Albert and I hid in the bushes on the corner right beside the 'STOP' sign awaiting our best opportunity. There was still snow on the slippery roads even though it was late winter and beginning to warm a bit.
Albert is my younger brother, three years almost to the day. He is my responsibility. I have to take care of him, and make sure he doesn't get hurt or into any trouble. Easier said than done. For an eight year old he has a lot of smarts. Not the kind schools expect you to have, but the important ones. He can talk himself into and out of trouble with great skill, unfortunately mostly into. Dad said he was going to be a politician, but our Uncle Paul said he was just a good bull-shitter. I'm not sure what the difference is. Let's just say he had a knack and wasn't afraid to use it.
"Here comes a beater, Ossie," Albert said to me.
"Better skip it," I replied. "Remember the last clunker we tried, the bumper came right off. The guy chased us for twenty minutes before he gave up."
"Shit, that was fun." Albert giggled, like always, right after he swore.
"Look, a 1956 Chevy Bel-Air." Albert knew all the models and makes. "Lots of grippin' space bumper top. Easy to grab on beside the spare tire holder. This is the one. You ready?"
I don't know why but I wasn't feeling too comfortable.
"Let's wait, I'm not sure about this one."
He gave me a determined look that said he was taking it whether I was coming or not and then said so.
I couldn’t let him go alone and knew I wouldn’t be able to stop him.
We watched and waited for the right moment. The Chevy came to a full stop. With military precision we quickly duck waddled keeping low to make sure we wouldn't be spotted. When we got behind the car we remained in a squat, pointed our feet straight forward, and grasped the top of the bumper tightly with both hands. The car slowly drove through the intersection. Our slick bottom rubber boots, as if by magic converted to skis, and the chrome bumper became our tow rope. We were sliding on the snow-packed road.
The car began to pick up speed and the thrill of the free ride had us hooting and laughing as it fed our young daredevil spirits. We were closing in on our drop off spot when the driver hit the gas pedal hard and suddenly we were sliding faster than ever before. We stopped hooting and laughing. Fear had spoiled our fun.
The driver knew we were on his bumper.
Now, this has happened before and usually the driver would stop and get out of the car yelling threats. He would most definitely be calling our parents, the principal, the parish priest, the police, and anyone else he thought might scare us, but by then we were almost out of earshot. Before he could open his door we were gone, running through backyards and hopping fences with superior athletic prowess possessed only by preteens being chased, his tirade reduced to a distant hum, while we laughed and caught our breath.
It was these moments that made it so wonderful to be a kid.
The other tactic used by those drivers less likely to take the traditional route of ratting out on elementary school kids was much more dangerous and sometimes effective.
'Scare the poop out of them. Drive like a drunken maniac and shake the little buggers right off that back bumper. Let them see for themselves how 'soft and fluffy' the snow is at forty miles per hour. That would teach them!’
This was our driver, determined to get rid us and we were too scared to let go. I didn't need a mirror to see the expression on my face, all I had to do was look at Albert. When I did, he directed his head toward the back window encouraging me to look up. Staring, laughing, and pointing at us were two wimpy looking nerds around my age. I immediately hated them and their silly grins. I could feel my hands, holding their throats and squeezing their breath away. Suddenly I snapped out of my sweet dream and realized it was the bumper that I was strangling and thanked St. Christopher for reminding me to hang on tight.
I could tell that one of the boys was relaying information to the driver.
I read his lips. 'Still there, go faster!'
The side roads were easy at any speed. They were snow and ice covered, super slick, and we could slide them all day long. On weekends we did. This guy was trying to lose us on the corners. He was wasting his time on the right hand turns. We did those with one hand. Left turns were a bit trickier. You had to tuck your left leg tight and ride the edge of your boot while the car took that wide arc. Your other leg had to be straight out not touching the surface of the road. The 'crack the whip' effect always a danger. We were scared but we knew what we were doing.
We were 'Sliders'.
Then our driver started to play dirty and the nerds laughed even harder. Damn, I hated them. He was heading for a busy main intersection and the bare pavement. We didn't know whether to bail out or not. Albert and I had ridden bare patches before but never this wide or at such a high speed. We hung on and burnt boot rubber sliding on through to the snow on the other side.
The wimps weren't laughing anymore, which was scarier than when they were. We should have let go then but there was something about the challenge that kept us hanging on. He made two quick lefts, going around the block, heading back to the intersection, the bare one, without snow. We braced for another slide across the pavement but the driver had something else in mind. At the main intersection he made a quick right which had us screwed. We were being dragged along the pavement in our boots, which were no longer magical skis but just rubber on concrete. Albert looked at me, gave a quick nod, and we let go.
We tumbled on the road, ripped our winter coats, suffered road rash and cuts, and watched our mittens, stuck upon the bumper of that Chevy, fade away. In the back window the two nerds laughed their goofy little heads off.
Albert and I checked each other over, bragged about our wounds, and laughed like there was no tomorrow. We were OK, and that was another good thing about being a kid, dodging death and not even knowing it.
"Honest Mom, we weren't in a fight."
Was Albert about to come clean, and tell the truth? Was this the beginning of the never ending grounding?
"We were jumped, attacked by a gang of Protestant kids."
I should have known better, Albert always had a plan. He was on a roll.
"We were coming home for lunch quickly like we always do. We made sure that we crossed the street, like you told us, so we wouldn't be walking the edge of the Public School play ground. Without warning we were jumped, ambushed by five or six kids. We didn't have a chance and they stole our mittens too."
"Do you know who they were?" Mom asked.
Albert still had the floor. "No but I'm pretty sure that they were from the Protestant school."
Mom looked directly at me, "Is that what happened?"
Technically, it wasn't a lie. It did happen that way, just not today. Maybe a few weeks ago. We didn't even tell Father Murphy about these little falsehoods during our weekly trip to the confessional. They hardly qualified as sins. I may have been free of sin but I couldn't help feeling that I just made a big mistake.
Mom quickly spun around and went directly to the telephone. I looked at Albert and he shrugged his shoulders. What was she doing?
"I would like to speak to the principal......no I will not hold."
Why was she calling our principal? He couldn't do anything. Then it hit me. It wasn't our principal but the one at the Protestant school.
We listened as she ranted and blasted him about her children being unable to walk home for lunch without being assaulted by a band of hooligans and what was he going to do about it, blah, blah, blah. Albert and I were struggling to hold back our giggles. Man, was she giving it to him, totally backing us up. I think we may have dodged another bullet.
"Yes, alright, three-thirty, fine, we'll be there." Oh, oh. Suddenly this wasn't looking good. She hung up.
"Don't change your clothes or wash up. I want the principal at that school to see exactly how you look. We'll put a stop to this. A fair fight is one thing but when you're ganged up on and beaten, well I won't stand by and do nothing."
"We're going to the Protestant school?" Albert asked.
"Yes we are, and you boys are going to pick out the ones that did this to you."
It was our first time inside the Protestant School and other than the lack of religious icons that adorned every square inch of ours, it was surprisingly much the same. We stood in the middle of the gym, Albert, Principal Skinner, Mom, and me.
Filing into the bleachers were all the boys from grade six, seven, and eight. Dangerously close to a panic attack I didn't dare look at any of them. We were trapped and there was no way out of this.
I quietly said to Albert, 'What now? We're screwed!"
He looked at me and shook his head.
"Don't worry, I'll think of something."
I’ve heard those words before and they have always made me nervous.
“Well before you do, run it by me,” I said.
Once all of the students were seated the principal put his hand on the back of my neck and walked me over to the front of the group.
"Do you see the boys that attacked you?" he asked.
I pretended to look closely at each. Their faces were a blur. They all looked the same, just like Father Murphy. My inner anxiety blinded me from the glares that I could feel poking little holes into my head like a crown of thorns. I wasn't sure I could stay standing. After a few very long minutes I said that I couldn't without a reasonable doubt recognize any of them. The gag reflex kicked in and I thought for sure I was going to hurl.
Principal Skinner waved Mom over from center court and spoke to her.
"He doesn't look too well. There's a water fountain in the corner. Maybe a drink will help."
Earlier I was planning ways of making my escape and now even feeling this crappy, I didn't want to leave, afraid of what might happen if Albert was left alone.
It didn't matter what I wanted, Mom grabbed me by the arm much too tightly and marched/dragged me over to the fountain. This was a clear message that things were unfolding and something I hadn't heard in a long time whispered creepily in my ear. 'Ya tell one lie and ya gotta tell another to cover that one and it never stops till ya tell the truth. It's a lot easier comin' clean earlier than later 'cause then ya got a lump of crap in your pants weighin' ya down'. My grandmother drilled that into my head until the day she died.
I was losing it now. Lightning fast thoughts were flashing around inside my head at such a speed that I felt dizzy.
What was the principal gonna do....what was mom thinking...I need to go to confession fast in case I died...we were in big trouble for this charade...now we'll have to confess to bumper sliding...was I gonna puke...was I gonna crap my pants like Grandma said.
When we reached the drinking fountain Mom was ready to rip into me. She paused when sudden commotion at the end of the bleachers broke out. Albert was pointing and Principal Skinner was climbing to the top seats yelling at someone. He was blocking my view. I couldn't see who it was. Some of the other students stood and a little crowd was gathering. It looked to me like he had collared two of the boys. One in each hand.
Albert, what in the hell did you do?
The principal, red faced, and looking extremely angry walked toward us, his prisoners in tow.
"Well he couldn't be sure about the others but he was definite about these two," he said.
I looked at the two boys, gave my head a thorough shake, and looked again. Staring back at me were the two wimpy looking nerds who had laughed at us through the back window when the 56 Chevy had dumped us on the pavement.
Directly behind them stood Albert with a grin from ear to ear.
I couldn't make up my mind whether to kiss him or punch him in the face.