These are the collected memories of my spent and misspent youth. Names have been changed as some of the people involved now live respectable lives and I would hate to sully their reputations. At times I will take liberties as in who did what, or maybe combine a couple of stories together that really didn’t happen together. I am seeking to entertain, not write a documentary. Hope you enjoy
Memoir – Sometimes, stuff just blows up
Males need a place to feel comfortable. To be who they want to be. To express themselves like men should express themselves. To be alone. Particularly to be alone with other males. These spaces should be rustic. Full of wood and a little bit of dirt. Not filthy, but not really clean. No air fresheners or accent pillows. With tools of some type within arm’s reach. We had such a place when we were young. We had the firepits.
Cisco’s house had a small, very tidy backyard where his dad had a little garden and a small shed. Next to the shed was a small, but very wide tree. Underneath was all cleared of brush, dark and hidden. Behind the shed was a big pile of bricks. Cisco’s dad was a woodworker and he had a small shop in the back of his garage. He would make wooden toys to sell at craft fairs, or he would just putter out there, I’m not really sure. The point is that there was always a lot of scrap wood. Now, our stirring need for a male place combined with the resources at hand (a dark hidden place, bricks, and scrap wood) to create our proto-man-cave, i.e. the Fire Pits.
We took the space under the tree and cleared the ground of leaves, mulch and other burnables. Then we each staked out a spot and built a little brick enclosure, like a fire place but without a chimney or screen, or anything resembling common sense. Then we carefully piled the scrap wood where each of us could reach it. A couple of matches and newspaper later we each had a little fire.
Sitting in front of a fire is primal. It’s cathartic. It’s hypnotic. On cold fall days we would walk down to Buy Rite and get some pop and chips (side story, one of these trips resulted in us coming up with the game “take-a-big-mouthful-of-red-crème-soda-and-then-the-other-guys-try-to-make-you-laugh-so-it-comes-out-your-nose”. Red Crème soda in my nasal passages is probably the cause of my sinus issues today). We would trudge back to the house and start up the fires as darkness fell. We would drink pop and pass the chips back and forth, taking about school, girls, family, girls, adventures, girls and so forth.
Quiet times of reflection and conversation. Yeah, that type of thing is not meant to last long. It is a vacuum, a void, a hallow space that the teen boy’s mind seeks to fill with something. For us, that something usually involved explosions or vandalism or girls. This one involved explosions, but not on purpose. Honest. It really wasn’t on purpose this time.
We learned that the shop classes in school actually forged tools out of aluminum, melting the aluminum then pouring it into casts. The wheels started turning. We knew we couldn’t actually melt aluminum. We knew because we tried. The pop cans just sat there, not melting. Then we learned lead had a really low melting point. So, the theft of a couple of Cisco’s dad’s fishing sinkers and a few minutes of burning later, we knew we could melt lead. What to make a cast out of? Plaster. We got the basics of how to use it for making a cast of an animal track from an old Boy Scout manual I had ( it was from the ‘50s, and was amazingly useful. Tips on making shelters, different kinds of fires, first aid. So much better than the one I had from the ‘80s. All it told me about was how to handle a flag and how to display my non-existent merit badges.) We got the basics for plaster from the hardware store then set out to make some molds. We used an arrow head for one, a little army man for another. We quickly went through our lead supply. We needed more lead. This stymied us for a week or so. Then, as we were walking through the parking lot at the Buy Rite, Hymie stopped in his tracks and the ‘brainstorm’ smile crawled across his face. He pulled out his pocket knife (the pocketknife. We each had one, and kept it in our pockets all the time, even at school. Good thing we never used them to cause carve in desktops, or tree stumps at the Civic Center, or to rapidly deflate bike tires….) and knelt next to a car while telling us to “keep a Lookout”. A minute later he popped up holding the lead weight from the car wheel. “I know where to get lead!” We changed directions and headed to the Ford dealership on Rt. 25, just down the hill from the Buy Rite. They sold cars, but also did a decent business in work vehicles, the kind with bigger tires, bigger wheels and bigger lead weights. 15 minutes later we were each holding about a pound of lead in our pockets and trying to walk normally out of the parking lot.
After trudging back, we set out to melt some lead. Let me just say that Hymie was really into this, he had 4 or 5 of the weights melted down in no time and was looking around for another can to melt in. He found a can, then went to dump the molten lead from the first can to the second can. I don’t pretend to understand the chemistry of what happened next. Cisco and I heard a pop and a poof, followed by several little thuds against the little metal shed, further followed by Hymie’s screams and truly first rate swearing (Hymie spent a lot of time at the family farm in his youth, doing work with his uncle and dad around the farm. He was a much better, more colorful and natural swearer than Cisco or I. He wasn’t a true artist at that point, but he was clearly a budding talent). We rushed over to survey the damage and to hide the evidence. Hymie’s was holding his forehead. The back of his hand had a big burn on it. There were little bits of lead sticking to the side of the metal shed. “I don’t know what happened!” he said “I just poured it out and it exploded! Something hit me in the head and it burns!” We got his hand away from his head and there was a chunk of lead stuck in his hair down by the scalp. And a nasty red burn. We cut the hair out (again, love those pocket knives). It had only missed his eyes by about 2 inches. Then we saw the can. It was still intact, but the lead had formed a thin, fragile bubble, much like a popover, at the top of the can. We poked it and it deflated. The can was empty except for a little bit of water at the bottom. Near as we could tell, the hot molten lead reacted/ rapidly cooled as it hit the water. Steam, lead, heat, and cool combined to cause the lead to expand out violently. Into Hymie’s face, hands, and back of the metal shed. Flying, hot lead and we didn’t even have a gun. This time.