Kalamazoo: Growing Up Sideways in the 1970s

Kalamazoo: Growing Up Sideways in the 1970s

by Winch

ISBN: 9780692013861

Publisher Eight Track Publishing

Published in Biographies & Memoirs/Family & Childhood, Literature & Fiction

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Book Reviewers: to request copy for review, email Martin Winch @ Please specify an email address (for digital copy) or mailing address (for hardcopy).

Book Description

"So this is the waxing nostalgia of adolescent boyhood in Kalamazoo. Stupid stunts, drugs/booze, girls. The writing is kind of redneck with a lot of boner talk, getting in fights, trying to cop a feel. I was strangely fascinated by it. Apparently, there's a part two to it, I want it. It's not really romanticized and it's not a bummer, it's just a story. It's good." Marissa Magic Maximum RockNRoll magazine


Sample Chapter


It was just me and Dave that summer, the others didn’t matter much.  They were just Vietnam vets and ex-cons, background noise, like the roar of the chain saws.  The boss lived at a halfway house, came to work in an old jean jacket, looked like Lemmy from Motorhead, always wore the same soiled tank top—the kind old geezers wear under their shirts.  Every morning, he’d reach into a quarter-pound Ziploc bag and pass out breakfast, white cross and black beauties, RVJ’s and RV8’s, yellow jackets and pink hearts, a fistful of speed.  He’d pour gas in the saws, leave a Kool dangling from his lip.  I think his name was Joe.
     It was good money, two-fifty an hour, ten-hour days, a pile of machetes and chain saws and all the amphetamines you could eat.  Dave was in his element, swinging his sword and shouting like a pirate.  Other than that shadow of an Errol Flynn mustache on his lip, he looked to be about twelve years old, strolling down the fallen trees like a kid on the playground playing walk the plank.  He’d straddle the mast and hack off the branches.  The boss banned him from using the chain saws, wrote him off as an accident waiting to happen.  A fool and his limbs are soon parted.  There ain’t much you can do about it. 
     I couldn’t argue with that, but I didn’t want to watch that happen.  You get attached to your friends so it hurts when one loses a limb.  It’s almost like losing one of your own.  Dave was playing the fool, but he was fun to have around, had something that I was lacking—that spark of innocence still showing in his eyes like the flicker of fireflies in jelly jars.  And I didn’t have any other friends in that crew.  The boss had already warned me about some of them, told me specifics about criminal habits, so I kept my chain saw oiled and ready, tried to prevent the inevitable by keeping an eye on Dave, strapped on my safety goggles and followed behind him, cut the logs after he cleared the branches.
     I already knew that my skin was a magnet for flying metal objects, should have known it was only a matter of time before Dave stabbed me with the machete.  One morning, it happened.  He was in front of me hacking off branches, sliced open my chest with a back swing.  I didn’t see it coming, and he didn’t even notice until I started screaming.  Even then he couldn’t wipe that shit-eating grin from his face, just looked like a kid that got caught with his hand in some girl’s pants.  Meanwhile, I was bleeding something fierce so the boss grabbed his Old Grand-Dad from his glovebox and poured a few slugs on my wound, ripped off his tank top and bandaged me up, gave me one of his Kools and we got back to work.  We were clearing the land so they could build condominiums.  Me and Dave didn’t even know what that word meant.
     At lunch, we’d shake the sawdust from our mop-tops, tank-top the sweat from our backs.  The boss always guzzled a Bud, chucked the empty on the ground.  Dave would stomp the can, wrap it around his sneaker, walk around awhile before kicking it loose.  It was like he had some rhyme running through his head all the time, some grade-school nonsense that the rest of us had forgotten a long time ago.  You couldn’t imagine him ever growing up.  We’d sit on his car, eat sandwiches on the hood.  It was his first ride, a VW wagon, sky blue and rust, bungee cords and duct tape.  
     When the boss blew the whistle, we’d get back to work.  When he blew it again, we’d yellYUBBA DUBBA DO.  We’d shake off the sawdust and jump in the car.  Every day after work, we’d head to North Lake.  It was one joint, one beer and one smoke from the job site, if we drove fast enough.  We’d hit the Fuzzbuster, use the powerhitter, push an eight-track into the Craig deck, toggle the power-booster, crank Desolation Boulevard until the speakers rattled.  By the time we chugged the beer and lit the smokes, we were bouncing down the two-track, almost to the lake.
     The beach was littered with beer tabs and broken glass, cigarette butts and a dirty diaper.  There were never too many people there, just a few old fry-brains with stained jeans and chubby wives, most of them too ancient to climb the rope swing.  Dave on the other hand was probably too young, forgot to lift his feet one time.  The shallow water by the shore grabbed his ankles, ripped his hands from the rope.  When Dave pried his head from the bottom of the lake, he still had that turd-munching grin on his face, his nose broken and bleeding but his eyes still sparkling, his mouth packed with mud.  He crawled out of the water and copped a lean against the tree, thought that was just part of the fun.  The tree stood a few steps from the water, and farther back was the telephone pole we’d planted in the sand.  It was a bit wobbly, but it did the job.  We’d nailed a board up high on the pole, across to the tree.  We’d tied a rope to a branch.
     I’d grab that rope and climb the tree, walk across the board, shimmy up to the tippy-top.  Once you balanced your feet on the top of that telephone pole, there was no turning back.  You’d flick your smoke and step off, hold tight to the knot as you swung down, lift your feet as you swung up, wait until the rope reached the end of its path.  Then you’d let go.
     Time slowed down as you sailed through the air.  Everything led to that moment when you splashed deep into the water.  It was like a cold beer for the whole body.  We’d wash the sawdust from our necks, swing on that rope until the cool of night said it’s time to go.  
     Back in the city, we’d hit the party store and cruise the streets, smoke joints and drink beers, crank the tunes and shout at the halter-tops.  When Dave would pull up to the curb, I’d bogie my smoke and do my best, give them the only line I knew, Wanna catch a buzz?  If they leaned over to take a glance, Dave would flash them the high beams.  Once they saw that grin, they’d usually hop in.  It attracted females like a flashlight attracts fruit flies, maybe reminded them of something, their first wet kisses in the back of the school bus, sharing candy necklaces or catching fireflies in jelly jars, playing spin-the-bottle in sixth grade or playing doctor in the fruit cellar.  And it didn’t seem to matter to Dave.  Nothing could wipe that grin off his face, even if they told us to take a hike.  
     We’d just park the car and crawl in the caves under the city, flashlights bouncing circles of light against the cement, the rats squeaking and running for cover, the passage getting smaller and smaller as we ran for miles and miles through the innards of the city, the tunnel growing dimmer as the batteries drained.  We’d click off the flashlights and use our Zippos to make it back, stop along the way to burn graffiti on the ceiling, cop a lounge in the pitch black, light up a joint.  We’d never tell anybody about those caves, never tell ourselves that they were just sewer pipes.  We were too busy having a good time.  
     We did that all summer, working all day, out to the lake every afternoon.  
     Near the end of August, Dave went up North to see the Cars’ Candy-O concert with his old friend Rusty.  The next time I saw Dave was the last time anybody saw him.  I looked down at him, could barely recognize him.  Something had wiped that grin from his face.  He was dressed in a suit, dead in a coffin.  I packed my best bowl, slipped the pipe in his pocket, said Later on.  
     I went back to work for the rest of summer, until school started.  We cut down all the trees, chain-sawed them into pieces, fed the branches to the chipper.  After we were done, they built the condominiums.  Then came the people, the grownups and the kids, boats and mortgages, things we never thought about when we were sixteen.

    Dave Middleton 
    rope-swing (1979)



Huzzy Lake

Sometimes I’d get sick of the city limits and I’d drive my Olds 98 out to see my cousin Scotty.  He wasn’t really my cousin, he was my friend Jack’s cousin and the Oldsmobile wasn’t really mine, it was Jack’s, but Scotty’s older brother had just died and so had mine, so Jack was my only brother, blood brothers for forever and we both knew life wasn’t really worth the hassles, we’d never go to school or get jobs.  Sometimes we’d get sick of it all and drive out to Scotty’s.
     He had a pit in his garage so you could change your oil and drink beers and toke bowls, lolling around with the Ram Jam playing, outside the trees blowing leaves into the garage, so it must have been fall, and when the eight-track paused you could hear Scotty’s mom listening to Neil Diamond.  That music made me so grim, sadder than Neil Young, all you could do is wait for the click-clank and crank the Calling Card by Rory Gallagher, crack open cans of oil and beer, lean over the engine and chuck empties at Scotty in the pit.
     The summer before, I’d dropped acid and played horseshoes, and ate hot dogs and went water-skiing and even if Scotty was working at the filling station, we could go smoke dope with Butcher the old Vietnam vet with the wife that Jack knew when he was younger, but Butcher had been a Green Beret, had knives and rifles and he could kill you with his bare hands anyway and besides he was always willing to match a bowl and afterwards we’d hit the lake, crank the Love It to Death, drive to the end of the two-track, jump off the cliff.  For a moment, all the shit didn’t matter, and the water was cool, like a Popsicle on a stick to some shirtless kid standing on the sidewalk with a stubbed toe.
     But summer was over and fall came like I already told you, eating acid all the time, hanging lazy in the city, swiping cigarettes by the carton, eight-tracks by the dozen at the indoor shopping mall, Heavy Petting and Bad ReputationHighway to Hell and Hell Bent For Leather, out in the cemetery with the car doors open, the Sex Pistols cranking, sleeping against tombstones, waking cold in my army jacket with leaves in the collar, Jack freezing in his sleep with his hair cut crazy, no sleeves on his black T-shirt, beer bottles by his head, and then came winter and fishtailing out of town out to Huzzy Lake when the snow was deep as a ditch and we’d roar out of the forest on a Ski-Doo snowmobile, me on the back and holding on tight as we busted out of the shadows and out on the lake and I thought the ice might crack and we’d drown in the icy water, drop down to the clay-cold mud of Huzzy Lake.  The idea seemed as sad as growing old and listening to Neil Diamond.  But of course the ice held up and when you’d step off the snowmobile, the ground gave a few inches like dirt over a fresh grave, but there was a shack for ice-fishing, beers in the snow, songs on the transistor radio, the crisp air spiked with something that almost seemed like hope.






Yes, There Really Is a Kalamazoo


     Kalamazoo is a real place, where I grew up.  It’s in Michigan, about halfway between Detroit and Chicago, the home of Wings Stadium and the State Hospital, the insane asylum on top of the hill, crazy people all over town, the city where they made Gibson guitars and Checker cabs, more Oldsmobiles and Chevys than anybody can count.  We had colleges too, WMU and K. College, about a zillion people working at Fisher Body, the GM plant where they made the car bodies, shipped them over to Detroit for the frames and power plants.  All those factories are closed up now, but I’m not talking about now.  I’m talking about the past, the days of my youth.  

     Back then, our neighborhood was jam-packed with cars and kids, winter-beaters by the curb, rust-buckets in the driveways, half-built muscle cars in the garages, mostly GM, Ford and Mopar, a few AMCs and imports, kids everywhere, some running through the sprinklers, others pedaling Stingrays in the streets, skateboard-riding down the sidewalks, most swarming the mobile pool when it came.  If the baby-boom were a train, we would have been the overloaded caboose.

     Of course, I don’t really think of us as part of the boom, can’t relate with those folks, didn’t know where I was when any of the Kennedys got shot, didn’t even know Woodstock happened.  It was Happy Days and The Brady Bunch, Evel Knievel and Muhammad Ali, Mario Andretti and Richard Petty, O. J. Simpson and Joe Namath, Mark Spitz and Jean-Claude Killy, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Bobby Orr and Burt Reynolds, Alice Cooper and Grand Funk Railroad, the Jackson Five and hard rock and not much else. 

     Large families were normal as teeth in your mouth back then, but ours still stood out.  “How many you got in your family, Winch?”

     “I dunno.”  There was a bunch of us.  “Quit axin’ me that.”

     We were the oddball family of the neighborhood, the Winch clan, we got blamed for everything, did most of it.  My dad had a bearskin coat, a beard and hair like Jeremiah Johnson, ax and hand saw, our front yard was wood.  My bedroom was a long ways from the fireplace so it was cold all winter.  “Shoot Winch, you can see your breath in your room.”

     “Big deal.”  Dad was great, a full-fledged cheapskate, took the garbage to work to save money, put a brick in the toilet to conserve water, stuffed our pockets with stove-popped popcorn when we went to the movies.  Once a year, we’d go out to eat.

     “Sir, would you like to test drive something today?”

     “No, we’re just here for the hot dogs.”  

     “And Coke,” I added.  It was the only time I got pop.  I lived on Wyler’s and Tang, Space Sticks and Funny Face, Jolly Olly Orange and Lefty Lemon-Lime, Quaker and Quisp and King Vitamin, had to mix powdered milk with the real stuff, had to greaze fast or go hungry, had to get up early if you wanted the prize in the cereal box.  

     Going to a fancy restaurant was another story, only happened after a trip to the emergency room.  Of course, getting hurt came to me naturally, just like falling down.  It was a cinch to get an injury, just meant breaking a bone or eating some poison, or doing something so I needed stitches.  If I did that, Mom would take me to Burger Chef on the way home from Bronson Hospital.  I went there a lot, ate mothballs and chugged turpentine, found shotgun shells and whacked them with a hammer.  When my brother Doug stuck a bobby pin in the outlet, the hair on his arm stood up, the lights went out, his skin exploded, busted open, smoke coming out the gashes up his barbecued arm.  That was cool.  I bet he got a burger and fries for that.

     Baby-sitters around the neighborhood had learned that the money earned wasn’t worth the hassles, wasn’t worth the scars and bruises, a few greenbacks didn’t pay for the hospital bills and years of therapy that came after watching the Winch clan for a few nights, learned that lesson the hard way, spread the word like a tornado warning.  Of course, that was all part of our battle strategy, proof that the propaganda campaign was working.  Most baby-sitters were two-faced teenyboppers, jawing on the telephone and raiding the cupboards as soon as our parents split.  And they were bitter because the Winch cupboards didn’t have much of value.  They were just wasting their time and wasting our parents’ money.  We weren’t babies and didn’t need some pimple-faced brat telling us what to do.  We were more than prepared to take care of ourselves.  We took action.  

     We’d look in the mirror and practice our evil glares, compare our stink-eyes, roll our eyeballs and fold our eyelids, foul up our faces with dirt and pretend we were a clan of devil-children.  We had no problem playing the part, were full of snakes and snails, had snail-trails smeared across our sleeves, snake skins in cigar boxes, had gone from clean-cut buzz cuts to messy mop-tops long before that was normal for most kids.  We were naturally rowdy, brave as soldiers.  We were prepared for battle.  “Red Beard used to catch his beard on fire before he’d launch an attack.”

      “That’s heavy duty.”
      “You think w’oughta do that too?”

      “We don’t got no beards.”

      “That’s true.”  My own weapons of choice were SSP racers, the Siamese Slingshot and the Bush Burner, Richard Petty’s Plymouth Superbird, each one of them a mass of metal and plastic, a speeding bullet with a poisoned letter.  The Superbird could take the spike from a high-heeled shoe.        

     Once you had the target on the ground or without shoes, you could finish her off.  If she came with low-top sneakers, it was the same as bare feet.  It was time for the Bush Burner.

     She’d be leaning against the counter, yapping on the yellow wall phone, twirling the cord around her finger.  I’d yank the ripcord, listen to the supersonic sound, put the spinning wheel to the ground.  The car would jump from my hand, howl across the wood floor, slam into the exposed ankle.  If she thought that was just by accident, I’d sit up on my scabby knees and let my arms dangle, drag my knuckles across the floor, cock my head and glare at her through my eyebrows.  I’d pretend to be a devil-child.  If she didn’t get that hint, the message became clear when she’d read the bloodstained letter attached to the car.  You are ugly and stupid.  I hate your guts.  This is our house and you don’t belong here.  If you value your life, don’t come back.  

     Even when my folks upped the ante, nobody seemed to be home, or at least they wouldn’t come to the phone.  “How come we have such troubles finding a baby-sitter?”

     “Don’t look at me.”  She couldn’t blame just me.  “I didn’t do it.”

     “Didn’t do what?” 

     “We can take care of ourselves.”

     “We’ll see about that.”

     “Okay.”  The first time my parents left us alone, we tied my sister Janet to the pipes under the bathroom sink, so we could see our TV show without her nagging about watching The Red Balloon again, Kukla, Fran and Ollie.  My dad was ticked when he got home, got out the wooden spoon.  Sure it hurt, but we had no regrets.  We’d watched Mighty Mouse that morning, as it should be.  



Excerpted from "Kalamazoo: Growing Up Sideways in the 1970s" by Winch. Copyright © 0 by Winch. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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