Thursday, January 20, 2011
"Why don't you make us?" threatened Mike the Whip. Mike was fearless. Unfortunately, he was also ten.
"Yeah, okay, right." said Dave. He was pretty cool, and more tolerant of little kids than most of his peers. He had seven younger brothers and sisters, so that helped. "You can watch if you want, but it's gonna be mostly guys from the high school team. You'd just strike out anyway, right?"
"That sucks," said Robbie. "We were here first."
"I'll pitch to you guys tomorrow, how 'bout that?" offered Dave.
"I guess," I said.
Robbie, Mike the Whip and I headed off the field. Sweaty, pissed off, and now bored.
"Hey, let's go check out the factory," said Robbie.
Back in the 50's, the Knickerbocker Toy Factory was the center of the doll-and-stuffed-animal universe. Located in my hometown, right behind the ball field, Knickerbocker was the birthplace of teddy bears, cuddly stuffed dogs, and of course, their trademark Raggedy Anns and Andys. So beloved were the dolls that kids in the neighborhood would periodically check the trash dumpsters behind the factory, hoping to adopt a “factory-second” reject with a crooked eye or a slightly torn belly. Knickerbocker would never send out a defective doll, of course, but Second Hand Andy could surely find a home somewhere.
Joy was joy, it didn't have to be fancy or expensive.
For twenty years, the Knickerbocker Toy Factory served as a modern-day North Pole, with its 200 or so employees functioning as hard-working elves, providing hand-stitched companions for children of that generation. To my parents, my aunts and uncles, Raggedy Ann and Andy were cultural icons.
But times changed.
Along came the 70's and with this new decade came the invasion of the video games. My generation ditched our dolls in favor of Atari systems, parked our Tonka Trucks and clicked on our spiffy hand-held Coleco football games.
The Knickerbocker factory closed down. The building remained, but the only inhabitants were the cloth-and-yarn ghosts of Christmases that never came. All that was left was an empty shell, abandoned and alone, left to gather dust.
Until that summer morning when Robbie, Mike the Whip and I declared war on it.
We snuck in through the delivery bay, and invaded the abandoned Knickerbocker warehouse. Illuminated only by indirect sunlight and smelling vaguely of mildew and wet cardboard, the room was a battleground, ours to conquer. We surveyed the terrain. Bare light bulbs in sockets on the ceiling. Boxes with the faded Knickerbocker logo, half full of dusty buttons and faded yarn. A stack of rotting wooden pallets. Broken cinder blocks piled in the corner.
We’d stumbled upon a makeshift ammunition bunker.
It was Mike the Whip who thought of it first.
"Ya dare me to take out one of the light bulbs with a cinder block?"
Of course we dared him.
Mike picked up a softball-sized hunk of rock, pulled the imaginary pin, and hurled the block-grenade upward, shattering a bulb and thunking down on the floor.
"Awright, I'm next," I said. I picked up a chunk. Reared back. Missed. Dammit.
"Hey, maybe if we stack some pallets and stand on 'em, it'll be easier," suggested Robbie.
"You guys are pussies. I threw mine from the ground."
"Just shut up and help us, Mike."
For the next ten minutes, it was "bombs away".
Pop! Light bulb.
Flash Pop! Light bulb.
When our arsenal started running low, I hopped down to retrieve the rocks for another round while Robbie and Mike continued their assault upon the light brigade.
As I walked toward the stones scattered in the "landing zone", I remember thinking, Ya know, this might be a little dangerous. I turned around, intending to yell, "Hey, you guys, stop for a minute! I'm getting more rocks!"
I made it to "Hey, you g -"
I was on the ground, head throbbing, my face, shirt, and the floor around me covered in blood.
"Shit, Robbie! You hit him!"
"I dint mean it! I dint even see him over there!"
Panicked by the bloody carnage, they each took an arm and stood me up, and headed toward my house. We got the attention of the high school guys on the baseball field.
"Holy crap, guys, hold up! That kid's bleeding to death!"
A couple of the teenagers came running over to help. Dave Brooks scooped me up and carried me to my house. In the distance, I saw my mom sitting on our front porch. I'd imagine her thoughts were something along the line of, "Poor idiot kid, cracked his head open."
As we got closer, and she saw that it was HER idiot kid, she flipped out.
"WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT WERE YOU GUYS DOING? OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!"
"Calm down, ma'am, we got him. Why don't you go get a rag or something?" said Dave, as he set me down on the porch steps.
Mom, however, had already bolted into the house, and practically tore the screen door off when she returned with a wet towel. She was completely falling apart. Amazing how four years of nursing school seems to vanish when your kid is the patient. The cut was only a half-inch or so long, but it was deep. I kept the towel on my head as Mom flung me into the car and burned rubber, off to Somerset Hospital. Along the way, she debriefed me on the cause of my battle wound.
There's nothing quite like the look on a mother's face at that precise moment when she realizes she's raised a dipshit.
Mom hustled me into the emergency room, checked in, and we waited for my turn with the doctor. I noticed a girl, about five years old, who had obviously been crying. She was sitting in a wheelchair with her leg elevated and packed in ice. A broken leg, perhaps, or maybe a badly sprained ankle. She was being comforted by a well-traveled Raggedy Ann.
One of the last hand-me-down refugees from the Knickerbocker Toy Factory.
Still somewhat in a daze, and my vision blurry, I looked Raggedy Ann squarely in the buttonish eyes.
I swear, she winked at me.