October 28, 2014
My family moved to Alton when I was in the eighth grade. My uncle Fred owned the Flamingo Motel, and my dad and I worked there, me as a weekend restaurant and gutter cleaner, Dad as a jack of all trades, supplementing his post office job. That October, Uncle Fred told us about the Halloween parade and we sat on the balcony of the motel, next to the old Alton bridge and watched the proceedings, and it was fun.
But one parade was enough for me, and the next fall I had some “cool” friends, Curt and Jake among others, who persuaded me to yield to the dark side. We rode the side streets above the parade, leaning out of our windows and soaping parked car windows. If your family’s car was soaped in 1964, it was me.
The next October, one of my cohorts had been jilted by a girl and he wanted revenge. And he got it, with one of the most sophisticated Halloween pranks in the history of prankdom. We enlisted the talents of our older friend Paul, who because of his job, had access to some candle power.
We drove out to a country road behind the girl’s house and parked, and ran across a field to her back yard. Paul had brought us railroad flares, so powerful that water couldn’t put them out. We set them in the ground at the corners of the house. Then we T.P.’d the front trees.
Phase two involved setting out firecracker packs with extended fuses in the back, front and side yards. There were two cars in the driveway, and we roped the door handles together so the cars couldn’t immediately chase us down. And when all was set, Curt and pals manned the fireworks, Paul and another boy the flares, and I and two other guys set out paper sacks of cow patties on the front porch.
The sequence was my team lights the bags then runs for the back field. Paul sees us and lights the flares and runs for the back field. Curt and his pal, upon seeing all of us, lights the fuses and runs for his life. In minutes, the girl’s yard was blowing up and lighted like it was daytime, and the sacks on the front porch were ablaze.
Meanwhile, we were running blind in the dark, and Paul hit a hole and flew to the ground and yelped. We dragged him up, the lights of the house now coming on, and we could hear activity and shouting in the front yard. The girl ran out and to the back yard and screamed, “You bastards!”
We escaped with a sprained ankle (Paul) and Jake laughing his maniacal cackle, and we drove all the way to Fosterburg, knowing the cops would be looking for a carload of miscreants in Godfrey.
The next day at school, the girl was on a mission. She suspected her ex-boyfriend, and she knew who his friends were, and she came after all of us. She threatened me by saying she would tell my father, which was tantamount to a death sentence. But I obeyed the code of men and kept my trap shut.
Why am I confessing now? Tis the season, the statute of limitations is up, all the guys except me made something of themselves. Heck, Paul the flare man builds houses for Habitat for Humanity, Jake is a college professor, Curt a filmmaker. The other guys, two of whom read this chronicle: You live here; I ain’t ratting you out.
I lived in a violent family situation. My father, though we didn’t know it yet, was about to abandon us, and he punched me for major violations and tortured me for minor infractions. I took my own violence out on the high school. I destroyed glass slides in the chemistry lab with a mortar and pestle, stole library books, filled teachers’ desks with glue. Until Cliff Davenport and George Heidbrink, theater and music teachers, saved me and set me on my professional course.
Oh: the next October? I and another boy drove out to a farm, the trunk of our car laden with sacks of cow manure. We snuck up to the front porch to prepare, when we heard an unmistakable click—the hammer of a scatter gun being set. The farmer was sitting on his porch swing in the shadows, waiting. My buddy and I turned and jumped from the porch steps, the shotgun blasting behind us and peppering us with rock salt. My sweat shirt was torn to shreds and I had pink welts on my bare back.
My father, who normally might add more welts to my scarred back, laughed his ass off. He knew a terrorist when he saw one.