A Quest for Manhood

By the time I was in the fourth-grade I had read enough books to know that it is impossible to become a man unless I had first hit a homer, drove my homemade soap-box car, and built a tree house. I had serious doubts about my manhood seeing as my voice made people think of a dog whistle and I stood under four and a half feet tall. I was also a terrible hitter in Little League; on the off chance that I worked up the courage to swing, the ball was more likely to land in the catcher’s mitt than in the outfield grass. However, despite my poor swing and lack of size, I was able to hit a massive, unexpected, two-run blast that I still talk about today (I choose not to mention that the fences were twenty feet closer than normal). Having hit my first and only home run as an eleven-year-old, I took a few years off before continuing my quest for manhood in constructing a soapbox car. Upon finding two discarded bicycles (and more importantly–– four discarded wheels) in the woods by our house, my brothers and I took it upon ourselves to fashion a soapbox car. We did so using our own, some might say innovative, set of directions.

Step 1– Using a hammer, break a piece of plywood left over from last winter’s ice rink into a very rough 4×4 foot square.

Step 2– Liberally apply gorilla glue to the bottom of the plywood, ignore all directions on the glue bottle about wetting the wood first, then stick in the tire axle and hold with your hands until you feel like it’s dry. Secure with duct tape.

Step 3– Using duct tape and twine tie Mom’s old bleacher seat onto the top.

Step 4– Find a stick, approximately arm’s length, to be used for rubbing against the tire as a break.

Step 5– Wear sister’s pink bike helmet and hockey gloves; hurtle down aptly named “Dead Man’s Hill”.

After careful consideration, my brothers and I decided that I ought to go first because I had already lived the longest. I had not attempted Dead Man’s Hill since my bid to be the first man to rollerblade (no brakes- obviously) down had ended with me tied in a knot around the stop sign at the bottom. But, alas, today was a new day, a day that promised success and glory. My dad stood at the bottom with his camera at the ready, and the sidewalk down the hill was lined with the neighborhood kids. I gave the thumbs up and Eddie, my youngest brother, began the countdown (we had him start at eleven because he always forgot the number three). 11…10…9, I strapped my helmet, 8…7… 6…5, I put on my ski goggles, 4…2…1. Henry released his hold on the car and I began my ride into history. Unfortunately, my trip to the record books was interrupted by a small rock. The rock was not big enough to have been spotted by George while he haphazardly scouted the hill, but it was big enough to bump my front left wheel. The wheel promptly fell off, the cart not being built to withstand that kind of beating, and I was sent spinning over the front of the plywood. The rest of the wheels soon imitated the front left one and rolled down the hill, coming to a stop beneath my dad’s told-you-so grin. I was left sitting halfway down the hill, asphalt ripped pants around my knees, while all the neighbors made sure I was alive, then laughed until they were out of breath. The ride itself was a disaster, but I had taken another crucial step towards manhood. The only thing left: The Treehouse.


On the Fourth of July following my 7th grade year my uncle Joe said he would help me finish my journey to manhood. He agreed, after much cajoling, to provide the parent mandated “adult-supervision of power tools” my brothers and I needed to make a treehouse over Labor Day weekend up at our cabin. We had just finished building our cabin and there was a garage-full of leftover wood and nails beckoning to be transformed into a sky-high clubhouse. I spent the whole two months of July and August drawing sketches of what it would look like, eagerly anticipating constructing what I confided in Henry would be more of a tree-mansion. I thought about it nonstop, tinkering with how to get the table inside, weighing the pros and cons of a fire pole. Eventually, after a small forest of scrapped drawings, I settled on the perfect design, one so perfect that its name had to be capitalized … The Treehouse. It would be a perfect square, with walls covered in sports posters, and a tented ceiling approximately eight feet high. It would have a rope ladder leading to a trap door and on the inside there would be a table surrounded by four cheap wooden chairs, one for each of my three brothers and me. The Treehouse was my dream, the final step in my journey to manhood, and Labor Day weekend it would become a reality.


As soon as we arrived at our cabin and our bags and groceries were unpacked I set about herding everyone to the garage. I found Eddie in the yard digging a hole, Hank and George playing a lopsided game of Ping-Pong in the basement, and Joe in the kitchen dipping pretzels in hummus. All of them were reluctant to come, but I reminded Joe of his promise and convinced everyone else by explaining to them that we couldn’t consider ourselves brothers unless we had a fort. Everyone agreed and we began our trek in search of a site. We carried the lumber on our shoulders while Eddie carried the hammer, screwdriver, saw, nails, and screws.

I had intended to cross the creek to where all of the pines were, but George’s complaining that his legs were tired soon interrupted my plans. Everyone wanted to stop and Joe soon found a suitable spot: four trees in a rough square perched on the bluff above the creek. It wasn’t a single tall pine tree like I had envisioned, but I could work with it. I had begun climbing up a skinny birch when, on the mossy ground below me, I saw Henry and George start yelling at Eddie. Apparently he had to go to the bathroom (number two, not one) and Joe would have to escort him back to the cabin. This left us with no “adult supervision for power tools” and we would have to use nails instead of screws. I thought the nails were way too short, but George assured me that they would hold. I contorted my body, hanging upside down from a branch and pounded three nails into my side of the board; Henry scampered up the adjacent tree and did the same. Three more of those and we would have ourselves a nice rectangle to begin attaching flooring to. I climbed down and moved to the tree opposite from where I had started, George handed up another board and after pounding a few nails we were halfway done with the hard part. I was about to climb back down when Henry decided to test the strength of the board by walking across it.

I don’t know why I ever listen to George.

Henry, displaying his trademark balance, fell. Surprisingly, he managed to grab onto the beam, which, also surprisingly, held his weight. Henry was left hanging there, trying to pull himself back up, when the nails pulled out of the tree. Hank fell, he hit the ground and then the beam hit him. He was hurt, crying and wanting to go home. George agreed with him (he was hungry) and I was left at The Treehouse all by myself. I tried to work, but I couldn’t get the wood into the tree without someone to hand it to me, and after a few hours of pointless effort I returned in defeat. When I returned to the cabin everyone felt bad and said that we could try again tomorrow, but the next day dawned rainy and they all changed their mind. Sunday was too cold for them and Monday we left. Manhood was to be deferred, my armpits were to remain bare, my voice high and my upper lip cold. The Treehouse was dead; all that remained was a single beam, precariously perched between an ash and a birch.