Wednesday, July 20, 2005

At Four

I remember my first day of pre-school in Okinawa, 1965. I was four years old. A teacher that looked and dressed like the mom on ‘Leave it to Beaver’ displayed a series of charts showing all the different bombs and ordinance that we should stay away from when at play. The weapons were still scattered about the island from WWII. I learned about pungi sticks before the movie “The Green Berets’ was released in 1967. I learned about war when I was four.

I was in the front row, but could barely make out the pictures of different grenades and bombs. But I understood the message clearly. When the teacher walked further away, her face became a blur. I was bored and thought that since I could not see her, she could not see me—so I started making all kinds of funny faces. The teacher thought I was retarded, so my mom took me to the doctors. I got my first pair of glasses at four.

My mom gave me my first Timex watch, and let me go out to the playground by myself. I was to return when the small hand reached the 3, and the big had was at 12. Sitting on the grass, a big boy around age 7, naked except for a pair of dirty shorts, shoved an insole of a shoe in my face and then dropped it. He ran away. I smelled something and picked up the sole, to see brown on it. I searched around and saw some doggie poop. I was mad, the boy was bad. I saw another little boy sitting in the grass, so I dipped the sole in poop and wiped it in his face. I felt bad for doing that, and still feel terrible about it to this day. I learned about what is wrong and right, when I was four.

One day, I learned how to dig a tunnel in the wet sand. But the bad boy came around and stomped on everyone’s tunnel. They called him Billy. Billy started to jump on all the kids at random. I knew it was a matter of time before he came to me. So I set him up. I made like I was climbing the monkey bars and waited ‘till he jumped on my back. When he did, I pushed backwards and let go of the bars. We fell to the ground, but I was cushioned by Billy. Billy did not get up right away, seemed to have trouble breathing. He went home after that. I learned this trick from watching TV. (black and white TV) The good guy did it to the bad guy. The next day Billy wanted to fight me. There were at least 10 kids circled around to watch the event. I gave my glasses to a girl to hold, and waited for Billy. He came charging with his head down. I grabbed his head and slammed my knee into his face. (I learned this trick from watching the TV series ‘Gun Smoke') He went down and all the kids were happy--except Billy. I heard my mom call so I went home. She was outside and asked what I was doing. I said, “Nothing.” I was four and did not know how to talk, so I just said “nothing.” –So I learned how to fight when I was four.

I saw a lot on that playground; a boy got hit in the back by a dart, a girl fell from the monkey bars and broke her leg--She screamed until the ambulance came--and a torn out picture from a magazine showed a half naked girl. I was excited about that. And Billy bothered everyone less after the fight. But he was still around and always dirty all over his face and body. He only wore one pair of shorts. My parents said he was poor. One day he knocked on our door then sprayed bug spray in my brother’s face when he answered it. My brother was seven, same age as Billy. That night, my father told us to go over to Billy’s house and complain to the father. So at 8pm, my brother and I went to Billy’s house. We peeked through the window and saw Billy and his dad, and five other kids, all eating spaghetti with their hands. They all looked dirty and the father was scary and he was yelling. My brother and I decided not to complain that night. One day Billy rode his bike with a parachute tied to the back. It flew up and so did the cat he had tied by the tail. At four, I learned about poverty, and how it can lead to cruelty and a dysfunctional upbringing.

We often drove around the perimeter of the Island, it was beautiful. We could make the trip in about four hours. The tall cliffs and jungle were always a marvel. There were big round mirrors on the corners so you could see any cars coming from the other direction. One day, we saw a skoshi cab (small cab) hit an old lady. She popped straight up about 10 feet then came back down on the road like a rag doll, her shoe landed a little later on the side of the road. The driver backed up, and stuffed the lady in the back seat and took off. My father said she was dead, and the driver was bad, and was going to hide the body so he would not get into trouble. My sister mentioned she saw a dead body in the drainage ditch by our house but was scared to mention it before. My brother saw human bones in one of the hundreds of abandoned bomb shelters that he was told not to go into. I learned about death when I was four.

We visited ‘Suicide Cliff’ where thousands of Japanese civilians leaped to their deaths when confronted with approaching American GI’s during the war. They were told American GI’s were the white devil and feared being captured more than a certain death. They did not know the Americans were the good guys. I learned that fear can be dangerous, when I was four.


My brother and sister broke a lamp. When my father got home, they pointed at me, and I was spanked. I learned about injustice when I was four.

One day there were some kids wrestling and I wanted to play. But the winner was black, the first black person I had ever seen. I did not really know he was ‘black’, I just thought he was dirty, and did not want to touch him, so I went home. Later I found out he was American Indian. But I did see six “real” black girls the next day. I was sitting under a tree, and they were walking/dancing by me. I was staring because I had not seen people so black before. I thought they looked neat, and I liked the music. The girl carrying the radio on her shoulder said in a rhythmic tune, “what’s the matter boy, haven’t you ever seen a nigga before?” I did not know what “nigga” meant, so I just smiled and waived. That night my father heard my story and got all the kids together. He explained that we should not use the word nigga, or negro because it was impolite. We should only use the word “colored.” (This was the sixties, now it’s black or African American…I had to teach that to my backwards father in the seventies.) And he explained that they were not dirty, and did not drink too much chocolate milk as a baby like my sister thought. But they were a different skin color because some places in the world the sun was so hot, that your skin changes color. And he said they were just as clean and the same as everyone else. I ended up beating that American Indian boy with a flip I learned from a ‘Green Lantern’ comic book. And at four, I learned that everyone is basically the same.


It was fun sliding down the drainage ditch. But it had torn a hole in my shorts and my underwear was showing. I walked like a crab all the way home with my back to the buildings. When I got home, I changed my shorts and spread the torn pair on the couch and stared at the underwear through the torn hole for like five minutes. Then I realized I was still wearing my underwear? The white was just the lining of the shorts…I was so mesmerized by this; I did not have to walk like a crab after-all. I learned about shame and ignorance when I was four.

A Typhoon hit Okinawa when I was four. I saw my father go outside to help save a man from a fallen telephone pole in a hundred plus mile per hour winds. It looked fun and I wanted to go out too, but my mom would not let me. I cried and cried and threw a tantrum. I cried for what seemed like an hour and decided not to stop unless they let me out. After a while, I still cried, but was getting tired. My mom came in the room and comforted me. The love and comfort I felt made me feel like I never have before. At four, I learned the best thing of all—the power and comfort of a mothers love for a boy at four…

2 comments:

madman said...

being four is tough in Okinawa.

Vince said...

Yeah, pretty wild place...