Memories of a Miscreant

A Novella by I. P. Dailey

 

Copyright 2016 Stew Thornley

 

Not that mischief is seasonal, but we did our best work in the summer.

Sure, the school year brings a whole plethora load of possibilities, especially when we’d get some clueless substitute teacher. Once, when we knew we were getting a substitute for third-hour, Tommy Elster came even though he wasn’t in that class. The teacher was an older woman, almost too nice to abuse, but she was so clueless that one couldn’t pass on the opportunity.

We noticed that one of the students, Rich Meyerson, was absent, so Tommy answered for him during roll call and assumed his identity. Tommy was at his best—he was a natural class clown—and the poor substitute finally told him to go see the principal; she called the office to let them know she was sending Rich Meyerson down there because he was misbehaving. Of course, Tommy/Rich never made it.

The next day, the regular teacher, as well as Rich, was back. The teacher merely said that she was disappointed that some students had not treated the substitute teacher with respect. She didn’t name names, merely stating, “You know who you are.” I’m not sure if Rich ever figured out why he got a bad mark in citizenship for that class.

Dave Mychals was another of our gang who had a sinister streak, although it was never too bad. Dave was genuinely a good guy. He was the favorite of my folks among all my friends. He didn’t lay it on thick like Eddie Haskell to June Cleaver, but he was friendly, polite without being too polite, with no question that he was a nice boy. That’s why it could surprise people when he pulled off a good one.

Another substitute we once had was a younger guy, pretty with it and definitely not as obtuse as some of the subs. He filled in for Miss Garcia, our algebra teacher, and couldn’t find her attendance book. Instead, he sent around a sheet for us to put our names on. Soon after, we exchanged papers and graded the homework we had been assigned the day before.

When we got them back, the teacher used the attendance roster we had signed and called out our names, each of us responding with the score on the quiz:

“Angela Hjalmerquist,” the teacher read off the sheet.
“96,” Angela replied. (She always had one of the highest scores. Rumor was that she applied herself.)

“John Anderson”
“68”

“Dave Mychals”
“84”

“Dick Biter”

For a moment the class was silent, students wondering who Dick Biter was. “Is he that new guy who just transferred from the private school?” Then it hit us and everyone cracked up. Even the substitute teacher produced a dumb grin as he realized he had been had.

My buddy Dave had pulled off a great one. Unfortunately for him, he never received full credit. I had the reputation as the chief smartass in the class, and people thought it was me, despite my denials. For years Dave and I laughed about the prank, with Dave always reminding me that I had received credit for his doing. A few decades later, at a class reunion, I set the record straight, giving the audience a recap of the caper and making clear it was Dave Mychals, not me. He got a nice ovation—long overdue.

The rest of our neighborhood gang included Jim “Meat” Fenster (I don’t remember how he got the nickname, but Jim and I always called each other “Meat”), Tanner Ray, and Craig “Spooty” Edwards. Spooty was the most natural among us at being obnoxious. That’s why it surprised us when he once tried being friendly to The Grouchy Lady.

The Grouchy Lady was middle-aged and possibly more scary by reputation than actual behavior. Then, again, one never knows. I just remember us always talking about and referring to The Grouchy Lady. Beyond that, I don’t have many specific memories of her—just one. We were walking to school in the winter when we passed her house. She was shoveling the snow off her sidewalk. As usual, we tried to avoid eye contact with her, except for Spooty. “Hi,” he said to The Grouchy Lady with one of the friendliest tones I’d ever heard from him. “What are you doing?”

She glared at Spooty and said, “What the hell does it look like I’m doing?”

The rest of us laughed like crazy at it. “What a dumb question,” we teased Spooty. For the rest of the time our gang was together, one of us would say to Spooty (when he was tossing rocks or counting his baseball cards or doing something else when it was clear what his activity was), “Hi, Spooty. What are you doing?”

Once in a while Spooty tried to laugh, but usually he indicated he was annoyed with our never-ending teasing. That was sometimes Spooty’s main problem: he had trouble laughing at himself. As for the rest of us, we kidded each other about any of our many foibles and got laughter all around, even from the target of the barb.

While we all loved pranks—especially with the phone in those halcyon days before Caller ID—we weren’t too destructive. OK, sometimes. Spooty was the exception. His way of doing anything always had a bit more of an edge to it.

Sometimes a member of the gang helped me with my morning paper route. I’m not sure why. Maybe I had a bit of the Tom Sawyer in me and could goad them into helping by telling them how difficult delivering papers was and how I wasn’t sure if I could trust them to help do it right. Another way was to have one of the kids stay overnight, sleeping on my bedroom floor. The gang liked hanging out at my place; we had a pool table in the basement, and that was a big deal.

If someone stayed over, it was natural he would get up early with me and tag along on my paper route. Once, in the winter, Spooty stayed over. We both got up at 4:45 the next morning and trudged through the snow to the paper shack. I had an extra sack, so Spooty shoved about half the papers in his sack, leaving me with a lighter load.

Spooty was pretty good; he knew how to fold the paper in a way it stayed together when you throw it on someone’s step. Some of the paper boys liked the tri-fold, but I was never a devotee of it. I gave the broadsheet an extra fold, starting about a quarter of the way in and making a good crease. That first crease was critical. Then I’d fold it in two more times and tuck it in between the sections at the other end of the paper. Down at the bottom I used the palm of my hand to twist the parts sticking out to tighten the whole thing up.

Spooty was the best of my buddies at getting that folded tight. Of course, we told him it was because he was so experienced at using the palm of his hand. Then he’d get mad. But when Spooty was nice enough to help me, I laid off. I’d later buy him a can of soda and candy bar at the corner store. (Of course, all of us ended up doing that for him a lot because he never carried money with him and always expected us to buy him something.)

Anyway, this one morning Spooty and I completed the first two blocks of the route, all houses or duplexes, when we got to the end of 15th Avenue, where there were a couple apartment buildings. I loved apartment buildings on my route. You could drop off a bunch of papers in a hurry and didn’t even have to fold those papers, since you’d just plop them in the hallway in front of the door.

We were going through the first apartment building, entering the front door and working our way through the different floors. In front of the one of the doors on the top floor were two pairs of boots and an umbrella. I walked past without thinking about it. When I got to the end of the hall, I turned and saw Spooty putting the boots in his paper sack.

Now, of course, I should have said, “Put those back. That’s mean.” Instead, I said, “Hey, just take the left boot from each pair. That’s funnier.” (I was a student of comedy, and my self-considered expert opinion was that taking only the left boots was funnier than taking all of them.) Spooty concurred and put the two right boots back. He then picked up the umbrella, broke it over his knee, and hung it by its handle on the doorknob, so the resident would later open the door to see a broken umbrella before discovering he also had only two right boots.

When we exited the building, by the back door and into the parking lot, Spooty took the two left boots out of his sack and hurled them onto the roof.

We continued into the apartment building next door. This was a little fancier building, with three separate entrances. What I remember even better about this building was a ground floor apartment (half beneath the surface with the other half above it), with windows that were about eye level for the resident. This one ground-level apartment had two bedrooms, one with a window facing the other apartment building with the other facing the parking lot.

Two young women, probably students at the nearby university, shared the apartment. The bedroom windows had blinds. In most cases, the blinds should be turned down so people can’t see in. However, when the window goes below ground level, the blinds should be turned the other way. Otherwise, a person outside looking down could see right through the blinds. It was like there was no window covering at all, unknown to the person inside—at least this person, a slender young blond woman.

I discovered this phenomenon by accident. I was collecting for the paper from my customers inside the apartment (remember when the paper boy had to deliver the paper in the morning and then come back at night every two weeks to collect payment?) and was going through the parking lot. I looked up and saw what I assumed to be a man wearing only some fancy undies. I thought it was a man because certainly a woman would cover the window before going topless.

Then it hit me about the blinds. It was a woman, and she didn’t realize she had the blinds turned the wrong direction. For a while, this parking lot became a hang out for us. We’d gather and tried to act like we were doing something constructive rather than just loitering to wait for her to get ready for a shower.

This became our primary source of entertainment in the evenings until two things happened. One, the women moved out. However, even before that, our fun was broken up. Buckshot Boofty, the night patrolman, discovered what was happening and chased us off.

I doubt Buckshot was offended by our behavior; he just became territorial about it. Buckshot got his job as the night patrolman because he was well-known as the neighborhood’s peeping tom. The local constabulary was able to get a bargain on his services. They figured Buckshot was already out prowling the area and knew what was going on. Why not put him on the payroll, especially since Buckshot was willing to moonlight for a reasonable wage.

Having a paper route was great if you didn’t mind getting up early six days a week. For a kid my age, it produced enough money to buy pretty much what I wanted and also put some away. I was like Spooty in that sense—cheap (or thrifty, as he called it)—except I didn’t allow my cheapness to be sponging off of others.

My folks liked the idea of me earning my own money; it was probably one of the few things I did to demonstrate some responsibility. Some of my friends thought it would be a little scary, being out all alone, possibly being vulnerable to local hooligans. But at that time of the morning, I was the only hooligan in sight—unless one of my friends were accompanying me.

This one summer morning Dave joined me. Dave would never do anything like Spooty, such as stealing someone’s boots and breaking an umbrella, but, as he had demonstrated in algebra class, he could stir things up.

After Dave and I completed the two blocks of houses and both apartment buildings, we came out onto a busy intersection on 15th Avenue. Across the street was a gas station. Remember when gas stations were full-service operations? A guy came out to pump your gas, check your oil, clean your windshield, and maybe even recommend a lube job. These gas stations also had a long hose that snaked its way past all the pumps so that someone pulling up would drive over the hose, emitting a “ding ding” to alert the employee that a customer had arrived.

The gas station wasn’t open—it was only about 5:30 a.m.—so Dave and I took the end of the hose and extended it as far as it would go, which was across the entire intersection of 15th Avenue. We took a little break to stand nearby and admire our work, a constant “ding ding” as cars drove over it.

Dave and I had gone to different elementrary schools with different upbringings. He credits me for bringing out the prankster in him. My tendencies made have been shaped by mixed messages growing up.

We were in the suburbs until I was almost 10. Here the nomenclature for a person ripping one was different. It wasn’t a fart; rather, someone let a gasser. Gasser or fart, it was still funny. In third grade, some kid would let loose, and we all laughed, which infuriated the teacher, who told us, “Act your age.” What did that mean? We were eight years old, weren’t we acting like it? We were supposed to act like an old fogey of 30? I understood that even less as I got to be 30, and 40, and 50 and still laugh when someone farts.

Within a couple years, we were in the city, and here I learned an important life lesson. The younger and older kids took recess at different times, but the teachers all took their breaks at the same time. Some of the responsible older kids had to sit with the younger ones, rather than take recess, while all the teachers were on their break.

Somehow, in sixth grade, I was considered responsible. My reward for that was missing recess to sit in a third-grade classroom and read a book to the little bastards. One day the kids weren’t “acting their age” and I offered to tell them a joke if they would settle down.

My cousin Cindy, who is a couple years older, had told me this one: a woman has a headache and goes into a drugstore. She buys a bottle of aspirin and sits down at the soda fountain to get a coke. She sees her bus pulling up outside and darts out of the store, leaving her bottle of aspirin on the counter. As she gets on the bus, she remembers, and yells, “Oh, my assburns.” The driver says, “Hang it out the window and let it cool off.”

The third graders also loved this joke, but it didn’t get them to settle down. It did have another effect, however. They told their teacher about the joke, and then everything hit the fan. I was no longer considered responsible enough to watch over them and was put back on recess.

The lesson: anti-social behavior does pay.

Dave and I finished my paper route and went back to my house (we could still hear the steady “ding ding” from the gas station a couple blocks away), where my folks were getting ready to leave for work. My mom made Pop Tarts for us, and my dad gave us each a half a banana. We then settled in the living room in front of the television and turned on Clarence and His Caboose.

This was local kids’ programming, and it was pretty good even though Dave and I were a little old for it. On the other hand, it was a good show for trying out pranks. Clarence had a clueless assistant, Clarita, who had a segment where she showed pictures and read letters sent in from kids. Our gang often gathered at my house to do some creative artwork to send to Clarita.

We once drew a picture of Clarence, based on my Frankenstein model, rising from a grave and walking with his arms out. Apparently Clarita thought this was tasteless and didn’t show it. But she did show an accompanying picture we made of her with an arrow through her head and a knife in her gut. Not sure why she liked that, but she did. Meat once drew a picture of a tree and included enough detail at the end of the branches that they all looked like penises (or is it peni?). Of course, Clarita showed it.

Today, Dave and I were excited to see if she would read a letter we had composed and sent to her. Clarita didn’t let us down.

“I have a nice letter from a viewer,” she said, holding up the letter even though there was nothing to see but some scrawled writing, and she began reading:

“Dear Clarita. I want to tell you about some of the vacations we took. Last year our family went to Washington, D. C. This year we spent a week looking at Nebraska. My dad said next year we are going to the poor farm.”

My dad, on his way out, for some reason paused by us as Clarita was reading the letter. When she read the part about going to the poor farm, my dad said, “What a stupid kid.”

Clarita continued with the rest of the letter and then, holding it up again, told her audience that it was from Donny Bulfer. Dave and I cracked up. Donald Bulfur was the school’s music teacher, and he was a prick (and a prissy prick at that). We often signed the names of kids we didn’t like—or, in this case, an adult.

The end of the show featured the birthday club. They had a caboose with a cutout in the middle so that the names of kids having their birthday scrolled through. Off-camera, Clarence read the names as they appeared.

Of course, kids from all over sent in fake names. Clarence, who was much sharper than Clarita, probably checked the names. Usually, nothing dirty got through. One time the name Adam Zapple showed up. Clarence read it and laughed. There was another time, however, where someone really slipped one through. It wasn’t from our gang, even though I’d love to be able to take credit for it. Names were scrolling through with Clarence announcing each name. Then this one came up: Jack Meoff. Clarence said nothing. He caught on right away and wasn’t going to say Jack Me Off. The longer Clarence stayed silent, though, the longer Jack Meoff was on the screen, peaking through the slot of the cheap cardboard caboose. Finally, Clarence said, “Jack Mayoff,” and the scrolling continued with the next names. We were pretty impressed with Clarence for the aplomb he exhibited with that one.

Meat had once sent in the name of Hugh Janus, but Clarence didn’t fall for that one. I went a different route: a name that wasn’t dirty but was impossible to pronounce: Heinrich Fskdlmsek. Clarence put it up there and tried his best to spit it out; at least he got Heinrich right.

Trying to sneak fake names past people was old stuff to me because the summer before I had hit a grand slam, one I probably will never be able to top. Thanks to my dad, I knew the streets in the area that flooded after a heavy rain. For some reason, my dad enjoyed watching people driving into deep water and getting stuck. A few blocks down from us was a dip in the road under a railroad viaduct that filled with water. Usually people here were smart enough to avoid it with their cars.

A little farther away was a street that always got submerged after a big rain. I remember my dad taking us (my mom thought it was dumb but went along with it) down to this street after Sunday School following a heavy rain. A lot of people had gathered with the same anticipation; sure enough, some guy rolled right into it and found himself window-deep in water. He at least knew that it would be best to crawl out the window rather than open his door and have all the water flood in.

As this guy was wriggling out the window, I saw our Sunday School teacher, who was part of the audience. Our teacher went into Good Samaritan mode, waded out, grabbed the guy’s door handle, and with the type of strength one possesses only in emergencies, pulled the door open.

Water rushed into the car, and the driver, who was stuck halfway in and halfway out of his window, began screaming a lot of words we hadn’t heard in Sunday School that day.

My dad and I shared a laugh over that one the rest of the year.

Last summer a big rain hit in the late morning during the week. I called my dad at work, but he was too busy to meet me. Instead, I gathered up the gang and led them down there. They were skeptical. Whenever I said, “Follow me,” my buddies got nervous, but for some reason they usually followed. This time they convinced they were going to walk a ways for no good reason. Even so, they followed.

I got a little nervous that they might be right. What if the street wasn’t flooded? Even if it was, would some dumbass drive into it? My first worry was relieved when we got there. The street had turned into a magnificent lake. Now we just needed the second element.

Our gang split up a bit and skipped rocks across the pool of water. Meat and I were by ourselves when we saw it: a carload of young guys in a four-door Bonneville. The driver had stopped short of the water, unsure if he should proceed. Suddenly the crowd thickened with people joining our band of miscreants in yelling, “You can make it!”

Quickly it became a chant: “Go for it! Go for it!” Someone started bwarking like a chicken, and that seemed to do it for the guys in the car. They had to try now.

The driver backed up a quarter block on the dry pavement. Serenaded by our cheering, he revved the engine and popped the clutch.

Rubber burned, tires squealed, and the car raced toward the water. It had so much momentum we thought it might make it, especially after getting a great start, riding the waves and gliding on the water. About halfway, though, it was clear this wasn’t going to happen. The car slowed, then stopped, then sunk. The guys had already stripped off their shirts and were diving out the window before the car could sink to the bottom.

We all applauded the effort. On top of that, a few minutes later a newspaper photographer came up to Meat and me. He had captured a shot of the car starting to sink, with the two of us staring in awe. In case the photo came out as good as the photographer intended (and it did, showing us clearly), he wanted our names for the caption.

Meat gave him his name, and the photographer asked for mine. “Haywood Ya-blom,” I told him and then made sure he knew how to spell it. “That’s H-A-Y-W-O-O-D, no E at the end.”

“How do you spell the last name?”

“J—it’s pronounced like a Y—A-B-L-O-M-E.”

What an exciting day, and it got even better when I picked up my papers the next day. This photo—worthy of a Pulitzer Prize in my opinion—was on the front page, and the entire caption was also above the fold, where no one could miss it: “James Fenster, left, and Haywood Jablome watch as a group of young men try unsuccessfully to surf a flooded street with their car.”

“This is so cool,” I thought, and our faces were clear enough in the photo to be recognized by anyone who knew us. I’d be a real big shot for getting Haywood Jablome into the paper.

This had the potential to enhance my reputation even more than masterminding a 9,000-match smoke bomb that cleared out our school the previous January. The fire department showed up with big fans to clear the smoke as the students shivered outside—except for the six of us, who were all wearing our coats (which may have lent a clue as to who was behind it).

But a smoke bomb was merely grunt work—breaking off the tips of wooden matches and wrapping them in aluminum foil; planting a name like Haywood Jablome in the paper required finesse. Heck, it wasn’t even that long before then that I understood the concept of blow me (we were much less precocious than today’s youth).

I had a feeling of euphoria as I completed the first couple blocks of my route, but then it hit me as I entered the first of the two apartment buildings. What would my folks think?

Maybe I could not bring home a paper, tell them I had been shorted at the paper shack. Naw, that wouldn’t work. They’d buy a paper at the office. My folks never missed the paper. My dad had been a faithful reader of Gasoline Alley for decades, and my mom couldn’t wait to see what Art Buchwald had written.

I got home and plopped the paper on the kitchen table as I went into the living room to turn on Clarence and His Caboose. A few minutes later I heard my mom exclaim, “Oh, your picture is in the paper,” followed by, “But they got your name wrong.”

“Yeah,” I said, walking into the kitchen and trying to appear crestfallen (one of the words I had learned because of its frequent usage in Hardy Boys books, even though our teachers told her these books were worthless). I explained that the photographer had taken lots of pictures and written down many names and must have mixed them up.

My dad heard the discussion, walked in, looked at the photo and caption, and let out a noise that sounded like a guffaw that quickly morphed it into a fake sneeze. After recovering, he said solemnly, “Yeah, it’s a shame they couldn’t get your name right.”

Still, my folks were thrilled, and each purchased additional copies, my mom for the photo and my dad for the caption. Years later, as a graduation present, my dad gave me a framed copy of that picture and caption. I was so touched that I told him I was the one who had written the letter to Clarita with the line about going to the poor farm. My dad wasn’t surprised.

My dad was a bit of a prankster himself. I mentioned the viaduct near our house, the one that flooded easily. There was another more famous viaduct, at least to the locals, on a busy street near where my dad worked downtown. You’d think a main drag like that wouldn’t have such a low-hanging structure that trucks couldn’t pass under it. Most of the truckers knew about it and used a different route. But with some regularity an out-of-towner got his truck wedged under the viaduct (and sometimes with the trailer badly smashed if the driver was going at a rapid clip) and needed a tow truck to get pulled out, usually not before the newspaper got a picture that appeared in the next day’s edition.

During the summer I sometimes took the bus downtown, or just walked, to meet my dad when he got off work, and we’d walk home. It was about two miles, and we enjoyed the time together. One day we were just coming out to start our walk home when a tractor-trailer pulled up, a burly guy leaned out the window, and said to my dad, “Hey, Mac, where is Ryan’s Cold Storage?”

My dad had to think about it for a second, too long for the driver, who got rude and said, “What’s the matter? You don’t even know your city?”

It then clicked with my dad where Ryan’s Cold Storage was. “Yeah, go down this street to the stoplight, turn left, and stay on that street for about a mile-and-a-half.”

The driver grunted and took off without even thanking my dad. I looked to my right and saw a building with a sign in big letters, “Ryan’s Cold Storage.”

“Uh, Pop, Ryan’s Cold Storage is right over there.”

“I know,” my dad said wisely. I then realized the street my dad had sent the douche bag (a retro term for me since I doubt I knew what douche bag meant back then) down the street with the viaduct.

“Maybe you should have told him to get up a good head of steam on the Avenue because there’s a big hill he’d have to get up,” I offered.

“No,” said Pop. “That would be mean.” My dad was always the master of restraint.

Back to Dave and me. After watching Clarence and His Caboose, we turned the channel knob to one of the four stations we had and settled on a game show, even though we wanted to watch reruns of The Dick Van Dyke Show. However, that station produced a bad vertical roll on the screen that had us constantly trying to fiddle with the dial on the side of the set to stop.

Next, Dave and I made a few crank calls. I did my favorite at that time. Campbell’s Soup made radio commercials of them calling people to see if they could sing the Campbell’s Soup jingle. Most knew it and were able to sing, “Mmm, Mmm, good. Mmm, Mmm, good. That’s what Campbell’s Soup is, Mmm, Mmm, good.”

We opened the phone book, and I started calling. “Hello, Mrs. Karzynski?” I intoned in my adult-sounding voice. “This is Bill Turner from the Campbell’s Soup division in Memphis, Tennessee. We’re calling people in your area to see if they can sing the Campbell’s Soup song and win a free case of Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup. Would you like to give it a try, Mrs. Karzynski?” Almost everyone did it, and I always confirmed the person’s address to make sure the delivery would get there. A lot of people in our city are still waiting for their Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup.

After a couple of these calls, Dave called a neighborhood grocery store and asked the woman, “Do you have pig’s feet?” The woman, who knew the joke, said, “Oh, go to hell” and hung up.

Undeterred, Dave called back and was indignant. “Why did you tell me to go to hell and hang up on me? I’m a regular customer of yours and will no longer shop there.”

The woman became apologetic and explained that she thought it had been some kids playing a joke.

“I hope you don’t consider my patronage a joke,” Dave said, now on a roll and dripping with umbrage. He then became conciliatory and expressed empathy. “But I understand, so let’s start over again. Do you have pig’s feet?”

“Yes, we do,” the woman replied.

“Well, put on some shoes and no one will notice!” We both doubled over with laughter (or, as the kids say today, ROTFLMAO).

Done with fun on the phone, Dave and I went outside, hung out, wandered a bit, and, as usual, soon connected with Meat, Tanner, Spooty, and Tommy. They had their gloves and told me to get a bat. I ran back, got the bat and two gloves, one for Dave since his was at home.

In the evening we usually tried to get enough people to get a decent pickup game going. Even if we had only eight total, we’d have a good game. The batting team had to supply its own catcher (although the pitcher had to cover the plate himself). The team in the field had a pitcher (who threw overhand and somewhat hard but not as hard as in a real game), a shortstop, a first baseman, and a left fielder. Anything hit to the right of a certain point in the field was an automatic out. We might also play with two outfielders to expand our hitting range a bit (our coach was big on having us spray the ball and we didn’t want to get out of the habit). Then we’d be without a first baseman, so it would be pitcher’s hand. If the shortstop (or either of the outfielders) could throw the ball to the pitcher before the batter got to first, it was an out.

In the morning, though, we didn’t feel like rounding up more players, so we went to the park and played 500. One of us hit fungoes. The others tried to catch the ball. Catch it on the fly, and it was worth 100 points. One bounce was 75, two bounces 50, and more than that 25 points. The first player to 500 got to come in and hit fungoes for the next round.

Obviously, this competition didn’t produce any players calling for a fly; at least, it didn’t encourage the others to respect another’s call. Nothing was against the rules in jostling, or worse. Meat wasn’t above going for the groin. The tempers got frayed sometimes, and insults such as “Fart Breath” and “Cum Face” were common.

Once Spooty got nudged out of catching a fly and said to Tanner, “Hey, you trying to fist me?” It might have been a workable insult, except that no one else yet knew what fisting meant. We didn’t have Wikipedia or the Urban Dictionary to check. Of course, I later learned what fisting meant, which was a good thing so I could participate in the humor when a pitcher named Doug Fister got to the major leagues. “Fister?” the joke went. “I barely know her.” (On a side note, remember whom Doug Fister was once traded for: Charlie Furbush.)

After a few rounds of fly balls and fisting insults, we back to my place and ditched the equipment. As we came back out we saw Fuckwad Gendler walking down the sidewalk.

“Hi, Mr. Gendler,” Tommy said.

“Please, he said unctuously, “call me Fuckwad.” He was friendly that way. “I’ve taken the day off work and am going to the game. Want to join me?”

That’s right, it was an afternoon game. We tagged along to the end of the street, and within five minutes the bus to the ballpark arrived.

“Hey, someone give me some money,” said Spooty, characteristically. Just as characteristically, the replies included, “Eat my ass,” “Bite me” and “Go jerk off in the garden.” (No one understood what that last one meant, but Meat often went with a masturbatory theme.)

Fuckwad got on first, paid his fare, and the rest of us huddled around the coin machine, digging in our pockets for change and allowing Spooty to sneak behind us without paying.

We settled toward the back of the bus. Fuckwad had a sports section and was checking the statistics while the rest of us hung out the window, gesturing at pedestrians.

The bus got to the ballpark, and Fuckwad went to the ticket window. We hung behind. “Aren’t you guys getting tickets?” he asked.

“We’ll be fine,” I assured him.

As Fuckwad got his ticket and approached the gate, we shuffled ahead of him. Tanner was first, and as he went through the turnstile, he pointed behind to indicate that someone else in the group had the tickets. Spooty was next and did the same, followed by Dave, Meat, Tommy, and me. When I cleared the turnstile, we all took off.

Fuckwad then handed his ticket to the usher, who asked where the tickets were for the rest of us. “Those kids in front?” Fuckwad said without hesitation. “They’re not with me.”

We knew Fuckwad would head for the bleachers just beyond third base, so we met up with him there. I enjoyed being at a ball game with Fuckwad. He liked to keep score, like I did. He knew I didn’t have my scorebook with me, so he bought two programs, and we each filled in the starting lineups.

Fuckwad really knew baseball trivia, too, and he loved to quiz us.

“Who struck out to end Don Larsen’s perfect game?”

“Aw, too easy,” we said, not even bothering to give the answer of Dale Mitchell.

“Okay, you know that Vic Wertz hit the drive that Mays hauled in during the 1954 World Series. Who was the pitcher?”

Tanner guessed Sal Maglie, but I got it right with Don Liddle, adding that Larry Doby was the runner on second who tagged and went to third but wasn’t able to get farther since Mays did such a good job of twirling and throwing the ball in after the catch.

We watched the teams take infield, a practice you don’t see at pro games anymore since they now use that time for stupid promotions to have celebrities such as Miss Spittoon (the theme of the Fourth of July parade that year was “Salute to Chewing Tobacco”) throw out the first pitch. I gotta say, Miss Spittoon got more on her pitch than the guy I saw the next time, some asshole in a suit from a local car dealership who two-bounced the pitch to the plate.

The atmosphere was pleasant, light organ music in the background that allowed fans to hear the chatter and the whistle of the coach before he hit a fungo. A guy from school, Rich Dish (he didn’t like being called Dick Dish), saw us and sauntered over. Rich was in our class, although he was more physically developed and looked older than he was.

He was always nice but kidded me about how I always kept score at games. “You keep score, but have you ever scored at a ball game?”

I figured out what he was asking and turned the question on him. “And you have?” “Yeah, last year. Banged a senior behind the outhouses back of the outfield bleachers. Gave her the old porkgrind.”

We were impressed with Rich’s maturity. No, we didn’t believe he gave anyone the porkgrind behind the outhouses—or in front of the outhouses for that matter—but it was still notable that he was lying about getting laid before any of the rest of us were lying about it.

A beer vendor came by, and Rich ordered one with no problem. Tanner wanted to look mature, too, so he also got a beer. No one asked for I.D. at the ball park. Rich sipped his and definitely enjoyed it while Tanner tried to look like he did. He couldn’t handle it, and I even spied him dumping about half the cup under the bleachers. I gave him credit. He did finish off the part of the beer he hadn’t dumped and then walked to the top of the bleachers to urinate through the fence onto the parking lot below.

Rich left us before the game started, and Fuckwad and I paid close attention to the game and our scorecards while the other guys horsed around.

It wasn’t real hot, but the sun was out, and it was a good day to get some rays. By the second inning, we noticed two young women sitting about seven rows in front of us. They had long skirts on but had pulled them up to expose their legs—and probably a whole lot more to someone in front of them. But we were behind them and couldn’t think of any good way to amble down 10 rows without being obvious.

That didn’t stop Spooty. I think he was just trying to impress the rest of us when he went over, stood in front of them, and started chatting them up. I have to say, he appeared to be doing all right, but he might have done better had he been able to maintain eye contact rather than being transfixed with his gaze a foot or so below that.

Still, the women humored him to the point of talking to him for a few minutes. Spooty came back and reported that both of them said they’d be glad to out with him except that they had boyfriends. Sure. But give Spooty credit for getting in the game. He also told us the color of each woman’s panties.

At the end of the third inning, we told Fuckwad we’d be back since we wanted to sit in the main grandstand for a while. We ran from the bleachers, up a ramp, came out on the second deck, and grabbed seats in the row in front of the press box. We didn’t even miss a pitch, so I was able to keep my scorecard current.

We were right in front of the radio booth for the visiting team, whose pitcher was named Brendan John. Dave yelled, “Hey, Brenden, where’s the john?” We wondered if that went over the radio broadcast. Apparently it did, because a few seconds later, the announcer stuck his head out the booth and barked at us, “Hey, if you kids don’t shut up, I’ll throw you on the field.” We all thought it was funny and wondered if the announcer really would be able to throw us on the field—not all of us, we figured.

After a while we decided we’d go back and sit with Fuckwad at the end of the inning, but we made a quicker escape than that, thanks to another smartass remark. The catcher, Bill Asternard, faked a pickoff throw to first, and we heard the announcer comment, “Asternard cocked his arm.” I yelled, “Asternard armed his cock?” We were up and running with that remark, but we could still hear the announcer when he stuck his head out the booth again and yelled, “I’ll throw you on the field.” We laughed and gave him the finger as we ducked into an exit aisle and made our way back to the bleachers.

After the game we got on the bus, but this time Spooty got caught trying to bypass the pay box. We hustled to the back of the bus, pretending not to hear him shout for help. We thought we had the upper hand, but as the bus was pulling out, we saw Spooty talking to the young women from the bleachers, their legs now covered as they had let their skirts down. It looked like they were going to give him a ride home.

We got off the bus in the neighborhood, scattering for dinner and agreeing to meet later to play ball. Spooty joined us for the game and told us all about these women giving him a ride and then their phone numbers. “What for?” Meat asked, “in case your parents need a baby sitter for you?”

We went to the park and found a few other guys (and one gal), giving us enough for five players for each team, which made for a lively game. After the game, we stopped at the corner store to get a candy bar and can of soda pop. Spooty allowed me to buy him some pop. He was so grateful that he said he’d let me come along for a double date that he’d line up with the women from the ballpark. (Footnote: I’m still waiting.)

It was getting dark, but it was such a nice night no one wanted to go in. We sat in a vacant lot across the street from the house of a young couple, Albert and Jill Wannamaker. I delivered their paper and enjoyed it when Jill was the one who answered the door when I collected. She was friendly, gave me a tip, and once—on a warm Saturday afternoon—answered the door in a bikini. I told the guys about it. After that, whenever her name came up, someone said, “Wannamaker?”

Albert was stuffy. He was always dressed in business attire—or what is now called casual-business—even on the weekend. Albert didn’t tip. He also warned me that I should never cut across his lawn when I delivered the paper; he was particular about his grass. No one liked him.

From the vacant lot, we could see through their living room window: Albert in his usual preppy clothes (though we didn’t call yet them preppy) and Jill in a sweatshirt. After a while, Jill got up and appeared to be calling it a night.

Sometimes when we’re sitting around with nothing to do, one of us will say, “I got it,” meaning an idea for an activity. This time it was Tommy, and his proposal was intriguing. “Let’s get a paper sack, put some dog shit in it, put it on Wannamaker’s doorstep, start it on fire, ring the doorbell, and run.”

I had heard about people doing this but was skeptical if anyone had really pulled it off. “Where are we going to get a paper sack?” asked Tanner. Dave looked in a garbage can on the lot and came away with a McDonald’s bag, which he emptied of its wrappers. Perfect.

“How about the dog shit?” I asked. Spooty was on it. He crossed the street and went behind some bushes next to the Wannamaker’s house. We ambled over, because this would also be a good staging area and place to watch the fun.

Spooty emerged and announced that the bag was ready. No shit, it was, because whatever he had come up with was pretty fresh. “Did you really find that?” Meat asked, “or did you just take a shit in the bag yourself?

“And I bet you jizzed in it, too.”

Jizz or not, it was clear from the odor that the bag contained excrement. “Here,” Spooty said, holding the bag out to me.

“I’m not touching that, Smegma Head,” I replied.

“Okay, but you have to ring the doorbell,” he told me.

As the others peered around the bush, we crept up—making a point to cross his lawn—and got to the step. Spooty put the bag down, pulled some matches from his pocket, lit the sack, and took off. I rang the doorbell and ran away.

Wow. We really weren’t expecting it to work this well. Albert opened the door, saw the burning bag on his step, and—just like the coach draws it up in the playbook—started stomping on it with his nicely shined wingtips. The flames quelled, and I don’t think it was until his second step that Albert discovered he now had fresh shit on his shoes.

We didn’t want to give away our position so we curbed our laughter, and our mirth turned to nervousness when Albert started shouting for the police.

Fortunately for Albert, law enforcement was nearby. Unfortunately for Albert, nearby meant Buckshot Boofy around the corner of the house, right under the bedroom window. Unfortunately for Buckshot, he wasn’t in peak condition for crime fighting and chasing a gang of arsonists who lit shit on fire.

Buckshot tried to recover—which meant getting his pants up and stuff that needed to be tucked in tucked in—and made a valiant try. I think it was his patrolman belt that did him in. Emerging from the side of the house, he tried to zip, tuck in, pull up, and buckle, but that was too much for even the best of multitaskers, and he fell down short of the sidewalk, limbs and other body parts askew.

“What the hell were you doing, Boofty?” Albert screamed.

“And get off my lawn!”

We took off in different directions and made our ways home, satisfied with a most-satisfying day.

Mischief was made for the summer.

 

Note:
Other than my resume, most of my writing has been non-fiction.

I was going to try being a novelist by participating in National Novel Writing Month, but I ran into a few problems. First, I couldn’t wait until November and started writing this in August 2016. Second, the minimum number of words is 50,000, about seven times more than this piece; trying to pad it just to hit a word count didn’t seem like the way to go.

Some of the characters are made up, but several are based on real people. The most realistic is Dave Mychals (not his real last name), a truly good guy with a mischievious streak who really did get a substitute teacher to call out Dick Biter in class. And my dad was portrayed pretty much the way he was. He took us to see a flooded street after Sunday School, and we got the thrill of watching a car full of young guys try to surf the street. I didn’t identify a city, but people I grew up with in southeast Minneapolis will figure out some of the places, and long-time residents will remember the infamous viaduct where trucks got stuck on Washington and Chicago avenues. My dad said he really did send some surly truck driver down Washington. Don’t mess with my dad.

Even Buckshot Boofty was a real person, peeping tom/night patrolman in a northern Minnesota city.

Most of the events in this story took place. We never pulled off the burning-bag-of-shit routine, and I don’t know anyone who ever did. However, Kiefer Sutherland did this in the movie Crazy Moon, and that’s good enough for me.

I never got my name into the paper as Haywood Jablome, but I know it has happened. Below is proof, a photo that appeared in the Fargo Forum. I don’t know who the real-life Haywood Jablome is, but sometime I hope to meet him, shake his hand, and say, “Well done.”

Haywood Jablome in the Fargo Forum

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