Fresh from the city, the savvy kid knew what an alley was, and the thing these hick suburban kids were calling an alley was just a weedy path between the houses on the east side of McVicker and the west side of Austin. Maybe eight feet wide, it was simply an error of zoning, an artifact of the hasty construction of these cheap frame houses in the winter of 1945-6. They’d started building on one block before they’d finished surveying the other and the result was this No Man’s Land between the houses.
“Alley” my ass. Real alleys were paved, had big steel City of Chicago garbage cans, and were how you got into your garage. There were basketball hoops and hopscotch and sewer drains where you dumped your old paint in real alleys. But this bullshit alley was good for at least one thing: exploring. Overgrown, weedy, lined with buckthorn and those ugly gum trees that grow next to railroad rights of way and other places nobody tends, this secluded space was perfect for intrepid kids looking around for leftover construction junk that was, coincidentally, just about as old as their parents.
One particularly great find on a thick August afternoon was a stout, rusty rod of spring steel maybe 10 feet long. The ends had a hook and clasp arrangement that the future engineer among them instinctively knew to mean it had once been a band of some kind. It practically begged to be restored to its natural, circular shape, to echo the form of whatever it had once constrained. His friends, Bobby and Bob (really), were clearly impressed by the relative newcomer’s ability to envision this circle from the line. All three of them labored to bend the mighty, ancient wire into shape, but with enough teamwork and willpower it was soon accomplished.
Upon the clasp’s closing, the circle surprised them with a satisfying, deep, ringing tone. The three friends could barely believe such an ugly piece of metal, now packed with what they would someday understand to be a hell of a lot of potential energy, could make such a beautiful bell-like sound. They had to hear it again and again, so they took turns, one balancing it in his hand, another pounding it with a stick, the third looking on. Bonnnnnngggg. Awesome!
On what would be the final turn of the day, Bobby held the quivering bell-toy while the city kid, proud indeed of his accomplishments that afternoon, took an extra mighty whack. Imagine his surprise and disappointment to hear not the satisfying bong but instead to hear the click of the clasp failing, the whoosh of the spring flying through the air, and thesmack of one end of it flying right into the center of his forehead at the hairline.
Bob, the oldest of the three friends, took a quick look at the aftermath and decided that home was a good place to be, right now. Bye, Bob! Bobby, the youngest, was a bit confused by what he saw. It looked like his friend who’d just absorbed a lot of that newly-minted kinetic energy in what appeared to be an inelastic collision was all right. He was still upright, and talking, but he wasn’t making a lot of sense and something else was clearly amiss. Bobby’s house was closest, and in a moment of clarity beyond his years, he decided he and the Future Engineer should go there and talk it over with his mom.
Mrs. F. was so surprised to see us! I still remember her greeting, which was to shriek and drop the glass thing she was holding. A piece of it skidded across the tile floor, stopping at my feet, and as I looked down to see it I noticed some drops of blood down there. Huh. I wondered where that came from. Everyone looked OK. It was about then that I put my hand to my head to explore the nagging pain there. Warm and wet; strange! I pulled my hand away to take a look; more blood. Mrs. F. was by this point coming at my face with a big, green towel, telling me everything was going to be OK, and we were going to go for a ride back to my house. These suburban kids drive everywhere! Doesn’t anyone walk out here? Nancies!
I fell asleep to the sound of Bobby crying in the back seat next to me while his mom tried to hold the towel behind her and drive at the same time.
Anyway, it’s all right there in the avatar photo. The only drama remaining is how the scar keeps moving down, every year a little farther from the hairline where it once was.