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The Blog Brothers

Two Black-Irish-American brothers from the mythical city of Albany, New York ponder their 20th century adventures from either side of the Pacific Ocean; Bob in Kyoto, Japan and Mick in Santa Barbara, California.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Firebombing of Mapleridge Avenue

Yes, Bob, your slingshot legacy stands unchallenged, near as I can tell. Had we been born into an Indian village as we so often dreamed, you would have had an honored seat in the sweat lodge, right up there alongside the elders. Many a marble found its mark, but then so did many a rock, punch, kick, and well-chosen word, in both directions. We were boys through and through, and pretty damn creative and obstreperous ones at that. If I'm not mistaken, Mark Twain found much of his material for Huckleberry Finn in such goings on.

Born into a world war as we were, though, we were naturally immersed in its zeitgeist; we simply absorbed it and reinvented it to suit our needs. Books, newsreels, movies, radio, comics, even a father who had gone off to war and come back a hero (and remained in close communion with his fellow heroes at the VFW Post): there was a great deal of material to work with in those days. We fought cattle rustlers and injuns on the plains, germans and japs on the hills and in the trenches, survived by our wits alone in the jungles of the Normanskill (mostly summers and weekends), and even found time to attend school at St. James Institute now and then. The Delaware Avenue Era was a boy's dream, and though we little suspected it at the time, the best part of it would be ending soon enough.

Among the many memorable events of that era for me were the bombing raids that we conducted during at least one of those autumns back in the early fifties. We had actually conceived of a way to emulate the great raids of World War II right in our own neighborhood, with simple materials that we found around the house. And though I believe we invented this technique ourselves, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that there were little Japanese and German boys bombing London and New York in their neighborhoods as well at the time.

We began with a wooden thread spool, a large one, about three inches long, without the thread. Then we took a thick, heavy rubber band, cut it into a single strand and attached each of the ends to either side of one of the holes in the spool with a carpet tack, so that it wrapped tightly around the other end, covering the hole. Slide a wooden kitchen match into the other end, head facing out, and pull it back in the rubber band, and you have a long range bombing device. Don't try this at home, kids.

Every autumn, leaves would begin falling from the maple trees lining Mapleridge Avenue, and as those leaves were raked and swept into the street (for collection?), our reconnaisance team would monitor conditions while we would patiently wait for the perfect moment to launch our mission. The leaves had to be dry, the piles had to be large, and there could be no cars. It should also be noted that Mapleridge Ave was only one block long.

When the moment arrived, we would gear up, roll out the red Schwinn bike, and, with me in bombing position astride the bars and you, Bob, in the pilot's seat, we would launch our raid. Heading west from Delaware, cruising low and slow near the center of the street, we began to strike our targets. Pulling back on the first match as far as it would go in the spool, and aiming just in front of the pile, I'd release. The match would hit the rough surface of the asphalt and ignite, bouncing fully aflame into the mountain of dry leaves, and do its work. Then on to the next pile.

When we reached the end of the street, we'd stop and look back for one last look at a street ablaze, and, enemy bases destroyed, fly home down by way of Simpson and Albion before the enemy fire engines arrived. Now, looking back, I am willing to admit it was probably more Little Rascals than Jimmy Doolittle, but we did the best we could with limited resources, and no one else seemed to be stepping forward to defend us against our foes. We had to go in there and do the work with whatever means was at hand. It seems to me that kids today are at a real disadvantage compared to us, though; behavior such as this would not even be considered, and they are forced to carry out all of their missions in digital format. I feel sorry for them, but perhaps it's better that way.


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