Ahh...summer's finally winding down. The city pools are closing, forcing minority children out onto the streets and back into carjacking, the days are growing shorter (an oxymoron, I know) and it's getting cooler. Soon the leaves will be changing, birds will start flying south for the winter and Dr. Laura will have an excuse to wear turtleneck sweaters to cover up her hideous turkey-waddled neck. The coming of fall reminds me of growing up in a small New England town. Every year, the loud, raucous, self-righteous denizens of the city would invade our hamlet in order to see the changing leaves in all their myriad of colors. After the fall, Old Man Winter would come for his own annual visit. The land would be covered with a thick dusting of pure, virginal snow and us kids would spend our weekends skating on Miller's Pond. Sometimes Dad would take us ice fishing, where we'd huddle down on the shack he'd dragged out onto the lake, listening to the Patriots' game on the old Philco and flipping through ancient copies of Field & Stream
. Dad would let us have a sip of his Hamm's or Pabst, making us promise not to tell mom. We always felt so grown-up after sipping that bitter nectar. Ahh...memories of winter...
Unfortunately, they aren't my memories. In fact, I'm not entirely sure where they came from. I grew up in Texas. Growing up, our fall consisted of never-ending raking. You could rake for days and still not get up all the leaves. You'd beg your parents to hire minorities to do it, but they'd just reply, "We can't. They're all at the city pools, spreading sickle cell amongst each other." So you'd rake. And rake. Blisters, which you couldn't help but pick, would form on your hands. Crumbly leaf dust would fill your shoes. All while the rich kids, with their "lawn services" and "indentured servants" would ride by on their bikes, mocking you for having to do manual labor. You'd rake the leaves into great piles in the morning, planning on waiting until after lunch to bag them up. Inevitably, while you were inside eating your PB&J or Campbell's Soup, the wind would pick up and scatter the leaves. Or the rich kids--bastards--would come by and jump in your piles, scattering the leaves as well, or even better, than Mother Nature's wind. Eventually, you'd get everything bagged up and moved out to the curb for the city-employed minorities to pick up.
Bagged leaves. The term always brings back memories of what we did for a while in eighth grade. We called it "Ho-Ho-Ho'ing", which looks like something the Klingon Santa Claus would say. It all started one evening in December. A group of us where hanging out at the house, bored and trying to make up our minds about what to do with the evening. Someone floated the idea of going "Nigger Knocking". For those who don't know what that is, let me explain. It's where you go around to houses and knock on the door, then run away and laugh at the person answering the door. When you're in eighth grade, it's fun. When you're older and look back on it, you're just grateful that you were never shot by someone. I'm not sure where the term "Nigger Knocking" comes from. In fact, what we called "Nigger Knocking" is nowhere near as bad as the activity the late Janis Joplin referred to as "Nigger Knocking". In her biography, "Nigger Knocking" is much more insidious--it "is when people in a vehicle stick a board out the window and knock down a black person who is walking along the road". Which sounds exactly like something people in South East Texas (where she grew up) would do for fun--after all, these are the same people who thought it was fun to chain a black man to the back of their pickup truck and make a human trailer out of him.
So, at any rate, getting back onto topic, we went "Nigger Knocking". We'd take turns creepy up to the front door of a house, then ring the doorbell several times with a sense of urgency or beat the door with our fists, then take off running to where our buddies where hiding--usually across the street, behind a car or in the bushes. After a few seconds, the front porch light would come on and the door would be cautiously opened. The person would kind of look around then perhaps slam the door to go back to bed or sex or Late Night with David Letterman
. This was fun, but not as fun as it could be, at least to our retarded eighth-grade minds. It was election season and, as such, lawns were decorated with cardboard signs encouraging those of us of a majority age to vote for various candidates. We hit upon the idea of pulling these staked signs out of their earthen-mooring and balancing them against people's front doors so that when the doors were opened, the sign would fall inward into the home. Soon we were going up and down the blocks of the neighborhood, balancing signs and ringing doorbells, snickering as the signs would fall towards the unsuspecting. Our tame style of Clockwork Orange-ish ultraviolence grew steadily bolder. A garage left open? Grab those golf clubs and beat them against a tree. A decorative pumpkin on a porch? Smash it. I, along with my droogs, had a blast terrorizing the neighborhood. Occasionally, someone would get in their car to come look for us hooligans who'd knocked over their decorative statues. As a network of creeks and culverts and storm tunnels criss-crossed our neighborhood, it was easy to just duck down under the streets and wait for the danger to pass.
We got wilder and wilder, doing anything we could think of to fuck with people. Then, something new to do hit us. It was fall. There were large bags of freshly raked leaves piled up on every other lawn's curb. What if we were to undo all that hard work by using our Swiss Army Knives (with thirteen instruments of construction--or destruction, depending on how you look at it)? We slit the bags and swung them around--leaves fluttering over the yards like a snowfall. Haha...we were evil, which was good. Then, one of us hit upon the idea that gave "Ho-Ho-Ho'ing" its name. As it was Christmastime, what if we were to get into the holiday spirit and spread some good cheer? What if were to combine "cutting open leaf bags and spreading their contents about" with "Nigger Knocking"? One of us--not me, incidentally--took it upon himself to carefully slit the bottom of a bag of leaves open, and then carry it up the walk to our target house, taking care to not drop any leaves. The rest of us hid across the street and a house over behind a clump of bushes. We watched our friend creep up the walk. We were hoping that we wouldn't wuss out. He stepped up onto the porch and approached the door. We were silent--the only sound the beating of our hearts. This would either be as funny as hell or land us into some serious shit. Or both. We watched as our compatriot rang the doorbell. After a second, a bedroom light came on. Then the hall light. Finally, the porch light flickered on. Our friend was hiding off to the side, out of range of the peephole. The door opened and our friend sprang out of the shadows. The middle-aged man at the door, no doubt fearing for his life, tried to close the door, but not before our friend swung the bag over his head, releasing a deluge of leaves onto the man and into his foyer. Then, our friend, adding some Christmas cheer, said the words that gave our activity its name: "Ho-Ho-Ho, Motherfucker!"