It's the summer before fourth grade and then it will be the fall of fourth grade and we're in front of Terry Fleming's grandparent's house playing my favorite game. It was my favorite game because I was good at it. The game was "Who Looks the Deadest". I've heard of variations of the game played elsewhere. To my knowledge though it has no real provenance. Kids just invented it. Maybe through some kid network it spread but certainly not via any real world network. Not on tv or radio or in a magazine or newspaper. My parents didn't know about it. But we did. And we played it like it was the last game we'd ever play.
The rules were fairly simple. One person, usually Chris DeHart, was IT. He sat on the steps of Terry's grandparent's house with a play gun of some sort. BB Gun, air rifle, plastic Thompson Sub Machine Gun, pistol, Civil War rifle, didn't matter. You just needed the porch and a gun. Terry's grandparent's front lawn had two large pines flanked by a circular sidewalk leading to the steps. We'd crouch behind one or the other of the pines and wait on Chris or whoever was it. Then he'd call a name. The person whose name was called would run out into the open, charging as though in a battle, and Chris would shoot. Boom. Then you'd drop dead. And stay dead. Chris would call another name. Another dead kid. Till the front yard was littered with four foot corpses in various poses of the dead. Then he'd walk among us. Evaluating our deadness. Looking for faint signs of breathing. For movement. He'd evaluate our fall as we took the fatal bullet. He'd combine the fall with the death pose and come up with the winner. Whoever he picked was IT. He was the one who looked the deadest.
It was a great game.
It was of a piece with our general paranoia and fascination with war. In the fall of 1962 things moved to a head but throughout our childhood we learned the rules of war. We learned to duck and cover. We learned how many blasts of the fire whistle meant an enemy attack. We learned how to prepare for nuclear disaster, how to live on canned goods for months. We learned some of us would probably die. We weren't stupid. We read about the range of an atomic blast. We knew we lived just south of New York City, just east of Philadelphia and it's Naval Yard, and not too far north of DC. We were fucked. Wenonah was just going to be one big sheet of glass.
We read about Hiroshima. We saw Japanese monster movies...Godzilla and Gorgo. We were ready. If we lived we'd fight the Russians in the swamps like the Swamp Fox. If we died we knew how to look cool. We were ready to die young and leave a beautiful corpse.
Then we got up, jumped on our Schwinns and rode off to Clay Hill to blast the dinosaurs that threatened our families.
The world was a dangerous place. Next posting...the little red house and Mickey Killer Islands.