Thursday, May 15, 2008
"Ready...." A long pause, milking it for all it was worth.
"Aim...." Blindfolded, I squirmed. I figured it was what he wanted.
"FIRE!!...." Then ...nothing. Not a surprise. This was, after all, payback. "C'mon," I said, making it sound like begging (which it was, partly.) "Just shoot me." Tick, tick.
Pkkfftack. Buried right next to my spine, deep and painful. Fair enough. Otherwise, he'd have told my mom.
Like many kids, it was by indifferent luck that Dougie and I survived childhood, and each other. On this particular occasion, we'd been shooting one another with a BB gun he'd borrowed from a neighbor. Unlike our Daisys, this one had some oomph; you could pump it more than once. Because we weren't totally clueless, we'd been using protection: the shootee wore a diving mask and a raincoat, and was dashing between trees across the street from Dougie's house. The shooter, from a window in Dougie's bedroom, took shots at the victim as he zigged the space between the trees. Given the distance, and the precautions, it was fairly harmless, although it's hard to say where all the pellets ended up. After Dougie had had his turn as prey, he peeled off the mask and coat and ran toward the house. Who could blame me, really? It was such a clear shot. I fired one more time.
Being one year the younger, he was used to abuse by me. But this time he was really pissed, and I was scared of what I'd done. He'd screamed, "MY EYE!!!," and slapped his hand over his face, stopped dead for a moment, then run into the house and upstairs, hand still in place. (No one else, of course, was home.) I was cold-fingered and, I'm sure, white-faced as he removed his hand. The welt was within the hairs of his eyebrow, sparing his eyeball for no particular reason. He was, among other things, threatening to tell my mom. The firing squad was our negotiated settlement, a way to retribution for him, and a promise to remain silent, for me. It's my recollection that he had to dig the pellet out of my back. Impressed with its power, we fired the gun again, at some sort of metal pan, and it went right through. Or dented it pretty good. Don't remember which.
I hog-tied Dougie once, playing cowpersons and Native Americans. Accidentally dropped him on his chin, causing enough bleeding that he thought it was coming out of his eyes. Another time my brother was showing us how to swing a golf club. I was looking over his right shoulder, Dougie over his left. My brother is right-handed. Enough said. Sounded like a coconut.
The time when actual death was among the possibilities (although I guess the golf club came close) involved bows and arrows. The real kind, with metal tips, albeit not the hunting variety. We'd been at a field at Reed College, where there were straw-stuffed archery targets. Shooting at those static circles got boring in about five minutes, so we did the natural thing: started aiming straight up into the air and seeing how close we could get ourselves to where the arrows came down. Pretty close, as it turns out. Ssshhppt. Couple inches from the shoe. Well, maybe a foot or two. Until one went up so high we lost sight of it. Quickly computing the consequences, we sprinted in opposite directions. Dougie ended up scronched several yards away, having pulled his jacket up over his head. As if guided by the judgment of fate, the arrow returned to earth by way of Dougie's jacket and the space between his elbow and his left side. As I learned in anatomy class many years later (for this is a surgical blog), there were any number of comparatively vital structures within a shaft-breadth or two. No negotiations were required to keep us both silent about that one.
It wasn't all bad. We got hold of a couple of Army-surplus intercoms and strung wires between our houses, which were on the same block, around the corner from each other. Securing permission from every intervening neighbor, we ran the wires along fences and property lines. Battery powered, the boxes weren't very potent with that much wire between them, and there was no call buzzer. You had to lean pretty close to hear anything. Sometimes we could alert the other of a call by scraping something across the metal face of the box; usually, though, we'd call on the phone, and then hang up and carry on using the intercom. Charmed by electricity, I did once try to electrocute Dougie, in the guise of a "lie detector" which a brainy friend and I put together. In actuality it was a battery and a capacitor to which we hooked a couple of wires and then talked Dougie into affixing them to his fingers. Asked him a question, and then zapped him. We were too young, I'd say, to be called assholes. Idiots, more properly.
Amazingly enough, Dougie and I maintain the friendship that started nearly sixty years ago. Exuding enthusiasm from every orifice, he teaches astronomy and cosmology, and the actor in him has made his planetarium show the talk of greater Portland. He played his guitar at my wedding. We call each other on birthdays (his was last week) and see each other on rarer occasions. Always it's easy and comfortable, and for the past many years, pretty much risk-free.