14 September 2011

Smells like victory

My older brother used to play an elaborate game with a friend of his using those little plastic army men you'd buy in buckets. An entire back yard was the playing surface and moves were made in turns using a ruler; each piece got a set number of inches. Once in range of enemy pieces, dice were rolled to determine  damage inflicted. Then once a piece had been "killed" the real fun took place: using a lighter and a spray aerosol can of lubricant, the poor soldier would be torched until it caught fire and melted into an olive drab pool.

Later variations on this game included using napalm in the form of setting a two gallon milk jug alight and dripping flaming gobs of polyethylene on the hapless fighters; I also remember one afternoon where the a fort was constructed of styrofoam and also torched, although it never really fully caught. But it did produce large oily plumes of smoke that seemed half ink and half air and were no doubt full of dozens of toxins. For that matter, none of us stopped to consider if the can we were using for flamethrower fuel was likely to ignite; or that the late-August grass was crisp and brown.

As pointless and dangerous as these pyrotechnics were, I have fond memories of them. In fact, it's because they were pointless and dangerous that I have fond memories. If I had ended up burning myself I'd probably enjoy the memory more, because everyone loves their scars. I have a particularly large one on the bottom of my right index finger where I almost chopped the digit off by sticking it into a spinning exercise bike wheel when I was four; I have another at the base of my thumb to mark the time I fell backwards down some stairs and slammed my hand through the window of my back door. I love them both.

Looking back on our stupid choices and telling scandalous stories about the bad things we did is one of life's joys. There's the old adage that our mistakes are what makes us who we are; this is true, but I think our love of  stories of drinking binges and disastrous romantic encounters and quarry diving and childhood games on thin ice speak to us on a baser level. We like to imagine a time free from responsibility and filled with possibility.

We just don't want to imagine these things for our own kids.

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