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.