The tree in the back yard of our house at 20 Circle Street in Marblehead grew small, hard and inedible green apples that never ripened. They just rotted on the tree and fell to the ground. As far as I could tell at age ten, they served no purpose, at least to human beings. That is, until the night that a storm broke our roof-top TV antenna and my parents summoned the man who had installed it for a replacement. I watched as he climbed the roof with the new antenna and threw the broken one to the ground. Part of it was a steel rod about two feet long which I saved.
I had an idea: if I could skewer a rotten apple on this rod and then whip the rod over my head with maximum force, I might propel the apple high in the air over the neighbor’s rooftops. It would work just like the medieval catapult that I had seen in a movie. I tried one and it flew in an arcing trajectory over the next house and disappeared from sight. It was easy to suppress a flutter of worry over the possibility of injuring someone. I flung a few more apples over the rooftops and turned to other pursuits. Then, as now, my attention span was short.
My friend Tim lived some distance away and had an open field behind his house where he and other kids played and roamed in packs and sometimes fought One day he was excited when I arrived at his house to play. “Harry and some other guys have a fort just behind Harry’s house,” he said, “There’s an old chicken coop behind my house and we can use it as our fort and we can have wars with them.” Like Tim, Harry was in my fifth grade class at the Gerry School. We looked at Harry’s fort and Tim’s chicken coop. The distance between them was around a hundred feet. The question of how to do battle at such a distance nagged at me for a couple of days.
We were playing at my house on Circle Street when something in my mind connected. Rotten apples from my tree, skewered with my steel rod and flung in a mortar-like trajectory might just cover the distance. I explained my idea to Tim. “How can we get a load of these apples up to your house? It’s almost a mile away,” I asked. “I’ve got an old wagon. Let’s go get it; we can fill it with apples and drag them to my house.” We returned to Circle Street in about forty-five minutes with a rusting metal express wagon. The wheels seemed wobbly, but it would have to do. We loaded the wagon with the rotten apples which by now had fallen to the ground.
In the street the loaded wagon was very heavy; it took two of us, one pulling the handle and other pushing from behind to move it along. Little bumps in the pavement dislodged apples from the load and we took turns corralling them before they rolled under cars. Curbs were very hard to manage: two of us lifted the front end of the wagon over the curbstone and then swung the back end up. We were perspiring; this business of moving a few rotten apples was much harder than we had thought.
At the corner of Pearl and Elm, about halfway between our two houses, there was another curb to negotiate. We dragged the front wheels down off the curb and one of them broke off. I tried to lift one end of the disabled cart. It was monstrously heavy. “Shit,” Tim said, “What the Hell do we do now?” “We could carry them the rest of the way to your house.” “No! That’s much too far, Goddammit. Take ‘em back to your house” “No, No, No. To your house!” “No.To Your God Damn House!”
Tim looked around and found what he needed to reinforce his insistence that we return the apples to my house. There was a large pile of fresh, moist dog feces in the street next to the curb, and a sheet of newspaper next to it. With the newspaper to protect his hand, he scooped up the pile of excrement and waved it excitedly in my face. Here was a side of Tim’s character that I should have expected to encounter. After all, a ten-year old willing to cooperate with me in harebrained schemes like this one, and others, must have had some reserve of latent aggression that was bound to come out. Mine, I guess, was manifest in my willingness to get into these crazy adventures in the first place. For both of us, baseball just wasn’t enough to engage our depraved imaginations, and we were too afraid of injury to go in for manly sports like wrestling or boxing.
The threat of being smeared with dog poop was immediate and called forth in me a reflexive response. With my own piece of newspaper and an overhand grab I swept most of the reeking supply out of Tim’s hand, and then followed through in a graceful arc to deliver the entire load to Tim’s face. In a second I sized up my handiwork. There was a broad brown streak running from above Tim’s left eyebrow diagonally across his eye, nose and mouth and ending near the right side of his chin. There were a couple of subsidiary streaks parallel to the main one, on other regions of Tim’s face. I guess that I hadn’t taking the time to align my crap-flinging arm to deliver a square up-and-down pattern, and the diagonal blob was the result. Tim’s mouth and eyes were wide-open in shock.
In the next instant, fear took hold, and I ran to escape violent retribution. When I got home my mother was laughing. “I just got off the phone with Tim’s mother,” she said. I avoided him for the next few weeks, but when we got together again he didn’t say a word about it and neither did I.