Disneyland had nothin' on Grandpa's barn. Nothing.
If you were 10 years old, like me and my cousin Randy were, you could have happily spent several years of your life trapped in that barn, if only "they'd" have let you.
Who needs school or food or a stupid pool when you have a barn like Grandpa's to mess around in?
Everything a kid could have ever wanted was in that barn. Cowboy hats, a tractor, tractor parts, tractor tires, car tires, truck tires, snow tires, and various inexplicable farm equipment parts were all scattered around the place like toaster crumbs.
What to us were dusty, old pirate chests were filled with every kind of undiscovered treasure: old clothes, magazines from the 1920's, faded photos of ancient strangers, milk crates of unused Polaroid camera film, masking taped board games, a war helmet, some rubber boots, a box of bolts.
There was all kinds of rope, and telephone cords, a picnic table, some spurs, wads of barbed wire, heaps of cracked, twice painted boards and a 10 gallon jug of industrial hand cleaner called "Goop".
And in the back, by stacks of bound newspapers and a bird cage, sat a forever grounded, partially constructed, never to be finished, homemade airplane. A REAL airplane. Can I get an amen?
Eat your heart out, Knott's Berry Farm.
"Let's play cowboys," Randy said.
For once, he'd beaten me to the punch. The suggestion to play cowboys was made every day, usually by me. It was never rejected.
"OK," I said, "But I call Jesse James."
This was really an unnecessary "call" on my part. I was ALWAYS Jesse James. Randy knew this. He didn't expect any different. He knew he would NEVER be Jesse James, just like I knew I would never LET him be Jesse James. As Jesse James I was never once caught or shot. Except for once, when my Ben Franklin Store purchased caps misfired. Tragic.
"OK," said Randy, "But let's not do a gun fight this time. This time let's play REAL cowboys, like for REAL. Like on a ranch."
I couldn't believe what my cousin was suggesting. Jesse James, the scourge of the West, dashing outlaw and ladies man, reduced to a simple farm hand? Was he on barn dust? What was the point? No way. But just as I prepared to raise my screeching protests, he continued.
"See those stacks of tires over there? Those could be cows and I could roll them at you and then you could hit 'em with somethin' that would stun the cows, and then we could tie 'em up to the rafters with this rope and then pretend to slaughter 'em by hitting 'em with somethin'."
For those of you reading this who are appalled at my young cousin's rather gruesome suggestion of a playtime activity, let me remind you that these were TIRES we were talkin' about, not baby calves. So calm down. Also we were hardened outlaws. AND this all happened in the days before Pong. So stop bein' so judge-y and get off my back.
"Is that what REAL cowboys do?" I asked.
"I think so." he said.
"But was Jesse James ever a REAL cowboy? Like on a ranch and everything?" I asked incredulously.
"I think everybody was a real cowboy back then," he said, "Even bank robbers."
"I think so. Yeah."
This was news to me. No wonder poor Jesse had gone into a life of crime. Slaughtering cow-tires was no life for a man of Jesse's bravery and cunning. It would have driven any man to train robbery.
"OK," I said. "But what will I hit the tires - I mean cows - with?"
We quickly surveyed the barn for a weapon. There was an endless number of possibilities: umbrellas, shelving, brooms, crowbars, a steel pig sign that read, "Cluck, cluck".
"What's THAT?" I said, pointing at a darkened corner near Randy.
Randy went to the corner, moved some old papers and pulled out what looked to be an over-sized bowling pin. It was huge. And wooden. And very heavy. Perfect.
I made sure my guns and cowboy hat were firmly in place as I took hold of the bowling pin and made my way to the killing floor. Except for my shorts, tank top and flip flops, I was a dead ringer for Jesse James on the ranch. Like Jesse, I would bring the same professional, cold heartedness to this job that I did to my normal thievery.
"OK," I said, "Ready," as I raised the bowling pin over my shoulder and eyed the prey. I looked more like Babe Ruth in a cowboy hat and flip flops than anything.
"OK. Here it comes," said Randy. Then he made a crazy cow sound and rolled the tire at me.
I swung hard and landed one solid, satisfying hit to the side of the rubber bovine, directly on it's Firestone relief lettering, and before we knew it, the cow-tire was down flat. Knocked out.
We both gave a huge cowboy "Yee-Haw" and danced round a bit.
"OK, Jesse, let's string 'er up," said Randy as he proceeded to loop the rope through the tire and then over the rafter. Then he handed me the end of the rope to hold while he took the bowling pin and began to bludgeon the poor, stunned cow-tire to death.
Randy had some issues, it's true. And as he continued to hit the cow-tire with more and more force and vengeance, something told me he was hitting more than the tire. Had it been a pinata, the candy inside would've been Pixy Stick powder in 30 seconds.
No matter the reason for his manic voracity. We were cowboys with a job to do. So, boo hoo.
When Randy finally exhausted himself, I let go of the rope and sent the tire bouncing away across the floor til it came to rest on some bricks. Then we looked at each other and smiled. We knew we had just invented one of the greatest, new games in all of Kid-dom. It felt fantastic.
"Wow. That was sooo...COOL!" I yelled. "Let's do it again!"
"Switch sides!" hollered Randy.
This time, Randy raised the bowling pin above his shoulder while I rolled the tire.
"Look out! This one's wild!" I said, then rolled the cow-tire as hard as I could at Randy. The speed I sent it barreling toward him caught him by surprise, forcing him to make a wild, slicing golf swing at the top edge of the thing which sent the cow-tire not rolling but sort of hopping, end over end, back towards me where it finally stopped in a whirling death spin at my feet.
"String her up!" I called out, as I took my turn beating the now hanging target. I hit it so hard, my forearms stung from the blows. I assumed this was what it was like to build muscles.
For round three Randy and I again switched spots. Randy dug through the pile of tires looking for a worthy opponent. Finally he pulled out a particularly ominous cow-tire.
"You're gonna have to REALLY smack THIS one, Jesse. It's a steel belted, radial. With snow studs on it."
"Roll that skinny, sorry, sucker over here and let me at it," I taunted.
I'm sorry to say, Jesse James always had quite a mouth on him. I wasn't proud of that fact, and never let my mother know. That smart mouth and the train robberies would have been too much for her. And...she would have beaten me to death.
Randy got a running start and launched the huge, steel-studded, radial-enforced cow-tire at me with everything he had in him. I gripped the huge bowling pin tighter and glared at the oncoming, soon to be hamburger meat with disgust.
At the last moment I realized that to make the appropriate death blow I would need to come at this thing from above. So instead of holding the pin over my shoulder, I held it above my head instead.
When the cow-tire came within range I swung as hard as a 10 year old criminal can swing a huge wooden bowling pin, hitting the cow-tire directly on it's unprotected top.
It was at this point that everything went into slow motion, allowing me to capture each horrifying moment in detail.
I saw the pin hit the tire top, absorb the impact, then send the pin back, with twice the force, in the direction of my right eye.
It sounded like a lead pipe had hit a large, hollow watermelon. I dropped the bowling pin and stood there for a moment, motionless.
Randy's eyes and mouth were wide. "Oh man. Are you OK?"
"Um...Yeah, I think I...I think...WAHHHHHHHH!"
The dull pounding, stinging pain in my eye finally reached my shocked, insulted brain. My eye immediately began to swell and discolor. I took in a deep breath and let out another huge wail. The room spinned. The tires smiled. Randy tried to guide me down the steps to where Grandpa was working.
When we got to the lower level, Grandpa immediately
administered Farmer's First Aid Part 1: He examined the damage for 3 seconds then said, "Pipe down and go sit on that bucket."
It made sense. The winter before, Grandpa had fallen off the barn and into a snow bank, where he stayed for 45 minutes til somebody found him. After he got out all he said was, "That was pretty cold." He was 75. You really can't expect much more codling from a guy like that.
Within minutes, my eye blew up to three times it's normal size. It became yellow and purple and green. Fluid was everywhere. My eyelashes were flayed out like a tent revival fan. My head was aching. I couldn't see anything for all the tears and swelling.
"Randy, take him up to the house," said Grandpa. Then to me he said, "You're fine." Farmer's First Aid part 2 was now complete.
By the time we got back to the house, I had stopped crying and had already begun thinking of what I could do with such a wonderfully, gruesome eye. Hiding it under my hat and then suddenly revealing it to my mother and grandmother with a flourish and a blood curdling scream seemed like the best plan.
If Heaven is half as good as that barn, count me in.
As together we stand and sing.