Chapter 3
A Dysfunctional Family 

“Uncle Sam!” boomed a disembodied voice, interrupting our family moment.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a group of family members rapidly approaching. Wayne Mclain Junior was leading the pack.  Earlier that morning, while we prepared for the trip to the airport, my mother said that Aunt Lema and her family would accompany us to greet my father off of the plane.  We rode to the airport with Aunt Lema and her husband, Ricky, but they had been waiting in the parking lot for the others to arrive.  Junior, a giant of a man, eclipsed my father with a bear hug and bellowed, “How the hell are ya, Uncle Sam!”
      Everyone took turns embracing my father and welcoming him home.  I later learned that while my father was in the Missouri State Penitentiary, nobody in our family wrote him a letter, visited, or supported him in any way.  Such negligence must’ve occurred to him and some of the others that afternoon because the initial joyous ambience began to shift to a palpable uneasiness.  Undoubtedly sensing the growing tension, my mother joked, “Damn, that was a long game of pool!”
      Everyone laughed.
      While all of this transpired, I studied my father.  His smile stretched his crow’s-feet and the wrinkles across his forehead, all indicative of an arduous life.  He described the plane ride to Texas in a Southern twang, using his hands to animate the conversation.  Watching him evoked a flood of emotions, the most prevalent being the exhilaration of meeting my biological father.  I’d seen the other kids interacting with their dads, heard their stories about how strong their fathers were and all the cool things that they could do; it was thrilling to finally have my own father. 
      He caught me staring and placed a hand on my shoulder.  “And who’s this little fella again?” 
“I’m Robert.”  Our eyes met.  A million questions raced through my head, but I simply said, “I’m your son.”
      His eyes got misty again and he bent over to wrap his arms around me.  I could smell alcohol on his breath when he pressed his beard against my face, squeezed tightly, then whispered, “Good to meet ya, Robert.”  He swallowed to catch his breath.  “I love you, son.”
      We all walked to the airport restaurant to get drinks and relax.  I was seated at the table with my parents, brother, Aunt Lema, and Ricky.  After our drinks were served, I asked my dad, “Do you have two dollars?”
      “Be quiet, Robert,” my suddenly clairvoyant mother interjected.  “You don’t need two dollars.”
      “Whatcha need two dollars for?” my father asked with a quizzical look.
      I was speechless.
      “Tell him what you want two dollars for,” my mother insisted.  “Your daddy’s home now, I can let him deal with you.” 
      All eyes were on me.  I hesitated before saying, “I wanna buy some dip, it costs two dollars a can.”
      Steven and his friends from our apartments dipped snuff and—wanting to be like them—I picked the habit up.  My mother didn’t like it, but she offered little resistance.  Slightly inebriated and probably not ready to disappoint me yet, my father reached into his pant’s pocket, removed a leather-bound, prison-crafted wallet, and fingered out two dollars.  Uncle Ricky stood up, took the two dollars, and told me to follow him and he’d buy it for me. 
      We left the airport and traveled around Houston visiting family the remainder of the day.  Some of the faces were familiar—we lived with them before—most were new to me.  Everyone seemed delighted that Uncle Sam was out of prison and most offered him gifts ranging from clothing to money.  I wondered where these people were when we were struggling to survive.  Where was this generosity when our utilities were shut off, when our refrigerator and cupboards were empty, or when we needed a place to stay?  In retrospect, it looked as if some of these people wanted to appear to my father like they had been by our side the entire time he was in prison.  Their behavior puzzled me then, but now I understand.  They were afraid of Uncle Sam.  Cousin Junior and Uncle Ricky didn’t want my dad to know that they showed up on our front porch after midnight once and took away the furniture that Lema gave my mother; we were left with a chair and two mattresses.  Now I know why my cousin Nancy, Lema’s second oldest daughter, invited us to stay with her in their family’s brick home and why her husband, James Allan, paid for dinner at Poncho’s Mexican Buffet that first night.  Nobody wanted to aggravate Uncle Sam. 
      Aunt Lema asked us to spend the night with her, so after we left Poncho’s, we went to her apartment.  Her son, John, was kneeling on the living room floor, playing with his brindled pit bull, when we walked through the front door.  John wrapped his arm around the dog’s neck, pointed him at a full-body mirror against the wall, and breathed into his ear, “Whaaa-tch him, Dynamite.  Whaaa-tch him, boy.”
      A rumbling growl pervaded the room as Dynamite focused on his reflection.  John tightened his grip on the dog’s collar, slapped him on the backside, then released his neck with the order, “Ssssick him, boy!”
      The dog barked ferociously, twisting and turning in an attempt to get at the image of himself.  John held him at bay, then calmed him by turning him away from the mirror and praising, “Dat’s a good boy!  Yes him is!” 
      At this point, my father was wasted from drinking all day.  He grinned from ear-to-ear, dropped to the floor on hands and knees, and crawled to Dynamite.  With his face next to the dog’s ear, he roared, “You ain’t no bad motherfucker!”
      Then he sank his teeth into Dynamite’s neck and shook his head back and forth.  The dog yelped and broke loose, then darted into the hallway with his tail between his legs.  This spectacle made everyone laugh, and it was my first peek at how impetuous my father can be while intoxicated.

A Fanatical Grandmother

The psychological connection developed between mother and child from the intrauterine period through the early stages of childhood is extremely powerful.  Despite the fact that his mother abused and neglected him most of his life, my father often felt compelled to visit her after extensive intervals of separation.  A few days after he stepped off the plane from Missouri, we were in his brother Dewey’s car headed to their mother’s house.
      Grandma Johnson, as I was instructed to call her, lived with her husband, Burt, and son Dewey in a prosperous neighborhood off of FM 1960, on the north side of Houston.  My eyes widened as we cruised by luxurious homes with manicured lawns and shiny automobiles out front.  It was the kind of subdivision with the “Neighborhood Watch” cars that used to chase Grandpa away when we tried dumpster hopping there.  Dewey pulled the car into the driveway of a house with dark, blue siding, a two-car garage, and a large cottonwood in the front yard.  It was incredible to think that we had family living there. 
Dewey led us down a sidewalk with immaculately trimmed shrubs on one side, a flower garden on the other.  He unlocked the front door and we followed him through a white foyer and into the living room.  A portly woman with blue hair sat opposite an old, baldheaded man on a matching recliner; both stared languidly at a large screen TV set.  The woman looked at my father. 
“Hello, Sam,” my grandmother spoke in a monotone.  “Good to see you made it out again.”
“Good to see ya, too, Mother,” my father said as he hugged his mother.  With one arm around her, he pointed at me and asked, “Have ya met my youngest?”
Grandma Johnson’s eyes rested on me.  I thought I detected a thin smile, but it vanished when she said, “No, I don’t believe so.”
“Come give your grandma a hug, Robert.  You, too, Steven,” our father said.
I treaded thick carpet and leaned into an embrace.  Mentholatum assaulted my nostrils, forcing me to hold my breath and close my eyes.  I couldn’t wait to get away from her; old people smelled gross.  After Steven hugged her, Dewey ushered us into the room where we’d be sleeping, while our parents sat on the couch and conversed with my grandparents.  It sounded like someone said, “Jesus,” as I walked out of the room. 
Later that night, after Dewey cooked and served a delicious chicken dinner, my father informed us that we were going to church the next morning, and then we’d go up to Lake Livingston for a few days.  Before he left the bedroom, I asked, “Can we go to the store and buy some dip?”
“You’re too young to be doing that, it stops right now,” he sternly stated.
“You ain’t the boss of me!” I shouted. 
He closed the bedroom door, bit down on his tongue and bottom lip, then smacked me across the head.  I tumbled onto the bed and he pulled his belt off.  With one hand he turned me over, with the other he slapped his belt over my backside several times.  It felt like someone had lit my ass on fire as I tried to wriggle free, but his tight grip prevented escape.  Afterwards, he placed both hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eye, and said, “Listen to me, mister.  I don’t know what kinda shit you pulled on your momma, but you’re gonna do as I say, you hear me?”
“Yes, sir.”
He placed my head between his bicep and chest, gave an affectionate squeeze, then kissed the top of my head.  “I love you, dude.  Don’t ever forget that, okay?”
“Okay,” I had calmed down some.  “I love you, too, Dad.”
That was the first of innumerable spankings that he handed down to me.  While his disciplinary methods were usually unconventional—he was adept at using his hands in a way that wouldn’t seriously injure me—he invariably got my attention.  I soon learned to listen when he spoke, and that back talk wasn’t an option.  He made it clear that he had my best interest in mind after he disciplined me, and assured me that he loved me.  Many accusations can be made against my parents, but no one can ever say that they didn’t love their children. 
The following morning, we piled into two cars and left for church.  I hadn’t attended church services before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The church was a typical one:  a white building with an enormous cross on top.  Inside, there were rows of pews, a wooden pulpit atop a carpeted platform, and a painting of the Christ crucified affixed to the wall behind the altar.
I was seated between my parents, Steven was next to my mother, my grandparents were on my dad’s side.  A silver-haired man in a dark business suit stepped onto the platform, walked behind the pulpit, removed the microphone, and greeted his congregation.  He began preaching about sin, heaven, hell, tithing, and God.  I tried to listen, but I couldn’t keep up with him. 
Halfway through the sermon, a box filled with money was handed to my mother.  She passed it to my father, who removed his wallet and placed a couple of one dollar bills inside, then he gave it to his mother and she dropped a handful of what looked like twenty dollar bills into it before passing it to the people in the next pew.  I wondered where all of that money was going?  The preacher later asked everyone to rise, and he started singing while a woman nearby played the piano.  Everyone in the pews, save me, sang along from the songbooks. 
Everyone mingled after the services.  The preacher approached us and embraced my grandmother.  She looked at him in earnest and implored, “Brother Nash, please pray for my son and his family.”
Rumor has it that Grandma Johnson followed Brother Nash from Corpus Christi to Houston after she separated from my biological grandfather.  It didn’t matter that Nash’s brother fathered my cousin Charles, aka Chucky, with Lema’s oldest daughter, Christine, then abandoned her; Grandma Johnson remained one of Nash’s biggest financial supporters until she died.  Brother Nash obviously knew my father because he smiled broadly and proffered his hand. 
“Sam, how are you?”
“Just fine, Brother Nash.”  My father shook his hand. 
“Can I pray for you and your family, Sam?”
“Sure.”
“Alright, ya’ll gather ‘round and let’s hold hands,” Brother Nash said.
We formed a circle and Brother Nash began praising Jesus and rebuking Satan.  By this time, I was tired and wanted to lie down somewhere.  I tried to break away from the circle and head to the pews, but my parents, who were holding my hands, tightened their grips. 
“Satan!” hissed my grandmother.  I looked up and she was glaring at me, false teeth clenched, an expression of scorn on her face.  Rather than look away, I returned a challenging stare. 
Brother Nash finished his prayer a moment later and we all walked outside, climbed into the cars, and went to a restaurant for lunch.  I’d only known my grandmother for a day and already didn’t like her. 

A Flagrant Foul:  Half the Distance to the Goal

My anticipation mounted with each mile on the road to Lake Livingston.  Dad said we’d go fishing, swimming, possibly ride in a boat, and he and Dewey would barbecue.  I was eager to showcase my swimming skills for my dad—I just knew he’d be impressed—but my enthusiasm waned when we drove into a rainstorm just outside of Livingston.  By the time we pulled into the trailer rental lot, the rain was pouring down. 
      My grandparents rented two trailers:  one for them and Dewey, the other for my family.  Steven and I helped my father and Dewey unload the cars, then the four of us rode to the store to buy dinner.  Dewey took some sandwiches and chips to my grandparents, who immediately retreated to their trailer upon arrival, then he returned to eat with us.  The plans for the following day were discussed—weather permitting—then my dad and Dewey entertained us with tales from past misadventures. 
      Shortly thereafter, my parents retired to their bedroom.  Dewey, Steven, and I watched an animal show on TV for awhile until Steven decided to call it a day.  He set up a pullout bed in the middle of the trailer and bedded down for the night. 
      Dewey sat next to me on the pullout bed I’d be sleeping on and he told me all about the black panthers and tigers on the TV, making me laugh with his corny imitations of them.  According to my mother, Dewey let us live with him when I was a toddler, when he had his own place.  I have a vague recollection of him back then, but he still felt like a stranger to me; although, he seemed like a good guy. 
      I told Dewey that I was sleepy a little later and he turned the TV and lights off, then left the room.  I pulled the blanket over my head and went to sleep with dangerous, wild cats on my mind.
      A scream, followed by shouting and my father yelling, “Goddamn queer,” woke me up.  I pulled the blanket off of my head just as Dewey was running past me and out of the front door.  A few seconds later, my father gave chase in boxers with a butter knife in his hand.  My mother then emerged from the hallway with Steven and asked me if I was okay, to which I assured her that I was.  My father reentered the trailer a moment later breathing heavily.
      “The bitch got away,” he said disappointedly.
      When Dewey left me that night, he climbed into bed with Steven, squeezed my brother’s penis, kissed him on the nape of the neck, then said, “Give me some covers, baby.”  Steven shoved him away and yelled for my father.  Fortunately for Dewey, he eluded my dad. 
      Years later, my father told me that Dewey lived in Seattle, Washington in the early 1960s with his wife and two sons.  His wife came home early from work one day and caught him in bed with a man and kicked him out.  Dewey later went to prison for ten years and, when he was released, he was open about his homosexuality.  My father caught up with him a couple of days after the incident on the lake and let him off with a warning:  “Touch one of my boys again and I’ll cut your dicksucking head off.”
      We lived with Dewey a couple of times after that and he never behaved inappropriately around us again.  In fact, from that day forward, he laughed with us when we called him, “Aunt Dewey.”

Uncle Bill’s House:  Summer of 1986 

Up In Smoke

We moved with astonishing frequency over the following nine years.  Financial instability was the primary reason for this, although I detect a subtler cause.  My father, a self-described Gypsy, had spent most of his life in prison where he was constantly told what to do and his every move restricted.  In my analysis, we changed addresses many times because living in one place too long reminded him of prison.  He enjoyed exercising his freedom to move.    
    The night before I met my father was the last that I spent at our apartment in Baytown.  A few days after we left Livingston, my father was hired as a heavy equipment operator at Brown-n-Root Construction Company, on the north side of Houston.  Since we didn’t have a vehicle at the time, we had to move closer to his job.  His brother, Bill, let us live with him until my father could accumulate enough money to afford our own place. 
      Bill Pruett was the antithesis of his brother, Sam.  Bill didn’t drink alcohol or get high, I don’t think he ever went to jail, and he wasn’t the least bit aggressive.  My father told me that Bill lived in Kansas City, Missouri in the late 1970s.  One time, Bill planned a trip to a theme park with his family and, at the last minute, something came up at work that required his assistance.  He didn’t want to spoil his family’s fun, so he told them to go on without him.  The problem at his job wasn’t as complicated as his employers thought; he fixed it in no time, then headed to the theme park with hopes of surprising his family.  When he arrived, he located his wife’s van and noticed that it was shaking.  Confused, he walked up to it and looked through the window to find his wife lying on her back with an unfamiliar man between her legs.  Rather than pound on the guy, which Sam would’ve done at the very least had he been in the same situation, Bill quietly walked away and drove home.  When his wife and kids returned home that night, Bill simply said, “I think we need to see a marriage counselor.”
      The first time we lived with Bill, he lived in a white, two-story house off of Rebecca Street, across from Northline Mall.  It was a cozy place with five bedrooms, garage, and a sizeable backyard.  Bill lived there with his second wife, Tina (his first wife, Kathy, was the one that he caught having an affair), daughters, Melannie, Melissa, and Deidre, and son, Mark.  Tina’s daughter from another marriage, Monique, also lived there with her infant son, Buddy. 
      Mark, who was in his mid-20s at the time, was afflicted with Down Syndrome.  He required assistance to perform the simplest tasks such as using the toilet, bathing, and applying personal hygiene.  He usually sat in a chair in the corner of the living room, shaking a plastic comb with his fingers, rocking back and forth, and repeatedly saying, “Dot.”  I never heard him speak, or even acknowledge anyone’s presence, except once.  I was the only other person in the room when he suddenly stopped rocking, stopped shaking the comb, and stared at me for about five seconds.  It made me paranoid, but when he resumed his routine, I collected myself. 
On more than one occasion, I witnessed one of the girls—Tina, Melissa, and especially Monique—slap and punch Mark in his head.  He absorbed their blows and continued playing with his comb as if nothing had happened.  This disturbed me greatly.  I couldn’t comprehend why they would treat a helpless person like that.  I secretly hoped that Mark, who looked pretty strong, would snatch one of them up and start smacking them in the head.  I’ll bet that would’ve made them think twice about hitting him.  My father caught Monique punching Mark one time and yelled at her until she cried.  After that, none of them ever hit Mark in front of my dad again.
Excluding the times that I watched Mark get assaulted, living with Bill was a blessing.  Tina was a remarkable cook and, with Bill working in the booming computer industry, their kitchen was always stocked with groceries.  I don’t recall ever being hungry at Uncle Bill’s house.  They also had a color TV with a VCR and we watched movies with them almost every night. 
While out in the backyard playing one afternoon, I entered the garage in search of a saw to cut a tree branch off and make a sword out of it.  As I sifted through a scattered pile of tools on a worktable, a bright, red object caught my eye.  Behind several buckets of paint, was a plastic, one gallon gasoline container.  I looked out the garage window to make sure no one was outside, then returned to the container, unscrewed the nozzle, and began huffing. 
I soon heard the familiar “WHAA-WHAA-WHAA” sound and became dizzy.  Suddenly, a sharp pain shot through my head and I crashed into the wall in front of me.  A fist connected with my back, and a pair of hands grabbed the back of my shirt and yanked me off of the ground. 
“What the fuck is wrong with you,” my father demanded.  “That shit will kill you, stupid!  Do you want to fry your godddamn brain?”
“No, sir!” I cried. 
He sank his fingers into my shoulders, bit down on his tongue and bottom lip, shook me violently, then scolded, “Keep your ass out of here!  If I ever catch you doing that again, I will beat you to death!  Now go take a bath!”
After my bath, I fell asleep on the waterbed in our bedroom.  My mother woke me up later that night.  My parents were sitting next to me on the edge of the bed, Steven was in a chair close by.  Dad gave me a hug and said, “Little dude, that gas is some dangerous shit, you need to keep away from it.  Years ago, I had a partner that lost his mind from sniffing that shit.”  He stared at me seriously, then looked at my mother and said, “Go make sure everyone’s asleep.”
Mom left the room and returned a moment later.  “They’re asleep.”
“Fire it up,” my father nodded at Steven.
Steven reached into his pant’s pocket and pulled out what looked like one of the roll up cigarettes that Grandpa smoked.  He put it between his lips, sparked a lighter to it, then inhaled powerfully.  He took a couple of drags before my dad said, “Let Robert hit it.”
My brother passed me the joint, I gripped it with my thumb and index finger, brought it to my lips, and took several tokes.  Steven told me to hold the smoke in as long as possible and I did until I coughed.  “If you’re gonna homestead it, build a fence around it,” my dad joked as he took the joint from me and puffed on it. 
I felt light-headed, my breathing was slow and smooth, and I was very relaxed.  Steven made a funny face at me and I started laughing uncontrollably until my father admonished, “Mellow out, dude.”  I stopped laughing and he continued, “I’d rather you smoke weed than huff gas.  Ain’t nobody ever died from smoking dope.”
My parents let me smoke marijuana with them from that day forward.  The only exception was that I wasn’t allowed to get high on school nights, although I constantly found ways to circumvent that rule until my father finally lifted it when I was about 10 years old.  In many ways, my father tried to be more of a friend to me than a father in an attempt to compensate for all the years he was absent from my life.  He probably thought that I wouldn’t hate or resent him for missing the first seven years of my life if he let me get by with some things.  Whatever the case might be, I trace the beginning of my end to that summer night at Uncle Bill’s house.

 

Aldine Mail Route Apartments:  Summer of 1986-Spring of 1987

Developing Addictions

After he was released from prison in 1986, my father unequivocally intended to eschew his former outlaw lifestyle and make an honest living.  While he continued to smoke marijuana (he said it didn’t influence him the same way hard drugs or alcohol did), he hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol since the day I met him and he maintained a steady job most of the following nine years.  I’ve watched how working six (sometimes seven) days a week—usually from sunup until sundown—at backbreaking jobs enervated him, yet he persevered.  He once told me that meeting me, and seeing how much Steven had grown, impelled him to do the right thing and stay out of prison so he could watch us grow.  He admits that he made numerous mistakes after leaving the Missouri State Penitentiary (i.e. getting me high), but I know that he gave us his best, and I commend him for working, rather than robbing, for money. 
      The handsome salary that Brown-n-Root paid my father enabled him to rent us a two bedroom apartment in the two-story complex where Aunt Lema lived, on the north side of Houston.  He had established himself as a dependable worker and that helped him get Steven a job with Brown-n-Root as a flag man directing traffic around construction sites.  From this point on, my father and brother worked as a team so that my mother could stay at home with me, which she preferred. 
      Our quality of life improved noticeably once we settled into our apartment.  My father purchased a used Gremlin car, secondhand furniture from a flea market, and a rent-to-own entertainment center.  In addition, Steven and I had our own bedroom with separate beds, there wasn’t anymore jostling for the bathroom with the girls at Bill’s house, and we could watch whatever we wanted on TV without Tina’s permission.  We also began a tradition:  every Friday (or payday) we either went out to eat or ordered takeout, rented movies to watch over the weekend, and bought a quarter ounce of weed that was supposed to last until the following payday, but never did. 
      My father put me on a weekly allowance after my seventh birthday.  After work on paydays, he asked my mother if I did my chores for the week—taking out the trash, washing dishes, cleaning my room—and if she answered yes, he gave me a crisp five dollar bill.  Even on weeks when I was lazy and didn’t do all of my chores, my mother never disappointed me by telling my father no. 
      Every Saturday morning, I ran the half mile down the sidewalk on Aldine Mail Route to the Circle K convenience store on the intersection of Aldine Westfield, with my five dollar bill balled tightly into my fist.  By the time I walked through the door, my money would be damp with perspiration.  I’d be breathing heavily as I grabbed a 16 ounce Dr Pepper and Snickers, took them to the counter, and respectfully asked the clerk for all quarters in change.  The soda and candy bar cost just under a dollar, so I had 16 quarters left; I fed every single one into the Super Mario Bros video arcade in the corner of the store. 
      Super Mario Bros was a novelty back then.  I was entranced by Mario and his brother, Luigi, the ringing brick blocks they banged against, the flying turtles, walking mushrooms, and the antagonist—a fire-breathing dragon named King Koopa who held the princess hostage.  The alluring music that played during a game kept me nearby watching as the other kids played once I’d spent my last quarter and my last man died.  I was hopelessly addicted to the Italian brothers and their mission to save the princess. 
      One day, after I’d spent my last quarter, I walked outside and checked the pay phones in front of the store for quarters.  No luck.  I found one once, so I always checked.  With no one inside playing the game, I decided to loiter for a few minutes in hopes that some kid would show up with some quarters.  Sometimes a kid would let me play one of the three allotted men after I ran out of quarters, and there was always the chance that some kid’s parent would force him/her to leave while their game was still going and I could take over. 
      Just as I was about to walk home, a lady exiting the store dropped her purse, spilling its contents all over the parking lot.  Acting quickly, I ran down a couple of pieces of paper that the wind was carrying away.  The woman wore an expression of relief when I handed her her property.  She thanked me, opened her billfold, and gave me a dollar for my help.  I was smiling when the clerk handed me four quarters a moment later. 
      A flying turtle killed my last Mario about an hour later, but the encounter with the woman had me thinking.  I went back outside, sat on the pavement in front of the pay phones, and surveyed the parking lot.  A few minutes later, an old man pulled up in a truck.  I met him as he stepped out of it. 
      “Excuse me, sir.  Would you happen to have a dollar?”
      He smirked at me, then he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled a dollar out. As he handed it to me, he advised, “Don’t be too friendly with strangers, son.”
      It went into one ear and out of the other.  I panhandled daily after that until the store clerks caught on and warned me to stop or they’d call the police.  There was a car wash behind the store, so I simply moved to it to set up shop.  Most people refused to give me money, some threatened to turn me in, but I still averaged a few dollars a day.  Just enough to feed my addiction. 

Extracurricular Activities

In September of 1986, I was enrolled in the 1st grade at Steven’s Elementary School.  My mother tried to enroll me in Kindergarten two years before, but the school district’s stringent policy prohibited children under five years of age entry; my fifth birthday was less than three weeks after the start of the school year.  I don’t think that being a year older than my classmates ever affected me. 
      I was excited about attending Steven’s Elementary and looked forward to each day, as was usually the case throughout elementary school.  Everything was a challenge for my classmates and me.  We competed to see who could finish assignments first, who’d get the highest grade, who was the best athlete at recess, and even who could eat the fastest in the cafeteria.  When I paid attention and applied myself, I was a formidable opponent.  Success against my peers, coupled with the praise my teachers continually bestowed upon me for academic achievements, motivated me to give my best effort for quite some time. 
      My father tried to pique my interest in organized sports by signing me up for T-ball shortly after I started 1st grade.  At first, I was an ardent participant, but my enthusiasm diminished with each practice.  My teammates were indifferent and it showed by their performance, or lack thereof.  During practices, kids ran away from pop flies, took off to third after getting a base hit, and skipped bases.  The kids I played with during recess at school were fiery and competitive, my T-ball team was the polar opposite. 
      It was during our second official game when I decided that T-ball wasn’t for me.  One of my teammates struck out with the bases loaded to end our comeback rally.  I just couldn’t fathom how anyone could miss a ball placed on a tee—THREE CONSECUTIVE TIMES!!  Actually, I might’ve stayed on the team had my father been able to attend my practices and games.  He always worked, though, so he couldn’t make it.  I never blamed him for that because I knew that if he didn’t work, we wouldn’t survive. 
      Uncle Bill showed his support when I began the 1st grade by loaning us a TRS-80 computer.  He included several blank floppy disks, which I never used, and a video game called Thirteen Ghosts.  The object of the game was to eat the ghosts as they appeared on the screen with a mouth-like graphic.  There were thirteen levels, and the ghosts moved faster and multiplied with each progressive level.  It took me about a week to beat the game.  I can’t make the same claim about Super Mario Bros; I never rescued the princess on the arcade, but I did when it came out on Nintendo. 
      One night I was smoking a joint while playing Thirteen Ghosts when my dad opened my bedroom door and tossed a can of Buglar tobacco on my bed.  He said, “There’s a pack of papers inside.  Practice rolling with the tobacco because you’re gonna be the designated roller when Steven ain’t around.  Don’t let me catch you smoking any of those cigarettes either.”
      A few nights before, while we were getting high in the living room, I tried to roll a joint with the thin Zig Zag rolling papers, but kept ripping them.  My dad didn’t want me wasting the expensive Zig Zags, so he bought the cheap Buglar. 
      It’s ironic that he allowed me to smoke marijuana, but I couldn’t smoke a cigarette in front of him until I was 12 years old.  He only let me do it then because he knew I was doing it behind his back.  He didn’t think that marijuana was as dangerous as tobacco. 

Tammie and Mike Move In

Michael Mclain, aka Mike, spent most of his life in foster homes and institutions after his mother, Lema, and my mother were imprisoned in the mid-1970s.  When he was released from prison in the winter of 1986, my father let him live with us since we had more room than any of our relatives. 
      Mike, Lema’s youngest son, was a couple of years older than Steven, so they hung out a lot back then.  They liked to go cruising in our Gremlin, and they let me tag along occasionally.  We were out riding around one day when we passed a young woman wearing a tight miniskirt.  Mike grinned at Steven and said, “Turn around, I want me some of that!”
      “She’s outta your league, Monkey.” My brother chuckled.
      “I ain’t tryin’ to date her.  Let’s snatch her up and take turns on her,” Mike turned to me and smiled.  “You want some pussy, little Robert?”
      “Hell yeah!” I nodded.
      Steven didn’t turn around, nobody was abducted, no one was raped.  My brother and I thought that Mike was joking.  Years later, I reflected back and realized that Mike was dead serious.  Had Steven been game, Mike would’ve done just as he said. 
      Several weeks after Mike moved in, my sister, Tammie, was remanded to my parents’ custody.  It had been awhile since I last saw her; it felt great to have her back home.  We welcomed her home by going out to eat and renting movies. 
      Everyone had to make adjustments after Tammie returned home.  She slept in Steven’s bed, while Mike and Steven slept on couches in the living room.  Since Tammie’s caseworker made periodic checkups, we had to surreptitiously smoke dope for a couple of months because my dad didn’t want Tammie telling on us.  I slipped up once when Tammie was in the room and asked if we could burn a joint.  My dad scolded, “Loose lips, sink ships!”

It Must Be Love

One time, I wasted half a day panhandling down at the car wash with no results.  Resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t be playing Super Mario Bros that day, I headed back to my apartment complex.  As I entered the driveway, I saw a woman tossing her trash into the dumpster.  This made me stop to think.  Steven used to take people’s garbage out for change when we were younger, there wasn’t anything restricting me from doing it then. 
      I knocked on every door in our complex that afternoon and asked people if they needed their trash removed.  At 50 cents a bag, I quickly built up a clientele, raking in an average of 10 dollars a week.  Of course, most of it went to the Mario cause. 
      After school one afternoon, my mother said that she watched some new people move into a corner apartment earlier that day.  I strolled over and knocked on their door.  As I was mentally rehearsing my sales pitch, a blue-eyed girl with curly brown hair opened the door. 
      “Yes?”
      Her enchanting beauty unnerved me.  “Uh, do you need trash, er.  Can I take your, um.  Do you want me to take your trash out?  For money, I mean.  I take trash out for money.”
      She giggled and invited me inside.  I followed her into the kitchen where she pointed me to a trash can and asked, “How much to get rid of that?”
      “Um, one quarter.”
      The can was nearly full, but she was too pretty to charge full price.  While I disposed of her trash, she hunted in her mother’s room for a quarter.  She handed it to me when I returned, then asked me if I wanted to hang out.  Suddenly, Mario wasn’t all that important. 
      We sat on her couch, listened to 80s hair bands, and got acquainted with each other.  I learned that her name was Jenny, she was 15, and had just moved from the other side of Houston with her single mother and five year old brother, both of whom were at a relative’s house at the time.  We chatted for about an hour before I decided that Jenny was cool people and asked, “Do you smoke bud?”
      “Fuckin’-A I do,” she exclaimed.  Then she gave me a curious look and wondered, “Aren’t you too young to even know what bud is?”
      “I know all about bud,” I assured her.  “My dad has a stash and I can go pinch us a joint if you want?”
      “Alright.”
      Ten minutes later, we were back on her couch, smoking a smooth-hitting joint that I impressed her by rolling, while listening to White Snake and watching cartoons.  I did my Woody Woodpecker impersonation and she laughed herself to tears.  Then she went into the kitchen and returned with a bag of cookies and a glass of milk and announced, “I have munchies!”
      I hung out with Jenny and her little brother a lot after that.  One day, a couple of weeks after I met her, we were kicking back in her apartment, getting high, when I boldly expressed my infatuation.  “Jenny, you’re the finest chick in the world!”
      She giggled as she ran her fingers through my hair, then she kissed me on the lips.  It wasn’t a French kiss, it was just lips-on-lips.  She then showed me her pretty smile and cooed, “You’re such a cutie, Robert!”
      Jenny kissed me like that many times and it always sent quivers through my body.  She also teased me a lot, telling me that I could be her boyfriend when I got older.  She was sitting next to me on her couch once, with her arm over my shoulders, when I asked, “Can’t you be my pretend chick now?  If anyone asks, I mean.”
      “Sure, cutie.  You can tell everyone that I’m your chick.”
      I skipped over to Jenny’s apartment one afternoon and found her standing outside, yelling at a boy about my age.  He had been picking on her little brother, and she was warning him to stay away from her brother and her apartment.  She saw me approaching and told me to come inside as she stepped into her apartment.  As I walked towards her door, the kid she’d been yelling at glared at me and challenged, “You want a piece of me?”
      “Listen up,” I pointed at him.  “Leave her brother alone.”
      “Let’s fight right now then!”
      He raised his fists in the air.  Jenny emerged from her apartment and told me to come inside again, but I shook my head no.  She folded her arms across her chest and watched as I converged on the boy, who was standing in front of her neighbors’ window.  Once I got about five feet from him, I took a deep breath, sprinted at him, and kicked him square in the chest, sending him through the window. 
      Jenny immediately pulled me into her apartment and locked the door.  She hugged me and cried, “Oh my god, cutie!  You kicked him good!  Let’s hope he doesn’t tell on you!”
      She pulled the curtains over her windows and peeked outside to see what was going on.  She said she saw the people next door walk by with the kid, then they returned with the manager and were standing in front of their apartment, looking at the broken window.  Jenny closed the curtain and said, “Uh-oh, I think the manager caught me spying, she’s coming this way!”
      There was a knock on her door.  Jenny said she didn’t want to answer it, but had to.  The manager, a middle-aged, blonde woman with Coke-bottle glasses, stood in the doorway when Jenny opened the door. 
      “Is that blond boy from number 21 in there?”
      I came to the door and Jenny stepped aside.  The manager abruptly reached out, latched onto my long blond hair, and screamed, “You little bastard, you’re gonna be sorry you fucked with me!”
      The woman lifted me off the ground by my shirt and hair, and she carried me all the way to my apartment like that.  Jenny was irate.  She followed us closely, screaming at the woman the whole way.  “Put him down!  You can’t do that to a kid!  Put him down, bitch!”
      Though blinding streaks of pain shot through my scalp, my heart swelled with love as Jenny defended me. 
      At my apartment, the woman put me down, yet held onto my shirt, and pounded on my door.  My mother answered the door.  The woman vehemently explained what had happened, told my mother that we would have to pay for the window, and that I wasn’t allowed outside unsupervised anymore, then she stormed back to her office. 
      My father came home from work with Aunt Lema and Ricky that evening.  Aunt Lema had moved in with Junior a couple of weeks after we moved into the apartment on Aldine Mail Route, but she still visited often and we all went out to eat on occasion.  I think that’s why they showed up with my dad that night.  My mother told my father what had happened with me that day, while Aunt Lema listened intently.  The fight and broken window were secondary issues to my father and Lema; that woman abusing me held center stage.  In many respects, Lema was like my father:  extremely aggressive, ill-tempered, and someone you don’t want to piss off. 
      My father and I followed Aunt Lema to the manager’s office.  Aunt Lema burst through the door with her red hair flowing and angrily demanded, “What’s this I hear about you pulling my nephew’s hair?”
      “That boy broke a window, he was figh-” The aging blonde couldn’t finish her sentence before Lema maneuvered her stout frame around the desk, grabbed a handful of hair, and began driving her fist into the woman’s face.  The manager’s glasses went flying, blood splattered with each blow, and she repeatedly screamed, “Please stop!”
      Aunt Lema stopped punching her, slapped her across the face, then cautioned, “If you ever put your hands on one of mine again, I’ll kill you.  You understand me, slut?”
      “Yes,” mumbled the manager.
      Lema released the manager and she immediately crawled into the corner, assumed the fetal position, and sobbed. 
      We received a 30 day eviction notice the next day.  That was the first of many times that I got us kicked out of a place. 

I-45 N. Trailer Park:  Spring-Summer of 1987

The Gagnasty Clan

Aunt Lema and Ricky shared a trailer with Junior’s family in a trailer park about two miles north of Greens Road, off the feeder road of I-45 N.  There were about 30 well-kept trailers in the park that were linked by a winding, asphalt road.  We moved into a blue two bedroom trailer three lots down from Aunt Lema and her bunch. 
      While I’ve often thought of Junior and his family as being my favorite cousins, living with or around them was usually nauseating.  Junior met and married Bonnie in 1979 and they had four children together—Billy Wayne, Troy, Tonya, and Rebecca.  In their unorthodox relationship, Bonnie frequently worked while Junior stayed at home with their kids.  The problem was that Junior laid on the couch, watched TV, and ate all day, while his children ran amok.  Consequently, their home oftentimes had piles of dirty clothes scattered throughout, stacks of dirty dishes and open containers of spoiling food everywhere, urine-laden mattresses, and parasite-ridden pets that weren’t house-trained.  Add all of that to their aversion to personal hygiene and you get a stench so putrid that it induces vomiting from most outsiders.  Every now and then, Junior would make his kids clean their house, but it rarely got done unless Bonnie did it herself. 
      Billy Wayne and Troy, one and two years younger than me respectively, tried to emulate me.  They applied personal hygiene and took care of their clothes when they hung out with me, but regressed when left to their own devices at home.  There were many times when I’d give one a shirt or pair of pants and they’d ruin it within a week.  A few years after we all lived in the trailer park off of I-45, Troy seemed to be breaking away from his family’s slovenly lifestyle, but I received a picture of him in 2002 with his hair in disarray, grease stains on his shirt, and crayon scribbles on the wall in the background. 
      With only a couple of months left in the school year, I was enrolled in the school that Billy Wayne attended.  Billy Wayne was an obese child who had difficulty containing bowel movements, which made him an easy target for ridicule by other kids.  I rode the bus to and from school with him and, at first, I felt embarrassed that he was my cousin and didn’t like sitting next to him. 
      About a week after we started riding the bus together, a few kids were needling Billy Wayne and he fell to the floor in tears.  I looked down at him with his arms covering his head as he whined, and a surge of indignation shot through me.  I stood up on the seat and turned to his tormentors—a couple of kids close to his age several seats behind us—then shouted, “Why don’t y’all shut the fuck up!  He hasn’t done a damn thing to y’all and you keep ganging up on him for no reason!  Keep it up and I’m gonna start making you cry!” 
      The bus driver told me to sit down.  Billy Wayne stopped crying, pushed himself off of the floor, and put his arm over my shoulders.  “You’re my favorite cousin,” he proclaimed. 
      “You’re mine, too,” I assured.
      Several minutes later, a pretty, redheaded girl moved into the seat across the aisle from us and asked, “What’s your name?”
      “I’m Robert, this is Billy Wayne,” I nodded at Billy Wayne.  “What’s your name?”
      “Suzy.” The girl showed me her braces.  “That was brave of you.  Those idiots always pick on kids they don’t like.”
      We talked until the bus stopped in front of her house, then she stood up to exit.  She lived in a green house with a jumbo-sized trampoline in the front yard.  Before she exited, she turned to us and said, “If you guys ever wanna come over and hang out, that would be cool.”
      That afternoon, Billy Wayne and Troy followed me through the woods by our trailer park, around an ominous looking, algae covered swamp, and into Suzy’s neighborhood.  We spent the remainder of the day jumping on her trampoline with her and her friends. 

It’s Just a Game

One Saturday morning, my brother told me to put my shoes on because we were going for a walk.  We left our trailer park and walked through the parking lots of the business buildings off of I-45.  Curious about our expedition, I asked, “Where are we going?”
      “To the mall.”
      Greenspoint Mall was located on the intersection of Greens Road and I-45.  When you passed by it on the freeway, the amalgamation of stores and sparkling windows looked stupendous.  The news that we were actually going there put a bounce in my step.
      The two mile walk with the sun scorching us soon put a hitch in my giddy-up.  We had to stop a couple of times and search for water in the office buildings.  When we arrived at the mall, we walked through the entire apparatus, scoping out the interesting stores, then we headed to the arcade. 
      The arcade in Greenspoint Mall was a spectacle to behold.  Over 200 arcades were strategically situated in an expansive, dimmed room.  Electronic screams, gunfire, ringing and dinging, and the smell of popcorn filled the room.  There were games that you could climb into and pretend to be a driver, games with fake guns attached so that you could shoot bad guys, space games, and sports games, but the game that had the largest crowd was Super Mario Bros.  Steven bought us a large cup of Dr Pepper and we joined the Mario fanatics. 
      Our family fell on hard times about a month later.  My father was demoted at Brown-n-Root and he believed that he would soon be let go.  Steven had already been fired for falling asleep on the job, but he had another job that paid 40 dollars per week and he gave my dad 30 dollars out of every paycheck to go towards our bills. 
      My father was sitting at the kitchen table with my mother figuring out bills one payday and, after making his calculations, he asked my mother where Steven was.  My mother said he was probably on the way home from work.  Dad said that all he was waiting on was Steven to pay the bills. 
      My dad was agitated about an hour later when Steven still hadn’t showed up.  He got my attention and asked, “You know where Steven could be?”
      “No, sir.”
      “Where’s that place you two go all the time?” Dad queried.  “You know, the game place.  Come on, I want you to show me where it is.  Maybe he’s there.”
      I gave my dad directions as he drove.  He parked in the mall parking lot and I led him to the arcade.  We found Steven playing Super Mario Bros, unaware that we were behind him.  My dad tapped him on the shoulder and asked, “How much money you got left?”
      Steven looked paranoid when he turned and saw my father.  “Uh, about two dollars.”
      “You spent all of your check on video games?” My father was calm.
      “Yes, sir.”
      The three of us walked to the car.  My father and brother were in the front seat, I was in the back.  Dad quietly put the key into the ignition, looked straight ahead, bit down on his tongue and bottom lip, then smashed his hand into Steven’s face about four or five times. 
      “What the fuck is wrong with you, spending all of that money on a goddamn game!”
      We rode home in silence.  After my dad parked in our driveway, he hugged Steven and apologized, “I’m sorry, dude.  It’s just that we counted on that money and I don’t know what we’re gonna do.  But it was your money and I shouldn’t have hit ya.”
      “It’s okay, dad,” Steven said through tears.  “I shouldn’t have spent it all, I wasn’t thinking.”
      Our father soon lost his job and we had to move.  Aunt Lema and Junior had moved into a trailer on the east side of Houston a few weeks before, so we packed up and moved in with them. 

Cloverleaf-Gainesville Street: Summer of 1987

Peckerwoodville

The neighborhood that best represents the ethos of my family is Cloverleaf—fondly referred to as “Cloverdump,” or simply as “The Dump.”  Composed of shabby apartment buildings, trailers, and houses interlinked by flourishing patches of woods on every block, Cloverleaf was a predominantly White slum with a growing Hispanic population when we moved there in 1987.  Drugs could be found on most streets, prostitutes advertised at all hours on Nimitz Street, and roaming thieves and dope fiends made people keep a close eye on their property.  You walked the streets at your own risk after dark.  
      Aunt Lema, Ricky, Mike, and Junior’s family lived in a three bedroom trailer off of Gainesville Street in Cloverleaf.  When my family moved in, the already snug living arrangements became quite congested.  There were sleeping pallets spread out all over the trailer each morning, and you had to watch your step or someone would get a rude awakening.  I made my pallet in a corner of the living room where there wasn’t any traffic. 
      When I wasn’t sleeping or eating, I wasn’t inside that nasty trailer.  Billy Wayne, Troy, and I met a boy about my age named Jason who lived at the end of our block in one of the better looking houses in Cloverleaf.  A drainage ditch separated Jason’s backyard from the lot where we lived, and the four of us could be found catching crawfish and tadpoles in it most days. 
      Junior and Steven materialized on the street above us while we were knee deep in water one afternoon.  Junior pointed to the old coffee can that I put my crawfish in and asked, “Whatcha catchin’?”
      “Crawdads,” I replied.
      “Oh yeah,” Junior rubbed his round belly.  “Them crawdaddies are some good eatin’.  Bring ‘em up here.” 
      I grabbed my can, stepped out of the water, and climbed up the embankment.  Junior reached into the can, pulled out a crawfish, plucked its head and extremities off, and examined it for a second before saying, “I need some peanut butter before I eat it.”
      Steven took the decapitated crawfish from Junior and declared, “You’re a pussy,” before tossing it into his mouth and swallowing it. 
      “Ewww!” we collectively cried.
      My brother vomited on the way to our trailer and was sick the remainder of the day.  Junior called him, “Waterhead” and, if I’m not mistaken, that was when he got that nickname. 
      Jason had a sister about a year older than me named Cindy.  She sometimes sat on the street and watched as we scoured the water in search of crawfish.  She was cute with her large, brown eyes and long, brown hair that she kept in a ponytail.  I was about to descend into the ditch one morning when Cindy stopped me and asked, “Do you want to come to my house and watch MTV instead?”
      “Sure!” I exclaimed.  Jason always talked about watching cable TV, I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity.
      “I want to come, too,” Billy Wayne said.
      “No way,” Cindy shook her head.  “You stink.  Only Robert can come.”
      I told Billy Wayne and Troy that I’d come back in an hour and crawfish with them.  Troy was cool about it, but Billy Wayne scowled and followed us to their house.  Cindy let me inside and told Billy Wayne to get out of her yard.  He simply sat down in the grass and pouted. 
      Jason and I kicked back on their living room couch watching music videos, while Cindy went into the kitchen and got sodas.  He told me that his sister liked me, I just shrugged.  Cindy returned with Cokes and sat down next to me.  A few minutes later, she ran her fingers through my hair and whispered, “You have silky hair, Robert.”
      “Thanks.”
      The sound of their front door opening made me jump.  Billy Wayne walked through the door and pleaded, “Let me just stand here, I won’t say a word.”
      Cindy jumped up and screamed at Billy Wayne, telling him to get out.  She tried to push him outside, but he outweighed her by at least 70 pounds and wouldn’t budge.  I thought he was screwing things up for me, so I got off the couch and told him to leave.  When he refused, I punched him in the stomach, kicked him in the leg, then shoved him out of the front door.  A BB gun leaned against the wall by the entrance and I picked it up and pointed it at him. 
      “Get your fat ass out of here!  They don’t want you in their house!” 
      He ran down the street crying.  I shut the door and resumed my position on the couch.  Cindy’s fingers soon found my hair again, to my delight. 
      A knock at the front door disturbed us about 10 minutes later.  Thinking that it was Billy Wayne, I told them I’d handle it.  I opened the door ready to kick some ass and was startled to find my father.  He looked calm when he asked, “Did you point a gun at Billy Wayne?”
      “No, sir.”
      He glanced inside and saw the BB gun leaning against the wall.  He bit his tongue and bottom lip, pulled me out of the house and into their yard, smacked me in the head several times, then kicked me in the ass and told me to go home.  None of that hurt, physically, but it embarrassed me because Cindy and Jason stood in the doorway watching the entire time.
      Back at the trailer, my dad called me into the back room and closed the door.  He looked grave as he asked, “You know why I hit you?”
      “Yes, sir.”
“Don’t you ever point a gun at family.  We stick together, you hear me?”
      “Yes, sir.” 
        Lesson learned. 

The Cloverleaf Hillbillies

My father caught Mike kissing Tammie a few days later.  As it turns out, they had been sneaking around having sex since we lived in the Aldine Mail Route apartments.  Surprisingly, my dad didn’t lay a finger on Mike, he just told my sister to go inside, then warned Mike to stay away from his daughter. 
      We were all in the living room moments later when Mike reasoned, “She ain’t your daughter, ain’t nothin’ wrong with it.”
      “I don’t give a damn what you think,” my father shouted.  “It ain’t happening!”
      “Mike’s right, Sam,” Lema said.  “It ain’t incest.”
      “Goddammit!” My father was as enraged as I’d ever seen him.  “I’m tired of the sick shit that goes on in this family!  Even I’m guilty!  We gotta put a stop to this shit now, it has gone on far too long!”
      Aunt Lema called my father, Mike, and Tammie into her bedroom.  They were in there for over an hour while everyone else was reticent in the living room.  When they filed out of Lema’s bedroom, my father left the trailer and drove off for awhile.  I don’t know what was said in that room, but Mike and Tammie were together after that episode. 
      The perverted acts that have stigmatized my family have a long, revolting history.  Rumor has it that Wayne Mclain Senior molested his children, Christine, Nancy, Marcy, Mike, and possibly Junior, too.  Mike, in turn, grew up and molested Billy Wayne, possibly Tonya.  Mike also sexually abused Samantha, my sister’s oldest child, and Stephanie, my sister’s youngest child.  Billy Wayne was sent to prison in 2001 for sexually assaulting one of John’s sons, perpetuating the cycle of sickness.  Sadly, these are just the incidents that I’m aware of. 
      While Mike was correct—my sister isn’t my father’s daughter so Mike isn’t biologically related to her—there was still an element of creepiness to his relationship with Tammie.  I never embraced it, especially considering that my sister is mentally challenged. 

Cloverleaf—Corpus Christi Street Apartments: Summer of 1987

The Flea Bag Motel

Steven befriended two brothers named David and James Terry while we lived in Cloverleaf when I was a toddler.  According to Steven, the three of them tore up the streets of Cloverleaf chasing girls and smoking dope back then.  My brother was reunited with James, a slim guy with long, bright blond hair, in the summer of 1987.  My cousin John had been peddling pot with James, and the two showed up at the trailer on Gainesville. 
      In addition to selling pot, James ran a tree service the entire time that I knew him.  He hired my father, brother, Junior, and Mike at just the right time that summer because Lema was evicted for allowing all of us to live with her.  Lema and Ricky moved to Aransas Pass, Texas, the rest of us rented an apartment one block over. 
      We called the place The Flea Bag Motel because the sandy parking lot was a haven for fleas, which weren’t deterred by the decaying, wooden walls of the apartments.  There wasn’t an air conditioner, and that exacerbated living with Junior’s family; although, Bonnie was out of work, so she and my mother minimized the damage wreaked by my cousins.
      The prominent experience from this place occurred shortly after Billy Wayne, Troy, and I met two girls about my age.  The five of us were in one of the girls’ apartment playing “doctor” when her mother walked in on us and found us all naked. 
      My father was informed and he made Billy Wayne, Troy, and I take our shorts off and lie face down, side by side, on a mattress.  Then he removed his belt and spanked us one at a time.  I was the last to be whipped, so I got to hear Billy Wayne and Troy’s cries of pain before my dad put welts on my ass.  It hurt to sit down for a couple of days after that. 

Channelview—Ashland Road Trailer Park:
Fall of 1987- November of 1987

A Friend With Weed is a Friend Indeed

Fortunately, we only lived in The Flea Bag Motel for about a month before moving to Channelview, a suburb just East of Cloverleaf.  At least half of Channelview consists of middle-class houses, the rest are decent trailer parks and apartment buildings.  The trailer park that we moved into had four rows of trailers conjoined by three gravel roads, with a Laundromat at the entrance for the park’s residents.  Our trailer was a spacious three bedroom with two baths. 
      Shortly after we moved in, I was enrolled in the 2nd grade at McMullen Elementary School, while Billy Wayne and Troy were enrolled in another elementary school to accommodate their special education needs.  Junior’s family is exemplary of the fact that mental capacity is heritable.  Junior and Bonnie have below average intelligence and all four of their children required special education throughout school.  I was reared in an identical milieu to theirs, yet I breezed through normal classes. 
      I became cognizant of the poor quality of my clothes for the first time while attending McMullen.  Half of the kids there came from middle-class families and their clothing, brand-new and crisp, reflected that.  My faded, secondhand clothes made me self-conscious.
      Jeremy was a kid that I sat next to in class and rode the bus with.  We played together at recess and talked about cartoons, cars, and rock ‘n’ roll.  He didn’t seem to notice the difference in our clothing, either.  We were riding the bus home one afternoon when I asked him if he wanted to come over and hang out at my trailer park.  He agreed and we both got off the bus at my stop.  After I informed my mom that I was home and introduced her to my friend, Jeremy and I went outside and found Billy Wayne and Troy.  They were climbing trees in a wooded area that separated our trailer park from a gully.  We climbed the tree that they were in and I introduced them to Jeremy.  Always the show-off, I hollered out, “Watch this!”
      I climbed onto a branch about 40 feet off of the ground and slithered towards the end of it.  Halfway there, the branch began to bend.  I then twisted my body around and hung from it by my hands, then walked my hands down the branch until it carried me all the way to the ground.  I released the limb and it shot into the air. 
      Troy imitated me, and Jeremy followed suit.  When Billy Wayne moved towards the branch to give it a try, Troy called up, “Don’t do it, fat boy!  You’ll break the branch and kill yourself!” 
      We all played in the woods for about an hour before Jeremy said he had to go home.  He said he could follow the gully to his neighborhood.  With nothing else to do, I walked with him. 
      The ditch led us to a section of Sterling Green, the richest neighborhood in Channelview.  Jeremy lived in a two story house with tan siding that couldn’t have been more than a couple of years old. 
      “This is your pad, dude?” I was astonished.
      “Yeah, my pops has a lot of dough,” he said nonchalantly.  Then he asked, “Say, do you want to smoke some pot?”
      “Hell yeah!”
      “Alright, I’m gonna take you inside and introduce you to my mom.  You distract her while I go get my pop’s weed.”
      His mother was a brunette and she wore a tight sweat suit over a lithe frame.  After Jeremy introduced us, he left the room.  I told the woman that her house was the best that I’d ever been inside, then we conversed about school until Jeremy returned.  He asked me if I wanted to check out his boat.  I nodded and followed him out of the house, getting one last look at his mom on the way out. 
      Jeremy led me into his garage, behind a huge boat, then pulled out a large ziplock bag filled with buds and plastic bags.  He looked paranoid when he handed it to me and said, “Put some in a bag, I gotta go get some papers and a lighter, I’ll be right back.”
      As soon as he left, I filled a bag up and stuffed it in my sock.  Then I put some in another bag and sealed the large bag back up.  He returned with rolling papers and a lighter, took the large bag of dope and put it into a drawer in a worktable, and we left the garage.  We walked back to the gully where I rolled a joint.  Once we smoked it, I told him I’d see him at school and walked back home with my eyes red and a smile on my face. 
      My mom was sitting in a chair in the living room when I walked through the front door.  I hopped on the couch and asked, “Do we have any smoke?”
      “Nope, but your daddy’s supposed to get some after work.”
      “Well, how about me and you smoke one now,” I said as I pulled the bag from my sock. 
      We smoked a joint, then my mom told me to stash the bag so we could smoke it during the day while my dad was at work and smoke dad’s dope after he came home.  My mother was a true pothead. 

Don’t Shit in Your Own Backyard, Part I

One day, I decided to start up my garbage removal business again.  I recruited Billy Wayne and Troy as workers and we hit all the trailer parks on Ashland Road, making enough money to get full on candy and sodas and play video games several times a week at the store on the corner of Woodforest and Dell Dale.  Striving to be the consummate professional, I took one of my dad’s receipt books, that he used as James Terry’s bookkeeper, and wrote out a receipt to all of my customers. 
      There was a middle-aged couple who lived in our trailer park, but they always seemed to be gone.  When I saw them pulling into their driveway one day, I ran to their trailer and met them as they got out of their car. 
      “Excuse me.  I’m Robert with ‘Robert and Cousins’ Trash Company.’ Would you folks care to have your trash disposed of?”
      They smiled and the lady asked, “How much do you charge, Robert?”
      “Fifty cents a bag.”
      “Come on inside, I got three or four you can have,” the woman said. 
      After I dropped their trash into the dumpster, I stopped at my house and grabbed my receipt book, then ran back to their house and wrote them out a receipt.  The woman thanked me and promised to become a steady customer. 
      About a week later, Troy told me that he found a chainsaw and he needed my help to get it.  We had an electric chainsaw that we cut branches with, but the cord barely reached outside out back door.  My dad wouldn’t let us mess with the gas saws that he used working with James, so the thought of having one of my own got my attention.  Troy showed me to the trailer where the middle-aged couple lived and pointed under the front porch where the saw was sitting.  I told him to keep an eye out for me while I crawled under and stole the saw.  As I was pulling it out, my arm knocked a bucket over and the woman I’d given a receipt to a week before looked out her door and caught me.  I dropped the chainsaw and took off running towards my trailer, Troy was right in front of me the whole way.
      Junior and my dad were lounging in the living room when we entered.  Troy went into the back bedroom, I went into the kitchen and made me something to drink.  My heart began to race moments later when I heard a loud rap at the door.  My dad rose from the couch and answered the door.  I could see the middle-aged woman on the porch holding a piece of paper in her hand. 
      “Is this where Robert Pruett lives?”
      “Yep, what can I do for you?” my dad asked.
      “He was just under my trailer trying to steal my chainsaw.  He gave me this receipt.”  She handed it to my dad.  “That’s how I knew he lived here.”
      “I’m sorry about that ma’am,” my father said.  “I’ll take care of him.  You won’t have this problem again.”
      Dad shut the door and walked up to me by the kitchen sink.  He handed me the receipt that the woman had given him.  When he bit down on his bottom lip and tongue, I tensed up.  He plowed his palm into my head, knocking me against the kitchen counter.  I tried to escape, but he caught me by the shirt and hit me a few more times.  Then he yelled at me, “What’s your goddamn problem, idiot?  Stealing people’s shit?  You don’t shit in your own backyard, you hear me?”
      “Yes, sir!” I answered.  I didn’t catch his meaning right then, but later on, after I regained my composure, I understood:  Don’t steal from your neighbors. 

Recurring Themes

Several months later, Wayne Mclain Sr showed up in a Lincoln.  Wayne was an unusually large man who always wore a giant cowboy hat.  He came to Houston to move Junior’s family down to Aransas Pass, which is exactly what my parents wanted.  My mother was tired of cleaning up after my cousins, a task that would drive anyone to drink.  We were all glad to finally have our own place again. 
      It wasn’t long after Wayne Sr moved Junior’s family out that my cousin Ronnie was released from the Arizona State Penitentiary.  Steven drove my mother and me to James Terry’s house off of Victoria Street in Cloverleaf after work one night.  My father was sitting out on the front porch with a medium-built man with a balding head and a gap between his front teeth when we arrived.  As I walked up to them, my father nodded at me and informed Ronnie, “That’s my son Robert.”
      Ronnie moved in with us and began working with James Terry along with my father, brother, and Mike.  Unfortunately, Ronnie hadn’t learned very much from his stint in an Arizona prison.  Not long after he moved in with us, Ronnie stole a truck and used it to rob stores with Mike.  They’d take a heavy-duty chain and attach it to a store’s safe and the truck’s frame, then rip the safe out of the ground.  They were apprehended after a high-speed chase one night, and both went to prison for robbery.  Sadly, Mike left my sister when she was a couple of months pregnant. 

    On November 22, 1987, Steven turned 18 and was eligible to receive the settlement from being hit by a car in the early 1980s.  He received a check for $3100.00 in January of 1988.  He and my father had over $1000.00 between them from working with James Terry and, after adding that to Steven’s settlement, they decided to make a down payment on a brown, ¾ ton Ford truck.  The next day we loaded the truck up with all of our property and headed to Aransas Pass, Texas.