When I was a child of grade school years, there were two worlds-the adult world and the kid world. There was an unwrit­ten agree­ment that the adults would stay in their world and kids would stay in theirs. My par­ents, espe­cial­ly my mom used to say a child should be seen and not heard. So if the back of the house was on fire, I guess that could be tak­en to mean that you don’t inter­rupt an adult con­ver­sa­tion to tell every­one to get the hell out fast. I’m jok­ing of course. Kids weren’t that stu­pid. They’d inter­rupt while run­ning past shout­ing fire! That way they couldn’t get smacked upside the head for inter­rupt­ing adult conversation.

In that long gone era of two sep­a­rate worlds, a kid was expect­ed to have some com­mon sense. We were encour­aged to han­dle our own prob­lems. It was believed that this method would help us grow into respon­si­ble adults. For the most part this approach worked beau­ti­ful­ly. If a bul­ly was both­er­ing you after school, you got togeth­er a more pow­er­ful force, usu­al­ly in the guise of your big broth­er and his friends and you led the poor bul­ly into a trap where he was sum­mar­i­ly dealt with. It was like drop­ping the bomb on him. You didn’t want to go there but he just wouldn’t sit down at the peace talks and agree to stop being such a jerk. So you had to go long range on his ass. Usu­al­ly though you could han­dle a bul­ly just by kick­ing his ass. Bul­lies are inse­cure indi­vid­u­als that loathe them­selves any­way, and there’s noth­ing like a good can of whip-ass to change their atti­tude. They just move along to the next will­ing victim.

I was walk­ing to the bus stop after class­es in my fresh­man year of high school when about a half a block up I noticed a big ugly kid with a base­ball bat. He was grab­bing kids by the col­lar and threat­en­ing to bash their heads in if they didn’t fork over their can­dy money.

He was stand­ing right in the door­way of the cor­ner store that I fre­quent­ed for my can­dy fix. He saw me com­ing while he was shak­ing down this oth­er kid who fran­ti­cal­ly forked over his dough. He had that glad eye twin­kle, like he was expect­ing to get paid again as soon as I got there. I was not about to turn around, or cross the street or run. I was scared for sure but I was told once that every­body feels fear. The dif­fer­ence is made in how you han­dle it. So I fig­ured that the best thing to do was to keep on walk­ing straight toward the guy with the bat. This is exact­ly what I did. So when I woke up in the hospital…no, no, no, I’m jok­ing again.

When I got there we had a stare down. He looked me over and real­ized that I didn’t seem afraid of him. I don’t know what went through his crim­i­nal mind but I could see that one gear grind­ing. He was like a cat the way he con­sid­ered the sit­u­a­tion. He stepped aside. 

I went into the store and bought the usu­al bag of gum and can­dy and junk. I was sur­prised that I had pulled off my lit­tle coup. It’s a fact that I was going to give this guy a hard time if he tried any­thing. Like my old­er broth­er used to say, you got­ta bring ass to kick ass. I had been a scrap­py kid since kinder­garten. Didn’t make me any difference.

Inside the store it was busi­ness as usu­al. The pro­pri­etor seemed obliv­i­ous to the big bul­ly out­side, that in effect was plac­ing a thug-tax on his patrons. I looked around the store as I always did and won­dered what the old toys were all about lin­ing the top of the shelves. There was one board game that I can’t seem to get out of my head. It was a licensed prop­er­ty with a guy named Pinky Lee on the cov­er. He wore a small der­by and an under­sized suit with a goofy bowtie with these round heavy framed glass­es. When Pee Wee Her­man came on the scene years lat­er, I flashed back on this Pinky Lee guy, and I won­dered if Paul Rueben was chan­nel­ing Pinky Lee. I think Pinky Lee was a ‘50’s TV show icon or some­thing because I had nev­er heard of him and this was now a cou­ple of decades after his hey day. I won­der what became of him? Maybe he got caught box­ing his clown in an adult movie the­ater. Back in his day that was grounds for execution.

So when I came out of the store, the bus was arriv­ing and I ran across the street to board it. I can’t remem­ber if the bul­ly was still stand­ing there. He was com­plete­ly for­got­ten. Maybe I dis­cour­aged his resolve or it was time for him to get off thug-duty. Who knows, the bus ride had its own sit­u­a­tion­al dan­gers to pay atten­tion to. But that’s anoth­er blog.

The aver­age play­ground in the city back in my day was cov­ered with grav­el and bro­ken glass. Some­times there was asphalt but that was at the new­er schools. I got my first con­cus­sion and skull frac­ture at 9 years old on one of those grav­el lots. I went to a lot of dif­fer­ent schools grow­ing up. It wasn’t because I was a prob­lem child or any­thing; as a mat­ter of fact it was just the oppo­site. I excelled at school. I was skipped a grade even. 

The game we played at this one school with the grav­el lot was called Hill Dill. I don’t know where the game comes from or how come we only played it at this par­tic­u­lar school but it was like foot­ball with­out a ball. It was a very aggres­sive game and a lot of guys played it to work out their griev­ances with one anoth­er. A bet­ter name for this game would have been Open Combat.

Here’s how you play Hill Dill; you get a clus­ter fuck of guys all dif­fer­ent weights and sizes to meet in the mid­dle of the grav­el and bro­ken glass, (smarter chil­dren knew to steer clear of this com­bat zone) then the two largest guys would pick their sol­diers and the left over rab­ble would choose a side. Like cel­lu­lar mito­sis the group would split to oppo­site sides of the bat­tle zone. The leader on one side would hold a fist up high and yell “Hill Dill!” and the oppo­site side would do like­wise. Then we would charge at each oth­er run­ning at top speed. Some of us were gig­gling uncon­trol­lable at the prospect of the com­ing car­nage and some of us with a score to set­tle had a grim scowl­ing face. Then for a brief sec­ond like that moment in the movie “300” there was a slow­ing of time as we faced the oth­er com­bat­ants eye to eye decid­ing what weak­ness­es were there to exploit.
Then like an explo­sion came fists to the jaw, elbows to the face, feet to the shins and all man­ner of twist­ing turn­ing and grab­bling, trip­ping, falling and stum­bling. Pent up frus­tra­tion and ener­gy was released in a pugilis­tic panora­ma of pain. I nev­er had a bet­ter time. The boy in me was in his ele­ment, car­nage. It’s what lit­tle boys live for. When else could you punch a guy in the face with all your might and not get into trou­ble for it? This was Hill Dill; this was war! 

Hill Dill was free, you didn’t have to ask your par­ents for equip­ment or beg for a spon­sor­ship. You used what you were born with, your skills on the bat­tle­field. Who need­ed a stu­pid ball to chase around with rules and a scor­ing sys­tem? We kept score by mak­ing it to the oppo­site side of the bat­tle­field. The side with the most guys, still stand­ing won the bat­tle. In the mid­dle of the field were the unfor­tu­nate guys who got man­gled up too bad­ly to make it to the oth­er side. They resem­bled a pile of maimed insects, with their twitch­ing and ago­niz­ing clutch­ing and moan­ing. It was a sweet feel­ing to stand there vic­to­ri­ous observ­ing the carnage. 

My moth­er used to won­der out loud why I couldn’t keep a pair of blue jeans in one piece longer than a cou­ple of weeks. She used to buy the kind with dou­ble mate­r­i­al on the knees. I loved those, because it cut down on my skinned knee injuries of which there were many.

Recess was only about ten min­utes long so we could only stage two bat­tles. It was time for the next bat­tle after the maimed com­bat­ants limped out of the kill zone, and it behooved them to do so because the detente was short lived and if they were still lying there when the next bat­tle start­ed they could get seri­ous­ly hurt. Tram­pled under foot.

This one par­tic­u­lar bat­tle was going well for me. I don’t remem­ber ever wind­ing up in that insec­tiv­o­rous pile of twitch­ing limbs. There was this one ene­my on the oth­er side that I had made dur­ing the last bat­tle. He was the leader of their side. Dur­ing the last bat­tle he had tried his best to take me out with a hay­mak­er. He missed because like Thor used to say in the com­ic books in his Shake­speare­an lilt, I was “swift of eye and fleet of limb.”

I knew he was out to make a kill this time. He was look­ing at me from across the bat­tle­field. I rec­og­nized the scowl. He was deter­mined to land that hay­mak­er this time. I set myself to be any­where but in front of that wild fly­ing fist of his. 

Our leader held his fist high into the air and yelled the bat­tle cry, “Hill Dill!” The cry came back at us from across the grav­el. Then the sound of rustling clothes and thud­ding foot falls. My periph­er­al vision fad­ed into a vignette with my archri­val in the mid­dle. I was on a col­li­sion course with him. It was unavoid­able. He was using his size to cut a path straight to me. He had sin­gled me out for revenge. Then sud­den­ly there he was, this big 8th grad­er tow­er­ing over me with men­ace on his face. 

He reached out to grab me this time. He had rea­soned I was to quick for his hay­mak­er so he was going for the trip, body slam and stomp. I adjust­ed and slipped his grip. I smacked him one in the face and escaped to the vic­to­ry zone. 

I didn’t know it then but I had done one thing right. A war­rior must see with­out per­cep­tion so as not be caught off guard by some­thing that is not what it seems. I sim­ply used bat­tle­field intu­ition. The big 8th grad­er had yet to under­stand this fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of being a war­rior. He had mis­judged me and I had sur­prised him yet again. He was furi­ous now. It was too late to do any­thing about it today. Or so I thought. 

The recess bell rang and the horde of chil­dren went to line up for re-entry into the school. The Hill Dill play­ers were some of the last to get in line as we were still high on the car­nage and help­ing our wound­ed com­rades up off the grav­el, admir­ing scars and blood and bruises. 

Lit­tle did I know at the time but I was about to get a les­son in Machi­avel­lian maneu­ver­ing. The some­what sin­is­ter 8th grad­er who had been humil­i­at­ed by me had left the bat­tle­field ear­ly and placed him­self strate­gi­cal­ly near where the 5th graders lined up to re-enter the school. What hap­pened next replays in my mind like my own per­son­al Zaprud­er film.

As I remem­ber the events that fol­lowed I was run­ning with a bud­dy to get in line who had been play­ing Hill Dill with me. We were engrossed in our rec­ol­lec­tion of the game high­lights when into my path stepped the big 8th grad­er. He had a sin­is­ter smile on his face now. My guard was down. Before I could react to the ambush he had tripped me while I was in mid run. While I was off bal­ance he shoved me head first into the sol­id brick wall of the school building. 

I regained con­scious­ness at my desk with a split­ting headache. It was 3:15 pm. The bell woke me up from what could have been a fatal slum­ber. I was in the throes of a con­cus­sion. My ditzy teacher didn’t know enough to get me med­ical atten­tion. Some­one had dragged me back to class and plopped me in my seat. 

I stag­gered home and my moth­er took me to emer­gency. The doc­tor took x‑rays and found a skull frac­ture. My moth­er took me home to recu­per­ate. She even stopped at McDon­alds for a cheese­burg­er and fries and a shake. I was too sick to eat it, and that was agony, because McDon­alds was real­ly a treat back then. 

I don’t know why my moth­er didn’t sue the school or pur­sue some form of jus­tice. Maybe she did, that was adult world stuff. I was out of it with my con­cus­sion, and so I don’t remem­ber a lot after my head got cracked. I do remem­ber feel­ing morose at the real­iza­tion of my mor­tal­i­ty. See­ing a pic­ture of my skull rat­tled me a bit. I had to come to grips with the fact that I was not invin­ci­ble. I did a lit­tle grow­ing up that day. But that was what child­hood was for.

Today’s chil­dren have too much inter­fer­ence from adults. This is just my opin­ion. When I was a kid we had grave things hap­pen and no coun­selor lined us up and asked us how we felt about any­thing. Kids were not put on drugs to cope with issues. There was no Ridlin or whatever. 

There was a kid I went to gram­mar school with. He seemed dif­fer­ent than the rest of us. He was a lit­tle old­er too. He lived across the street from the school. The school in today’s world would have giv­en this kid an alpha­bet des­ig­na­tion. They would des­ig­nate him as ADD or XYZ or what­ev­er acronymic label they use today. I remem­ber his name but I will with­hold that due to the nature of his story. 

He mur­dered a girl with a shot­gun and dumped her body in the garbage cans behind his three flat. We nev­er got one adult talk­ing to us about how we felt about that inci­dent. Every­one shrugged it off.

My best friend lived next door to this guy and he told me what hap­pened as best he knew the facts. It seems that the kid had a girl­friend who had come over to vis­it after school. The dad was at work so the kid went to get his dad’s shot­gun out of the clos­et to “show” his girl­friend. You can guess the rest. It went off and so did her head. 

I remem­ber the news trucks lined up one after­noon across from the school. We were all try­ing to get the cam­eras to swing around and get a shot of us. They ignored us. We were unhap­py about that. In today’s world the crew would have asked the kids how they felt about the mur­der. Back then they couldn’t care less. We were firm­ly in a child’s world even though the mur­der took place in it.

I nev­er saw that kid again. The author­i­ties came and took him away to some place far from our world. I knew he would nev­er be allowed to live in a kid’s world again after what he did. The poor bas­tard is prob­a­bly still alive in some sub­si­dized hous­ing with a drug prob­lem. Then again maybe he’s liv­ing large some­place and han­dling his demons quite well. I doubt it, but who the hell knows? 

This same sce­nario repeat­ed itself dur­ing my ear­ly high school years. Some kid in a wealthy neigh­bor­hood inhab­it­ed by pro­fes­sion­al types, most­ly doc­tors, stran­gled his girl­friend and buried her body in the base­ment. The stench of the rot­ting corpse gave him away. Not one adult asked us how we felt about that. 

Every night on tele­vi­sion grow­ing up there was real death and destruc­tion. The Viet­nam War came into the liv­ing room every night. We wit­nessed peo­ple being killed for real. I watched a guy get shot point-blank through the head and fall down while blood sprout­ed from the side of his head like some kind of macabre vam­pire water fountain. 

I was play­ing with my toys on the floor when I saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Har­vey Oswald on live tele­vi­sion. This was real­i­ty tele­vi­sion. I don’t know what that script­ed bull­shit is that claims that name today. But not one adult asked us kids how we felt about all the vio­lence we wit­nessed every day. 

We still turned out okay. We grew up with­out any delu­sions about the real world. The gov­ern­ment and Madi­son Avenue couldn’t bull­shit us with their usu­al brand of mind rape. So the con­sen­sus was that the pop­u­la­tion need­ed to be dumb­ed-down. They did a stel­lar job of it too, all the way up to the pres­i­den­cy. Dumb ass­es will do what you tell them. They’ll think what you want and buy what you sell them. 

Today’s kids don’t have a child­hood in my obser­va­tion. What they have now is adult super­vised pre-adult­hood. The par­ents over sched­ule their kid’s activ­i­ties. Kids don’t know how to cre­ate their own fun or set­tle their dif­fer­ences anymore. 

Hill Dill today would be played with real weapons and the fall­en would real­ly be dead and wound­ed. On the oth­er extreme Hill-Dill would be adult super­vised with lots of padding and hel­mets. It would be played on a rub­ber floor indoors and the rules would be changed. The kids would advance on each oth­er and tick­le their oppo­nents into sub­mis­sion with feath­er dusters. We have extremes today in an effort to avoid the gray area of hav­ing to think too much. 

Play­grounds have soft rub­ber cov­er­ings now. Kids wear hel­mets to ride bicy­cles. This would have been laughed away back in the day. Bicy­cle hel­mets are a mar­ket­ing coup. Baby seats were unheard of. You used to throw the kids into the back of a sta­tion wag­on and take off. Nobody wore seat­belts. No police offi­cer would pull you over for dri­ving around with your kid stand­ing up in the back. No one would arrest you for throt­tling your child for bad behav­ior in pub­lic. Now every­body is ready to sue each oth­er. Sleazy lawyers, then known as Ambu­lance Chasers, couldn’t adver­tise on tele­vi­sion back then. They had to slide up along side of you while you were strapped to a stretch­er and give you their busi­ness card.

It wasn’t cool to drop out of school and get preg­nant by mys­te­ri­ous sperm donors only to wind up on Mau­ry Povich try­ing to find out which guy in the neigh­bor­hood fer­til­ized the egg.

Adults have no busi­ness muck­ing about in a child’s world. That’s a spe­cial place that needs to be for chil­dren only. The inva­sion has ruined child­hood. Now there’s every­thing there that could have just as eas­i­ly been intro­duced when a child crossed over to adulthood. 

There are a cou­ple of movies out there titled Kidult­hood, and its fol­low-up Adult­hood. I haven’t seen them but it’s a sign of the times. With­out child­hood to give peo­ple a chance to become mature what we’ve got now is adults who are very childish.
Look around. The exam­ples are everywhere.