The problem with stopping for take-out on a Monday afternoon is there is nothing to watch on the multiple large screen TVs in the bar. Sure, there are several sports analysis shows on but there’s no sound so those are basically useless. The good thing is that as each story headline is pasted onto the screen, guys at the bar will start their own commentary. When the commercials come on, we switch to a different screen and comment on that. It doesn’t have to be sports, two guys at a bar can comment on anything. So, it wasn’t surprising that when a news story came on about a kid getting shot with a BB gun, that me and the other guy at the bar both said:
“I was shot with a BB gun,”
followed simultaneously by:
“I wasn’t on the news!”
Note: We didn’t know it at the time, but the kid that was on the news had been shot by an adult. OK, that’s newsworthy. Another kid was expelled from school for bringing an empty BB gun to school. I guess 2014 is going to be a good year for BB gun stories.
Anyway, we both agreed that when we were growing up, being shot with a BB gun wasn’t newsworthy. In fact, it wasn’t parent-worthy. If you told your parents you had been shot with a BB gun, you would have been punished for playing with BB guns or for playing with kids who played with BB guns. Our parents were big into the whole guilt-by-association thing. We also agreed that if you had the choice between being stung by a bee and a shot with a BB gun, you’d go with the bee – BBs hurt.
The BB that hit me in the leg did not break the skin. It left a welt that my dad would have recognized as a BB shot, but that was easily covered by jeans for a few days. The other guy’s BB had penetrated and was subsequently dug out by his dad. That probably involved a needle, “sterilized” over the flame of a match or a lighter. Given enough time, splinters, thorns, the remnants of bees could all be dug out with a needle. The gaping wound that remained after the digging was treated with Iodine or Mercurochrome, both nasty topical antiseptics alleged to prevent infection but which were essentially parts of the punishment for playing with the wrong things or the wrong kids.
One of the wrong kids in our neighborhood was my friend Mark. Neither he nor I had or had access to a BB gun (having access is the same as having, which is why all types of guns should be locked up) but we had knives. I don’t remember when I was given my first pocket knife, but I remember when I was given the first knife I could throw. Pocket knives were cool, but they were heavy multi-blade knives that would almost always land body-first if you threw them. If you threw one hard enough, one of the bone-like decorative side pieces would fall off. A pocket knife was a tool. Knives that could be thrown were single-blade items. They could be dagger style or hunting knives or smaller hunting-style knives. I was told which knives could be thrown. Tossing a good knife into the dirt is not a good idea. The usage instructions usually came with the “if you do…I’ll take the knife away from you” warning.
In addition to trying to stick your knife in the ground or into a tree, there were two popular knife games: Split and Chicken. Split involved sticking your knife as far away from your opponent’s foot as possible. He would then have to stretch out until his foot touched your knife. If he remained standing, he would stick his knife and you would stretch. This continued until someone fell over. Chicken took the opposite approach. Opponents would stick their knives closer and closer to their opponent’s foot. If the target moved his foot he lost, unless your knife would have hit him. When my father gave me a knife I could throw, he said:
“You can play Split but don’t let me catch you playing Chicken.”
In case you don’t know it, “don’t let me catch you” has quite a different connotation from “don’t.” “Don’t let me catch you” is a challenge, an invitation of sorts. In fact, we could twist “don’t let me catch you” around in our heads until my father might as well have said: “go ahead, play Chicken.” Still, we mostly played Split.
Later that summer, Mark’s family went on vacation. When they returned, I ran to his house. He came to the door all excited about a new knife his dad had bought him. He yelled “watch how easy it is to stick this thing” and he threw the knife and stuck it in my foot. He threw it hard. The knife went through my sneaker and deep into my foot. We didn’t know what to do. This was one of those times when an adult was required, but certainly not one of our parents. Our parents wouldn’t believe the truth. We went to the woman who lived between our houses. She took my shoe off and washed my foot in her bathtub. She said “this should probably have stitches” – “nooooooooo!” Stitches would require parents. A deal was made. She bandaged my foot (after a liberal application of Iodine) and I agreed to return later. If my foot was still bleeding when I returned, parents would be told. I can only imagine how a similar event would be handled today. I bet we could have all been on the news.