Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chapter 5 - Maddog Killer and a Billion Bugs

When I was 12 years old, I had to practice for my Bar Mitzvah. In case you don’t know what a Bar Mitzvah is, it’s an old ritual that Jewish boys go through during their 13th year, a ritual that welcomes them into manhood.  The only part about it, to us boys that had to go through it, is that all your parent’s friends send you money and presents. Every day, when I would come home from school, there would be at least a few envelopes that came in the mail for me with money and checks. There might also be a couple of packages, too. Maybe an electric shoe shine machine, or a real gold fountain pen, or an expensive watch or cufflinks.

I was not what one could call a serious student when I was in the 7th grade. If I had a ten-page paper due three weeks from now, I wouldn’t even start it until the night before. If the paper was not ready on the day it was due, I pretended I was sick so I could stay home from school that day and finish it. I was consistently a straight “C” student but all my teachers liked me because I pretended I liked them.

Practicing for one’s Bar Mitzvah is hard. Just about everything you have to say is in Hebrew, which is the old language from Israel. To me, however, it was simply impossible to master. The letters in Hebrew don’t look anything like English letters. As if that’s not bad enough, in English, we read and write from left to right. In Hebrew, one reads and writes backwards, from right to left.

Needless to say, I was only having this Bar Mitzvah for two reasons. One, for the presents and the money, and two, because my parents MADE me do it.

True to form, I was very lax in studying my Hebrew lessons. My parents would say “Have you learned this week’s verses in Hebrew yet today?” and I would always say “Yes.” They would always reply with “Well, let’s hear what you’ve learned.”

Early on, I tried faking it, making up sounds that were more like Chinese than anything else. My father would laugh, then tell me to get into my room and study. He knew Hebrew well, and he could always tell that what I was pretending to say in Hebrew was just made up gobbledegook.

After dinner one day in early autumn, my parents said they were going to take my two brothers and me out for ice cream. I was down the steps, through the garage and in the car in about five seconds, but before we drove off, my father asked me if I had completed the Hebrew lesson that was due. Not wanting to miss out on ice cream, I said, “Sure.” He asked me to recite the lesson, so I began reciting something like “comawah dingdong karma retty ooh la la scheema” and that was as far as I got. He told me to get out of the car, go to my room and study. No ice cream for me!

So I got out of the car and watched my parents, my two brothers, and even our dog, drive away. I went back into the house and walked upstairs to the second floor where my bedroom was. I was in my room and took off all my clothes except my underpants and sat at my desk where I did my homework. I was actually looking at my Hebrew lesson book, when all of a sudden I was positive I heard the front door creak slowly open. I tried to say “hello?” but I was so scared that no sound was able to come out of my mouth.

Now, about one mile from my house was a gigantic house. It sat in the middle of probably a couple of hundred acres, which was known as the Mitchell Farm. They didn’t do any farming there, but that’s what it was called anyway. About one month earlier, they found Mr. Mitchell dead in his house and they wrote about it in the newspaper every day. It was called the “Mitchell Murder.” Apparently Mr. Mitchell was murdered there, and the killer was unknown. The story was on television and in the newspapers constantly, and as a kid of 12 years of age, I just knew the killer had just entered my house and was coming to kill me, too.

The second floor of our house consisted of four bedrooms. Mine, one for each of my brothers, and my parent’s room. In about two seconds, I came up with a plan to escape the mad killer. I would sneak from my bedroom over to my parent’s bedroom and lock their door behind me. I would then open one of the windows in their room, knock out the screen, and jump from the window down into the swimming pool two stories below. I could then run over to a neighbors house and they would save me.

I made it safely into my parent’s room and locked the door behind me. Shaking like a leaf, I looked out the window to the pool below, and quickly realized that jumping was a bad idea. The pool wasn’t actually JUST below, but about 20 feet down and 20 feet away. I would have to jump 20 feet away from the window if I wanted to make it into the pool. I think the world record for the running start long jump was something like 26 feet. There was no way I could leap from the window and make it – I was sure I would crack my head wide open and die when my body hit the pavement. So now I REALLY got scared.

Our house was large, too, and there were telephones in every room. We had about 15 telephones and 3 phone lines in the house. There were phones everywhere, and they all had the kind of buttons on them that you had to push down to get a phone line before you could make a call. And when you pushed one of the buttons down, it would light up to let others in the house know that line was in use. The phone system in our house was just like the one my father had at his office. I knew that if I tried to phone for help, the madman killer inside my house would see the button light up wherever he was in the house and he would know someone else was in the house, too. He would then come upstairs, knock down the door, and kill me.

My parents had a dressing room off their bedroom, and the door to this room had a lock on it, too. So I went from the bedroom into the dressing room and locked that door behind me. Now I was separated from the killer by two locked doors. The dressing room led to my parent’s bathroom, and this door also could be locked. I went into the bathroom and locked the door. Now there were three locked doors keeping the killer from my small, scared 12-year-old body.

The bathroom had one big window, about four feet wide and three feet high. I looked out of the window, and I could see our next door neighbor, old Mr. Neill, mowing his lawn on his lawn tractor. I couldn’t holler to him because I was sure the killer would definitely hear me, and besides, Mr. Neill was riding a very loud lawn tractor. I could have been 20 feet away from him and he wouldn’t hear anything except the very loud noise his tractor was making. On top of that, the yards in our neighborhood very quite large, and Mr. Neill was at least a football field’s length away.

Not having any more doors to put between me and my executioner, I knew I had to do SOMETHING. I couldn’t just wait in that bathroom for that butcher to break down all of the doors and come for me. So I opened the window and, thinking, just maybe, that Mr. Neill could hear me, I began to holler “HELP! HELP! HELP! HELLLLPPP!”

He never even glanced my way. Now I knew I was going to die. I was sure that the assassin in my house heard my screams, and that right now he was running up the steps to come upstairs to knock down all three doors and do me in.

Just outside the bathroom window, about six feet away and a couple of feet down, was a Blue Spruce tree, which looked like a Christmas tree. I remembered watching my father plant it there when I was about eight years old and I was glad it was much taller now. I thought that if I could leap out of this window, I could maybe grab on to the top of the tree, climb down it, and run over to Mr. Neill’s house and he would protect me.

I pried the screen out of the window jamb and it fell the 20 feet to the ground below. With all the willpower I could muster and shaking with fear, I scurried into the window jamb, said a real quick prayer, and like a flying squirrel, I made my escape. I leapt for the tree.

I hit the tree right where I was aiming, but found out the hard way that there is no way one can climb down a Blue Spruce pine tree. The branches near the top, where I landed, are only the width of a pencil, and about a million of them broke as I slid the whole way down the tree and then fell onto the ground. I lay there for a second or two, the air knocked out of me, all cut up and bleeding, with pieces of the tree still falling onto me.

When I was able to get back up, I sprinted as fast as I could over to Mr. Neill. I had forgotten that I was only wearing my underpants, my tighty-whities. As soon as he saw me, all bloody and in my underpants, he turned off his lawn tractor and asked me what I was doing there. I told him that the Mitchell killer was in my house, and that my parents were off having ice cream.

Mr. Neill took my inside his house and tried to calm me, where I waited, wearing nothing but my underpants, until my parents drove past. Mrs. Neill gave me some ice cream, and she put iodine and band-aids on me.

About 20 minutes went by and I finally saw my family go past and enter our driveway. I thanked Mr. and Mrs. Neill, and sprinted home. I made it to our garage before anyone even got out of the car. I had to warn them before they entered the house and were slaughtered, one by one.

Upon hearing my story and seeing my bruises and bandages, my father made all of us wait outside while he went in the house. My mother was crying, thinking she could have lost one of her children to the Mitchell Murderer.

After a few minutes, my father called us all into the house, saying, “All clear!” There was no one in the house, the front door was locked and bolted from the inside, so apparently no one ever entered our house. But I was definitely maybe positive that I had heard something that evening. So my father called some police friends of his, and they came over to our house and did a thorough search without finding evidence that anyone had been in the house except me. These policemen also told us that they knew who the Mitchell Murderer was. It was Mrs. Mitchell, and they had arrested her earlier that day. Mr. Mitchell was apparently cheating on Mrs. Mitchell, she caught him, and done him in.

My father used a tiny screwdriver, one of the tools on a very small pen knife that he always carried in his pocket, to unlock his bedroom door, then the door to his dressing room, and finally the door to the bathroom. Within a nanosecond of opening the bathroom door, about a trillion bugs flew out of the room and dispersed all over our house. When we entered into the bathroom, you couldn’t even see what color the walls were. There were flying bugs everywhere, and it sounded like we were inside a big stereo speaker. There were moths, some the size of dinner plates. There were mosquitos, gnats, dragonflies, aphids and beetles. There were even grasshoppers, wasps and lightning bugs. The buzzing, humming and whirring was deafening. It was really creepy - even the toilet bowl had a thousand bugs in it. You couldn’t stay in that bathroom for more than a second or two, because the bugs would get in your mouth and ears and eyes and nose.

All of my mother’s perfume bottles were covered with bugs. So were all of the towels, the drinking glasses and shaving equipment. Even the toothpaste tube had about 500 bugs on it.

Because I had knocked the screen out of the window and didn’t bother to turn off the bright bathroom lights before I jumped out and onto the Blue Spruce pine tree, all of the nighttime flying bugs from the surrounding three towns found the lights too irresistible to bear, and they all made a beeline, pardon the pun, for my parent’s bathroom.

We all ended up staying at a motel for a couple of nights and my parents had to find some people to go over to our house to remove all the dead, and some still alive, bugs that were everywhere inside our house. They did a good job, but I don’t think I ever went into my parents bathroom again.

I never mentioned my cuts and bruises to my parents that night, and they never mentioned them to me. Forty years later, I still have some scars on the inside of my arms to remind me of that dreadful night.

I never skipped another Hebrew lesson after that, and I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah a few months later.


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