“My early evil development was stunted by good parenting. I don’t blame them. They were just trying to do what they thought was best.
I had to start small, a cross word, palming my dime as the collection plate went by, failure to say, “Excuse me,” when I burped.”
Ivan the Not-So-Terrible
In my town when I was little most moms stayed home. There were few day cares, no pre-k, and half of my neighbors didn’t do any schooling until first grade. From 9Am until 4PM, us 4, 5, and some 6-year-old boys wandered our neighborhood lawns – never crossing the street without first stopping, looking, and listening. If Sesame Street ever had gangs, they might have looked like us, surreptitiously sharpening our popsicle sticks against concrete basements, transforming them to wooden shivs.
The talk was tough.
“A little boy goes straight to H E double toothpicks if he says the F word.”
“Yeah, but he gets hit by lightning first.”
“Nah, he bursts into flames, and then he goes to H E double toothpicks.”
The agenda set, discussion ensued. It was our favorite theme because we got to say H E double toothpicks so often. Even those of us who couldn’t spell our names knew what H E double toothpicks meant. Clearly, spelling it out in our clever code made H E double toothpicks a non-swear word, because not a single boy had been hit by lightning or burst into flames while saying it.
George, my next door neighbor believed that a boy who uttered the F word would go straight to H E double toothpicks without the assistance of lightning or fire.
“H E double toothpicks is worse than fire or lightning anyway.”
George was Protestant in a largely Catholic neighborhood, so we didn’t expect orthodoxy from him.
We were bad, and we knew it. We reveled in it. At times we could almost smell the brimstone burning.
Of course we all scattered when the school bus pulled up at 4. None of us were ready to take on third graders.
And so it continued until the day when Joey Friend, who was really too little to hang out with us – being only three, asked the question, “What is the F word?”
Billy Brown, the oldest among us, having only missed the first-grade age cut-off by two weeks the previous fall, responded without thinking. He said the word – the F word. I trust I don’t have to spell it out here. I’ve heard that if you Google F word, that the search engine will tell you what it is.
Proof that the internet comes straight from H E double toothpicks.
But Billy Brown said the word that day, clear and loud like he was saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
We all stepped away, most of us two paces, being the acknowledged distance required to avoid lightning and heck-fire. We all stood clear except for Joey Friend who reached up to Billy Brown and tapped him on the shoulder asking, “What does it mean?”
Billy, who had been bracing for his eternal punishment looked down at Joey. “I don’t know,” he said.
Joey looked at each of us in turn. We just shook our heads or shrugged our shoulders.
“That’s okay,” said little Joey. “I’ll ask my mom.” And then he clambered up on a tricycle that was too big for him, and wobbled down the road to his house.
One at a time, each of us touched Billy Brown, confirming for ourselves that he wasn’t a pile of cinders. In that minute, our neighborhood changed. Our entire concept of badness moved to a new level.
We began an excursion into greater evil than we thought existed.
And we had Joey Friend, a little child to lead us.
Yup - we thought we looked like this.