I've never been quite sure how long to wait before telling a particular story. Friends periodically look at me when I start to tell of a college indiscretion or a profoundly drunken weekend from my past. The indiscretion and drinks have been left behind for a good long time now - it's just part of who I am.
Still, today I think I'll be safe by recounting a tale from the days when my driver's license was a new thing and I drove a Chevrolet Vega. As introduction I have to say that I lived in an inordinately close neighborhood as a child. It may be the fact that we all lived on a cul-de-sac from kindergarten to the time we graduated high school. Lots of street football, hide and seek, capture the flag - and a twisted version of tag we called "Gunner." In this game, one kid (I volunteered rather than having the job forced on me) carried his toy gun around and "shot" all the others. You had to stay "dead" until someone came and tagged you. If the "gunner" killed everyone the game was over. Initially these games took place around Ryan Sinner's house, then spread throughout the neighborhood. By the time we were in junior high, we would play "Gunner" using the back yards, driveways and landscaping of the entire block.
When we got into high school, the idea of running around with toy guns started to wear a little thin, but the notion of a large-scale "tag" game was still very appealing. Ryan was always good for a new wrinkle or innovation, and he suggested we use cars and select boundaries around several blocks. The toy gun notion was tired, so we decided that water balloons might be better ammo. Ryan would drive his dad's pickup truck, and I would drive my Vega. Each of us had a team of balloon tossers - three apiece. We filled a couple of buckets full of water balloons and headed out in opposite directions. I had to drive with my car's hatchback hanging open so we could maximize our firepower. If you can already see where this is going, you can punch out now.
If you're still with me, it must be morbid curiousity or perhaps you can't imagine a world where stuff like this really happens. It seemed like a really cool idea to us at the time. I drove around for fifteen or twenty minutes without seeing Ryan's pickup, and when we did see him, it was too late. We were pelted mercilessly and then he sped off down the quiet suburban streets. I was not taking my soaking lightly, and neither was my team. I devised a plan: Two of my team would take the bucket and lay in wait for Ryan to come back down the street where our elementary school was. I would sit at the intersection a block away, under a streetlight - a sitting duck. We waited for Ryan to take the bait. We didn't have to wait long. Ryan's pickup came flying down the darkened street, the boys in the back cackling loudly as they moved in for the kill. That's when my team stood up and unloaded on the front end of the pickup. I'd like to believe that Ryan was going about seventy at the time, but it was probably more like thirty. Still, the force created by a moving vehicle and a balloon full of water headed in the opposite direction was significant. Significant enough to punch a fist size hole through the driver's side of the windshield. Brakes went on. Ryan cursed a blue streak. Ryan could always curse better than any of us. I thought about running, but decided that this constituted a "time-out."
No doubt about it, Ryan's dad was going to be extremely unhappy. As quick as we had formulated the rules for the game, we began to make up a lie to cover our collective butts. Sure, for a moment there was a thought about blaming the balloon tossers (was it Doug Ross or Paul Whyman?) but the fact that it was DAD'S PICKUP made the problem much dicier. If it had been my car, the consequences would have been obvious. DAD'S PICKUP was another matter. So we determined that we had been all together, driving up near the university when somebody in the back of the pickup (probably Doug) had yelled something stupid at "a hippie." Wouldn't you know that he had picked not only an ill-tempered hippie, but one with a baseball bat? Rather than risk any further aggression (I know - eight or nine junior high and high schoolers and one deranged hippie with a baseball bat - but he looked like he was on drugs or something).
Ryan's parents bought it. In hindsight, I can imagine that they may have seen it as infinitely more rational to consider that the crazy hippie was lurking somewhere out there than they had a son whose idea of fun was to play water balloon tag with DAD'S PICKUP. When I got home, I said nothing to my parents, hoping that their long-standing lack of interest in conversing with Ryan's parents could be maintained until this could all blow over.
It's not a body in the basement or a missing twin, but it's time to clean the slate: I'm sorry about your pickup, Mr. Sinner.