The neighborhood corner where we all played baseball.
This is also the field that Danny,Kevin, and I burned down with a railroad flare.
I just recently found out that one of my favorite childhood buddies has passed away. His name was Danny Rohgen but we all called him "Pump It" Danny. He was one of the coolest people I ever knew, that kid in the neighborhood who would always be the first to do a dare. Whether it was on his bicycle, motorcycle, or just some crazy idea that we'd come up with from time to time, no matter what it was, if anyone had the balls to do it Danny was the man. We used to get into so much trouble together, always up to no good. It was never serious trouble but the fun kind. Blowing up garbage cans with M-80s, snow-balling cars, busting Halloween pumpkins, crashing Cox airplanes into houses and such. We weren't mean kids but simply looking for a good time. We'd spend many afternoons just riding wheelies on the neighborhood streets and cat walking our bikes down the hills. We could ride a wheelie all the way down the street and eventually even learned to turn the corner on one wheel.
My first interests in Danny were ignited by the fact he had motorcycles in the garage. His dad as well as he and his brother all had dirt bikes and back then that was one of the few things that really captured my attention. He had a go-kart as well that we spent countless hours on speeding around the neighborhood. The gas pedal was broken and so he had tied a string around the throttle at the motor and you would steer with one hand and pull the string with the other. Sometimes we'd mess around by having one person drive the go-kart while the other pulled the accelerator string. I remember a time when we were riding around the neighborhood and hit a passing car with a water balloon. It pissed the guy off so bad that he spun his car around right in the middle of the road, lighting the tires up as he came after us. Danny was pulling the string so hard that it broke and the go-kart started coasting to a stop. The car had caught up to us and the driver was getting out and I knew we were dead. Then, just when the guy was right up on us, Danny threw his arm over the seat and pushed the throttle wide open with his bare hand and held it until we hit some of our trails at the end of a road. After we knew we were safe we stopped to catch our breath. I remember his hand had blisters all over from burning it on the motor. Danny was so clutch when it came to trouble. He had been in so much of it that he'd become an expert at getting out of it.
The one thing that made Danny so unique was an anxiety disorder that he developed after he had a bad motorcycle crash. We managed to fire up his dad's Hodaka 250 after school one day and while trying to cut a donut on the slick garage floor. The rear wheel hooked up and he launched off the step in front of the door smashing through the door and landing it up on the bar. It was a horrendous crash that left him unconscious on the ground, blood pooling up around his head. He was only 11 or 12 years old at the time and it landed him in a coma for about 9 or 10 days. I didn't see him for quite a while after that. Then, one random day after school, I was walking in the neighborhood and he comes riding his bike down the street like nothing had ever happened. We immediately picked up where we had left off. I remember asking him what it was like while he was in the coma and he told me it just felt like he had been asleep for a long time. He once told me about a dream he remembered having while in the coma. Something about an old man who had just bought a brand new John Deere riding lawnmower. He said he dreamed that one morning he was standing on the corner waiting on the school bus and the old man was mowing around his mailbox when the school bus came flying in out of nowhere and just leveled the old man and his new mower. Body and mower parts went flying everywhere. Danny said he then went over and picked up the yellow seat that had been knocked off the mower and put it on his go-kart. After he told me this we both agreed that the yellow seat would have looked killer on his go-kart, but today I just find it funny that while the old man in the dream was probably laying bloodied and mangled in a ditch somewhere all twisted up with his new mower, Danny and I were only thinking about parting out his new mower to enhance the go-kart. The old man never crossed our mind. That was the only thing he told me about the whole coma experience.
What happened afterward though was pretty extraordinary. He didn't find out until later that something had happened to his brain and when he would encounter a situation that made him anxious his body would start jerking, not only jerking, but he had a pretty serious grinding movement. I'm sure there is some kind of medical term for it but the best way I can describe it is that he had an uncontrollable sporadic pelvic thrust that would come out of nowhere. It was like he was humping a ghost. It reminds me of Wayne's World when they would say, "SWING!", only Danny's was more like "SWING-ING!" and lasted for a few seconds. It was so odd and at the same time hilarious. If it happened around people that didn't know him, which is usually when it did happen, they never knew what to think. It looked like something he was doing on purpose but the reality was he had no control over it at all. It was very similar to someone who had a speech stutter but instead of stuttering words Danny had stuttering pelvic thrusts. My mom used to always say, "That poor kid has had a really hard time." I didn't know what she was talking about. I figured if you had a garage full of motorcycles and a go-kart you were the luckiest person in the world. If I would've had all that I would've gladly humped my whole life away.
This is an updated version of Danny's old house.
I remember the first time I saw him do it. We were walking down one of the streets on the far backside of our neighborhood. Danny had a pocketful of those small packages of firecrackers that has like 16 in it, just enough to get things started. Right about the time a car was approaching he lit some and threw them right in front of the car. The guy saw what Danny was doing before it even happened and immediately slammed on the brakes and jumped out right in Danny's face. He was yelling at him and sticking his finger in his chest. Danny's body just started convulsing at the hips and he appeared to be paralyzed everywhere else. The guy kept cussing us out for what seemed like an eternity. I didn't really know what to think. I just figured that the guy had literally scared the shit out of Danny. Later on he gave me some clues as to what was going on and said the doctors told him that they couldn't really do anything for it but that most likely he would grow out of it.
After a while everyone in our group knew about it and whenever it would happen someone would usually yell, "HUMP IT DANNY!" A lot times we'd use the F-bomb and then all bust out laughing. Everyone else found out about it while waiting on the school bus in the mornings before school. For whatever reason it would always kick in when the school bus was pulling up. I'm unsure if it was the size of the bus or perhaps the sound it made while slowing down but for whatever reason it would trigger his anxiety and then a funny look would come over his face and for about 5 seconds Danny would just dry-hump the air. All the kids would be looking out the window at him because they knew what was about to happen. Looking back it must've been torture but he handled it pretty well and over time gradually got over it for the most part. Later on he learned to stand way back away from everyone until the bus had stopped and then he'd come running up to it. It was his little prevention method.
After a while it got to the point where only things out of the ordinary would trigger his thrusts and everyone forgot about it for the most part and not much was said. It had become the norm for all of us. I remember a time when about 4 or 5 of us were riding our skateboards down one of the neighborhood hills and just for fun we all started humping the air pretending to be like Danny. One of the neighborhood ladies was out in her yard and she was just shaking her head at us like we were all delinquents, which in some ways I guess we were. Danny didn't really care for it when we would imitate him but he always played it cool and tried not to let it get to him. I think his parents told him that it was the only way to overcome it. There were times when he would get into fights over his humping condition but he normally held his own pretty well and that cut down on people making fun of him.
Another funny moment that comes to mind was back in the fifth grade. We had to write a poem for school and get up in front of the class and read it. When it was Danny's turn he reluctantly walked up to the front of the class and before he ever got a word out that funny strain came over his face and he uncontrollably started thrusting at the hips like a rock star. I could always tell when it was about to happen. There would always be a small hesitation and then his lips would sort of tighten up right before the emotions came busting out of him. On that particular day in class, our buddy Victor who was sitting in the back, yelled out, "PUMP IT DANNY, PUMP IT!" We were falling out of our chairs laughing and the teacher made Danny to go sit down and we all had to put our head down on the desk while she took Victor to the office. At recess we all got together to find out what happened to Victor. He had been sent home and his parents had to come up there and talk to the principal the next day. From that point on Danny was known as "PUMP-IT" Danny.
The girls loved Danny. If they didn't know him then the whole convulsing pelvis thing would freak 'em out a little, but after they got to know him they overlooked it. I think it actually made them more curious about him. Looking back, I guess he was a pretty good looking kid. He had some long, shaggy, sandy brown hair, a big sly grin, and when he laughed it was a really hard, loud, short burst. It was like a punch and had a harsh tone to it like it was directed at something. It sounded more like a big "POW" than it did laughter. He looked like something out of Tiger Beat magazine in the early 70's. He skateboarded and rode motorcycles and just seemed cool to the core. He loved listening to KISS. When his brother was gone we would go up in his room and he'd crank up Doctor Love on the record player, which was the perfect theme song for him and his little pelvic thrusting condition. He knew all the words to the songs and would sing along with Gene Simmons. We could almost always find a copy of Playboy that his brother would hide behind this old trunk and that always made the moment just a little bit better. I also remember that he used to wear this ring that his dad had made him out of a motorcycle spoke. I used to want one so bad but it was one of a kind, just like Danny.
His whole humping condition had faded away for the most part by the time we were in middle school. He had lived with it long enough that he sort of gained control over it. About this same time he and I weren't hanging out as much together. We were still good friends but were in different classes and didn't see much of each other. He and his family had moved to a different part of town and so hanging out after school didn't happen much and I rarely got to spend time with him. Occasionally he would come over to my house or vice versa to spend the night or ride bikes but for the most part we would only pass each other in the school hallway.
One of the last times I remember hanging out with him was when he and I double-dated to the Sadie-Hawkins dance in the 10th grade. He got to borrow his brother's JEEP that didn't have a top on it and we headed over to his date's house to pick up the girls. It was a pretty nice neighborhood and we parked the JEEP on the side of the road in front of her house. We had a pint of Southern Comfort under the seat and a 6-pack of Mountain Dew to mix it with. Makes me cringe just thinking about drinking that stuff now but back then we thought it was great. Not having any manners, we just walked straight through the front yard and over the flower bed to the front door instead of going up the driveway. Not exactly a gesture of class if her parents had been watching. So we get to the front door and ring the door bell and it was one of those door bells that just rings on and on like church bells. The door finally opened and it was the father of Danny's date standing there with a stern look on his face like he didn't want to let us in, and rightly so. He finally caved and told us to come in and immediately asked me my name and shook my hand, he then looked at Danny and stuck out his hand and said, "And you must be Danny?" When he reached out his hand there was a slight hesitation on Danny's part. Honestly it had never even entered my mind, but then that all too familiar strain came across his face. The lips began pulling tight, like a crack in the earth's crust, and then Danny started profusely thrusting his pelvis right toward her father. The man got this confused and irritated look on his face and said, "Son, what are you doing?" Of course this only made him more nervous which resulted in the most hip thrusts than I had witnessed in many years combined. Danny couldn't get control of it and just turned around and bolted out the front door leaving me standing there by myself next to her old man not knowing what to do or say. I finally decided I should bolt too and so I casually opened the door like I was gonna go get him and then ran straight through the front yard, across the flower garden, and jumped into the JEEP that was already rolling. We never even saw our dates, however I remember the split second right before I bailed, I heard his date running down the stairs yelling, "DADDY, HE JUST DOES THAT!" We drove the JEEP around for a while and then over to one of our favorite hangouts, the water tower, and drank the Southern Comfort, talked, and smoked almost the entire night. That was the last time I remember spending any quality time with him and I can't even remember the last time I saw him.
From time to time when I'm working on a frame I'll think about him. He always comes to mind when it snows because snowballing cars was one our favorite things to do. Danny loved it. We had the perfect spot nestled in some trees that had vines growing all over them right down the street from my house. It was on a little hill and the cars couldn't get stopped on the slick road even if they wanted to. Whenever we would hit one Danny would always let out that big harsh laugh of his and we'd wait a second to see if brake lights came on or not. From time to time someone would actually attempt to chase us but we had a trail cut out that went in 2 or 3 different directions and nobody could even begin to guess which way we had run. It was like we owned that neighborhood. Today I realize that it was Danny who owned it.
Rest in peace Danno. On second thought, PUMP IT Danny!