Saturday was the best day of our week. Charlie’s Chips delivered his giant cans of cheese balls and potato chips to Wally’s house, cartoons started bright and early, and adventure waited just outside our front doors.
Every Saturday began the same and varied little in the eternity that followed its inception. By eight o’clock, Wally and Edward would burst through my front door, breakfast in hand, to find my brother well into his second hour of cartoons and third bowl of Fruit Loops.
My brother’s Saturday started at the crack of dawn. He watched every cartoon and he watched them religiously. I think he was an addict. I tried to get my parents to do an intervention once. I suggested it was for his own good but in reality I was just sick to death of watching Scooby Doo and The Flintstones after school everyday. When the mere mention of amending our viewing habits came up, my brother lost his mind; a valuable lesson in choosing my battles more judiciously.
Eventually, Fran usurped us both and kept us on a steady diet of Red Sox games and M.A.S.H. reruns.
To this day I still hate Scooby Doo and I’m completely certain my brother is a closet cartoon junkie.
We all have our demons.
The early morning cartoon fare was weak and never lured me from my bed a second before I had to get up. It was still dark when New Zoo Review started. I have no idea what those people were thinking. I made the mistake once and quickly realized it was hardly worth getting out of bed for at six in the morning. Davey and Goliath followed, with its creepy pious Claymation and dogma-ridden dialogue that would seep into my dreams early, planting seeds, just before consciousness would take its full grasp. Long enough for Davy to remind me I had things to feel guilty about when my feet hit the eventual floor. Then, Tom and Jerry, where at least I could drift carelessly, uninterested in who caught who: mindless, endless chasing was not my idea of a cartoon. I had standards after all.
Ultimately, I’d hear the three of them scheming, devising devilish tactics to rouse me. I’m not sure who they were kidding we all knew none of them would muster the courage to execute them.
“If we put her hand in warm water she’ll pee herself!”
“We could crawl into her room with pots and pans and on the count of three just bang the shit out of them! It’ll scare her half to death!”
They’d roar with laughter. They were always Edward’s inspirations and immediately shot down by Wally.
Evil geniuses they were not. I would have shared their hesitation if I were plotting; retaliation was real and swift. I guess the planning had to be enough or at least that is what we told ourselves; I can’t say for sure but I know I never once woke up with anyone’s ass cheek pressed to my forehead or sporting a magic marker mustache.
Eventually, Peanut and Sal would arrive. Peanut was always half asleep. Sal would drag him across the yard to make sure they were there by nine. The best cartoons started at nine. I was always last. I would bolt from bed as soon as the first Bugs Bunny overture began. After the usual “it lives” “nice hair” comments, we’d all sit, silent, in our pajamas, eat cereal, and watch Bugs Bunny. Consume Bugs Bunny. By ten-thirty we would disperse, dress and be on our bikes, ready for escapade. My brother, in an effort to avoid trouble, and, because there were still several hours of cartoons left to watch, rarely left the house on Saturdays, at least before noon.
Sometimes we were already in trouble and punished by noon. Fran used to say that my brother was too scared to be stupid and I was too stupid to be scared. I guess there is some truth to that. It didn’t matter. I waited all week for Saturdays and I didn’t waste a minute of them. Especially since Sundays were hit or miss, depending on how church went.
We rode our bikes aimlessly hoping to come across a Whiffle ball game or a freshly paved sidewalk, ripe for initial carving, or a fight. We weren’t picky. We’d stop for candy and to investigate new road kill. One Saturday my mother came home from the grocery store crying. She said she had just hit a squirrel. We bolted from the house like it was on fire. We couldn’t get to the squished rodent quick enough. We never touched them, just marveled at the pure disgustingness of it all.
Just when we thought Saturday’s couldn’t possibly get better, so began haircut day in Wally’s garage. It was unbelievable, a rare divine gift. Other than Edward’s basement there wasn’t a better place to be, ever. Wally and I would set up milk crates close enough to be part of the action but far enough away to remain under the radar.
Mr. Janesky had five brothers. I have no idea who was the oldest or youngest. They all looked exactly the same. They would arrive at Wally’s early Saturday morning, each carrying his own case of beer. By mid-afternoon the beer was gone and the haircuts would begin. None of them were barbers and whomever had the misfortune of going last always got the worst haircut. More than once Mr. Janesky ended up with a buzz cut just to repair what Uncle Vic or Uncle Henry had done. Sometimes they would sport their unfortunate quaffs for the week and try their luck again the following Saturday. Wally and I would laugh for days about what each uncle must have looked like at work or bowling or whatever they did. I knew nothing of them beyond Saturday haircuts. They all knew me, Wally’s best friend; the one who did all the talking.
Once Mr. Janesky cut Uncle Russell’s ear, and while the others laughed, Uncle Russell chased Mr. Janesky around the yard until they were both too winded to continue. It was a few weeks, maybe longer, before haircut Saturdays resumed. Wally and I were heartbroken until we spotted Uncle Vic, beer in hand and looking like a vagrant, pull into Wally’s driveway. I nearly cried with joy. I loved Wally’s uncles, even if I couldn’t always tell them apart.
When then weren’t doling out haircuts, they partied. Every Janesky family gatherings took place at Wally’s house. I attended every one. The uncles would be inebriated upon arrival. During a picnic for Wally’s birthday, Uncle Henry ran over the Brown’s cat, Tootsie, while barreling into the driveway. Squished it dead. Wally and I barely got a good look at it before Mr. Janesky and Uncle Vic buried it in the back yard and swore us to secrecy.
We ran and told Edward immediately. A dead cat was too good to keep. By the time we returned Mr. Janesky was hosing Tootsie’s guts into the sewer drain. I bet Edward’s still mad he missed it.
Uncle Vic said it was better to let the Browns think Tootsie ran away than met his fate via El Camino.
It made me wonder if Wally’s dog really ran away. I don’t think Wally gave it a second thought though. I wondered if Wally ever wondered anything. He certainly didn’t seem too.