In the fall of 1971, when I was in third grade at Kinsey Elementary School in Flagstaff, I threw a lighted molotov cocktail into an abandoned building. Or maybe I lit it and someone else threw it. The building burned to the ground but I didn’t stay to watch that part. I remember running all the way home, trying not to look back, gasping in the dry air and so scared I almost peed. I was eight years old.
At home the police were waiting in front of our house on Zuni Drive. We’d practiced making the bombs. A brown beer bottle filled about 3/4 of the way with gasoline and a rag stuffed in the top. We played with gasoline on the cement next to the garage, lighting little puddles of it with matches, or igniting it with a magnifying glass. Gasoline and matches. The gas can was never far away. And I loved smelling gasoline. I liked rolling down the window when Mom filled up the car. It was comforting, maybe because I liked road trips so much. When I made the bombs my hands would smell like gas for a long time, even if I washed them, and I liked that too.
Mom was so upset about this seemingly out-of-nowhere act of vandalism she was nearly speechless. The police didn’t take us away but they talked to her for a long time outside the house. The owner of the building never pressed charges. Something about insurance I think. Mom punished us after the police drove away though, beating us both with a wire hanger.
But was it out of nowhere? Although Mom got rid of the TV after one of her first LSD trips a few months before, we saw some of the violent protests against The War on that TV. And sometimes the protesters threw molotov cocktails at the police and National Guardsmen. I think that’s where we must have come up with the idea. But I really don’t know.
I don’t remember being an angry kid. There were some signs though, and not just the one involving arson. Vacuuming up a pail of mop water to see what would happen might be one of them. The vacuum just stopped working and I told Mom. She shook me so hard my teeth rattled, yelling that I could have been electrocuted. I didn’t know what that was so she explained it. Then she hit me hard in the head with the hairbrush because our vacuum cleaner no longer worked.
Randomly writing designs all over my Iowa Basic Skills test could have been another sign. I had an old bat of a teacher named Mrs. Harris who seemed to hate children. After the results were sent home, Mom marched down to the school to show her I was at a 9th grade reading level. Mrs. Harris wanted me in Special Ed. Mom was in graduate school in Special Ed at Northern Arizona University and we used the reading machines on campus, the ones that lighted one line of a book at a time. We made them go faster and faster, as a game, and became great readers. Mom made me read out loud to old Mrs. Harris that day and that year I was saved from Special Ed but not from Mrs. Harris.
Kinsey Elementary had a dry dusty, cinder covered playground that was a struggle every recess for us white-looking kids. The indians, chicanos and blacks ruled. The black kids were always trying to fight Mike because he was so tall. There was a 6th grade black girl who wanted to fight me because we were the same size. But I was only in third grade and a big baby. I tried to avoid her but she managed to surround me in a circle of her older friends and kick me repeatedly after knocking me down. I was wearing shorts and the pieces of cinder stuck in my knees after I stood up. I had to pick them out. She also liked knocking me down during our increasingly violent games of Red Rover, Red Rover. I remember Mike was even beat up by one of the black teachers. But Mom wanted us there because she was progressive. Or maybe because that’s where the school district told her we had to be. So yeah, I had to have been angry about Kinsey too.
I may have been angry because Dad was fighting in Vietnam and Mom was taking us to protests and concerts against the War. Or because they divorced each other for the first time that year. I know a lot of people started hanging out at our house then, people she met in grad school and at the record store/head shop called The Inner Sanctum.
Then another family moved into our tiny 3 bedroom 1 bath house. A mom, a boyfriend and a girl and boy. The boyfriend’s name was Demetrius and he was pretty creepy. Something about his eyes I didn’t like, didn’t trust. The children were not his and I liked them. Their names were Aisha and Temezan and they had a pet chicken who crapped all over the house and barely excaped the clutches of our black cat, Harriet. It was a daily struggle for that poor chicken running through the house and she eventually died. Aisha was my age but seemed a lot older. She shared Kate’s twin bed in our room. Temezan was only 4, blond and really cute. He slept in my bed like a little boy doll. Demetrius and their mom slept in the living room on a bedroll. I don’t remember their mom’s name, or why they lived with us for a while. They left one day as quickly as they moved in.
Mom got a boyfriend then, a guy with red hair named John who was in school to be a doctor. We were supposed to keep him a secret, even though Dad, she said, had girlfriends, mostly nurses and stewardesses. I may have been mad about that too. I know I didn’t like that John slept over, but none of us said anything.
For Christmas in 1971, we sent Dad a care package. We made cards for him from colored construction paper and I think we also wrote him letters too. Then we used the tape recorder to record messages to him and put both the recorder and the tapes in the package. It was fun. Mom bought a poster for him that he later said was prominently displayed in the Officer’s Club on Khorat Air Force Base in Thailand. It pictured an obviously male rhinoceros mounted on another rhinoceros and underneath, in big letters it said, “Make Love, Not War,” but everyone was doing both.