I’ve never been knocked unconscious, but I learned what it meant to “see stars” when I was six. I suppose my father had been drinking, but that might just be an assumption. I was sitting Indian style on the linoleum in front of the toilet. My father was sitting on the toilet doing his business and my mother stood in the doorway; everything was washed with light from a late afternoon and a few incandescent bulbs. This was the early eighties and it felt like it. The bathroom was decorated in earth tones. My father’s hair was enormous as was his beard. My mom looked like a hippie and I was wearing corduroys. They were my favorite pants.


My father had just finished assembling three different Lego sets; they were all small and placed right in front of him on the floor. All three sets were medieval; one was of a horse and carriage, one was of a catapult manned by a group of armored Lego men, and the third was a tiny prisoner transport complete with bars and a little imprisoned figure that looked suspiciously like Robin Hood. My crystalline memory is a sweet and sour type of power.


Pops looked down on me from upon his porcelain throne and told me not to touch any of the Legos until he was done. I remember staring at the three toys, arrayed perfectly equidistant from each other, and thinking that surely there was one toy I could touch without angering him. Maybe he wouldn’t even notice. I reached for the horse drawn prisoner transport after a subjective eternity and had time to move it ever so slightly closer to where I sat before my father hit me. And it wasn’t a gentle reprimanding type of slap either. Sure it was open handed, but my father was a three hundred pound behemoth of a man and the power in his right hand carried me across the linoleum and deposited me in a small heap against the shower stall. Everything went black and brilliant points of white floated in my vision. I remember thinking “so that’s why they draw stars” and that thought is verbatim; I swear I’m not taking any poetic license in the telling of this story. Up until that point, I had always thought the stars that rotated around the coyote’s head after the roadrunner bested him were nonsensical.


My mom came running in and screamed something unintelligible. She was coming for me, I saw it all from where I was laying on my side against the shower, but I guess my dad felt threatened. He stood up and went after her with his open hand cocked back but since he hadn’t pulled up his sweat pants as he stood, my mom was able to get away. He hobbled after her like a penguin as she shouted “don’t you hit me!” and I suppose hysterics are to blame for the fact that I look back and laugh at it all.


He sat back down after a moment of clarity and never noticed that he had broken the miniature catapult during his tirade. My mom came back in a few seconds later and got me. She carried me away and down the stairs and out of the house. They simply don’t make Mother’s Day cards that you can buy to thank a mother for something like that, but I was fucking grateful.


Later, my parents divorced and my father’s burgeoning obsession with Legos matured into something truly epic. He kept all of his assembled sets underneath his queen sized bed where they were organized into little stratified groups. The medieval castles and whatnot where near the foot of the bed. The space inspired sets with rocket ships and transparent laser guns were in the middle and the contemporary sets were directly below the pillows. They started to gather dust as the house suffered without a woman’s touch so my father carefully covered all of the sets with a sheet and there they stayed, like an entombed city of little plastic people, until I was sixteen.


I skipped school with two friends, Joey and Chad, and we went to my house to smoke ridiculous amounts of pot while my dad was at work. We got bored. I’m not sure why I did it, but I took my friends into my dad’s bedroom and told them to look under the bed. They got down on their bellies, lifted the sheet, and then slowly turned to look up at me with “what the fuck?” written all over their faces. I laughed, and we started taking all of the painstakingly assembled Lego sets into the living room. We started by doing our best Japanese mega-monster impressions. I was Mothra (because Mothra fucking rules), Joey was Godzilla, and Chad was Mecha Godzilla (there’s a huge difference). We stomped through a veritable city of Lego sets and destroyed like only mega monsters can. Then we sat and played with the damn things for hours. We built all sorts of shit. We had airplanes that’d never fly in real life. We had badass castles with laser guns because that’s how it should’ve been. We built ashtrays, and used them as such, because, well, why not?


My father came home sometime after dark and saw the three of us sitting there all pie-eyed and surrounded by the carnage of his Lego collection and just froze. I wasn’t six anymore. My mom had been replaced in this tableau by two eighteen year-old men that were each larger than my dad. He walked into his bedroom and buried himself into a book where he belonged. The three of us went out and got drunk.


I’m not sure why I chose to reach for that prisoner transport Lego set when I was six. Maybe it was just the closest, or the coolest, but like I said previously, I had thought that there had to be one of the three sets that I could get away with touching. But I realize now that the whole thing was nothing more than a shell game. When I think of a “shell game”, I think of some deeply tanned islander sitting behind an upturned banana crate with three shells on top. Underneath one of the shells a nut is hidden, and if only you can be fast enough, smart enough, to keep track as his hands blur and the shells shuffle, you’ll always know where the nut is. You’ll be able to tap the right shell with a knowing finger and win a small handful of cash. But the damn game is rigged. Sleight of hand is in play and the nut is swiped before the shells stop moving. You’re damned, no matter which shell you choose, you’ll lose. You’ll see stars.


But every silver lining has its cloud, or at least that’s the way I learned it. One of the best things you can learn from your parents is what not to do, and I took notes. My children have Legos, but they live in a tub. I try to avoid the mistakes of my father, and sometimes I fail, but my indiscretions are small in comparison and my odd quirks are leavened with compassion. Hell, as long as neither one of my daughters grow up to be a writer, I’ll be scot-free. And to be a writer is why I wrote this. Someone whose opinion matters greatly to me told me that “if you can write about your life, you can write about anything.” I’m paraphrasing what she had been told by one of her writing teachers, but I think the statement holds truth and I’m doing my best to pay it credence. I sit in front of this computer and try to bleed my thoughts on to paper, as Earnest H. sort of put it, and I write. I sit back and watch my wife read through my writing as she looks for typos, and when she’s through, I write. I remember things from when I was young that are unsavory, and today, I wrote.

Shell Game



Anyway, I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q  If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI


3 thoughts on “The Shell Game

  1. Excellent! Someday I hope to write about my abusive childhood. I actually began to do so once, and realized it would be too painful for my parents, particularly for my mother who is still in denial that she allowed my sexual molester continued access to me even after I had told her what was going on.

  2. Mind and power games sadly make some people feel big, yet it’s the bigger person that sees the wrong in someone else’s actions (especially someone as influential as a parent or guardian) and refuses to hit repeat on the abusive record. Sad post, beautifully written. I imagine this was a very difficult piece to write and it must have taken an awful lot of guts to go there and to share it too. I think that being a writer is a great way to channel feelings and experiences. I take my bad ones and I let fictional characters take the heat. It helps…a lot.

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