Addenda

The Great Mission Statement of the House of Corleone

 

On behalf of the House of Corleone, thank you for expressing your concerns regarding the validity of our claim to the title “House of Corleone.” You are correct in your assertion that none of the residents of the house are, or indeed have ever been, of Italian extraction. This grieves us. Deeply. More deeply, in fact, than you can know. We weep over it. It drives us to drink, keeps us awake at night, and belabours our slumbers with haunting dreams that, were you to know them, would cause your individual hairs to stand on end, like the quills upon the fretful porpentine. But I digress.
We are, as I have admitted, woefully lacking in actual Italians, a situation we hope someday to remedy. However, in the interim, we have chosen to bear the title of Corleone out of respect to what we view as the superiority, not so much of the Italian race, but of its way of life. We are but Gentiles, living by the law among the children of Israel, and if, as the good book says, the Lord may create Children of Abraham out of the stones, how much easier must it be for him to create men of Italian spirit from those who, while not Italians, are at least better than the stones?
Towards this end, then, we strive in all we do to emulate what we perceive as an Italian paradigm in our life at the House ofCorleone. We eat large quantities of pasta, frequently. With tomato sauce, which we would make ourselves if we had the foggiest idea how. We make lasagna sometimes, and, in the words of the playwright Jones, you can’t leave until you’ve tried the lasagna. Our skins glisten with olive oil, especially after we spill the bottle. We enjoy drinking wine, preferably outside in what would be a vineyard if we could afford vines and had more of a yard. We strive for peace and mutual cooperation between our interests and those of our neighbours, but have in the past been involved in acts of regrettable, yet we feel necessary intramural violence. One time we even shot little holes in a picture of CJ and tied his bedroom door shut, but don’t tell anyone. We use the phrase “sleeps with the fishes” as often as possible. We strive to emulate the “barrel-chested” physique through minimal exercise. We even like liturgy, but we aren’t quite Catholic. When our friends get married we party with them vigorously, and express our heartfelt if sometimes incoherent desire that their first child should be a masculine child. In short, we are the son in the parable who says “I am not Italian,” and then goes forth and does Italianly – and I would remind you that this is the son whom our Lord praises.
In short, then, while we respect your concerns regarding our regrettable genetic inadequacies, we would petition you humbly to accept us as Italians, at least in spirit. And if not… perhaps it would be more pleasant if we did not discuss that infelicitous concatenation of circumstance. In the meantime, on behalf of the entire House of Corleone,
I remain your faithful servant,
Michael Corleone

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The House of Corleone

This probably won’t really mean much to anyone but me, but I wanted to get it out there.

* * * * * * *

I never felt particularly attached to the house I lived in the first year of my Idaho college adventure. It was a cute little white house generally known as the Igloo, about seventy years old, with an erratic washing machine, a jacuzzi in the upstairs bathroom, and a clan of mice in the basement. I lived upstairs, in a room tucked under the roof, and had to duck my head around a corner every time I ran up the stairs.

Most of that year I spent in my room. My roommates, all of them rather older than me, were busy dating the girls who would become their wives, and I hadn’t figured out how to interact with my own class yet. So I did homework and devised mousetraps and was not particularly sad when I moved out at the end of the year. That house still has people I know in it. I hear they knocked out some walls and renovated some things, and maybe even got rid of the mice. It’s no skin off my nose.

I did, however, get attached to the house I lived in for the next three years. I was invited to join the group moving into it more as a coincidence than anything else; Paden, whom I didn’t know particularly well, was looking at pictures of houses in the Bucer’s smoke room, on behalf of his dad, and I happened to be there. Somehow or other I was rendering opinions, and then somehow or other I was being asked if I was interested in moving in to be the sixth tenant, and how would I feel about sharing a room? The last question was one of those occasions when my willingness to do anything to be included really came back to bite me.

Unlike the Igloo, which was cute and fairly well maintained (aside from the mice), our new house was a bit of a dump. We guessed that it was about sixty years old, on average. Parts of it might have been older, but the inside had obviously been rearranged by amateur enthusiasts at least once or twice, with walls that didn’t quite connect to the ceiling at the top, and a light-switch which did nothing. There was also lightbulb for which no switch could be found, although the wire could be seen disappearing into the wall; in the relaxed way bachelors have, we just kept a rag by the light and screwed and unscrewed the bulb as necessary.

For as long as anyone in the neighborhood could remember, the house had been suffering from feckless renters, and it showed. The paint on the outside, which may have been blue at some point in the 70’s, was now grey, and peeling off like a half-opened Christmas present. The garage maintained a menagerie of ants. The walls in the living room (which was also the dining room, and opened uninterrupted into the kitchen at the far end) were painted a sort of bilious green in some places and a vivid beta carotene orange in others, clashing magnificently at the seams. The kitchen was off white, with fake walnut cupboards, and the whole interior was incredibly dark because there was exactly one south-facing window.

My room was a sort of addition, tacked onto what had probably been the back door at some point in the past. You went through the door by the washing machine, went down three steps and again avoided banging your head on the lower ceiling, finding yourself on a rich carpet of green artificial turf and surrounded by four walls of rich, knotty pine panelling. There were two windows on the northeast corner, and a half-hearted attempt at a closet, and not much more. The heat came  in through a duct underneath the door, allowing every footstep in the rest of the house to resound and be amplified in the ductwork and then directed straight at the head of my bed.

The three years we spent in that house were an unending cycle of improvements and maintenance. We had to renovate the bathroom, desperately. The walls of the shower had been built with some sort of floral panelling, which would have been nice if the caulking hadn’t failed in about 1990 and been allowing water into the walls ever since. When we ripped them out we found enough penicillin to cure Africa and something like six inches of standing water under the window. Redoing a bathroom was a project beyond the powers of all but one of us, but when we had a contractor look at it he informed us that he couldn’t legally work on a bathroom that frightfully below the building code. So we did it ourselves, with mixed results.

Around the time we finished the bathroom, my ceiling collapsed. It began leaking first, in the early spring of my fourth year. Then the whole ceiling became soggy, and then began to sag precipitously down towards my record collection. I moved into the living room for a month or two, while the ceiling sagged and eventually fell and we had to replace the roof. It turned out that for decades tenants had been covering holes in the roof with the wrong sorts of shingles, so that there were about six inches of roof over my room and still none capable of keeping the water out.

At various other times, the gutters fell off and were not replaced, the fridge habitually flooded the kitchen floor, the washing machine exploded in a foamy mess, someone left a ten-dollar steak in the bottom of the fridge for two months, and immense ants overran my bed. A Dodge Ram left in neutral rolled down the driveway and took out the garage door with a mighty noise. I could go on. The house was a wreck. It still sort of is, despite the work we put into it.

I don’t usually think about the work we had to put into the house of Corleone, though. I think of the day we went shopping for posters and decided on a whim to put up a Godfather poster, settling our fate as the house of Corleone for three years. That was the difference between that house and the Igloo. We made ourselves an identity, not as individuals but as Corleones. We moved as a group, going to parties and classes and church in a swarm of Corleones. When we organized parties, we hosted them as the House of Corleone – and we hosted as many parties as we could, most of them involving the best food and company we could muster. And when a real Italian suggested that we had no right to take an Italian name, we got well and truly into character and answered as the House of Corleone, amateur Italians and all-around Christian Epicureans.

There were, over the three years, thirteen Corleones, some of whom got along with each other better than others. Simon Esmond, Paden Blythe, Michael Fields, Seth Bloomsburg, Fraser Martens, Chris Krueger, Lukas Dahlin, Charles Krueger, James Zekveld, Craig Linn, Stephen Sproul, Jeremy Foster, Nathan Zekveld, all Corleones at one time or another, with Paden and the only ones to last for the whole three years that the House of Corleone ruled Moscow. I know this because as we moved in, we wrote our names along the top of the pantry door. Then we left a space under our names (for our hypothetical future girlfriends), drew a line across the door, and had every guest we invited over write his or her name on the door. At the end of three years, we had over one hundred and sixty names written on the door. We also had four names in the space below ours, and one more crossed out.

I left the House of Corleone for the last time last week, and before I walked I stood for a while looking at all those names of people we had made and shared food with. Some of them, like Peter Leithart, are downright famous. Others probably will be someday. A happy number of the girls have different last names now. A couple of the signatures I can’t even read. But when I looked at that door, I felt surrounded by the ghosts of all the wonderful and horrible times we had in that house. I saw Simon slashing Seth’s hand open by accident. I saw Paden and Jasmine huddled over salad and a bottle of wine every night, and the table for two Paden built in front of the fire. I remember me passing out in front of the bathroom door during the great Swine Flu Panic of 2010 and waking up on the kitchen floor with Craig stepping over my corpse. I felt the spirits of a hundred parties, and also a hundred or two hundred nights we spent miserably alone pining together for the girls we couldn’t get to like us, slaving over homework or falling asleep halfway through a dense bit of Augustine. We bled and laughed and ate and drank and loved and cried together in that falling-apart pile of a house for three of the most intense, difficult years that our lives had contained. As a house, a building, it wasn’t much. But as a House, a building of people I fought with and lived with and learned from — well. The House of Corleone was a fine, fine place.

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Limericks on the Subject of Ovid

In the long latin poem I just read

It was best not to pray while you fled

If you cried out for help

In response to your yelp

You were flora or fauna instead.

 

If a white bull who doesn’t smell foul

Finds you bathing and tugs at your towel

There’s a pretty good chance

That he’s seeking romance

And it’s actually Jove on the prowl.

 

While he sat on his throne in the sky

Jove was known for his wandering eye

But humans aren’t wired

For the children he sired

So they came to full term in his thigh

 

Narcissism has taken its name

From a greek god of tenuous fame

Who sat down by a brook

To more easily look

At his girly-man face without shame


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Not a Good Night

The National Hockey League, despite its best and most desperate efforts, fails to hold the attention of the United States for most of its playing season. It takes the spotlight only when something unspeakable happens, like Todd Bertuzzi of the Vancouver Canucks breaking the neck of an opposing player in 2004, or at the end of the playoffs when the Stanley Cup is awarded and the games finally get national broadcasts. Last night, unfortunately for everyone involved, proved to be a confluence of both possibilities.

The 2011 playoffs came to their conclusion in a rough-and-tumble Stanley Cup Final between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins, in a match-up of two elite teams. No love was lost over the course of seven games; multiple players from both teams were injured too seriously to continue playing, one player was suspended for a dubious bodycheck, and there was enough taunting between whistles to intimidate a school’s worth of bullies. But in the end, the Bruins were too much for the Canucks, and rode the spectacular goaltending of 37-year-old wonder Tim Thomas to their first championship in thirty-eight years.

The Boston victory ended one of the league’s longer championship droughts, but it prolonged two others at the same time. The perennially underachieving Canucks have yet to win a championship in their forty year history, after reaching the final round three times. Meanwhile, all of Canada continues to wait for the Stanley Cup to return to the land of hockey; it’s been eighteen years since the Montreal Canadiens won the Cup in 1993.

Even without any extracurricular activity or scandal, the 2011 final had more attention than usual in the USA, as NBC reported the highest ratings it had ever recorded for the seventh game, and the front page of the New York Times featured Tim Thomas hoisting his awards as its lead photo and article on the night of the game. But immediately under the game summary there was a second, uglier headline. The weather in Vancouver had been mild that evening, and an immense crowd of at least 150,000 had filled the streets to watch the deciding game, and to celebrate the expected victory. As the game slipped away from the home team, however, the scene on the streets slid from misery and disbelief into anger. Frustrated, drunken fans began to fight, attack Boston fans, and before long were flipping over and burning police cars, smashing store windows and looting stores. A few pulled off their jerseys and burned them in the streets. Transit and bridges into downtown were closed for hours, and riot police declared the whole area off-limits. Dozens were injured, some severely; one Boston fan fell more than fifty feet from a viaduct, and there were rumours he had been pushed. One man was brought to hospital with a stab wound to the neck.

For various reasons, the Canucks and their fans had attracted a reputation as low-class and unsportsmanlike in the previous weeks. Most Canucks fans had tried to deny the allegations, of course, but they became hard to deny when every news outlet in North America was showing rioters destroying stores while wearing Canucks colours. Fans inside the arena for the game had shown good sportsmanship even in the pain of yet another defeat, applauding the Bruins stars with true enthusiasm and reserving boos for Gary Bettmann, the NHL’s universally despised commissioner. But outside the team, the city, and the sport in general were being painted in the worst possible light, in front of the widest possible audience.

What is it about sports that manages to bring out the worst in us? There are times when sports create heroes, allowing us to sacrifice ourselves for others, to work together and acheive things as teams. They create discipline, and teach us to overcome our sinful tendencies like laziness and selfishness. And yet, at other times, they brush all of our sanctification away and leave us wanting nothing but our own good. We become selfish, desperately competitive, unable to enjoy anything except our own success at any expense, and damn the competition. Even if we are not actually playing, the relatively arbitrary allegiances we form with college and professional teams can rob us of all our hard-learned charity and leave us drooling insults at people whose only offense against us is supporting a different group of millionaire players.

There is no reasonable cause to expect that sports are ever going away. People have been playing games and engaging in athletic competition for longer than we can even remember. And so of course we have to figure out how we’re going to deal with the ugly, rioting side of sports in a Christian way. Some of us have decided that if our hand is causing us to sin, we ought to cut it off. This has led to a cottage industry of Christian books on sports with names like “We Win!” preaching a gospel of non-competition. In this mindset, winning becomes anathema, and participation is the only goal of the game. This is perhaps good for children; there have been more than enough stories of parents blowing up over perceived injustices at their childrens’ games to suggest that we ought to all relax a little. But like it or not, competition is not corrupt. Only the people involved are.

Sports, for those Christians who enjoy playing or watching them, are glorious things for us to enjoy. Even our competitiveness is a good thing, when moderated and controlled, used to push us towards our sanctification and betterment. If we lose our love for each other, even for a few minutes, and exchange it for a selfish desire to win, we need to pull back. If our love for our team makes us snap at and mock others, say uncharitable things or makes a hard loss seem like the occasion to break a store-window, we need to pull back. There are bigger and more important things to grieve over than a hockey game.

As with most things, the core issue that needs to be kept in mind when we think about sports, both playing them and watching them, is selfishness. Going into a game, we psych ourselves up by telling ourselves that we will win, we must win, we deserve to win. I was on the streets of Vancouver to watch the sixth game of the series; the mood was one of entitlement, as if forty years of failure had given us an inalienable right to victory. Fans outside yelled at the screen, insulted the opposite team, and smoked a remarkable amount of marijuana. And, of course, Vancouver lost, painfully, and the mood turned sullen and ugly. After the games Vancouver won, the fans were not only happy but self-righteously so, as if their virtue had put the game away. Sportsmanship, recognition of the skill of the other team, was not much in evidence. And of course when things went the other way, the crowds felt robbed, as if something that was theirs had been stolen from them. The loss become a personal insult, a conspiracy by unseen higher powers to screw them all over. It should be no surprise that Vancouver fans are notorious for claiming that the league and its officials are biased against them. When the game you love becomes something you believe you have a right to, everyone becomes an enemy. And so, the rioters attacked the police, the nearest symbol of authority they could find.

There were many people in the crowds who appeared to have come solely for the chance of causing destruction. But just as many of the hooligans and rioters were ordinary fans, perhaps inebriated or stoned, but mostly just drunk on a sense of their own importance, and sure that they were entitled to victory, to the right to boast in their own strength. This is what happens when we forget to put love for others above our love for ourselves, and it is why as Christians we need to be very careful when we play and watch sports. We may not find ourselves burning police cars when we lose a game of pick-up basketball, or when our son’s football team loses. But there is only a slim difference between that immense, pride-fueled response, and the little voice that tells us that we’re being screwed by the refs, or that the other team is playing dirty, and that we need to raise a fuss and complain. Sports are fun, to watch and to play, and like any other thing we allow ourselves to love they can also break our hearts. When they begin, even a little, to raise our bile, we need to walk away.


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BB King

Apparently, once you’ve put in more than fifty years of the touring grind as a musician and have earned yourself a reputation as the King of the Blues Worldwide, as the posters and t-shirts the bitter man at the souvenir stall was selling as fast he can proclaimed, your nightly show can cease to be so much a performance of your music itself, and can become a sort of homage to yourself, a royal visitation in which the King can appear to the faithful and distribute gifts and benedictions. That was the sense when BB King, now 86 years old and in his sixth decade of performing, appeared with his band last month in Spokane. King has no opening act. He needs no opening act; his band is its own warm-up act, coming out onto a fully lit stage without its leader to thunderous cheers from the audience and, after acknowledging the enthusiastically middle-aged crowd, launching into a loud, brassy blues jam that lasts nearer ten minutes than five. Even as the opening number moves from one solo to another, the mood is of an overture to something grand, like royal trumpeters whipping the masses into an appropriately reverential frenzy before the curtains open and the God-King comes forth to bask in their adulation. And of course he does, to a standing ovation; the King, hobbled by age and diabetes, takes a shoulder from his lead saxophonist, who helps him to his chair at the front of the stage and rests his famous guitar in his lap. BB smiles, waves, tosses unused picks from his coat into the front rows, and the show itself begins.

For all the fuss about his mastery of the blues guitar, the King does not actually play very much. He solos occasionally, throws the odd note in when the mood strikes him, and takes fewer leads than you might expect. The majority of the guitar work is carried by his perfectly capable lead guitarist, a perfectly benevolent seeming fellow nearly as old as the king and, to hear BB tell it, a sort of Chief Advisor who has been with the band nearly as long as there’s been a band. Indeed, this seems to be the way of most of the band members, who are largely old bluesmen in natty suits of the sort who look like they could tell any number of interestingly off-colour stories if you bought them a drink. The only exception is the drummer, who looks to be in his early thirties and takes a remarkable amount of flak from the King for his perceived inadequacies. BB mutters repeatedly about how he’s gonna have to cut somebody in the rhythm section, and it’s hard to tell if it’s part of the show or genuine annoyance. Everyone on stage seems to have a good time regardless. I incline towards being part of the show.

As the set progresses, it becomes clear that this only secondarily a chance to see BB King perform. This is an audience, a chance to be in the King’s presence as he has a good time with some old friends on stage. Sometimes he sings, and when he does he has what can only be described as pipes. He bellows the words with all the melody and enthusiasm of a man a third or a quarter of his age, throwing himself into them with the abandon and involvement that makes the blues such personal music. Between lyrics, he spends his time dancing in his seat, a gag he goes back to at least eight times, with no noticable diminishment in the audience’s delighted reaction. He’s having a great time, and when he’s having a good time, he talks. Sometimes he talks to the band, swapping inside jokes away from the microphone and leaving everyone on stage in respectful stitches while those of us out of earshot wonder what we missed. More often he tells us all stories while the band plays away behind him. Most of them must be made up, probably on the spot; his narratives ramble amiably around, distracted easily by a bum note or a shout from the crowd only to return to the thread five minutes later. He weaves five or six song snippets into a long fable of advice for us men, teaching us how to keep our ladies happy after we do something wrong. Even at 86, the King still loves his ladies. Every so often one of his stories will get entirely stuck as he starts ruminating on just how lovely ladies are, both in general and in many specific cases he could mention if he had more time. Usually he snickers to himself at some unspeakable memory at this point, as if to say wink wink nudge nudge know what I’m saying? At other times, of course, this being the blues, he has things to say about the ladies which are not so nice, but not even his holler of “Don’t EVER Trust A Woman!” can ruin the mood for the happily romantic couple in the next row up. Eventually he wanders off into a somewhat leering, dirty story about how he helped some lovely young lady’s marriage simply by taking too much of a certain blue medicine and then bringing his considerable mojo into the bar to meet her. Blues king or no, he’s still something of a dirty old man at heart. He must have been a terror fifty years ago.

Eventually the audience ends, with his trademark “The Thrill Is Gone,” and then the band whips up into worship band mode again, and now the King is really and truly holding court on the stage. Fans from all over the theater rush to the stage, waving posters, records, shirts, all manner of memorabilia for him to touch, look at, sign. They pass them up to the lead sax player, who passes them to the King himself, who signs them, makes eye contact with the source, winks, smiles, exudes affability from his throne. He throws more and more picks into the crowd, who are still shouting and cheering wildly, thrilled o be this close to the presence. Finally, when the proper time comes, another helper brings the King’s vast, gold-embroidered overcoat out from the wings, and as someone helps him stand two of the assistants help him into his robes. He waves a few more times to masses, signs one last poster, and then, with two men supporting him, he makes his slow way off the stage.

From my perspective at the far side of the stage, I see what I’m not supposed to. As soon as they have him safely out of view, the assistants decant the King into a wheelchair, and roll him off to wherever it is that the King spends his private time. This doesn’t do anything to kill the worshipful mood. A true king doesn’t have to walk if he doesn’t want to. He has people who do that for him, and he’ll keep coming out onto the stage, with all the help he needs, until he can’t hold the guitar at all, or even boogie in his chair.

 

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Disappointment

I love using my Pentax Spotmatic. It’s pretty and it’s heavy and it uses real film and makes photographs out of light and silver, which sounds a lot like alchemy when I put it that way. Unfortunately, I’ve learned to use it mostly by trial and error. I didn’t know, until I shot and developed a roll, that the light meter skews rather upwards, and wants me to overexpose everything. Or possibly I want to underexpose. Eiter way, the first couple of rolls didn’t quite look right. Trial and error. The harder part of learning by doing has been loading the film. For whatever reason, the cogs inside which grab the film and advance it from frame to frame sometimes – and too often – fail to grab the film, meaning that what I think is a roll full of pictures turns out, when I go to rewind it not to have advanced at all. Of course, if I had downloaded a manual before today, I would have known that there’s a (perfectly obvious) way to make sure that film is loaded properly, and I wouldn’t have lost so darn many pictures to my own ignorance. Fortunately I don’t think there were any particularly important pictures on there, but since I don’t remember, I’ll never know, will I?

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In the Pits

Look hard. See the Ent?
Not my picture, but this is about what it looked like in there. Lush would be a good word for it.

I had friends when I was younger. Honest, I did, despite being a lot more like Eustace (before dragon)  and a lot less like Peter. Prig would be a good word for it. Yet through divine intervention friends I had, or at least playmates; the sort of friends you spend your free time with because they live near you and drift away from as everyone gets older and realizes that they have little or nothing – musical taste, personal style, religion, that sort of thing – in common. But that was later, and at the time we all figured that while adulthood was going to happen at some point, the biggest difference would be the ability to stay in the woods past 5 PM instead of having to go home for supper (or else).

We were polarized kids. Half of our time we spent in front of tv’s, playing video games. Goldeneye especially, because if you don’t like playing Goldeneye… well, why not?! This was the part of our lives that made us pale and spindly, a motif I’ve more or less kept to ever since. But the yin to the Nintendo’s yang was the woods, such as they were, which hid behind the houses in our subdivision. Abbotsford, where I grew up and still spend shocking amounts of time, is like Rome a city built on a plethora of hills. Most of these hills, unlike Rome’s, go up and down rather sharply, creating ravines which no economical developer is going to bother to fill. Besides, most of them have streams at the bottom, and according to the signs in the parks all of the streams are salmon spawning habitat, so no-one was going to be filling the ravines in anyway. Too many lawsuits. (We never saw a single salmon, or even smelled anything fishy. Perhaps at some point the stream had thought about fish, if streams can think, or had burbled something that sounded like “salmon” to a passing ecologist. Who knows.)

Anyhow, there were these ravines everywhere, little nooks and crannies of mossy Pacific Northwest forest tucked behind the three-bedroom homes of suburbia. They were full of the sort of threats which seem immense to small, sheltered city boys. There were definitely coyotes in there; we occasionally heard them howling at night, and once in a blue moon saw one prowling the streets at night. Also, house-cats had a way of disappearing without a trace which feline nature could not account for. On top of the coyote menace, there was also a savage German Shepherd (or at least we assumed savagery) behind a too-flimsy fence at one end of a particular ravine, and to judge by the graffiti here and there on trees and retaining walls, and the superabundance of convenience store garbage, there were both drug addicts and, more frightening, teenagers in those woods, especially after dark. We didn’t know what it was teenagers did, exactly, but I had heard enough dark hints from my parents to know that it was dangerous and possibly immoral. Very exciting to think of, but not something we ever wanted to see first hand.

We couldn’t stay out of the little woods, for all the Perils and Dangers they contained. We were male, even if our scrawny arms stretched the definitions somewhat. We wielded the largest sticks we could find as weapons (and, for practice, had epic fights on the sidewalk until someone banged a knuckle) and did our little all to explore the greenery. Most of the larger tracts turned out to be Impassable Swamp, which we explored a little based on the rumour of an immense tree fort of considerable antiquity buried in its midst. I lost a shoe in the muck and had to be pulled out, which is the closest I had to a near-death experience until certain Disputatios came along. Mostly we stuck to one particular chunk of trees, which descended precipitously to a rushing torrent some four or five feet across and a full ten inches deep, and then ascended even more vertiginously on the other side. To climb up to the plateau on the other side, you more or less had to get down on your hands and knees and crawl, a move made easier by the fact that the ground was directly in front of you when you stood erect. This continued for a good hundred feet at least, but then you suddenly popped up into a little clearing amidst the spruce trees and fern and such. You could see over a fence into the backyard of an apartment complex if you went about a hundred yards that direction, but we overlooked this. This was Deep In The Woods.

On the particular day I’m thinking of, there were three of us at least – Mark, Grant, and myself. Mark’s kid brother David who existed primarily to try to win our favour with rude jokes and, in turn, for us to make rude jokes at his expense, might have been there too. Historians differ. Mark and I, at any rate, were wily veterans familiar with the terrain, leading Grant, the tenderfoot, into coyote territory. He and I reached the plateau first and wandered to the far side, waiting for Grant, who popped up from the abyss and made his way towards us, out of breath. This was when the day took a turn for the better.

What we knew, and Grant did not, was that in the middle of the clearing there was an Obstacle. At some point in the mists of time, someone (or something; one can dream) had dug a hole about eight feet square and four feet deep. Having done so, they had filled the bottom with garbage and leaves, and had then covered about seventy-five percent of the opening with a tarp on a support system of branches. Mark and I had carefully explored it long before, and we knew instinctively to avoid it. We called it the Hobo Hole, and vaguely feared that someday a scruffy vagrant was going to pop up out of it and do whatever it was vagrants did to passers-by. Probably throw a bottle at us or swear.

Grant, unfortunately, was not so well-informed. As he walked towards us, his foot moved from solid ground to the tarp, which was covered by a goodish layer of dead leaves. One moment, terra firma; the next, terra evanesca. (My Latin is vague, but then so was his footing.)

There was no sound. Not a whisper. Time stopped. And, until the day I die, I will never forget the expression of pure, unrestrained terror in that poor boy’s eyes. This, for all he knew, was death.

Three to four feet later, of course, he discovered that it wasn’t anything of the sort, and came down with a bump. A commotion ensued. Grant said several rude things. Mark and I, unsympathetic, laughed hysterically and refused to help him out of the hole, which was a mistake, because as soon as he got out he snuck up on us, while we were blinded by the hilarity of it all, and pushed Mark down the hill. At that point, everything was even.

Fortunately there was no hobo in the hole at the time, or events might not have gone so well.

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