I Dare You


I started reading George Carlin’s book, “Last Words” this week. He starts out talking about his childhood, growing up in New York city. It reminded me of my own childhood and the crazy things me and the neighborhood kids did together. Growing up in New York, Carlin had ready made entertainment all around him with no lack of great things to see and do. Growing up in a small mid-western town like I did, we had to come up with our own entertainment. And we had no lack of imagination to do it with. I was born in 1956, so my formative years were the Sixties and early Seventies. I grew up with Rock N Roll and the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. Woodstock and the first man on the moon. It was an exciting time to be alive. Of course none of us kids understood the cultural significance of the things happening in our world. We were too young. We just wanted to have fun.

The entire town was our Kingdom. But the park, only a block away from my house, was the center of a lot of our activity. One day I hopped on my bike and rode to the park shelter to see if anyone was around. A couple of friends were there and we were soon in the thick of planning our exploits. One of my buddies had an old lipstick tube he had found and the other had a pocket full of firecrackers. I’m not sure which one of us came up with the idea, but we decided to make a bomb. Why, you ask? Well, to blow shit up, that’s why. There was no harm or malice aforethought in what we did. We just wanted to make an explosion. And we, well, you’ll see.

Back in my day, (an expression used when talking to my grandkids) back in my day, lipstick tubes were made of metal. One of my friends pulled out his pocket knife and cleaned the old lipstick out of the tube. Every kid had a pocket knife back then. It wasn’t a weapon, it was a tool. He soon had a nice little glob of sticky, oily red lipstick on the picnic table. And a knife blade and fingers full as well. I set to work with my own knife on the firecrackers. First you pull the fuse out and then slice the firecracker length wise until you reach the center which is filled with gunpowder. I opened up about 15 firecrackers. The lipstick tube now being about half full of gunpowder was then packed with the paper from the cut open firecrackers. The science behind why firecrackers explode is this: The gunpowder is wrapped tightly with several layers of paper. The fuse is lit and when the sparks reach the gunpowder, the gunpowder ignites. The force of the ignition is tightly bound with the layers of paper, and it has to go somewhere. Boom. A few twists with the pointy end of your blade made a nice hole for the fuse, and we were ready.

The picnic tables at the park were made of heavy planks of wood, each two inches thick. We jammed the lipstick tube between two of them and lit the fuse. We ran like hell. That was one of the most exciting days of my entire young life. The explosion was HUGE. The whistle on a freight train was not as loud. The siren on the cop station roof was not as loud. The explosion made my head ring and my hearing was probably permanently damaged that day. Wood splinters from the thick and heavy two inch planks of the picnic table flew in all directions. Some were embedded in the wood posts that held up the shelter roof. The heavy screws that held the planks in place were twisted out of shape. We couldn’t even find any metal from the lipstick tube although we didn’t stick around long because we knew someone would call the cops. On our bikes we flew in three different directions, laughing and cheering all the way down the street.

Needless to say, I had a great childhood. Yes, there was some vandalism involved. And some stealing. There was some fighting and cursing and smoking and there was some alcohol. There was fishing in the river. There were a lot of dares. Like the time we rode our bikes screaming through Carleton College’s underground tunnels scaring the hell out of College students because somebody dared us to do it. You didn’t pass up a dare. I regret none of it. Think of the stories we gave other people to tell. “Remember when those kids…” Your welcome.

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Angels And Demons

video-game-controller

“Alright kids,” their grandfather said. “Gather ‘round. Time for a bedtime story.” The children came running and plopped themselves down at the old man’s feet. Grandpa’s stories were the best.

“Not too long now,” their mom said. “It’s getting late.”

“Aww mom,” the kids cried. Grandpa smiled at them and winked. They all smiled back.

“This is a story about a boy named Bobby,” Grandpa began. “Bobby liked video games. Probably you kids like them too. So listen carefully to what happened to him.” And then Grandpa told the tale…

Bobby’s character was killed again. “Darn it,” he exclaimed, tossing the controller onto the bed beside him. “I just can’t get past this demon.” He had been trying all evening to evade or kill the demon in the game, but to no avail. The White Sword, his best weapon was just not powerful enough. The demon beat him every time.

From down the hall Bobby’s mom called, “Bobby, time for bed.”

“Alright mom,” he called back. After shutting off the game machine Bobby dressed for bed. He went to the bathroom to brush his teeth and then went out to the living room to find his mom.

“Did you remember to study for the test at school tomorrow?” she asked.

“Um, yeah, sure did,” Booby replied.

“Um hmm,” his mom said, watching his face. “I just bet you did.”

“Aww c’mon mom, I’ll be fine.” Bobby leaned over to kiss his mom’s cheek.

“Get some sleep, kiddo. Maybe you can study before school.”

“Alright mom, g’night.”

“Goodnight, Bobby,” his mom said.

Bobby went to bed. Pulling up his covers he reached over and shut off the lamp. Light from the street light streamed into his room, making stark black and white shadows on the wall. Bobby closed his eyes and imagined fighting the demon. Flashing the White Sword this way and that, he imagined what it would be like to finally kill the thing. He’d gain lots of power, he thought. And maybe more weapons. How cool would that be? Slowly, Bobby drifted off to sleep.

Bobby woke sometime in the night. He woke up because he heard his chair scrapping across the floor. He opened his eyes and there, standing with its hand on the back of the chair was the demon from his game! Bobby had kicked off his covers in his sleep. Quickly grabbing them he pulled them up around his chin. The demon sat down. A low growling sound came from its throat and Bobby could see reddish fire coursing through the veins that stood out on its arms. It had long curved horns coming out of its forehead and teeth, pointed and probably razor sharp gleamed in the street light from the window. Bobby started to shake.

Suddenly a glow began to form in the air at the foot of his bed and continued to brighten. As the glow got brighter yet, it took the shape of a man. Bobby could see wings, long and feathery, on the man’s back. It was an angel! The angel moved around to the opposite side of the bed from the demon and sat down, even though there wasn’t a chair there. “You’re Late!” said the demon.

“Yes well,” the angel replied casually, “Lot’s to do you know. Lot’s to do.” he looked at Bobby and smiled. Bobby looked back with wide eyes, not knowing what to think. He pinched himself. It is said that you can tell if you’re dreaming by pinching yourself. If you don’t feel it, it’s a dream. Bobby felt it.

“Well let’s get on with this. You’re not the only one with things to do,” the demon said, crossly.

“I know what you’re going to say,” the angel began, but was interrupted by the demon.

“He’s mine. You heard him, he lied to his mother. Didn’t even say he was sorry.”

“Well you’re right of course. He did lie. But Bobby’s a good boy. He didn’t argue with his mom about going to bed. He brushed his teeth, gave his mom a kiss and all but promised to study for his test in the morning”

“All but,” the demon replied. “And this isn’t the first time he’s lied. You know that.”

At this point Bobby got up a little courage. He said, “What are you guys doing in my room? What is….?”

The demon’s hand came up quickly and he pointed a smoking finger in Bobby’s face. “Stay out of this boy,” he snarled. “This is between me and him.” Bobby sunk back under the covers. The demon began to stand up. “So that’s it then,” he said to the angel. “I’ll be taking him.”

“Not so fast,” said the angel. The demon growled loudly and sat back down. “Remember back in, oh what was it now, 1738 I think. The boy who chopped down his father’s cherry tree? You said you had to have him for that and I said no because he told the truth. We made a bargain, remember?”

“Yeah I remember,” snarled the demon. “Let him live, you said. We’ll see how he does, maybe you can have him yet. Well it didn’t work out so well for me, did it? Became president he did. I don’t like your bargains.” The demon crossed his arms and sat back in the chair.

“Ww, what’s going on?” Bobby stammered. The demon was about to yell at him again when the angel interrupted.

“You died in your sleep, Bobby,” the angel said. “Too much video game playing. Affected your brain.” He shrugged. “These things happen.” He reached out and patted Bobby’s knee. “It’ll work out, don’t you worry.”

“Like hell it will!” the demon bellowed, standing up suddenly. “He’s mine and I’ll have him! Just look at his desire to kill me every time he plays that stupid game!” he yelled, pointing at Bobby. “That should tell you all you need to know!”

“Here’s what I propose. A rematch. It didn’t work out for you with the Washington kid so now you’ll have a chance to win. We let him live, see how he turns out. You’ll probably win this time.”

The demon started pacing on the floor. “Why do I let you talk me into these things,” he grumbled. “Alright fine,” he said suddenly. Turning to Bobby he said, “You better make this work for me kid. I need to keep up my quotas and you would make a fine addition to the family.” Turning to the angel he said, “And you! No more bargains from you! I better win this one or there’ll be hell to pay!” In a flash of smoke and flame, he was gone. Bobby shuddered.

The angel softly chuckled to himself. “Never changes,” he said. “Never changes. Well that’s it Bobby. You get a reprieve.” The angel looked gravely at him. “Don’t make me regret it,” he said. “Now sleep.” Bobby slept.

Bobby’s mom poked her head into his room. “Time to get up dear, school.”

Bobby got up slowly. He rubbed his eyes and then got dressed. Grabbing his game controller he reached for the game machine, and stopped. Standing with his finger poised over the on button Bobby blinked a couple of times and then took back his hand. Laying the controller down, he reached for his school book. “That’s right,” he said. “I’ve got a test today.” And he opened the book.

The grandkids sat with their mouths gaping open. “Now let that be a lesson to you,” grandpa said. “Time for bed!”