My life really began when my family moved to Skokie when I was 9. Skokie was a suburb of Chicago. Prior to that we lived in a small, one bedroom apartment in a ghetto neighborhood on Chicago's West side. Mom, Dad and 3 sons, all jammed into a one bedroom set up. Mom and Dad slept on a Murphy bed that amazingly came out of a closet door in our living room and the 3 brothers were situated in the single small bedroom. We were one kid away from sleeping 2 in a bed. There were not many toys and recreation came from what we could devise. Like the time that we found a pair of scissors and my older brother Laurie suggested a fun game would to be to cut up Mom's clothes. He showed me how and when it was my turn, he slipped away and got Mom to show her what I had done. That's when I was 5 and he was 8. That's the kind of kid Laurie was. Laurie was short for Laurance. Mom and Dad were pretty bad at choosing names too!
Back then, going outside was just that. There were no recreations to partake in, just an alley to play in. The neighborhood kids were a group of ruffians, that robbed the corner store and stole cigarettes and matches. A favorite game of ours in the alley was starting a fire. The big kids would start a bond fire and send the little kids off to find things to burn. I was probably 5 years old at this time and very impressionable. We'd look around for debris and rolled up pieces of paper to throw on the fire and the big kids would regulate what got tossed on. I remember a fat kid that brought back a rock to burn. I found a cast out newspaper and was considered a hero. Our fires never got too big and were put out by stamping on them.
I became fascinated by matches. I thought that at the age of 5, lighting a match was the greatest thing in the world and began collecting matchbooks wherever I could find them. I had quite a collection stashed behind a desk in our entrance way. One Sunday morning I awakened early and was bored. I went to my stash and then back to my bedroom, ever so carefully tiptoeing past my sleeping parents in the living room. When I got to our bedroom, I looked around to see what I could light on fire. I decided on the drapes of our window. They were full length and at the bottom had tassels. The were perfect for my fire. I had done this before and when it caught on fire, I'd put it out with my shoe. This time I lit the tassels and forgot to bring my shoe, so I ran around the bed to get it and when I got back to my little fire, it had grown to a fire the entire size of the window. I hit the fire with my hand inside the shoe and it went right through to the glass. I realized then that I had a lot of explaining to do. Next I ran into the living room and woke up my Mom and announced the bedroom's on fire. I recall hearing her say, "WHAT" and leaped out of bed dragging my Dad along with her, all the while him asking, "What's going on"? By this time Laurie was out of the room wiping the sleep out of his eyes and my mother grabbed the baby out of his crib and someone called the fire department.The Fire department arrived in what seemed like no time and proceeded to knock out the entire wall.
The first rule of being a pyromaniac is Deny, Deny, Deny. I armed my face with an innocent look and when asked if I knew anything about the mishap, I switched to a scared look and just said no. When the firemen left, I heard one of them say to another, "That Laurie needs a good spanking"! I totally agreed.
It wasn't until 6 months later that my mom found my stash of matches behind the desk and I was busted. I should never have used my "Mel Cup" to hide them in. I never hung out with the wild kids in the alley again. After that, my favorite recreation was to sit on the curb and dig in the dirt with a Popsicle stick.
Our family did not have a lot of money, any actually, however my grandmother had a lot. My father's mother was a widow and her husband died at 61 of a heart attack and evidently he had a lot of savings or life insurance, because my Granny lived a great life for about 40 years after his death. She wintered every year in LA and never worried about cash. When she died at 100, she still had hundreds of thousands of dollars she left to my father. It seemed to me, I could remember my mother mentioning a thing or two about what a greedy bitch my Granny was on a daily basis. (Mom was not shy) When I was about 9, I think was the first time my Dad stood up to Granny and asked for enough money for a down payment on a house in the suburbs. She reluctantly gave us $10,000 to put down on a house in Skokie, full price was $24,500, a real fortune at the time. That's when my REAL life began.
As I mentioned I was 9 years old, but had never touched a baseball or a football or a basketball. (but I could start a fire!) Somehow I met a neighbor kid. His name was Ricky Kaye and he played baseball at Thillens Stadium. He was all about baseball. He, unknowingly showed me baseball for the first time, then football and basketball. suddenly a group of kids were coming to my house to ask my mother if Mel can come out to play baseball. I had friends, normal, healthy friends. We built a fort in an empty lot and had a club and created a make-shift baseball diamond in another empty lot. We teased girls when they walked by. Life was good.
I have to admit, I still enjoy the fourth of July, probably because of the fireworks.