[Ed's note: Perhaps due to my recent "eptitude," I have not had any reason to relay any "Stupid Things I've Done" posts in quite a while. Long-time readers consider this a favorite, mostly because it is excellent fodder for blackmail or just for when your customarily humble N.O.C.W.I.T. archictect gets a bit too big for his britches. But I was recounting this one with great fondness for some reason the other day. And there's even a lesson at the end. Most of it is true.]
I grew up on Clay Avenue -- #211 to be exact -- in the 10th Ward of the City of Rochester, New York, in the greatest country in the world: The United States! I lived there from 1980 to 1987, ages 4-11.
It was your typical urban neighborhood, I suppose, fraught with much diversity and many children about my age. Many of them were nice, many of them were not. My best buddy Mike lived in two houses that were about four doors away from each other in both his divorced parents' houses. I gained a cousin through marriage around the corner. There was another kid named Sean Shannon (no relation) who I used to have real fistfights with every two days or so. There was a slightly older kid who lived directly behind my house on the other side of the fence named Eddie Thousand. I don't think that was his real last name, but he was a little bastard, that's for sure.
But across the street lived the Durham's (name changed by one letter to protect the mentally incompetent and in case one of them googles themselves). The Durhams ... oh how shall I describe them? In cinematic terms, they had the unkind demeanor of the O'Doyles from Billy Madison, the number of the Bakers from Cheaper By the Dozen, and the lifestyle of Cousin Eddie from the National Lampoon's Vacation movies. They were, in the strictest sense of the term, "white trash."
The living situation was that two divorced parents moved into one house, bringing all their kids with them. There were probably about 12-14 kids living in the house at any given point, and many of them with different last names. Regardless, my family still referred to all of them as "The Durhams."
I only actually went inside the house in which they lived once: there was a surprisingly large living room with only one couch, trash littered all over the floor, and one TV. I walked in, and there was loud rock music of the day blaring at full volume. All the lights were off, leaving only the slivers of sunlight passing through the drawn curtains to illuminate us. In the middle of the room were about 5 kids playing Space Invaders on a crappy black and white TV. I think people may have been smoking pot, but either way I never went back in.
So anyway I had kind of a cool but tiny back yard. There were lots of places to hide and play (including the garage, where some bastard child from down the street once trapped me, but that's a whole 'nother post). There was a large patch of sand in a corner of the back yard near the house, and we used to use it to create landscapes for Star Wars vehicles and action figures (we called them "Star Wars guys"). One day when I was 7 years old (probably 1983), a one of the Durhams decided to come over to my house and play with the little green, plastic army men. I loved any little action figure type things, so I was all over it. The kid's name was Chris Durham.
Chris Durham was a bad seed. He was about 4-5 years older than I, and was known throughout the neighborhood as bad news. Seriously bad news. He smoked at the age of like 10. He got into fights routinely. I once went to the corner grocery store with him and he shoplifted like 5 things right in front of me. He was not the kind of big brother figure that a young boy like me was looking for. My mother insists that he is currently in jail, though she has absolutely no proof of it. Somehow, she just knows.
Chris brought the action figures over and we began to play. Chris couldn't just be content with being a kid and playing in the sand. He was white trash, remember. So Chris decided to kick up a little dust.
Chris said to me, "Go tell your mom, 'motherfucker'."
I had heard the F-word before, and kind of had an idea in my head that it was probably a bad word, but I didn't really know much else. I had figured, Chris was my friend (Note: Chris was nobody's friend) and he wouldn't steer me the wrong way. Maybe it was a joke that adults would get and my mom would laugh at the funny thing I said.
Without much thought, I opened the rear screen door and yelled into the house, "mother fucker!" I yelled it as most kids would yell "ice cream!" or "Santa!" There was a pause. I'm not sure how long the pause was, but it seemed to hang for at least a few seconds. The next sound I heard was my mother's voice.
At this moment I had assumed that I said something wrong. But instead of trying to cover up for my innocent profanity (I didn't have much of a way with words in those days), I reiterated my prior declaration, slightly truncated:
The next sound I heard were heavy footsteps thudding on the tile floor. My mother came bounding from another room to the back yard. She promptly grabbed me by my shirt collar and threw me into the landing of the back porch. She stuck her head out of the door and asked Chris, "Did you teach him that word???!!!" Chris was still playing with his army guys, and didn't even look up when he lied, "No." (He said "No" like, "What are you kidding me?") My mom discourteously told Chris to gather his belongings and head on home, before putting me in my room.
I cried and cried and cried. I didn't even know what I had said, but I sat in a chair in my room and bawled for what seemed like two hours. I remember very clearly sitting in the big chair in my living room and watching Mister Rogers. I was still sniffling and coming down from the big cry. My eyes were red and watery, and I felt very sad. I felt that I had done something terrible and that I would be in trouble probably for the rest of my life.
Mister Rogers came on and said that even when your mom and dad are mad at you, it doesn't mean they don't love you anymore. My mom sat down next to me and said, "It's true, Billy. Just because I'm mad at you doesn't mean I don't love you anymore."
"So you don't hate me?" I asked.
"No, I will always love you no matter what," she said.
"Am I still in trouble?" I said.
Mom looked at me thoughtfully for a moment and said, simply, "Fuckin'-A right, you are!"
And we laughed for a good twenty minutes.