Archive for October, 2010

Fort Possum, Part 1

October 21, 2010

One of the cool things that pretty much every kid, the males as least, got to do was build forts.  Big forts, small forts, one-man forts, snow forts, tree forts, and the most grand fort of all: the dugout fort.  Fort building was an art form practiced by pretty much all us guys that lived within our housing area in Maryland.

The very first thing you have to do is carefully select your crew.  You have to have the right mix, or any fort building activity will be negated by squabbling among the members.  I had to start with my brother.  This was mainly because I’d enlisted him to help me spirit away a few boards, nails, a small hammer, and (for some reason) a three-legged stool from our basement.  I didn’t really want him with me, but he was a certified squealer and this was going to be a secret fort.

Several of my normal cronies volunteered to help.  Well, that’s not strictly true.  The one person we needed was Ralph.  His dad owned the local hardware store.  Nothing got built in our neighborhood (by grown-ups or kids) without materials from him.  Ralph was a whiner though.  Nothing grated on your nerves worse than a kid who constantly whined about this or that – usually in a high-pitched, nasal voice.  We’d just have to figure out how to exclude Ralph when it came time to select officers in the club.

Our survey team started out one sunny Saturday morning.  We loaded up our trusty bicycle baskets with lunch goodies and bottled soda.  Pedaling though the neighborhood, we gathered up our crew.  Eventually there were seven of us rolling down the hill towards the stream that ran between the last houses and the woods.  This particular set of woods was called the Big Woods.  It went back roughly two or three miles over pretty hilly ground and ended up against the security fence of Andrews Air Force Base.  At it’s widest point, it was perhaps four or five miles long.

There were several trails worn down from the travel of kids in search of fun.  We followed the main one for a bit and then veered off onto a lesser trail.  Soon, we were pushing our bikes through shrubbery that grabbed you and wouldn’t let go.  As I was more-or-less the leader, I had to, er, lead.  This meant I got to pick the wrong little trail and end up right at the edge of the cliff overlooking the gravel pit.

“Whoops,” I declared as I shuddered to a stop.  “Wrong turn.”

“Hey!  Dipshit.  This here’s the quarry.”  A chorus of agreement followed his carefully worded remark.  “Come on, guys.  Let’s go back this way.”

The outspoken second-in-command (by virtue of his keen insight as to my leadership abilities) backed up, turned around, and forked off in another direction.  Eventually we located a very nice place at the base of a small cliff.  There were tiny caves in the cliffside but none big enough to be of much use to us.  We did some extensive surveying work (walked back and forth and estimated how big the area was), made some notes on a paper bag (we had forgotten paper) with a pen that skipped (provided by my brother).

Some discussion followed as to the actual suitability of this spot as opposed to a different spot but it was quickly tamped down by a comment from one of the bystanders: “What the hey?  So build already!”  This from Mr. Moshwitcz.

“Let’s eat.”  This from our most rotund buddy.  He grabbed at the food bag and ripped it open.  He had to be slightly restrained from pulling everything out and stuffing it in his mouth.  I say ‘slightly’ only if you consider wrestling him to the ground and sitting on him ‘slight’.  Benny made the mistake of opening a bottle of Coke by putting the lip of the cap on the bolt in the center of his handle bars and slamming his hand down.  Classic bottle opening technique.  What he’d forgotten was that the Coke had been out in the sun, not to mention been bounced along in a bike basket for hundreds of miles, and it literally exploded out of the neck and all over us.

“HEY!”

“Fathead!”

(Expletive deleted)

(Ditto)

After cleaning hot, sticky Coke from most of us we unloaded some of the preliminary building materials and pushed them back into one of the holes.  A suitable sized rock was located which we pushed into the hole as a plug.  On our way back to the housing area, we made sure to take our bearings although there probably wasn’t a single kid for miles around that couldn’t have navigated anywhere inside those woods with a blindfold on.  What we did do was make the approach path deceptively vague.  We added obfusticating notes like ‘go 792 paces from the big dead tree towards the hill with the big rock on it and then crawl on all fours down the game trail through the blackberry bushes’; stuff like that.  We figured that if any kid could count up to 792 they were welcome to join our merry band.

Back at the house, we drew up a list of contents we might need.  Some things were written down and others were laughed out of existence.  For instance, who needed a bathtub?  In just over 1000 paces, we could walk over the cliff and fall into the water-filled gravel pit.  Sheesh!  Candles.  Candles were good.  We’d need a lot of them.  One of the guys said he could get some so we told him to do so.  We’d need lots of boards, but getting them down to the fort was going to be a problem.

We ended up gathering all the stuff and stashing it under my back porch.  The cave under our back porch usually ended up being the staging grounds for loads of my nefarious and clandestine projects.  That is until the time that we’d found that small canister of sulfur in the trash behind the high school it was very secure.  But, as they say, that’s another story.

It was an impressive pile of goodies we’d gathered.  Some almost new two by fours, three rather large hunks of plywood, a big jar of nails, two rusted hammers, a pot of glue (glue?), and a short-handled shovel.  Looking like a line of castaways moving camp, we trudged towards the site of our new fort.  At about the halfway mark, we had our first mutiny.  “I’m not carrying this damn board one more inch!”  Peewee declared, throwing it to the ground.  In all fairness, he was the smallest of the group and he had picked the longest board to carry.  That didn’t say much towards his intelligence and, when this was pointed out, his answer was a simply “Up yours, asshole!”

We redistributed the load somewhat and continued.  I don’t know how long it actually took us but by the time we finally dropped the stuff at the site we were tuckered out.  Lunch immediately followed.  Leo was not allowed near the Coke.  Soon the clatter of hammer and the ragged sound of a saw torturing wood filled the little glade.  Big rocks were put to play driving stakes into the ground so that we would actually have something to nail the boards to.  About halfway through the lower level a sane voice spoke up.  “Hey, wait.  Where’s the door going to be?”

We had run boards all the way around the three sides (the fourth being the side of the cliff) and left no opening for any kind of door.  “Well, poop.”  A voice sounded from the rear of our group.  A half hour was wasted while we argued just where the door was going to be.

“Over here, so we can look downhill.”

“Over here, so we can look uphill.”

“Over here so we don’t have to run through blackberry bushes every time we have to pee.”  Spoke the voice of reason.  We all voted for that answer and modified our stake pounding to include a doorway facing the ‘pee area’.

We ran out of lumber and stamina at about the same time and decided to quit for the day.  Wearily, we stashed most of our leftover goods up against the hillside and departed for home.  Most of us were headed to church the next day (except Abe) so we agreed to meet at around noon at my house.

T.O.M.

 

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The subject is: bullying

October 9, 2010

When I read this article in the San Francisco newspaper I was appalled.

Article:

Then I remembered that this is really nothing new.  Bullying has been around for a lot longer than just recently.  My own experiences in the mid-fifties with bullying were just as bad as these four souls, but I took some good advice from – of all people – my parents.  I sought out my dad and, surprisingly, he came through with some pretty sage advice.

His thoughts were along the lines of  ‘don’t react to the taunting’ and ‘just walk away’.  And, he added, ‘if that doesn’t work, take a first, and aggressive, step.  hit first and keep hitting’.

Well, that is all well and good if you are faced with only one bully.  In my case, this particular bully had ancillary bullies that liked to hang around with this lug and add to the general taunting and other activities.  One of them would initially corner me and, like magic, the rest would appear in a circle around me.  This was performed in places where being seen by anyone in authority was just not going to happen.  Bus stops, either in the morning or the evening, were a favorite.

Due to school rules, we had to board and exit the bus at designated stops.  This was enforced by the driver who made sure that we only got on or off at our stops.  Unfortunately, most of the bullies got off at the stop before me and would hit the street running.  They would run through back yards and emerge on my street ready for me as I got off the bus.  The familiar circle would form and things would begin.

First, it was great fun to grab all my books and fling them across the street.  Then, as I tried to pick them up and gather papers that began to blow away, the group of them would trip me, push me, and generally keep me from getting to the papers.  This would go on for a while until the main bully would take a swing at me and, usually, connect.  This was never done where I could see it coming, but, instead, the blow would usually be in my back or on the back of my head.  Many is the time I finally made it home with blood running down into my shirt collar.

My mom would get severely pissed off and go raging around the house yelling and making threats of her own against ‘those bastards’.  I suspect that most of her rage was directed mainly at me as she tried to get the blood out of the material. ‘Why can’t you just fight back?’  she would ask.  She didn’t really have a clue about the social significances of ‘fighting back’ when faced with more than one person.  I’d get killed.

My dad finally came through one evening.  He told me he’d signed me up for boxing lessons at the base gym twice a week.  In his college days, he’d been a football player and was still pretty beefy for an old guy (mid-30’s).  He said he’d get in some gym time while I was taking the lessons.  We both decided that I wouldn’t tell anyone I was doing this.  Mostly this was for self-preservation because if the bullies heard they’d only escalate before I was ready.

I suffered through weeks of hell.  I was taunted, kicked, pushed, hit, and body-slammed into many walls for the next few weeks.  Finally, about two months later, I felt that I was ready to at least try and make a stand.

I would look in the mirror and see a skinny, slightly freckled face, adolescent staring back at me.  My arms were pencil thin and I had to admit to myself I hardly presented a fierce demeanor.  I would strike a pose, fists up, and then almost break into laughter at how silly I looked.  I hardly looked menacing.

The big day arrived.  I was as ready as I ever would get.  Today had been an especially bad day because one of the hangers-on managed to trip me into a wall and I’d split my lip.  I was already in a bit of pain so I figured ‘what the hell’ and sat down on the homeward bus.  Moving around on the bus was strictly forbidden and, as I said, the driver enforced rules harshly.  This meant that the ‘Wild Bunch’, as I called them, would leave me alone until the dropped off the bus and began their run to meet me.

Sure enough, we rounded the corner to my street and arrayed nearby, but not enough to cause concern to the driver, was the circle of bullies.  I stepped off the bus and, hidden by the side of the bus where the driver couldn’t see him, I got smacked in the back of my head with a hardback book.  I stumbled, unprepared, and dropped to one knee.  He moved in closer as the bus went on down the road.  With one hand down on the ground to help me get back up, I curled my other hand into a fist and rose up.  In one swift move I clocked him right behind the ear.  He got this shocked look on his face and I added another tap right on his cheek then fell back into a defensive posture.

He was so shocked that he just stood there until the main bully got into the act.  I heard him coming across the gravel at the side of the road and pivoted to meet him.  Without thinking, my right fist shot out and banged him right on the nose.  He halted in his tracks and just stood there.  His buddies took a step back, knowing he would probably begin to wipe me out, as usual.

Before he even moved again, I hit him with a one, two:  a fast punch to the ribs and another one to the side of his face.  Then I backed up and scanned from face to face looking for any movement on their part.  They didn’t move an inch.  They were all looking at their hero, who now had blood dripping from his nose, trying to clear his head and breathe.

“Enough?”  I shouted.  “Have you had enough?”

He answered by stepping towards me and flailing away with hands curled into fists.  The fight was on.  He tried several face shots which I blocked very well.  He got in one hit on my shoulder that caused my arm to tingle, but it was still functional.  Two more attempts to hit me in the stomach were blocked also.  Then he decided to kick me.  That was a big mistake.

As his foot rose I reached down and caught his heel.  With a grunt I flipped him over and he fell to the ground on his back.  All the air whooshed out of his lungs and I decided he was out of action.  I was wrong.  He managed to get back on his feet but as soon as he did, I hit him on the jaw – twice – very hard.  The first one split the skin on his cheekbone and the second one widened it even more.

He was getting groggy now and tried to rally his buddies by egging them on and into the fight.  They, thank goodness, decided that seeing what he was getting was not something they wanted any part of.  Two of them drifted away and the others just stood there.  The head bully, however, had regained some composure and moved in closer to me.  I stepped back smartly and popped him a good one in the middle of his chest.  That took all the fight out of him and he just dropped his arms and tried his best to gather in enough air to sustain life.  He was done.

I said something like “now that I have your attention: leave me the hell alone.  You got that?”

He nodded and turned away snuffling blood and spitting onto the ground.  I watched him walk away, weaving a bit, until he was down the block.  I massaged my knuckles, worked my jaw back and forth a couple of times, gathered my books and papers, and walked home.  I felt a whole lot better even though I had just beaten up a guy.  I had a feeling I’d seen the last of him.

I was right.  The next two years of school passed with no hassle at all from anyone – especially the main bully.  I don’t recommend this for everyone but sometimes the only good defense is a great offense.  Strike first, and strike hard is sometimes the only option.

T.O.M.