In high school, I had a close-knit group of friends, many of whom remain good friends today. Except for one, a person with whom I was remarkably tight for an intense period, and then it all fell away. (Let’s call him X, because X is a fine name for something buried, though “treasure” doesn’t come to mind.) X probably had the most ranging intelligence of all my friends, the quickest wit and certainly the most ingenuity: he was the kind of a guy who would look at a dead radio, and in five minutes solder a spoon into its wiring and make its silence sing again.
But for all his charisma—and he had that—my friend had a sharp edge to him that impelled him to practical jokes, many of which seemed less than funny. He would put raw eggs in our beds that later made for soggy sleeping, soap our toothbrushes, surreptitiously tie some of our shoes together when in a group so when we got up we would stumble. He drove his Volkswagen van around a big tree in my tight backyard at mad speeds with my parents home and watching, so that it seemed like a demon’s visitation—what was that? He once dumped a full bowl of cereal and milk on me while I was sleeping, for no reason other than the feeling moved him. Because he worked in a pizza parlor, now and then he’d drive by, get out and throw entire pizzas on our roofs.
The moment that turned the corner for me was when he tied a string to our front door so that the bag of charcoal briquets that he’d tossed on the roof above would fall on one of us when the door was opened. The fact that it came down on my mother was the catalyst for what followed. All of my friends, my brother included, had some kind of grudge against him. “Remember when X spit in your drink and waited for you to swallow some before he told you?” “Yeah!”
We all had the stories. So we decided to humiliate him.
A couple of our group (also X’s victims) dropped out, leaving me, my brother, and two other friends, all of whom had suffered at X’s hands. Because all of them also worked part-time in that neighborhood pizza parlor (excepting me—I understood from an early age that work was unhealthy), they knew the routine: whoever was the assistant pizza “chef” would need, maybe an hour into the shift, to go to the refrigerated, locked storage shed out in the alley that flanked the shop, in order to bring in one of the five-gallon buckets of shredded cheese. We knew X’s work schedule, and we knew he would come out. We were waiting.
We were hidden in various places in the alley: behind dumpsters and the projecting side of a building. We had a dozen raw eggs and 10 water balloons. I was on top of the shed, hunching in silence, with two plastic buckets of tomato sauce. When he came out, we unleashed a fusillade of high-school-boys-mad-as-hornets hell on him, while howling imprecations.
Our work was effective. He was a miserable sight, soaked, stained, cowering. He didn’t say a word, but just stood blinking and defeated.
With that, everything changed. [Read more…]