At Lease We Had a Box Kite

I grew up in a relatively low-income neighborhood in Albuquerque, New Mexico. One of the neighborhood kids was sentenced to life in prison, one drowned in Fenton Lake while drinking beer in a small boat, and one was arrested for hitting an airport cop in Miami. You get the idea. It was the era when the quarterback of my school football team and the head cheerleader (who lived a few houses away from me) had a child together and then both dropped out of middle school.

Anyway, my memories of growing up seem to morph over time, due in part to positive “upgrading”, but also due to my having a more sympathetic understanding of people. One example is “Mr. James” who lived directly across the street from us. Mr. James was an alcoholic, and once or twice weekly would get drunk, scream long sentences of profanities, and throw furniture. His living room wall was covered in large holes where you could see through to other rooms. His wife usually ended the session by calling the police to have Mr. James taken away for the night. There was usually a large amount of cleanup required, as when he through a padded lounge chair through the front picture window, scattering glass all around the yard.

There were certain times in his life when Mr. James was able to pull himself together – when the wind was blowing. Every time the wind blew hard, he would rush out to the front yard and launch a genuine Box Kite. He was the king of Box Kites, able to fly one so high it could hardly be seen with the naked eye. He controlled his kite with two strings – and it required a level of skill far beyond that of any ordinary trade. Two spools of twine were attached to his belt, and when the Box Kite was puffed by the wind, he would lean back against the pull, so as not to be lifted into the air.

When the kids around the neighborhood saw Mr. James’ Box Kite, they would come from blocks away to watch him control it. I would always join them bringing my American Flag Kite, which I considered good, but second best. I was wise enough to know that only adults could handle Box Kites, but at least I could fly mine next to him. He would often have seven or eight neighborhood boys and girls all clustered around flying their own kites, hoping to share in the glory of the Box Kite so high in the air.

Mr. James had many challenges in life, but I know for sure he was a kind and gentle man deep inside.