Chainsaw Charlie chain-smoked cigarettes the entire time he gave us high and tights.  My Ranger Challenge team when to his shop to get spruced up.  He had the foulest mouth of anyone I knew then and had a hand-written sign above the barber's chair that said, "No free Kojaks."
Today, I pay too much for haircuts, and the talk is reduced to the cursory.  The work is fine, but the whole affair is tepid.
We must've plowed through a hundred of them each night -- kangaroos in the Australian outback.  I was on lookout, charged with telling the driver when to swerve, when to look out.  There would be nothing until the lights of the bus would come upon hundreds upon hundreds of big reds hunched and poised to hop.  They came on too fast.  We always struck some.
When it was my turn to sleep, I drifted off to the occasional loud thump and tumble.
I remember riding in the backs of trucks, wind swirling my dirty-blond hair, dust from the road trailing behind us.  We'd bump around, yell with excitement; the biggest among us would sit on the wheel well.
Now with kids of my own, I cannot fathom letting them ride in the back of a truck.  They must be fastened into their seats as if preparing to blast off into space.  I wonder if I am doing them a disservice by being so protective.  I sometimes dream about climbing into the back of my uncle's old beater before trekking up York Hill to my grandparents' house.  Do my children deserve the same kind of dream?
The human heartbeat can be heard two weeks after conception.  It occurred to me, then, that this is how a person enters the world: as heartbeat.  Perhaps this should help to frame the meaning of life.  If we were once all heartbeats then so many other human characteristics take on a new kind of superficiality.  If we can relate to one another, heartbeat to heartbeat, then maybe we wouldn't have all of this strife we see in our world today.
In the winter, my grandparents' house smelled like cooked food, coffee, and wood smoke.  Is this why I sometimes light a wooden match, blow it out, and sniff the rising wood smoke?  I think so.  I do this sometimes before I write, before I try to make sense of a memory.  It takes me back to a simpler existence when I could afford to listen to my grandparents' stories while we drank coffee and ate cookies.
Every small town has a gauntlet.  Ours was Pool Hill.
The way up to the town pool was a precipitous climb over loose gravel.  From its height, we kids would scan the Allegheny foothills before bravely pushing off on our banana seat Huffies, hurtling ourselves downhill.  Once, I did not make it.  A bloody mess, I limped back home where Dad, a former Navy Corpsman, patched me up.
How was I to know that this would be the first in a series of life long gauntlets?  How was I to know the privilege of having someone to bandage my wounds?
Molly was a good dog.  She had been my jogging companion back when I would sojourn home from college.  She would eagerly grab the leash and deposit it hopefully in front of my jogging shoes, and off we would go, bounding down North Main Street on our way to Highland Avenue and, beyond that, the cemetery where I would do push ups and she would sniff around the gravestones.
Her leash sits in my office now.
I have an office, and it is filled with books and memories I sometimes find it hard to believe I -- a graying man -- made.