A kid named Alan Hoerner invited me to his 4th grade birthday party. I was the only one that came. The ice cream was frozen solid, and his mother hacked at it with a butcher knife, flicking bits of ice cream everywhere. Later Alan gave me a stack of EC comics, including Vault of Horror, Crypt of Terror, and several early MAD magazines, when it was still a comic. I later traded them for Bruce Redding's coin collection, and spent it as if it were just regular money. Bruce's father was really angry, but by then it was too late.
In third or fourth grade a kid named Pat Phalen punched me in the face on the school bus. He then decided that he wanted to be my friend, and invited me over to his family's home on Brown's Mountain for a sleepover. I soon discovered that his father was a rigid disciplinarian that bullied his kids constantly. While playing in the house after the parents had left for work, Pat tried to entice me into a game of dress-up with his mother's clothes. This seemed to have some special significance for him, but I thought it was weird watching him carefully put on his mothers panties and nylons and pull a dress over his head, with his eyes slightly swooning.
In our high school years Pat was put in jail for some minor teenage infraction. A few days before his scheduled release, rather than face his strict father, he hung himself.
I was often the target of punches. Rich Bennion punched me on the school bus on the way to school. forty-five years later he contacted me and apologized, saying that he had felt badly since. I barely remembered the incident and was surprised that it had haunted him so. The lack of a coherent structure of socialization coupled with disciplinarian pressure from parents insured that most children were insufferable assholes that frequently took their frustrations out on each other.
Rich Bennion went into banking. There were other students that you just knew, even at that early age, seemed to be headed for prison. Their poverty and ignorance would lead them there. A few doors down 29th from Bruce Redding's house lived a kid named Stan. His house was little more than a dingy shack with cigarette stains decorating the walls. I visited him once, in 4th grade, and discovered that his parents allowed him to smoke camels and drink coffee alongside the adults. Stan had his name tattooed on his wrist, in crude jailhouse style. Stan had several older brothers. One night, when they were out joy-ridiing, one of the brothers flew out of the car door when they made a sharp turn. He hit his head on the curb, and was killed instantly. The other brothers put him in the trunk, and spent the rest of the night driving around trying to figure out what to do with the body.
Recess at Adams Elementary was a gauntlet of humiliations and games. Kickball was a favorite for most boys; I remember a kid named Eldon that would scat Gioachino Rossini's William Tell Overture, AKA The Lone Ranger theme, as he ran the bases after scoring a home run. Eldon was another boy for whom fate had already charted a path to prison or worse, and he would get there no matter how sweetly he sang.
Recess was barely supervised, and fights were common. The girls would hang upside-down from the monkey bars, unselfconsciously exposing their panties to the boys' wide-eyed grins. A glimpse of panties was usually a rare and treasured event, so the suspension of inhibitions during recess felt like Carnaval do Rio or the Rites of Spring.
There was a game that boys played out on the blacktop, between the tetherball polls and the swing sets; each boy would grab the other by the gonads and squeeze as hard as possible until one of them gave up. This game, with it's simple rules, seems to have set the template for what life had to offer in Spokane, if not everywhere else.