When last we met...Chased out of High Park by the Zowine brothers, my friends and I decide to do something socially responsible-wing rocks at trains.....
We jumped the guardrail at Dead Man’s Curve.
Pushing our way through the brambles down towards the tracks, I was amazed at how much junk choked the bushes leading to the rail bed. Old newspapers and trash bags I could understand, but department store mannequins?
Donny dug into his pockets.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Getting some change. Train comes by and splat! I have slugs I can use in candy and soda machines.”
“But, aren’t those...quarters?”
“Yeah, why?” he asked as he set a dollar’s worth of change on the rail.
“Well, why would you use a quarter to make a slug for a gumball that costs a penny?”
I didn’t have any money, but Spags laid fifty cents on the rail as his contribution to the cause.
“Now what?” he asked.
“Now we wait,” Donny said. “A train will come by anytime.”
Sure enough, an extremely long freight train came slowly trundled into view within ten minutes.
Coins forgotten, we selected rocks the size of ostrich eggs from the bed surrounding the rails. I tossed mine up and down, testing its heft. Oh, yeah, this one’ll be great. Now, which car should I clobber?
Watching, and rejecting, several, I finally chose a large Norfolk and Southern boxcar as my “victim.” I hoped it was empty. The empty ones made a huge claaaannnngggg when hit by rocks.
I took aim and heaved the rock with all my might. The stone sailed through the air and whacked the car squarely in the door, making a deliciously loud clunk when it hit.
Spags and Donny were equally dead-on with their rocks.
“Hey!” came a sharp voice to the right. “What the hell you kids think you’re doing?”
Startled, we looked up to see a large man, toting an equally large wrench, bearing down on us. Dressed in greasy overalls and a battered baseball cap, he plodded alongside one of the boxcars that slowly rumbled past. Apparently a mechanic of some kind, he didn’t look too happy.
Of course, Spags gave the answer all kids give when caught doing something they shouldn’t, “Nuttin’.”
“Don’t look like ‘nuttin’ to me!”
Donny shrugged, “It’s just a freight train.”
The man angrily gestured with the wrench. “That’s where you wrong, smart ass! First of all, it’s MY freight train! Second, if you throw rocks at freight cars, you’ll throw rocks at passenger trains!”
I didn’t follow that train (once again, pardon the pun) of logic. However, since he was the one holding the wrench, I kept my mouth shut. Mercifully, so did Donny.
“I oughta call the cops!” the train man barked. But, after considering how long he’d have to wait for the police, he reconsidered. “But, not today. Now, get the hell out of here!”
Jamming the wrench into his overalls, he stalked off after the disappearing caboose.
Thinking that was a fine idea, we ducked back into the garage-strewn underbrush.
Donny was frantically scooping up the coins flung off the rail by the passing cars. Bearing no resemblance to what they once were, they were now wafers of faceless metal squashed into the size of half dollars.
I shook my head in amazement. Donny thought it was cool that he turned a dollar and a half into useless metal disks? “You can’t use them, you know.”
He jingled them. “Who says? They’ll be my lucky charms.”
Spags dug a small paper sack out from underneath a discarded tire. “Why don’t you carry them in this?”
Donny squinted his eyes. With a terrible Irish accent he said, “Oy, so yer after me lucky charms, eh?”
Oh, yeah, he’s a real scream, that Donny.
Our booty secure, we climbed back to the street, Donny happily swinging the bag back and forth like a hobo prospector. He was convinced he carried the most precious of treasures, courtesy of the New Haven & Hartford railroad.
Near the top, I called to my companions to hurry up. I suggested we go to Gold’s Grocery to get something to eat.
“But, you idiot,” I scolded Donny, “now we have to go to my house to get money because you turned cold hard cash into cold hard crap.”
“Well, well, well.”
My heart skipped a beat. I looked up to see the Zowines sitting on the guardrail, grinning like two greasy Cheshire Cats.
The bigger one jumped off the rail. His lip was turned up in a snarl and I noticed a bolt-must have fallen out of his neck-swimming among the green fence posts of his teeth. But, it was his fists which held my attention. They looked like huge slabs of meat topped with dirty fingernails.
“Hey, Bobby, here’s the tough guy.”
Bobby-well, now I knew one of their names-scowled. “So, you want me to stick you in a can? Or do you want Richie to do it? Your choice, numbnuts.”
Well, I giggled despite impending doom, at least they knew his name.
Donny stuck the bag in his back pocket. He balled his fists and leaned towards Bobby.
Oh, I didn’t like where this was going.
I reached over and plucked the bag from Donny’s trousers. I jiggled it up and down like a cat’s toy.
Please, Donny, I desperately hoped, just shut up. And, no sucker punch.
The glowering Zowine moved the bolt to the side of his mouth and sneered, “What’s that?”
“How ‘bout we pay you a fine? You leave us alone and we give you this bag of money.”
“Or, how ‘bout we hang you by your pants from a telephone pole and then take your money?”
Had to admit, I couldn’t argue with that logic. Nice try, Al. I closed my eyes. We who are about to die salute you.
Bobby pointed down the street. Evidently, we’d drawn the attention of a mailman who was headed our way. I think the pith helmet scared them.
Richie snatched the bag. “It’s your lucky day, Penwasser. I accept your offer. Now, get lost!”
We didn’t need to be told twice. Spags, Donny, and I took off like the devil was chasing us (which, in a sense, was kind of true).
Since my house was only a few blocks away, I knew we’d be safe as long as we didn’t stop to smell any roses-or burn any ants. I wanted to be as far away as possible before Richie Zowine discovered we’d bought our freedom with slugs as useless as the paper bag that carried them.
As we turned the last corner before safety, I heard my name screamed in bloody murder for the third time that day.
At least Donny was right about one thing.
They were lucky charms.