The egg from inside our refrigerator is cool, smooth, and perfect in my hand.
Instead of cracking it into a pan, I cup it at my side. Stride out of the kitchen and through the living room. In the family room downstairs, someone watches something with an uproarious laugh track. Maybe “I Love Lucy” or “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
I open the front door. Walk onto the porch. It is a nice Spring night. A streetlamp casts a wide pool of light onto the intersection of Waycross and Cascade. The bronze glare reveals the front of our blue Volkswagen Bug. I duck off the porch into the shadows to the left of the house. Two houses down, I see it. The red-brick side to John Kramden’s home. Two cars in the driveway. One blocks the sidewalk. My mind notes how you are not supposed to do that in ‘FOREST PARK: The Planned Community.’
John Kramden is a 7th grade classmate at Our Lady of the Rosary, although not a friend. He is a loner in Mrs. Fahrenholdt’s class. Fumbling in words and shy beyond measure. Skinny as me, but the comparison ends there. I am confident in class. I collect, edit, and write the class newsletter, printed in sky-blue ink on a loud mimeograph machine in the principal’s office. I can’t recall if John is ever highlighted, his achievements showcased, in the words we’ve compiled, stapled, and published this year. Editions come in 30 copies, for students to share with parents.
I would be hard-pressed were you to ask how I felt about ‘John K.’ He is addressed that way by Mrs. Fahrenholdt, to distinguish him from ‘John R.’ and ‘John L.’ in class. I don’t hate him. Why should I? He is no threat to my much-burnished role as ‘standout student,’ an aspiration I would never acknowledge in conscious thought. I am just following my aims and interests. I did, however, determine with a deathly resolve, to never earn a ‘C’ in any class, at any time, in my school career.
John K. says little in class, in the hallway, or at recess. He hugs the shadows of the school wall when we launch games of tag, before the nuns shut us down for excessive exuberance. One recent day in the hallway he catches my eye, moving in the opposite traffic flow. Eyeballs me with cool appraisal. The gaze reflects none of the Casper the Ghost flittiness I may have expected. I look back. What are you looking at?
Does he suspect?
From the shadows, I fix my gaze on the Kramden house. To get the right angle, I will be forced to leave the darkness. Fling. Retreat into shadow. I feel I finally have the range dialed in. This will be my fifth egging of John K.’s house in the past month. One fell short, landing with a plop and roll in the grass beside the wall. Another hit the side of one of their cars. The remaining three landed true, as satisfying as tossing a dart that lands inside a dartboard’s magic inner circle, near the bullseye. I heft the egg in the palm of my right hand. Mimic throwing. I have read how Olympic swimmers, gymnasts, pole vaulters, and other star performers run through the motions first, before the starting gun. Visualizing each step.
Why John K.? Maybe his house is just an easy target. I have to do nothing but grab an egg from the fridge. Head to the sideyard blackness. And I am back inside in ten minutes, watching “Dick Van Dyke,” no questions asked. And since John K. is no threat in class or in the neighborhood — were I to explore why his house has become my bullseye — there is no potential blowback. But I do not explore the question.
I toss instead.
I dash out of the shadows. Plant my feet in the yellow glow of the streetlamp. Rear back. Throw. A couple of things happen in the next minute, one of them a complete, disheartening surprise. I have indeed dialed in the distance. The egg arcs high like a badminton shuttlecock. It lands with a satisfying crack in the middle of the wall. Best throw yet. Egg splatter radiates on the wall like an exotic bloom. In the next second, a body rises from behind the car parked across the sidewalk. Stands erect. It is John K. He sprints around the car and across the yard between us, a lithe, athletic motion that instantly recasts my mental vision of him as a physical bumbler. He comes to a stop 10 feet away. We are now lit by the same golden streetlamp glow.
“You are doing it,” he says.
Then, he is gone. That antelope dash. Back to his front porch. He opens his front door. Is gone inside. My brain feels frozen, like its gears have stopped working. Like how Dad’s VW Bug sometimes slips out of gear, idling the car. So Dad — muttering curses — has to pull over. Turn the engine off. Turn it back on.
My mind locks onto what John K. has said. What does he mean by “it”? In the next moment, the gears in my head mesh again. Oh. It. Whoever has been egging their house. You are doing it. I am doing it. I. Me. And I am now in trouble. Big trouble. It is the kind of trouble I, a star student, an exemplary son, a golden boy-wannabe, am not supposed to be getting into.
“OK, we will certainly sit him down. And we are so, SO sorry! Really! This is as surprising to us as it is to you. And, yes, he will be over tomorrow.”
John K.’s father has come to our porch. Rung the bell. He speaks with my mother, who comes onto the porch as Dad leans out the door. Seated at our dining room table, I hear Mom’s words, but not those of Mr. K. I can only think of him as ‘Mr. K.’ What does it mean I will be ‘over’? What does it mean my parents will ‘sit me down?’ Will I be punished? Grounded? I have never been grounded. And my parents have never hit me, although Mom once chased me with a spatula up the steps to the third floor.
Mr. K has never been on our porch. I have never, in fact, met him except to see him leave in his car somewhere. Or mow the lawn. I imagine him trudging his porch to ours, probably using the sidewalk, after John K. tells what his surveillance has finally revealed. Me. I. The perpetrator. The guy egging their house. I imagine Mr. K. returning to his house. Eyeing the egg splatter. Maybe shaking his head.
My mother is shaking hers, too, as she reenters the house. Normally, the dining room table is where I do homework. Where I scribble in journals kept steadily since 5th grade, when it was a class assignment. And I never stopped. It is where I eat Quisp, reading every word on the cereal box, front and back. I long for a distraction like that as my parents walk my way. Feeling every step as if they were dinosaur footfalls.
“Doug,” Mom says. “What is going on?”
It is one of those big, broad questions parents ask when they are befuddled. Or dumbfounded. Yet neither of them appears particularly enraged or hot under the collar, although Dad has the sustained crinkle in his brow that sometimes flags the onset of extreme weather. When he speaks, his tone is subdued, however.
“This is not what your mother and I expect of you,” he says.
They sit down across from me. I am unused to being in the hot seat. Unfamiliar with being the problem child. My mom speaks up. Her voice is a little strained. Puzzled. I can’t tell how disappointed she is in me. But it must be a lot, right?
“Is there some problem at school? Did you and Mr. Kramden’s son — his name is John, right? Did you and he have a fight?”
My head is spinning. Maybe I am a bad egg? The word-lover in me wants to grin at that phrase flashing into my brain this night. Maybe, though, I am like that girl in the scary movie the family watched some months ago. About a kid who turns out to be evil and does terrible things. “The Bad Seed.” I cannot shake that movie.
Am I, actually, a bad seed?
“It’s not like that,” I say, haltingly. “I …. um …”
I search my brain for words. Reasons to explain why I launched a month-long commando raid on a neighbor’s house with eggs from our refrigerator. Nothing comes immediately to mind. Am I mad at John K.? I root around in the crowded attic of feelings, thoughts, emotions. John K. does not figure prominently, anywhere. Except, perhaps — his timidity, his status as an unloved, unappreciated loner in class and on the playground is everything I ever fear for how I may end up. Or be …
“I … I’m sorry. I guess I just kind of lost it.”
There it is again.
What do I mean? I scan my mind. I imagine the process to be something like the scan Captain Kirk on “Star Trek” orders on the deck of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Scanning for problems. Dangers. Anomalies.
‘Anomaly’ is a word I know. After all, I read the dictionary for fun, holed up on the couch on summer days. When I don’t feel I can mount the effort to go have fun outside. Or find a friend with whom to have fun. It is a fun word and fun to say. I write it down in my journal:
“ANOMALY: noun: 1. Deviation or departure from the normal or common order, form, or rule. 2. One that is peculiar, irregular, abnormal, or difficult to classify. 3. The angular deviation, as observed from the sun, of a planet from its perihelion.”
The science fiction nerd and wannabe astronaut in me thrills at Definition 3, with the added bonus of encountering and then looking up ‘perihelion.’ Yet the part of me that fears it may be a “Bad Seed,” the part that peeks warily from dark shadows like those at the side of my house, comes to rest on Definition 2.
One that is peculiar. Irregular. Abnormal. Difficult to classify.
Isn’t that me? Doesn’t that describe to a tee how I regularly feel? Yet I would never in a million years use such words aloud to talk about myself. They are too close to the bone. They are what my mind whispers to itself. The definition’s use of ‘deviation’ and its offshoot, ‘deviant,’ also bubble to the surface in this stew of anxieties and fears.
“John is a good guy. I am not mad at him,” I finally say, wondering if that second part is true. And the first part? I don’t really know.
“I just … sometimes things get to be too much.”
I am trying to feed my parents something. To put them off. I need to say something to escape this interrogation and flee the table. Something they can hang their understanding on. Because Doug doesn’t do things like this. So, there must be some reason. But what if there isn’t? Or what if it is just too hard to put into words, even with a dictionary-powered vocabulary?
“Well, one thing is clear. You need to never do something like this again! And tomorrow, you will march over to the Kramden house and you will scrub the wall of their house clean. And you will apologize to them!”
A steelier tone replaces the previous tentative one in Mom’s voice. It is the voice I hear her use with clerks when upset about something in a store. Or haggling with officialdom over the phone. Or when she wades into the kitchen at my Italian grandparent’s house, upsetting the applecart of loudmouthed Latin males by challenging them, then not backing down. The voice that says: ‘Do not mess with me! I have something to say to you.’ Its use is rare in our relationship. So, I heed it.
Dad pipes up. “You’re grounded for two weeks. No woods. No bike.”
He knows how to hit me where it hurts. But I say nothing. Just nod.
Later. I sit at the top of the cool concrete basement steps that lead down to the bedroom I share with Ricky. My parents think I am in bed. Instead, I listen to them talk in the family room. Through the door, I pick out phrases, words.
“… he drives himself so hard … he’s a good kid … I can’t imagine why …”
The next day, feeling as if I am marching off to prison, I trudge the interminable distance to John K.’s porch. Press the bell. Hear a tinkling sound. I hold a bucket in one hand, a scrub brush in the other. His mother answers, a squat woman about my height.
She frowns at me. I begin the apology.
The next day, I encounter John K., again passing the other way in the hallway at Our Lady of the Rosary.
This time, he does not catch my eye.
It is years, it is many decades, later.
Everyone is flocking to the wondrous townhall of Facebook. These are its honeymoon days. Before the platform becomes a villain, an exasperation, a place to confabulate conspiracies and huddle up to plot the overthrow of everything you hate.
We are all still in the first delighted throes of re-discovery. Old classmates, lost friends, comic figures you thought forever gone. Your high school paramour is not dead, although she/he is surpassingly fat, given how much their looks mattered to them back then. Your nemesis is now a life coach, sprinkling their timeline with quotes illustrated with rainbows: ‘The best project you’ll ever work on is you!’ A dear friend in high school, who got you through your worst angst, who knows your oldest secrets, is — joy of joys — still the decent, endless well of wry soulfulness they were a half-century gone.
And it seems like almost every single person who figures in the credits to your life — lead roles, supporting actors and actresses, bit parts, walk-ons — keeps churning up every time you click a connection. Echoes double back upon reverberations. Person one, leads to to person two, leads to person three. I never expected to be thinking about you again.
One day, John K. shows up as a ‘friend of a friend.’
My finger pauses over the ‘friend request’ button. I eye his timeline. For some odd reason, it is full to the brim with photographs of cute kittens and cats, almost exclusively. There are also shots of an aging fellow, who looks to be about my age, nuzzling some of those felines. Grinning happily.
I click the icon. Almost instantly, John K. accepts my friend request. After pausing to gather up thoughts and words, I begin to type him a message.
‘Hey, John. Doug Imbrogno here. After all these years, I must apologize to you for egging your house way back then, if I did not already do so in the way-back-when. Really, it was not personal. I had some screwy things going on in my head which I would come to have to deal with later. I never felt anything bad about you. It is a pleasure to find you on Facebook. Looks like you love cats!
My best, Doug
No response comes immediately. I wonder if he friended me out of curiosity. And then thought the better of engaging with me. Am I a nemesis of his own from way back then? A day passes. Two. Facebook flags a return message from John K. I click it open:
Hey, Doug. It’s good to hear from you! Sorry, it took me a while to respond. I founded a cat rescue group in Forest Park and, really, for this end of Hamilton County in Cincy. It keeps me busy, what with pickups and placements. That may explain all the cat and kitty porn on my timeline! Need a cat or kitten? Ha-ha! And don’t worry about sharing your breakfast on the side of my house when we were sprouts. We were — we are — all a little bit crazy at times. Judging from your own timeline, you have been doing great with your writing! Let’s keep in touch!
I read, then re-read, his note. My throat catches on the read-through. The backs of my eyes well with water. I do not cry. But I come close. I jump over to John K.’s timeline. Thinking that I need to lose the ‘K.’ He is just John. And we grew up in the same neighborhood, wrestled with nuns together in grade schools, and stumbled through high school together.
There are worse ways to spend the moments of your life than to scroll through closeups of rescued kittens and cats.
Douglas John Imbrogno is a lifelong storyteller in words, pictures and moving imagery. He worked for 35 years as a long-form feature writer, feature editor, and multimedia producer for a legendary small newspaper, The Charleston Gazette, in West Virginia. He currently is editor of the multimedia magazine WestVirginiaVille.com and co-founder of AMP Media, a multimedia production shop that does everything from short documentaries to music videos to ‘Naturegrams.’ He also edited and compiled “WHAT WHY HOW: Answers to Your Questions About Buddhism, Meditation, and Living Mindfully by Bhante G,” released internationally in January 2020 by Wisdom Publications.