A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...
I lived in Southern California, specifically Orange County. I grew up after its post war explosion had settled into a blanket of suburbs and strip malls across the meadows and bean fields that my dad knew. The Orange County that nurtured me was just beginning to feel the sting of cutbacks in defense spending and aerospace. I would be almost out of college before the bankruptcy debacle of December 6, 1994 (a day which will live in infamy). The microcomputer industry was about as old as I was. So, although I wouldn't say that my childhood years were the Golden Age of Orange County, it was a very different time. It was a time when a child could have a brush with psychosis and get away with it.
I was never a really popular kid. I wasn't cool enough to attract a following or athletic enough to be envied. When word got out that I was the first kid on the block to get an Atari 2600, a lot of kids piled into the house, but those acquaintances lasted about as long as the cheap, digital joysticks. Still, I wasn't a dick and enough kids lived in the neighborhood that we kept cool with sprinkler parties on my front lawn to beat the heat and played commando long into the fading darkness of summer evenings.
Two houses down lived the Burtons. I didn't know much about them other than they had two boys about my age and that my parents didn't like their parents. In fact, I first learned that my dad could dislike someone from the way he talked about Mr. Burton. I can barely remember anything about the parents, but I sure remember Rickie and Ryan.
Ryan was the younger brother. We never grew to be friends. After all, he was younger than me by maybe an entire grade. He was a quiet, unassuming little guy, generally likeable and long suffering. He suffered because he had the misfortune to be born the younger brother of Rickie.
Rickie was a little prick. He was loud, brash, and abusive, especially of his little brother. I gathered the impression from my parents that Rickie was damaged goods, something to do with the relationship of his parents. Most of that stuff went right over my head. All I knew was that Rickie was a bad kid.
You could always count on Rickie to throw a dank wet towel on any fun. He was a little older than most of the kids in the neighborhood and, in the cruel reality of childhood, that little bit of time made him bigger, stronger, and more annoying than anyone else. He would wade into a group of kids like a berserker. All fun would be snuffed out. He usually focused his attacks on his little brother, but it was hard to enjoy yourself while one of your pals was getting the snot kicked out of him by his evil older brother. So one sunny summer day, the neighborhood kids were splashing through the sprinkler set up on my front lawn. We were having a blast. Some years from now, two girls would moon us from across the street, giving us all a great view of their hoo-hoos, but that's a tale for another day.
On this day, Rickie showed up and stopped our play as surely as a fart kills conversation at a tea party. The fun ended and something inside me snapped. I turned around and walked through the gap between our hedge and the garage wall. I walked into the garage and made for my dad's work bench. My dad was starting a woodworking business. Tools and machinery dominated the space. I felt detached, almost lightheaded as I selected a Ticonderoga #2 pencil from a coffee can and stuck it into the pencil sharpener that came out of my grandfather's garage. I worked the handle and felt the spinning barrels chew into the wood. I checked the point. Not sharp enough yet.
Something about my demeanor caught my dad's attention.
"What are you doing, dude?" he asked.
"Sharpening a pencil," I deadpanned back.
The pencil was now as sharp as I could make it. I made a fist around it, turned around, and ran for the break in the hedge.
By the time I made it to the other side I was going at full speed, pencil raised over my head, and running straight for Rickie.
He had enough time to see me, look like he was going to mess his shorts, and turn to run.
I remember the white of his back as I brought the pencil down with all my might. I felt the point break his skin.
I don't remember much after that. That strange detachment still had me. There was enough of my rational brain left for me to understand that I had done something wrong so I went to my room to await punishment.
Some time later, my parents talked to me. They asked me about the incident. They made sure that I knew I'd done a bad thing. They also told me that because I'd done a bad thing, I needed to be punished. I was to be grounded until Monday.
My little world collapsed around me. Grounded! That sort of thing only happened to other kids, bad kids. Grounded! Until Monday! Wait (I thought), today is Saturday. So, I learned my lesson, never had a violent outburst like that again, and Rickie left me alone from then on. These days, I'm sure I would've been hauled off to a shrink, stuck in foster care, and my parents would've had the crap sued out of them.
It was different back then.
Columns by Pakeha