Of course, the neighborhood was also home to a large number of other boys of about my age, which made the place a simmering pot of potential delinquency. I never did anything quite a stupid as Bill Dastel, who managed on one occasion to set himself ablaze with a mishandled, kerosene-soaked match bomb, and on another to partly detach one of his digits with an illegal firecracker to which he clung for just a moment too long. Nor did I ever pull a stunt as unwise as that of Del Baker, who unwisely took his oversized soap box racer down a narrow street with insufficient turning radius at the dead end, where he rammed it at high speed into the side of a parked Citroen. I am bound to confess, however, that on one occasion I did unwisely round a blind corner while piloting a similar vehicle only to find the way blocked by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department patrol car headed uphill. I veered into an adjacent yard and came to a stop only after shredding an abundance of ivy and a few succulents. There may have been a daisy or two, as well. For this act of mayhem, I was roundly criticized by a very cross deputy who, I realize only in retrospect, probably came within an inch of soiling himself when he saw a ten year old kid about to splatter his brains all over the august logo on his door panel.
It is also true that I had a number of mishaps with those toys of the devil, the skateboard. These were not the spiffy devices of today, but home-made contraptions fashioned by nailing the two halves of a standard, steel-wheeled roller skate to the bottom of a two-by-four. These impromptu conveyances were difficult to handle, and, on the steep hills, could get up enough speed to provide both boyish excitement and manly danger. More than a few of my peers came to grief in the form of broken bones while riding these contraptions. I myself never suffered more than a painful removal of some amount of skin from arm or leg or hand. But, were I to total the amount of skin I had thus removed over a number of years, it would be an impressive sight, indeed. Johnson and Johnson profited mightily from my rashness in those years.
Certain times of year, it was the custom for the boys of the neighborhood to venture up into the undeveloped reaches of the hills and slide down the grassy slopes on whatever conveyances came to hand. Large slabs of cardboard were preferred, but I carry to this day the scar which formed over a deep cut I received on my knee when I attempted to perform the slide on a piece of plywood which, it turned out, had the point of a nail sticking through it. When the board came to a sudden halt at the bottom of the hill, I continued to move, sliding my knee across the unnoticed nail, which ripped through my pants and gouged a hole about half an inch long and an eighth of an inch deep in my flesh. Walking home, I felt my knee stiffen, and was sure that lockjaw was imminent, but it never arrived. I recovered, and within hours was enjoying the inimitable delight of displaying my wound to my peers, and to the neighborhood girls, most of whom responded with a satisfying ewww!
Over the years, I damaged still more clothing, and more of myself, with such things as the pesky barbed wire which curmudgeons placed about to dissuade boys such as myself from entering places where they had deliberately planted trees bearing irresistible fruit! A few torn shirts and bloody scratches are a small price to pay for the delights of stolen loquats or persimmons. I also had a few run-ins with worn wooden fences which deposited splinters in my trespassing hands, and with walls that turned out to be a bit higher on the other side than they were on the side which deceitfully invited me to jump over them. This led to a number of painful sprains, which had to be endured without the redeeming promise of a visual record to flaunt at the less adventurous, unless perhaps there was a bit of transient swelling,the display of which was more apt to bring catcalls than admiring oooohs.
I should also confess that it was I who came up with the clever notion of placing a line of lit birthday candles across the width of the street, just to see how motorists would respond. The first motorist to see them was so thoroughly displeased that we abandoned the project, not then and there, but a few minutes later after he had chased us through several back yards and taught us a number of words we had not previously heard. We decided that the knowledge of these new words was quite worth the effort we had put into the prank, and that it need not be further pursued. Good times, indeed. Then, we had the misfortune of growing up.
On reflection, I suppose I do know why Jackass has become my favorite television show. Having been dumped from the occasional wheelbarrow myself, and having dumped others from them, I recognize the boyish pleasure of utter irresponsibility which is granted only to the immortal. Today, if I saw ten-year-olds doing such things, I would undoubtedly admonish them for their foolishness. But seeing a bunch of erstwhile adults do the same things for the camera, I can vicariously share the excitement of risk, and the joy of survival expressed in that laughter which non-fatal injuries induce. I can see the bloody scrapes and hear the howls of temporary and endurable pain and think, Yes, that's how it was. Bless you, Johnny Knoxville. Break a leg.