The hard way to decode a message

When I was a kid I used to read the Sunday comics because they were in color.

This is back in the day when color wasn’t splashed on every page of a newspaper so the Sunday funnies were a real treat because they were in color.

I know, most people ask, “What’s the big deal with that?”

And I tell you I was a kid who had a make believe dog because every time I got a real one it ran away; I was a kid who lived in a house without a television, but I would cut a hole in a box and put it over my brother’s heads and pretend they were cowboys and Indians and not just slobbering little knuckleheads; I was a kid who’s always got the hard, crusty, dried up Play-Doh.

Every dog I had I named “Rusty.”

Every dog I had ran away.

Maybe they didn’t like the name I picked.

Maybe I should have picked a different name ... Buster?

My brothers were my arch nemesis. I’m five years older than the next in line. Five years is a long time to get used to having your way and not having to share pop tarts.

My next brother came along a year after that.

Man, I thought my parents bought a baby factory or something. First none, then one, then two … What next, a baseball team?

They were something like two and three when I made them television stars.

“Okay, he just stole your horse and rustled your gal and threatened to kill your herd of goats … Do something to him!”

Slobber slobber slobber slobber.

“Okay, he just stole your favorite dog in the whole world, Rusty, and is going to eat him. Smack his head on the ground and make him stop.”

Slobber slobber slobber slobber.

“Okay, try this: You just landed on an alien planet and he’s a ferocious beast with something like 45 eyes and he’s going to eat your liver. Jump on him and punch him in one of his eyeballs.”

Slobber slobber slobber … “Gross, which one of you made a stinky? Mom, they’re ruining my television watching experience!”

Their careers on the small screen were short lived.

I ran out of boxes.

As for my Play-Doh …

“What did you make, Kenny?” my grandmother would ask.

She could call me, “Kenny.”

Nobody else could.


I’d look at the lump of dried up and crusty stuff.

“It’s a model of my dog, Rusty.”

So yeah, color on Sunday comics was a big deal.

Back in the day there were no curse words in the comics.

Any comics.

Now the curse words are on the covers.

But especially the Sunday comics. Instead there was somebody getting angry at some prank pulled by a kid, or because they hit their thumb with a hammer, and the little word balloon would have something like “&%$##$@*&” and I’d ask my mom, “Mom, what does all that mean?”

And she’d say, “I’ll tell you one day when you get older.”

I mean every five or six-year-old wanted to know what “&%$##$@*&” meant.

See, back in the day we all wanted to be secret spies, secret rangers, secret squirrels, secret whatever was out there, to be part of that club thing.

All you needed to do was decode stuff to be part of a secret group of people fighting evil in the universe.

It was cool and it kept me from thinking about dogs not liking me and running away.

So everytime I saw “&%$##$@*&” I was bound and determined to decode it, to find that hidden meaning and then I could become a secret “&%$##$@*&.”

I never decoded it. I think the closest I ever got to making any kind of sense out of “&%$##$@*&” was it said, “Dogs don’t like the name Rusty.”

Could have been mind playing tricks on me.

But I think about those Sunday comics this time of year and what they meant to me because it makes me remember all of the dogs who ran away, remember my television star brothers, and my grandmother asking me what my dried-up, crusty glob of Play-Doh was supposed to be.

And I remember my mother because this was her favorite time of year.

No, my mom never told me what “&%$##$@*&” means.

I found out myself.

It’s the little thought balloon that comes out of my head this time of year, knowing my mom’s not around anymore to share it with me.