I cannot remember how the feud began, but I can certainly remember that it ended with me hoisting the neighbor kids bike up a flagpole. The flagpole belonged to the Christian School next door to my house, which I did not attend. The bike belonged to Brandy, who along with her younger brother Dennis, were alternately the best friends and greatest enemies of me and my brother Jason. Dennis and my brother were the same age and good friends, while Brandy was older than me and usually spent time with other mean girls when not getting involved in our shenanigans.
As an adult I expressed to Brandy that she always seemed kinda mean, and she remarked that it was her only defense while in the presence of the lot of devilish boys like us.
I am not even sure how my brother and I managed to get her bike up the flagpole, being as I was like seven and Jason a year and a half younger. We had to somehow get it four or five feet off the ground to attach it to the chain, then raise it another ten feet up into the air by that rusty chain mechanism.
But I know all of this happened because I can still see that bike hanging in all of its pink glory, gently tapping against the pole to the rhythm of the wind. How was I ever supposed to be impressed by mere flags after that? I’d stand up and take my hat off to Ol’ Bikey any day, though.
And if you think what we did at the Christian School to a flagpole was sacrilege, just wait until you hear what we did to the church not too long after. First, the neighborhood…
The street I lived on stopped after my house and turned into the school’s parking lot.
There was, however, a gravel alley between my house and the school that led to the next street parallel to mine. On the other side of that lived Brandy and Dennis, as well most of the other people in my neighborhood I regularly interacted with.
Next to Dennis and Brandy lived a kind old lady we all called Grandma Velda. While not technically the grandmother of any of the kids in the neighborhood, in spirit and deed she certainly was to all of us. Her own grandkids were grown up and lived far away. She was a lonely old lady living out her final days in a house full of junk. Even though she was a serious pack rat, her house was always clean. Exploring her treasures with her on a rainy day while sipping on her ever-present Kool Aid was always a delight, especially when you were the only kid there. There were also cookies and crafts and games and all the other grandma benefits like love and respect.
Even though I was a dumb kid, I knew I was pretty lucky to have a third grandma to spoil me!
Next to Grandma Velma lived the Bluegrass Indian. He was a kind old gentleman who would invite us in to hear stories, listen to music or watch some old westerns on basic cable. He was a beautiful old man, with the deep sienna skin tone of his native ancestry highlighted by regal silver hair. He had been a successful bluegrass and country musician and had played with some of the all time greats, and his walls were adorned with framed photographs of him and major stars of the past, many of whom I recognized from my grandparents record collection. He dressed live a tv cowboy and even affected a somewhat Texan drawl. None of which ever seemed as crazy as it does now that I am writing it out.
Next door his son lived, who was a alleged to disdain all children. He may as well have been a serial killer for how adept we became at avoiding him. While the only interaction any kid I knew had ever had with him was an occasional, “Get the fuck out of here!” when you came too close to him or his property, his dad confirmed that he was a certified kid hater, which was good enough for us.
On the corner lived the old man, who must have been 75 years old, but who could be expected to be seen every Sunday morning to be sitting on his screened porch while smoking a joint and cranking Led Zepplin albums.
Also in this area lived a girl named Kelly who I occasionally played with, and whose habit of saving every bit of school work set me thinking very early on about the paradox of documenting your own life. At some point, if you actually tried to relive these documents of the past, you would have no more time to create new memories worth documenting. You would be a person filming yourself watching old films of yourself. An infinite regress of sentimentality and lost time.
There were also the Lightheart family, whom I was sometimes paid to ‘babysit’ for, which really just meant entertaining their son while they cranked up Kool & the Gang and locked the bedroom doors. They were devout Christians and once showed me the video of their second child’s birth so that I could “witness God’s miracle of life”, but more than anything just made me feel sorry for vaginas.
There was Derek, who was in my class, but had mastered snobbery at an exceptionally young age, and tended to hang out with the more privileged kids he met in YMCA sports and at church. He lived with his grandparents, who were not too fond of kids either, although never cruel to Derek that I knew of.
Timmy was the neighborhood milquetoast. He was mostly a pariah until we figured out his parents were pretty cool, so then we befriended him to gain access to the family home and on trips to the park to participate in their main pastime, flying kites. Everyone involved knew Timmy was being used, but also that it was the best case scenario for Timmy, given his whiny, weak and annoying ways. He seemed to go out of his way to be unlikeable, but for a ride in the station wagon with the rear-facing seat, it was worth it.
This is only a rough sketch of that small area where I spent most of my days from ages 5-8. If someone else were writing this story I would undoubtedly be described as a clever rapscallion, ornery hellion and devious hooligan. And when I wasn’t listening to records and drawing or playing Atari, that was very much the case.
During the summer of my seventh year, Jason, Dennis and I decided that the inside of the church bus was the place to be, especially since nobody was using it late in the afternoon on a weekday. It was an old school bus that had been repurposed for doing Jesus errands as a group.
The doors were locked, or so we thought. However we were not little Timmys who would let a thing like that stand in our way! Sticks and stones may break your bones, but bus windows are surprisingly durable. We even climbed on top of the bus to try to break in through the escape hatch. This went on for at least an hour, and somehow we were not seen and stopped while trying to shakedown a church bus in open sight in broad daylight. I think we might have even went home to eat dinner, then came back later with an increased appetite for destruction. Nonetheless we never got in.
Saturday came and when I saw the cop cars parked in the church lot caddy corner from our house, I knew I was totally fucked. I can still remember the stern questions of the piggies and the gentle admonishments of the pastor who informed us the back door had been unlocked the whole time and all we had to do was ask if we wanted to play in it. But the bus had been damaged, meaning somebody had to pay. That ended up being the parents, as well as our shiny red asses after the cops and Christians left us alone with them.
As a way to remind us of our misdeeds, the church painted the footprints permanently on top of the bus, whose roof could be seen from our front yard. It remained that way for nearly a decade, long after I had moved away. Yet I always enjoyed seeing it. It did not invoke in me shame or piousness, but rather some pride in my own wild, irreverent spirit.
I managed to thumb my nose at religion and the law in one fell swoop by the time I was seven, while most of the guys my age and social class, who later grew up to be cliche machismo conservatives, were sitting in their playrooms tinkering with weaponized dolls and pre-empting their existential dick crises by comparing their toy collections.
Looking back my only regret is that we couldn’t get the bus up the flagpole.