It started so innocently.
I was 11 years old, living in my suburban world of Richboro in the development of Tanyard Farms.
It was a quiet indian summer night, and word got to my brother and I that Paul was 'up to something' - which usually meant that we were going to pull some kind of prank.
Our pranks were so common that i'm amazed that my neighbors put up with it, but then again we were fairly good at not getting caught.
We used to have pranks on our sleepouts during that summer, but this one would end up differently.
Kevin and I showed up under the weeping willow tree on the backend of Steve T's house, around 7pm. Every property in our old development were interconnected, Steve T's house borders about 5 backyards, because of the position of his house on a cul-de-sac allowed for multiple neighbors to border his backyard.
A new family had moved into our development, a young father and mother along with their baby. They mostly kept to themselves, and weren't part of the "original families" that comprised the people who were the first time homeowners of the Toll Brothers homes.
This made them an outsider, and fair game to our pranks.
Paul was there with Steve T and with Steve B, one of those kind of kids who's career goals was to be a roadie with AC/DC. Steve B was the kind of kid who was shaving at 13, and always had a pack of Marlboro Reds on him. It was Steve B who was the first kid that taught me how to smoke a cigarette - only a few months before this.
"The timebomb is set.", Paul said.
"Timebomb?", I asked.
"Yea, take a lit cigarette, put a fuse from pack of firecrackers at the end of the cigarette, and put it by the back door. Once the cigarette burns down to the fuse...BOOM!", said a smirking Paul.
We waited a bit in silence under the weeping willow. Waiting for the firecrackers to explode, try to see if we get a reaction from the house and running off. Time passed slowly. Eventually we became anxious.
"Furey - go check out the timebomb.", Paul said, "It may have gone out. Just relight the cigarette if it went out.", and he handed me a lighter.
Now, this is one of those things that happen to kids all the time - peer pressure. I was 11. The other kids, Paul, Steve B and my brother were older. I, of course, wanted to prove myself to the older kids. Plus, I thought I was all sort of cool now that I knew how to smoke a cigarette.
After a moment of hesitation, I hopped the fence and in the twilight of a September dusk, I crept along the fence lined backyard. I approached the single family house, with its white aluminum siding, with a good deal of nervousness. I did see a light on, but didn't see anyone looking out the windows. They probably were watching Family Feud.
I got to the backdoor, which had a small concrete patio. To the side, off the patio, but under the kitchen window was a gas grill. I saw the timebomb, on the concrete and it looked like it may have gone out. I got closer and looked at the cigarette and the fireworks. I noticed that - no it didn't go out...why look...
The entire pack of firecrackers went off in my face.
The explosion frightened the hell out of me, and I jumped backwards like a jackrabbit. There was a loud ringing in my ears but otherwise I was unscathed. I could hear the howls of laughter from the willow tree, and scurried back to my group of comrades.
"Did...", Paul is trying to catch his breath between guffaws, "...you see how he flew backwards?" Everyone was snickering and laughing under that willow tree and we never saw the man approaching us until the last minute.
What was never told to me, and what you will learn, dear reader, is that Paul for the PREVIOUS THREE NIGHTS did this same exact prank to the house - a cigarette with firecracker 'timebomb'. I didn't know this, to me this was the first night.
Of course, to the owner of the house - this was his third night of having to deal with those asshole punks who are lighting off firecrackers at his back door. He was in his mid-thirties, which back then was OLD. He had dark hair, a heavier build, like a football player, with a stubbled dark 5 o'clock shadow. He ran towards us and bellowed, "All right, you motherfuckers!" and hopped the fence in one quick move.
Paul, Kevin and Steve B were off in a flash. What will become a recourring problem in my life is my know-it-all attitude getting me into trouble (ok, stop laughing).
With the fading light and the shadow under the willow tree - the way the guy ran, his build and my simple stupidity made my brain process that this wasn't a stranger running towards me - no, it was our friend Victor.
So i'm turning around and watching my brother and friends run off while i'm standing there trying yelling, "Guys, stop it's Victor! It's Vic!"
I even remember, vaguely, my brother saying "Furey - run! It's not!"
No, really, stop laughing.
Well, I got one person to believe me - 9 year old Steve T. He was closest to the fence and the shock of the stranger's attack surprised the hell out of the 9 year old boy. He cowered a bit with wide eyes and had teeth gritted together like a cornered rodent. The stranger grabbed his arm and then quickly grabbed mine saying...
"I'm not 'Vic'."
Now I see him a bit more clearly. Clearly, this isn't my Puerto Rican neighbor Victor, but someone whom I don't know that has a very firm grip on my 11 year old forearm.
"Come with me!", he says, "You two are in BIG trouble."
There is trouble and then, as most children know, there is 'BIG trouble'. It was at this moment that my sweat glands activated from "normal" to "oh shit" and visions of my angry father entered my conciousness.
He led us back to his house, and brought us inside. We sat down at his kitchen table, and his wife entered the room. She was a plain brown haired woman, of medium build, and had a look of concern on her face.
The man said to her, "Here they are! You think it's funny to light firecrackers? You could have killed us! The gas grill outside has a leaky line - the firecrackers could have lit that thing and it would have blown up half of our house! I have a 9 month old baby upstairs!"
My childhood training of watching war movies and prisoner interrogation kicked in at this moment. I was fairly cool, calm and collected and didn't say anything. Steve T had a basic look of panic and confusion on his face while he sad across from me at the kitchen table.
"You two are in trouble now, and i'm going to make sure your parents know what you did. I'm calling the police!", he said.
So much for cool, calm and collected. My thoughts quickly started to race: "I never had been in trouble that ever involved the police before...I didn't even realize that setting off firecrackers could mean jailtime...I wasn't ready to go to jail...Do we even HAVE a jail in Richboro...This was going to ruin everything in my life...I won't get into highschool with a criminal record!"
Give me a break, I was 11 and my father was fairly good at making sure his kids didn't fuck up our lives to ruin any aspect of our education. Everything in our lives had a reason. You studied in grade school to get into a good middle school. You studied in middle school to get into a good high school. You studied in high school to get into a good college. You studied in college to get a good job. That stuff was driven into us. I remember if you screwed up he would say "Well, the world always needs garbage men!"
Even with this going on, I still remained calm, and didn't answer any of his questions. So, then, he worked on 9 year old Steve.
Steve lasted about 15 seconds under interrogation before he started spilling the beans. Once that happened, I was sort of off the hook because at least I wasn't the one who ratted everyone out. We told him who we were and where we lived. He calmed down a bit, and it was almost like he was about to let us go, until...
The fuzz showed up.
He swaggered into the room, with an air of superiority and a gruff nature about him. He briefly conferred with our neighbor, out of our ear shot, and walked up to both of us. He took out his handcuffs and toyed with them a bit, and I felt my mouth dry up. I was gonna get cuffed?!
He put them away, and said to us both, "Ok, come with me." and led us out to his cruiser. Steve was put in the front seat and I was put in the back seat.
He took us into his police car, and said this, which I will never forget...
"You guys have two choices. Tell me who else did this or I will throw you both in jail."
That is what he said.
Now at 11 years old and a real life cop driving you around your development in a real life cop car - my "Cool Hand Luke" impression was gone. Quickly appearing was scared white boy and I, along with Steve, blabbered where everyone lived, driving around the neighborhood pointing out houses.
The cop said, "Right. I have to take you both back home and i'm going to speak to your parents." He gestured to Steve, "Where do you live?"
Steve was lucky. His mom was out of the house for the night. So he got dropped off at his house and the cop said, "I'm going to talk to your mother later."
I knew that probably wasn't going to happen.
I was the next stop, and I was thinking that maybe jail wouldn't be so bad when compared to the wrath I was going to get from my parents.
The cop knocked on my door and I was next to him.
The door opened, and my mother answered. She first looked at the officer and then at me. Her face registered quizzical concern.
"Is this your son, ma'am?", the evil cop said.
"Yes?", she replied questioningly as she opened the screen door.
We walked in and cop said, "He was caught lighting off firecrackers at a neighbor's property. They are very upset...", then my father appeared from the family room, with his newspaper and walked into the foyer.
My father had a stunned look of profound disappointment as he walked into the room. There are certain looks that you get from your parents over the years, ones that you never forget. The kind of looks that aren't the normal day-to-day expressions, but something that is seared into your memory for life. This entire story is centered around that look, because even to this day, and before writing this story I would often think of how, quite simply, I failed my parents for the first time.
Gone was the illusion of childhood from that moment, replaced by the realization that my actions have consequences. I was very much ashamed and embarassed standing there, in the hallway, during that night in 1983.
My father jutted his thumb towards the stairs and said "Go to your room."
I quickly scampered up the stairs, and shut my door. I sat on my bed, frankly scared to see my father's reaction.
My father was the a-typical italian father, he was generous with his love and affection for his children. He also could lose his temper very quickly, and disciplined us with a heavy hand. Its funny now when I talk to my sisters, who have children, and how they discipline their children so differently than our generation. Everyone is so wrapped up in Dr. Phil-esque kind of reasoning with your pre-teenagers.
No, I was sure I was about to get my ass handed to me.
I could go on from here, but to be perfectly honest I don't remember the punishment. I do remember I was grounded for 2 weeks. I also remember having to go over to the neighbor's house, with the entire group of pranksters. We apologized and said we were sorry for trying to blow up their house.
Or reign of terror ended. For about a month.