Archive for November, 2011

The House, Part 1

I mentioned before how I spent some time living in Grandma and Grandpa Medved’s basement, and a short time in a little rental house in the 1200 block of S. Santa Fe.  I have no memories of the rental house, except for seeing some old 8mm movies that my mom and dad had.  I remember one scene where I dropped an apple or something into a bowl of water.  My dad would stop and reverse it and make the apple jump out of the pan and back into my hand.  It took me until I was about 13 to figure out how he did it.  I wasn’t very bright in some areas.  Now I have vivid recollections of living in Grandma’s and Grandpa’s basement.  One still follows me through life, and I have a recurring nightmare about it five or six times a year.   I still haven’t quite sorted it all out, and I’m going to do a whole story on it later so that maybe someone can give me some insight.  It’s not a bad memory.  Let’s just say it’s a confusing one.

There’s another memory that’s kind of hazy in my mind, and my mom and dad can probably clarify this.  I seem to remember trying to ride down the basement stairs in a cardboard box.  I think it relates to a scar I have on my upper lip.  I also seem to remember it being a really dumb idea and my sister Julie was smart enough to talk me into it to see how it worked out.  See a pattern forming here?  I wasn’t very bright in some areas.

I think I was probably 4 or 5 when my mom and dad bought The House.  They still live there.  What it looks like today bears little resemblance to what it looked like back then.  If my kids saw a picture of what the inside and outside looked like when we first moved in, they’d think that the Klopeks lived there.  It could have been used in any decent B grade horror movie for the house where the creepy stuff happened.  And in reality, there are a few creepy things that I remember.  Well, maybe not so much creepy, but a little mysterious.

It’s 2 stories with an unfinished basement, a detached garage, connected to a storage shed, connected to the coolest place a kid could ask for.  My mom used to call it a summer kitchen.  We just called it ‘the doll house’.  It was probably 12 feet by 14 feet, tongue and groove floors, tongue and groove walls, tongue and groove ceilings…..it was like a wooden masterpiece.  It had 4 windows, one on each side.  One  side happened to be connected to the shed, so that window actually looked from one building into the other.  The only other features were a build in set of cabinets with glass doors that was big enough for me to sit in.  I know this, because one time I climbed into the cabinet to see if I could fit.  I could.  I could even pull the glass doors shut.  I found out that the latch would actually close even if you were inside the cabinet.  It took me a bit of time to figure out how to open it up.  It got a bit hot and stuffy.  The pattern forms even further.  Did I mention that I wasn’t too bright in some areas?  Oh, there was another feature.  The wooden door up into the attic.  The attic where I hid my best stash of dirty magazines.  The dirty magazines that my sisters found and hauled into mom and dad.  Yeah,  I looked at dirty magazines.  Yeah, my sisters can be snitches.  Yeah, you know who you are.  I still love them.  They were probably just trying to save me from future carpal tunnel syndrome.   I still look at dirty magazines from time to time, just so I don’t miss any new trends.  Sorry.

The back door was basically the only door that young Bojon kids were allowed to use.  Front door was for company.  Back door was for kids.  To this day, when I go to visit Mom and Dad, I almost always go to the back door first.  We never locked the back door until after 10.  Someone might want to get in.  In fact one time someone did.  I think it was a drunk guy.  He just walked in the door.  Someone at Grandpa and Grandma Medved’s house saw him go in and called my mom and dad.  He left.  No harm, no foul.  Now if this happens today, expect swat teams, bomb sniffing dogs, and Dr. Phil to be involved.  Different times.  Way different times.

The house was a lot different back then.  When you walked into the backdoor, the kitchen door was to the right, and that’s about all that’s the same now.  This room was and is still called ‘the porch’.  The basement door was a huge wooden door set into the floor.  You’d have to lift the door up to see the steps.  If you went down the stairs, someone could shut the door and you’d have to come half way up the stairs and then reach up and lift up the door.  Unless the person that shuts the door decides to sit on it, turn out the light and scare the crap out of you.  Thanks, Julie.  That trick always worked on me.  To the left of the trapdoor was the staircase that went up to the 2nd floor.  My dad eventually walled off the stairs and opened them up on the other side of the wall where they are.  He also took out the trapdoor and put up the wall and door that are there now.  One thing about my dad.  He wasn’t a carpenter or a plumber or an electrician by trade, but he never saw a project that he wouldn’t tackle.  He and my mom did a lot of work to make the place what is now.

The kitchen was the center of the house.  It was that way in a lot of houses in Bojon Town.  It was where people talked and had coffee.  Where the bills got paid.  Where problems got worked out.   I remember waking up and going down to breakfast and the bathroom line.  There was a better than even chance that someone would be there.   Grandparents.   Uncles.  Aunts.  Cousins.  I remember Grandpa Barnett being there almost every morning having a cup of coffee before work.  There was always a good breakfast before we started the day.  Eggs, potatoes, toast.  That’s still what I eat.  Old habits die hard.

I’m out of time today.  Lots of projects to work on.  This is one of my favorite projects, and there is much, much more about the house.  See you in a few days.  And to my family and friends, thank you.  I didn’t get to see you all on Thanksgiving, but I’m thankful for every one of you for being in my life.

The Hall of Justice

I know what you’re saying.  “Hall of Justice?  In Bojon Town?  Did I miss something”?  Well, it’s not exactly what you’d expect.   There were no judges or courtrooms in the Hall of Justice.  No cells or lawyers either, although you may have seen a police officer there from time to time.

Some of you know the name, though.  It went by many.  B and B Recreation, The Locker Room, and more universally, at least by Bojon Town standards, The Pool Hall.  Not just a pool hall.  THE POOL HALL.  Located in the 1100 block of Mahren, it’s a place where many a young Bojon boy learned the important lessons in life.

I have been told, and my dad can correct me if I don’t get this right, but The Pool Hall was originally opened by my Grandpa, Charles Barnett, and my great Uncle Cheech Brunjak.   They called it B and B Recreation, and if I’m not totally mistaken, which I’m not, they were bookies.  The walls were covered in chalkboards with baseball, football, and basketball scores.  Now, this was the early 1960’s, before cable TV and the internet.  There were no 24 hour sports channels.  Scores came over on a…….drum roll please…….ticker tape machine.  For those of you under 55 or so, a ticker tape machine is basically a dot matrix printer connected to a telegraph line that prints one line on a long string of paper, in this case, summaries and scores of sporting events.  I remember Cheech holding the paper and reading from it as it printed, and then walking to the wall to fill in the scores on the blackboard.  Not quite your cell phone update for your fantasy football team, but at the time, it was as good as it got.

I’ve been told that my grandpa and great uncle ran the place for a while, and decided that there wasn’t enough money coming in to support both of them, so they decided that one of them would step down and the other would leave the business.  Now, typically you’d see the partners come up with a value of the business and one would buy out the other one.  Not Charlie and Cheech.  These guys were bookies.  Gamblers.  They flipped a coin.  Winner stayed.  Loser walked with nothing.  Cheech won.  Charlie walked.  How’s that for gambling.

Cheech always was unbelievably cool to me.  He was married to my great Aunt Mary.  Now there’s the rub.  I know I will probably get some real flak from this, but to me, this lady missed her calling early in life when she could have been cast in the Disney Film with all of the little dalmatians.  She would have given life to the role of Cruella DeVille.  She was made for the part.  Now Cruella is in the pool hall every day.  Let me just say this.  Having a nasty woman like this in a pool hall is kind of like putting a little statue of a dog turd on top of a wedding cake.  Some things just don’t belong in some places.  This was one.

When Cheech and Mary were running the place, I was sort of allowed in, since I was Little Mikey and everyone in the Pool Hall knew me.  I remember being too short to play the pinball machines, and the older guys putting down a wooden pop crate for me to stand on.  I learned to rack 9 ball on the two awesome Brunswick pool tables.  I would sit for hours and watch guys like Johnny Zobeck and Squanto and Uncle Dan shoot Rotation and 6 ball.  The older guys would buy me pop and candy and give me money.  They also taught me many of my more colorful language skills which I still find myself using if I’m not careful.  By they way, anyone here ever get their mouths washed out with Life Buoy soap?  Nothing like that pumice on your tongue and teeth to guarantee a clean mouth.

Eventually, Cheech and Mary decided to give up the business and it ended up in the hands of a gambler named Jerry Bennett.  Jerry was a kind of mysterious guy to all of us kids.  One minute he’s be really nice to us, and the next he could just go off.  Now that I think about it, I think he was one of those soft on the inside guys that really liked kids, but he didn’t want people to know it.  Jerry put in an extra pinball machine and a jukebox.  The juke box is at the heart of one of my favorite Jerry Bennett stories

This was probably 1969.  The guy that put the records in the jukebox showed up and put a copy of the Beatles’ Hey Jude with Revolution on the flip side.  Now anyone familiar with the Beatles knows that the first 15 seconds of Revolution, with the scratchy guitar and the cool John Lennon scream, is like kryptonite to old people.  And I guess Jerry fit that ‘old’ category.  Songs were 25 cents a song, and 5 for a dollar.  One day, I went in with Whitey Cvar, and we put 2 dollars in the jukebox and played Revolution 10 times in a row.  Well, not quite 10.  After about 6 or 7 straight times, Jerry walked over with the key to the jukebox.  He doesn’t say a word to us.  He opens the jukebox, lifts the needle off of the record, and takes the record out of the jukebox.  Now, earlier, I told you I learned a lot of language skills in the Hall.  Here was one lesson.  If bad language bothers you, skip down a few lines.  I’m going to write the exact words that Jerry spoke.  I’ll never forget them.  He stood in front of us, snapped the record in half, handed it to me and said, and I quote exactly, “Now let’s see you play this, you little motherfucker”.  I saved it for a long time.  It was my first Beatles record.  Thanks Jerry!  Oh, and mom, please remember that you already washed my mouth out for saying that one, so I should get a pass.

I remember one other time very vividly.  Pinball was a religion for us.  A nickel a game.  Nickels weren’t easy to come by.  So, we’d spend much more time watching other people play then we spent playing ourselves.  One day, my Uncle Dan was in the Hall playing pinball.  He didn’t put a nickel in.  He put like 6 quarters in!!! At once!!!  He plays for a few minutes and wins a few more.  He has like 14 games on the machine and for a 9 year old kid, that was like a gold mine.  Well, as he’s playing, and a car horn honks outside on the street.  Uncle Dan looks out the door, and says ‘My date is here.  Go ahead and play these games.’  I’ve hit the lottery!!! I can’t even imagine what would make a person walk away from 14 games on a pinball machine.  I look out the door, and Uncle Dan is getting into a car with a gorgeous girl!!!! And she picked him up!  Any questions as to why I think my Uncle Dan is one of the coolest people on the planet?

I don’t know what happened to Jerry Bennett.  One day the Hall was closed.  It didn’t open again for quite a while.  I think it was probably closed for 4 or 5 years, and it was re-opened as a 3.2 bar.  For those youngsters who don’t know what a 3.2 bar was, when I was 18, you could drink beer that had a lower alcohol content, 3.2%.  In reality, it was the same beer that they served everywhere else, but we didn’t argue.  Beer was beer.

I don’t remember the order, due to beer, but there were two sets of owners that ran the place after it re-opened.  It was called The Locker Room, and I believe it was first run by Danny Hochevar.  Later, it was run by Paul and Tig Gradishar.  It wasn’t quite the same, as it mainly attracted people from 18-20.  The cool, older guys didn’t really come around much.  And by this time, I was 18, and I was beginning to be one of the older guys.

It’s been closed for so long now that I don’t think it will ever re-open.  That’s probably a good thing.  They way things are today, there isn’t room for a cool place like The Hall of Justice in the world.  And the world is a sadder, darker place because of it.  But it will live as long as I have a memory.  Thanks Cheech.  Thanks Jerry, Danny, Tiggy, Paul Grads.  Even you, Aunt Mary.  The place would have been different if you didn’t come around.  Most of all, thank you, Charles Markus Barnett.  I wish you would have won the flip.

What Makes Bojon Town Special?

I spend lots of time thinking about this question.  Here is this patch of land on a bluff overlooking the Arkansas River.  It’s maybe 2 square miles, if you count all of the land inside of the borders that I listed in my last post.  There are no breathtaking sites, unless you like looking at a rusty old steel mill with old railroad cars lining the fences.  There are no architectural wonders, and when I was growing up, there were no parks or recreation centers.  I go back now, and I ask myself what made this place so special to me.  Here’s my list.

Family

How many of you have a relative or two close by?  When I was growing up, I had the following people living within 5 blocks of my house.

Great Grandma and Great Grandpa Anzick

Great Grandma and Great Grandpa Kocman

Grandma and Grandpa Medved

Grandma and Grandpa Barnett

Great Uncle Steve and Great Aunt Francis Hiza

Great Uncle Cheech and Great Aunt Mary Brunjak

Great Uncle Frank and Great Aunt Julie Anzick

Great Uncle Joe Anzick and Great Aunt Jenny Anzick

Great Uncle Tony Anzick

Great Uncle Rudy and Great Auntie Elsie Kocman

Great Uncle Eddie and Great Auntie Celie Kocman

Uncle Dave Barnett

Uncle Joe Barnett

Uncle Danny Medved

Uncle Kenny Medved

I’m not going to list cousins, because I only get so much disk space here.

I know I missed somebody.  I can’t help it.  I’m getting old.

Now, realize that at this time, in the early 1960’s, I could pretty much walk into any of these houses at any given time, because no one locked their doors.  If someone was home, they’d feed me.  If no one were home, I’d feed myself.  This did have some drawbacks, as you’ll see in later stories.  Let’s just say that with that many relatives, a lot of things that I did got back to Chuck and Audrey before I managed to get home.

The Places

The Station

The Pool Hall

Anzick’s/Ducic’s/Strilich’s/Grand Prix Restaurant

Eiler’s Bar

Veteran’s Tavern

Butkovich Mercantile

Gorsich’s

The Shoemaker

St. Mary’s Church

St. Mary’s School

Edison School

Newton’s Lumberyard

The Tracks

The Crab Ponds

The People

Dozens of people.  You saw them every day.  They knew you, knew your family, knew your life.  Everyone knew everything about everybody.  I’m just taking a guess and say that there were probably less than 500 homes in Bojon Town.  Someday, out of curiosity, I’m going to count them.  Here’s a short list of some of the cast of characters, other than family,  that influenced me in one way or another:  Joe Lepik, Chico, Fritz, Father Dan, Horse, Teedles, Fox Volk, Squanto, Muggsy, Smitty, Ronnie O, Jerry Bennett, Tini, Popeye, Fox Perko, Fox Volk, Bobby Okorn, Cactus Krall, and many others that you’ll hear about in coming stories.  You might have noticed that Bojons are big on nicknames.  More on that later.

I never got a cool nickname.  The people that liked me called me Little Mikey.

Well, maybe it’s not quite true that I never got a cool nickname.  I did manage to pin one on myself that caused me endless grief in my life.  When I was about 3 or 4, I went exploring.  My mom likes to refer to it as me getting lost.  I wasn’t lost.  I was right where I was.  Everyone else was lost.  But, since my mom was lost and didn’t know how I was going to find her, she called the police.  They found me.  They asked me if I was lost.  I told them that I wasn’t, but my mom was.   They asked me my name.  Now remember, I was 3 or 4.  I am told that I had a hard time pronouncing my middle name, Patrick.  So, I told them my name.  Michael Patrick.  But it didn’t quite come out like that.  What everyone heard was the words that still haunt me.

“Mikey Pookie”.

‘Where do you live, Mikey Pookie”?

“In Mikey Pookie’s house”.

I’m sure you get the picture.  I’m doomed.  I hung myself with the most horrible nickname known to man.  So, depending on who you are, I’m known to you as either Little Mikey, Mikey Pookie, or for a select few of the ladies in the neighborhood that never fully appreciated me, That Little Bastard”.

I’m 55.  Uncle Kenny calls me Pookie whenever I see him.  Out of everyone that calls me Pookie, he’s the only one that gets a pass.  Nothing he can do would ever make me mad.

I was walking down the street in Cripple Creek a few summers ago.  The street is full of people.  I hear a voice hollering from the other side of the street.  “Hey Little Mikey!!”.   55 years old, and I’m still Little Mikey and Mikey Pookie.  Be careful when you wish for a nickname.

The Events

BB gun fights with the Salt Creekers

Rock fights with the Salt Creekers

Rock fights with anyone with an arm that could chuck a rock

Snowball fights

Week long water fights (anyone starting to see a pattern here?  Bojons like to throw things and fight)

4th of July bombmaking, demolition, and pop bottle rocket gun fights (fighting and blowing things up.  Another Bojon past time.)

Football at St. Mary’s

Baseball at Edison

Train Hopping and hanging out with the hobos down at the tracks

Playing Corks

Well, enough for today.  You can count on a lot of the  people, places, events, and family listed above to show up again, with more details.  I’ve also commissioned a professional photographer to visit Bojon Town with me and get some pictures of the places.  Thanks Velma!

If there’s anything you’d like to hear about, leave a comment.  Pookie takes requests.

Welcome to Bojon Town

Bojon Town.  My neighborhood.  The best neighborhood in the world for a kid to grow up.  I may be a bit biased.   I may be a bit nostalgic.  But I’m not lying.  It was the best neighborhood in the world for a kid to grow up.

First, some explanation for my non-Bojon readers.  A Bojon is a person of Slovenian descent.  The term Bojon was a derogatory term for the Slovenians that settled in Pueblo, Colorado, in the early 1900’s.  It started as a derogatory term.  It kind of grew on us.  I’m proud to be Bojon.

Bojon Town was where a lot of them lived.  The neighborhood is located in the south side of Pueblo.  It is bordered by the Steel Mill and Northern Avenue on the south, Interstate 25 on the west, Santa Fe Drive on the north, and Blende on the east  In my opinion, the intersection of Santa Fe Avenue and Mesa Avenue is the heart of Bojon Town.  I can go on and on about the history of the area and the people, but there are already web sites that do a very good job at that already.  My intent isn’t to write the history of Bojon Town, but merely the history of one little 3/4 Bojon boy.

(As I’m writing this, I’m really livid about an article I read in the Pueblo Chieftain a week or so ago. city planners are working on historic preservation for neighborhoods like Bojon Town, but they don’t like the name Bojon Town.  They took a vote and people in the neighborhood came up with Eiler’s Heights.  Eiler’s Heights!  Excuse me for just a second while I vent.  There is no Eiler’s Heights.  It’s a fake name, like Invesco Field or Sports Authority Field, or whatever fake name they try to stick on Mile High Stadium.  It’s Bojon Town.  If you people that moved in can’t deal with it, move back to whatever cookie pusher neighborhood you came from.  And if you don’t know what a cookie pusher is, stick around.  I’ll get to that some day.)

My history started in 1956.  Well, depending on your philosophy about when life begins, you can make a case that it started on a nice August night in 1955, when Chuck and Audrey were feeling a bit frisky.  I’d like to think that I was conceived at the Mesa Drive In, but you never know.  But 9 or so months later, I made my grand entrance.

My dad is Chuck Barnett.  He lived in Bojon Town.  He was the oldest of 3 sons born to Charles Barnett and Stephanie Anzick.  My mom is Audrey Barnett.  She lived in Bojon Town as well.  She was the oldest of 5 children born to Anton Medved and Angela Kocman.  My mom and dad lived about 3 blocks from each other when they were growing up.  I think that set an example for me.  My wife, Velma, grew up on the same block as I did.  Why go far to find good women when they are so close!

My mom and dad were the first couple to be married in the new St. Mary’s Church on Mesa Avenue.  That kind of made them Bojon Royalty.  Maybe that makes me a Prince.  Who knows.  We lived in the places that struggling young couples with kids live.  The Medved basement.   A rental on Santa Fe Avenue that I don’t remember, except for old movies and pictures.  And then, the house!  My mom and dad bought a house on the corner of Bohmen and Mesa, literally a half a block from the heart of Bojon Town.   It’s an old, huge two-story house that they’ve virtually transformed from a scary old haunted house looking place to a beautiful home for themselves and their 5 kids.  They still live there today.  When I walk in, I still feel like I just came home.

I should clarify something.  My mom and dad had a baby girl before I was born.  I never spoke to my mom and dad about her.  Her name was Anna Marie, and all I know is that she is buried in Roselawn Cemetery, and has a little angel on her headstone.  I still go and walk there every few years or so to look at the angel and say hi.  I wish she were still here.

I have 4 sisters.  Julie, Janet, Susan, and Marie.  They are all awesome women in their own right.  Each one a success in their field.  I’m proud of all of them.

Back to the little Bojon boy.  I was the oldest kid.  On top of that,  I was the oldest grandkid for both sets of my grandparents.  I’ll just say this.  I was spoiled.  Rotten.  It was fun!

Again, this isn’t my life story.  Most of you would find that to be boring and mundane, and the parts that didn’t happen in Bojon Town won’t be in here.  What you’re going to see next is kind of like “Tales From the Crypt”, without the Crypt Keeper and the scary stuff.  Just some stories.  Some sad, some funny.  Some may even be unbelievable, but would I ever lie to you?????  Stay tuned.