This is the sixth in a multi-part series on the subject of the various great and memorable enemies I have had the pleasure of knowing over the years, from the earnest gibbering of schoolyard bullies to the courtly dance of the merely ritualistic antagonist.
Today we discover how, in the absence of actual enmity, creativity fills the void and that it is hard to stop boys from being boys.
Please see also Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V.
The Children of the Crow
My high school was a performing arts school, like Fame. We didn't have bullies -- we had dance majors. There was no football team, just rugby played by flautists. My friends and I spent the morning in life drawing class drawing ugly naked people, and then at lunch time we accused each other of having had erections.
"Mike totally had wood for the lumpy chick!"
"Shut up, assmonkey."
We were fourteen year old boys. We were idiots. We had boundless appetites and boundless energy. We grew a foot a day, and had no idea how to propel ourselves with anything resembling dignity. We needed to shave but had not yet dared, our moustaches shaded with soft fuzz.
In spare periods we congregated at Mel Lastman Square, a great civic labyrinth of concrete separating famous Yonge Street from North York City Hall, encompassing all manner of benches, fountains, gazebos, walkways, stairs and ramps. Like many similar efforts of optimistic urban planning, it lay abandoned by the citizenry. We boys almost always had the square to ourselves.
And do you know what we did there? We played tag.
We chased each other sweaty, climbing the walls, scrambling over fountain edges, leaping from stairways. We hid in the nooks and jumped out to ambush one another. We pursued one another through the glass doors of city hall and through the public library. We lay in the middle of the walkways and tried to catch our breath, mocking one of our own number for one piteous stumble or another.
Some other boys our age were cool, even though they were in Grade Nine, too. This was especially likely if they were theatre majors. The cool boys sat in the mall and smoked cigarettes, orbited by Oortish puffs of cool girls with brand name purses and bulimia. We did no truck with them, but they watched us through the windows like TV. Breathing hard and laughing in the open air I had no envy for them, either.
We uncool boys developed a variation on Capture the Flag in which the "flag" was a human being who could roam the course at will, or be physically captured and strongarmed across the border by opponents. This became sporting enough that other students began loitering around the raised periphery of the square to spectate as they ate their lunches.
At first we were known as "those Grade Nines who play in the square" but Shawn, our most aggressive member, dubbed us "the Children of the Crow!" in reference to the movie Children of the Corn; Shawn reasoned that since crows ate corn, they were one step more bad-ass. Predictably, this meant we ran around crowing like roosters a lot in only half-remembered homage to Neverland's braves.
Our games became too famous and in response a new opponent took the field: Civic Centre Security.
While the little men in blue jackets and grey slacks were hard-pressed to explain how exactly playing tag in the empty public square violated any rules, they were steadfast in their conviction that we should play no more. At every opportunity they strode into our midst to disrupt us, and attempted to intimidate us with threats to "ban" us from the city's property.
It did not take long for our game to realign itself. Who would comprise us and them was no longer a matter of drawing lots, but a matter of uniform. Frustrated in their lack of real power, the security guards became our toys.
Chief among The Enemy was a man named Jerry, whom we called "Jerry Masterman" because of the way he bossed the others around when he thought no one was paying attention. The Children of the Crow frequently shadowed Jerry in order to eavesdrop on the chatter from his walkie-talkie. It was not hard to learn the basic security codes, or to decipher the guards' routine paths through the complex. From our games we knew every hiding spot and trail, every point that afforded a square-wide view. We bought our own walkie-talkies from Radio Shack.
(We took code names for ourselves, but for the life of me I can't remember what any of them were. Memory is weird. My current code name is CheeseburgerBrown so let's just go with that.)
Once the intelligence gathering phase was complete we moved on to forcing the security guards to play tag with us. Any of our team's members who spotted a guard was to act startled, and then flee in a panic. In a good co-ordinated assault is was possible to engage multiple security guards chasing multiple panicked runners, who would then come together at the water fountain and give themselves up. The security guards would converge on us.
"Thanks boys! That was a good run!" we'd say and they'd scowl.
They wanted our names for wasting their time, but none of us were fool enough to carry identification. "I'm Nuget Cadbury," Shawn would tell them. "And these are my friends Charlie Wonka, Robert Plant and Dennis Shakespeare."
"That's enough jerking off at the mouth. I want your real name now, son."
"Let me think about that," Shawn would say. "....No."
"I'm authorized to issue all of you a warning..."
"Cool!" cheered Mike. "We're getting Jerry's autograph!"
"If I ever see any of you setting foot on this property --"
"What? You'll chase us again?"
Then we'd run away, crowing. It was time for English. Occasionally we were subjected to greater scrutiny, like being brought up the security office to have our pockets turned out. But we never carried anything incriminating beyond plastic walkie-talkies, and these occasions gave us the opportunity to irritate the living daylights out of the security staff simply by accepting such procedures with a cheerful attitude. Intimidation melts when confronted by patient bonhomie.
Being twice our age it did eventually dawn on the security guards that they could defuse our games simply by refusing to be baited. This came in the dead of winter and we were happy to stay in school during spares to make more routine kinds of trouble in the warm halls. Jerry Masterman no doubt congratulated himself on ridding the square of our scourge.
Meanwhile, we had declared war. Based on a script running from tribal instinct we created a totem: a dreadlocked doll's head stuck on the end of a wooden pole, decorated by a laurel of artificial leaves and spatters of bloody red paint. Shawn shook the totem to bring to order the lunch hour meetings in which we planned our next missions. "Bob Marley Babyhead calls the Children of the Crow to order!"
In the spring we found a boarded-up house and made it our headquarters, the Crows' Nest. We kicked aside the milk-crate and rye bottle debris of hobos to set up our apparatus: bombs of coloured soap and water-balloons. We drew great maps on the walls and drilled each other on contingency plans. We prepared ourselves for sustained sorties of saturation pranking.
"It is noble of those security smurfs to game for our pleasure," I commented.
"We salute you, security smurfs!" agreed Ollie.
"They will rue this day," promised Shawn.
Indeed, it was satisfying to watch the guards' consternation as every fountain in the square and mall's connected water network erupted with bubbles, great pillars of iridescent soap lifted by the wind trailing away from each. The crowd applauded but the Children of the Crow took no bows -- we were mixed among the student spectators, with traded toques and jackets.
The week was rich: crank telephone calls ("I'm calling from my mobile because I'm stuck in the washroom -- I've wedged myself in a stall and I'm too fat to get out!"), water-balloon soakings for each guard on duty with double soakings for Jerry Masterman only a day apart, twenty superballs released from the top of the library at once, bushels of school photocopier paper molded into a fleet of paper airlines launched down the centre of the mall, mysterious trails of fake blood, and of course many, many more soapings of the waterworks.
At school we received hearty congratulations from all sides save one: my girlfriend.
Fourteen year old girls are not fourteen year old boys. An appreciation of destructive hijinx does not necessarily come naturally or easily. She failed to see the romance of our night-time forays into construction sites to drop objects off cranes to see how they would smash. She was disgruntled that I could not accompany her to hang around in the mall for fear of The Enemy's reprisals because she wanted to spend lunch sitting with her friends and talking about stuff.
"What do you and your friends talk about?" she wanted to know.
"Talk about?" I echoed dumbly.
We leapt from roof-top to roof-top, pole-vaulting with stolen rebars. We ripped reflective scales off of the billboard on top of the pizza store and dropped them down on people's pizza, where they would bite into them thinking they were a bit of pepperoni. We ran and hid and chased and laughed between plagiarized jokes about boobs and farts.
"Don't you ever talk to them about how you're feeling?" she asked.
"What do you mean?" I replied, confused.
One day my girlfriend decided that, in an effort to be a part of my world, she would spend lunch with the Children of the Crow and I. We went to the Chinese place in the mall that served beer to kids. Conversation was strained.
Shawn told a colourful anecdote about "a dumb bitch" at the fireworks store who had incorrectly accused him of shoplifting, and my girlfriend piped up to ask Shawn why he was a misogynist. "What's a misogynist?" asked Shawn.
"It's someone who doesn't respect women," she told him.
I tried to change the subject. I asked Mike about the new cartoon show he had swapped out for a documentary about Vimy Ridge during our history class, much to the amusement of our fellow students and the consternation of our teacher when he returned a quarter hour later. "That show is awesome," gushed Mike. "I've taped all nine episodes so far."
"What's it called?" asked Ollie, who took geography instead of history.
My girlfriend would not be deterred, however. She wanted to know why Shawn was always objectifying girls by discussing them in sexual terms. "I don't know," admitted Shawn. "Because I'm horny?"
Everyone laughed except my girlfriend, who explained to us that our derision was feeding a culture of emotional suppression by making it difficult for Shawn to talk about his real feelings. At the sound of the words "real feelings" Sean with a ponytail laughed so hard he blew beer suds out his nose and thereby fouled his spring rolls.
When my friends were chastised for their laughter by my girlfriend they narrowed their eyes at her to register their heartfelt disapproval. She was The Enemy.
I sat pinned between two worlds.
On the one hand lay the adventures of boys -- duels and smashing and our games with the toy Enemy of security, the peals of stupid hilarity from carefree young chellovecks out for some sporting razz-rezz and spoil. We drank deep from a shallow cup and had no pretentions.
On the other hand, my girlfriend used to fondle my pecker while she kissed me and I'd cover her fingers in jissom.
I weighed the juxtaposed possibilities gravely.
"Yeah, um," I ventured, clearing my throat. "You guys should like, uh, grow up."
Later, without ceremony, I took Bob Marley Babyhead out of my locker and transferred it to Mike's. Ollie wanted to know if I'd be coming along for some urban spelunking in the sewers on the weekend, but I declined. Shawn had nothing to say to me, and would never have much to say to me ever again. To him, I was a betrayer of the Crow.
Noting my melancholy in the afternoon my girlfriend asked me if I had had "a fight" with my friends. "Sure," I said. "You were there." She could not understand that, and insisted that more drama must have happened in order for me to be so sure I was no longer truly welcome at their reindeer games. She didn't get that everything that had needed to be said had been said.
"What can I do to make you feel better?" she asked, holding my hand and tossing her violin case over her shoulder as we walked to the subway.
"Are your parents home?"
"Let's go to your house," I suggested.
Somewhere far away, Tink died.
Posted by Cheeseburger Brown at 11:35