I remember how important it was.
How we’d elbow and push against each other vying for the first position, it would begin the very second anyone caught a glimpse of that yellow behemoth rounding the corner wide and stiff, condensation rising from the hood like hot breath.
The collective excitement would rise in concert with the shoving and giggling the seriousness of competition pushed aside by youthful ignorance. The most important thing in those days was being the first one on the bus, the pack leader, choosing the first seat and thereby setting the social standard for the seating choices to follow.
It was like this every morning for four years. However Halloween of ’89 wore this particular morning like a jaunty fedora.
Some of us were costumed, others weren’t. Each of us wanting more than any other to be the first.
School was merely a formality to the night of mischief and candy collection to come. We shuffled off the bus in the opposite fashion, being the last one off was the important play here.
The day was longer than it was boring, the afternoon held promises, and my thoughts were affixed to fulfilling these promises before the evening insisted upon my attendance. My classes a blur when looked back upon, lessons, Halloween wishes and oddball teachers dressed in what they clearly believed to be hip or funny costumes.
Last bell, schools done. Next Stop, the Army Surplus.
As I pulled the wrinkled bills from my front jeans pocket my head filled with glee and excitement, the grizzled old man behind the counter shoved my new-to-me 100% authentic World War II gas mask in a used and slightly greasy paper sack, I think it was originally from Albertson’s.
The crumpled bag a distant memory a handful of feet behind me as I ran all the way home wearing the gas mask, I could barely breathe and I didn’t care, I looked scary and bad ass and I felt twice that.
The plan was to meet up at the bus stop and start our candy mayhem spree from there. There was Ryan, Paul, David, Evan, Peter, Shawn, Kevin and I. Eight of us, our breath visible like thick smoke, mingling in the center of the circle. Kevin and I the largest of the bunch, both pushing six feet four and around two hundred fifty pounds a piece, the others called us the twin towers. I hated it, I think Kevin loved it. Paul and David, tall and skinny, tight brown curls, identical brothers. Evan was the smartest of the group, slim, tall and blonde. Peter, Ryan and Shawn lived near by and were closer with each other than the rest of us, but we all played sports together after school, and to this them was just about the same.
I can’t remember the exact costumes anyone else wore, but I know they were all based on; one pair dark jeans, a hoodie, a baseball bat, one king size pillow case—to be filled, and some sort of mask—mine the only mask of the gas variety. The point was to be just dressed up enough to use Halloween as a cover for our future behavior, but also to keep ourselves nimble and cloaked.
We headed out. We smashed and kicked and destroyed every pumpkin we found. We took more candy than offered, once Kevin grabbed the entire bowl from a porch and dumped the whole thing into his pillow case, then, almost as an afterthought he kicked the shit out of the pumpkin he discovered descending the stairs.
We were raising hell. We were being boys. Terrible, misbehaving, unsupervised, large as men… boys.
Later in the evening we were walking along a long stretch of highway. I think Paul yelped first, then Evan and then perhaps me, the sting of humiliation came later, presently the the actual sting of pain was what caused the main batch of fear and panic and sharp cries of pain, we had no idea what was happening, we broke camp and ran in eight directions, yelling and crying out. After regrouping we discovered that we had been collectively egged. Humiliation now evident.
A few of us were really pissed off by what had just happened and Kevin knew who was responsible as he’d seen the car as they sped away.
It was decided to retaliate. So we set off, bats in tow, to find these egg throwing villains, and in a way our dignity. Ryan knew where they lived and we went straight there finding the car parked in the driveway we hid in the bushes, screwing up the courage to charge.
I heard Kevin scream with a guttural and deep tone that reminded me of a war movie I’d seen the week prior and then a flash of black and gray as he rose, rounding the line of bushes, bat in hand and began mindlessly raining fury down on the villain’s car glass cracking then shattering, metal bending and folding around the strong downward strokes of Kevin’s heavy swings. We all watched from the bushes, to scared to join, to thrilled to stop him.
Lights blinded us from the porch.
A man’s voice “What in the hell are you doing, you son of a bitch!”
Kevin yelled back in a furious rage “That’s for the eggs you fucker!”
“What eggs?” More curious than angry, the man asked.
Kevin ran past the bushes where the rest of us hid into the unyielding darkness of night, I’d never seen him run so fast, not before or after that night. The rest of us crawled away in the dirt until we caught the strength to stand and run away as well.
We found out a few days later that we had, in fact been at the wrong house.