By Tim McGrath
“Boy, that really was about the stupidest thing you two could have done.” – Gerald Wisner on observing a big idea gone exceedingly wrong
When I was a kid, it was declared a holiday in the neighborhood if someone’s family got a new refrigerator. The thing is, we didn’t give a fig about the new Crosley Shelvador in some mom’s kitchen, it’s what it came in that was important. There was something magical about refrigerator boxes. Seeing one in somebody’s driveway caused all other activities to come to a screeching halt. Sturdy, tall, built to hold, well, a refrigerator. That meant it could also be transformed into an almost impregnable fortress, tank, or dungeon. Usually, it held up until it rained, or somebody had the bright idea to see if it could roll down a hill with two to three other kids inside. Never worked for long, ever.
Our ideas usually weren’t intended to be naughty, but sometimes the various combinations of matches, stinkbombs, fake vomit/dog doo, BB guns, slingshots, firecrackers, junkyards, old barrels and tires did raise eyebrows. Just about anything could become part of someone’s new master plan. Take sticks, for example. So many interesting and useful things could be made with them. Various weaponry or even rudimentary communication devices could be constructed, all intended to create the next grand adventure. All it took was a couple of us to engage in groupthink, and we were off and running. Just don’t tell mom.
Then, there was Billy Martin. Billy was just a little older than the rest of us. He was the outlier, the truly brave one. The one willing to do what it took to see his grand schemes come to fruition. And, he was also the one whose big ideas regularly landed him in the principal’s office.
“Hey, look, it’s crazy Billy Martin. He’s really going to do it. Since we had all that snow the last couple days, it’s all he’s been going on about. Didn’t think he’d really do it, though,” Clark muttered. I put my hands up to shield them from the late afternoon sun. No way was I going to miss any of this.
Running, yelling, shoving kids piled out of the school across the street onto their homebound buses. Billy sauntered over to bus 21, the last in line. We watched as he hopped the curb, grabbed the back bumper, and squatted down. He gave us a wink and a wave, waiting. Bus 21 slowly pulled away from the curb with Billy sliding along happy as a clam on the icy street under his feet. He called it “Bus Surfing”. The last we saw; he was sailing away down Meyer toward Porter Street. I wondered out loud what would happen when the snow and ice on the street turned to bare pavement.
“That Billy Martin’s nuts. My mom told me if she ever caught me acting like that kid, she’d skin me alive,” Clark commented as we scrunched our way down the snowy sidewalk.
“Yeah, mine too. But, Billy Martin’s got guts, you know it? Don’t you ever want to do something that takes guts?” I asked Clark.
“OK, dork, here’s your chance. I dare you, no, double dog dare you to smack the first car comes down the street with snowballs. We’ll just see how much guts you’ve really got,” Clark taunted.
There was a big snow bank piled up by the snowplows at the end of Clark’s driveway. We dug out a little hidey-hole, made about a dozen slushy snowballs as ammo, slunk down, and waited. Clark peeked out over the top of our fortress watching for our first victim to drive by.
“Hey, hey, get ready, here comes one. Wait until I give the signal, then jump up, and let them have it! Ready…, set…, fire!” he yelled. We both jumped up, and let fly with the first salvo from our mittened hands. Both snowballs flew true and smacked the blue Ford amidships with satisfying thumps.
“Hot dang!” Clark laughed. “We got him!”
“Hot shot!” I whooped.
The blue Ford slid to a stop sideways in the road. A very large man leaped out the driver’s door, spotted us, and sprinted our way, yelling for us to stop. Realizing he was after us, we did the only sensible thing, and ran for our little lives.
We ran, oh how we ran. We raced through Clark’s backyard with the man in hot pursuit. The snow we’d had was deep, and our ten-year-old legs were no match for his. In a heartbeat, he was on us. Enormous, meaty hands reached out and grabbed our coat collars.
“Gotcha! OK, you two let’s march over to see someone’s mother RIGHT NOW! This one of your houses?” he hollered at us.
“It’s mine,” Clark choked out between sobs.
Dragging us to the side door, he made Clark ring the doorbell.
“Do it again,” the man ordered. “Your mother home, boy?”
“Yessir, she’s always here.”
Clark’s mom appeared at the door. Looking between her son and me hanging by our coat collars from the hands of a very large and very irritated man, she calmly asked: “Well, what have you done this time, Clark? And, who in the world are you?” she asked the enormous man collaring her son and me.
“I’ll tell you who I am, lady.” He unceremoniously dropped both of us with a plop on the stoop, reached in his coat pocket, and pulled out a black leather wallet. Opening it, he showed Clark’s mom a shiny brass badge. “I’m Detective Terry Ferguson from Wyoming PD. These two characters thought it’d be a good idea to throw snowballs at my car. About scared the liver out of me. Could have driven straight into a phone pole.”
“Is that so,” she said. “Well, Detective, I’m terribly sorry for what these two hooligans have done, and I promise you we’ll take care of it. I’m sure Tim’s mom will want to know what these two are up to, also. Leave it to us, they won’t be doing anything like this again. Isn’t that right, boys?”
“You know boys, I could run you in for all kinds of crimes. Trust me, you do not want to end up in juvie. You’ll come to a bad end in there. We don’t need any more criminal types out running the streets. You two listening to me and your mom?” he demanded.
Both of us shook our heads quickly; yes, we were listening. I didn’t want to end up in juvie, either. I’d heard stories. Gary Henderson’s older brother had been in juvie. Said it was rough. He wouldn’t tell us anything about it because, as he put it: “You shrimps would crap your pants, and have nightmares forever if I told you even one little thing they do to you in there. Just don’t do anything stupid enough to get sent there, seriously.” No sir, I’m going to mend my ways from now on, I promised myself.
“Alright, then, Mrs., I’ll leave them with you,” Detective Ferguson said.
“Thank you, Detective. These two won’t be doing anything like this again, will you boys? Clark, get in the house. Tim, I think it’s time for you to head home.”
We watched the cop get back in his car and slowly drive off. Clark muttered, “Sorry” through the glass storm door as he slunk inside, leaving me alone and wondering if and, more importantly, how to tell Mom if it came to that.
I shuffled along the sidewalk lost in deep ten-year-old thought. That’s when Gerald Wisner caught up with me. “Hey, Tim, I watched the whole thing come down. Man, it was so cool to see and hear those snowballs smack that car. I’ve got to tell you, though, that really was about the stupidest thing you two could have done. You know, hitting a cop car and all. Man, I wouldn’t want to be you right now. I’ve got to go, see you tomorrow. That is, if you’re still alive tomorrow!” Gerald snorted.
“Hi, honey!” Mom greeted me as I stepped in the house. “How was your day? Learn anything new?”
“Well…,” I stammered. “What’s for supper?”
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