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IN 1962 REDEMPTION WAS IN THE AIR/ David Clewell and nothing like sweet woodsmoke from chimneys in a fairy tale. In the story of our lives it smelled like overdone meat on the grill of the neighborhood's unrelenting Mr. Bar-B-Q. And long before I knew what deliverance was, surely I must have prayed for it. I'd heard the word redemption: cross-legged in front of a threadbare Sunday school flannel board, I squirmed my way through another love-of-Jesus lesson. In those stories He always ended up dying to save the future fledgling likes of me. The worried teacher had her work cut out. The problem was making it stick. I felt better about walking through the Valley of the Shadow with WABCs Cousin Bruce Morrow cracking through each day's static on my transistor radio—the only fruì I ever talked my mother into trading any stamps for. Cousin Brucie made a habit of preaching the gospel according to Little Eva, to Bobby "Boris" Pickett. So I did the Loco-Motion. I did the Monster Mash. It was easier than doing The Only Begotten Son. The Everlasting Life. I believed only in the wisdom of The Crystals' just because he doesn't do what everybody else does. But I kept going along with my mother on her annual pilgrimages to the local Green Stamp shrine— a modest storefront showroom brimming with everything she could ever want. She believed unflinchingly in that S & H Redemption Center stenciled on the window in brilliant gold. I'd help her lick the cheap glue on a year's worth of stamps from supermarkets, filling stations, the occasional department store. She'd known good Double Stamp Days, but her specialty was divining when and where Triple Stamp Days were coming. And she'd be there, loading up on anything she could think of that wouldn't go bad. We pasted them into their flimsy books until she had more than enough to turn another year of dreaming into the hopelessly pragmatic: cups and saucers, throw rugs, a toaster, a set of wrenches she swore The Missouri Review · 30 my father could use. Every mother on the block loved the short-Uved feel of that sticky green assurance: something for nothing, at last. Their apostoUc fervor washed over me, of otherwise little faith. My daily devotions were the bubblegum comics—Bazooka Joe and his colorful pals, their carefree banter more than I could hope to keep up with. But every kid I knew was in it for the fine-print promises of Free: cap guns, badges, plastic submarines. We'd find out the catch to this sugar-coated redemption: it would take so many. And so long. And we were so unwilling to admit that, yes, we had that kind of time. Instead of the requisite 100 comics, I'd take the hasty way out: Or send 10 comics, along with a dollar. The Bazooka people were not about to lose their cartoon shirts. I'd send in for everything at the mailbox on the way to school, quietly singing along with Gene Chandler: nothing can stop me now, 'cause I'm the Duke of Earl. Wondering the whole day when it would arrive and how long it would last—whatever I was asking for now. Every time the sirens went off we'd hit the floor, crouching under our nutshell desks. The Triple Siren sent us aU the way down to the forbidding basement of Hamilton School, where we'd kneel with our heads to the waU, hands over our ears—a version of prayer the Supreme Court still aUowed us—as if that was the only swaddling we'd need to make it through. We'd learned to assume the position, no matter how ridiculous. Between Kennedy and Khrushchev, we didn't Uke our chances. How was their bluster about to redeem our skinny grade school asses? We could barely manage the straightforward maneuvers of a fire driU. No wonder Benny The BaU exploded one day with B-movie eloquence I never saw coming: we're getting ready for the end of life as we know it. His father...


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pp. 30-34
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