[This Commentary originally appeared in the January 20, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]
(The following is loosely based on a real life adventure as told by an eight year old.)
The Day: The day began as usual. My little brother and I trudged up our long street through the cold winter air. It had snowed the previous night and the moderate temperature provided perfect packing conditions. We learned the concept of “good packing snow” as Little Kids. It usually meant we could expect to be ambushed by a flurry of snowballs from virtually any direction. As two solitary figures walking sluggishly in the middle of a long street, we had all the makings of fine targets
Sometimes the Older Guys would sneak down behind us and try to pelt us with snowballs. Every once in a while they would score a direct hit in the back of my head and cold icy snow would melt down my neck and behind my shirt. We felt much safer when the other kids joined us at the half-way point of our journey. We felt especially safe if we could walk next to (but not too close to) the Nice Girls. They never got hit by snowballs.
A rush of relief overcame us Normal Guys when we reached the School Bus Stop. We knew at that point, the cars and trucks moving on the Big Road made for more challenging targets than we did. The Older Guys tuned up their young arms by carefully aiming at the passing traffic. The fact that the shoulder of the Big Road and our School Bus Stop were one in the same meant the vehicles passed within a few feet of us. It was real easy to hit them.
Normal Guys knew it was wrong to throw snowballs at cars and trucks. You could startle the driver and cause an accident. The Older Guys never cared about the consequences. Sometimes they would pack ice or rocks in the snowball just for spite. One time, an Older Guy from the School Bus Stop before ours got grounded for 90 days because he hit a State Trooper’s windshield with a rock. As a ruthless Older Guy, the sentence never fazed him.
The Dare: On this day, the Older Guys decided they would force a Normal Guy to throw a snowball at a car or a truck. We saw them approach us and bunched ourselves closer together (it was cold, so we had an excuse other than fear for doing this). The Older Guys began taunting us, especially me. They didn’t pick on my little brother or my friend’s little brother. Our brothers could be easily intimidated and would do things just to save their neck. In this way they acted like the Little Kids.
The Older Guys couldn’t pick on my best friend because he had spent some well publicized time in the principal’s office. The Older Guys figured that, deep down, my friend wanted to be an Older Guy. The Older Guys never wanted you to be an Older Guy if you wanted to be an Older Guy.
So, I became the target. They knew I didn’t like them and they didn’t like me because they felt I got too many good grades. I would make a great trophy for them if they could turn me.
They badgered me to throw a rock snowball point blank at the windshield a passing car. I said I wouldn’t. As they got louder, all the other kids quieted down and watched. The other kids wanted to see if I would submit to the peer pressure of the Older Guys. Even the Nice Girls watched, almost like the way a scientist watches a laboratory rat. The Cat-Fighters, of course, cheered the Older Guys on.
I countered the Older Guys’ every argument. At the same time, I nervously looked up the Big Road for the School Bus. It should have already arrived, so it couldn’t have been that far away. I knew I would be safe when the School Bus got there. Yet, the relentless harassment of the Older Guys continued. I realized they would raise the stakes at any moment, for they, too, knew I would be safe as soon as the School Bus pulled up to the School Bus Stop.
With the other kids now a captive audience, the Older Guys played their ultimate hand. If I didn’t throw a snowball at a car, they offered finally, they would beat me up. Without hope, I accepted, but only on the condition the snowball had no ice or rocks in it and only if I could throw it at a tractor-trailer truck. I calculated hitting a truck’s trailer would be least damaging.
Not a lot of tractor-trailer trucks came by on the Big Road that early in the morning. I thought I had a good chance of getting out of this mess alive because, in all likelihood, the School Bus would reach us before a tractor-trailer truck passed by. The Older Guys didn’t account for this probability and agreed to my conditions.
The Failed Trick: Time passed and still no School Bus. Suddenly, up ahead, one of the Little Kids saw a tractor-trailer truck coming our way. “End of story,” I conceded. I would have to throw the snowball. There was no way out. I looked at the circle of Nice Girls, knowing full well that in a few minutes, I would lose their respect.
Yet, if I broke my promise and didn’t throw the snowball, I would lose all the kids’ respect – and probably get beat up. The truck advanced. My mind wrenched for a solution. None would come fast enough. I cocked my arm back. The truck passed directly in front of me. I yanked my arm forward and released the snowball. It sailed ten yards over the truck’s trailer. I had completely missed the target.
After a moment of stunned silence, the Older Guys sneered at me and said, “You missed on purpose.” “I did not!” I defiantly shot back. No one believed me. It was as though they had all known that my father had spent the entire fall and winter in the dampness of our basement teaching me how to throw like a quarterback. (As I learned how to pass, my brother became an expert at the five yard square out.) My face couldn’t lie – I purposely missed the target.
I tried to quell their anger, but the fire in the eyes of the Older Guys grew more intense. “I only promised to throw the snowball at the truck,” I appealed, “not to hit the truck!” Unfortunately for me, the Older Guys’ command of the English language did not include the subtleties of the rhetoric I attempted to employ.
By now, the other kids had completed circled me and the Older Guys, forming the outline of a gladiators’ arena. I foresaw the direction the Fates steered us towards. The entire universe seemed to have been created with the express purpose of bringing about the very scene to which we headed that morning. With lost hope, I looked up the Big Road one last time for the School Bus. Nothing. I turned slowly to face the Older Guys. The surrounding kids vanished from my thoughts. With sad, frightened eyes, I looked up into the crazed red-eyed gaze of the Older Guys – my Judges and, soon to be, my Executioners.
“Kid,” the Older Guys said with a mournful, but honest, bearing, “you understand you leave us no choice but to beat you up.” They meant it. The other kids knew it. I knew it. The School Bus would never arrive for me again…
(Next Week’s Exciting Finale: My Last Words)
Last Week #42: Terror at the School Bus Stop – A True Life Story (Part I) (originally published January 11, 1990)
Next Week #44: Terror at the School Bus Stop – A True Life Story (Part III) (originally published January 25, 1990)
[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]