Back The Tracks – Part 7 – The  Journey to Metamorphosis

Philadelphia, PA – 1970s

Some days when the weather was nice and you had nothing to do, we’d just go back the tracks and go on a journey. That’s what we’d call it. “Let’s go on a journey.” That meant we had to explore some part of the tracks or woods we hadn’t been to before. I loved our little journeys.

My friend RJ had a sweet tooth and he always spent his paperboy money on Reese’s cups. He loved them, and back then they were only a nickel. Two for ten cents. He would buy a whole box of them and eat them all.

One of the most memorable candies he ever brought with him on one of our journeys was a box of sixlets. There are these little round colored candies in a sealed cellophane packet of six. Think of little round M&M’s, but cheaper chocolate filling.

Sixlets 8-Ball Tubes - 20lb Bulk | CandyStore.com

You could hold one end of the packet, put the whole thing in your mouth and pull… and it would unload the full clip of all six candies into your mouth. We ate so many of those that day, we never finished the box and probably never ate them again after that.

There was a bunch of weird candy back then. Pixie sticks, the little wax bottles with the colored liquid in them, (I think they were called, Nik a Nips) Candy cigarettes, (The little chalky white ones and the gum ones wrapped in paper so they looked like real cigarettes. You could blow into it to emit a puff of sugary smoke. What a brilliant way to teach children the dangers of smoking!) Wax lips, (You wore them as a comedic gag, and then ate them? (Tasted like wax. Surprise, surprise.) The gum in bubble gum card packs, (Literally shattered in your mouth) and who can forget the little necklace of cheerio sized candies you could bite off and eat? (What’s better than edible jewelry?) Or, the sound Pop Rocks made as they sizzled on your tongue!

Wasn’t there some story about how some kid died from eating Pop Rocks and drinking soda?

https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/pop-rocks-urban-legend-mikey-death

Image result for candy 1970s

Razzles, Choc O Lite bars, Mallow Cups, Marathon Bars,  and Blackjack gum. Oh, remember the long strips of paper that looked like cash register receipts but had little dots of candy stuck to them? They were all different colors and the colors changed as you went down the paper. You literally bit those tiny morsels of sugar off the strip. How much paper did we consume as children? (spitballs don’t count!) remember Bottle Caps? (Cola flavor? Yes, please!) Mike and Ike’s, Good ‘n Plenty, Good ‘n Fruity, Laffy Taffy, (with the joke on every wrapper), Bazooka Gum, Bubble Yum, Charms Blow Pops, and who can forget Lik M Aid Fun Dip?

I’m sure there are dozens more I can’t remember off the top of my head. Okay, let’s clear my sugary palette before I need an insulin shot with this vintage photo.

Here’s an old pic of RJ threatening to shoot a paper clip at me!

One day my friends and I went on a journey just following the tracks north. There was always this feeling you’d get when you were a boy when you realized you’d gone further than you’d ever ventured before. We knew all of the sights and sounds of the whole area. We knew miles of the tracks and the woods back then. All of it. You could drop me anywhere in those woods and I would have been able to navigate my way out of them in at least three different ways or paths.

We’d walk along and things would start to look different and we knew we’d reached the end of our proverbial sidewalk. This was new territory and new things to discover. But you had the train tracks as your foundation. No matter how far we went we figured we couldn’t get lost because we’d simply follow the tracks back in the other direction to take us home. It was so cool.

So we’re walking north on one of our journeys and we reached what I believe to be the Cottman Street car bridge that crossed over the tracks from Cheltenham into Philly. There were some kids playing down there on the sides of the tracks who we didn’t know. They seemed to be doing something with some ponds of water that had pooled on the side of the tracks.

It was stagnant rainwater that had formed these pools. But things grow in stagnant water. Mostly mosquitoes, but there was something else going on here. These kids were catching tadpoles! We approached them to watch what they were doing. We had never seen tadpoles or anything like that before. They were catching them and putting them in jars of water. We knew what had to be done.

For today our journey had reached its end. We had found something new and would be coming back to this place.

My friends and I put our heads together on how we would proceed in this new adventure in an attempt to acquire some free wildlife.

We gathered some baby food jars and some little nets somebody must have clipped from their family’s fish tank (probably me) and the next day we were off again.

We followed the tracks back to where our last journey took us and happily the long pools of stagnant water were still there. Think about that. A bunch of nice kids from middle-class families with plenty of toys to play with, play on the railroad tracks, and are going fishing in smelly stagnant pools full of who knows what kind of disease and vermin, and it was awesome!

I surveyed the area. The pools were 20 to 30 feet long. There were several. I walked down to the very beginning where it was the most shallow. I wanted to start slowly, rather than just dig right in with nets into the deeper water. Who knew what was in there? What if there was some kind of evil snake that lived in there? (The water was only 6 to 9 inches deep at the deepest point.)

So I’m walking along the edge of the shallow end which is maybe an inch deep. I like the origins of things so I wanted to start at the beginning. My friend RJ and Paul were just dipping nets into the bigger pools where we had seen the other kids working the day before.

I noticed in the shallow end there was hundreds of tiny black tadpoles. Just writhing and wiggling their little tails no bigger than your pinky nail. But as I walked north along the side of the pool the water got murkier and you couldn’t see anything. You had to blindly just dip your net in the water and see if you got anything.

But lo and behold we started to catch some tadpoles. They were all about an inch and a half in length, and we would dip our jars into the brackish water and pop the tadpoles inside. We only captured around four of five of them, and neither RJ nor Paul had anywhere to keep them, so custody of our new pets fell on me. I didn’t mind. I was happy to have some new living creatures that I caught on my own and didn’t come from a store. Free pets!

I recently started watching a terrific series on Amazon Prime about a family that moves from England to the island of Corfu in the Greek isles in the 1930s. The youngest son Gerald loves wildlife and is always out studying and catching animals and bringing them home. It reminds me of how much we loved nature as kids. He’s my favorite character and based on the author of the original books. It’s a wonderful show and worth checking out!

Image result for durrells of corfu

Anyway…I had an old plastic tank that I found in the trash somewhere. We were always trash picking as kids. It was great. I found the best stuff in other people’s trash! I still had the plastic tank left over from the whole Rosalie’s Rodents incident.

(If you didn’t read this on Tuesday, here’s the link again.)

Rosalie’s Rodents

So we filled it with water from the hose out back of my house and put our tadpoles in. I didn’t know how they would do coming from a stagnant pool into Philly tap water, but the little guys thrived.

Stressed-out tadpoles grow larger tails to escape predators | University of Michigan News

I don’t know if I put anything in the water to feed them but I must have. I think RJ got some fish food and we sprinkled that into the tank on a weekly basis. I kept those little tadpoles for a couple of months, and of course, some miraculous things began to happen. You can be taught things in school and read things in books, and look at diagrams and photos of wildlife. But to have the actual creatures in your possession and witness it first hand is something grand. I’m talking about metamorphosis.

One by one the tadpoles began to sprout legs! It was incredible to see. A living thing in your own life that is slowly changing before your young eyes. Not in a textbook but in your hand. Of course, we wanted to touch everything as kids, and you could bring them out briefly and hold them. We would put them back in the water and they would continue on their journey.

Then you’d see a little arm sprout from one side, followed by another one shortly thereafter. That’s when I loved them best. Their tails were shrinking, but they had arms and legs. They started to look like fat little salamanders or newts. But they were still changing so you could hold them for brief periods but had to put them back in the water so they stayed wet.

Tadpole | EEK Wisconsin

But within a few weeks, they had transformed into lovely little frogs. I always wondered if it hurt for them to change from one thing into another thing so quickly. (around 12 weeks) But they always seemed fine to me.

Eventually, once they matured, they simply hopped out of the tank and went on their way. I always believed they probably lived out their lives in my backyard.

A brilliant science lesson about amphibians all from just following the railroad tracks a little further from home.

I loved playing back the tracks as a kid. I spent so many happy hours back there with my friends. It was close to home, but a place to disappear into nature and our own little world.

I guess I could always relate to the little tadpoles eventually becoming frogs. Because as children we were like them. Just all together swimming around in the little pond of our neighborhood. Then one day we all grew up and hopped away into adulthood.

What would life have been like if we hadn’t moved away back in 1979? We’d probably have a lot more stories.

But some days when the day is warm, we can all pause and think back to a simpler time. When we could simply just go out and play.

There comes a day when you hang out with your friends. Just going to play outside. You never know when that day is coming but it does to us all.

There’s that day where none of you realize it, but it’s the absolute last time you will all hang out and just play outside.

Morning Briefing: The Details On Playgrounds Reopening

I hope you enjoyed this little series. It began as a short piece from my past and grew into an epic tale!

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Wildlife and Evil Pets

Philadelphia, PA – 1970s

I remember one season there were thousands of Monarch Butterfly caterpillars all over the place back the tracks on all of the trees. The Monarchs were making nests and laying eggs and the caterpillars were everywhere. I remember we’d catch them and collect them in jars and play with the little guys.

What monarch butterflies prefer | Earth | EarthSky

The monarch butterfly is one of the most recognizable and well-studied butterflies on the planet. Its orange wings are laced with black lines and bordered with white dots. Famous for their seasonal migration, millions of monarchs migrate from the United States and Canada south to California and Mexico for the winter.

The caterpillar of the monarch butterfly eats only milkweed, a poisonous plant that should kill it. The caterpillars thrive on the plant, even storing its toxins in their bodies as a defense against hungry birds. For decades, scientists have marveled at this adaptation.

These Butterflies Evolved to Eat Poison. How Could That Have Happened? - The New York Times

One time my friend Micahel had a jar full of them and he had it on his bicycle. The jar slipped and hit the street. Suddenly, there were hundreds of caterpillars spreading out through the broken glass and crawling all over the street, his bike, and on him. It was like a writhing malignancy from a horror movie. He didn’t know what to do and was obviously alarmed, and simply rode off on his bike from the scene. I think one of the parents just swept up the glass into the gutter as all of his caterpillars made their untimely escape.

Some of us had pets like dogs. Mostly everybody had dogs on our street. German shepherds were popular back then. Think I’m kidding? I’ll name all of the dogs just on our block. The Hunzingers had Jason, a scary dog that always barked at us and most of us were afraid of him. But the baby of that family, Jenny, who couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 at the time would go right up to the beast and tell him to settle down and he would. It was uncanny! She had power over that terrifying dog.

The Mitchell’s had a dog named Greta, Hersh’s next door had Gretchen, The Hanley’s had a Belgium Shepherd named Duke. That dog was enormous. He didn’t have to do anything. Just the sight of a dog that large was enough for you to steer clear of their gate. The McMeans had a chubby little dog named Happy, whom they would allow to go down into their cellar and do his business. It was a dirt cellar and they would just let him go down there and take a dump. Their next-door neighbors would complain because the smell was coming through to their basement. They later had a dog that was white with a little black spot on its side named Heidi.

We didn’t have a dog yet, and wouldn’t have one until 1978. You can check that out here:

April Wants A Dog – Part One

April Wants A Dog – Part Two

Up the street, there was a family who had a shepherd named Carrot, who was very shy. Apparently, he got his name because he had big pointy ears, and the little girl who owned him thought his ears looked like Carrots!

I think the Zerbach’s had a dog as well but I think it may have been some kind of black setter. Not sure.

We had a box turtle that my dad had found up in Stover, PA which was a camping area my dad and his friends would hang out in. Probably just to get away from the city and smoke pot. But we had her for a while and I think her name was Elizabeth. Not evil, but I think she escaped at some point. (maybe she was simply returned to the wild.)

I had a lizard named Rex who looked amazing and cost me $14. He looked really cool and I felt like I owned a little dinosaur, but he didn’t live long.

I had white mice for a short period as well. They weren’t much fun. Like all rodents, they just run around in the woodchips in their cage and constantly crap everywhere non-stop. I think they were only .49 cents at the pet store and were probably only there as lunch for people’s pet snakes. Kinda sad.

Here’s a previously published story about rodents:

Rosalie’s Rodents

Our neighbor Sandy had a little green turtle or two. We had heard a rumor back then that there was something going on with those turtles. But I’m sure that was just a childhood myth.

Oh, wait…

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/12/23/460561642/tiny-turtles-still-cute-still-illegal-and-still-spreading-salmonella

That’s why you didn’t see those little turtles around anymore.

We did have fish for a short period of time. That was my older sister’s idea. It was a freshwater 10-gallon tank. I remember she had all of these lovely fish. The most beautiful being the angelfish that always looked so elegant. There were also a few other fish and a pair of what I think they called tiger barbs. Everything seemed well and good, but I think someone at the pet store should have known not to mix certain species of fish together in a confined area. Because at night the barbs would hunt the other fish and ended up killing everything in the tank.

This reminds me of another story. When we were kids we’d be at the seashore with our parents and in any gift shop back then you could find hermit crabs for sale. These cute, shy creatures are of the tree variety and not the ones I’d occasionally see in the surf on the beach as a kid. Those little cuties hiding in their moon shells. My parents bought us each a hermit crab that we got to pick out. I don’t know if I named my guy and I don’t remember if my older sister named hers, but my middle sister named hers Shirley Temple. We kept them all in a little cage in the dining room of our house in Philly. But again, containing nature has its consequences. (You’ve seen Jurassic Park. You had the technology to do it, but SHOULD you do it?) We enjoyed having our little hermit crabs and would take them out and hold them. It was cute, You’d pick them up by their shells, and place them in the palm of your hand. Once you touched them they would zip back into their shells. Then if you held them in your palm and were still, they’d slowly peek out and walk around. It was really cute.

But what I didn’t know at the time was that hermit crabs don’t grow their own shells. These guys acquire their homes by finding snails and ripping them out of their shells and just hijacking the real estate. Home invasion and a hostile takeover. We didn’t know any of that. When we acquired them, we probably just picked each crab based on the color and shape of the shells they currently wore when we got them.

But night falls and that’s when all of the bad things happen in the animal world. I think this is why kids are instinctively afraid of the dark. Because that’s when our ancestors were at their most vulnerable. You’re passed out one night and you open your eyes and some large predatory dog or cat is chewing on your baby. But I digress…

Kids are busy getting into different things all of the time. When you’re young the world is a fascinating new place that’s controlled by adults. Anything you can get into on your own always feels exciting and powerful. Maybe a few days went by and we weren’t paying attention to the hermit crabs. They’re primarily nocturnal creatures for obvious reasons and they don’t do much during the day, so after a week or so, they’re kind of boring.

Doesn’t the Shirley Temple hermit crab begin to systematically murder her cage mates and rip them out of their shells?  Yea. I guess she was growing and was looking for a bigger shell to hang out in because hers was getting a bit snug around the hips. She killed the other crabs and then somehow busted out of the cage and left. We were all freaking out and of course my dad, the science dude comes to the rescue. He realizes she must be traveling along the baseboard and maybe somewhere nearby. So, Shirley busts out of her cage after killing her cellmates crawls along the tabletop. Falls three feet to the floor and makes her getaway. My dad finds her in the living room, like 40 feet away just cruising along to parts unknown.

I wish there were more to this story but wasn’t all of that pet murder enough?

Does anyone else have any interesting pet stories?

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Back The Tracks – Part 6 – The Pink Inferno

Philadelphia, PA – Mid 70s

My friend Michael and I were hanging out in one of our forts just chilling one afternoon. We’re just chatting and watching the trains roll by. We noticed some other kids who we didn’t know across on the other side playing around with matches. We figured just a couple of firebugs like us.

But stuff starting to catch a little bit and we decide to investigate. They were a little younger than we were, so we felt a bit of hierarchy there, (plus this was our territory, We had forts!) We crossed the tracks to go talk to them.

Growing all along that side of the tracks on the Cheltenham side were these pink colored weeds. We knew most of the plant life around the area because we had all come home at one time or another with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. Pretty, gross. I had it all over my arms once and not only does it burn and itch it creates these little pustules on your skin that burst into tiny yellow crusty sores. Yea, the woods are fun. We tell them to watch out for the pink weeds because they’re really flammable. We’d used them before to help get our little campfires going. But these idiots are just doing what they want and before we know it, the pink weeds start to burn.

Pink Muhly Grass | Naturehills.com

Normally the tribe just take off their jackets and beat down the flames. That usually worked for us, but it’s getting a little bigger. At one point somebody says, “Does anybody have to take a wicked piss?”

No one did, so that solution was struck down. Fire on dry weeds start to spread, and somebody had the brilliant idea to pick up this big slab of wood the size of a door and say: “This will put it out,” thinking that will crush and extinguish the flames. Normally that could work, but what it did as it fell, was create this burst of air that landed on the main fire, but blew the flames out all around it. Now the fire was 5 times bigger.

There’s a moment when boys realize they’ve lost control of a particular situation. At that point, there is only one solution. And that my friend, is to RUN like Hell.

Michael and I knew the fire was out of control and bigger than anything we’d ever seen. If we ran back across the tracks and headed home, neighbors would see the two of us, walking away or running away from a blazing fire and billows of grey smoke coming from where we just were. We’d totally be blamed because the other kids simply vanished at some point heading south.

So thinking quickly, Mike and I ran west across the old ball fields. They led to the woods we were very familiar with, and we just kept going. We ran through the woods in terror not looking back. We were so frightened and paranoid we’d go to jail for being framed for arson and burning down the woods, we just kept running. There was a path that ran along Tookany Creek. I told Micheal we shouldn’t take it because if they put together a search party, they’d look on the path, and what if they brought dogs? We were so just so scared. Our fear had hit hyperdrive. I came up with the idea that we should slide down the embankment on the creek edge, and follow the creek south as far as we could. No one could see us from the woods down there.

I remember back then we referred to Tookany Creek as, “The Crik.”

We made our way along the creek bank for about a half-mile, stepping on stones making our way along the creek out of sight. We got pretty far down until we came upon a small waterfall, so we knew where we were. We climbed up the embankment and got back on the path.

I remember, while down there making our way along the creek I found an old metal helmet. It was underwater, banged up, rusted, and looked pretty old. It was round with a wide brim and I knew it didn’t look like a modern army helmet I’d seen soldiers wearing in movies or Vietnam footage. We figured it was maybe from the Civil War. Our young minds conjured up battles fought a hundred years ago between the North and South. A helmet lost in combat right in the woods on the edge of our neighborhood.

But we’ll get back to that.

We walked up Levick street which was a huge hill. Not as high as Martin’s Mill road but a solid climb. We got to the bridge that went over the tracks and climbed under it. There was a cool space where you could sit under the overpass out of sight. Just a moment of repose to gather our thoughts and plan our next move. It’s funny when you’re a kid you think you find all of these cool hiding spots around your neighborhood. But, there’s always evidence somewhere to show you that you weren’t the first ones there. I’m sure kids had been hanging and drinking under that bridge for years.

Still scared to death, I said we should walk east on Levick street until we got to Rising Sun Avenue. We got to the corner of Levick and Rising Sun and headed north along the avenue. We strolled along, fanning our jackets trying to get the smoke smell out of them.

Once we got to our street, we turned left on Magee Avenue. We casually walked up to Oakley street and then down our block. This way, if anything was going on it would look like we were just two innocent little boys who were coming from the opposite direction to whatever destruction had occurred. As we approached my house we saw the white Cheltenham firetrucks sitting over by where the fire had been. There was smoke still billowing up from a very large section of the pink weeds that had been decimated by the fire.

We went into my house through the back door and I ran the old helmet up to my room. I came back downstairs and Michael and I peeked out the front porch side window at what was going on over there. Our parents would have skinned us alive and left us for dead in a ditch somewhere if they thought we had any part of something where the Cheltenham Fire Department had to come and put it out.

Michael and I never talked about what had happened that day for a long time, but later when we told the story it was always good for a laugh.

Oh, and that helmet I found…

When my mom saw the rusty helmet in my bedroom, I told her I found it in the creek. (Not a lie, even though it was connected to a two-alarm blaze!) She knew my friends and I were a bunch of trash pickers so she never raised an eyebrow. It looked worthless like many of the things we found.

I sprayed it gloss black, and painted a German Iron Cross on it. I just thought it looked cool like that. It sat on the radiator of my bedroom for years until I agreed to lend it to my sister for some play she and her classmates were putting on. I told her I wanted it back when they were finished their little show, but I never saw it again after that. I think some little weasel absconded my helmet. I was a little salty that my cool helmet was gone. Had someone realized it was an authentic relic from the Civil War and sold it for a bunch of money?  But, I was so busy in my life by then I pretty much forgot about that.

Turns out it was only a doughboy style, early World War II Civil Defense Helmet.  Sounds like an impressive collectible, but you can buy helmets like the one I found today that are in better shape for about $40 on eBay.

ORIGINAL EARLY WWII CIVIL DEFENSE HELMET - OD DOUGHBOY STYLE

So, no harm done Sis.

Tune in next Tuesday for, Wildlife and Evil Pets

And Thursday for,  Back the TracksThe Journey to Metamorphosis

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Back The Tracks – Part 4 – Railroad Detective

One afternoon I was with my friend Paul, and we were walking around the woods and the train tracks. Whenever a freight train went past we’d always throw stones at the boxcars just to see if we could hit them and watch them bounce off. That one boxcar is 30 tons. That’s 60,000 pounds. A rock hitting that is like a fly bouncing off a car door. I’ve touched a boxcar close up. It feels like a stone wall.

We had entered the tracks by way of Passmore street. Passmore was a little street that had a steep incline that ended in a roundabout at the bottom. Beyond the end of the street was a stone wall. You could climb over the wall to the right next to where a fence began. Once over the wall, you could see the railroad tracks. But if you looked to your left there was an embankment that led down to some sort of water drainage area. The water was shallow and full of rocks. There was a stone tunnel that went under the tracks and led off to a large, round stone pit. You’d see the occasional rat running around back there in the rocks. Beyond that was the woods that led through to Tookany Creek.

After doing a little bit of research, I found out that the word “Tookany” is actually derived from “Tacony,” which is derived from the term “Towacawonick,” which means “uninhabited place” or “woods” in the language of the Lenni Lenape American Indians (Unami Language) The place we all played was once inhabited by people that had been here for a long time before our ancestors ever arrived here. I always wondered what those kids were like.

Think of this sort of tunnel but with shallow water running through it.

Bridgehunter.com | BO - Tunnel No. 6

None of us knew why it was there. I’m assuming that maybe because Passmore street ended in a steep hill, it was once used for drainage and sewage removal many years ago.

There were all sorts of graffiti on the walls and bits of detritus everywhere. My all-time favorite bit of graffiti sprayed on that wall was the following joke:

“Dick Hertz was here.”

“Who’s Dick Hertz?”

“Mine does.”

I’d seen graffiti before but I always liked that someone took the time to write something funny that would give boys a chuckle whenever they came through the area.

I remember one night, Buddy Drew, (I’m pretty sure he lived on Passmore street) came running up to us and told us to come and see something wonderful happening on his street. My friend Michael and I walked over there in the rain. Parked on the corner of Passmore and Newtown Avenue was a long black limousine. I looked in through the tinted window and could see an 8 track tape of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti in the player. We peeked through the bushes of the house where Buddy told us the magic was happening. I could see the celebrity through the window chatting with his cousin, (or, sister?)Miss Tallerico.

It was Steven Tyler.

Anyway… back to the story.

So we’re throwing rocks and just doing the things boys do. But one of the unspoken rules was that no one I knew would ever throw a rock at a passenger train. We just didn’t do it for obvious reasons.

I remember my mother telling me once she was sitting on the train one day headed into the city when she suddenly heard a loud bang, and when she looked down her whole lap was covered in tiny bits of broken glass. Passenger train windows are like automobile windows in that respect. They don’t shatter creating big pieces because they’re a piece of transparent tough flexible plastic inside the window. So if it breaks it busts into little nonlethal bits and the window technically doesn’t break a hole in it. Some idiot obviously threw a rock and that was the outcome. So stone-throwing at passenger trains was a big no-no in my neighborhood. It just wasn’t a cool thing to do because somebody could get hurt.

So, later we returned back to the treehouse at the end of the lot near my house. We just sat there doing our thing. Paul had to go home so he ended up climbing down and headed out.

A little while later I decided it was time to go home a well. So I started walking up the lot toward Hasbrook Avenue. When this black car slowly pulled up out of Newtown avenue and into the lot, blocking my path. A man got out and wasn’t wearing a uniform or anything.

I had heard of railroad detectives through local schoolboy lore. But I didn’t think they were real. Well, apparently they were and still are. But there was a part of me that thought this guy might be a pervert that molests kids. We knew about the whole stranger danger thing even back then. I also wondered why this guy showed up now. It had been hours later, and I was now alone.

Chuck Malloy Railroad Detective on the Streamliner by McClusky, Thorp: Fair Hardcover (1938) 1st Edition | Frank Hofmann

He started asking about me and my friend throwing rocks at trains. So he must have seen us when we were all the way down by Passmore street. I was pretty nervous about the whole situation and explained that we would never throw rocks at passenger trains and were just doing a little target practice. I don’t know if this guy was just doing his job, or being a dick, or indeed a pervert.

But he pulls out this pad and pen and starts asking me questions. He asked my name and my address and my phone number and a bunch of other standard questions, but I remember him asking me other stuff like did I go to church and stuff of that source. That’s what seemed weird about the whole thing.

He ended up letting me go and didn’t do anything to me, but I was just scared that he’d call or come around my house and tell my parents. I just didn’t need one more thing for my dad to knock me around.

But that memory always stuck with me, and I never heard of it happening to any other boys I knew at the time. Just a weird day in the life of a kid.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Back The Tracks – Part 3 – Sticks & Stones

Philadelphia, PA. – Mid-1970s

Words were used differently back in the 70s. If someone called you gay, it was because you didn’t want to do something. (“Come on… don’t be gay.” Or, “Don’t be gay all your life.”) Or, if you wore something that seemed uncool. (“Those shoes look gay.”) Or, if it was something you just found unappealing. (“That’s so gay.”) I mean this as no offense to the LGBT community, it’s just how people spoke back then. Let’s not forget when gay meant that you were having a really good time 100 years ago. “It was a gay event.” It simply meant, “happy”.

Sadly, even the word faggot, was used as a derogatory comment against young males. It wasn’t meant to say he was a homosexual, it simply meant that he wasn’t brave or masculine. (“You little faggot!”) Maybe simply cowardice. But it never attacked his sexuality. At that age, we barely had any sexuality. We were just kids! Let’s face it, if you look up the word, faggot in the dictionary, it simply means, a bundle of sticks. If you look at the cover of Led Zeppelin’s 4th LP, there’s a photo of an old man with a faggot on his back.

If you accidentally threw or hit a ball onto a rooftop, you called chipsies on it’s return to you. Chipsies was sort of like staking a claim on something. Words like Nerd, came from the show Happy Days. A popular sitcom of the 70s. If you said something was”bad” it really meant it was “cool.” We took this from the black community. Another one we stole from them was saying, “Your Mom.” (Which was a brutal burn back then.) But even though the kids on the Brady Bunch said, “Groovy” we were already over that word and none of us ever used it. The word, “boogie” was something gross that came out of your nose, and later meant “dance” with the arrival of disco music. (Seems fitting to me) To “bogart” a joint was to be selfish with the smoke. The ‘boob tube” was a television set, because it was supposed to make you stupid from watching it too much. Later, girls wore tube tops and we guys called them boob tubes. So, who knows? We even had, chumps and space cadets. What a colorful vocabulary!

If you wore sneakers that were cheap or weren’t Converse Chuck Taylor’s, they were referred to as Bobos. No idea where this term came from. But I do remember there was a song about them.

Bobos! They make your feet feel fine.

Bobos! They only cost a dollar nine!

Bobos! They are for hobos. 

So get your bobos, and be a hobo, today!

Once, two sisters (Deneen and Melissa) who lived a few doors down from me were riding in the back of their mother’s station wagon and they were giving the finger to other motorists. (The middle finger. Flipping the bird) Their mother asked them where they learned such a vulgar gesture. They simply stated, “Charlie Wiedenmann taught us that.”

I was immediately scolded and sent to my room because I posed such a threat to their young impressionable minds. (Honestly, I never remember telling them about the middle finger) Framed again!

Another time a group of us were playing in their backyard. I was hanging from a branch and it broke. I was instantly grounded again.

There were also plenty of nicknames back then. I’ll try to remember some of them. There were these two brothers. They didn’t live on my street. Maybe a few blocks over. I think they were both paperboys. I don’t know the actual boy’s names, but I heard them referred to as “Whacko, and “Stinkitis.” I know for a fact that Whacko was our paperboy for a while. Because he used to come to the door collecting for the Evening Bulletin and seemed sort of out of it most of the time. Maybe he just hated his job.

We had Buddy Drew. He had a lovely sister named Nancy Drew. (Literary!) But Buddy’s real name was Wilbur. (I get calling him buddy, now) He sometimes hung out with the older boys up at the corner of Magee and Oakley streets. I think they went by the name, The MO gang. (Magee & Oakley) They weren’t technically a gang, just a group of friends who liked to hang out together. They would pass the time smoking cigs, listening to music in their cars, playing street hockey, or Wiffle ball. Buddy Drew was small, so when their hockey puck or ball would go down the sewer they would call upon his services. The guys would remove the manhole cover and suspend buddy by his ankles into the sewer and he would retrieve their ball. No big deal, and a valuable skill.

There was a kid named Michael Hopper. He had the word, “Hop” on the back of his bicycle seat so that name stuck. And who can forget my neighbor from across the street named Steven with his amazing afro? He became known as Kink. (I always loved that name!)

I even remember my friend Michael had been called Brittle for awhile. But I don’t know why.  My friend Jimmy Hunsinger loved to perform magic shows at kid’s parties and had two different characters he became. “Jimbo the Clown, and The Great Hunsini”. Jimmy was always a very creative and industrial guy. He had business cards for his magic act at age 14!

Jimmy did the makeup for our Halloween costumes one year. I was Gene Simmons, My buddy Steve Peoples was Peter Criss, and Jimmy was Ace Frehley.

Halloween – Kiss & Make Up

There was a younger kid that always wanted to hang out with us. Sometimes we’d let him tag along but he couldn’t really go anywhere because his mom was really protective of him. He seemed like kind of a mama’s boy, but a sweet kid.

We’d all be hanging up in the treehouse and he’d wander down to the end of the lot and want to come up. We really didn’t want him around but we’d usually relent. Plus, he’d bring little boxes of cereal, so if the kid was bearing gifts he could hang.

Like any kid when you’re away from home for any period of time you ultimately have to go to the bathroom. We quickly learned to pee outside against a tree and it felt liberating to whip it out in the great outdoors and mark your territory like the dog you were.

But what if you had to go number two? This was rare but you had to be careful. Not so much with the act, but what to use to wipe your butt. You grab the wrong kind of leave from the wrong kind of plant, and you could end up with a whole new problem with your backside.

You could go home and do it, but most kids’ fear was, once they go into the house to do their business and their mom sees them, she’ll tell them to stay in. That was a bigger fear than anything else. It’s funny to me now but everybody worried about that. You’d have to stay in and possibly miss anything fun that your friends may have gotten into in your absence. I remember there was this one kid I knew who would accidentally wet himself because he held his pee in because he didn’t want to go home to pee and miss something. Crazy stuff!

So he has to go number two one day and doesn’t want to go home to do it for that very reason. We’re all up in the treehouse and we tell him to just go around the bushes behind a tree out of sight and drop trough and drop a deuce. He’s nervous about the whole ordeal but we assure him where he’s about to pinch a loaf there isn’t any poison ivy and the big leaves on the plants are okay to wipe your lily-white little butt with. It was either that or go home and stay in by your mom.

He chose to go in the bushes. So, after promising this kid we wouldn’t look, we sent him off into the hidden brush about 30 feet from the treehouse. We waited a minute for him to get firmly ensconced in the act and then proceed to throw stones at him from our treehouse arsenal. Now, don’t get me wrong, we never hit him. We just tossed pebbles in the general direction of where he was to freak him out while he was trying to go. (The same thing happened to all of us!)

It was hilarious and he took the hazing in stride.

Another time there was a bunch of us playing back the tracks and on the embankments around the rails and of course, we were all throwing rocks at stuff. Just dumb boy stuff. Well, this kid was there again, and lo and behold he gets beaned right in the back of the head with a rock.

It didn’t do any real damage, but his head was bleeding. Not really badly but whenever there was an injury, (And there were many) you got sent home to your mom. It was an unwritten law. Blood = Mom. So, we tell him he’ll be fine, but he should go home.

Doesn’t his mom come out and give me a bunch of crap about how my friend RJ threw the rock that hit her son, and that I was lying to protect him because he was my friend. I had no idea what she was talking about because I know RJ was standing on the embankment next to me and nowhere near where this kid was standing when he got hit. Frankly, I really have no idea who threw the rock that hit him. There was a bunch of kids down there. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. It could have glanced off a tree and struck him accidentally for all I know.

This is the nonsense we had to put up with all of the time because when you’re a young boy on the loose, there’s sure to be trouble. I’d love to hear some of my readers’ stories of them having nicknames or “getting in trouble.”

Some of the simplest lessons in life we learned as children. It’s good to know that sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you.

But in the information age we live in now, words can hurt and we must choose them wisely.

 

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