The Great Tennis Ball Caper

In some ways, our culture teaches an aberrant notion that boys and girls are really just about the same, that there's really not much difference between the two, and that they should be raised and educated in essentially the same ways and in the same structures and environments.

I disagree.

Provided below is a personal story from my own childhood that illustrates a little of the difference between boys and girls. The purpose of this story is not to write girl's don't behave (or play) the way I did as a child, because it's quite possible some do. This is only to indicate that, when I was growing-up, little girls and little boys seemed really, really different to me. The little girls I knew played house, and the boys I knew played various forms of war games (i.e., acorn wars, capture the flag, etc.). While this may seem like an over generalization, girls played with Barbies, and boys stole their sister's Barbies so they could light their little doll hair on fire and watch their little doll heads shrivel-up. When you were growing up, did you know any girls that set their Barbies heads on fire? I didn't. But I knew a lot of boys who did just that. Yes, I agree, in some ways, boys and girls are similar. They're both human and, well, somewhere around there I believe much of the the similarities end. Aside from their shared humanity, boys and girls are fundamentally different and, as such, respond to life in fundamentally different ways. At least, I think so. Anyway, I hope you enjoy today's post as I take a stroll down memory lane and grant you the opportunity to take a sneak peak under the hood of one little boy's mind. CU in the funny papers...



When I was a young boy (about forty+ years ago), and playing over at Harv's and Bear’s (two kids, whom I'll refer to as "H&B," who lived across the street from me and my brother), I had this wonderful idea one afternoon of how fun it might be to dip a tennis ball in gasoline, light in on fire, and then kick it around the yard. And it really was quite fun as I watched the tennis ball bounce around, leaving in its wake these really nifty little piles of fire. Soon, several of the neighborhood kids got involved, and, in a matter of just a few moments, I think things got a little out of hand.

I remember Mrs. Evans (H&B's mom) stepping out the front door of their house (while we were busily engaged in our little experiment in empirical physics) and asking something like, “Harv…whudareyoudoing?” I don’t remember Harv’s answer, but, almost before she finished firing-off her first question, the five gallon bucket of gasoline (which was on fire) must have caught her eye. Turning toward her younger son, Bear, she yelled, “Who lit that bucket on fire?” To which Bear responded, still holding the lighter in his hand, “Not me! Not me!” To this day, I'm still amazed at how truthful we all were as kids, you know? It’s just astounding how completely angelic we all were. Anyway, at this point, Mrs. Evans directed that all fires be put out, that H&B come inside, and that the rest of us all go home. Ok. No harm done. And so I went home.

At the bus stop the next morning, I learned from H&B that, except for going to school and church (their dad was the preacher at their church), they were restricted to the neighborhood for something like the next month. Actually, after a couple days, I think the term was reduced to one week (or it was over—I can’t remember). Here was the exceptionally good news, though: as of that morning, it seemed I had, quite miraculously, skirted the whole punishment thing; and I was really beginning to feel quite pleased with myself given the whole thing had been my idea in the first place.

What’s that old saying? Pride comes before…? What? A week-long trip to the beach? Don't I wish!

By the time I got home from school that afternoon, let’s just say Humpty Dumpty fell about twenty stories to a rather gruesome and messy death. After learning my parents now knew of what had, for the previous 24 hours, been an event unbeknownst to them—and mentioned elsewhere by kids the world over in hushed and reverent tones—I learned additionally I would be spending the next seven days in my room. And, in case you're wondering, my room was NOT particularly conducive to such things, for I did not possess any of the following survival gear:

  1. A TV.

  2. A stereo.

  3. Video games.

I did, however, have in my possession the following elements to help me cope a little better with such events (which, for reasons I had a hard time understanding at the time, were beginning to occur with greater and greater regularity):

  1. A base station CB radio (which came in handy with coordinating escapes from [and safe returns back to] the San Quintin of my second-story bedroom).

  2. A rope.

  3. A large window.

  4. A sturdy bed, to which I could tie element "2” so as to facilitate my escapes and returns through element “3”. But I digress…

Back to the whole getting into trouble thing...

It seems Mrs. Dirge (the nice old lady, who lived next door to H&B) noticed what had been going on the day previous and thought how kind it might be if she were to walk over to my house and very politely inform my parents of the interesting scientific experiments their son had been engaging in recently. Yes, she tattled on me (and, I will be quick to write, I haven't sent her a Christmas card since). But that’s only part of the story. To get the full context, let’s hit the rewind button and go back to about two months earlier…

I remember that day as if it were yesterday. And what a beautiful day it was: the sky was blue, the birds were singing, there hadn't been a cloud in the sky for weeks, and we were all just completely copacetic and tranquil. I think it was late summer because school had not yet resumed, which made things just exquisitely delightful. And so there I was, minding my own business playing basketball in my driveway, when Mrs. Dirge walked up and asked me if I would help her with something: “David…there are some snakes in my back yard, and I was wondering if you would be willing to come get them?” I put down my basketball and said something like, “Sure…let me go get my Dad’s shovel.”

Five minutes later, and I was in Mrs. Dirge’s back yard, looking with her at a little collection of what appeared to be about a dozen baby copperheads. I used my Dad’s big scoop shovel, got them all up, and then proceeded to carry them out to the middle of the cul-de-sac, where I dumped them out on the pavement. (We all lived at the end of a cul-de-sac in a place called “Brimstone [as in Fire and...—I kid you not]" in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.) I then set down my shovel, went and got my Dad's gas can and some matches, and then proceeded to douse the snakes with gas and light them on fire. It was kind of cool watching them crackle as the pavement turned black all around them. (Okay…for you female readers, this is just the stuff of boyhood; nothing out of the ordinary here. See? There really IS a difference between boys and girls. Told you.) All of this, and, I repeat, ALL of it, occurred under the watchful and approving eye of the legendary Mrs. Dirge. After I completed my assignment, Mrs. Dirge kindly thanked me, and we all went home and lived happily ever after until about two months later when Mrs. Dirge proceeded to tell on me ("Tattle tail, tattle tail, swinging on a cow's tail!") for doing something that, to this day, I still feel to be in the same general universe (a universe I reverently call “Boys and Their Many Skillful Uses of Fire”) as my neighborly service to Mrs. Dirge and her snakes. In fact, since no pets, insects, or other assorted wildlife were harmed during my tennis ball research, I actually think my fiery tennis ball game, as compared to the squamata weenie roast in the street, was the more "beneficent" of the two.

Again, the above is all just the stuff of boyhood; nothing out of the ordinary there. Unless, perhaps, the above episodes had been experienced or perpetrated by a girl, which I think would be, well, fantastic (!) and yet completely out of the ordinary. But, then again that's just my opinion; I could be wildly misguided. (For those of you who live in Chapel Hill, that means "completely wrong.") To be fair, though, I must acknowledge at least the possibility of such a thing, irrespective of its extreme unlikeliness.



The Life You Were Born to Live