Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Big Wheel of Time (part 3)


Thinking back, I'm positive that was the quietest shout I've ever heard.

I wanted to run. Every cell in my body was telling me to run, but I all I could do was stare, transfixed in anticipation of the cry of anguish that would, at any moment, be issuing from the depths of that little boy. As if on cue, a cavern opened up on his beet-red face and what came out was many times worse than anything I could have imagined: absolute silence. Emerging from his tiny lungs was the howl of a pain without voice, a hurt of such intensity that no sound could adequately convey the emotion behind it.
Lanny pushed me as he ran by, breaking the spell. "Run!"
I realized immediately that we had very little time remaining because once that kid refilled his lungs with air, a sound similar to that of an air raid siren would cut through the night alerting the rest of the family, the surrounding neighbors, and probably every dog within several miles, that something was terribly terribly wrong. So I ran.

Coming out of the garage, I almost collided with Phil and Lanny who had stopped dead in their tracks and were staring across the front lawn, dumbfounded, as Stuart , holding the Big Wheel high above his head, sprinted away as swift and sure as any Olympic runner ever had.
"Holy --"
"Don't stop!" I said as I pushed them back into motion, "We've got to get out of here!"
Expecting to hear the sounds of pursuit at any second, we disregarded any notion of trying to be nonchalant for the sake of passing cars and ran like crazy.

We had parked a few houses down, around a curve, out of sight from the house, and I kept telling myself that if we could make it to the truck before anyone came out to investigate, we could possibly get away without being seen. I know Phil was thinking the same thing because, as we neared the truck, I could hear him saying, "Please, please, please." I looked behind me and everything was still clear. I looked back at the truck and could see Stuart in the back, motioning with his arms and saying, "Hurry up you guys," which was probably the most surreal part of the entire evening. Lanny, being a few strides ahead of us, was already in the driver's seat and firing the ignition which gave Phil and I just enough time to dive into the back with Stuart as Lanny put the truck in gear and took off.

Once the adrenaline had worn off and the nervous laughter had subsided, the drive back to Bates House was relatively quiet and low-key. No one bothered to mention the remaining item on our list because there wasn't enough time left and I'm sure, judging from the looks on everyone's faces, no one cared. As it turned out, it wouldn't have mattered anyway because, a few blocks from the dorm, we were stopped at a train crossing and by the time the train had passed and we had pulled into the parking lot, we were about five minutes late. Taking the plunder up would have taken, at least, another ten minutes, so we didn't even bother. We simply made our way to the sixth floor (Lanny had to take the back entrance to avoid the RA) to see who had won.

Surprisingly, had we made it back it time, we would have won. The first two teams to return had tied with seven items each and the third team had only been able to get five, and while each of the other teams had been able to find beach umbrellas, none of them had returned with foosball men. The other common items between the teams were traffic cones, barrier signs, pink flamingos and, of course, Big Wheels even though one would have been disqualified because it was a Green Machine. Technically not a Big Wheel.

Everyone sat around telling stories of their adventures and , after a while, I noticed that none of the stories were being told by my team. Not even the "Stuart sprinting" story. One of the time keepers had heard about Lanny and the janitor and repeatedly asked about it but everyone kind of shrugged it off and said it was no big deal - except for Stuart who seemed interested since he had obviously missed something and couldn't understand how. Finally, the other guys lapsed into stories concerning the less exciting events of the evening and I couldn't help but notice my friends all seemed a bit preoccupied and I guessed they were all thinking of that little boy's face, just like I was. I realized that we were keeping our silence because we felt guilty and knew the other guys wouldn't quite understand; they had all enjoyed themselves and had avoided the part of watching some kid cry by obtaining their Big Wheel's at empty playgrounds and, in the case of the Green Machine, at a Salvation Army donation box. I listened to the stories for a little while longer and, finally, got up and wandered back down to my room. I wanted to lie down for a while, maybe even go to bed early, to see if I could get that crying kid out of my head.

It's funny how it's so much easier to do something when you don't have to see the consequences of your actions. It's so easy to see objects and not consider their connections to actual living people and how we would feel if we were on the receiving end of such a so called "innocent" prank, or how one person's prank can be another person's violation. Growing up is a bitch and no one, for the most part, likes the thought of acknowledging the fact they've hurt people in the past, even if that was not their intent and it was "all in good fun." I couldn't help but wonder if my friends were as bothered by the situation as I was.

I was still in bed thinking about those things when someone banged on my door. I looked at the clock and realized I'd been brooding for a couple of hours because it was after midnight. I opened the door and standing in the hallway were Phil, Lanny and Stuart. They were all smiling at me.
"It's a good thing I wasn't asleep."
"We knew you'd be up," Phil said as they continued to stand in the hallway and smile at me.
Several seconds passed and no one said anything. All three of my friends just stood there, looking at me, smiling.
"Okay, you guys are starting to scare me. What's going on?"

Phil quickly explained that while it was okay to keep some of the smaller items like a couple of hard hats or a pink flamingo or two, there was no place to keep the larger things that were piled by the study area at the end of the hall. The big stuff needed to go before the RA saw any of it because he'd know who to blame. He went on to say they could really get into trouble because of the barrier signs and anything else that was "obviously" stolen.
"So me, Lanny and Stuart volunteered to dispose of it, being that we were the losers and all," Phil said, "And we knew you'd want to help."
"Cause you're part of the team," Stuart said.
"And a loser," chimed Lanny.
"At midnight?" I asked, "Why can't we do this in the morning after lunch? All we're going to do is toss the junk in the dumpster. Right?"
A funny look spread across Phil's face. "Not exactly."
"We came up with an idea without your help," Stuart said.
Lanny pointed back into my room, "Now grab your car keys and let's go."
"My keys?"

Roughly two hours later, after four or five trips to the dumpster from the sixth floor, two trips to Lanny's truck and one side journey in a Volkswagen Beetle, with Lanny on Stuart's lap in the front and Phil stuffed in the back with three Big Wheels and a Green Machine, I was back in my dorm room feeling physically exhausted but mentally upbeat. It had been a long night with several ups and downs but, in the end, it had proven a good night. I had learned several things that night but the most important was that I was only as good as the friends I kept and, thankfully, I had discovered that my friends were excellent people.

The scavenger hunt was only one of the adventures shared by the four of us that year, but it's memory is the one that flooded over me staring at Mrs. Brown's garage. Time is funny stuff. It can help us remember and forget as it rolls along it's uncertain path and while I may have forgotten small details here and there, I can still remember my three friends from that time period as if it were only last week. I can still see their expressions and hear their voices, and even though I could still see the image of that little boy breaking down in tears if I wanted to, I prefer to imagine the look on his face the following morning when he came outside to find three Big Wheels and a Green Machine sitting in his driveway.


Chris said...

You and your friends are good people. Lovely story. I'll overlook the moustache.

John Taylor said...

hi chris-
Thanks, thanks, and thanks. I appreciate you stopping by and, all things considered, I hope you enjoyed your time with your family.