Thursday, September 13, 2012

Civil War of the Shihmen Woods (or the war of teenage aggression)

Our clubhouses were never this nice

Oh, the woods.  If you never grew up near any type of wooded area, you honestly missed an urgent matter of your childhood and should put this down, move to a wooded area and build a clubhouse to defend before reading any further.
Across the street from my boyhood home, behind a row of houses and up a small hill existed a mythic place for boys aged 5-10, and a place to hang out and be delinquents for those 13 and over.  For we younger lads, the woods were to be explored throughout, clubs to be established and treasure to be found.  For the teenagers, the woods belonged to them, they were there first. 
While the specifics of how the war between the kids and teenagers began have long been lost to ages, here’s what probably happened:
My brother and a few of his friends from the other side of the woods were running around being 9-10 boys.  Playing ‘guns,’ ‘hide-n-seek and building indestructible ‘forts’ out of found barbed wire and branches occupied summer days endlessly.

This gallivanting was not looked upon approvingly by the leader of the teens, David (a kid that will always remain an intimidating giant in my mind).  He, perhaps with a few others by his side, confronted my unfortunately intelligent and logical brother, Chris regarding the use of the woods.  David likely claimed that these were ‘his woods’ and that Chris needs to leave before something ‘bad happens.’ 
Chris likely looked at the much larger form a said, plainly and calmly “I didn’t see your name written on it anywhere,” or “That’s not fair, it’s a free country, so I and my friends will not be leaving.”  This, of course, go Chris beaten a bit (which is probably why he beat me up so much) and send each of the younger friends home in a deep-seated soul-fear of this bully.
Chris and Ray (the only other of the kids’ names I can remember) knew that war had been declared.  We were out manned, and outsized – but we would take another route: we would out gun them.  So began the recon missions into the woods and neighboring fields searching for useful weapon technologies to help us against this impending threat.
I'm off to war, Mom.  Be back for dinner.
One of the more memorable was an item my brother took as his main weapon: it was an old sponge mop, with the sponge removed, so when you worked the handle forward to squeeze it just looked like some strange alien Muppet trying to gum the air to death.  Well, that’s what it looks like in retrospect.  At the time, it was the mythical Doberman Pincher-Pincher. 
The teens’ primary mode of assault had been thwarted.  With the dogs out of the picture, we moved forward, collecting items to make sling shots, spears, clubs, a ‘visor’ that helped me to ‘see’ the teens’ weaknesses and the like.  We all knew this would probably be our first, and last war, the odds, despite our build of arms, were so heavy against our tiny shoulders.
That was all before the Electro-Thinko ™.  A piece of a broken computer chip with a wire coming off of the end of it was known by Chris and Ray to be our secret weapon of last resort... if we could figure out how the damn thing worked. 
Chris and Ray would each take the device home every other weekend to research its apparently alien design to try and decode how to get the working, and then unleashing its terrible fury against the teens.
In the mean time, I was running recon for the kids.  Since I was so young (5) I wasn’t officially included in the ranks of the ‘kids,’ and I had a trusted babysitter (Wendy) that was a teen.  Logically, if she was to be trusted to be near me while I slept (my most vulnerable time!) she must be on our side.  
Imagine my surprise upon stumbling into a secret meeting of the teens; and being spotted eye to eye by my babysitter.  “That lying cunt,” I would have thought to myself, had I the verbiage at the time.  The reality was I ran as fast as I could home with this new morsel of dour information further throwing a pall over the proceedings towards war.
As I ran from their force en masse, I could hear the cries to ‘get him!’ and the rumblings behind me.  Lucky for me, I was the fastest kid I knew.  Also, it’s fair to posit that I peed/pood myself slightly as I ran away.
This was it, we all knew.  We had to get the Electro-Thinko ™ working, and soon or it was game over.  I’d seen plenty of hero movies and Michael Jackson music videos, and I knew that the quiet small kid had to save the day.  Biding my time until Chris’s weekend with the electronic wonder device, I kept thinking about how the thing looked.  What were we missing?

A modern approximation of the Electro-Thinko ™with the 'power' cable removed
There was a wire coming out of the chip to one side, and this wire was SPLIT at the end.  So the damn thing had a wire that forked.  Shit, I thought inside my already pretentious thoughts, we just need to plug the damn thing in.
Aside: What I did next should have killed me.  It should have burned down our house, and probably killed my entire family.  Instead, everyone uses it to explain my occasionally erratic behavior today. Balderdash, I say.
Sitting in the floor of our den/family room, next to a probably already unsafely overloaded power outlet, I devised my plan, and planned my glory.  I didn’t count on having the hand size, coordination and manual dexterity of a 5 year old child.  Holding both the Electro-Thinko ™ and guiding the split wire (the obvious plug portion of the device) proved to be much more difficult and time consuming that I had previously reckoned and was frustrating to say the least.
Seeking the help of more stable hands, I turned to by father, who was sitting on the couch watching TV about 3-4 feet from me.  “Deddy,” I began in my atrocious southern accent, “can you hold on to this while I plug it in?” I asked plainly, almost matter-of-factly.  His equally matter-of-fact response floored me; at least it would sometime long after the events of this day, “No, I’m don’t want to be shocked” after briefly glancing from the TV.
Renewing my determination, I held tightly to the Electro-Thinko ™ and its accompanying split wire plug and guided it into the outlet…
Before we move forward, let’s take a look back on something I brought up first: memory.  If my memory of these Mostly True stories is to be somewhat suspect from time to time, the following should be appropriately understood: I had plugged a bare wire into a power outlet with my bare hands.  What I remember is blurry to say the least.
As the snaked tongued wire crept closer to the gaping, thirsty outlets, my eyes grew wide, as this was the moment that I was finally going to shine.  Insertion. The pain during the electrocution is lost in whatever part of my brain got the permanent imminent domain closure that day – but I do remember the lamp light behind me and the TV to my right dimming and going out completely (well, they did flicker, the going out may have been my consciousness).
My next memory is sitting on our kitchen counter, my hair sticking out in every direction and black burns on my palms and cheeks and a freakish amount of pain and panic.  My parents, being from the Silent Generation (Dad) and the Baby Boom (Mom), wiped the carbon scores off of my twitching body, told me to calm down, and I was stupid to do that.  Today’s parents would probably ensure a hospital overnight stay.
Chris’s sole recollection of the event goes something like this:
I had just gotten out of the bath and was walking out to the den (where the laundry room was located) to put my clothes in the hamper,  when I saw you stuck to the wall with streams of blue electricity going up your arms.  It looked pretty cool.  You dumbass.
The Electro-Thinko ™ was destroyed and thrown away by our folks.  Our one hope to win had been destroyed, and nearly took one of use with it.  Let me put this in a modern context: I was almost martyred for the kids’ cause.
Still, the war had to come, and I was on the front lines.  The final bits of this are fuzzy, but I remember seeing David leading the teenagers towards our very own ..Thermopylae.., a choking point to give us an advantage.  As the enemy lines grew closer, I noticed Chris was no where to be seen.  Had they captured him? We were doomed.

The gnarled faced warriors of the teenager army were merely a few yards away when Chris arrived, this time with the ace up his sleeve: our Dad.  He gave those teenagers a VERY stern talking to, and talked to each of their parents.
While the woods would now be ours, we were careful not to violate the previously established borders, for fear of, well something, I’m sure.

The brave Garner Warriors Today-ish

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