It’s All Fun and Games Until…
In the ’80s, I remember sneaking in late after my parents were fast asleep. The midnight curfew given with the understanding I could stay out until 12:45 if I were the driver 12:30ish if being dropped off. As the youngest of five, my parents were accustomed to the late arrivals of my various older siblings over the years; sometimes it pays not be the first at everything. But being the decent sort of parents they were (my mom taught Sunday school and my father took up the collection at mass) if they did wake they would have felt compelled, and rightfully so, to reprimand me for sneaking in past curfew.
My pals and I loved to try and get each other in trouble. That’s what boys do right? Wouldn’t have been true friends if we didn’t try to yank each other’s chains. One favorite pastime being, when we pulled up to a house after midnight, we’d wait until the dropee was walking up the drive or climbing in a bedroom window and then just as the door opened or the leg disappeared inside we’d honk the horn.
“Later sucker!” We’d yell.
We sputtered with laughter as whomever was in the back seat looked back and reported the resulting action. Did the dog bark or the lights turn on? Or maybe the sound of swearing as Mr. Sullivan tripped over the dog and yelled at the latecomer. The next day we’d hear how TJ was grounded or Sully had to wash the cars. You could be sure when we went out next TJ or Sully would graciously offer to drive and to return the favor.
When this routine became too mundane we stooped to other methods. We’d drop the first person off without a peep and then double back placing a For Sale sign on the front lawn. Imagine, TJ’s dad fetching the Sunday paper from the end of the driveway and finding out his house was for sale!
Once we decorated Sully’s yard with lawn ornaments cultivated from the surrounding neighborhood. Sundials, birdbaths, hide-a-key rocks and saint statues sprinkled across his lawn. Poor Sully spent most of that Sunday returning the items to their rightful owners. Of course, the hide-a-key rocks looked so much alike Mr. Sullivan just made a stack of them at the end of the driveway with a sign: Missing something? This might be yours. All these years later, there’s still a small pile of them there now. I just saw them at Thanksgiving.
Normally, I arranged it so I was never the first; but one particular Saturday night, I was glad not to have driven.
I spent the entire evening talking to Paige Harris, who – as she informed me in a breathless stream of conversation-was recently home from a trip to Europe and she had apparently acquired a piece of the Berlin Wall. It my first time really talking with Paige and I found it difficult following her story because she smelled like bubblegum and was wearing a pink tube top that rose and fell with each sigh over the sadness of the Berlin Wall. I chose to smile and nod a lot. The wall had ruined a lot of lives.
“…. half a family would be at market buying food for dinner and then the wall went up. They never got to go back home. Because of the wall. Husbands and wives, mothers and children. Separated. Forever. Wrong place at the wrong time. Can you imagine?”
She looked so in awe of the concept. Her two big brown eyes staring up at me as I sipped my beer. I ran my hand through my hair which I knew was looking very much like the lead singer of a Flock of Seagulls. I fluffed and patted the bouffant coxcomb into place. I nodded and my hair bobbed in agreement. With each shudder of her story and the top threatened full exposure. Ooh, those peaks and that valley. I shook my head. Ah her Calvin Klein jeans. I shifted to the right and tried to get comfortable in my Levis button-flys. Did anything come between Paige and her Calvins? I took another swig. Only the beer seemed to tamp down my wayward thoughts and keep me focused.
I stumbled out of Sully’s car and thumbed my nose at him.
“Later.” TJ yelled as Sully honked the horn and then sped off.
Glugging back a glass of water and two aspirin at the kitchen sink, it occurred to me the guys would be back to do something. That goodbye had been too easy. I went back outside to wait for them.
I hid in the lilac bushes my mother had installed to screen our trash cans. Rotting lettuce, milk containers and coffee grinds made my stomach curl in on itself like a pill bug. I plugged my nose and swallowed. Sure enough Sully’s car coasted up in front my house. Headlights off. TJ opened his door and turned back to grab something from the back seat. I sprang forward.
TJ jumped. The sign he held clattered to the ground.
“What the –” he began and I tackled him. The two of us landed hard against the asphalt. The smell of beer sweat and scraped skin permeated the humid night air.
“Get off me you jerk!” TJ said through gritted teeth.
I rolled to one side as Sully came around and stood over us. He grabbed the sign.
“Time to get home.”
TJ stood and I crawled over to the curb, holding my ribs, as laughter erupted. Tears streamed out the corner of my eyes.
“You guys are good,” I said. “Too bad I’m better.”
“Yeah right.” Sully twisted my hair into a corkscrew. “Later, loser.”
And then they were gone. I got up slowly and headed back into the house. One hand clutched my ribs and the other wiped my eyes.
I awoke to the sound of the door bell ringing.
BIZZZ. BIZZZ. BIZZZ. Our doorbell didn’t ring it ‘buzzed’ according to my mother. Like a mosquito. BIZZZ. A 400 lb mosquito. I stood up. My room swayed. I held the bedpost to steady myself. BIZZZ. There would be no sleep for the hungover until the door was answered.
I descended the stairs to a steady BIZZZ chorus. My hand gripped the banister.
“YES?” I said and pulled the door open.
On our front stoop stood an old lady dressed in her Sunday Best. Beside her stood a little girl with golden pigtails.
“Young man.” Her voice well-mannered but disapproving.
“I’m sorry. Can I help you?”
“Yes.You may.” I licked my lips not wanting the can vs may lecture. I waited.
“We are here for the kittens.”
“Excuse me. ‘Kittens’?”
“Yes. We are here for the free kittens. Just as the sign says.”
“Sign?” I followed their gaze over my shoulder.
Plastered to the door a pink and white sign read:
(Please keep ringing the doorbell as we’re in the backyard playing with them.)
Thus, the Bizzzing explained.
Ah, Sully and TJ!
I looked down the driveway to the street. Several trees sported “Free Kitten”signs. I started to laugh and shook my head. They had got me good!
“Uh Hum…” The woman cleared her throat.
“I’m sorry, m’am-”
“I am Mrs. Larson and this is Jennifer. Well,” her blue eyes blinked, “May we see the kittens?”
“Mrs. Larson. There aren’t any kittens. I’m afraid this is a terrible joke.”
“A joke? On whom?”
“On me.” I looked down at my feet. “There are no kittens.”
Jennifer started to cry. Actually, wail. Her angel face grew red and wet. The pigtails lost their bounce and stuck to her cheeks.
“What is your name?”
“Well, Dennis Cleary. You and your friends may consider this next time you play a joke-” she tapped the sign, “it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.”
Years later I would use the same indignant tone on my own son, as I reprimanded him for borrowing the neighbor’s invisible fence flags to make a miniature golf course in our backyard while the neighbor’s dog, a golden named Sadie, sat sadly on their steps afraid to enter her front yard without her flags.
My hands on his shoulders I told him, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Now, return the flags and apologize.”
Together, his mother and I watched as he loped his away across the lawn with his burden. I wasn’t sure if his twelve year old shoulders slumped due to the weight of the flags or the weight of my words.
“Honestly, I don’t know where he gets his ideas,” Paige said.
“Neither do I. Neither do I.”
Story by: Kim McNamara
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