Child's Play
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In grade school, we spent most of our summers riding bikes on elaborate adventures - my brother, Chris, our friend, Ricky, and I transformed our urban landscape into a geography that would rival any conjured in Tolkien's imagination. The drainage ditches near our home, which flowed run-off rainwater beneath the streets, served as our thousand caves of Menegroth. We rode through the old train yard, chased rabbits, and built what might have been described as a fort, but was little more than slats of wood laid between the branches of a tree. In my memory, it seems that we had a vast wilderness to explore, but like the shoddy reality of our tree house, our plot of nature was a tiny tree-laden grove that housed more junked cars than foliage. It didn't matter though - our "wilderness" offered enough adventure to fill seemingly endless days.

Our ultimate destination was a series of construction hills in a developing subdivision, mostly scattered dirt mounds no higher than eight feet surrounding twin 30-foot mounds. We spent hours scaling the tremendous dirt walls of our personal Andes, biking ramps and scrambling trails. There were two problems with the hills however, which were also part of their appeal - the first was the cops whom we constantly had to hide from.

The second problem was far more insidious: "Gal-gal & Hen-hen" a biking band of pre-pubescent Hell's Angels in training. Even their name evoked fear - and it was a nomenclature created specifically for the purpose of neutralizing it. In the playground vernacular this was the harshest of labels - "Gal" as in "cootie" ridden, "Hen" as in "chicken", repeated for emphasis. They were the older kids, traveling in packs like ravenous wolves on the hunt, riding in triangular V attack formation, following the orders of their nefarious leader, "Jay-tan" (as in Satan). Sometimes they flanked us and ran us off the road completely. It was a turf war that made "king of the mountain" literal; "G & H" were sworn enemies.

It wasn't that we were chicken ourselves. You had to have nerves of steel to launch the Andes, risking a skinned knee or elbow and on one occasion a dislocated shoulder - let alone to attempt this on a bike with a banana seat. For that matter, you probably had to have nerves of steel to ride a bike with a yellow and orange banana seat in the first place. It was just that "Gal-gal & Hen-hen" were malicious.

Our battles were a competitive rivalry - these chases often dissolving into some kind of challenge and mud slinging of both varieties. For control of the hills, our groups would trash talk each other while hurling dirt bombs through the air. We competed to out-trick our opponents, race one another and so forth. Ricky racing on foot against "Jay - tan" on his light frame bike, Chris playing chicken with Tom toward a ditch, Mike and I peddling against each other in a reed bar punctured asphalt obstacle course; these were trials of the hills by which our legends were made.

From the hilltop we could see "G&H" rolling in, they shrouded the street en masse like a murder of angry crows. "Jay - tan" on point and his minions staggered behind peddling toward us, hooting and hollering as they approached. This tactic was usually enough to intimidate us, but this day Chris had gone to use the port-a-john at the base of the hills. When "G&H" became privy to this knowledge it represented an unprecedented means of torture for them to subject us to.

Ricky yelled a warning to Chris while I manufactured munitions, balling mud into mini-grenades and stockpiling them. "G&H" were already spilling into the foothills and in typical fashion spreading out so that they could cover a broader area. We packed our weapons in a discarded plastic tarp and crossed the ravine to position ourselves at the edge of a small plateau known as "Dead Man's Drop." Having exhausted our creativity on the name "Gal-gal & Hen-hen," we relied on cliché where we could. The precarious ledge dropped straight into massive bulldozer ruts. It was a steep ridge that unlike the bulk of the hills was composed of exposed clay and rock. Many a kid had nearly taken a spill from its height; in fact, "Dead Man's Drop" was a staple feature in death - defying double dog dares doing daredevil skids right at its edge.

"Cover me." I echoed in B - action cliché.

Mounting Chris's light frame bike, I prepared to pull the most dramatic of pop-up wheelies at the ledge, capturing the image of a silhouetted lone ranger. My own bike had the banana seat automatically dispelling the aura of ruggedness.

Meanwhile, Chris made his exit from the port-a-potty and was instantly forced back inside by two of the "G&H" crew who barricaded the door with a plank of wood. I revved up to exhibit my action-adventure prowess. I nodded to Ricky. He nodded back, and I put the bike in motion, racing to the edge. In the next triumphant moments "G&H" would, for the first time ever, flee from us proving to be one of the most empowering moments of our childhood. I raced toward "Dead Man's Drop", my eyes fixed on the portable toilet that two of "Jay - tan"'s demonic horde prepared to overturn, so focused on it, in fact, that I forgot to apply the brakes.

The bike soared off "Dead Man's Drop" like a rocket taking flight; we sailed together through the sky (one basket shy of an E.T. re-enactment) and parted ways in descent. Chris's Huffy became the largest projectile hurled from the hills - it fired like a missile through the foothills at the base of the Andes, directly toward one of "Jay - tan"'s henchmen. I followed close behind, tumbling through the air as the hill's heaviest projectile, flying right at "Jay - tan" himself.

"Jay - tan" took flight, still land-based and in desperate retreat; his boys followed close behind, the toilet tippers included. I literally hit the ground running, then tumbling, then rolling, then bouncing and then moaning. They witnessed none of this as they fled the scene. My shoulder was dislocated, my body bruised and bleeding as I raced over to free Chris. We collected Chris's bike, which had in phantom form pursued the boys right to the curb before it permitted them escape. We made our way back to Ricky who was slowly climbing down the bluff.

A month later the construction crew bulldozed over the hills. They were smoothed out, flattened and eventually all trace of them erased, but in that last month "Jay-tan" and the "G&H" boys avoided the hills completely. Years later in high school, we actually partied with the "G&H" crew and reminisced on these experiences. Recalling this last one, Jay himself explained it this way: "Man, we all ran because we thought you were dead, but when we saw you guys around that place later, we were afraid of what you might do."

I laughed, "Yeah, we were all crazy back then." Never relaying the entire event had been accident.

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