Hitler in the Basement: A Memoir

A murderer is a person who kills people.  There was a murderer in Chicago, which is a really bad place.  He murdered nine nurses in their apartment.  Or maybe it was five. Five and nine are odd numbers.  Every time one nurse came home from her date, he would kill her and wait for the next one. One girl hid under her bed and pretended to be dead.  She got stabbed but she didn’t die because she was brave and she was smart and she was always thinking.  She couldn’t help her friends though.  All the nurses were pretty and they all wore white hats.  I saw them in Life Magazine.  I think there was a murderer in Oregon where we live, but my parents say there was not.  I’m sure I heard them talking about it, but they say I am imagining things.  The man cut ladies up and put them in plastic bags like they use for sandwiches and then he hung the plastic bags on barbwire fences from the little hooks.  My mommy says she never heard of such a thing. 

Hitler was worse than a murderer.  Hitler did something worse than just killing people. It scares me, trying to imagine what that could be. What is worse than killing people? Worse than putting them in baggies? Now, they can’t find him. On the news they said that some people think he is dead. Hitler killed himself and ordered that his body be burned along with his girlfriend.  Hitler’s girlfriend was a pretty blonde girl named Eva. I saw her picture in Life Magazine too.  Even though there was a war she looked happy in the picture. Then she got burned so badly that no one could tell if it was really her or not.  That isn’t so hard to imagine. Once on a trip I saw the coals left after a forest  fire. If they hadn’t been sticking straight up like black toothpicks on a black mud pie you wouldn’t even know they had once been trees.

Daddy was in the war, but Mommy was just a teen ager. Actually, Daddy was just a teen ager too. He was really skinny when he was in the war. There is a picture in our photo album of Daddy in his Navy uniform. In the olden days they used black paper in their photo albums. They stuck the pictures on with little gold corners. Dad looked happy and skinny in the war and he wore a silly round sailor hat.  They probably made the teenagers wear the funny hats. He says he was lucky and didn’t go to the bad places. Probably he wasn’t old enough to go to the bad places.

Me and my friend Alex are in a car pool.  I don’t know why they call it that, because it isn’t like a pool at all.  I went to a pool at the University.  Well, first I went to a dance class.  I went every Saturday with my mom.  Usually I go places with my Dad, but on Saturday’s he is at rehearsal.  Daddy is an actor and rehearsal is where you go when you are getting ready to have a play and you do it over and over again so you don’t make any mistakes when you have the real play.  I’ve been to a real play. It was outside with flags and they did Cinderella. It was a play for kids and I went with my Dad. My brother was too little and he might talk during the play, which is a very bad thing and makes the actors mad. Someday Daddy says I will be in a play. I can be an actress, which is a girl actor.  You can put “ess” on the end and that makes it a girl. 

But, first I was going to the dancing class. It is a beginning.  We did a lot of things I don’t remember and we all wore pink tights.  I wanted black tights like the big girls, but they only let me have pink ones.  At the end we wore red skirts for costumes.  It was Christmas and my mom made me a red skirt for the costume and the skirt stuck out straight instead of hanging down like my skirts for school. It was really short too.  Then we were going to the last practice. 

Usually we practice in a room with mirrors on the walls.  When you’re dancing you can look at it and  see if you are standing up straight, but the rest of the time my Grandma Ericson, my Dad’s mom, says that I shouldn’t look it the mirror because it will make me vain. She says I look in the mirror too much and she pulls my hair if I look when she is braiding, but I’m only looking to see if I look the same as I did the last time l looked.  I’m never sure that I will.  It’s always kind of a surprise when you look in the mirror. You’re supposed to see what other people see when they look at you, but I’m not sure you do.  So sometimes I look in the mirror at dance class and sometimes I don’t.  But, at the last practice instead of going to the room where we usually go, we went to a pool. 

We were doing  a dance called “elephants on parade.”  The pool was giant.  About a hundred people could fit in it and it smelled bad, kind of like the gas station but not quite.  The water moved when you watch it.  It never stopped moving and hot smells came up from the edge.  The pool was blue with black stripes under the water and the stripes kept wiggling. The edge had a round place that touches the water and it was bumpy like some rocks got in the paint. 

I was supposed to stand by the edge and do the elephants on parade dance.  Mommy sat in the audience, on boards, which is not like the theatre where the chairs have seats that go up and down.  I did’t want to dance by the water that was moving all the time.  I don’t know how to swim.  Daddy keeps trying to show me how and he says its easy just kick and paddle your arms.  But every time he lets go the water gets in my nose and I cry. Daddy says don’t cry be brave.  Everybody should be brave. Especially girls.  Or maybe, especially boys. I am brave, but my brother isn’t. He cries a lot and it makes my daddy mad.  I am the bravest.  Dad wasn’t there so he didn’t know that I was too scared of the water to do all my elephant steps.  Mom didn’t tell him. She said I would be fine when I got my red tootoo. 

 On Saturday we went back to the pool for the dance.  It was like a play.  We all wore our skirts and we put them on in the dressing room where ladies put on their swimming suits and there was some water on the floor and it was is icky and smelled bad.  I didn’t want to get my dancing shoes with white feet in the water, but my mom said: it doesn’t matter just hurry up. She said don’t be scared you won’t fall in and Daddy’s coming all the from the Theatre to see you dance.  He is even leaving his rehearsal to see you. 

In his play he was being a president, one called FDR.  He had a funny smile when he was FDR, and a thing that helds his cigarette, but he couldn't walk.  He was pretending he can’t walk and he even fell down the stairs.   Pretty soon the elephant music started, and we got in a line and start to walk out into the giant pool place.  This time you could hear people talking and the water was making sounds.  I was walking the elephant walk, but before we got to the edge of the pool I ruined it.  I saw the black stripes and the noises got louder and louder and the elephant music was just a record player on a table. I couldn’t go to the edge of the pool. I just couldn’t go over there.  I ran for the doors.  Everybody stopped dancing. 

I don’t know why they aren’t scared at all.  Their Daddies aren’t even actors. I was crying and crying.  Daddy came running over.  He was being really nice and not acting mad at all.  He said I have to be brave if I’m going to be an Actress.  I have to forget about the people watching.  I wasn’t even thinking about them. I was scared of the pool.  He took me back to the dressing room door and we all lined up again. Daddy was holding my hand and I felt better.

Then the elephant music started again and Daddy let go of my hand.  We made elephants steps with our arms for the trunks.  I was doing really good.  Until we got by the edge of the pool.  I looked at the water and the wiggling stripes.  The smell and the sounds were wiggling too.  It was a bad place.  I stood there and stood there and then. . . I ran away again.  And I wouldn’t come out of the ladies room.  I was sitting in the icky water with snot all over my red skirt and it was a very bad day.  I don’t want to talk about it.

My mommy is going to have a baby, and me and my little brother Spike and my Dad, of course, are moving to another town after school is over.  It is a lot of work packing up to move and Mommy is a little grouchy.  I am being extra careful not to step on any cracks so not to break my mother’s back.

Dad has started taking me to rehearsals more often because my mom doesn’t feel very good and she is typing.  She types for people at graduate school who have to write long reports in order to get out.  My mom is a perfect typer.  She types people’s papers without any mistakes. If she makes a mistake she pulls the paper out of the typewriter and throws it in the garbage can and Spike and I can draw on it.  We can draw on any paper in the garbage can.  Sometime there is a lot.  Daddy buys us lots of crayons, but they always get short and you have to tear off the paper that is around them.  That paper gives me goosebumps so I showed Spike how to tear off the paper. I draw ladies in Cinderella dresses.  Lots of them. I don’t know what Spike draws, you can’t tell.  Mommy gets really mad at the typewriter and we have to be quiet so she doesn’t make mistakes.  She says Dad should take me with him because I am difficult. Spike can stay home because he doesn’t make as much noise as I do. 

I like going to rehearsal.  You have to be really quiet at rehearsal too, but it is easy because there is always something to watch.  I can watch Daddy being FDR.  Or I can watch the lady named Vivian be his wife. She has blonde hair and is prettier than Hitler’s girlfriend, but she isn’t really his wife. My mom is really his wife. Vivian is just pretending. She does a pretty good job. She seems to like him, even when he can’t walk and falls down the stairs. Everyone says he falls down the stairs very well.  His legs just stop working.  All the other actors say I am amazingly quiet.  I wish I could be amazingly quiet at home.  They say I do exactly what my Daddy says. Well, it’s better if you do. If I do exactly what my Dad says, good things happen and we are both happy. Sometimes we get ice cream after rehearsal, or sometimes everyone gets sandwiches and we sit on the stage and eat them.  My dad and I get Turkey on dill rye. 

Sometimes the other actors take me for a walk.  Vivian took me to see the costumes. There is a secret basement full of Cinderella dresses.  She says they are for Shakespeare. Shakespeare likes velvet and a lot of gold stuff on his costumes.  If my hands are clean I can touch them.  There is a wall full of giant boxes where they keep curtains.  There is also a green room. The green room is where the actors and actresses wait until it is their turn to be in the play.  Sometimes we sit there and play Old Maid.  Daddy says they should teach me a real game.  So then we play rummy.  Everybody likes my pigtails.  There is also a room where the ladies put on their makeup. You wear special makeup in a play so that when you get up on the stage and the people watching are far away, they can still see your eyes and your mouth.  Sometimes you put on wrinkles and fake noses too. You can even get a beard. One time Vivian put a beard on me, but it hurt when she took it off. 

If I am scared of something that I shouldn’t be scared of, I figured out a way to do it anyway. I wish I had figured this out before, when I had to dance on the edge of the pool. 

All I have to do is dare myself to do it. 

I always take a dare at school.  I don’t let people know that I always have to take a dare, because if they knew that they could make me do anything they wanted and they would be the boss of me.  This dare thing doesn’t go for things you should be afraid of.  Some things you should be afraid of, and some things are silly to be afraid of.  You can be brave for both kinds.  Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.  Like once we had a storm.  It was a hurricane. There are never hurricanes in Oregon, so it was a freak hurricane.  My Uncle was visiting and he sat on me. Uncle Lewis is my mom’s brother.  She only has one, like me, only I may have another one.  I hope my mom has a boy cause my Dad likes me best and if she had a girl he might like her better than me.  She’ll be cuter.  I’m growing up and not so cute any more.  My mom likes Spike best, so that’s fair.

 Anyway, there was a freak hurricane. We watched out the window from our house. We could see the roofs blow off of the other apartments and some of the roof pieces from the high school where our babysitter goes. Her name is Julie and she has red hair. She is going to be an Actress when she grows up and Daddy says she is very good. Her mom wrote a famous book called “The Lively Art of Writing” and the book tells people where to put commas.  The view from the window got worse and worse and roofs were flying all over the place, just like the “Wizard of Oz” only in color.  Not much color because everything was grey except our buildings are painted green.  Then one piece of roof came right at our window, flying around and around and my Uncle pushed me down and sat on me and my Dad sat on my brother.  Spike was crying but I wasn’t scared.  I actually didn’t need the dare, because I thought it was interesting and not that scary. 

Then the phone rang and it was Julie’s mom. She said we should come over there because she has a basement and we should hurry while we still can get out of Marriedstudenthousing.  When we ran for the car there was an ambulance in the parking lot and it turns out that a man was killed in the building in front of ours. A piece of roof came right through his wall and you can see the hole it made.  I think it was flying through the air just like that piece that came towards our window, except that piece missed us.  At Julie’s house we watched a movie about the Titanic.  A big ship hits a piece of ice in the ocean and the ship goes under the water and all the people die except for some of the girls and the babies that they put on smaller boats to escape.  One man pretended to be a girl so he could get on while all the other men died and sang a song about God.  That man wasn’t brave. He should have dared himself to stay on the boat like he was supposed to.  It was a sad movie and I was crying and Spike was asleep on Julie’s lap.  My Dad came down to get us when the storm was gone and we could go home.

Dad carried me and my uncle carried Spike and my dad said that when you die in ice cold water like the Titanic your eyeballs pop out.  My mom said, “Oh, Bob. Now you’ll really scare her.”  But that didn’t scare me either.

The next play is going to be J.B.  It is the story of Job from the bible but they put it in the now.  Dad says I am too little to read the play. In the bible story God makes a bet with the Devil that Job will love God no matter what happens to him. So a lot of bad things happen to him.

My dad took me downtown to get a shot in the arm. Downtown is black and white kind of like the T.V.  We have a T.V. that my Grandma and Grandpa Gay got us. They are my Mom’s mother and Dad.  They got us a television set because my grandma was visiting to see Dad be F.D.R.  She got up one morning and Spike and I were being quiet.  Mommy and Daddy were sleeping. They have to stay up late.  Dad has the play that lasts until late at night and my mom has to type until the middle of the night, except this time she was watching the play with my Grandma and Grandpa.  We were being quiet by watching T.V. on a cardboard box.  I drew some knobs on it.  In the morning we would watch the box and I would tell  Spike what’s was happening in a real quiet voice.  The morning my Grandma was there we were watching a program about a donkey.  Then my Grandma and my Grandpa got us a real T.V. set.  Now we can get up and watch whatever is on it, usually cartoons, but sometimes I Love Lucy.  Daddy says it was better when we watched the box.  It was better for our imaginations and quieter too. 

Anyway when you go downtown it looks like programs on T.V. You can’t go near the street.  One time my dad said he let me go in the street and then spanked me so I would learn not to do it.  I was two.  I don’t think that was very fair and neither does my Grandma.  But my dad says now I don’t go in the street and I listen to what he says. I guess I did learn something.  All the cars downtown park on a slant, which they don’t do on T.V.  We went on an elevator to get the shot that keeps you from getting a bad disease. Daddy said he would tell me the truth and never lie to me. He said the shot was going to hurt.  But, he said that if I was brave and I didn’t cry at all, then he had a special surprise for me.  So I didn’t cry. He kept saying, “Now don’t cry…” and I kept saying, “I won’t.”  It wasn’t that hard. 

When we left the building Daddy held my hand and he was swinging it.  His hand is giant.  He has the biggest hands in the world. I thought maybe the surprise was a doll, but he said it was better than a doll.  After I got the shot we got in the car and drove to his school. We went to his office where there is a squirrel that eats peanut butter that Daddy leaves for him. While we were watching him eat peanut butter, Daddy told me the surprise.  I am going to be in my first real play.  I will be finally be an Actress. I am going to be J.B.’s youngest daughter.  I have five lines.

Lines is what you say when it is your turn to talk in the play.  Five lines is a lot. I have more than any of the other kids because my dad can teach me how to say them.  My favorite line is: “And two kinds of pie!”  In my part of the play it is going to be Thanksgiving.  Vivian is pretending to be my mother.  There is a very big man with a beard who is pretending to be my father and this time Vivian is pretending to be his wife.  I don’t think she likes him as well as she liked my Dad when he was her husband.  My dad isn’t an actor this time. He is the director. The director tells the actors what to do and where to walk.  It is his job to make sure the audience understands the play. We have to talk loudly, but not act like we are yelling. I have a very clear voice. 

Dad tells us to walk stage left or stage right.  I don’t do left and right very well and I can’t tie my shoe either. Stage right and stage left is the opposite of real right and real left, but that doesn’t help very much if you don’t know real right and real left. Vivian says I don’t know right and left because I can write with both my hands so it doesn’t make any difference to me.  

There is upstage and downstage too, which is easy.  Upstage and downstage is important for actors and actresses.  If you stand upstage the others have to talk to you and they turn their head away from the audience.  Then everyone looks at the one who is upstage.  That is stealing and a good actor never, ever does that.  And if you are downstage and someone keeps moving upstage to get you to look and steal your scene, a good actress never looks. Instead you are supposed to cheat downstage.  Cheating is usually bad, like at school if you copy someone’s answers on the math test, but in the Theatre cheating downstage is good. It means you pretend to look upstage at the stealer and really you look a little bit downstage so the audience can always see your face.  If you are an Actress your job is to make sure the audience can see your face.  Unless the director tells you to hide your face for some reason, but usually he doesn’t. 

The man with the beard carries me in on his shoulder, which is high and fun and he always swings me up.  Then Dad just tells me to walk over by the table and then I run offstage with all the other kids and we are supposed to make a lot of noise. After you get off the stage you can’t make any noise at all.  They take the other kids away to keep them quiet, but everyone knows I won’t make any noise because my dad said not to. 

At first we just do the part of the play that I am in and then my mom comes and gets me and I have to go home and go to bed.  After school my dad runs lines with me. That means practicing.  You have to know all the things you are supposed to say and my dad says a good Actress knows everyone else’s lines too, so that if they forget theirs you can help out.  The line that comes before my line is called a cue.  A good Actress always picks up her cues and never makes everyone wait while she thinks and tries to remember her lines.  You aren’t supposed to have a big break between people talking because the audience will get bored.  I always pick up my cues.  And I get all my homework done after school so I can go to rehearsal.

I don’t get a costume though, I just have to wear my plaid skirt because this is a modern play and we just wear regular clothes.  I begged my dad to let me wear a pony tail for the play because it is so pretty. My hair is long and light brown and yellow and goes down to my bottom and my mom’s is even longer, only hers is black.  I never get to wear it in a ponytail because it gets tangled and my mom is too tired to brush it out. Daddy says I have to wear pigtails for the play because they are cuter than a ponytail. I think a ponytail is much cuter. 

When the dress rehearsal comes we have lights on the stage and we wear makeup.  Daddy does mine, but he says I get to learn how to do it pretty soon because a Good Actress always does her own makeup.  There are people up in a box to work the lights for the stage. They have cues too and their’s are even more important than ours.  If they get the lights wrong it will be dark or the lights will be on the wrong part of the stage and not on the person talking.  Also, the audience is not supposed to think about the lights, Dad says.  If the light people get it wrong, the audience will forget about the action and think about the lights. 

One day we have the tech rehearsal when they just work on the lights and the sounds and there are no people.  Dad comes to get me down in audience seats.  I was trying to read the script that someone left on the floor by my seat.  It is hard to read and the words are really small.  One time I read another book with small printing. It was my Dad’s and it was called “Sex and the Single Girl.”  My Mom took it away from me, but my Dad said it didn’t matter I couldn’t understand it anyway.  I could read almost all the words though.  J.B. was harder to read than that, so I hadn’t got very far when he came to get me. 

We went up the stairs at the side of the stage, and went out into the middle of the set.  Daddy was holding my hand. “I’m going to teach you something,” he says. “Something that most people never learn.” 

All the lights went out.  Then one light cam on at the side of the stage. 

“That is a spot light,” he said.  “It lights one small part of the stage where an actor might give a long speech.  I want you to walk over there and stand in it.”  So I did.  Then he told me to find the spot where the light is the brightest on me.  “You can feel it,” he said, “Turn your face up if you need to, and move around until you find the brightest spot.”  I moved just a little bit. 

“Is it here?” I said.  My Dad came over to see. 

“Very close.” He moved me a little bit. “Now see how it’s brighter and hotter? Can you feel the heat on your face?”

I could feel it.

“That’s the hot spot.  Every actress needs to know how to find the hot spot.”  Then he waved his hand and the light went out and another light came up across the stage.  We did it again and again until it was easy to find the spot.  It didn’t take very long. My dad yelled thank you. 

Someone yelled from the box in the dark yelled back. “She’s a natural!” 

“That was pretty good,” my dad said. “Now, we’ll see how you do opening night.”

I think Dad is afraid that I will get scared and run off the stage, but I don’t even have to dare myself because it isn’t scary at all. You can’t even see the people because the lights are in your eyes and you’re not supposed to look at them anyway.  I can feel the people out there though. The audience is breathing in the lights and the color and waiting for it to be a good play.  I can smell the greasepaint makeup. It smells funny and it kind of makes my face itch.  I touch the lucky spot on my Dad’s wrist where the veins make an X and he tells me to break a leg.  That means good luck, but  you can’t say good luck because it is actually bad luck, so you say “Break a leg.” 

I say my lines perfectly and the whole audience laughs when I say “And two kinds of pie!”  After my part is over Dad takes me down to the costume department and lets a student keep an eye on me.  He thinks I will be scared down there but I’m not. I like all the Shakespeare clothes.  He gives me my library books and make a nest out of the curtains in one of the boxes on the wall. He says that is my nest and tells me to read my book about planets and go to sleep. He will wake me up at the end to bow to the audience. 

I read my book but it is hard to believe in planets and I can’t go to sleep.  I can hear the rest of the play happening far away. I want to know how it ends and what bad things happen to Job.  I asked the boy babysitting me what happens but he won’t tell me either. He just says there is a war.  Then I hear the bombs.  They aren’t real bombs, they are sound effects, but they sound like real bombs.  When I am almost asleep I have a thought. I finally understand the play.  I must have died in the bombing.  That is why they won’t tell me what happens in the play.  My character must be part of the bet that they make about whether J.B. will love God.  I probably die, the little cute one, and that must be the bad thing that happens to J.B.

I asked my mom if J.B. still loves god and she said he does.  I wouldn’t.  Especially if I knew about the bet. Dad comes and gets me out of my nest and the man with the beard carries me onstage again because I’m kind of sleepy and we have to hurry. The audience is clapping and they get tired of clapping pretty fast so you have to make the bowing short. It is better if they are still clapping when all the bowing is over.  The bowing is called a curtain call and Daddy hates a long curtain call. 

I have been saving my dares for something scary to happen, but there are only a few scary things.  Once my mom wasn’t home when the car pool dropped me off at our house. Alex’s mom had to leave but she told me to stay on the porch of the apartment and NOT GO ANYWHERE.  And not be scared.  I wanted to go look for my mom, but I dared myself to sit on the porch and read my book. And I did.  So it worked.  Then my mom came. She said I was only there for a few minutes but I think it was at least an hour. 

I get very tired of not stepping on the cracks.  All the sidewalks have them and I hate not stepping on them, it makes me walk slow and I have to think about it all the time when I would rather look around and think about other things or ask my mom questions.  I don’t really think she’ll break her back if I step on a crack.  I asked her if people’s backs break though, and she said they did.  The right thing to do is to be careful of the crack just in case, but I don’t want to do it.  So I dared myself to never step on a crack and then I never did. 

In the spring we went for a picnic at the ocean. The ocean is the biggest thing in the world and it makes white foam on the rocks at the coast.  The coast is the edge of the land.  The rocks there are black.  Before we could eat lunch we stopped at a viewpoint where there is a parking spot and you can see the ocean from high up.  It is called the Devil’s Churn.  A churn is something they used in the olden days to shake up milk and stir it around. 

My mom says if you get milk from a cow, instead of from the store, and you shake it up for a long time, it will turn into butter.  We used to drink instant milk because we are graduate students and we are poor.  But I don’t have to drink it anymore because I won a bet with my Dad.  I don’t like instant milk and I quit drinking it.  He bet me that I couldn’t tell the difference between real milk and instant milk if they were both really cold.  I bet him back.  My mom said don’t bet with her Bob.  I said that if I won, Spike didn’t have to drink it either because it wasn’t fair if I didn’t have to and Spike did.  Spike doesn’t say so, but he doesn’t like instant milk either.  Dad said okay, but you aren’t going to win.

My dad always wins when we play games.  Daddy Wins is the name of the game he says.  My grandma thought he should let me win sometimes so I don’t get discouraged.  Dad said it isn’t good for me to let me win, it’s like lying.  He says, someday I’ll win and I’ll be more happy then, if he doesn’t pretend about it now.  My dad was sure he’d win the bet and I was sure I’d win. 

So I sat on a stool with a handkerchief for a blindfold and my dad made cold, cold milk.  He tried to make it harder by making three glasses to test, one milk, one instant milk, and one half instant and half real milk mixed together.  He said we could still save a lot of money if we drank it half and half.  I took one taste of each and named them right off. I didn’t even have to think.  So, I won the bet and Spike and I get to drink real milk forever.

The Devil is evil. Evil like a murderer.  Maybe the Devil causes wars, or maybe its God. It must be hard to tell.  My dad says there is no such thing as the Devil. If there is no such thing, then why do they write a story about him and a play and put it in the Bible?  My dad and my mom don’t think the Bible is true, but some people think it is.  The Devil’s Churn is a place where the ocean gets knocked hard into a circle of black rocks. The rocks are sharp and they come from one time when there was a volcano and it exploded and made lava and when the lava got cold it turned into sharp rocks.  They don’t have volcanos here anymore so everyone says not to worry about it, but we weren't supposed  to have hurricanes either. I'm pretty sure that there could be a freak volcano. 

Mom and Dad are watching Spike because he always walks off the edges of things. That is why they call him a toddler.  Once he almost crawled off a tower at another park we went to, it was made of lava too.  And once he almost walked off the train when we went to see my Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle Lewis on the Ranch.  I wanted to watch from the end of the train and Spike almost walked off. Daddy says Spike doesn’t have the sense God Gave a Goose.  I think that’s God’s fault, not Spike’s.  I wouldn’t trust God after that bet.  We stand at the lookout and watch the Devil’s Churn.  It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.  My uncle Jon, that’s my Dad’s brother, told me “Never say ‘beautiful’ because it is trite.”  Trite is something that everyone says and it loses its meaning. It’s better if you think up something new to say.  I can’t think of anything new to say about the Devil’s Churn. It is beautiful. 

The water changes from waters to whiteness, and the waves make so much noise that we have to yell even up on the cliff. The water smells like real water, not like the pool and not like the faucet.  Kind of like the Snake River at the Ranch only more so.  The rocks are even more black when they are wet and the ocean doesn’t wiggle, it breaths in and out like a beautiful monster. 

I was kind of testing to see if Mom and Dad watched me or just Spike. They just watched Spike.  I could get closer and closer to the edge.  I wasn’t scared at all.  I wanted to see when I would start getting scared. I got right up to the edge, but I didn’t think I would fall off.  I could jump off, but it didn’t seem like I’d just faloff.  The waves looked like whipped cream.  I tried to imagine what it would be like if you jumped into the water from here.  It would probably feel good. Cold. And bouncy.  I kind of wanted to jump.  I bet my Dad would jump in after me.  That made me scared. I didn’t want him to jump in after me.  It was okay for me but not for him.  I think this was an experiment.

An experiment is how scientists find out what is true by making tests.  Like one time my teacher said that when things get hot they expand, which means gets bigger.  She said you could see this happen if you put a glass on the stove and turned it on. The glass would break because it gets hot and expands.  I didn’t believe her.  I’ve seen things on the stove lots of times and they never get bigger.  And our car gets so hot in the sun, especially on the Ranch, but it never gets any bigger.

So I did the experiment, even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to.  Usually I don’t do anything I’m not supposed to, because I don’t want my Dad to get mad at me and spank me or Spike. He has really big hands and when he spanks us he holds our arms behind our back with one hand and hits our skin until we cry. I try not to cry because it makes me mad, but I always end up crying anyway. Spike cries even before the spanking starts. I wish Daddy would spank me instead of Spike because....well I don't know why, but I can't stand it when he spanks Spike. Spike is so little and his crew cut gets all red, and he didn't mean to be bad. Spanking is terrible.

But I did the experiment with the stove and I didn't care if I did get spanked. So I guess, sometimes I am bad on purpose. This time I wanted to tell the teacher she was wrong.  I don’t’ like my teacher. She has a tight face and she’s mean.  She won’t let me read ahead in reading circle and I have to wait and wait while everyone sounds out the words.  I’m sorry they can’t read fast, but its not my fault. The book is boring anyway, but it would be better if I could read ahead.  So to do the experiment I set a jar on the stove and turned it on.  The jar exploded. It burst into a hundred pieces and I started crying.  I never saw it get bigger, but I guess she was right about it.  I didn’t get in too much trouble because Mom and Dad were laughing so hard.  Dad said it was good thinking and he can’t complain.

So, I wasn’t scared when I was standing by the edge of the cliff, and I reall wanted to jump.  I kept looking at the waves and imagining.  The froth was so pretty and you could see rainbows sometimes when the sun hit just right.  There probably isn’t a better place in the world to jump.  Then I remembered the dare.  If I dared myself to jump in, I’d have to do it.  You just have to decide if you want to do it before you make the dare.  I was still thinking about that when my Dad grabbed me and started yelling, “We trusted you.”   My mom said that I didn’t understand how dangerous it was. 

Maybe I didn’t. Or maybe I did.

But the thing I’m afraid of the most is Hitler. Some people think Hitler is hiding in Argentina. Argentina is somewhere else, and a lot of bad people hide there, especially people from the War.  A War is a bad thing. I think it is a verb.  A lot of people got together and killed each other. Some were good and some were bad, and the good guys won.  There was a lot of burning and a lot of things ended up unrecognizable and looking like charcoal briquettes.  Little kids like me got burned up too, like the deer that get burned up in forest fires because they can’t run fast enough. Like Bambi’s mother.  Some things in the war were even worse than this, but I don’t know what they are yet. I keep listening when the grownups talk but they always start whispering when they get to talking about the really bad things. On the news they don’t talk about the war much either, but sometimes when they talk about Hitler hiding in Argentina, they show pictures of skeletons with skin on them.

The thing is, I know where Hitler is hiding.  It’s obvious.  Why would he go to Argentina where everyone is looking for him and everyone knows it’s a place where bad guys hide? That would be stupid.  He would hide in a place where no one would think to look.  I tried to tell my parents that I know where he is, but they didn’t want to talk to me about where Hitler was hiding.  “Don’t worry about it,” they said. 

But, the evilest man in the whole world is hiding in the basement of our school and who wouldn't worry?  I’ve never been to the basement of our school, but I looked in once when our class walked in a line to the library. The scary janitor guy has to duck down when he walks through the door there.  He is the one who’s protecting Hitler and bringing him food from the cafeteria. They put lots of food down the disposal there, so there are plenty of leftovers for Hitler.  I think sometimes the janitor goes to Safeway to get cheese for Hitler. For some reason I have a feeling that Hitler likes cheese. He probably likes grilled cheese sandwiches and they don’t make those in the cafeteria.  I don’t know how the janitor cooks grilled cheese for Hitler, but maybe he makes a camp fire.

Finally, I have decided not to think about the basement anymore.  Nobody seems to care what I say. They think I am dumb, but I’m not. I am not dumb. I’m not very good at arithmetic and I never know if the picture shows many sheep or few sheep, but that’s not my fault. It’s because my Grandpa, my mom’s dad, has a sheep ranch and he has many sheep.  The picture in our workbook said “many sheep,” but there were only eight.  That’s not very many sheep.  But I’m not dumb. I can read better than anybody in my class. When I learned to read it was like magic, one day I didn’t know how and the next day I did.  I hardly ever have to sound out words.  At least not more than once. 

As long as Hitler doesn’t know that I know he is down there, I am probably safe enough.  When he finally comes out of the basement, in a few years, the police will catch him.  Unless he figures out to shave off his mustache. Without that little black mustache they might not recognize him.   But, by that time I’ll be gone and it won’t be my problem anymore.

Anyway my friend and I are in a car pool. It is really just a car and not a pool.  Sometimes his mother picks us up and sometimes my mother does.  Sometimes we go to his house after school for a treat.  He has a rich house with a garden and a gate.  We live in an apartment house with other families whose dads are going to graduate school.  Graduate school is a school you go to after you get done with your other schools.  You have to learn other languages like French and German. They put the words on a lot of little tiny cards so you can learn them. They do this at my school too, but all the words are easy, like “Dick” and “go.”

Alex is fun to play with because he mostly does what I say.  We go out in the garden and play house. We live in Eugene, Oregon and Eugene is very green. My grandparents live on a ranch in Oregon too.  But at the ranch it is all yellow and brown.  Alex gets to color in coloring books, which is fun.  My Daddy won’t let me color in coloring books because it will stifle my creativity.    Anyway, I color in them at Alex’s house, but I feel just the same afterwards. I think I am just as creative as I was before.

One day my mom doesn’t come to pick us up after school. I’m sure it is her turn.  The school is empty. There aren’t any kids left in the playground.  There is a dark place at the end of the playground where the wire fence comes against some stranger’s yard.  I make sure that Alex doesn’t go over there.  I also have to be sure that Alex doesn’t go near the basement and I have to explain to him about Hitler and Argentina and hideouts.  I don’t tell him about the burnt people or the skeletons because Alex is soft and sweet like my baby brother and I don’t want to scare him.  It’s better if little kids like him don’t know about really bad things. It will be better for him if he doesn’t know that there are things that are too bad to talk about so he won’t have to worry.

I decide that we’d better make a campfire.  Maybe there is a war and the parents have all been burned up in an explosion like in J.B.  Maybe they won’t be coming, ever. It will be dark soon, and Alex and have to figure out how to make a fire.  I make Alex go get sticks while I look for a safe place to camp.  There is a hole in the hedge over by the street.  If we camp there, we can keep a lookout on the door of the basement and one of us can stay up and we can take turns sleeping like they do on “Maverick” and “The Rifleman.” From this spot we can see where the cars drive up too.  If the parents do come, then we will be able to see them. 

“We aren’t supposed to play with matches.” Alex says.

“Well, this is an emergency,” I tell him. “Anyway, we don’t have any matches. We’ll have to rub two sticks together like Indians.”

Alex and I squat down to rub the sticks together.  I decide it will be better if I kneel even though my knees will get dirty because when I am squatting Alex might be able to see my underpants.  My hands are dirty now and they feel gritty. I hate icky fingers.  Mommy says I have a thing about clean hands.  But if this is the end of the world I will just have to be brave. I will have to get used to dirty hands.  Then my Daddy drives up.  He thinks our campfire is funny and he tells Alex’s mom about it when we get to their house. She thinks it is funny too. Alex and I look at each other.  No one even says how brave we were.  Especially me. I was taking really good care of Alex.  I didn’t let him get scared at all.

The next day Alex’s Mommy takes us to a movie.  It is Babes in Toyland.  I am hoping it is better than Bambi. I just couldn’t take that Bambi again.  We have both popcorn and candy. Alex’s mom doesn’t know I can’t have candy.  I decide that it would be more polite not to tell her.  Before Babes in Toyland comes on they show a short movie. Right in the middle of the box of gumdrops something bad happens.  A terrible movie comes on. It is worse than Bambi.  

There is a girl, pretty old, maybe nine, and she’s trying to escape from the War.  She is crawling through the mud towards a giant barbwire fence, like the ones they use for sheep on the Ranch only bigger.  The movie is in black and white, which is how I know it is about the War. Back in the War days they didn’t have color.  A searchlight sweeps back and forth across the ground.  If it touches the girl the soldiers will shoot her with their machine guns. There is nothing she can do. She can’t stop the lights. They are shooting already.  Mud is getting all over her. She’s crying and crying and crawling and crawling.  Now she can’t find her parents.  They are probably back in the camp with the skeletons.  I think the machine guns got them.  The gumdrops turn into a gob in my mouth and I can’t swallow it.  Yellow and and green taste terrible together. 

The girl is crawling through the mud for hours, but finally she is scooting under the barbed wire.  It tears her shirt and blood gets on her. Blood is black when there is no color.  Once I got scratched by blackberries all over and it hurt so bad.  My dad put methiolate on it in big pink streaks and told me a story and painted an Indian on my leg. The light is looking for the girl and its bright white. She keeps hiding but finally it hits her. I am almost sure they shot her in the leg.  Then she gets past the fence and starts to run, but she can’t run very well because of her leg.  She runs and she falls down and tries to get up and run some more to get away from the light. 

The rest of the movie is about a circus. Finally I swallow the gob of gumdrops. I love circuses but I hate this movie. The girl has an elephant for a pet but I don’t even care. I hate this movie. When it finally comes on, I hate Babes in Toyland too, even though it is in color.  Who cares about Babes in Toyland? Somewhere  there are barbed wire fences in Germany and girls are getting shot.  Really, I think I was too little to see that movie.



Hustler's Diet -- short, short story