When I was in 4th grade, I had this playground trick. If anyone was chasing me for any reason, and in 4th grade there are thousands of reasons, I would fall to the ground in a ball, covering my head with my hands, and the person chasing me would tumble over me and fall to the ground and a celebration would commence among all those involved in…well, whatever game it was. I was clever and tricky and brave all at once. Look out for that Ferguson fellow, they said. He might just drop and trip you.
It worked wonders when used on kids my own size and weight.
Then one day, walking home from school, I got into a disagreement with a 6th grader named Chris. He was a hefty 6th grader and, though I can now be fairly described as hefty myself, back then I was waify, and that is being generous.
The disagreement centered around the complicated trade agreements associated with “Wacky Packages.” Raise your hand if you remember. These were stickers that came with gum like baseball cards and parodied well known grocery store brands. Look it up.
I don’t remember the nature of my business disagreement with hefty 6th grader Chris, but it was serious enough that I decided to insult him by calling him “Chris piss.”
I know, genius emerges at an early age.
Hefty 6th grade Chris began to chase me, across a football field in fact, and when I thought the moment was right, I dropped to my knees and covered my head and sure enough, Chris went tumbling over me…except. Something happened that had never happened before. Intense pain. Sure, having someone tumble over you was never comfortable, but it had never resulted in very intense pain in my shoulder.
I cried out in pain and everyone, including Chris, could tell that something was wrong. I was helped to my feet and someone, I wish I could remember who, sprinted off to tell my mom. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had broken my collarbone. The broken bit was pushing upwards against the skin on my shoulder so that everyone knew something was wrong. I kept walking toward home, though I was in pain and dizzy. Chris offered to give me the Wacky Package stickers that were in dispute, but in my pain and martyrdom, I turned him down, telling him this was all my fault, which, of course, it was for the most part.
My mom arrived and walked me the rest of the way home. Soon I was on my way to a very nearby hospital where a doctor told me I was going to get a shot that would feel only like a bee sting. I remember, very clearly, giving him a dirty look.
I spent the night in the hospital and in the morning they released me with a shoulder brace and instructions to stand with my hands on my hips with my elbows back, looking ever so much like my grandmother. I lied to my mother and told her I was pretending to play football, because I was ashamed of having called Chris, “Chris piss.” In fact, it took me several years to admit the truth to my mom, that I had, in large part, brought it upon myself.
Needless to say, Chris was forever in my debt, and I tried not to lord it over him too much. At school, I became that guy whose story changes, depending on the audience, to the extent that years later, when I saw Richard Dreyfuss in a movie where he related different stories about how he broke his arm depending on his audience, I was sure the idea had been stolen from me and my collarbone. I never painted Chris as a villain though, because, well, to call someone “piss” was beyond rational, and I had suffered the consequences.
When I reached 9th grade, Chris was in High School and was the number one pot dealer on that side of town. I often wondered if he still referred to his “product” as wacky packages.