Spring swept into our neighborhood with all of its glorious renewals. The dogwood tree was budding, the popcorn bushes were popping, and the Coca-Cola bees droned around the trash cans.|
My big brother and I were where every kid wanted to be: down in the basement. I was only 11, and I took great interest in watching how inventive my 16-year-old brother could be when it came to matters of sneakily smoking cigarettes and blaming the smell on the ďfaultyĒ wiring that somehow only acted up when he was around.
A young boy like me could have never wished for such wisdom! But here he was, training me to become as delinquent as he was. I was in heaven!
I remember the day that we discovered that playing darts could be enhanced by employing a few household articles to boost the fun factor. What we had were three old darts. These were hand-me-downs from my grandfather to my father and then to us. They were not like normal darts. These were aerodynamically-shaped hardwood behemoths with lead weights and wickedly sharpened tips. We had taken to inserting them into a short length of garden-hose (they fit perfectly), and attaching a foot-operated mattress pump to the other end of the hose. The result was that when you stomped really hard on the pump, the dart would shoot out and embed itself into the cinder-block walls.
Here we would have stayed all day, if not for our mother and her chronic bout with Get-yer-butts-outta-the-house-itis. Strangely, our house seemed to have less trouble with smoking wiring and concrete-eating termites when we werenít around, but nobody was ever able to explain why.
Once outdoors, we set up our dart launcher and sighted it down the street. I got to hold the hose and aim. My brother, being the heavier, got to jump on the pedal pump.
The dart shot down the street and disappeared from sight before it showed any signs of being affected by gravity. We assumed that it must have landed out in the ocean, about 15 miles away. I suggested that the next time we went to the beach, we should look for it and see if it had washed up. My brother smacked my head with his James Cagney-esque backhand.
Two darts left.
This was going to be a short game if we kept losing darts, so we decided to pick a more local target. Old Man Schrieberís house looked tempting.
I aimed; my brother stomped.
The dart pierced Schrieberís front window and exited out his back window. The glass did not even crack. Instead, there was just a hole where the dart had passed through both panes, leaving a perfectly polished hole about the diameter of a garden hose.
One dart left.
This was it. If we lost this dart, we would be stuck outside with nothing to do but join street gangs and enter a life of drugs and violence. Seeing that the recruitment squad for the really cool gangs did not pass our house very often, we had to find a way to conserve our final dart.
My brotherís eyes lit up as the seed of enlightenment coursed through his ever-wise brain. I saw this look and danced back and forth in anticipation as I waited for the answer. It had to be pure genius. It always was.
He didnít speak, but he smiled a knowing smile. I was in awe of his silent refinement. His idea had to be so grand that, if it was spoken aloud, it might lose its sheer perfection.
He inserted our final dart into the hose, aimed the hose straight up, and handed it back to me.
At last I saw it! The brilliance that made me worship my brother knew no boundaries! If the dart went straight up, aside from the fact that the earthís rotation would carry the dart slightly to the east (or would it be west?), we would be able to retrieve this dart and fire it over and over again!
I aimed the hose. Straight up. Donít breathe. Concentrate. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my brother leap up into the air and descend onto the foot pump.
Up went the dart! It was invisible almost immediately. We cheered!
And we waited.
And nothing happened. It never came back down!
We did some mental math. Assuming the dart had been going slightly less than the speed of sound (or else we would have heard the sonic boom), there was no was way that it could have escaped the earthís gravity. It had to have come back down, but where?
My brother saw it first, and his face turned white. I knew how to read this expression as well. This was the ďOh crap!Ē expression. I looked at him with my patented silent-pleading expression. He read my expression as well. He looked down. My eyes followed the path his gaze had taken.
And there it was. The dart. We found it.
It was embedded in the top of my right foot.
How it had managed to miss every other part of me and end up in my foot was a real mystery, but there it was. Either the dart had managed to completely miss every vital organ and nerve in my foot, or I was juiced up on adrenaline. Whichever the case, I felt no pain. It was as if I was watching everything unfold on TV.
My brother reached down and pulled on the dart. My foot lifted off the ground, and the dart did not budge. My brother realized that I did not weigh enough to provide sufficient resistance to his strength, so he did what any big brother would have done. He stepped onto my toes and added his weight to mine.
Again, he pulled. With a grunt, his hand slipped off the dart, cleanly stripping off the tattered feathers. I looked up at him imploringly. I did not want to go through the rest of my life with this dart sticking out of my foot. How would I play kickball? What would I say to the recruiters from the street gangs? What would Mom do? It was this final thought that caused me to go into a panic, and my brother knew he had better act fast before I totally lost it and did something stupid Ė like confessing.
His eyes bored into my skull. I knew this look. It was the look that said if I did anything but freeze in my tracks, that he would either A) kill me, or B) rat me out for (twice) taking a dump in the woods while on a canoe trip we had taken when I was six. Neither prospect was good. They both ended with me becoming very dead, either by my brotherís hand, or by my motherís, if she ever found out that somewhere in the woods of Pennsylvania there was a poop (or two) that would ruin the ecology of the world, and it was all my fault.
I froze. Freeze or die. I chose to freeze.
My brother spat on his hands and rubbed them together. Again, he put his full weight onto my toes, gripped the body of the dart, and pulled with all of his strength.
I remember seeing the dart in my brotherís hand, and the smile on his face. I remember the thin string of my blood that shot up out of my foot. It went about ten feet high, then splashed down onto the lawn. Every time my heart would beat, the strand of blood would reappear. There was a strange beauty to it. If only the street gangís officers could see me now, and see how brave I was to stand there watching myself bleed to death without even blinking. I was now a man.
And, as I stood and watched the beautiful fountain in all its glory, I did not notice my brother dashing away and returning with a roll of duct tape. He tightly taped my foot until I wasnít losing much more blood than I could stand to lose in one day.
One dart left.