“They chain me up in the basement and leave me there all day.” and, if it didn’t get the response he wanted or expected Bubba would add, “without food.” I once heard my little brother tell a perfect stranger this at the town roller skating rink. He was trying to work this motherly looking lady into enough pity she would buy him potato chips from the snack bar.
“And what did you do to deserve that?” she asked him. I guess she assumed that families who chained up their children in basements didn’t take them roller skating afterward. Bubba’s story was too ridiculous to be believed and she was teasing him about it. I laughed and skated off. The story really was true though, sort of, but it only happened once. He made it sound like an every day occurrence. Like shackles were part of our basement’s floor plan.
What really happened was part of a sort of game we made up. Bubba had been “arrested” for some crime against the family and was to be locked up in the basement. I was the arresting officer so I led him downstairs while he halfheartedly pretended to struggle. He couldn’t even pretend to struggle very much because we still had to navigate the stairs. He was in his underwear because.. well because he was always in his underwear.
The chain involved was huge and had links as thick as sausages and was sturdy enough to hoist an elephant out of a pit. I hadn’t planned on any large animal removal but wanted to be prepared in case the occasion showed itself. As handy as a chain that big would be for large animals it’s terrible for restraining skinny little White Trash boys. The links are too big to make any sort of knot and there’s no good way to secure it. So in the end I had to just sort of drape it over Bubba and wind it around the hollow aluminum table leg of a broken ping pong table.
As I went back up the stairs he knew he could easily escape the chain. I also knew he couldn’t get upstairs unless I let him. I stationed myself at the door to the basement. There was no lock so I held on to the knob and wedged my foot at the bottom of the door waiting for him to try to rejoin us among the free and the warm. Bubba knew this trick because I had used it before. He had a different plan this time.
Even though there was two or three inches of snow on the ground he bolted out of the side door of the basement in nothing but a pair of sagging gym socks and his equally sagging underpants. Under normal conditions his underwear would be referred to as white but in contrast to the snow and his Winter whitened skin they looked a more grayish yellow. Like a blond past her prime.
His plan to get back upstairs via the quick dash in the snow to the back door wasn’t a bad one but he miscalculated a few of the details. The most important being that I was at the basement door which was opposite the back door not even a yard away. He forgot, too, that the back door had windows so I could see him coming. The back door also had a lock. I didn’t even have to use any physical effort to keep him out anymore.
I don’t know what my dumb little brother was thinking exactly Maybe he thought he could outrun me around the house or maybe he had the misguided impression that our sister Becky was on his side. Either way he tried to make it to the front door. He found it locked. His only option left was to repeatedly ring the doorbell.
“Whooooo iiiiiis it?” I asked.
“Let me in,” he said. Then pretended to cry. I don’t know why he bothered. He cried all the time, both real and fake, and I never cared. Why would I care now?
“I’m sooooorrrry, but we don’t know anyone named ‘let me in’ and we can’t let strangers in the house, I yelled back to him,“It’s not safe”. This wasn’t a real house rule per se, we were openly encouraged to let anyone in the house that wanted in, salesmen, neighbors, knife wielding child rapists. It didn’t matter to our parents as long as we didn’t make them stand outside on the porch. That would be rude. I must have heard about dangerous strangers on TV or at school or someplace else that thought kids couldn’t fend for themselves.
That’s when Bubba switched from the doorbell to banging on the door. “Come o o o on,” he whined.
“Go to the neighbors and get the key,” Becky suggested.
Two neighbors had keys to our house. One was across the street and the other was two doors down. He must have thought about it because he stopped pounding the door a minute to calculate the distance. Then he must have remembered he was in his underwear and started in again with the pounding this time adding kicks with his wet socks.
“I’m calling the police!” he yelled
“No, I’m calling the police!” I yelled back, “Some crazy nekkid kid is trying to break in to my house! Help Police!”
“Let me in!”
“Help, help, nekkid man tryin’ to get us!”
Becky, knowing this wouldn’t end well, sat on the sofa and laughed. Choosing, in this instance,not to take sides.
Giving up on the front door Bubba ran to the back again and proceeded to beat and kick at the still locked back door. Did he think I unlocked the door when I walked away? He didn’t think much of my defensive skills.
I had grown bored and had decided to watch television raising the volume so I could hear it over the beating the back door was taking when eventually the noise stopped.
“He stopped.” Becky said, noticing the silence before I did.
“Oh, he’s probably dead.” I assured her.
“Or he went to get a key,” She guessed.
“Or he remembered the basement door is still unlocked.” I suggested.
I few moments later, pink and shivering from either the cold or anger, Bubba comes walking through the living room and in the most casual tone I could I asked, “Hey Bubba, where have you been?”
“I’m telling mom you tried to kill me! I almost froze to death.” He pretended to cry but couldn’t pull up any tears.
“Oh you say I’m trying to kill you all the time. Nobody even cares anymore,” I told him. “You’re like the little boy who cried wolf,” then, to make his life a little more confusing, “except that boy really did freeze to death.”
It was true that yelling, “They’re trying to kill me,” didn’t hold the sway it used to. Either it was repeated too often or our parents were starting to warm up to the idea. Either way, I barely got in trouble whenever he made the claim. I might get in trouble this time, though. Not for risking his life but because he kicked a hole in the back door before he realized he could have gotten back in the house any time he wanted.
“But I wasn’t even outside! How could I have kicked the door in?” I yelled at my mom in my defense. I thought it was a good one.
“You locked him out there! What if the neighbors saw?” Our mom yelled back. Not “what if he had frozen to death or cut open an artery trying to break back in”.
If Bubba, or any of us for that matter, froze solid in the backyard like an unlucky arctic explorer in dirty underpants it wouldn’t have mattered to our mother as long as the people living around us didn’t find out and think we were White Trash.
“I didn’t lock him out there anyway. The basement door was always unlocked. He went out there on his own. Can I help it if he likes to run around outside naked? Is it my fault he wasn’t brought up any better?” That was too far. I overplayed my hand and got my ass beat.
Bubba was punished too but not as severely. Not because he was deemed any less at fault for the hole he kicked in the door but because he just stood there shivering looking as much as he could like a victim. Everyone involved knew he was faking it. But fake shivering was better than fake crying so I guess he deserved some recognition for the effort.
Excerpt from Bubbacide, Raised By White Trash by Steven Berger
Available electronically on the Nook, Kindle, Itunes. Hard copy on Amazon.com