By David Iseman
Not everyone who slaughtered small animals as a boy ended up a serial killer.
Some of us city boys had no normal outlet for our hunter instincts, so we resorted to searching for something to kill wherever we could.
The backyard. The crawl space under the house. Aunt Max’s basement.
To be clear, I’m not saying this was a great thing. I’m not disputing we could have used more parental guidance. We were probably not the best bunch to be left on our own to find prey. Regardless, I don’t think my early hunting predisposed me to homicide.
I was just trying to get better at throwing.
What’s that, a robin? Let’s see how close I get with this piece of gravel. Crabapple in hand? I’m gonna try to whack that pigeon? Wow, a rabbit! Don’t see them too often around here. Good thing I already had a flat rock in hand. I sent this one flying like I was skipping it across a lake. The whistling of the stone scared the bunny but — holy crap, no way! — it got spooked the same direction as the rock. The stone spun and sailed for 20 feet, then farther, then more, then, as the bunny juked right, the rock curved and dipped … no freakin’ way!
The impact sent the rabbit somersaulting — its last act.
I remember feeling bad burying the bunny, excited at the same time. I told myself that this same kill decades earlier would have earned me an exalted Eye of the Eagle feather from my tribe or a cool name, like “Stone slayer” or “Throws to Kill.”
It was the second best throw of my life.
If you’re ever at a party and you get tired of hearing the guests talking about the weather, their workout routines or the New England Patriots, ask this question:
“What was your best throw?”
Folks might look at you a little strange until you explain, and some will undoubtedly excuse themselves to head back over to the cheese trays, or the conversation about the Patriots. But don’t give up. I’ve done this a couple times and, after some prodding, the memories flow. I think it’s primal. You just cannot forget that time when the stars aligned — like the bunny’s temple and that rock.
Many people, especially guys with arthritic knees and bad rotator cuffs, will reach back to reminisce about their most memorable moment playing sports. Maybe it’s a basketball goal, or a key scramble on the gridiron, maybe a throw from the outfield.
Don’t fret. There’s often a neat back story. Maybe the base runner thrown out at third had just stolen the outfielder’s girl. Maybe that game-winning basket put some smart aleck on the other team in his place. Or, maybe the touchdown pass went to the chubby kid always picked last.
The best of the stories, though, don’t involve traditional sports. Stories about hatchets perfectly tossed … steel-tipped darts finding, say, the floating eyeball on the back of the $1 bill taped on the board for a big bet … a snowball putting the neighborhood bully in his place. You get the picture.
Boomers have made some great throws, weird throws. They should be in the Smithsonian or otherwise memorialized. Kids today don’t play like we did.
Our games have gone by the wayside as too dangerous or not politically correct. “Prisoner Release” pitted one team locking arms against the other, a sort of tug of war, to avoid getting dragged into a “prison” of chalk lines on the asphalt street. “Buck Buck,” made popular by Bill Cosby’s monologue, had one angry teenager vaulting off others to come down hard on opponents’ backs trying to make them collapse. Then there was “Hide the Belt.” I never did fully understand the rules. Essentially, it involved finding a belt and hitting as many people as you could with it.
In my neighborhood, one of our games was relatively non-violent but has regardless gone by the wayside, a victim of of time and environmental awareness. Yes, the neighborhood “egg battle” is extinct. Predictably so; it essentially involved throwing otherwise edible and perfectly good food all over the neighborhood.
We’d make up teams, grab a couple dozen of Grade A ammunition, set some rules, and run the streets arguing over who had been “killed” and who was still “alive.”
Of course we didn’t clean up the splatter left behind — we didn’t even realize how bad eggs stunk when left to dry on a sidewalk — and we gave utterly no thought to the kids in Africa who could have subsisted on those eggs for, at least according to our Catholic nuns, a couple lifetimes.
Nope, this was just a cool way to pass the time, with some strategy, skill and an element of pure surprise: aerodynamic unpredictability. The eggs made were very tricky to throw because of their insides. I’m sure a physics professor could explain this using words like torque, inertia and mass. All we knew was they danced through the air, never following a straight line like a baseball or football.
The best players could get a feel for how they could corkscrew, float and dip. In setting up a team, you needed to know who those players were. Also important was matching your teammates’ skills with their role in the game, kinda like putting your biggest guy on the line in football. I prided myself on being nimble enough to sneak up close to the other team and still dodge a couple eggs fired at my head.
It was dodgeball with projectiles that hurt. It was paintball before paintball, with no goggles and lots less accuracy.
Add to all this the chance of getting ratted out by one or more of the neighborhood snitches and you had quite a thrilling way to spend part of a hot summer afternoon or evening. Of course, this activity had no parental sanction.
The game I remember most vividly came one late summer evening when almost everyone had already been eliminated as dusk settled in. Playing under the streetlights added another nuance — eggs thrown above the lamps were impossible to see until they rained down. You had to be able to simultaneously look straight ahead and use peripheral vision to see what might be falling on your head at any given moment. This particular evening, I hadn’t chosen teammates based on their nighttime skills and I wanted to win quickly and get on to the boasting part of the ritual.
But someone called timeout. A trio of passersby approached, descending on us from the hill of Anthony Street. We set our eggs behind bushes or hid them in pockets, straining to see who was coming, friend or foe.
As they closed in on us, two turned down a side street. That left a chubby boy approaching alone. Once close enough, despite the fading light, I recognized him from his dark curly hair, big belly and distinctive waddle: Danny P. from up the hill. Sissy. Bigmouth. A rat.
He shouted something like: “What are you guys doin?”
We ignored him.
“Prisoner release? Can I play?”
“No,” I said. “Just hanging out.”
“Up here? Why way up the hill?” His grating voice was naturally aggravating but also just too damn loud, all the time. It had to bounce around his belly to build up speed before escaping his mouth, like gas from a constipated clown. Something to do with inertia and mass, I’m sure.
He burped out more: “You’re usually hanging down by your house. Hey, why’re yins sweatin’?”
We stayed silent and started walking away but he followed, struggling to keep up. He didn’t see the broken egg on the sidewalk and slipped, almost falling but catching himself. He snickered as he realized what we were doing.
“An egg battle? Ha! Didn’t yins get in trouble for that last week?”
We stayed silent.
“Ha, yins were trying to hide it.” His voice turned sing-songy. “Yins were trying to hide it. Hide it. Hide it. I caught ya. I caught ya. Yins are crazy. So close to Mrs. Pack’s house? You know, she’ll call the cops.”
“Be quiet you idiot.” I moved up closer to him, spitting my words while keeping my voice low. “You know she’s always on her back porch.”
“Whaddya gonna do about it?” He kept his voice at high volume, taunting, even though he knew full well I had already beaten him up twice. He seemed ready to make it three.
But … his cousins just moved in the neighborhood and I didn’t know for sure just how mean they were.
I took an egg from my front pants pocket and held it up for him to see, hoping the unspoken threat would shut him up. He backed away but slipped again on the same smashed egg. This time, he fell in it. Angry now, he stood and shouted: “Mrs. Pack!”
I ran at him. He backpedaled more but he continued to call for her. I moved forward. He moved back. It was a weird teenage tango, by sunset, in the shadows of the steep Anthony Street hill. The whole time, I held the egg near my ear, arm cocked, giving the other players time to slip away. Now almost a block from Mrs. Pack — she was old and couldn’t hear that good — I didn’t care how loud he got or how many cousins he could recruit. He was gonna pay.
I had him in my sights, less than a batter’s box away. I fired an egg sidearm, full force, at his torso. His juke failed — he wasn’t athletic — so I scored a direct hit. I listened for the schlup, looked for the spray. But … nothing. The egg bounced off the softest part of his belly, fell onto the soft grass of the devil’s strip and rolled to the lip of the curb, intact. He picked it up, eyes now wide and nostrils flaring. He saw I was out of ammo.
No way I was running, though. Not from this goofball.
I stood my ground, figuring my chances were good. He threw about as well as he ran. He held the egg too loosely — rookies always underestimated those shells — and threw it too hard. It slipped out of his grip mid-throw and lifted, lobbing toward me. Ha! Not only would I be able to catch it, I would fire it right back. Higher this time, at his fat head.
I took one long step backward to position myself for the catch. But now it was my back foot that found the slippery yolk on the sidewalk. I looked down long enough to catch my balance. When I looked up, all I saw was the streetlamp. Then, splat, the egg.
It broke on my forehead and rolled down my face. Joey let loose with a belly laugh. With his physique, he did that well. Then he took off running.
I couldn’t believe it. I was frozen, the yolk clinging to my eyebrows glistened in the glow of the streetlight. I could see it. I don’t know how, but I could see it.
My gut said chase him. My brain said get more ammo. Despite my fury, I forced myself to think. I could retreat to grab one of our eggs stashed in the bushes. But, by then, he would get further away.
I risked it.
Joey ran like he was trying to catch the ice cream truck. By the time I got my ammo, he was almost a full block away, up the hill, waddling though the shadow between two street lamps.
It was more than a long shot, uphill, and what seemed like a football field away, but … I remembered thinking how I had to keep my footing, like our baseball coach always said. Position yourself before you make the catch. Left foot forward, step with the right. But, I also had to improvise. You can’t throw an egg on a line. Not that far. I would have to throw high, very high.
The arc took the egg above the nearest streetlight, out of sight.
Hoping for the best, not at all confident, all I could do was stare at the oval silhouette that was Joey’s body and the smaller, rounder silhouette that was his head.
The egg landed with no sound. I was too far away. But I could see clearly. The streetlamp behind Joey told the story.
Like the rabbit. Different ammo. Slower prey. Same body part.
The egg exploded off Joey’s head like fireworks, that uphill streetlamp providing the bright gelatinous glory my throw deserved. Silent but beautiful, the spray fanning out like a crown.
A giant crown.
The No. 1 throw of my life, bar none.
My only regret? No one was there to see it.
Maybe that’s why I’ve etched it so dramatically in my memory. Or maybe — just maybe — because it was the greatest throw in the long, fabled history of egg battles.
Joey P., of course, will remember this all very differently. If you see him at a party, he will talk up his throw, the one that splattered so enthusiastically on my forehead.
Don’t listen. Walk away. Go back to the cheese plate. I was there. It slipped out of his hand. His was luck.
Mine was skill. A thing of beauty. And, best of all, I didn’t have to carry that lug away to bury him.