Eastport – Back in the Day
When you are ten years old, you have several best friends all at the same time. For about two weeks, Glenn Larsen was definitely my best friend. It wasn’t simply because he had the only in-ground pool in the neighborhood, either, though it was a pretty hot summer and the whole gang was determined to be Glenn’s best buddy. It didn’t matter much, though. Glenn and his sister Anita along with their parents were very generous by nature, and so, during the scorching afternoons, just about every kid on the block who could swim was diving into the clear blue water of their backyard pool. We were in heaven.
Of course, you couldn’t just run over to their house uninvited and dive right in. There were rules; nobody could call for Glen or Anita before nine o’clock in the morning, for example, and if there were chores to be done, his mom or dad would scatter any visiting kid with a brusque wave, saying, “Come back in two hours!” and that was that. Also, as a matter of general protocol, it was considered bad form to knock on their door with a pool towel in your hand.
One morning, around nine o’clock, I stashed my pool towel in the bushes of Glenn’s front yard as usual and knocked low on his aluminum screen door. My best friend burst forth like of a tornado. In his right hand, held stationary in front of my incredulous eyes, he presented the most professionally-carved, exquisitely-laminated sling-shot on the entire planet. The handle was sturdy oak, and the band was a single stretch of rubber an inch thick; it was far superior to the clumsy ones we constructed with flimsy rubber bands and imperfect twigs found in the woods. Glenn let me grip it for a moment and I was jealous. And then, my friend did something momentous; within his left hand behind his back, he revealed another sling-shot identical to his own.
“My dad made them on his saw last night! He made this one for you!”
Glenn placed the magnificent piece into my hand and I accepted it as if it were the most precious gem in the world. With fingers wrapped about the stem, I stopped breathing. I looked into Glenn’s face, and his grinning mouth was opened-wide with anticipation:
“Let’s go!” he exclaimed, racing towards the woods.
“Hold on!” came a booming voice from the garage.
It was Glenn’s father, motioning for us to hustle over. We did so without delay, for to ignore a directive from someone’s father was suicide. He addressed us directly:
“Now listen to me!” he warned. “You are not to use rocks in the sling-shot.”
He produced two pouches and handed one to each of us. “I cut some balsam dowels into soft pellets…if I find out you shot stones…I will take the sling shots away and you will have to deal…with…me! Now be careful…and have fun!”
We scoured the woods for hours and the whole morning was glorious. After lunch, we put our prized “toys” away until later to avoid confiscation by older bullies. Together, we swore to keep their hiding spot an exclusive secret.
It wasn’t long before we were out of pellets. We tried to locate some that lay scattered about the woods with little success. Making more of them on our own was impossible. Discouraged, we made our way back to the shady part of Glenn’s yard to wait for his father’s return.
Time passed slowly. We moved to the soft grass of the lawn and started to wrestle. Sometimes I would pin Glenn’s shoulders to the ground with my knees, freeing my hands to playfully smack his face around in victory. Other times he did the same to me. Glenn took out his magnifying glass next and we searched about the concrete walkway for an unlucky ant. We found a few, but the sun wasn’t strong enough to bother them. Before long, we retrieved our prized sling-shots, examined them from every angle, and resigned ourselves to daydreaming about fresh pellets until Glenn’s father came home.
As we sat brooding, something miraculous happened. It was difficult getting comfortable under the oak tree because of the round, pellet-like nuts that lay all about the shade in plain view. We swept an area free of the annoying wooden orbs so we could stretch out, and that’s when it finally occurred to us. Acorns! Millions of them! Glenn picked one up and looked at it the way a caveman might examine a shard of granite when inventing a stone tool. I tried one out first to see if the acorn-pellet shot true. I dead-eyed the bird bath across the yard and let it fly. “Ping!” was all we heard. We looked at each other with expressions as dumb as oxen.
“They’re not rocks!” Glenn exclaimed.
“Definitely not rocks!” I concurred.
We overfilled our pouches and once again we were in heaven. With so much ammo at hand, Glenn and I took to climbing the oak tree in his yard to search for rodents from up there. Not much was happening and we were sitting up there with our sling-shots when a huge delivery truck appeared up the road. It was dark brown as big as an elephant, and we knew it was destined to pass beneath us within range.
Imagining we were prehistoric warrior-scouts securing food for our prehistoric village, we held still until the unsuspecting behemoth passed below. We loaded our weapons. When the instant arrived, we aimed and fired! The acorns struck the elephant-beast soundly. We unleashed a second bombardment; “Ping! Ping!” clanged our attack! We had stunned the mighty mammoth!
Then something unexpected occurred. The wooly mammoth once again became a plain brown delivery truck. The driver halted with a screech and dashed from the cab. He was livid. He spotted us in our perch straight away, and with fists upraised, he took chase. We knew, then, we were in trouble. We fell from the tree limbs and scrambled across the manicured lawn like ambushed gazelles. The furious driver cursed us both with unspeakable expletives when I saw him cut away from the oak tree in my direction. He was hot on my tail.
God knows where Glenn ran, but I bolted around the pool toward the corner of the house leading to the bushes in the front yard. I dove headlong into the shrubbery as would Superman taking-flight, and I rolled like a combat marine into the darkness beneath Glenn’s front porch. With my chest to the ground, I maneuvered through sticky spider webs deep into the dank enclave. My eyes peered out from the sanctuary as would a frightened opossum. The curse words were getting nearer.
“I will kill you when I catch you!” the driver shouted. “You better run!” he frothed, suddenly very near to the bushes.
I held my breath, when, in disbelief, I saw my pool towel dangling on an azalea plant in plain view. The driver picked it up. I could see his uniformed pant cuffs and black boots pass in front of the porch opening. I inched further into the filthy recesses. He must have known I was nearby.
“You better run!” he shouted again, tossing my towel aside.
I didn’t expect what he did next. The angry man banged with heavy fists upon the aluminum screen door. A second time he banged, and perhaps because Glenn’s mother was in the basement or busy on the telephone, she was slow attending to the clamorous entreaty. The currier, still mumbling obscenities, finally headed back to his truck.
Minutes felt like hours, when, at last, I heard the engine start and the wheels of the elephant truck begin to roll. The outraged man circled the area. All was quiet. I exhaled. It was a close call.
I crawled out of the hole to survey the neighborhood. Stealthily I stepped back toward the pool. Glen emerged from behind the pool filter. We were both shaken. I was filthy with soot but unharmed. Glenn smelled of chlorine but he was safe. In our shaky hands, neither of us had forsaken our sling-shots. We decided to put them away in our secret place. Suddenly, a voice was calling from the kitchen window. It was Glenn’s mother.
“Were you banging on the front door?” she wanted to know.
Glenn was quick-witted when he needed to be, so he dodged the question altogether.
“Can we go in the pool now, mom?” he asked. “It has been more than an hour since lunch.”
“Okay,” responded his benevolent mother, “but no diving until your father gets home…and go get the pool towel from the driveway…pick it up before your father runs it over with the car!”
With that simple request satisfied, and without a worry in the world, Glenn and I waded into the clear blue water of his backyard pool, and once again, we were in heaven.