The Nature of Children and Mischief
by Michael R. Dickerson
We were childhood hoboes “walking the line”, gathering from Amagansett andEast Hamptonto swim, hike, or to just hang out. The LIRR’s track carried us from opposite ends of town where we met under theCranberryHoleBridge. Climbing girders under the bridge, we waited for friends to join us. My pal Nick became impatient. After an hour or so, after the excitement of a passing train, he became annoyed they had not shown. Overheated and bored, Nicky spat, “Fuck them wimps, “I’m sick of this fuckin’ shit”. I was infatuated with his bold attitude and his ability to swear like the rage-a-holics who were my parents. He was constitutionally unable to edit himself. I did not feel comfortable cursing. It was some time before I learned what “fuck” meant. Not more than a couple of grades ahead of me, he seemed a real teenager in my eyes. “If those ass holes aren’t with us they can lick my dick”! With this decree, we set out for his house to get something to drink and go “camp” in the woods along the tracks.
Nicky’s dad was a good guy. He was an Italian bricklayer, a no non-sense sort. The family lived in a simple house on the highway. In the back, a small patch of woods led to a clearing his dad had excavated for sand for work. The center of this clearing formed a large, deep crater in the earth. The pit was free of trees and brush; a mini desert. Low in the recess, surrounding trees towered massively above like a Tsunami. Nick produced stick matches. We were punished for handling matches in my home. “What are you doing with those”, I asked anxiously? “Just don’t tell anyone or my Dad will kick my ass”, he cautioned. “I could get a beatin’ for this”. An “ass kicking” was beyond comprehension. I had seen children being kicked. It haunted me as we walked.
We designed a regulation camp fire according to strict Scouting guidelines. Despite abusing sun, we knuckleheads settled into the center of the pit. We dug our hole, lining it inside and out with stones. We had done everything by the book. We set flame to a small pile of sticks we had gathered. It was not much of a conflagration. It did not appear a harbinger to the life threatening situation which would confront us.
We strived to ensure a safe “camp out”. Simple rules of aerodynamics never entered our minds. We were oblivious! Nick rambled in a goofy manner unable to compete with my thoughts. Finally, talked out, he laid back and we let our minds wander.
Despite our best efforts, Nature was working stealthily against us. The ocean, mere blocks South, acrossMontauk Highway, funneled winds from the beach northward. Impacting the base of the bluff, winds sheared vertically causing a powerful updraft. Its’ blustery launch passed over the highway, Nick’s house, and finally, the two of us. Just as a chimney will expel its’ smoke due to the draft caused by passing breezes, the pit also expelled its’ smoke and cinders. Winds deposited these around us. We became ensnared by a circle of smoldering brush. A flourishing smoke warned us. Panicked, I leapt up confused. “Nick”, I cried out. Then with childish insipidness, “Something is burning”! Trees had begun warping from searing flames. They exploded as sap became molten, fueling the fire. “Fuck, screamed Jimmy”! “I’m a fuckin’ dead man”!
Oddly, I felt detached. Repercussion and memories of beatings past caused me no loss of resolve. I did not fear the fire. I dreaded the horror the fire would inflict. Love of nature drove me to action as Nick struggled to gain a foothold in reality. I stripped the shirt from my body like heroes from old movies. “I will just beat this fire out”. The magnitude and gravity of our circumstances eluded me. That is the nature of children and mischief.
Nick joined in a hopeless attempt to kill the flames. Satellite fires flared all around us. I would not leave. Nick went to get help. The siren at the Amagansett fire house blasted. It stopped my heart with its’ shrill sounding, still I was joyful in its’ call. It meant help was on the way. I was blindly battling as a commanding male voice demanded I come to him. Inside the circle, flames snarled and snapped at me like cobras. They whipped menacingly, rising dozens of feet into the air. The voice commanded again, “Kid, get the fuck out of there”. In despair and resignation I went to this man. He took me in a protective bear hug. Cloistered under his rubber coat I cried for the first time. “I’m sorry”, I gasped. “I did this”. He guided me through the flames to safety. A massive crowd gathered. Faces flooded in from around town. People I respected glowered at me with open disdain. I visualized the sheltering rubber coat.
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