door. There was some shouting, and then, I overheard both my parents arranging to compensate the soldier for the broken windshield. The last thing I can remember is being “helped” out from behind the couch to apologize to him... I believe his rank was “Private”. My punishment was “Corporal”!
My second "spanking" was, actually, more like a kicking. One might call it a close encounter with aggressive footwear. It took place, three years later. My father never lost his temper with me, perhaps, because I had never given him any reason to be angry.
One of the creative things he liked to do was pad the walls of our house on Seven Mile Road. It was one of his uniquely strange Art Forms. He had turned the "den" into a padded cell, using a method of his own invention.
This consisted of 12" square panels of quarter inch plywood, padded with a layer of cotton batting and covered with marble patterned beige "leatherette", tacked in place around the back edge, and bulging out in the front. He had a little magnetic hammer and tiny little upholstery tacks that took forever to place on the tip of the hammer and pound in, one by one. Sometimes he held the tacks in his mouth and fished them out, one at a time, magnetically. I must admit his technique was impressive. There were no staple guns, back then.
Next, using longer nails, carefully placed in the outermost corners of each finished padded square, he attached them to the wall, diagonally. Then a large brushed steel button tack, the size of a quarter, was hammered in at the intersections, where the four corners met, to produce a quilted effect and hide the nails. This effort remained unfinished, behind the curtains. But who looked behind the curtains, anyway? The Final Padded Cell effect was every bit as dramatic in our den, as it had been in the movie, "Snake Pit".
Now, on the stairs, going down to the basement, he did another thing. This consisted of covering the entire walls with large panels of plywood padded with cotton batting and covered in bright yellow leatherette. On these he drew strange things that looked like accidental modern art. His pride and joy was one he called, "Man Smelling a Flower". These drawings he outlined in dotted lines, made up of 1/4" diameter brass multi faceted upholstery tacks. He padded a wall for me, as well, down in the basement. On it, I drew Dumbo, about to fly off the edge of a cliff, and he promised to tack it for me. I was only 8 years old. But I could draw a pretty decent Dumbo!
To surprise me, he started on my Dumbo, one day while I was at school. When I got home, I heard the tapping in the basement, and rushed downstairs. There he was, adding horrible fluffy clouds of his own creation, and another man smelling a flower to my Dumbo scene. I was Mortified! So, as I ran upstairs to tell my mother, I stopped to pull a few of the tacks out of his art on the landing. They came out pretty easily, just with my fingernails, so I pulled out a few more, and then a few more, until he caught me, and went berserk!
I guess all the years pent up rage, [He never vented his anger] burst forth, and he "lost it". He chased me out onto the front lawn. I could run about as well as I played baseball. "Pop" was no athlete either, but unfortunately, I tripped and fell. The next thing I knew, he was cursing and kicking me. Leila heard the ruckus and made him stop. Nothing was really hurt, except my pride.
I don't know how I got onto this, but what I was intending to say is that I wished for Fear, Excitement, even Danger to enter my life. I radiated to anything extra-ordinary that said there was something more to life than met the eye. And I was especially, fascinated with the innocent harmless things that were, for some reason, as much comical as evil, deemed to be "Forbidden".
No one ever traumatized me in any respect. I did it to myself, for Fun and Excitement. Fear, Danger and Adventure were always lurking. And often, Bucky and I together, would explore the darkest possibilities of cataclysmic mishap. We took great joy in thinking up ways to scare ourselves, and schemed great schemes, that always went awry, to bring strange and frightening events into the lives of others.
Therefore, we were forever making monsters, usually utilizing rubber masks. I still have a photo of myself with one of our creations, inspired by the Crypt Keeper from E.C. Comics. It was made with a rubber mask and rubber hands and, literally, a mop of hair. That's, not so little, me, leaning against the tree. Bucky was behind the camera.
Many of our most insidious ideas were derived from the movies. I remember one so-so film, called, "The Devil Bat". After seeing that, we proceeded to construct a giant bat from balsa wood and tissue paper, painted black. Well, actually, I made the bat. I was best at making monsters; Bucky was best at making mischief. This was intended to be suspended from a wire. Alas, its wings didn't move, like in the movie. It was, in fact, more like a kite. I installed a two flashlight bulbs for eyes. We never got around to purchasing the wire, or figured out how to propel it. So, in the end, like most of our ideas, it never took flight.
Another project that was more fully realized was rather clever. It consisted of a giant Martian head. Its eyes were two tin cans with tennis balls inside. The fuzzy tennis balls were painted to look "blood-shot" and arranged on vertical axels, connected by a length of rope that could be operated from below, so the eye-balls could "look", from side to side. This rather large creation was almost two feet wide, and mounted on a twelve foot pole. Then I painted it in garish tones of red-orange and chartreuse Day-Glo.
The idea was to bring the head to nearby homes, and let it look through second story windows. One night, we actually did this, taking turns, holding it up to neighbor's windows, while the other pulled the rope. House after house, we continued, until our arms were tired. Fortunately, nobody noticed! Maybe there was no one home. Finally, like most of our inventions, we had fun testing it on each other, and imagining how scary it might be to others. I wonder what would have happened if any of our efforts actually proved effective, and we were discovered. There might have been another spanking!
Lest, you get the wrong idea, this was all just Kid stuff. But it added a soupcon of wonder and pending adventure to the dull world of Detroit. We hungered for supernatural adventure; and were prepared for anything!
One day, for instance, Bucky and I were just sitting around the “rumpus room”, when we heard a strange noise, a Loud Noise, outdoors. It seemed to shake the ground and reverberate through the air. This was in the middle of a hot summer afternoon, and we had never heard anything like it, before. It was not unlike a sound that one might hear, while standing next to a piece of construction equipment that produced, for reasons I could only imagine, a thumping on the ground. THUMP, THUMP, THUMP! We were certain that we felt the earth shaking, as the sound went on and on, resounding through the neighborhood.
Part pretending, and part believing, we managed to convince ourselves that this was a Martian Invasion, and what we heard were Giant Martian Robots, heading in our direction. We were not surprised. We had anticipated such an occurrence, for years; and now it was happening!
And so, we worked ourselves up into an exhilarating state of Panic, Terror, and Glee, as enormous robot feet stomped relentlessly towards us, getting ever closer. As the thundering footfalls grew louder, a high-pitched whining or whistling joined the cacophony, and all the wires on all the telephone poles in the neighborhood began to buzz and vibrate in unison. Bucky and I cautiously peered out into the sunlight from behind the "Man O' War" horse patterned curtains. We scanned the treetops and the roof of his house next door, eager, and at the same time afraid, to get our first glimpse of the hideous robot heads, the instant they appeared above the trees. My plan was to back up, at the final moment, hoping we had not been seen. I imagined cowering in the rumpus room, waiting for a giant fist to crash down through the ceiling. Meanwhile, we saw nothing outside, nothing but a sunny day. The noise grew louder! Then it stopped.... We never did figure out what it might have been. Well that's not true. We did figure out what it “might” have been. We just never figured out what it, actually, was.
Yes, the Dark and Dangerous side of life in Detroit existed only in the realm of my imagination. But, nonetheless, it was the spice and Magic that seasoned an otherwise dull existence. And so, I fostered Fantasy, and tried to make it fit in and occupy a natural place in my suburban Universe, where anything could happen, but almost never did.
Here we see the self-same creature, crawling out from behind the living room couch. Now, this is really very scary! What could possibly be more frightening than plastic seat covers?