13 Years Old

I’ve read a lot of autobiographies by actors and comedians talking about their desperate childhoods, but that just doesn’t apply to me. I had a really happy childhood. Oh, sure, we grew up poor. My dad never made more than $4,000 in one year in his life, and he and mom had five kids: four boys, and one little girl. When my sister Luanne was born I was already 17, so it always felt like I grew up in a family of boys. I love my little sister Luanne, but I was already grown by the time she came along and she and I had a very different relationship than I had with my brothers.

My older brother, Harold, was three years older than me so he could kick my ass anytime he chose and since I didn’t like anyone bossing me around, there were always ego problems between us. (Mainly caused by my stubbornness). Rick was my next oldest brother and he and I had a really special relationship. My little brother, Mike, was five years younger than me. By the way, in my band, Ron’s Rock Outs, even though he was the youngest, (five years younger than me, and seven years younger than Rick), he was the best musician. At 13 years old, he was our lead guitar player.

So… four rowdy boys for my parents to deal with, and we lived a simple paycheck to paycheck existence. My dad was a jack of all trades. He was a carpenter, a bus driver, a maintenance man, drove a cattle truck, and worked as a cowboy… it seemed he did everything. We lived in Roswell, NM until I was in the fifth grade… yeah, we were actually living there in July of 1947 when the UFO’s visited earth, as a matter of fact, my dad was working as a bus driver at Walker Air Force… so we were THERE, which might explain something about me. We then moved to Hot Springs, NM… (Rick had polio and we moved there to be near him while he was in the Carrie Tingley Children’s Hospital). While we were there, Ralph Edwards, a Hollywood radio and tv producer came to town and talked the city fathers into having a referendum, which passed overwhelmingly, and they changed the name to Truth or Consequences. Yeah, I was there when that happened. We moved again when I was in the seventh grade. I went to Junior High, High School and to Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, NM. Even though I was born in Cloudcroft, NM… I consider Portales my home town.

I said I was a happy kid, so I don’t know where this memory comes from but I can remember one day when I was in the second grade at East Ward Elementary School in Roswell. It was after school… I was in the playground, just sitting there on the see-saws. To this day it gives me such satisfaction to think about this: for some reason I started saying every cuss word I could think of. It gave me such a feeling of entitlement and of power that I could say these forbidden, naughty words…. all of them!! Now, in those days, those naughty words were probably, “damn” and “hell”, and not much beyond that. “Son of a bitch”, maybe. But I can remember it just felt so good for me to be out there cussing.

I’ll tell you something else. It’s a wonder I lived to be 14 because when I was 13, I knew everything, and I was perfectly willing to let everybody know that. In fact, it was an imperative. The year I was in the 8th grade at Portales Jr High, the school administrators had decided to stop corporal punishment… (a couple coaches had been going overboard so they decided giving licks with the paddle would be discontinued). So now, if you got in trouble, you had to serve detention. They would give detention in 30-minute increments, and I once had accumulated 42 hours to serve. No matter how hard I tried, some teacher would invariably say something that forced me to respond.

What’s a kid to do?

I can remember talking to myself on the way to school. I’d say, “Okay… Listen, you’re going to shut up today. Don’t say anything, just sit there, be quiet, listen, and don’t get in trouble today. Don’t do it again today.” And that would last until I got to school, and then the teacher, or a student, or one of my friends, or just some …something would happen. It was almost like Tourette’s. It would just leap out of my mouth.

Forty-two hours of detention… and you could only do away with them 30 minutes at a time because school started at 8:40. You could come in at 8:10. You got an hour for lunch, so that you could take only 30 minutes for lunch, and you could stay for 30 minutes after school, so if you came 30 minutes early, stayed in for lunch, and stayed after school, you could work off an hour and a half, but still, 42 hours. Finally, the Principal came to me with a possible solution. Maybe he could reinstitute corporal punishment just for me. I reluctantly agreed… but then never showed up to get my licks. I wonder if I’m a fugitive from justice from Portales Junior High. I don’t know.