As a kid, I had plenty of friends. I was a kingpin kid. I always had a gang, and I was usually the one calling the shots.
How did I pull off getting to be the ringleader? Easy. I provided the clubhouse.
I grew up in a small town on the Ohio River. My childhood home was a nice old Victorian in a neighborhood that had gone somewhat to seed. In the backyard was an old wooden stand-alone garage – the kind with long beams running across the top. And at one point, my cool-as-hell older brother had nailed onto these beams a bunch of huge pieces of plywood, creating, effectively, an attic to the garage.
As a side-note, all that plywood had started out as signage supporting my father’s campaign for County Coroner. He’d won…
My gang was always on the lookout for fresh blood. We’d spot a potential new member, and take a vote on whether to invite him in or not.
I remember when we tried to recruit Brian Askren. Brian was older than us, but we thought he might join anyway. He didn’t seem to have any friends.
It was a close vote on whether to approach Brian or not. He had many an idiosyncrasy. Through casual questioning across the chain-link fence which surrounded his trailer, we had learned that he didn’t like music, wasn’t interested in sports at all, and studied martial arts.
The fact that he knew karate actually worked in his favor in the vote. We were always preparing for war with another gang. Of course, there were no other gangs to speak of, but that was beside the point.
“Well, what do you guys do?” asked Brian when we went over to crew him up.
“Play poker. Swap comics. Read comics. Ride bikes. Ramp bikes. Fix bikes. Among other projects…” I told him, intentionally leaving out listening to the radio and trading baseball cards.
“What kinds of projects?”
“Well, right now, our main project is filling plastic juice jugs with pokeberries.”
“To throw at an enemy gang and stain their clothes.”
“Okay… I’m gonna have to pass.”
I wasn’t surprised when Brian declined our offer of membership. He was an odd duck. I mean, who doesn’t like music?
As I recall, Brian did join us in the clubhouse for poker a few times.
Years later, long after my kingpin days were over, and also after my family had moved to the town’s fancier subdivision, I ran into Brian in the grocery store. We chatted, and he was enthusiastic about having moved out of the trailer and into a nice little house. He even invited me over to see.
In the process of giving me the nickel tour, Brian showed me his stash of comics. They were all Wolverine. The next day, I stopped by and gave him a handful of Wolverine books I had doubles of.
A few years after that, Brian became a policeman. I hear he’s doing well.
I wonder whether he has found any music he likes.