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Small boys

“You might want to drive to the northeast corner of your place. There are three small boys by your fence, and it looks like they’re vandalizing it!”No need for the nice neighbor lady on the phone to tell me twice; I sprang into action. As I drifted the pickup around the curve on our dirt road, sure enough, there were three boys messing with our electric cattle fence, bicycles on the ground beside them.”Hi boys,” I shouted through the open window as I slid to a stop. “What are you doing?”I regarded three sets of the biggest, widest eyes I’d ever seen. You could just read their faces: “Where did he come from? There’s not a house in sight, how did he know?” Grownups not only have eyes in the back of our heads, we’re all members of the same club when it comes to miscreant boys. The tallest one answered. “Oh, uh, we’re just messing with this electric fence here.””I can see that, boys.” By now, my hand was covering my mouth and the involuntary smile that resulted from their frozen fear and caught-flat-footed honesty. “The sign says ‘Warning – Electric Fence,'” I said. (The warning sign has a cartoon silhouette person jerking backward in agony with lightning bolts coming off him.) “Why are you messing with that?””Well, mister, when you touch it, it kinda tingles.”By now, I was chuckling openly. I remembered experiments I’d run back during my own career as a small boy: Can hiding under a bridge with your friends and passing around a purloined cigarette make you sick? Or how about: Will tying a genuine hangman’s noose with string and hanging your sister’s Barbie from a thumbtack above her bedroom door generate horror followed by a thirst for revenge? The answers to both experiments were, Yes!My memory returned to a time when three of us small boys were hiding behind a hedge. The year was 1964, and we had a big water balloon. Not the 50 balloons for 50 cents kind, no. This was one of the huge five balloons for 25 cents kind. You had to fill it up really tight or it might not even break when it smacked its target. Well, it was full; a two-handed heave for sure. I was elected to throw it because I was the tallest. We waited behind the hedge for a car.Hearing the sound of a smooth engine, we saw through gaps in the hedge that a flashy red and white convertible was approaching. Did I mention the car was a convertible? As the target approached, I did the difficult mental calculations based only upon flashes of red and white through occasional gaps in the hedge. At the precise moment I gave the monster balloon a heave. Gracefully, it arced over the hedge and out of sight, meeting the oncoming target with a satisfying “BLOOSH!” followed instantly by the squeal of tortured rubber and the sound of a flashy sports car being thrown violently into reverse.We were off to the races! With windmilling legs, we made for the rabbit hole at the far end of the hedge and our friend’s house. The large and angry teenage boy driver had been squiring his date on some fine outing when, it seems, a sudden, um, change in the weather had changed his plans. Oh, was he mad. He flipped that car around and was now observing us through gaps in the hedge as he followed us from the other side. We learned at least three new words as he followed, ranting. Teenage boys were the worst! To us they were grownups, but with speed and a higher degree of motivation than just someone’s dad might have had.We dove through the rabbit hole in the hedge by our friend’s house. Quick as a flash we were in the back door and had it locked. All other ingress methods had been locked by us previously, in a rare moment of forethought. We didn’t just run upstairs, we ran to the attic where we and the startled spiders looked out a little dormer window down to the circle drive where a shiny red and white convertible was parked. The car was so shiny. Why, it looked wet!The pounding on the front door had deep authority: “You little #@!&**s!! You’re dead!” We, looking out that attic window couldn’t see him, but sopping wet girlfriend was sitting sullenly in the passenger seat of the convertible. We knew the authoritative pounding was nothing compared to what we’d be getting. Girls were a mystery to us, but teenage boys regarded them fondly, this we knew. The pounding resumed, now at the back door. We were scared to death. Mission accomplished!Eventually, the pounding ceased and the convertible left. We hid for another two hours. Finally, gradually, our small-boy cockiness returned. “I’ll bet he was so mad because his date showed up with wet hair,” we all agreed, laughing over our sodas. Still, we didn’t go outside for a long time.Later, our larger-boy activities grew to include tee-peeing the homes of girls we liked. Clearly, we still didn’t understand girls.We need small boys and their fearless curiosity. Small boys push the envelope. It’s in their blood. This July, 40 years ago, a bunch of small boys that had grown large enough to know how to tie their skinny ties properly, mustered up all the courage they could and sent a rocket ship to the moon. Hey, someone had to do it!The three small miscreants at my electric fence, seeing my amusement, began to relax, but quizzically. I looked at them, their bikes and the beautiful day. Not a TV or video game in sight, just boyish imagination and curiosity. I advised them to go on and have fun that didn’t involve my electric fence. “It’ll flat knock you down if you touch it wrong. At 6,000 volts, it’s for keeping cattle in.”Fully realizing I wasn’t angry, they started breathing again. They couldn’t fathom why I was laughing. Maybe in 40 years or so they just might figure it out.Tom

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