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Chronicles
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Just an accident Sunday, June 3, 2012 08:06 AM
  John Michael Radcliff wasn't an average kid.  He was inquisitive, he was talkative. He wasn't shy in class and he tended to stand out, but not always in a way that he wanted. Sometimes his mouth got him into trouble. He used words the other kids didnHe was a bit of a know-it-all, and even if he didn't know it he had an opinion on it. Some of the kids called him "The Professor", like the character from Gilligan's Island.  Some called him much worse things.. He may have grown up in an L.A.suburb of Lynwood that was heavily mixed and ethnic with an equal Latinos, Asians and blacks but he really wasn't part of any clique.  He was a loner, who spent more of his time growing up in the late 70's and early 80's watching TV. All kinds of TV, from Thunderbirds and Speed Racer when he was younger to Dukes of Hazzard and Starsky and Hutch in his teens. With his dad long gone and his mother often working nights, TV was his solace. A friend that wouldn't turn on him.  Wouldn't call him "Professor Fagcliff" when his back was turned just because he had a slim build and liked to wear his hair a little long. It wouldn't chase him down the hallways after school and throw old used soda cups at his head.

"Hey, Fagcliff why don't you cut your hair?" they would scream.

And he'd run, and run. Then hide.  And he grew angry. Eventually he stopped running. That's when things began to change.
There was that one time on the swings when he saw Ronald Barret hanging out alone.  Usually Ronnie had plenty of his pals with him, especially when he would tease and taunt Johnny.  Calling him "Weird" and "Goofy".

"What are you looking at Shitface?"

It was just a moment, it only took a second. Ronnie was sitting on top of one of those monkey bars when he said it and for a moment Johnny just snapped. He was never exactly sure how it happened.  He reached up and grabbed Ronald, tried to pull him down, Ronald fell forward but instead of simply coming down his legs hooked onto the bar, he swung forward and around the way that kids would swing on the back of their knees around the single bar in the playground.  But this wasn't a single bar.  It was a double bar with a set of ladders between.  Ronald swung forward and hit his head on the opposite bar, hard. His legs relaxed, he fell to the ground and when he looked up - his hands were covered in blood.  The impact had opened a gash in his forehead and his was bleeding heavily.  Johnny was panicked, as Ronnie was writhing on the ground moaning, the blood beginning to spread. Yet again, Johnny ran. 

He ran fast, but this time it wasn't away - it was to the nurses office.

Usually they would be closed since it was late, hours after school would normally be closed - but Mrs Norris was still in the office that day when Johnny came running in.  Crying and screaming about how "Ronnie Fell and now he's bleeding everywhere".  She followed him quickly.

"Where? How?" she asked as she grabbed a first aid kit and followed Johnny who was already yanking her hand to follow.

"Um, uh.. we were playing,..it was on the playground.. c'mon. There's a lot of blood", Johnny stammered.

They ran back quickly, finding Ronald still on the ground, the blood flow had slowed.  His hands were still covered as he held his forehead,but he there wasn't a large pool of it. Mrs Norris tended to him quickly, wiping away the excess and applying a butterfly bandage to the wound.  Ronnie said nothing, he simply cried as Mrs. Norris led him back to the office.  Johnny followed. He didn't say anything.

After calling both their parents, they started to ask questions.  Johnny stayed quiet, but eventually Ronnie began to talk.

"It was an accident, I just fell... I meant to simply jump down but my legs hooked and .. I hit my head real hard" he said - only glancing at Johnny for a second, a flash of fear in his eyes.  "Can I go home now"?

"No, Ronald, you're going to need some stitches - your Dad will be hear soon to take you to the Children's Hospital".

Ronnie never did talk about what really happened.  Maybe he was scared, Johnny never found out.  He just knew that Ronnie didn't bother or tease him anymore which was a relief. He didn't talk to him either.  Johnny didn't go back to the playground anymore, he stayed home.  He watched TV.  He didn't know or understand where the anger inside him came from.  That one moment, that one second where it seemed like the world had turned RED, where his heart was pounding in his chest and all he felt was a blinding rage... where he'd lost all control. He didn't want to feel that again. Ever. 

So he stayed away from all the other kids.  He watched TV and listened to the radio, mostly Motown which is what his mother loved.  He loved the melodies.  Sometimes he'd sing along and he found he could follow and even predict where the melody was going to go even when he'd never heard the song before. Whether it was Gladys Knight and the Pips or Marvin Gaye.  Their songs just made sense to him. His favorite was "Papa was a Rolling Stone'" by the Temptations.

"..and all he ever left us was alone.." they would sing.

Somehow that song made Johnny enormously sad, but truly greatful to heat at the same time.  It spoke to him.  Made him feel he wasn't so alone in the world to know someone else knew what it was like without a Father.  He'd only met his Dad once, and when he did he was drunk with a thick, scratchy five-o-clock shadow.  He'd come by when his mother was working taken Johnny to a park, playing checkers with a bunch of his pals, drinking beer from brown paper bag.. Johnny could barely remember it at all.  His mom had told him later that his Dad, Jack, who she had divorced right after she became pregnant, had been arrested for being drunk in public and that Johnny was taken into foster care for the night.  His mother Michelle was frantic when Johnny went missing.  She'd called the police, the hospitals, everywhere and didn't find out what happened until the next day.  She was relieved to finally find Johnny, but she never let Jack take him again. 

That one song, "Papa was a Rollling Stone" meant more to Johnny than he could express or explain as a kid.  He didn't even fully understand why.  It wasn't that common a thing during the mid-70's to be brought up in a single parent household, but the trend was growing. When he was younger Johnny didn't really know exactly why Jack was gone. Later Michelle explained to him that Jack had been violent.  He was a very smart man, a very charming man - but he liked to drink and he liked to get his way.  He didn't think his wife should work, but she had gone out and got a job anyway so that she would have money of her own.  He felt that she should stay at home, and that after she had spent all afternoon making dinner - he would decide to go out and leave all the food she'd prepared go to waste.  He didn't want her to drive, but she'd borrowed his car and had left a dent in the door when she tried to get out and hit a pole in the parking lot.  His reaction was to hit her.

She left Jack by the end of the week, and had filed for divorce by the end of the month even though she was pregnant.

"all he ever left us was alone...", yeah, Johnny knew what that meant.  It was the music that made it all ok. All the songs.  Johnny joined the school band.  He chose trumpet and eventually moved to become a "1st", which is the player usually handling the highest and primary portion of the songs melody.  Whatever the main melody of the song was, that's what the 1st Trumpet would play. Johnny stayed with Band all through primary and middle school, even into High School.  He listened to all the popular songs of the time as the 70's melted into the 80's.  Disco had come and gone. Motown was beginning to wane as so many of it's artists, from the Jackson's to Smokey Robinson left the label for others where they would have more influence and control of their careers outside of the Motown's assembly line process.

Then there came a moment, when Johnny was just 17, where his love of music and his love of television came together.  While on vacation in Texas with a cousin, Johnny discovered MTV for the first time, and he was mezmerized.
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