Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rite of Passage: A Childhood Story

When I was a kid, we pretty much made our own toys, bows and arrows, wooden pistols and rifles, stilts, go-carts and one of our favorites, sling-shots. We had discovered that not all rubber was the same. At the back of a tire shop on 9th St., old, worn rubber tubes were disgarded, and we rifled through the piles to find the red ones. Red rubber was prized, because it was extemely strong and elastic and on a sling-shot could fling an almond-sized stone an amazing distance, powerfully and with great accuracy.
Step one was to find the perfect "Y" shaped branch on a tree and cut it. With a knife, we then peeled off the bark and cut two notches at the tops of each of the arms protruding from the stem. The rubber was cut into two strips, about half-inch wide, and some 15 inches long. One end of of the strip was stretched over each tip of the arms and tied with a rubber band, making sure it fit snuggly into the notches so it wouldn't slip or come unfastened when you pulled on it. Last we had to find a pair of old, leather shoes, cut off the tongue, trimming it into a 4-inch long oval shape, the cradle which would eventually hold the stone. A small hole was cut into each end of the leather cradle, and the other end of the rubber strips was threaded through the holes, pulled for about two inches, and fastened with more rubber bands. Now we were ready to shoot holes in windows, break old wine and beer bottles, shoot at the cardboard shacks of winos and hobos on the river, shatter lightbulbs on peoples porches, or shoot at cats, stray dogs and birds.
Living near two sets of railroad lines, there was plenty of ammunition (stones) available to us. We scoured the tracks for rounded stones about the size of almonds, and filled our pockets until our pants nearly fell down. In front on my mom's house was an fruit orchard where we played war, cowboys and indians (nobody wanted to be indians because they always got killed in the movies) and hunted. We were the consumate hunters and woe to anything that moved. Birds (apologies to bird lovers and environmentalists out there) were favorite targets, and I was a dead-eye with a slingshot.
One day, as we stalked our favorite prey under a large fig tree, I shot and killed a sparrow. It fell lifelessly from branch to branch, finally tumbling to where we stood. I was often the instigator in our small clan and Robert, Charlie and his brother Raul and Tony usually followed my lead: "OK you guys. We are going to cook and eat this bird and everyone has to take a bite", I decreed. They looked at me in disbelief, but followed my command. We gathered branches, built a small fire in an irrigation ditch nearby, and slipping the dead bird on a long branch, roasted it over the fire, feathers and all, until it was done. When the moment came, we plucked the burnt feathers, and driven by some primevil urge, a collective unconscious spirit binding us, like men, like our hunter brothers of old, partook of the tiny bird in a rite of solidarity and brotherhood. The bird was so tiny there was hardly any meat on the bones to eat and it tasted horrible, but men do what men must do. The act was mostly symbolic, but after all, David slew a giant, with a sling-shot, right?


#167 Dad said...

Again, I really dig your stories. Great details. I could taste that poor scrawny bird.

Rick Rivers said...

Dad: Gracias! I tried to become a "follower" for your blog, but it didn't work. Will try again today.
These are short, readable versions of longer stories I hope to publish in a book sometime. Maybe you can give me some tips?