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You can't always get there from here

Awakened by a ghost at 5 a.m., there was no alternative but to stare at the ceiling and be spirited through time and space to the memory of first encountering the inherent pressure of newsprint.

It was 1969 ... that year of Woodstock and Tricky Dick, the Miracle Mets and Men on the Moon.

I was 12, and the fate of the world was on my shoulders.

Or so I thought ... as, each Sunday, Person A in this clockwork chain of events would rouse me from my R.E.M. ... at 5 a.m., as, in the words of Lao Tsu, this journey of a thousand miles begins with pulling the covers off a slumbering pre-teen boy.

Person A was my mother but, for reasons that might or might not become apparent, we’ll refer to those involved generically — as befits speaking to a universal truth.

Person B was my younger brother, sleeping 8 feet away in a matching wagon-wheel twin bed, who was entrusted with launching something in my general direction whenever Person A’s efforts had been resisted.

Which, it turned out, was what happened at 5:05 a.m., every Sunday.

Dressed and downstairs,

I would trudge to the kitchen table, where my mother

presented me with a glass of milk enlivened by Eclipse coffee syrup, and what we called an “egg to dip your toast in.”

Then, after sipping and dipping, I would receive a gentle shove out the back door into the damp chill and semi-darkness of a Cape Cod morning.

Standing near the clothesline — the wooden poles to which, in years past, I would be rope-tied to prevent my wandering off — I would begin my journey to Smitty’s, the Main Street variety store where I would be paid in singles and packs of Topps baseball cards to do my integral role in producing the Sunday newspaper.

The task was simple, so simple in truth that even a half-asleep (or, if you’re prone to optimism, half-awake) 12-year-old could do it.

The weekly advertising stuffers, which themselves were stuffed within the Comics section, arrived Saturday at Smitty’s and would need to be stuffed inside the Sunday paper, which would arrive a few hours before Person B would shoot me with a well-aimed rubber dart.

This one-boy production line would give the store papers to sell at its 6 o’clock opening, thereby saving the world, and give me ink-stained hands that, 51 years later, I have yet to wash out of my system.

That is ... if every step in this metaphorical thousand-mile journey was carried out without a glitch.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, about to leave my yard, cross the vacant lot where we’d jerryrigged a makeshift softball field (where anyone hitting the ball to right was automatically out), down the dirt road between the fish market and my grandmother’s apartment, and finally to the hardscrabble parking lot and up the cement steps to the back door of Smitty’s.

My grandmother was Person C.

Her role in the ritual was to hawk at me from her window, a cup of Salada tea in hand, and ensure I went where I was going.

This was not always a done deal ... in case you were wondering about the whole tied by a rope to the clothespole matter.

And remember, this was 1969 — when Hippies roamed the Earth hunting half-asleep 12-year-olds to ensnare in tie-dye shirts. Person A forbade us from going alone to town library, for wild packs of Hippies were known to frequent its front lawn.

Yet here she was, tossing me into the pre-dawn mist every Sunday to make the world safe for Nancy & Sluggo.

My feet, like my mind, tend to wander and, combined with a youthful sense of misdirection with the steadiness of a weathervane in a storm, the trip from home to second base, past the fish carcasses to Smitty’s back door would make Billy’s dotted-line travels in “The Family Circus” look like a straight line.

The clothespole tether, in fact, had been instituted when I was in single-digits, and chased a wandering German shepherd out of our yard, through a tree-laden field, and across the parking lot of a tavern ... finally alighting on the edge of a sandpit behind a car dealership.

My absence was only discovered when Person C called Person A on the phone and asked, “Where’d he go?” — an incident which ended with my first-and-only ride in the back seat of a police car, and my family’s purchase of a section of rope.

So, as we have learned, much can go wrong in the thousand steps it takes to see how tall a sandwich Blondie would give Dagwood on any given day.

My mother’s own internal alarm might not sound at a quarter to 5, or my brother’s aim would be off. My grandmother could be adding a splash of milk to her tea as I traveled Lao Tzu’s path, or Person D (Smitty or, more often, Mrs. Smitty) would forget to keep the back door unlocked.

And, as we also have learned, there’s no telling where I could wind up, or if I’d find myself in a tie-dye shirt, if left on my own.

I smiled at the ghost after it stirred me this past week and, safe in the knowledge that even my brother couldn’t hit me with a dart shot from Nashville, went back to sleep.

Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin vacillates between half-asleep and half-awake at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com.