For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.
Today’s story may read like the plot of a Macaulay Culkin movie, but the events described are absolutely true. And by “absolutely” I mean “as far as I can remember, because it happened a long time ago and I’ve slept since then.”
Occupy North 92nd Street
I was only nine years old when I participated in the Great Babysitter Beatdown.
I was living in Omaha, Nebraska, in a neighborhood full of kids my own age, for the first time. Before that, my family had lived in small-town-Texas, often outside city limits, where we had no neighbors at all. It sounds funny, but Omaha, for me, was full of adventure and mischief and cheap thrills. Sure, most of the time I was reading books and riding bikes and playing with Smurfs. But this was also the town where I tried vodka for the first time. It’s where I got my first Queen and DEVO and Blondie records. I stole my first pack of cigarettes here, and smoked them in a US Postal Service parking garage on a Sunday.
I learned a lot about how to be bad in Omaha, Nebraska.
But I learned something else, too. I learned about power in numbers. As a kid, one often feels pretty powerless—adults have the final word in just about everything and it sucks. And when adults aren’t around you still have to answer to older kids and bigger kids.
Being a little kid means constantly being reminded of stuff you want that you can’t have, and stuff you have to do that you hate. It’s a lot of chores and eating your peas and words you can’t say, without explanation beyond, “Because I said so,” and, “I’ll give you something to cry about.”
But when pushed too far, kids can snap. The fear of reprimand goes out the window, and when kids unafraid of punishment get together, it’s TERRIFYING. Don’t take my word for it. Watch movies like The Children, The Brood and Village of the Damned. You’ll see! Oh, YOU’LL SEE!
I saw. I took part, even. I got caught up in a tiny, torch-wielding mob of grade-schoolers, pushed to the edge, determined to teach one bad babysitter a lesson.
I don’t remember the babysitter’s name–some teenager who sat for a few kids on my street, but not for me. I don’t even remember the specific nature of her crimes, only that to the kids on my street, she was sort of universally despised. Parents trusted her, kids hated her—that’s all I needed to know.
In the summer of 1981, the babysitter got a long-term job watching the Thompson* boys at the end of the block—Richie, who was about my age, and his five-year-old kid brother, Scotty. They both had bright red hair and freckles and Scotty was loud and hyper, like you would expect a five-year-old boy to be. But for the most part, they stayed out of trouble.
I guess at some point, their feud with the babysitter heated up, and the prospect of spending an entire summer under her regime became too much to handle. A plan was put into place. And in the early evening hours of a warm June night, on a street that seemed completely devoid of parental supervision, somehow, that plan was executed with Seal Team Six precision and Reservoir Dogs style.
I had no idea what I was walking into when I went to my friend Laura’s house after dinner. Her parents were out and there were eight or nine kids from the neighborhood in her kitchen, making water balloons and cutting the tops off of empty two-liter soda bottles. One of them handed me a ski mask. A SKI MASK. They ALL had ski masks. In JUNE.
They told me the mask would hide my face so no one would recognize me (as if a bunch of four-foot-tall maniacs would be hard to identify!). But I didn’t ask questions. I had seen this movie before—you put the mask on and you fill up that Pepsi bottle with water and you don’t ask questions.
Minutes later we were running out the door, led by Richie Thompson to the side of his own house, where we prepared to attack. We put on our ski masks. We readied our balloons and bottles. One kid turned on the hose and filled a bucket with water and dead grass.
For the record, the way to win any water fight is the dead grass. I learned this from my older brother and his two best friends who took on an army of grade-schoolers in the field behind our street. You get hit with a bucket of water, you get wet. You get hit with a bucket of water and dead grass, you get itchy, gross grass stuck all over your body (and in your mouth! ugh.) that is impossible to remove until you dry off.
Anyway, there we were, waiting and watching the back door. The babysitter was inside, talking on the phone or something. Richie coached his little brother Scotty for a few minutes and then Scotty ran into the back yard, plopped down on his back and started to cry loudly. Richie then ran into the house, screamed to the babysitter that Scotty had been hurt, and led her outside.
In a movie, this part would be played in slow-motion, scored with crazy scary opera music. We had lured an unsuspecting babysitter into the yard. We quickly moved in and blocked her path, trapping her there. And then we attacked.
She screamed as we pelted her with water balloons. We’d throw them two or three-at-a-time, from pretty close range (had to–the long range aim of a nine-year-old is pretty terrible!) and then run back for more. When we ran out of balloons, we emptied the bottles and the bucket. One kid just sprayed the hose on her the whole time.
I don’t even know if we yelled anything while we did it. I just remember it was crazy and chaotic, and it was over very quickly. When the last bucket was emptied, we all just took off. We ran back to Laura’s house, cleaned up, dried off and went home as if nothing had happened. We didn’t discuss much before, and we never talked about it after. We just went back to being kids, playing four square in the street and listening to records and talking about Star Wars. We never even got caught—never got in any trouble at all!
You know what else never happened? That babysitter never worked our street again.
The Thompson boys were grounded, of course. It was really the only consequence–the only reminder that the assault even happened. For the rest of the summer, every time I rode my bike past that house, I’d see Richie and Scotty Thompson staring forlornly out their living room window. I’d wave a sad little wave and they’d smile a sad little smile.
And then I’d pedal the fuck out of there before anyone asked any questions.
*Some names have been changed to protect the guilty, and also because I don’t really remember. What do you want from me? I was nine.