Quest for the Perfect Fort, pt 1

The Perfect Fort


When we were growing up, a favorite activity of our gang of boys was the search for, the building, or outfitting, of our hideouts or forts. Whether it was an unused shed, a covered porch, a hole concealed with plywood, or even a dense clump of bamboo, the search and discovery process of finding the perfect fort was a driving force in our life. Forts were necessary for our group. We always felt the need to have privacy and a place to hide their booty. It didn’t matter whether we gathered things from the neighborhood trash, or stole stuff from the local stores, or even took it from our own homes.
Continue reading “Quest for the Perfect Fort, pt 1”

The Quest for the Perfect Fort

Introduction to story

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine from high school had the misfortune of having his apartment building burn down. having his apartment building burn down. He didn’t have renters insurance and lost all his possessions, which included his music equipment. Being a musician, the fire wiped out his ability to make money, as well as taking most of his possessions and his residence. He ended up on the streets learning how to be homeless.
His pride was beaten down, but he refused to let most people know he was on the streets. He referred to his new living situation as “camping in the city” and set up a system of rules for himself which I am proud to say, he followed his own rules most of the time. He always appeared clean, wore clean clothes, and he always looked and smelled washed. Without knowing his situation, one would have no idea he was homeless.

My friend rented the smallest available u-haul space to keep what he owned and even though it was against the rules, used the room to change daily
. He found places to sleep where he was safe and would not be arrested for vagrancy, and he found places to eat in trade for some small manual labor so that he didn’t have to beg. He tried not to rely on any one friend for too much support, paying back what he could when his monthly royalty checks came in. He did his best to make the best of a horrible situation.
I often wondered how I would do in the same circumstance. His situation was like many on the streets. Living paycheck to paycheck, then all of a sudden, that state of affairs becomes fond memories of the good, old days. One misstep or tragic event kicks you to the street and survival takes over as the primary need.
urban camping
His situation always made me think about gratitude. But, at the same time, it also got me thinking about what I would do to find survival on the streets, if my life fell apart and circumstances changed. Would I be able to go “camping in the city”? Had my successful living robbed me of my basic instincts instilled as a child?

As a kid, some of the greatest adventures of my neighborhood friends revolved around finding new forts
. I first had the connective thoughts between living on the streets and our old searches for forts twenty-some years ago. At the time, after moving back from New York, I found out that a different friend was living under a bridge for a while, on his way to hitting his bottom.

My other friend’s recent troubles ran all these old thoughts through my mind again and put much of these earlier thoughts about survival on the streets into clearer focus
. Homelessness is no joke and I would never make light of their plight. If anything, these considerations put things into perspective for me. But for the grace of God, there go I!
This I do know, my youthful thinking is still always with me. To this day, I never come upon a spot that would have made a good fort, that I don’t stop and look at, thinking of all the pros and cons. All the same considerations go through my head before I even know it. How would I get in and out without being seen and would my stuff be safe? Is there any way to block the entrance so I can use lights? What would be my alternate escape route? Will I be sheltered from the elements? Will I be trespassing or more importantly, will I be prosecuted if caught?
I never want to find out how I would do in real life living day-to-day on the streets, but I can’t help but to think this way. I know I could survive, if it came down to necessity.
Over the course of the next few posts, I will share the story of my, and my friends childhood quests for the perfect fort. My goal is to capture the fun fantasies, the talents and ingenious adaptability of my group of friends. The joys of growing up outdoors instead of in front of a television or computer monitor still impact my thoughts and memories. Here is a glimpse at the ways our youthful choices affected our lives and the joys of finding the perfect fort.

Clipper Ship on Stormy Seas

Clipper ship

Clipper Ship on Stormy Seas

Round bales of wool cut into two and a half inch segments
Grouped by color, wrapped and numbered, filling a box
One by one, given a new home on the canvas
Fold over hook, insert, loop, pull, and adjust
Space by space, row by row, color by color
Move on to the next row

Compulsion, obsession, suppression
Fear of stopping drives the progress
A world of people, places and things
Waits patiently for the hook to be put down
Keep moving until the fingers are raw
Seventeen days later and almost done
Fighting through blisters, cuticles bloody
Loose wool lint coating clothes, chair, and floor

Began with the sky, ending with the green-blue sea
Light and dark and dark greens, creamy foam topped waves rolling past
A small JC in the bottom corner finished off the piece
Withdraw preserved in strands of wool
Mounted on the wall to always remember
The pain of beginning a new life with choice
A clipper ship on stormy seas now safe at port

A move and then another, a couple more to come
Its new residence, a shelf in my parent’s basement – forgotten
Cardboard boxes are never safe in floodwaters – everything ruined
Decades later another flood and the need for repairs
Demanded the first floor be cleared, boxed and stored
And there on the top shelf of the hallway closet it sat
Folded, safe and sound, the colors just as bright

The first seventeen days of my new life preserved
Strand by strand, hook by hook, fingers raw by nightfall
The sinking ship that was my life prior, reprogrammed
Thirty-five years later, still sailing along with choice
Row by row, hook by hook, day by day
The years line up and life takes on an image
Gratitude for the reminder of what was lost, then found

Previously published by Silver Birch Press as part of the Lost and Found collection

Shark River Dreams

When I was thirteen and fourteen, I worked on my uncle’s lobster boat in Neptune, NJ for a month each summer. My uncle treated me as a real employee. The work was hard, the hours were long, and the smell of fish was hard to escape. For a teenage boy, it was worth getting up at 4am to be on the ocean all day, become part of a crew, and be treated as a man instead of a boy. It was impossible not to learn about karma first hand from the lifers on the docks.  I will always remember these days with fondness.


shark river2
Postcard from the seventies for Shark River Inlet

Shark River Dreams

Seems the head hits the pillow, and the alarm begins to ring
total darkness, except the mocking face of the clock
sit down to eggs and hash browns to power the day
stars still watching, their shift almost ended, ours begins
old filleted flounder and such, garbage to most, bait to us
salted and set aside to ripen, now loaded aboard
as the mooring lines are tossed, the engines roar
timing the tide, to begin our day

Purple on the horizon fights the black
the sea, a glass-like calm today, merges with the sky
surprisingly, these are days that most flutter the stomach
the fumes of diesel accent the ripeness of bait
no breeze to rescue the senses
no distraction of swells, or jolting drops
just the spread of ripples across the surface
the distant horizon, birthing a sunrise in glorious form

Most days, just as the sun begins to crown
the winch is primed to disturb the peace
the first flag is pulled, raised from the depths
crabs, starfish, seaweed and tackle cling to the line
then the first trap hits the gunwale with a shot
my standing sleep shattered by our captured crustaceans
empty the trap, band the claws, bait the trap, and off the stern
just enough time to do it again!

Thirty pots to a line, fifteen to twenty lines make a day
following the path from rock bottom to mud flat
not really knowing if we are ahead or behind
the sun begins to bake the bait, add ambiance to the afternoon
crushed ice coated boxes filled with another days pay
the coast changes sides, the last flag of the day
the scrub down, the rubdown, the countdown to home
the tide again low as we enter the port

A full day at sea, but the day is not over
lobster deliveries get done and the bait trip is run
biz talk, trash talk, smack talk and plans
who’s stealing lines and who’s drilling hulls
what goes around-comes around, to the extreme!
men acting like boys and this boy feeling like a man
sitting with my Dr. Pepper, soaking it all in
can’t wait to see who’s not sailing tomorrow

Shark River, NJ – a summer full of dreams
never worked so hard or enjoyed so much
memories, one after another, so vivid and fresh
still taste the smells, and feel the swells
sea legged careening and rocking boat dreaming
combinations of curses never considered or imagined
and a cast of characters never forgotten
a remarkable summer job that taught life lessons

The world on the docks embraces a normal all its own

Previously published by Silver Birch Press (First Job Series)