A Reprise On Yard Darts

Being that it’s a holiday weekend, I find it necessary to do a couple of things.  First, I offer my gratitude to you if you or anyone in your family has served in our great country’s military at any time over the years.  Having Memorial Day off as a paid holiday isn’t all about getting a day off of work.  It’s obviously far more important that it’s a day to honor those who have served our country.  So….thank you.  And second, I find it necessary, because of a time factor I’m currently dealing with, to post a reprise of an earlier writing.  I think you’ll find it entertaining:

You know, it sure wasn’t the safest thing to do as a kid……that whole riding a bike down a hilly dirt road with no hands thing. No helmet, no pads, no protection at all–and those are some of my fondest memories!

What would those kids that were us back then have to say to the kids of today? (“You wear what? On where? Why??“)  What about the parents? (“You let your kid wear that? On where? Why??“)  Especially when it comes to riding in a car! I can remember moving all around our family van as my Dad was cruising down the highway. Nowadays, you just about get arrested for that. At the very least, the video someone has taken on their phone in the car behind you of your kid moving all over your van gets posted on CNBC, Fox News and any other T.V. show that will have panel after panel of so-called “experts” deliberating and arguing back and forth about the merits and pitfalls of such actions in today’s society.

So what would they say about “Yard Darts”?

Remember those? Two colored plastic circular tubes the diameter of a pencil made two big rings that were the targets (the boring part); then, four darts–two sets of two different colored 12-inch long, plastic-finned, 3-sided tops with heavy metal bases that came to a point–completed the ensemble (the exciting part). Ours were in a cardboard box with those happy 1970’s family posers throwing the darts at the other team’s target. Nothing but good, safe, family fun, right?

What did kids do with this family-fun game when the parents weren’t around? What every kid did! Throw those sharp pieces of kid-dom fun straight up into the air as high as possible and try to calculate trajectories to see if they’ve gotta run like a banshee to avoid being pinned to the ground. We had that big side yard to do it in, too! As I recall, sometimes my brother and I would spread out on the side yard and lob them into the air to see how close we could come to the other brother without him actually having to move.

Yep….not smart. But it sure was fun. And very memorable. Mostly due to the fact that neither one of us ever got hurt playing with those things (God was certainly true to my mother’s prayers for our protection growing up). So what’s available now? Maybe a Nerf version of what used to be a thrill ride for a kid–something “safe” and non-threatening. That’s like giving a kid a chocolate cake without the frosting. No thanks. Give me the real thing. We’ve become too “safe-sensitive” in today’s culture–not that I want to go out and buy a real Yard Darts game for my kids. But I do recognize a tendency in myself and my parenting to be over-protective and unwilling to just let my boys be the kids that they are…kids that want to do things that in my adult mind seem unsafe and unwise. Yet what did I do as a kid? Some of the exact same things I catch them wanting to do.

Us adults need to remember what some of the joys of being a kid are. And when you stop and think about it, those childhood experiences really all come down to this: sometimes the best teacher for a kid is the freedom to experience something for himself.

The Framing Of ’87

I may or may not have mentioned it before, but I played trombone in Band in high school.  In the spring of my sophomore year, our band went to Disney World and marched down Main Street in their Main Street Parade.  We flew down to Florida and stayed in a variety of hotels while there (about four nights worth of lodging).  And it was during one of these nights that I was framed.

The band director and chaperones divided all of the band members into combined groups of upperclass (juniors and seniors) and lowerclass (freshmen and sophomores) for the hotel rooms, an average of about eight people per room.  Of course, these groups were all male or all female, but that didn’t stop the radar from going non-stop for any intel as to who was staying in which room.  As you can imagine, the upperclassmen made sure that they got the biggest and the best beds, while us underclassmen had to fend for ourselves and get whatever morsels of comfort the upperclassmen, in their oversight, had left behind for us to grab.

So on one particular night, the four upperclassmen had all retreated into their lair in the back part of the hotel room where the bedroom was (no idea what they were doing, but I eventually found out) while us underclassmen were attempting to make do with whatever we could call “bedding down for the night” in the front part of the hotel room.  I had found four big chairs that had no arm rests, so I quickly put my MacGyver skills to work and lined the chairs up on one side of the room, the sitting part of each chair next to the other (making one long cushion to lay on) and each chair facing the other one so that the backs of the chairs were on opposite sides, making an effective barrier between me and the floor (I remember laying on my spiffy make-do bed, my body surrounded by the chair backs, feeling like I had just made the coolest fort around and no one could do anything about it).  I have no recollection of what the other lowerclassmen did for a bed that night, but I knew I had no worries.

Now, as a sidebar here, you already know from previous stories and experiences I’ve shared with you that I’ve been a Christian all my life and have never had the desire to live any other way.  That’s simply who I am.  So everyone in that room knew, more or less, how I lived my life.  It’s crucial that I remind you of this very important fact.  You’ll see why in a minute.

At some point in the middle of the night, I was awakened by a bright flash of light and what faintly sounded to me like incoherent whispering.  It felt like a dream to me, though, so I stirred a bit and went back to sleep.  In the morning, however, everyone was snickering about something and couldn’t look at me without smiling–like they knew something that I didn’t–and generally giving me a growing sense of uneasiness, like I’m about to somehow open a can with a snake that springs out of it and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.  Eventually one of them couldn’t keep it to himself anymore and caved and then they all told me what happened…

When they knew I was asleep, one of my underclassmen buddies defected and snuck into enemy territory, telling the upperclassmen that I was sawing logs.  They all came out of their hole in the ground and carried with them everything that they could possibly have that they shouldn’t on this band trip.  I have to admit, though, they did what they did with an artist’s flair:  There I was, sleeping on my back.  Feeling the need to smoke in my sleep, I had a cigarette dangling from my lips (unlit, of course, because it’s not smart to smoke while you’re falling asleep–even more so when you’re already asleep).  But just in case that didn’t work, I had a can of chewing tobacco in one of my hands, apparently a source of comfort for my nicotine dependency that I didn’t have.  But who’s got time for that when I had a Playboy magazine open and laying across my chest?  Of course, I wasn’t looking at it because under one of my arms was a bottle of Jack Daniels, so obviously I was in no condition to be looking at anything but the inside of my eyelids.  The flash that I saw–and the incoherent whispering afterwards–was one of them taking a picture and then the mad scramble to pick everything up before I could stir enough to gather my senses and realize what was happening.

I never did see that picture.  They wouldn’t show it to me.  They described it in vivid detail, but I still was refused access to it.  Made me wonder if it even existed (although I couldn’t deny the flash of light I remember seeing).  One of the girls in my class was the girlfriend of the upperclassman who took the picture.  When we graduated, she told me that she had seen the picture but didn’t know  if it was even around anymore.

Just as well.  Maybe they burned it.

Thinking Outside The Box

As you already know, I grew up in the beautiful state of Michigan.  Back in my mid-twenties, I found myself one evening driving from Lansing to the Detroit area for a business meeting.  The meeting was to be early evening, but being well into autumn, it was already dark outside as I traveled east on I-96.

As you also already know from previous conversations, I didn’t sway much from being a quiet, law-abiding young adult (I say “much” because of incidents like the bottle rocket story), so you can guess what kind of a driver I was.  Don’t misunderstand that; I love to drive fast!  But I also know the law I should abide by, so for the most part, I drive no more than five miles over the speed limit (as irritating as that can be sometimes).

So I drive to the Detroit area, have my meeting and am now on my way back to Lansing.  I’m tootin’ along, minding my own business, about half-way home.  It’s later in the evening–probably around 9:00 or so–and no one else is around me.  As I’m checking my mirrors, I notice in my rear-view mirror that a pair of headlights is coming up on me and fast.  I already know I’m in the traveling lane, so you can guess what I’m anticipating (you’ve probably seen it yourself):  whoever’s in that car is driving so fast that a casual swerve over into the passing lane will get them around me before either one of us has the time to think about it.  But no.  The car comes right up on my tail and stays there.  Of course, my first thought is to check my speed, so I glance down and see nothing unusual ( I was probably at my typical five-miles-over-the-speed-limit speed, but certainly nothing to be pulled over for).  Since I see no red flags there, I look back into my mirror for any hint of a light bar on the top of the car to indicate that it’s a police cruiser.  I don’t see one, but the headlights just “have that look” like that’s exactly what it is and the car is still sticking to me like glue.

A minute goes by and I’m starting to sweat a little, because I not only have let off the gas a little to force the car to pass, but now I am back up to my normal speed and the car hasn’t moved from my backside.  (This was in the days before cell phones were everywhere, so there was no call to 911 to report a potential situation unfolding on the highway should this not be a police cruiser.  And yet, strangely enough, the thought that it might be a cruiser brought no sense of relief or comfort whatsoever.  So that left me with just gutting it out and praying–a lot.)  Then I notice in my mirror that another set of headlights is coming up on me in the passing lane and doing so just as fast the car behind me had done.  As it approaches the two of us, it starts to slow a bit.  The car gets side-by-side with me and I see right away that it’s a full-blown police cruiser–and now he’s matching my speed!  I’m boxed in!

Up to this point, I’m trying to act casual and relaxed, but after I see that, all hope of remaining calm, cool and collected is totally shot.  My heart is rattling inside my rib cage like buckshot as I wipe my sweaty palms on my pants and try to maintain my speed like nothing is wrong.  In reality, I’m just waiting for these police cars to “light’em up” and pull me over.  (I could just imagine pulling over to the side of the highway and hearing a voice on the intercom from the car behind me:  “Driver, step out of the car nice and slow.  Now walk backwards to my voice.  Stop.  On your knees with your hands on your head.”  An officer walks up behind me, cuffs me and says to me, “You’re under arrest for driving too close to the speed limit.  You have the right to remain silent.  You have the right to an attorney….”)

Then, to make matters worse, I see two other sets of headlights, one in each lane, and they’re flying up to where we were all cruising along!  They pull right up behind the two cars already with me and begin cruising along with us, anxious to join in the fun.  Now I’m more than boxed in!  I’m thinking, What is this?!  More cops??  WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS KIND OF TREATMENT??  Just tell me what I’m doing wrong and I’ll stop doing it!!!  Oh, the pressure!  The stress!  I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m–suddenly the cruiser that has been matching my speed in the passing lane takes off and flies on ahead to the next car which is about a hundred yards ahead of me.  As soon as he takes off, an unmarked cruiser that was behind him does the same.  Then the other set of headlights behind the car that started this whole fiasco pulls into the passing lane, guns it and flies by me (turns out that one was another unmarked cruiser).  Finally, the car that had been behind me the whole time pulls into the passing lane and joins his buddies on up ahead of him (turns out it was a police cruiser the whole time).

Oh, the relief I felt!!  And it was somewhat gratifying to watch them do the same thing to the car in front of me.  (I’m thinking, Buddy, I know how you feel!  I wish I had a change of underwear for you, but I’ve got my own mess to clean up here.)  This whole event unfolded in about  three or four minutes, so those officers (it was a combination of local police and sheriff) took about the same amount of time to get past the guy in front of me.  Then it happened!  Once they all got passed the car in front of me, I watched them all converge on the car in front of him.  They all hit their lights at the same time, and there was red and blue lights flashing everywhere!  It was a glorious sight!  As I drove passed them, I saw that they had this car completely surrounded–a perfectly executed box maneuver that I had the privilege of witnessing first-hand.  It was worth having a mess to clean up afterwards–not to mention needing to buy new underwear–to see something like that unfold before me.

A thank you to the police and sheriff officers who forced me to be a part of their plan.  Glad to help!

The Spider Incident Of 2015

I hate spiders.  Always have.  And the problem I have is this:  So does everyone else in my family.  But even so, who ends up being the spider-killer whenever one has infiltrated our ranks and has been found trespassing within the borders of our domain?

Me.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I love being my family’s protector–even for such a small yet grotesque enemy as these eight-legged creatures that are the spawn of Satan if ever there was any–but is there a line to be drawn at any point that says even I can’t go that far when it comes to doing so?

Nope.

So as a result, getting rid of spiders by any means necessary has always fallen upon my shoulders.  Rightfully so and I embrace that responsibility.  My insides might be all aquiver, but I will gladly face off and go toe-to-toe with that worthy foe than have my family (namely my wife) be faced with that daunting task.  My boys are getting old enough now, though, that they are already crossing that line from boyhood to manhood by being forced to kill their own spiders.  (Nothing beats that rush once the task is done!  Knowing that you conquered that fear and beat down the enemy in the process–for those boys, that’s another step in the right direction of being the protector of their own households someday.)  So with this groundwork laid, let’s talk about something that happened early last summer.

We live in southwestern Ohio, so we don’t deal with gigantic spiders that are as big as Buicks like folks in the southwestern U.S. do.  However, we have always had periodic issues with wolf spiders in our house from time to time.  And for some reason, it’s usually in the bathtub that we find one.  (By the way, there’s something very gratifying about turning on the hot scalding water and washing one down the drain!)  But sometimes one can be seen skipping across the living room floor, all cocky and conceited, thinking it owns the joint and has carte blanche to go wherever it wants to.  Well, we were sitting in our living room one evening watching TV when we all saw a wolf spider beatin’ feet from the floor under the entertainment center to the floor under the couch we were sitting on.  You’ve never seen a whole room scramble to their feet faster than we did  in that suspended moment of time!  After our feet eventually found the floor again, I told one of our boys to get me the flyswatter from the laundry room as my wife and I pulled the couch out from the wall and attempted to locate the vile creature that had just attempted a vehement attack upon us innocent folk.

The couch was against our picture window that has curtains that hang to the floor (a perfect hiding place for this eight-legged personification of evil).  As my youngest son came back with the flyswatter, I began moving the bottoms of the curtains aside to see where it might be, flyswatter at the ready.  What I saw took my breath away and made me instantly lose all focus on any wolf spider that might be back there.  (In fact, as I recall, I believe I blurted out, “HOLY CRAP!!”).  As I moved one of the curtains, there before me at the base of the wall and the floor was a spider whose body and legs were a good 2.5 inches in diameter, the abdomen itself being the size of a nickel!  I could even see the jaws this thing had from my standing position!  I was freaking out on the inside!!  I knew I had to “up the ante”, so I told our son who got the flyswatter to go get one of my shoes (I had to have more than a measly flyswatter for a behemoth like this one!).  He flew out to the laundry room, grabbed one and came rushing back into the living room.  This huge gargantuan hadn’t moved (something I was very thankful for since I wasn’t properly armed until that moment), so I, with flyswatter in one hand and shoe in the other, moved in for the kill.  As I got closer to it, it still hadn’t moved and I noticed that it looked kind of old (my thoughts:  Maybe it’s already dead?  Has been for quite some time?).  So I swallowed hard and decided to poke it with the flyswatter to see what it would do–fully prepared for an evasive move on my part should it suddenly turn on me and attack.

Yup, it was dead.  Hold on.  No, it wasn’t dead–because it was plastic!!!  It was a stupid plastic spider that one of the babysitting kids had lost behind the couch way back when.  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or just collapse on the floor then and there in the fetal position for awhile and suck my thumb, mumbling incoherent gibberish while doing so.

I decided to laugh about it.  It’s better than crying.  But I’m still mumbling incoherent gibberish.

The Bottle-Rocket Launcher

A family that Cindy’s family and ours were friends with when I was growing up had an English Springer spaniel named Cinnamon.  We had one at the same time named Nutmeg.  She had some issues, though, namely the fact that she was hit by a car, so for a while, we were dogless.    In the meantime, this family moved to South Carolina and eventually bred Cinnamon.  They contacted my Dad and told him that we could have one of the puppies if we drove down to get it!  My Dad was ecstatic, to say the least.  So I rode shotgun with my Dad from Michigan down to South Carolina to get Max (the English Springer that I told you about in a previous tale).  And thus begins my story….

This family had a son named Jeff who was a year younger than I was. By this time, we were both entering the high school years of our youth, not quite able to drive on our own, yet feeling that urge to experience some sort of independence that sooner or later inevitably befalls every teenager–especially teenage boys.  So we did the best we could do at the time:  we ventured out into his suburban neighborhood armed with his bottle rocket launcher and a mess of bottle rockets.  Ok, it was more like he dragged me out there with him as his accomplice to whatever mayhem and malice aforethought he was contriving in that fourteen-year-old brain of his.  I was a quiet, obedient kid and that didn’t change as I grew up.  So this was really taking me out of my comfort zone.  And what made it worse was knowing that once I lost sight of his house, I had no idea where we would be or how to get back if I had to break away and make a run for it (yes, I had a distinct feeling that I would eventually be doing that, any specific reasons for it unknown in that moment, except for the aforementioned  contraband that we both had in our possession).  I had no choice but to stick to him like glue if I ever wanted to see the comfort and safety of the only thing that was familiar to me:  his house, where I knew both our Dads were preparing some amazing steaks that I couldn’t wait to eat.

As we were jogging down the street and began darting between houses, Jeff asking for a bottle rocket and me handing him his first load of ammo as we were doing so, I began to think that our Dads may be picking us up from a local jail cell before this was all over.  What would I say??  “That’s not mine.”  Or, “I don’t know how that fire that burned down five houses got started.”  Or, “Dogs howling and barking all over the neighborhood?”  (I begin to break down, sobbing uncontrollably) “It was him, officer!  I was coerced and forced into this against my will!  He made me hand him those bottle rockets!  I…I….(Oh, no!)  Hi Dad….”

So there I was, trailing Jeff as we jogged down back alleys and became one with the dark that was the night around us (actually, it was a well-lit neighborhood with plenty of street lights, but that’s what it felt like).  At different times we would stop and take up position.  I would hand Jeff a bottle rocket, he would put it in the launcher, light it and tap the rocket down into the launcher.  We would wait an eternal two or three seconds as the fuse burned and we eventually heard a  FWOOP! sound that told us the bottle rocket had left the launcher like a missile cut loose in the water to leave its mark on an unsuspecting target with no way to stop it.   We got this routine down so well that muscle memory took over and we began launching bottle rockets from a full run.  Somewhere along the way, though, one of Jeff’s neighborhood buddies joined us and took over my role (a position I very willingly gave up), so now all I could do was make sure I hid and ran and kept up with the other two.

We made our way to the lit-up tennis courts (yes, this neighborhood had tennis courts) and Jeff proceeded to ask for another bottle rocket.   These tennis courts were nestled in the bottom of an earth bowl, surrounded by trees on three sides (which is where we were hiding out).  I watched his buddy hand him a bottle rocket with shaking hands.  As I got my hands calmed down, I watched as Jeff placed it in the launcher and lighted it.  FWOOP!  We watched as it arced itself over the middle of the tennis courts, an increasingly loud whistle giving way to a very loud BANG!!.  Foul language wafted upwards from the courts as the unsuspecting victims looked up into the sky, wondering what atrocity had just befallen them from the sky above.  Jeff launched another one.  FWOOP!  BANG!!  Now at least one of those unsuspecting victims had turned rogue and was walking in our direction very fast.  We turned tail and ran like the wind for a block or two.  We started to see vehicles driving around more frequently.  They’re on to us.  They’re hunting us like dogs.  We were “on the lam”, fleeing like the criminals we were!

We found ourselves inbetween apartment complexes, looking down a swath of backyard fifty feet wide and fifty yards long.  We all looked at each other and we all knew what the other was thinking.  Me:  No!  You wouldn’t….you really want to, don’t you…..but….  Jeff (and his buddy):  This is perfect!  How can I pass this up?!  Give it to me! (in Jeff’s buddy’s case, Give it to him!).  When Jeff launched that rocket, the whistle it made ricocheted off the backsides of the apartment complexes, making it five times as loud as it normally was.  As a result, the BANG! we normally heard from a bottle rocket was more like a BOOM! from a cannon.

We all  turned and fled the scene, me going the direction I was pretty sure was Jeff’s house and didn’t care if I was right or not, and Jeff pleading with me to go with him and his buddy as they headed off in another direction.  He saw I was done, though, so he acquiesced and walked with me back to his house.

I was emotionally exhausted.  Spent.  Ready to turn in for the night (or at least turn myself in).

I’ll tell you this:  There’s nothing like a hard night’s running from justice and the long arm of the law to really appreciate a good steak.