We turn into our neighborhood and make a right onto our street. On the left side of the street is a large black Chevy.
“What’s that on the driver’s window?” I ask my wife. “It’s too big for a bird dropping.”
Even before we pull into our garage, she’s already visited the Wethersfield Neighborhood page on Facebook. The hot Facebook conversation concerns the Masked Egg Marauders who struck on Saturday night. Seems while we were out of town, a bunch of juveniles decided to decorate all the cars on driveways and streets with smashed eggs.
“What’s so funny?” she said. “I think it’s just terrible. If I did something like that, and my father found out, I’d be grounded for six weeks.”
I kept silent. Although she knows a smattering of my criminal past, she doesn’t know the half of it (unless she reads this).
When I was a boy, we didn’t have cable television, video games, internet or I-Phones. If we wanted to have fun, we made it up ourselves. We played neighborhood sports, had water balloon and dirt clod fights, played with G.I. Joe dolls, built go-carts, or ran naked in the woods imitating Tarzan. Boys being boys, though, we occasionally ventured to The Dark Side.
I remember my first brush with delinquency. It occurred one winter day while walking home from grammar school. We lived in back of a high school, and some of the teenagers liked to rev their hot rods down our street after the afternoon bell rang. One day, tired of throwing snowballs at trees, I decided to try a moving object.
Although no Luis Tiant (he pitched for the Cleveland Indians in the mid-1960s), my first throw smashed into the side of this one high schooler’s car. I was also no Lou Brock (he was a great baserunner for the St. Louis Cardinals), because the teen caught me before I ever reached the shelter of the woods.
I think my fear melted his anger, because he let me off with a warning (and I remember him grinning when he let go of my jacket). Although coming dangerously close to being pummeled, I received such an adrenaline rush from this snowball incident, it was a matter of time before my criminal behavior escalated. The stage was set.
In 1968, we moved from Ohio to a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. Downtown Detroit had just undergone a series of civil rights riots. We kids in the ‘burbs had our own version of rioting, called Devil’s Night, which occurred annually the night before Halloween. Before I get to the infamous “Night of the Parks House,” however, allow me to touch on a couple other crimes:
Rubber Band Lunacy: It was much later when I took up the game of golf, but at 10 years old, I possessed intimate knowledge of the interiors of golf balls. Some golf balls, just inside the hard outer shell, had yards and yards of thin rubber band wrapped around a hard, core rubber ball. When unraveled, this rubber band had enough length to be stretched across a street and tied around two trees. The band was virtually invisible… until you were right on top of it.
Long story short, a lot of car brakes were slammed on Westbourne Drive during the summer of ’68. This stunt lasted until, one day, a motorcycle came along. Tucked inside my hiding place in the juniper bushes, I watched in horror as a leather-clad member of the local Heaven’s Devils gang “lay down” his bike after confronting my rubber band barrier, which he probably mistook to be a long, thin wire. To this day, I don’t know if he saw me pop out from the bushes and skedaddle 15 blocks until I collapsed from exhaustion, since I never looked behind. But this incident ended my rubber band period. Instead, I shifted to less risky delinquency…
Bloody Bicycles: One day, at the end of a long session of “What do you wanna do?” “I don’t know, what do you wanna do?,” Bill, Dan and I hatched a plan that involved our kid brothers. We took their bicycles and placed them on their sides alongside the curb, their wheels skewed at different angles. Then we positioned our brothers on the pavement near the bikes. We used Heinz ketchup to resemble blood.
I think it was the fifth or sixth car before one finally stopped. She was an elderly lady who got out and frantically inquired “Are you hurt?? Are you alright??” It was probably the smell of ketchup, or maybe my brother Steve’s bad acting that assured her, yes, Steve was alright. Although enjoyable, this foray into Hollywood lacked the despicable element that we so craved. On Devil’s Night, 1968, however, we received our Master’s degrees in delinquency…
Night of the Parks House: Wally Parks and his wife had no children. They were about 40 years old and lived in a ranch house directly across from ours. I remember that Mrs. Parks had blonde hair, usually tied in a bun. Wally was tall and athletic-looking, and according to my friend Bill, had a propensity for alcohol. Very nice people, but very private. And once in a while, they argued. Loudly. Bill, Dan and I used to sneak up to their bushes and listen to them fight. One time, Wally angrily flew out the front door with his tie flapping, and he hopped in his car and zoomed down the street. “Probably headed to the bar,” said Bill.
It wasn’t my idea to target their house. But one day, after my monthly allergy shot, I rang Dan’s doorbell, and he led me down to his basement. Bill was there. They were cutting up piles of old newspaper, and they were totally absorbed in the task.
“What are you guys doing?” I asked.
“We’re making confetti,” said Bill, as he clipped away. “We’re gonna get Parks’s house on Devil’s Night.”
(End of Part One. If you want to find out what happened on Devil’s Night, please check back in a couple weeks. And like my blogging buddy Neil says, if you like what you read here, don’t be shy about clicking “Like” or “Follow”)