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 were always getting into trouble together. It was never serious trouble but the fun kind, things like, blowing up garbage cans with M-80s, snow-balling cars, busting Halloween pumpkins, and crashing Cox airplanes into houses just to name a few. We weren't mean kids but simply looking for a good time. We'd spend lots of 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. There was never a dull moment with him.
Danny and I hit it off from the day we first met but my interests in Danny were fueled by the fact he had motorcycles in his garage. Both he and his brother as well as his dad all had dirt bikes and back then that was one of the few things that really captured my attention. He also had a go-kart 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 we were racing around the neighborhood in it 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. I knew we were dead. Then, just as 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 trails at the end of the road. After we knew we were safe we stopped to catch our breath and his hand had blisters all over from burning it on the motor. He was so clutch when it came to trouble. He had gotten 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 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 it and landing the motorcycle up on the bar with the throttle stuck wide open. 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 put him in a coma for about 9 or 10 days. I didn't see him for quite a while after that, until, 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. After a while I asked him what it was like being in a coma. He only said that it only felt like he had been asleep for a really long time but then he 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. In the dream, he told me that one morning while he was standing on the corner waiting for the school bus, the old man was mowing around his mailbox on his new mower when out of nowhere the school bus came flying in and just leveled the old man. 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 and then drove himself to school to show everyone his new seat. 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 it out to enhance the go-kart. The old man never crossed our mind. That was the one thing he told me about his whole coma experience.
It was what transpired after the coma that was so extraordinary. He didn't find out until later that the accident had affected his brain in some way and when he would encounter a situation that made him anxious his body would start jerking. It wasn't lightly either, but 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 come over him and it was like he would start humping a ghost. It sort of 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 but 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 kinda doing on purpose but the reality was he had no control over it whatsoever. 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 and 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 driving 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 cussing and yelling at him while sticking his finger in his chest and then Danny's body just started convulsing at the hips while he appeared to be paralyzed everywhere else. The guy became puzzled with Danny's actions and immediately went silent. He didn't know what to do and then just returned to his car and drove off. I didn't know what to think either. I just figured that the guy had literally scared the shit out of Danny. It was a bit later as we were walking home that he gave me some clues as to what was going on. He told me the doctors said 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 of times we'd use the F-bomb and then all bust out laughing. Everyone else found out about it while we waited on the school bus in the mornings. For whatever reason it would always kick in when the school bus was pulling up. I'm not sure if it was the size of the bus or maybe the sound it made while slowing down, but for whatever reason it would always trigger his anxiety and 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. There was another time when about 4 or 5 of us were riding our skateboards down one of the neighborhood hills. 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 the teacher called Danny's name he reluctantly walked up to the front of the class but 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 slight hesitation and then his lips would sort of start to 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 as the teacher made Danny go sit down. 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 talk about what happened. From that day 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 long, shaggy, sandy brown hair, a big sly grin, and when he laughed it was different than everyone else's. It was a really hard, loud, short burst. It was more like a punch and had a harsh throaty sound to it, almost 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 from the early 70's. He was good at skateboarding and rode motorcycles and just seemed cool to the core. He loved listening to KISS. Sometimes when his brother was gone we would go up in his room and 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 wanted one so bad but it was one of a kind, just like Danny.
By the time we were in middle school the whole humping condition had faded away for the most part. He had lived with it long enough that he had gained control over it for the most part I guess. Around 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 then said to Danny, "Son, what are you doing?" Of course this only made him more nervous which resulted in more hip thrusts than I had witnessed in many years combined. He 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 garden, across the front yard, 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 and drank the Southern Comfort, smoked, and bullshitted the night away. 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 occasionally start thinking 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 just down the street from my house nestled in some trees that had vines growing all over them. 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. From time to time someone would actually attempt to get out and chase us but we had a trail that ran 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 back then but today I realize that it was Danny who owned it.
Rest in peace Danno. On second thought, PUMP IT Danny!