As a child, I was among the fortunate. Jim Crow and poverty were around me, but none of this touched me directly. I had my group of buddies, and although we hadn’t experienced hard knocks, we were tough enough.
I lived in an upper middle-class neighborhood, and my parents were employed in pretty good jobs. Sam was busy building a Hall of Fame career at the AFRO, and Alberta (my mom) worked for the Department of Defense.
Although my buddies and I never felt the sting of poverty, we could find plenty of mischief.
Although my parents never got involved in a few of our antics, there were enough signs that we had too much time to find ways to fight boredom.
One that Sam missed involved the mail man. It was customary for the mail man to pick up his mail at the Post Office to prepare for delivery. The mail boxes on the corners served as places to store half of the mail for the route. We had a mail man that had demonstrated that he didn’t have much love for kids, so we decided to put him on our hit list.
We tracked down a stray cat in the neighborhood and put him on a string leash. The cat had no objection, probably thinking his captivity would lead to a free meal. We had other plans. We took this cat to the corner mail box and put him in the mail slot. I wasn’t in the box with him, but I am sure that after a few minutes he was more than a little ticked off.
After a few minutes, along came the mail man. When he opened the box this ticked off cat emerged. The mail man didn’t have a heart attack, but I imagine his shorts were a little wet when he left. No penalty for the culprits.
One of my favorite incidents involved Sam losing his cool. At the end of our alley was a cleaners with a coal bin and next door was a Safeway store. The cleaners had a tin roof over half of the coal bin to keep the coal dry in case of rain. This provided idle minds with an adventure that couldn’t be beat.
There were some protruding bricks on the back side of the Safeway, and we used them to climb to the roof. What better way to exit the roof than to jump off into the coal bin. What a rush! It didn’t take long for this exercise in stupidity to get old, so to up the stakes we decided we would run to the edge of the parapet and jump blind. In the words of Forest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
Any kid can tell you that most adventures wind up with you trying to outdo your buddies. I started thinking with my speed I could take a sharper angle and run up and leap from the roof to the coal bin. This worked perfectly except I forgot to factor in the tin roof over the bin. When I crashed through that roof, it made so much noise that neighbors emerged from their yards to investigate (including Sam).
I knew I was about to be sentenced to life in the back yard when I realized everybody was laughing, including Sam and the owner of the cleaners. I didn’t have to pay for the damage, but it was more than a little humiliating for the next few days to have my Pop laugh at me when he thought of the incident. His only comment was, “That was the dumbest thing I have ever seen.”