Matchbox City: A 7-Year Old’s Engineering Feat Featuring an Epic and Trashy Discovery

Matchbox City: A 7-Year Old’s Engineering Feat Featuring an Epic and Trashy Discovery

In these ingenuous little episodes of my early life I’ve mentioned frequently my close childhood friend Gary DeBaise. He appears so regularly and as such a perfect complement to my actions that one might suspect he is just a literary device or maybe even an imaginary friend. He is neither. But if I were to create an imaginary friend, I’d create him in Gary’s image. And I would never admit I had any imaginary friends because as I’ve often said (to myself only): Keep your friends close, and your imaginary friends closer.

If only we could make the real world like this idealized world. Well, we kids did in 1968.

No one wants to know about your imaginary friends. And thankfully I have none now that they’ve all grown up and moved away. But Gary remains a real lifelong friend; as real as the bracing deluge of an Ice Bucket Challenge. Gary grew up not 3 houses down from me. Well actually that’s not true. It wasn’t not 3 houses down. It was exactly 3 houses down. Oh how the truth will set you free. And now I feel free enough to share the spritely tale of a 7-year-old’s civil engineering project for the ages – ages 7-11. The US Army Corps of Engineers never executed a project so consummately.  

The kids on my block didn’t bother with playdates. We just played, on whatever date it was: whiffle ball, touch football, swamp fox, build and burn a model car. We also rode bikes with banana seats, caught grasshoppers in “The Lot” and habituated our neighborhood mom and pop store (Louise Bros.) for a nickel popsicle. Now at the risk of making this sound too mawkishly idyllic – like we walked out of a Norman Rockwell painting – I must interject, our block was no walk in the park (although there was a nearby park we could walk in). And not to put too gritty a point on it; our neighborhood was also rife with family upheaval, drug use and even suicide. But overall it was a dependable bastion of stay-at-home-moms (mine didn’t even drive till after the “divorce”), work-a-day fathers and healthy, juvenile tropisms. Simply put, we kids liked to do kids’ stuff.

The names of our “gang members” were straight out of an Andy Hardy movie. There was Ricky, Checker, Pat, Pat-Pat (so doubled to differentiate him from the older, more established Pat), and the aforementioned Gary. We were like dogs, padding about, waiting for the next great idea. One day, apropos of nothing, Pat-Pat announced: “Yesterday I drank everything through my toothbrush, just by dipping it in and then sucking out the fluid.” What these days would be met with a derisive smirk and a cold stare was then hailed as a breakthrough in sophisticated drink delivery systems. “Aw man,” Ricky declared, “I’m gonna do that all day tomorrow.”

Now when I say “gang members”, I refer to the motley collection of youthful personalities who banded together for constructive purposes (usually) and not a misguided and dangerous affiliation of urban warriors who think they have turf to protect – turf they don’t even own. I was the youngest member of the crew and as such I was always aspirational – wondering when I’d get to stay up and watch the late 10 o’clock shows like Mission Impossible or Star Trek; let alone some cool guy named Johnny Carson whose show was on at the ungodly hour of 11:30 PM. Years later I would actually penetrate this inky abyss and witness the Tonight Show not only on TV, but in person.

But clearly, in 1968 there were many bridges to cross and childhood metrics to cross off. And until the reality of my parents’ divorce, and it’s soul-killing angst intruded, I was on track to breeze through all of them. From the moment I first detected the incipient cracks in my parents’ marriage I was both uneasy in my predicament and yet supremely confident of my ability to navigate it. Ambivalence; it’s what’s for breakfast. Welcome to earth young David. Not that I was a deep-thinking 7-year-old, this was just the most sophisticated reasoning a 7-year-old could muster. And, truth be told, it’s not too far from the supposed higher reasoning this 60-year-old warhorse can muster either. In the interim there has been tremendous personal growth on my part. For example I’m much taller now than I was when I was seven, and I now drive a car instead of a banana-seat bicycle. Girls have evolved from an infernal nuisance to an eternal necessity.

Certain Things Always Promoted Great Well-Being and Secular Happiness

Summer vacation was the best. That vast expanse of illimitable summer days stretching from late June till school started, dependably and predictably after the State Fair and after Labor Day. This and other metronomic bulwarks against disorder fostered the feeling that some kind of divine intelligence was superintending us and that I was an inextricable part of that grand scheme. I mean we’d get out of school in June and we’d have all those extravagantly unaccounted for days off until July; and still have 2 full months till we had to even think about getting up and trudging to school.

In those carefree days so little was expected of me – of any of us kids. All we had to do to succeed was to be a little deferential to our elders and behave like devilish little wizards with each other. Life was something to savor and not something to manage – or worse – some place where you must be on guard constantly to identify and avoid aversive events. In those heady days I didn’t pay taxes, I could congregate at the front of the airplane without being labeled a terrorist and I could sleep as long as I wanted because nobody needed me to help them schlep their stuff up to their new 3rd floor apartment.

In those unchallenging days, I lived like a pampered angel. I wasn’t expected to pay for anything: food, clothing or vacations. I got a pass for most everything else because I was only a little bigger than a breadbox and had the economic power of Captain Crunch. From observing the bigger people around me I knew I’d face many challenges. Or more aptly stated, I knew I’d face many challenges I’d want to avoid. But those things were safely tucked away, years away, in something called the future. For now the 400 block of South Edwards was my well-charted domain, and I was the master of all I surveyed. 

 

Matchbox City Master Planned Community: Made by Kids for Kids

In retrospect I see very clearly the dynamic at work. As my adolescent angst grew, I’d salve it with proven childhood analgesics: sports, food and pursuing the full-throated praise of elders bestowed upon me for fulfilling my role as an entertaining and contributing member of some nebulously-defined pack I evidently belonged to. Being so calculated and ego-oriented siphoned off some of the innocent joy of my youth, but, as mentioned earlier, I compensated for it by indulging in my go-to palliatives: baseball, history and Oreos. And as an aspirational youngster I sought the camaraderie and acceptance of older, cool people – important people who unlike me had places to go and expectations set upon them.  

I was at my best (and I’m still at my best) when I forget myself and plunge exuberantly into some Great Work. Great Work is underscored to underscore the monumentality of whatever magnum opus it is I happened to be working on at the time. In this case study I’m plunging my easily excited juvenile ball of energy headlong into this Great Work – an organized collaboration with other blissfully callow kids who proposed to construct, nay, to engineer an idealized Matchbox City in an underdeveloped corner of my vast backyard. Unbeknownst to its land owners (my parents), I had recently re-zoned this patch of land for redevelopment and I was ready to break ground on the project just as soon as my buddy Gary returned home from summer camp. Why did his parents kidnap him for 2 weeks in the prime of summer just so they could spend time at a camp in the Thousand Islands? OK, it’s their kid, so technically it’s not kidnapping. But the point is, we felt Gary belonged more to us than those older people who gave him life, shelter and food. As mentioned, this Great Work would be a Public Works project for the Ages. In this case ages 7-11.  

I gathered the principals (our gang) in our conference room (the stoop of the Santy’s front porch), where the project’s dynamics and contours were discussed at the highest levels. Concurrence was a cinch since we all had absolutely nothing scheduled for the foreseeable future. Nothing conflicted with our plans until we struck something unexpected (more on that later). With great anticipation we all walked over to the job site in my backyard to commence superintending the project. The ideas flew fast and furious:

David: We can build a miniature Matchbox City right here in the corner. It’ll be perfect just as long as it doesn’t rain.

Checker: This’ll be so cool. But the bad thing is we won’t be able to play whiffle ball cuz it’ll take up a lot of left field.

Pat (the 11-year-old whose father owned a construction company): I can get some of my dad’s tools: trowels, a rake, a heavy roller for grading and a chalked string so we can snap straight lines. You guys know what a grid pattern is?

Ricky: Like on a football field?

Pat: Yeah, so everything crisscrosses in a straight line.

Gary: (pitching in as kind of a self-appointed mess officer) I can bring a sleeve of Oreos, some pretzels and I think we still have some of those little waxed bottles filled with colored water left over from camp.

Checker: If we do this right it’ll be like that General Motors City of Tomorrow exhibit at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City my mom and dad took me to.

Ricky: Hey Pat-Pat, I tried drinking from my toothbrush yesterday, but I had to stop cuz I got too thirsty. So I used 3 toothbrushes and finally I wasn’t thirsty anymore.   

Pat-Pat: Aww, you weren’t doin’ it right then.

Things were happening now. This was the next great idea come to light. The construction site was being staged and we began to carve out our Matchbox City in the corner of my backyard near the old pear tree. The heavy equipment was brought in: a rake, blue-chalked string for snapping straight lines, trowels and a heavy roller we’d fill with water. Commissary Specialist First Class Gary DeBaise managed to requisition two sleeves of Oreos, a ¾ empty bag of broken pretzels you might be able to fish out from the sea of salt crystals gathered at the bottom of the bag and fistfuls of those little waxed bottles filled with maybe 1 oz. of colored liquid one could only hope was potable. Today most of this “nourishment” would be thrown in the trash bin. But back then it was a royal banquet, satisfying the two most important categories of kid food – it had to be either real sweet or real salty.

Ground was broken and the site became a beehive of activity. Some graded. Some dug. Some dug for pretzels while others laid out the plan view of our shining city on a hill. To enhance the skyline I brought out my Matchbox cars complete with a garage, a gas station and some other buildings residing in my toy chest. While collectively arranging this master city in miniature for imaginary masses, you were enveloped by a relaxed and remembered kinship with the universe. There were no deficits; nothing to cultivate or vector towards. You were where you wanted to be and, not having learned the dispiriting habit of snap judgment, you slipped into this natural serenity quite easily. This residency wasn’t as hard-earned as when you’re older and trying to regenerate this equanimous feeling. Because when you’re older you have to remove years of accreted sh*t that hinders you from immersing yourself in such simple joy.

This project embodied all that was right with humanity. It was a productive and worthy repository to place my 7-year-old energies. There was nothing else I needed to think about other than this magnificent alternative universe. Which at that time, was the universe. And this all too easily extinguishable feeling is the loss we feel when we’re sad. There was a kind of universalizing oneness in this project. Everyone subconsciously knew where everybody else stood. In other words, there was no need to yell “Marco.” So there was no need to yell “Polo.”

We may not have solved the riddle of the cosmos, but we knew we were into something good. Although I’d dearly love to, I cannot accurately describe the warm energies engendered by this cooperative act of creativity. I cannot impart the unsullied feeling of grace inherent in these seemingly innocuous childhood maneuvers. I can however, cast an imaginary net over it and have you view it through my prism of joyous refraction. It wasn’t so much a remembrance of the oneness from whence we all come, but more of a recognition of knowing your place and your place knowing you. We weren’t doing, as much as we were being. The project promoted a simple and protracted feeling that was both rewarding and boundary dissolving. Somehow we had generated a fortifying opiate in miniature. There was no time, no barriers, no impediments. Just productive, happy things to do and achieve. Put another way, it was as if we could all congregate in the front of the plane without raising suspicions. There were simply no suspicions to be raised. I think this is the “good old days” everyone refers to when they’re pining over the supposed nasty turn the world has taken over the years.

The mold was set. Happiness was easily had, eminently accessible and just a group effort away. Life wasn’t really so tough. Not with this ready elixir in your back pocket. Things would change. Oh, how they’d change. But laid against this childhood profundity the unbidden affronts of life were made tolerable – or so it seemed. Serenity was where you could get it. And in this case it was right there in my own backyard.  

 

Eastwood – Homies in our Homeland

We 5 budding engineers all grew up in the solidly middle class section of Eastwood in Syracuse. So what if our unremarkable housing development was built on an old landfill. Nowadays my landfill nostalgia is just an excuse for legitimate trash talk. But in 1968 conducting our project atop a subterranean garbage dump filled with everything from old crystal radio sets to Buck Rogers Ray Guns only made it that much cooler. What made it less cooler was that this was the pre-Hot Wheels era and stodgy Matchbox cars were still all the rage. We didn’t care. In executing our masterplan for Matchbox City, we would grade roads, excavate a water feature and install my Matchbox garage as the hub of our urban mandala. The city would be peopled with little statues and vehicled (not really a word) with sensible Matchbox Cars with maybe a few sexy Hot Wheels sprinkled in.

It’s first rough layout notwithstanding, the project would morph into a gorgeously modeled urban landscape in appealing miniature perfection – kinda like Sally Field was at that time. Our collaborative process of conveying value upon a forgotten corner of my backyard was the musical equivalent of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – it was both wildly creative and truly transformative. It plainly demonstrated just how good things can be. And even if it abutted the Holtzberry’s spider-infested woodpile and the Macri’s collapsed and rusted excuse for a fence, our model Matchbox City was on the right side of the tracks. Tracks we took the time to carefully place at the edge of town where the train station was situated.

So good they’re practically edible.

In time our adolescent legerdemain would reveal a magical utopian city in miniature – a cityscape where one could stand proudly before its wee eminence and proclaim, “If you were 3/8ths of an inch tall, you’d be home now.” Oh how we would marvel at our shining tiny city on a hill (actually on a groomed dirt patch). This visionary metropolis was so magnificent in its construction, that it would make the cartoonish futurism of the Jetson’s Orbit City look like a shambolic dystopia. At that time we didn’t know what a shambolic dystopia was, but we knew we needed to avoid creating one.

Even though we were uncredentialed city planners, we knew inherently what urban cool was and we weren’t afraid to express it. We threw ourselves headlong into the project. And while most approached things in an exuberant, headlong way, a few came at it feet first – like breech babies. This entire endeavor was something indescribably fun to do and delighted me in ways no first person narration can ever touch. The neighborhood project was made doubly fun when undertaken with like-minded urchins willing to lose themselves in a Great Work. There was no them. There was only us. A mass of pre-pubescent males all pulling at the same oar in propelling our utopian splendor to must-see, showplace heights. And that would be the name of our upscale development  “Showplace Heights.” Some might say this name was the height of hubris. We didn’t know what “hubris” meant in those innocent days, so were perfectly happy with our unintentionally pretentious moniker – Showplace Heights.

The Devil is in the Details. But in this Case We Found Only God in the Details.

So we urban architect tenderfoots gathered at the job site and began discussing and laying out our shining city on a hill. Among other modern attributes it would have an underpass – an excavated tunnel to keep the traffic flowing in our Big Dig. Similarly to how a simple headline in the Daily Mirror was repurposed by John Lennon into the Sgt. Pepper song “A Day in the Life”, in time our traffic tunnel was repurposed by us kids into a Maj. Water Feature. Who doesn’t want to be like the Beatles? They had a Sgt. Pepper. We would have a Maj. Water Feature.

This was an ideal planned community where imaginary miniature people could get from their cozy homes near the Macri’s to their important imaginary job near the Holtzberry’s. There was no dysfunction like we might see in some of our family life. This was an idealized town. ♫Where never was heard, a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day♫.

Thanks to Pat, the streets were laid out in a grid pattern except for one classy area near the art museum (an IM Pei-inspired upside down bowl) that featured an elegant European-style traffic circle for the broad-shouldered men and fashionably-dressed women who would people our little universe/city/wonderland. We were so besotted with our expertise, we didn’t know if we were digging atop a landfill in Syracuse, NY or motoring on the Champs-Elysees in cosmopolitan Paris. Trés satisfying. Who needs drugs or any mind-altering substances when you have a project like this that fills up your senses? We didn’t need to get comfortably numb. We flexed our brain power and fired those neurons which imparted a deep sense of wholesome well-being to our little-boy consciousnesses. We all knew it was good. And we all knew life would intrude later. But for now me, Gary, Checker, Ricky, Pat and Pat-Pat were the masters of all we surveyed. All we needed was right here. Right now.

 

Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?

This is the great thing about being relatively innocent and not having an overly-developed judgmental mind – we couldn’t quite tell the difference between momentary happiness and permanent happiness and simply reveled deeply in our architectural triumph of city planning. In fact we named our traffic circle the Circle de Triomphe after Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe, probably most famous in our minds for Nazi Germany’s triumphant march through it after their 1940 Blitzkrieg and not so much for Napoleon’s European triumphant adventures. Poor Napoleon made the mistake of warring before photography so he’ll be forever preserved as the short guy with the hand tucked in his vest pocket and will recede into the recesses of history. Whereas photos and film are like a birthmark; they’re something you always have.

Little ideas like these played at the edges of our urban makeover. Like the Beatles we weren’t afraid to take other peoples’ ideas, recalibrate them and incorporate them into our Great Work. As mentioned there was an art museum – quite an addition considering none of us had ever been to one and probably would’ve preferred a baseball stadium. But we inherently knew art museums added to the cultural zeitgeist, though not in those words. We also allowed for a downtown parking garage. There would be no elevated maglev trains in our demonstration city. In fact there would be no public transportation at all except at the outskirts. Cars ruled in these boys’ lives.  We fashioned businesses, restaurants (fast food only), parks and residential housing on the peripheries (near the Holtzberry’s woodpile and the Macri’s decrepit fence). These buildings would consist of various boxes (cigar, candy and mini-cereal) flipped upside down and painted, magic-markered and stacked. This thing was now becoming a thing and taking shape quite nicely.

For a couple of days the development was abuzz with fresh excavations, fresh ideas and stale Oreos. Passionate and animated discussions would dominate for a time on such topics as who was prettier Jeannie (as in “I Dream of”) or Samantha (of twitchy nose fame). The consensus was that Ginger was the prettiest, but probably unobtainable owing to her “Forbidden City” Hollywood origin.

We huddled masses bruited (my 60 year-old word, not my 7-year-old word) any number of speculations on why the Yankees sucked. We might even take up a collection and nominate someone to go to nearby Louise Bros. Market and pick up some popsicles for us (our version of the 3 martini lunch). Clearly we were working some issues. But for now our work (our pleasure actually) proceeded apace and in 2 days we were almost finished laying out the streets, situating the homes, incorporating the parking garage and corrugated cardboard office buildings. One detail remained: the underpass.

 

Our Little Big Dig

Our Big Dig proceeded smartly enough. As part of our urban scheme to promote a smooth and continuous flow of traffic, we excavated an underpass – an underpass that would be lined with aluminum foil and filled with blue-dyed water – no detail would escape our attention. In actuality this underpass that we were tunneling wasn’t really an underpass at all. It was a bridge – a bridge over tunneled water. Yeah, that’s it – it was ♫ like a bridge over tunneled water♫. But mostly it was just an opportunity to have a water feature in our City of Tomorrow today. And as fortune would have it, when we were carefully tunneling under the road something exciting, unexpected and fantastic happened. We hit an unknown object; like they did in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was something man made and not the roots of the pear tree that had died last year and that Pat had impressively knocked over with one mighty thrust of his leg. No, whatever it was, was manmade, not God made.

When this object incognita was hit, everything stopped – like when workers happen upon the ghastly discovery of a human skeleton at a real construction site or when NASA scrubbed a launch. We were knee deep in Big Boy territory now and we were feeling every bit the urgency of Mission Control in Houston: “Uh, Syracuse…we have a problem.” We gathered slowly around the unseen impediment to assess the situation and advise courses of actions. Imagine “Our Gang” of 7-11-year-olds assessing situations and formulating responses. We were in over our semantic little heads and we loved it. So much to safeguard, consider and superintend – and so little was really at stake. We were all well aware our hamlet of Eastwood was built over an old landfill. Just how skimpy that last layer of dirt and clay was, we soon discovered.

We were thrilled to encounter this bashful and noncompliant OOI (Object of Interest) literally in our backyard. After some discussion taken at the highest levels in our situation room (my back porch), we instituted a moratorium on further excavations (we stopped digging) and called in our qualified, in-house structural engineer, Ricky Moro. He was qualified because his father worked on the New York Central Railroad crew as a guy who replaced rotted railroad ties. Ricky brilliantly surmised we’d better be very careful in excising this unknown object. If we weren’t he warned, “the entire bridge’s superstructure could buckle, pancake and possibly collapse, perhaps jeopardizing all our efforts to create an exemplary community.” Of course he actually said it this way, “If we ain’t careful, thing’s gonna crumble.” In other words our Shining City on a hill could become a giant Sinkhole in a pit.

Heeding his well-chosen words, we carefully continued our work with the patient exactitude of a nano-surgeon to ensure the offending object was removed safely and the project completed on time; even though there was no timetable. We were very thoroughgoing kids. So just what was this thin metallic object of unknown origin lurking beneath the bridge over tunneled water? Using one of my mother’s favorite teaspoons, we ever so carefully dug around the yielding metal plate. This operation required us to employ more patience than waiting for your parents to get up on Christmas morning so you could open presents. Not only did we have to delicately displace the offending object, but we had to do so without sacrificing any of the structural integrity of the dirt roadway above, needed to support a 2 ounce miniature car. Imagine 6 serious-minded kids in lab coats wearing hardhats – that’s how we felt anyway – as we painstakingly excised the impediment to progress while ensuring we reinforced the massive footlong bridge over the underpass, or, under the overpass. And much to our adolescent delight, we did it.

Holy Grail, Batman. With great pomp and circumstance we triumphantly removed and revealed (drumroll please) an ancient New York State license plate from the unfathomably remote year of 1933; long since discarded and buried in a shallow license plate grave in my backyard. To a 7-year-old in 1968, the distant and misty year of 1933 AD might well have been 1933 BC. We weren’t even sure what BC meant – did it mean Before Color? This at least made some sense because everything old was in black & white (movies, photos, pandas).

We were all agog over the visitation of such an unimaginably cool relic. It felt like a sorcerer from beyond the grave was sending us a message and we were the sorcerer’s apprentices. Why were we chosen to unearth an otherworldly amulet invested with the power of sanctioning a 4-wheeled conveyance to operate on the roads of an empire (New York is the Empire State)? Were we the chosen ones? Chosen for what. This question loomed large in our small minds. The early conjecture among us kidnoscenti was that this relic may have once hung on a chariot or a perhaps a mobile catapult. After all, this ancient artifact was a full 28 years older than I was, which equated to about 2000 years in kid time. Whatever was the meaning of this moment it became imbued with eerie and sacred importance.

Maybe the genesis of this object was Biblical: “In the beginning there was light, and God moved his hand over the Earth and there appeared a New York State license plate from 1933. And he saw that it was good” – or at least not expired. Maybe it was from a vehicle that President Roosevelt or Babe Ruth drove in. Such was the adolescent hyperbole swirling in our heads in the July heat that summer of ‘68 when some kind of governmentally-sanctioned licensing plate, hiding in the earth’s crust for maybe thousands of years, was unearthed. It never suspected it would see the light of day again. And without the dogged pluck and industrial vigor of some enterprising young boys, it never would have.

Time is very skewed when you’re a kid. For what seemed like hours, but was actually a few minutes, we all marveled over our serendipitous and ultra-cool discovery. How cool? – Bond cool. This discovery was so unexpected and so much the product of our collective ingenuity we couldn’t help but be pleased.

When you carefully construct a beautifying water feature you might get more than you bargained for. And our actions verified that being proactive (doing stuff) and purposeful (making stuff) counted for something. It tended to set you up for an adventure instead of letting you down for a misadventure. We pugnacious kids would never submit to inaction and its resultant numbness. In kidspeak that’s “We’re gonna play hard till the streetlights came on.”  

Our discovery of unknown parameters had us all atwitter. And instead of adopting the numbing conventional wisdom of, “Yeah, I guess somebody musta got a new car and tossed their old license plate in the trash” attitude, we copped more of an “Isn’t our unknown universe more interesting than anybody else’s known universe” attitude. Life is rich. At least it can be. Who wants to be numb? As it was we wouldn’t become comfortably numb till Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

With our momentous mystery solved, we could recommence our First Wonder of the Modern World right there on unsuspecting South Edwards Avenue.

 

Being Fruitful and Multiplying

To prevent the water from absorbing into the soil, we lined our underpass with an impermeable layer of aluminum foil. What we’re you expecting? – an impermeable membrane of injection molded latex. C’mon man. We were 9 years old. Of course we had to fill our water feature and we had a solution for that – literally. We thrilled to the sight of filling our newly-born reservoir with a Kool-Aid pitcher of blue-dyed liquid. Blue-dyed water was quite he solution. Lawdy Miss Clawdy. Witnessing our spectacle of a serene limpid pool of blue, fired neurons in our aesthetic pleasure centers we didn’t even know we had. This moment was better than Bugs Bunny, baseball and Oreos. And yet, once completed, there was a corresponding letdown to our hydrological high because now the entire aquatic feature we had so meticulously excavated was just…water under the bridge. Such is life.  

And as we ticked off the punch list items and brought the project to its fruitful conclusion, I reflected on our collaborative efforts brought to bear on a communal goal. For me, it had blossomed into an unspoken and transformative brotherhood. Our collective efforts precipitated an organic amity that, despite dispiriting evidence of global vulgarity, assured me that all was well in the garden (or in this case, my backyard). This sustainably ecstatic space we created (both physically and extra-dimensionally) was always there. Always available to those tuning in. Whether facing a squalling tempest or a languid lovefest, you could always find this space beyond experience. Something you could just “be” and not “experience.” And if you couldn’t reside here regularly, you at least knew where it could be found. All man-made quarrels were but a thin manufactured veil separating us from God’s majesty – the naturally unitizing majesty not readily apparent most times, but pervading all (and yes, I can’t believe I didn’t edit this paragraph to be less Kum-Ba-Yah).     

Working with Gary on this civil engineering project was a natural portal to an unencumbered universe – unencumbered by gloom, limits and devilized details. Instead our sleekly designed world in miniature was inherently encumbered by unassailable perfection of imagination. It intruded on and catalyzed a universe filled with inherent joy, purposeful activity and an absence of equivocation. It ineffably answered all questions. Like whenever you thought, “I’ve got better things to do,” this collaborative project with Gary, Ricky, Checker, Pat and Pat-Pat, was the “better thing” to do. Right here and now which was actually there and then. Just 10 feet from the pear tree that had so magically offered but one pear its final year until Pat knocked it over with one mighty kick and we threw it onto Holtzberry’s wood pile. How ironic. A pear tree offering one pear instead of a pair.  

I’ve employed many words to describe, catalogue and convey some sense of what went on that magical Summer of ’68. The Summer of Great Works. And while many of those words I employed may have been better off unemployed, I believe an honest attempt at describing an exalted, boundary-dissolving event is well worth the effort. Without mindful awareness much of life is just passing show – like water under the bridge.

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