Set in New England’s South Shore in the late1950’s, 'Never Play Leapfrog with a Unicorn' is the story of blue-collar New Englanders and their struggles to survive daily, the neighbors, the yearly invasion of summer folks, the Avon lady, and ultimately, each other.
Written from the perspective of a precocious boy’s sheltered upbringing, this is a tale of lies, half-truths, outrageous antics of whacky neighbors and relatives.
'Never Play Leapfrog with a Unicorn' is chockfull with humor, heartbreak and joy.
Characters, to mention a few: there’s the li’l 'black' dad, physically paying for years of foundry work, crafting ornamental reindeers. The James Dean-styled 'Uncle' who lands in prison, then the wrestling ring with Fabulous Beulah, the Woman’s Heavyweight Champ. A roly-poly, four-foot ten neighbor-lady, and her stick thin, six-foot eight husband who, when standing back-to-back, resemble a lower case 'b'.
A sordid game of 'One-Up' plays out in dance classes, gossip sessions, and on the neighborhood’s dusty road. And, as hilarious a joke telling, wise-cracking grandmother, who has ever made it to print.
The boy desperately seeks security, love, and approval, yet longs to get away, out from under his confusing and cantankerous neighbors and relatives. He is awed and startled by revelations: finding out his 'black' dad really isn’t, his 'Uncle', his only life-line and supporter isn’t, that his wicked, scheming, neighbor-lady in reality has the singing voice of a goddess, and how black paint, applied to your feet and ankles can, at a glance, pass for a pair of socks.
There’s a great neighborhood legal arson, pageants, plays, runaways, a priest, a prison, wrestling, a cataract horse, an Avon lady, a pair of speechless sisters, a hypochondriac mother, and a dog who, once buried, comes back to life.
'Never Play Leapfrog with a Unicorn' is what author, Frank W. Bosworth, best describes as a ‘dramedy’.
Indeed, this is a quirky story about a life filled with drama, comedy and tragedy.
The "Great Gray Monster" had stood empty and spooky-looking for a very long time, sitting three house lots behind us. We lived in the other pauper's palace. The "Great White Elephant" towered in monumental tribute to the vast legion of do-it-yourselfers over many decades past.
Whenever either house was sold it went for pennies on the dollar. Both needed major work. Major extensive structural work. Major expensive structural work. This, along with repairing, replacing, gutting, and finishing years of half-baked projects and half-assed outcomes by many past well-intentioned summer owners, would have cost a pretty penny to correct.
"Makes no sense throwing good money after bad. Don't much matter, we don't have either one," my dad would say. Then he'd grin, chuckle, cough, huck a louie, fart, and walk away. All at the same time.
I tried it once when I was seven and sprained my ankle. _____________________________________________
Downstairs was the kitchen sink, and upstairs a bathroom hand sink and an old "iron-claw" tub. Sunday night was bath night. This was the only night the tub was used, and even then never ever filled, because when filled to normal the water's weight made the old warped floorboards "pop" and "tic." My mother was convinced one day the tub would come crashing down into the living room and we would all drown. Not to mention the luckless soul sitting on the sofa, located directly beneath the tub, would be crushed. Getting ready for school on cool New England spring mornings, chilly falls, and bitterly cold winters, I would fill up the hand sink with hot water, fold my arms, immerse them, then plunge my face in. Not having a proper heating system in my year-round summer house, this was not so much to wash-up as it was to get warm.
"Freeze the brass off a bald monkey!" my dad would say on chilly mornings.
"Freeze the balls off a brass monkey!" he'd say in the winters deep-freeze.
I thought of this as blue-collar meteorology.
Both my dead-end street and my dead-end life were long in need of a blast of fresh air. A life altering, positive awakening, or a good swift kick in the pants. Either of them, it didn't matter, whichever came first.
I'd fantasize about some nice family moving into the Great Gray Monster, and they would be open to helping my mother handle her stress. They would have some kids. A couple of girls my sisters' age, a boy my age, and they would all be normal, and this would rub off on my family and make a difference.
Then overnight, like famine to feast, a whole lot more arrived in the vision of a badly bruised and battered Buick. Erwin stood 6'6" and weighed about 140 pounds. Geraldine was just under 5' and weighed about 180 pounds. Standing back-to-back I was struck by how much they resembled a lower case 'b'.
I was about to turn thirteen, my dad was about to turn white, and Grandma Millie had taken to telling Quasimodo jokes because of the growing hump on her back.
"Hey, bunghole, how does Quasimodo get a date on Saturday night?"
"I dunno," I grinned, playing along. "How does Quasimodo get a date on Saturday night?"
"Wanna hump?" And she'd smile that sweet, grandmotherly smile.
A few years back my grandmother Millie got quite sick. I don't know what was wrong. I overheard my mother on the phone say, "There is a chance she is not going to make it." Innocently, I asked my l'il black dad if I could dig out by the shed under the shade of the old elm tree.
"To bury Grandma Millie."
He grinned and said, "I don't see why not, boy. She ain't my mother."
That sounded like an OK to me.
The dig was going pretty well, til my mother asked, "What in the name of hell are you digging?"
With an achy back and sweaty brow, I said in fact, "Your mother's grave."
She dragged me outta that hole and smacked me from the backyard right on throught the porch screen and kitchen doors. My l'il black dad sat in his chair watching the Sox. I passed by him ducking and dodging every two out of three blows. He gestured to me as if to say, "Christ, boy, I didn't think you'd actually start diggin'!"