Youth: a tale of the '40s told by an 11-year-old, signifying nothing . . .
Part One, Derring-do in the twilight.
From the pages of BLITHE SPIRIT, A Weekly Commentary, Jim Bowman, Editor & Publisher, 127 N. Marion, Oak Park IL 60301, 708 524 9311; Fax: -9866. Copyright Jim Bowman, 1996, Vol. 1, No. 10, May 8, 1996, Two Cents and worth it.
We had a grand time dumping ash cans. It was Friday night. We crawled
up and tied twine to cans on third floors of apartment buildings, then tiptoed
down taking the twine with us. Then we took the twine out behind the garage
in the alley and pulled it. Down would come garbage can with a mighty clang-
With luck the yard was paved. Some are like that, more areaway than
yard. When the can hits the pavement, the noise is tremendous. We take off
down the alley. What a blast!
It went like that all night. Bill and Charley and Mel and I, plus
others. Our neighborhood has lots of apartment buildings and lots of alleys.
In one we found an empty gallon bottle, maybe for cider or the like, and Mel,
who has a knack for this sort of thing, swung it around and pitched it down
the alley. It smashed three buildings down. We ran for it.
We were due home by nine, but we made the most of it, starting about six
or so. Tying twine to garbage cans was the most fun, especially if we sneaked
up while people inside were having dinner. Made my stomach crawl to do it.
Exciting. Made up for the boring things we had to do the rest of the day.
I mean boring. I just wait for trouble, to break the monotony. School
is O.K. some of the time. I like when we read stories and talk about them.
And some arithmetic is fun to solve. But usually it's a lot of coming and
going and staying in line and doing what you're told.
It's a dead town. We dump garbage cans to liven it up a little.
But the other night got me wondering. Mel and I were leading the way.
He was a really funny guy, always leading our conversation, full of funny com-
ments about teachers and people in the news. He was a bright guy who read a
lot. He had the latest about strange happenings all over the world. He al-
ways had a book going and dipped into supermarket magazines too, the ones that
told about two-headed space creatures coming for dinner and so on. We lis-
tened to Mel. He had a lot to say.
He led the way up Mr. McLaughlin's back stairs. Mr. McLaughlin was a
tall, hard-eyed guy who looked like he already had lived forever. Hard-eyed
and lean. My dad told me he complained a lot to the village board, about gar-
bage collection and you name it. Once or twice thumbing through the local pa-
pers, I found letters from him, also complaining.
All the more exciting to tip his garbage can. And his back yard, which
wasn't very big in the first place, was mostly paved. We expected a wonderful
Up we crawled, Mel and I. It was about eight on a Friday in the middle
of May. We could see well enough in the daylight that was left, and the porch
lights hadn't gone on yet. So it was dark enough to give us some cover.
Mr. McLaughlin lived on the third floor. We had to get past two neigh-
bors first. One wasn't home, we were pretty sure, on the second floor. But
on the first was someone we didn't know, new people. A husband and wife wasall we knew. We figured no problem. No kids of their own, they would not be
so strict about it all. That's been our experience. Young people without
kids were tolerant. We expected no trouble.
Still, we weren't happy to notice they were in their kitchen as Mel and
I walked quietly past on the way upstairs. We looked ahead, as if all was
perfectly normal. Again, we figured the new people would ignore us. Nice
neighborhood and all, they would figure "just kids."
On we went past the second landing. Nobody home there. Then softly,
softly, now on all fours up to the third. One stair creaked, then another. A
bird or a bat, we couldn't tell which, whipped past us in the now darkening
air. Mel and I stopped. Not a sound from above or below. We were five steps
from the third floor, rounding the bend to Mr. McLaughlin's level, when a god-
awful racket shook the air from below.
"Tommy, don't do that," a woman shrieked. Mel and I froze. "Don't do
that," she shrieked again. I shivered. Then the woman let out a long laugh.
A screen door slammed. Then there were giggles. The door opened, slammed
again. Then soft laughter.
Mel and I relaxed but still waited -- just a minute, but it seemed lon-
Then we started up again.
Mel had the twine. We reached the top, staying low. We could see a
light in a room toward the front of the apartment. No one was in the kitchen,
it appeared. He lived alone and didn't have a dog. We knew that much. He
didn't have many visitors. He was all we had to worry about. Still, between
us and him there was nothing but a screen door.
Now we had to lift the can up on to the porch railing. Because it was
Friday, there was only a day's garbage in it. Otherwise, it might have been
too heavy. Mel took one side, I took the other. With a grunt we pulled it up
to railing height, then set it down it there. A dog started barking in the
next yard. (To be continued)
Thanks for reading Blithe Spirit Weekly! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.