I was ten years old. Mom wouldn't let me see The Alamo with the gang because it was too violent. After ten minutes of kid thought, I concluded my only option was to run away. So I walked into the kitchen and announced, “Mom, I'm running away! I'm going to Pennsylvania to be a farmer.”
And like any mother would do in 1962, she packed me a baloney sandwich, asked if I had clean underwear on, and made me promise to write her when the potatoes came in. Then she pushed me out the door, pointing to the west.
I walked up and around the block to pass through Carteret Park, my home away from home, one last time before making a hard right hand turn towards the Delaware River, which roared about 63 miles away where the steamy sun would eventually set. I’d worry about crossing the water when I got to that bridge.
As I was cutting through the park, I saw Mud Finnegan sitting alone on a bench carving his initials. I decided to stop and talk to him because he was twelve and knew everything.
I greeted him as I approached, “Hey Mud, whatcha doin'?”
He said, “F#ck’in carvin' my initials dipsh*t! Wha’sit f#ck’in look like?” [He had a way with words. He honed this skill at his private catholic school, Holy Name.] Then he asked, “What the f#ck do you have in the bag?”
“Oh it's a baloney sandwich,” I said, “My mom packed it for me. I'm runnin' away to Pennsylvania to be a farmer.”
Mud looked me up and down with those crooked eyes of his. “Ya don't say,” he mumbled. Then he folded up his switchblade, and sat back. “Listen up turdball,” he barked, “you need some f#ck’in advice, but it'll cost ya half the f#ck’in sandwich, ya f#ck’in poor use of two good legs.” [I often thought Mud could talk in half the time if he'd simply drop the f-word. but it's what made Mud ... well ... Mud—that and his in-depth knowledge of sex and girl stuff.]
I decided to tap into his advice, after all such offers came along quite infrequently in the life of a troubled ten year old like me. So I eagerly handed over half the sandwich and waited for his wisdom with balonied breath.
And it would take some time to bubble up from the deep recesses of his mind, as he peered out over the open playground, while his brows curled and eyes became distant. When the right words came to him, he spoke slow and Buddha-like. "Ya see, it's like this. You think the f#ck’in world is better in some f#ck’in other place, but when ya get there, ya find out the grass is still that same f#ck’in green color. Ya see what i'm f#ck’in tryin' to tell ya? Ya midget f#ck!”
I thought long and hard about this gem Mud had just told me, but the only thing that came to mind was he was nuttier than a Royal Theater Chunky Bar, and this notion that he was all-knowing highly overrated.
"Nice f#ck’in sandwich.”
I snapped to and said, “What?”
“Your f#ck’in mom makes a nice f#ck’in sandwich!”
“Oh yeah, she does,” I replied.
I hung around Mud a while longer until the proper amount of big kid respect time had passed and then some. No telling what a breach of such conduct would be met with, especially by the likes of Mud Finnegan. So as Mud droned on and on about Gina McNulty letting him feel her padded bra, I wrestled with my journey and concluded, greener grass or not, farming wasn't my cup of tea. It was just a dumb notion I got from watching endless episodes of Modern Farmer on TV at 6:00 AM every morning.
Eventually, I bid Mud farewell and sauntered home, pretty hungry and more confused than when all this began. Well, that's not completely true. I did learn one important lesson: running away the next time would require at least three sandwiches and no Mud stop and chats.