However you dished out the responsibility, though, we were a precocious foursome when it came to mayhem. When we were 8 or so, without any discussion we all piled into our crabby neighbor's prized rhododendron bush, stomping it flat. He was nearly ungovernable with rage for more than a week, and we were grounded, but each of us in our private cell rode out the storm unconcerned. Less than a year later we spent an afternoon slinging marble-size rocks long distance at cars until one guy jerked his Rambler up onto the lawn, threw open his door and chased us for a good three minutes. He stalked back to his car and sat there. We hid behind some bushes, then decided we had to disguise ourselves to slip past him since we'd chosen to pelt cars from our own front yard. Kenny put his shirt on his head like a turban. I took mine off and held it behind me. You get the idea. We were grounded that time for more than twice as long as the rhododendron episode.
Where was my mother during all of this? She came from a big Italian family in Bridgeport, so she'd pretty much seen it all. Her role devolved into spending all her time trying to suggest to my father why what we'd done—whatever latest news had followed us home—was not the end of the world. And then later privately making clear to us that what we'd done was pretty stupid.
A year or two after the car stoning—my brother would have been about 14, and I would have been about 9—we were sitting in Kenny's upstairs bedroom when we heard Joanie's car pull in. Kenny and Jimmy looked stricken. It turned out that because of some other offense, they'd both been strictly forbidden from having anyone, especially us, in the house. "We have to jump out the window," Kenny told us. We all nodded and crowded up to his window. There was no "What are you, crazy?" or "Why do we have to jump out your window?" Joanie called up the stairs something like "You better not have anybody up there." Of course she'd already heard us. "Jump," Kenny urged. He jumped, hit the grass, and rolled. There were big stones bordering the little flower garden along the house, and we were glad he missed them. He yelled anyway, having, it turned out, broken his arm. Already caught and already having seen him get hurt, we all followed him out the window. Let me repeat that: Already caught and already having seen him get hurt, we all followed him out the window. The good news was that he was the only one who broke anything.
I'd have to suppose it was inevitable, then, that some of us would have developed our game of lying on the runways at Bridgeport Airport while the aircraft were coming in. The airport wasn't very big, and it still isn't, but it had a fiercely committed if understaffed security force, and that's where we got the idea. We'd been playing down the airport—that's what we called it when we roamed around in the brushy acres surrounding the thing, jumping a natural canal to see who'd be the first to land in the muck (which you also wanted to avoid because of the occasional rats)—when a yellow army surplus jeep rolled up to us; we were all piled into it and driven home. We hadn't been particularly close to the runway—maybe 70 yards?—but we were told we were being picked up because we might've gotten close to the runway. We got into a lot of trouble for that: Sikorsky Aircraft, where my father worked, had many ties to the airport, and he took seriously the notion that what his kids did in one place might impact him in the other. And so a nemesis was born: the yellow jeeps. I'm not sure the four of us even had to talk about it. It would now all be about the yellow jeeps.
We Hear You!