After our parents split up and they both had to commute to jobs in different towns we were placed in the loving care of Peninsula Day Care Center. The place looked like a giant, red barn in the middle of Palo Alto. Except instead of cows, they had free-range children. Pastor Shaw and his wife ran it as a non-profit, which is how we (and a lot of other families) were able to afford such an extraordinary day-care situation. The Shaw’s were almost unbelievably lovely people who only rarely called mom about Whiskey’s shennanigans (unlike those jerks at school); they were surrogate Grandparents to every kid at that place, in the best possible way. Now I kind of wish I’d have written a thank you letter or something.
The only…how do I say this without alienating half the world…well, for us – heathen lot that we were – the only downside to the place was that it was very Christian. That sounds bad, but stay with me, and try to keep two things in mind.
1. I was crazy. My daughter is distressingly like me at that age, and this is what that looks like.
2. My brother was crazy. He was an eight year old amateur scientist who accurately diagnosed his own appendicitis and asked WAY too many pointed questions about EVERYTHING. Seriously. He never stopped. It was exhausting.
Add to that that we were technically being raised Buddhist in one house and “New Age” in the other house. Chanting one day, shopping at Dragonwood and The Magic Crystals the next. Our tiny minds had no room for any more mythology. Mostly, this was a non-issue. The place was basically the best daycare in the world. There was a lot of playing, crafts, field-trips, lice, more playing, and carnivals and more lice. But in the summer, when temperatures could occasionally hit triple digits and kids were stuck there all day without relief, the camp hosted a little event called Happiness Hour. Or Happy Club. Or something with happy in it.
This was the hour after snack-time when all the kids were hustled into the air-conditioned auditorium for an hour of skit-based preaching with a clown and a lot of super-fun games. If you were lucky, you could win a Coke or a Charleston Chew or something. Everything about it screamed “happiness.” Unless you were me.
I have a vivid memory of the clown sticking a footlong needle into a balloon without popping it. This was terrifying to me. I had nightmares about it. Further, I never won anything in the whole three weeks I put up with Happiness Hour. My brother won all the damned time. Jesus always loved my brother best. Everyone does. He’s charming. Seriously, you should meet him. He could start a cult – except that he lacks motivation (or so says every report card ever). I get A’s, he gets friends.
Anyway, after about three weeks of watching my brother win all the admiration (and Charleston Chews) AS USUAL, I was ready to boycott Happiness Hour out of pure spite. Then, serendipitously, a yard duty told me to hurry up and finish my potato chips because I couldn’t go to Happiness Hour if I hadn’t finished my snack.
I spent the next hour sitting on the curb eating an individual sized bag of Lay’s. I did this every week. For the rest of the summer. It was approximately a million degrees out and there was a super-rad magic show going on in an air conditioned auditorium but because Jesus never gave me a candy-bar, I spent an hour sitting alone on a curb eating a snack in slow motion. It could have been the most mind-blowingly hysterical clown-punch magic show on Earth, but I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t going inside. I would burst into flames before I’d watch my brother win one more goddam stick of high fructose corn syrup. Also there was a clown in there… with a needle the size of my leg.
Then, one day, my brother sat outside with me. Apparently, he’d started asking too many pointed questions and didn’t like the non-answers he was getting. Also there was some weird movie about a chicken in tin-foil armor that had the “clown and needle” effect on him. We weren’t easily frightened, but when we were, it stuck with us.
For the rest of summer, we sat on the curb like a couple of the most cynical 6/8 year old lepers you ever did see. We were alone with our snacks and our snark, but we had each other. Other kids glanced out the window at us, and the adults watching us just sighed. I suppose they’d been expecting a “break,” or something.
So basically, I’m going to hell because of Charleston Chew bars and my brother is going to hell because he asks too many questions.
Ah well, maybe Pastor Shaw will be manning the gates the day we die. He’d let us in. He’d let everybody in.