Then there was that time The Terminator and I got in all that trouble for flicking off the Whole Second Grade.
This was back when I was in Kindergarten. In all fairness, it wasn’t really our fault and I suppose we didn’t get in all that much trouble.
I better start with the Graffiti Incident first … (That wasn’t really our fault, either.)
What happened was: The Terminator and I went with my mom to New York City early one morning when I was maybe five or so. We would do this throughout much of my childhood, because Mom is originally from New York and that’s where my uncle and grandma lived up until a few years ago.
Mom would get homesick and miss eating quiches in Central Park. So she’d come into my room at four-in-the-morning and suddenly it would be, “Get your stuff! We’re gonna go see Grandma and Uncle Glenn!”
The Terminator never seemed to mind and regardless of the obligatory trouble we’d frequently have at the airport (this was previous to 9/11, so it wasn’t that bad even when The Terminator would forget to disarm himself), we’d usually make it through the metal detector with only minor issues. Then off we’d go to a magical long weekend in Manhattan and Upstate New York.
I have to add here that since my mom had a “friend” who owned a limo company, we’d get to take a black stretch – all sybaritic luxuries included – to the airport during these extemporaneous trips “Back East,” as Mom would always put it.
Because of the limo treatment, my memories of New York City as a youth are concomitant with scenes we’d watch on the shitty 1980s minibar TV of, for whatever reason, usually Bloodsport with Jean-Claude Van Damme.
The Terminator, as always behind his characteristic opaque Gargoyle lenses, would seem to be holding aloof to the visage of Van Damme onscreen while we made our way to LAX. Mom would try to warm him up a bit with a Mimosa she’d whip up from the contents of the minibar, but each time The Terminator would politely decline.
New York City was to me more than steaming Sabrett hotdogs and screaming black kids running around in oversized basketball caps or stuffy old white dudes strapped into their stuffy old suits. New York City was more than the smell of urine-soaked streets, more than its claustrophobic glass skyscrapers embowered in an oily-greasy urban sprawl.
New York City was also its majestic art museums, and The Terminator – occasionally monitoring the rather suspicious passerbys and possibly even bump into one or two, rendering the man knocked almost in slow-mo through the air against the nearest wall – seemed to enjoy the museums as much as Mom and I.
And they were everywhere, those art museums. As was the art.
This was the peak of garish 80s decadence, and I have vivid memories of the likes of Basquiat’s white-painted tires standing atop one another in a modern-day representation of the Tower of Babel.
“Mathew,” The Terminator asked while we were taking in the tires streaked with veins of dried white goop, “I understand the mythology of the Tower of Babel, but I am unable to logically discern why these rubber tires painted with white paint have been exhibited in an art museum of this caliber.”
I was only five, remember, so it was difficult enough for me to come to terms with such an installment myself.
I just turned to The Terminator and told him that art was “in the eye of the beholder,” the title of a Twilight Zone episode I’d seen with my mother during the previous Thanksgiving’s TZ marathon.
Outside, we’d see more art. Or at least what Mom told me was art in accordance with her own unique delineation.
The Terminator had asked if the faded neon scrawls and occasionally brilliantly colored curlicues were in fact evidence of vandalism. But Mom said instead that, no, this was actually a very special kind of self-expression.
(Mom did typically lean toward the lofty and didactic, even when speaking to me as a child or to The Terminator usually next to me. The Terminator, with his expansive lexicon on file, always got what she was talking about; I often just nodded my head so that we could move on and go maybe get some cheese popcorn.)
Days later, I’m back home in Southern California.
I’m holding in my tiny five-year-old paw a gritty, chalky piece of black rock retrieved from god-knows-where. I’m writing I-don’t-know-what on the peach-colored, faux brick wall of my Kindergarten classroom outside, and the recess monitor (overweight old bitch with curly-white short hair) stops me in my tracks.
Now, it’s bad enough I have my own towering Terminator with his East German flattop trolling around with me wherever I went (the school got used to it, more or less, after that unfortunate incident with the Principal’s kneecap). But now I was defacing school property, and that was just totally out of the question for proper playground propriety.
I was five for chrissakes, and I was graffiti-ing the wall like a common hoodlum!
Worse still was that, being the Type A personality that I’ve always been, I wasn’t alone.
Along with The Terminator, whose black-smudged (gloveless on this particular day) hand was holding a piece of charcoal himself after having written what I recall as an unholy combination of Japanese lettering and binary, I’d gotten a classmate to come along with me in my “accidental” transgression inspired by Mom’s words of advice on aesthetics back in NYC.
I think his name was Matt, too (was it Matt G.? Or maybe Matt L.?) and the curly-white haired recess monitor stood there bespectacled and with a single rivulet of glittering sweat rolling down her temple as Matt G. or Matt L. – holding his own gritty piece of black rock that had been used to draw a dinosaur silhouette – turned to The Terminator who turned to me for what to do next.
I shook my head, letting him know his singular form of violence was not necessitated at this moment.
The recess monitor, trembling, wiped her forehead and cheek with the back of her velutinous arm and sighed with what even I as an innocent child knew was relief at having quite literally dodged a bullet.
The Terminator dropped his black rock and Matt G. or Matt L. ran away, still gripping his piece as though in a relay that would end with his passing the charcoal off to someone whitherward.
“You can wait here,” the dowdy recess monitor said to The Terminator. “And Matt G. (or was it Matt L.?), we’ll deal with later. Matt K.,” and then she turned to me, “you’re to come with me right … now.”
And I did. Right … then.
The sere old bitty snatched at my hand in a way that jolted my best friend The Terminator, and I again quickly shook my head.
The recess monitor, having realized what just took place, quickly lost the color in her already fairly pale face, before she just as quickly regained her slightly more roseate hue.
We were off to the Principal’s Office, The Terminator and me …
[FIND OUT WHAT GOES DOWN BETWEEN MY BEST FRIEND THE TERMINATOR AND THE PRINCIPAL IN NEXT WEEK’S EPISODE!]