When author Danny Clune was seven years old, he experienced a traumatic accident that changed the course of his life-It left a hole in his life that he would spend a lifetime repairing. In Leaving Wayne, Clune tells his coming-of-age story that takes place in rural New York State and northeastern Pennsylvania in the 1950s and '60s.
This colorful memoir narrates the struggles of surviving shame, poverty, abuse, and succeeding in an era that went from party phone lines to cell phones, from 45s to MP3s, and from sock hops to mosh pits. Leaving Wayne tells of Clune's childhood in a family with seven children; his struggles with addiction; his recovery; his stints as an English teacher, chef, and restaurateur in Upstate New York; his work abroad with mental health services; and the ways that 9/11 affected his life and his profession.
Throughout this story, Clune shows how the grit of rural life conflicted with the influences of prosperity and modernity that gradually overtook him and molded him into the person he became.
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Leaving WayneA story about overcoming trauma, poverty, and addiction while growing up in a time of radical change
By Danny Clune
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Danny Clune
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSeptember Lakewood, Pennsylvania
I think that the backseat I lay on belonged to a Buick— probably a '53—a smooth, rolled satin seat, brownish gray in color with a musky odor that smelled old but looked unworn. At that moment I couldn't have cared less, yet the surroundings were so vivid. What next caught my attention was the sky that was my favorite blue; it was the color of a clear autumn day, no wind and no clouds. Today I call it a September 11 day. There was brightness to the air that seemed unusual. My senses were hyped, I guess. I saw dust bunnies scrambling up the sunlight toward the back quarter window; there was a fly on the back of the driver's seat, and a buzzing sound that came from a competitor. It was bouncing around like only those half-dead flies can when the days get shorter. They dance to the sun and disappear into some dark crack for the rest of the winter.
I could hear voices that sounded troubled, although who was talking was not clear. They were near me—I could see four legs belonging to two men, but their voices were only pained sounds. What a beautiful day it might have been, except that I couldn't feel anything but a throbbing pain from the neck down. My body felt like it was one big wound. I tried to move, but I could not. My torso felt like it was unattached to my head, and my hands and fingers were lying useless, unable to respond to my wishes, even if I had any. They were bound to my sides by a mix of thick blood and hot, smelly oil. There were black and red splotches of goo splattered against the back of the front seats that had been part of me. They did not seem to have any pattern to them. I couldn't say that I was tossed there, but almost. I was wrapped in fiberglass insulation like a worm inside a cocoon, foil to the outside and the itchy part to the inside. What a strange way to travel!
Soon we were moving at breakneck speeds over an unsure road. The Buick smacked over a crack in the concrete highway, and I blacked out, only to come to and have it happen all over again and again. I finally gave out somewhere around Deposit, New York. As things faded rapidly I could hear the sound of Jack Brennan and my dad talking; they sounded afraid. I don't blame them. Had I been conscious, I would have been afraid too.
Sometime later, I awoke to a lady in white; I was tied to a gurney. It seemed like forever before anyone said anything to me. I was blinded by a bright white light that was overhead. I thought I smelled gasoline, it was ether, a vile and wretched stuff that I would rebel against many more times in the next year. I was in a white room, so shiny and clean, so starchy and crisp; the air seemed thick. Time had slowed way down; I felt dirty just lying there. Many things were going on in this place, and I heard the word surgery. I saw a corkscrew light spiraling downward, and another light shone right into each eye. Bright images of a black-and-white checkerboard appeared close to me and then far away. A strong hairy arm held a rag over my face, and by the time I thought about pushing it away, it was too late. There was total silence, but I was screaming ... I think. A black-and-white hole sucked the noise, the light, and me down a tunnel where I didn't want to go. I wanted my daddy.
Chapter TwoBinghamton, New York
The "ward"—it was a strange name for a room. To me, it was a long green room of iron-barred cots. There were strong-looking women dressed in starched white uniforms who seemed less than happy to see me. When they walked they sounded crispy. The room was large and had one way in; I couldn't find a way out.
The hard mattress in my cage was cream colored with blue stripes; others had pissed and shit on it before me. The mattress had a thin sheet that covered it, but the yellow and brown spots could be seen through the well-worn cotton. The women would turn it over from time to time, but the stains just changed places. The tall bars of the steel bed cast shadows across the dull room— crib bars that kept me contained. The paint was chipped; scars left from past kids. How long would this last? At seven you worry about these things. I saw someone's name half-scratched above my head, leaving the metal with a partial autograph that was not legible. Months later I would add my name.
I wanted to go home yet I knew that this would not end soon. There were long days where boredom was interrupted only by food. The meals were something to wait for at least. During the day there were people and noise—it was something. On Thursdays and Saturdays, a girl named Linda, who was in a wheelchair, would come and read. The rest of the week was lying in a cage imagining that you were not forgotten. There were longer dark nights that I shared with the bogeyman. I imagined that shadows were people. I gave them names, mr. and mrs. lonely. I got to know when they would arrive. I was always scared. No one spoke to me most days and less at night. No one came to see me, and no one cared where I was. Shots came frequently (there was always the lie about how it wouldn't hurt). My ass was a pincushion and my arms covered with welts, all in the name of getting better. You get used to the needles; you learn lack of trust from the lies.
The casts on my leg were thick, and they were changed monthly. The bandages were wrapped with chalky paste, sponged with water, and they hardened like masonry board. I smelled of rot, like the leaves that piled up wet in the fall. The more I sniffed, the worse I smelled. I could not stop testing the air for the odor even though it made me gag. I never knew what the attraction was. Maybe I was smelling myself to see if I was alive.
Each day was the same; through the window, the air looked as if it had turned brown, leaves fell, it snowed, and gloom arrived. Winter brought no new visitors. I was getting upset. It was then that I began to cry. My ward mates were Gary, who had a brown mop for hair, and Wayne, who was a redhead. They both were seven and did not talk much. They were in body casts, and each day got hoisted up to lay with their legs extended, on the rack. Wayne smelled worse than me, like dead skin. We all scratched ourselves raw. The trick to a good scratch was to keep a butter knife from dinner. At night you would push it down inside your cast and then wiggle the knife and push your leg against the iron bars. I invented the knife scratch, and we all did it.
Gary and Wayne were there two years. They did get time off for Christmas and got their casts changed before they went home. I got one year, no time off. We were the inhabitants of general hospital kids' ward #2. We were in a pediatric jail. Then there were the not-so-friendly visitors, including an orderly we called Mr. Oil Change. My memory of him is buried deep inside. Gary and Wayne would cry when he was on the ward, and I would get ready. It was a ten-minute mineral oil rub with hands and fingers that belonged someplace else and left me with bad thoughts. Oil stole my toys that I got for Christmas; model planes and ships that he said he would put together for me. I never saw my toys again. Fridays were phone calls from home, rarely for me. Long distance with party lines for four minutes, and sometimes not. There was less of me left when Friday night waned. It was this way for months. There was depression, deep and numbing; there was guilt and shame; and there was darkness. Who cared? I cried for my mommy and daddy, but no one listened.
Chapter ThreePreston Park, Pennsylvania
Preston Park really doesn't exist; there is nothing of note that would tell you arrived there, no proof of a real name or a need for one. It was no place for historical markers. There once was a sign at the crossroads of PA 370 and 247, but the last time I looked, a few holes probably made by buckshot had ripped it up, making it look more like a sieve than a sign. If you take 191 S. from Hancock, New York, for one mile, turn right at Pete and Lovey's on Route 370, and head west for nine miles, you come to Archie Rooney's corners. Turn right at Porosky's sawmill. You're now in Preston Park.
Earlier in its non-history there was a schoolhouse on an old and abandoned road that went from behind the mill down to what was Russ and Winnie's store. My dad went to the school as a kid. George Walters built a house there. When George died, Viola, his wife, with kids to raise, moved away. Ronnie Mead bought the house after that, and he still lives there last I looked.
The road there from Preston Park to our house was curvy, and about a half mile up there is, or was, a railroad trestle on the left and a stone bridge on the right, where everyone dumped garbage and other unwanted items in the small creek underneath. We shot rats there. As you got closer to my house, things got more interesting. Mr. Mead was a mysterious man to us kids; he was stooped over and wore brown-and-gray pants with suspenders. He never spoke except to tell us "to git!" I was told he would drink anything that had alcohol in it. He also grew a lot of potatoes in a garden behind his house that he worked with his team of horses, these were kept in an old ramshackle barn. Neither he nor the horses were seen except at a distance in his potato field.
He once came to our house on a fall evening, demanding something to drink; he left with half a bottle of Castoria and most of a pint of rubbing alcohol. He had a rupture, and his gut hung low as he waddled up the road. One winter evening, just after dark, Dad dug him out of one of the deep snow banks that were piled along the roadside, put there by the snowplows that came by after a winter storm. Mrs. Mead was loving and kind. She would make fry doughnuts and save us all the holes—rolled in powdered sugar, they were a welcome treat.
When walking home on the road from the four corners, things started to play in your mind. Running didn't help, it only confirmed that something was hiding somewhere behind the many trees that lined the road home. One big obstacle was that you had to walk by Mr. Mead's barn to get home. I always hurried and closed my eyes as I passed. You could smell the horses and sometimes hear them in their stalls. I could imagine them running with their big shoes clanking behind me, although they never did. Another obstacle was the wooden bridge between the scary barn and our house. We were told as young children that trolls lived under it. There must have been a lot of creosote around in the 50's because it got slapped on everything, including the bridge. Stinky stuff and tar-like, it grabbed at your sneakers as if it was a trap that was set up to catch you as you passed. The railings on the bridge were rickety too. They creaked as we ran across them as if the faster we ran, the safer we would be. A train running under the bridge would shake the whole thing. If you were on the bridge when the train came, you were surely in danger.
My sister Betsy had a dog named Duke, a German shepherd that had light-brown fur. He was quite calm but would bite sometimes as if to let you know he could if necessary. He liked to chase the different men who came knocking door-to-door, selling things out of their paneled trucks. Vegetables and eggs and meat were delivered by truck, if you could call it that with its wooden sides and blocks of ice pretending to be refrigeration. Most of them came from a place called The Valley and a town named Carbondale. These places were all far away, yet I could picture the image of a valley in my mind. I wasn't sure about Carbondale. The name Carbondale did little to feed my imagination.
Up the hill from our house was the Homer Curtis farm. We bought milk from them for fifty cents a half gallon. It had lots of cream on the top that both Mom and Dad liked. Dad would put it in his coffee and then drink the coffee out of his saucer; Mom made butter from the rich yellow cream. Later on we got a cow and had our own milk. Homer was nice; he was tall and always neat and clean, even when he worked in the barn milking cows. Lauren, the oldest boy, treated us well; he let us help him with chores sometimes. We got on the school bus in front of their house, as the bus did not go past ours. Sandy, the oldest and only girl, always got on the school bus first. She was quiet and firm. I usually sat near her on the bus. The younger boys I didn't know until we grew older. Richard and Jeffrey were their names, but I rarely saw them. The family worked hard (they were Methodists). Once Lauren let me help him chop silage off the frozen walls of the silo that stood beside their barn. These were important chores for a farm boy. At one point I ran a pitchfork into my foot; it went right through my foot and into the sole of my boot. That incident ended my silage-chopping career.
One summer, a man named John Hunt came to dig us a cellar entrance to our house, as our furnace was broken and there was no way to get the old one out and the new one in. He had a digging bar and a shovel and a pick. I watched him dig all summer. I played in the pile of sand he used for cement and the dirt he dug up from the basement wall. He said little and drank from a silver-and-red thermos and sweated a lot. That was most of the excitement I had that summer. One time Jimmy, my older brother, and I went up on the big rocks hunting snakes. This was a great adventure. The snakes liked to lie out on the sunny side of the flat rocks that were abundant above our house in Curtis's pasture. We were brave cowboys who would attack the sleepy lumps of scales. We would leave them for the Indians that never showed up to get them. We had our favorite cowboys—I was Roy Rogers and Jimmy was the Lone Ranger. We wore our cap guns low and were fast on the draw, and we were undoubtedly the best cowboys in Preston Park.
Outside of our imagination, not much else ever happened there. Occasionally for more excitement than killing snakes, we used to play chicken with our bicycles. One of us would ride to the top of Curtis's hill and the other would park sideways on the bottom of the hill. One bike would fly down the hill, faster than you can imagine—sometimes faster than the other bike could get out of the way! You get the picture.
There was a rhubarb patch across the road. We would pick the red stalks and dip them in sugar for a summer treat; they were sweet and sour all at once. The best treat was the ice cube trays filled with Kool-Aid; we could put a stick in them and suck on the frozen flavored ice. I looked forward to the fall when I could go with my dad to his garage in Lakewood and clean tools and sweep out the school bus that he drove each morning and afternoon. That was where all the trouble started that launched me into the hospital.
Chapter FourThe Lakewood Garage
Saturdays were special. There was no school and it was my turn to go to "the garage." The Lakewood garage was a concrete block bunker of a place where the walls sweated in the long summer and frosted in the longer winter, and that was on the inside. The garage was a post–World War II experiment in free enterprise for my dad. The Lakewood crew would roll in slowly; Saturday was half a day's work. Most were Dad's friends, and they knew each other as kids. Steve Simpson, my sister's godfather, was a short wiry guy with an attitude well earned from surviving the "death march" and the "Japs." He had been on Corregidor and lived to tell about it. Also, a few local men with more affection for each other than a regular job would provide gathered at noon and sat on tires and ate lunch from waxed paper wrappings. Some came to get tires changed or brakes fixed. Some just to bullshit. George Lewis worked for Dad at times. He talked funny, always looked scruffy, and was all muscle. I think he did what was called the dirty work. Dad paid him cash. He had little status among the older men, but you could tell they all loved him.
Benny C was there with his new Chevy (after the "accident," this would cause a conflict and resentment with my dad that existed for many years). Jack Brennan, a Brooklyn transplant and John Bircher to the bone was a loyal friend to Dad and would remain so forever. Jack would later work for Dad as a bartender; a likely pulpit to preach against the communist threat that Jack assured everyone was among us. The men took Jack with a grain of salt, but he could be convincing. Jack owned the Buick I mentioned earlier. Joe Wood may have dropped by, and certainly Al Evanitsky, too, before the morning was over. Gas, Mobil brand, was twenty-three cents a gallon. Mike Torrick might stop by; he limped and all the guys seemed to like him because he was rich with humor and made them laugh. If we were lucky, we would get to go to the local hotel for lunch. The Lakewood Hotel was owned and run by a leprechaun named Frank McGraw. Frank was salty in a friendly and endearing way, as his main objective was to gather gossip. The local guys would tease him about his thriftiness and embellish local stories for him to feed on.
Excerpted from Leaving Wayne by Danny Clune Copyright © 2012 by Danny Clune. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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