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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Day My Mom Threw Walnuts at the Neighbor Kid

I spent a portion of my childhood living in a small suburb north of Baltimore, MD called Bel Air. My perspective on the town is a little skewed, because we moved there when I was 7 and left when I was 13, so my impressions are probably drastically different than they would be now. But for a kid my age, it was an awesome town. Especially our neighborhood.

There were kids everywhere - so many, in fact, that we started a street hockey league. We had four teams and an actual rotating game schedule, complete with championships, etc. It was awesome. There were always other kids to play with everywhere. It was literally impossible to be bored in that neighborhood. For the most part, I got along with everyone in the neighborhood (probably more out of a fear of confrontation than anything).

With one exception. My next door neighbor, Kevin Konzowski (I changed his name slightly so if he does a google search for his name, he can't find this and get angry all these years later - but he had a good, classical Polish name that started with a K. I've always found that childhood stories are significantly more funny if you remember the kid's name). He was a whiny, chubby little blond kid, a year younger than me. He did musical theater. And I hated him. He did not participate in our street hockey league, and he was an all-around disagreeable child. He was one of those kids that already acts like a lame 40-year old (enforcing rules when it's not his place and tucking his collared shirt into his pleated-front pants, in spite of the considerable gut protesting this fashion decision), even though he was just in third grade.

One day, my good friend Courtney came by the house to show off her awesome new bike. In fourth grade, a new bike was the equivalent of winning several million dollars in the lottery. She was fashionable, stylish, could probably ride faster than any of us, and she was on top of the world. We all envied her and her outrageous fortune. I remember it was teal and white. It probably also had some other colors, and it probably had some other kind of features, but clearly this shows what was mostly important to us.

So there we were, admiring her beautiful new bike as it rested regally on its kickstand. Then, looking over my shoulder, Courtney said, "go away." I could see the glint of blond hair reflecting in her eyes. I spun around and came face to face with my neighborhood arch-nemesis. Kevin.

"This is Courtney's new bike. YOU can't touch it." I said smartly, turning my back on him once more. Courtney and I were fourth graders. It was SO uncool to be seen near a third grader, let alone one as un-hip as Kevin. In retrospect, I would like to think he had no intention of touching the bike in the first place, but was lonely and just wanted to have friends. But I don't believe it. If that were the case, he wouldn't have been Kevin.

I could hear his footsteps growing nearer to me, so I turned back around, on guard, ready to protect the precious new bike. But suddenly he struck! I had no idea a fat little whiny kid could move that fast! He darted past me, and in an attempt merely to touch the bike (explicitly disobeying my one command), he lost his balance and shoved the bike harder than he meant to. And in terrible slow-motion, we watched in horror as the beautiful new bike fell onto its side in the grass.

Too overwhelmed with shock, I stared blankly at Kevin. And that's when he hit me with his second attack.

"You look like a penis."

Again, before I could react (what's that even supposed to mean? How can a person even look like a penis??), he struck again - reaching out his sissy hand and slapping me across the face.

Now, I've never been a confrontational person, and, as I told you before, I've always followed a strict adherence to behavior rules and laws, both real and those invented in my mind on behalf of the unknown and infinite "authority." But Kevin pushed me over the edge. I pulled my arm back, and with all my might, I decked him as hard as I could in the face. He went running home screaming. I'd successfully given my first (and only) black eye.

But that didn't end things with Kevin. Not by a long shot. He spent the rest of the summer taunting me from the relative safety of his backyard fort. I didn't dare ever venture into his yard. But he must have feared the repercussions of coming into my yard, as well. He usually stayed hidden in his fort, but his annoying third-grader taunts would drift across the yards to my friends and I. I'd tell them to just ignore him and try to take my own advice, but the fury was building.

Finally, one day after weeks of unrequited taunting, he'd lost it. He wanted a war, and he was determined to get one. There was a walnut tree in between our yards, and many of the walnuts had fallen off onto the ground. If you've never seen a walnut off a tree, it basically looks like a tennis ball without the white seams.

Kevin's poorly thought out battle plan involved running frantically to the border between our yards, grabbing as many walnuts as he could, and launching them at us while we sat innocently ignoring him in our swing set. Most unfortunately for him, he had relatively good aim that day. He hit me with one on the back of the head, and he hit my friend with one right in the arm, leaving a giant red welt.

Little did he know, we had a secret weapon. And she was just as fed up with him as we were. My mom had been watching from the deck, and when my friend and I started yelling and trying to hold back tears, she'd had enough.

Now a normal mother would have likely gone to Kevin's house, rang the doorbell, and told his parents that he was throwing walnuts at us. But not my mom. Maybe she knew that Kevin's parents wouldn't have done anything even if they had known, or maybe she was really just as sick of that annoying kid as we were. But either way, she stormed down into the yard, grabbed a couple walnuts and began launching them at him while yelling something like, "not so fun to be the target, now is it??"

Luckily for Kevin, my mom has terrible aim. I'm not sure if she hit him (she was also throwing underhand), but I can only hope she did, at least once. He went running into his house screaming once again. But that finally ended the war with Kevin. He stayed inside for the rest of the summer (occasionally we'd catch a glimpse of him playing by himself in his backyard), and avoided us at all cost. And by the next summer, we'd all out-grown the old rivalries.

Years later, I asked my mom if she remembered this. Laughing, she said she did, and she felt bad for it. But then she told me that she'd never heard a word about it from his parents. Surely if your kid comes running into the house crying, screaming about the grown woman next door throwing walnuts at him, you'd want to have words with her, at the very least. But not in this case. Knowing how whiny Kevin was, we can't imagine he didn't tell them what happened. Instead, we like to imagine he did tell them exactly what happened, and his parents were secretly pleased that someone finally gave him what was coming to him.

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