Mike Wilson: Time for some confessions

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, August 31, 2023

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Mike Wilson

Mike Wilson
Guest columnist

While channel surfing recently, I happened upon “The Goonies,” a family favorite from the mid-80’s. I landed on that wonderful scene in which Chunk, believing that his end is near, responds to the criminals’ order to “tell everything”: “In third grade I cheated on my history exam. In fourth grade…” Though Protestant, I can see the therapeutic value in confession, and I guess now is as good a time as any to ‘fess up (while omitting sundry misdemeanors like hiding my last piece of birthday pecan pie from my voracious New Jersey sister-in-law, who caught me eating it in the laundry room after detecting the slightest scrapings of fork on tin pan):

When I was five, I cut off my little sister’s long and lustrous ponytail right at the rubber band. I can’t say exactly why; to my knowledge, I did not aspire to become a hairdresser. I guess the average five-year-old boy is a land shark searching endlessly for Targets of Opportunity. It was a while until I could sit down without wincing.

When I was nine, I got a great pogo stick for my birthday, and soon the neighbors enjoyed the spectacle of my trips bouncing all the way around our block. I was determined to make it all the way around without stopping, and I finally did it. I loved that pogo stick, so when relatives came for Christmas I was deeply displeased to be ordered to let my cousin Ronnie (“cousin” is Mississippi simplified as he was actually a half-step-uncle one year my junior) use it. Since the station wagon was away, he decided to jump in the nice flat carport, unaware of the greasy spot in the middle where the crankcase leaked. If he had asked, I would have warned him, but he didn’t, so I just watched as he inched closer and closer. He didn’t have to go to the emergency room, but they did have to apply considerable ice to his head. He left the stick alone the rest of the visit.

There were two crabapple trees in our backyard in Memphis that never produced an edible crabapple, only hard, stunted little green ones by the thousand. I saw an old badminton racket on the picnic table one day and–no doubt inspired by seeing Rod Laver on the Wide World of Sports–threw one up in the air and executed a perfect serve that traveled all the way across the yard and hit my sister–she of short hair fame–right between the eyes. My pride was short-lived as she, taller and more athletic than yours truly, charged across the yard in a blind rage, clearly bent on kicking me to death. I took off zig-zagging about as she got closer and closer, and I finally did what I had to do: duck underneath the clothesline, which she in her fury did not notice.

While “College Years” constitutes a Special Exempt Category, I will share one episode. My sophomore year at Amherst, I lived in a four-man room in the Chi Phi house. One of my roommates came from a very wealthy and influential family in Alabama. His father owned half the pine forest in the state, and he had attended a military prep school in which they wore Confederate uniforms. He created quite a sensation one Halloween when he–having been overserved– put it on and ran about brandishing his real silver saber. He had grown attached to a Georgia Tech cheerleader over the summer, and one Friday in October he declared that the rest of us should clean the room, build a fire in the fireplace, and then disappear for two days while he retrieved her from the airport. We complied: we knew where there was a mountain of coal at UMass, so we got a bucketful, and with the assistance of a reversed Electrolux stoked up a fire that left the doorknob hot to the touch.

In 1976, I ate green sea turtle. I know. We were living in Ft. Lauderdale before returning to Massachusetts for grad school, and we took a launch over to an island to what was a pretty fancy restaurant. The special was sea turtle, and I have always loved exotic fare, so there was no question. (They were later protected starting in 1978.) It tasted like fine European veal. (Oops.)

In 1985, I took a large contingent of students and my family for a month in Madrid. The company that set up our program usually dealt with a small group of affiliated colleges, but this summer they took on a sizable group from an exclusive prep school in Atlanta. These kids were terribly annoying, staying up all night long in the common spaces of the dorm to smoke, drink, play poker, etc. I had just started having gout attacks (which the hospital took to be a hairline fracture and thus put my lower leg into a cast) when we went by train to Paris for a four day excursion. The preppies were on the trip. One especially annoying kid was in the passage of our car smoking cigarettes as I haltingly made my way toward the bathroom while clinging to the rail. My eyes were red from lack of sleep and pain and my stomach was upset from eating handfuls of Tylenol. Over-the-counter ibuprofen was unknown at that time. After I passed by, I heard him say to his friend, “Oh my God. I have never seen so many drunks in my life.”

A couple of weeks later, my family had just passed through U.S. Customs at Kennedy when he was stopped behind us with a whole suitcase full of switchblades he had bought in Toledo. As the agents pressed him and others began to appear, he looked up, pointed at me, and said, “That guy knows me!” What could I say? “No English.”

Mike Wilson is a former Hampden-Sydney Spanish professor and 13-year resident of Prince Edward County, who now calls North Carolina home. He can be reached at jmwilson@catawba.edu.