WHERE THERE’S SMOKE, THERE’S HOODLUMS – 1983 9 YEARS OLD
Mr. Sharp was a cantankerous old man — I am glad we did not kill him, or at least I do not think we killed him. Word had spread about the Weathington Boys, although apparently Mr. Sharp had not gotten the memo.
It was just like every other hot as hell summer day in Bremen. Dark, heat-soaking colors were avoided to prevent spontaneous combustion. We also never wore sun block; I guess it had not been invented yet, or least my parents had not heard of it. In summer, you would have had a hard time picking us out of most Mexican towns. Anyway, we lived too far away for cross-border antics like fireworks smuggling or gun running, which was probably for the best.
Compare this to today where my two sons are wearing white-boy sombreros with mud flaps in the back while having their entire bodies dipped in glue. We treat the poor boys like vampires, which, contrary to People Magazine, is not all it is cracked up to be.
Several normal, polite, church-going kids had joined us in hopes of either elevating their “cool” status or increasing their odds of playground survival. And that day we were heading to Big Creek, not to be confused with Little Creek on the other side of the neighborhood. Big Creek routinely had larger crawfish and a rope swing that would make a nun want to do back gainer with a flying squirrel toe touch. This thing would bring out the red in almost anybody. If you put a Yankee investment banker on this thing, he would be dipping Copenhagen before he hit the water. This was good country-ass fun.
In Mr. Sharp’s defense, how was he to know where the line was? The line he crossed, although imperceptible to him, might as well have been carved in stone in our delinquent, silly little minds.
If you crossed the line, you paid the fine.
The gang was thirsty after perfecting the back flip/preacher seat combo, so we headed to the nearest water spigot, which doubled as our personal water fountain. When we all had a little Buddha potbelly, the door opened. No one ran. Why would we? We were drinking water, not smoking crack.
Mr. Sharp yelled for us to get off his grass, quit stealing his water, never step foot in his yard, and threw in a few harsh words that we did not yet recognize. He broke cardinal rule number one: Respect the Weathington Boys. We were not above being yelled at, and the language did not faze us, but to tell us what we could and could not do, especially during summer vacation, crossed the line. If you gave us respect and let us go about our day you could get away with a lot more. He may not have gotten the memo, but a smarter neighbor would have handled this differently.
For example, a few years later, Mike Lovely was building a swanky new house on top of the hill. Mike was not stupid, and he knew if he wanted to build his home stress-free and hole-free, he needed to come see the Weathington Boys before he broke ground.
Mike cornered us in the field house after school one day. He pulled us aside, got up in our face, and told us if we damaged his house in any way he was coming down to beat our ass. Although Brian and I could have taken him at the time, Brian nodded and said it would not be a problem. I was surprised by Brian’s restraint; he was always more likely to hit you with a bat than I was.
“Why’d you let him punk us like that?”
“Mike runs Sewell’s,” Brian explained. Sewell’s was a clothing manufacturer and the largest business in town. This was before the invention of Wal-Mart or China.
“So? He can still get his ass kicked!”
“It’s three o’clock in the afternoon, Nathan.”
I was still drawing a blank on why we were not wailing on him with a sock full of Jacks.
Brian was very calm — not one of his strong suits — which in turn calmed me down. He had obviously given this some thought and patiently took me through his reasoning. He knew we would see eye to eye or he would not have spoken for both of us in the first place. We rarely disagreed.
“Mike took off work, came down here in his suit, found us — a task the FBI has found challenging. This threat took planning. He knew before he called the city to get permission to build he had to come see us first.”
“I follow you,” I said.
“Respect,” Brian declared.
Not only did we not trash his house, we made sure no would-be up-and-coming juvenile delinquents touched it either.
Mr. Sharp had not shown the appropriate amount of respect — not even close. After he finished his tirade, we all gave a weak apology and went about our day. We had plans to make.
Planning attacks was the most enjoyable part of my childhood. It was like a boardroom brainstorming meeting, but without shirts or anyone over age eleven. PowerPoint had not been invented, thank God. Digital documentation of these attacks would probably have gotten us five to ten.
Excitement and nervous energy was in the air during these meetings, aided by the sweet tea and Lik-M-Aid. I loved these meetings even more than the actual attack. They were a chance for me to show off my creative side. I was much better at planning the correct way to shoot someone in the ass with a pellet gun, and Brian was much better at actually doing it. The preparation was elaborate. These meetings routinely lasted a few hours and included a variety of diagrams and sketches to cover positions, timing, supplies, and all other relevant details. I am surprised the Pentagon did not draft us straight out of elementary school. We met in our carport around a card table at about seven in the morning. No moss grew on us. We had things to do.
Brian and I were always first to the boardroom to cover classified topics before the rest of the gang arrived. We discussed things like what we would do if someone ratted on us or who we thought would get caught first if the fuzz was on our tail.
“What’s the play?” Brian asked.
The new kids threw out ideas to try to impress us. They were not bad, but Brian shot them down with contempt.
“T.P. his house?”
“Been done,” Brian informed him.
“More destructive, but boring,” he said.
“Send him pizzas?”
Brian did not even acknowledge this idea.
“Fireworks?” I said.
“That’s got legs.”
Fireworks are illegal in the state of Georgia. But, about ten minutes down the road, conveniently just over the Alabama state line stood Firework City, the Holy Grail of gunpowder. Not being able to drive did pose a small problem, but we quickly learned the art of hitchhiking. It is surprising and somehow heartening to recall a time when people willingly and unquestioningly picked up nine-year-old boys off the side of the highway and dropped them off at an explosives emporium. Brian and I did clean up pretty well when we wanted something, and with our dark skin we looked like a cross between a pre-teen Swedish boy and a young Shaka Zulu. We were pure heat, just two cute innocent identical twin boys trying to get across the state line to the legal dynamite store. Our thumbs never broke a sweat and we were never gone long enough for our parents to miss us.
If you were a knowledgeable and therefore confident young firework buyer, you could walk out of Firework City essentially carrying a bundle of dynamite. They even threw in free Thunder Bombs with your purchase. This might seem crazy to kids today who carry Purell in their back pocket. Yes, you read correctly: We hitchhiked to the Wal-Mart of fireworks, shopped unsupervised, spent our own hard-earned money on explosive devices, and got free mini sticks of dynamite for being such loyal customers. This was Bremen, Georgia, 1983. It was also time to take inventory.
“What kind of fireworks does everyone have left over?” asked Brian.
“Roman Candles,” said the kid from Syria, who was new to fireworks, although very enthusiastic and showing huge potential.
“Bottle Rockets,” piped the kid with the shiny, perfectly combed blond hair. This hair told the world his mom did not know he was with us. His fireworks were technically Whistlers, but I kept my mouth shut. It was an easy mistake to make, especially with hair like that. This is the same kid who would later get blasted with a fire extinguisher for counting down the remaining days of summer vacation.
“Snakes,” whispered the preacher’s son who recently moved to the neighborhood. He would later be forbidden by God to hang out with the Weathington Boys.
“Did you really just say ‘Snakes’?” Brian asked. “That firework is so lame it’s not even really a firework. Nathan, punch him.”
Although he did deserve it, I did not punch our new bible school friend. However, I did have an epiphany.
“Mammoth Smoke!” my voice rang with confidence and hoodlum victory.
“A smoke bomb is just as wimpy as my snakes,” our Jesus freak friend retorted.
“This ain’t a normal smoke bomb.” Maybe I should have punched him.
There was nothing more embarrassing and revealing than a wannabe juvie not knowing his fireworks. This moron would not know the difference between a Ladyfinger and a Butterfinger. What a loser.
“Nathan, please educate our friend here on what a Mammoth Smoke is,” Brian instructed.
Mr. Bible School thought about mouthing off, but saw Brian was carrying his bat and decided to take his natural position in the pecking order. Last.
To call a Mammoth Smoke a smoke bomb would have been like calling his momma big boned.
“One Mammoth Smoke is the same as 10,000 of the things you call smoke bombs.”
“So a Mammoth Smoke is the weapon. What’s the plan?” Brian inquired.
“I know we are thinking carport or porch, the usual places, but I think the front door is the target,” I responded.
“Huh? It will just blow away,” Brian said.
“Well, there are actually two front doors, one main door and one air-tight storm door on the outside.”
“I like it, go on.”
“We put the smoke bomb—”
“You mean Mammoth Smoke.”
“Excuse me. So we put the Mammoth Smoke between the doors and light it…”
“And ring the door bell!” our young Christian friend chimed in.
“You really should try to listen more and talk less. As I was saying, we light the Mammoth Smoke, and wait. It takes ten minutes to dump its full load. Then we ring it.”
Brian said he was in; no one else had voting rights.
The plan was simple — no PowerPoint needed. The attack started the next day, broad daylight. We lit God’s gift to smoke bombs and hit the bushes. The door was invisible within the first ten seconds. That storm door did its job; only small plumes of smoke escaped. The smoke became thick and looked like gravy. It appeared as if we would need a shovel to dig the smoke out of the door. Finally the hissing stopped. I darted up and rang the doorbell.
It took old Mr. Sharp a few minutes to get to the door. When he opened it, just as we had planned, the gravy of 10,000 smoke bombs was sucked into his face and his house. Spasmodic coughing and high pitched screaming ensued; he thought his house was on fire, a legitimate concern under the circumstances; one that had not really crossed our minds. It was a nice bonus.
From our position, we could clearly see into his living room. A drunken chicken was crashing into furniture trying to piece together what the hell was going on. The smoke was thick, heavy, and starting to settle on the floor like a giant s’more.
It was time for us to move. Our policy for closing an attack was to get the hell out of Dodge before the neighbors or the cops showed up. Mr. Sharp was left gasping for air in his new marshmallow-themed living room as we sprinted through the woods. The gang fantasized about Mr. Sharp doing the Curly Shuffle on the floor for the next three days.
After that, we continued to drink from his faucet and use his yard as a thoroughfare to Big Creek without conflict. Maybe he now respected us, or maybe he was still in the hospital. Either way, we were back in charge.