It took me forever to write that first chapter, but I am glad I did, because now I can write the second one.
When my parents first brought me home from the hospital, my older brother and sister did not like me very much.
I can't really blame them; as babies go, I was phenomenally cute and endearing. Even my first bowel movement, known in the industry as a "meconium", had a particular aspect to it that people found lovable.
In fact, my mother saved it and made a latchhook portrait of it, which hung on our living room wall for the next fifteen years, until I made her take it down when my first girlfriend was coming for a visit.
It was difficult to explain to my mother why I wanted the craft removed from the wall; she has never been good at empathizing with the embarrassment of others. She just kept shaking her head slowly and sadly; at the time, I did not pay much attention because I was thinking about my big muscles.
There are no photos from this period of my life, at least not in the traditional sense. We were too poor to buy a camera, though my brother had made a pinhole camera out of a bar of soap and a piece of broken whisky bottle.
It had like the longest exposure time ever, though, so we would have to stand perfectly still for a half an hour whenever it was time to take the family photo.
Everyone would get really crabby at each other for moving or twitching, and then my brother would have to restart the camera's timer.
He had turned our dining room into his personal darkroom, but we always had to go in there for dinner, so his pictures were constantly being ruined.
We were always eating dinner back then, mostly in the evening, and usually together as a family. My mother served the same things on certain days: Monday was Nacho Day, Tuesday was Spaghetti Day. I was pretty young, but I can still remember liking food in much the same way that I still enjoy it.
My family realized early on that I was quite gifted, and this made them hate me even more. They made me do all the cooking and cleaning, and they even made me change my own diapers. In my scant moments of downtime, I still had time to compose Beethoven's 9th symphony when I was three.
I also filled many spiral bound notebooks with my own scripts for the television program The Incredible Hulk.
Bruce Bander is in his car. He sees a bak robber. This is making me mad he said. The Hulk stops a car with his middle and gives the money back.
Though I am tempted to sugarcoat the truth here, let me not do that. We were poor, dirt poor. Up above there, where I was listing what foods we had on which days of the week, you will noticed I stopped after Spaghetti Tuesday. That is because I am ashamed of Government Cheese Wednesday.
Government cheese came in a long, unadorned rectangle. My mother would lay it out upon a platter in the middle of the table, and my father would cut it into thick slabs. We children would always argue over who would get the end slab, because the end portion was where the liquiefed grease had settled, making a close approximation of gravy. Father always ended the fighting by licking the end slab all over until the specialness of it was gone, and we had nothing else to say.
Other foods we got from the government:
Cans of Fruit Cocktail with only one cherry in it. My father settled the fight by eating the cherry.
Bread that did not have crust anymore for some reason
Cereal that was only half-frosted. My father would get up in the night and lick all the frosting off of each piece so he did not have to hear fighting in the morning.
My parents insisted that every Saturday night be Family Night. We were too poor to have any board games, so on Family Night we always played Animal Whack.
The rules of Animal Whack are simple: your father stands in the middle while you all sit in a cricle around him. In his hand is a rolled up issue of National Geographic he stole from the nieghbors. You each pick an animal you are going to be, representing that animal by imitating its sound. You try to get your father to hit the other members of your family by making their animal sound before they can make your own animal sound and force your father to hit you.
Sometimes my father would hit my mother too hard, and she would jump up, still imitating an animal, and begin to choke him. We kids would egg her on, yelling "Fight!Fight!" and making a tight circle with our bodies so the hall monitors could not get through to break it up.
On Sundays, my father would roll out our television from the closet, hook up the rabbit ears, and let us watch The Incredible Hulk and The Dukes of Hazard. Whenever Daisy Duke would sashay around the screen in immoderate attire, the television would be wheeled back into the closet for a minute. It was also wheeled back in during all commercial breaks.
When we were finally able to afford a T.V. that was too large to move about, my parents had to adapt their censorship techniques to the times. If the camera lingered upon Vanna White for a bit longer than was comfortable, my father would place a giant road atlas of Michigan over the screen.
After science invented the remote control, my father could shut the T.V. off the moment Denise Huxtable entered the scene. He did not even have to leave his seat.
Picture: one of my brother's pinhole camera family portraits. Dated June, 1982.
Picture: Denise Huxtable.