Insight For The Modern Man

James Anthony Ellis
Legacy Editor

Let’s see – it was Jamie, Scott, David and Steve.

And Mike and Mike. And Clete, Billy and Ruben.

And a number of cameos from other boys, playing extras in this movie we were making. Called life.

We didn’t think of it as “life” though. We didn’t think of it as anything. It just was there, because we were: on the playground at recess, on the playground at PE, on the playground after school. In the alley after school.

The alley is where we would have the fights. At least that’s where one angry kid would tell another kid to go after school.

“Meet you in the alley after school!” was the challenge.

“OK!” was the normal rough and gruff response.

Though I only recall one scuffle over there, this alley trash-talk would stand – along with all the games, bike rides, practical jokes, laugh attacks, mishaps and lessons – as a symbol of a childhood complete with a cast of characters that would constitute my first “circle of men.”

Men in training.

Jamie, Scott, David and Steve, Mike and Mike. And Clete, Billy and Ruben.

Boys at the start.

Robinwood School in Huntington Beach, CA – it started around kindergarten, maybe a little before. That’s when the circle grew. And it all grew naturally. We didn’t need any announcements about a men’s circle, or an e-mail, Facebook post or flyer.

We didn’t even need an invitation.

It just sort of happened. Because we were there. And it’s what happens with boys.

They naturally lean towards each other for reasons invisible and unspoken. Throwing words at it would result in terms like “camaraderie,” “fun,” “challenge,” “growth.” But we would never admit to these, since the truth goes beyond words.

It was all taking place while we grew from boys to young men – embarrassing new haircuts covered by ball-caps, pretending to not like girls, marble collecting, baseball card collecting, making paper airplanes, participating in paper airplane competitions. And then of course the games. Pickle, dodge-ball, red rover, hide and go seek, basketball, kickball, soccer (we played where we could use your hands), and – yes I’ll say it – smear the queer. Holy moly – we played a lot of games. And they mattered too. I recall getting all red and upset when losing any of the playground games.

Though a couple girls may have played a couple times, I mostly remember the girls playing “horses” and some other stuff that was a total mystery to us. Not bad, not good, just different – and a mystery.

My little gang of boys would do our own thing.

Jamie and Jimmy, couple of clowns.

I remember me and Jamie thought it would be a great idea to move his mom’s car out of the driveway so we could play basketball there. He knew how to release the parking brake. I was supposed to put on the brake once it was further down the driveway. Yeah, I didn’t know how to do that.

Jamie and I got into a lot of mischief. Crank calls before caller ID ruined that game. Cutting up the upholstery of a person’s truck. Jamie accidentally slicing my thigh with a dirty razor from his dad’s workbench (and the resulting tetanus shot). Climbing on each other’s back trying to peer through a tall bathroom window at a woman taking a shower. Breaking a neighbor’s potted plant on her porch while playing basketball and then running away figuring she’d never figure out who it was. Throwing rocks at cars driving by. Oh man, writing this now makes us out to be absolute rotten scoundrels. Maybe we were? Or maybe it was all in good fun? Maybe a little of both.

I remember the time me and Jamie decided it would be a great idea to light the firecracker even though the wick had pretty much burned down to the very nub. Had to get down on the ground and huddle really close to it to block the wind, before lighting … boom!

Boom. We were both knocked back and knocked down.

And there were more memories with others in the gang.

There was a time when three of us had to walk home from the movie theater, which was over three miles away from our street, because one of our parents didn’t pick us up. And – get this – we were all around 9! I recall we literally walked on railroad tracks. To this day, I wonder how we even knew the way home.

After a walk-a-thon field trip to the beach in 5th grade, me and Scott were throwing giant sand blocks at each other. We knew we would miss each other since we were so far away. Well, turns out I was a really good shot, and one throw landed directly on his blonde head. It exploded! The boulder that is. His head would be fine, we figured, as long as we could put a ski cap on his head, so it hid the blood. The first clue to the field trip chaperone: something about a kid wearing a ski cap in 85 degree weather. Yeah, I walked back to school without Scott that trip.

And then there was Steve – this kid was always so jealous of me. Even though he was in my “gang,” he would always compete with me, and be pretty treacherous about it. He hated that I was the fastest kid in school. And he may not have liked it that Terry Shannon liked me. Oh yeah, in 2nd grade, the super cute Irish girl with the dimples (a rival to Charlie Brown’s Little Red Haired Girl) did have something for me. Steve made sure to squelch that, as he spread a rumor that I liked Toni better. It wasn’t true, but that’s what he told her. What a horrible move that was. Which reminds me I have to invite Steve to the alley sometime soon.

And then there was Ruben. This was not a mischievous or funny or happy story, in the end. Ruben moved to Huntington Beach in 6th grade, and he was shy at the start. Since he was the new kid in town, Mrs. Smith asked if Jamie and I could help guide him around, and be supportive. Sure enough. It actually felt like an honor, though I wouldn’t understand that word then. Slowly Ruben came out his shell and he was playing with the rest of the gang – football, basketball, and soccer, the kind where you could use your hands.

It would all be fun and games, until that one day after school. It would make so little sense to a young mind. I recall Jamie and I in the car while Jamie’s dad drove us to St. Bonaventure Church. I remember the words of Mr. Jordan: “You know boys, it’s OK if you cry at a funeral.” Ruben would be buried in his Little League Cubs uniform, at the tender age of 12. While walking home from Haven View Middle School on Edinger with Clete and Billy, he got hit by an out-of-control motorcyclist.

And yes, at the funeral, I did cry.

So much to experience in this here life. The laughs, the tears, the challenges, the bike ramps, the victories, and the goodbyes.

From boys to men. Growing up. Going through it all.

Let’s see – it was Jamie, Scott, David and Steve.

And Mike and Mike. And Clete, Billy and Ruben.

The first gang, the first “circle of men.”

It was innocent, it was uncomplicated. We were there because we wanted to be there. We laughed a lot. We hung out and grew just because life was happening and we were there, together. It was an adventure met with fearlessness and freedom. It was fun. It was real. It was raw. It was life.

Just like all great men and all great men’s teams have it.

James Anthony Ellis is a writer and producer. His recollections of life on Cambay Lane, Huntington Beach, California is found in a published newspaper story from 1988. Back when you could call your pals “The Cambay Killers” without recourse, and back when he was “Jimmy.”