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The Great Jump Rope Ambush

There was once a great battle won during a Golden Age long past.

An Age when kids played Smear The Queer in front yards in full view of and with the sanction of adults; BB gun fights were routinely held on neighborhood streets in full daylight; children could disappear in the woods for hours without explanation to build forts and dig tiger pits; and we rode bikes until dinner time in far-ranging packs.

Bike helmet in my 'hood? - instant beatdown

Between the ages of five and thirteen one of my primary interests in life was attacking my older brother - who was four years my senior. Getting in one good shot was well worth a thirty minute beating afterwards and if you don't understand the psychology of that mindset, you've never been a younger brother.

Or an Aggie Football fan.

Most of my attacks were premised in setting ill-conceived snares to incapacitate him; from which I imagined I would then maul him at advantage for an extended length of time. I played Cato to his Inspector Closseau; ambushing and harrying him with a guerilla's consistency and fervor; visiting depravities on his room and then setting ambushes for his angry reprisal, or more often just standing in the doorway of his room and baiting him by repeatedly informing him in an escalating manner - I'm in your room! In your room! Your room! In it! - and then hoofing it to some staging area I'd created (water bucket poised on half-open door, spiked pit dug in backyard, clutching a croquet mallet poised in laundry hamper) where I hoped he could be decisively brutalized.

Unfortunately, a successfuly waylay generally hinged upon a chain of events so improbable and of such intricate complexity that I should have immediately been placed in special classes for my basic lack of understanding of risk, physics, and basic human psychology.

Care for an example?

Concept: Inside front entrance tile strewn with marbles doused in pantry olive oil creating the most slippery environment outside of Rue McLanahan's vagina. He will enter and fall, stunned and bleating like a great dumb ox, bewildered as I emerge from my hiding place behind a potted plant, hurling one of Grandma's afghans to ensnare him. I then lay into him with a mop handle and proffer kicks to his ribs while wearing my ropers. He begs for mercy and asks if I'll play Stratego with him.

Actual result: The front door opens inwards sweeping all of the marbles placed before it harmlessly and noisily across the tile. Alerted, he begins to scan for me, audibly preparing a loogy to be hocked onto my face. I panic and flush from my hiding place like a wayward quail, my boots slipping on the streaks of olive oil. The Afghan net is turned upon me; my head is bounced off tile like a speed bag; I am forced to swallow three marbles.

Which I saw again later without complications, thanks to the olive oil.

Easier in than out, frankly

Occasionally, a plan came together.

The house was clear that evening: my parents were seeing the movie Splash, going to a Carly Simon concert, or acting out scenes with other couples from the movie The Ice Storm - the details are irrelevant.

My brother was expected home later and I had time to prepare the field to my advantage. First, I pushed a kitchen chair into the hallway so I could unscrew all of the lightbulbs in the front hallway and in his bedroom, embracing darkness. His impotent flicking of the lightswitch would become a gross mockery of terror and indecision as he began to panic at the dark shades enveloping him. There is no light for you.

Darkness is the ocean in which I swim. Thought the eleven year old.

I then tied a jump rope across the entrance to his bedroom door at ankle height. Not just any jump rope: I had rubbed it black with magic markers, the old school ones that made your eyes water from waves of chemical that were actually visible to the eye, like heat rising from pavement in the Texas summer. You shook them like Carmen Miranda so that some internal castanet could activate the ink release. The color took half an hour and made me as high as a Brazilian street urchin.

I put on his Pink Floyd The Wall vinyl to magnify his disorientation. Of course, I'm a kid, it's pitch dark, I'm alone in the house, and Pink Floyd is wailing at me. I start to freak myself out - I'm thinking about Friday the 13th Part III (the one where Jason kills the horny teenagers) and begin to stare at the long coat hanging on the closet door, no, wait, is that a humpbacked psychopath with a gaffing hook? - so I turn off Pink Floyd. Too much. I don black sweats (why?), sit as patiently as a Zen Buddhist, and watch Manimal.

I hear the front door.


Welcome to Hell.

I greet my brother enthusiastically, offering a jibe suggesting that he has likely just returned from enthusiastically buggering a farm animal, but said animal probably didn't notice because he is an impotent eunuch. I fling an indeterminate object (tennis ball? Dixie cup of Tab Cola?) at him and leg it down the hall to his bedroom where I leap the rope and wait.

He isn't far behind me and promptly eats shit on the fibrous Al Jolson rig set up at his door. However, I am now trapped inside his room with his concussed frame between me and the exit. And this is when it stinks being a kid: you're devious tactically, but longer term strategic thinking isn't a real strength. Operationally speaking, I'm Josh Brolin's character in No Country For Old Men: several moments of genius and real cunning interspersed with a few fatal mistakes.

Think it through all the way

He recovers nicely and I begin to receive a thorough pummeling - though I can see he is impressed with my effort. This pleases me. Somehow I slip out - Gale Sayers-like - maybe he's still a little dazed? - and I'm racing down the hall heading to the kitchen, his footfalls behind me. We both know where I'm headed: I beeline for the kitchen knife drawer.

The kitchen knife drawer is a delicate tipping point. If I'm close enough, it's time for him to head the other way before I can arm myself. If he can get the drop on me before I grab cutlery, there's a decent chance my head goes in a toilet or I will be dragged up and down the halls until I get a rich array of carpet burns - punishment for having gone to the knife drawer and unneccessarily escalating things. We had an intricate corpus of laws and penalties and, in retrospect, I realized we'd unknowingly grounded most of them in Sharia.

It's on now

Still, feeling good. Running well. I'm going knife drawer. I'm not even thinking fireplace poker at this point, though there may be value in feinting towards there once I pass the coffee table. Besides, the last time I went fireplace poker, we demolished one of Mom's plants - specifically the two foot clay pot it sat in - though in our subsequent clean-up and cover-up we successfully convinced her that the plant had never existed.

This isn't the plant you're looking for

I'm going to make it. He is right behind me, but now I hear his heels turning on the linoleum as he sprints for his room. I fling open the drawer, secure a knife, wheel, and, seized by Pan - God knows why I did it - I flip it smoothly at his retreating backside. He is twenty feet away and about to round the corner to safety, as I watch the knife spin across the living room in a perfect spinning silver arc, my breath held in regret and awe, watching rapt as the handle of the knife hits him flush in the ass. Bullseye.

He let out a yelp and leapt up awkwardly in a Michael Flatley half-jump; as if the Lord of the Dance had just been bitten by a copperhead in the very depths of his anus. Fantastic. It takes a few seconds more for him to register that it was the handle that hit him and that the only gaping wound is to his pride. He stayed in his room for a half hour before emerging to exact his retribution - just as my parents arrived home, praising Splash for the bonhomie of its world view.

I listened to them prattle on about "that delighful Tom Hanks!", leaving them blissfully ignorant that a great victory had been won that day.

Parents must be sheltered from such things, I remembered thinking.