Suffice to say I was on the track to majoring in absenteeism. I often found my wandering self on my favorite route to ignoramusville — a nearby railroad track.
I was rarely alone on these mindless escapades. Playing hooky from school was very popular in my neighborhood in those psychedelic 1960s. My favorite stop was a Burger King nearly 10 miles away.
When a train was going our way we would run alongside it, grab hold of those side ladders and hang on until we reached our destination.
On those tracks, we would see who could walk and balance themselves on the steel rails the longest, how many tracks we could step on in a row while running as fast as we could, sing Motown songs and lay pennies on the tracks to be flattened.
Our absolute favorite thing to do was throwing rocks! We threw rocks at everything — stray animals, bottles, cans — everything including each other.
But nothing was more fun than throwing rocks on a certain stretch of the railroad that was high above the trees where apartment buildings, cars and people dwelt below! To pick up railroad rocks and throw them into a sea of trees and listen as they came tearing down through the leaves was our idea of fun.
To hear those rocks land on something solid like the roof of a car or apartment building was priceless. Sometimes the kids below would throw rocks back at us and we’d have an all out war! Of course, we usually won since we never ran out of rocks.
The day I finally surrendered was the day four or five of us, including my older brother Ronnie and his friend Elan, got carried away with throwing rocks on that unsuspecting community below.
On this particular day we were throwing as many handfuls of rocks as we could gather. I guess the sound of people screaming and scrambling, metal clanging, things shattering and rooftops getting pounded by a barrage of rocks had sent us into some wild haze of destructive mayhem that proved truancy and juvenile delinquency goes hand-in-hand.
After our reign of terror ended, we hurried down the railroad track toward George Washington Park where we often stopped to watch tennis players play at a reserved club house.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a tall, dark man came up behind us and grabbed one of us! “That’s the last time yall are going to be throwing rocks down on us!” he shouted. “Get over here! I’m taking yall to the police!!”
When he tried to grab another of us the man lost his grip on the kid he had.
We were so startled at first we froze. But when he said the word “police” we ran like “The Little Rascals.” The man was fast! I remember him grabbing at me but I was faster! I dodged my way around him and took off! All I could see were feet running as fast as they could toward the tennis court.
The man was chasing us and shouting we were going to jail! Elan and I didn’t stay with the pack. We ran smack into the fences at the tennis court and the man caught Elan by his shirt! I looked back as I hit the fence, heart-pounding, climbing to the the top in a panic.
I saw Elan twisting until he came out of his shirt, started running and jumped onto the fence! The man caught him again! I could hear Elan screaming for help, as I clutched the top of the fence, poised to jump over and catch up with the others who never looked back!
Elan was crying so loud it was heart-breaking. I honestly don’t know why but I couldn’t leave him like that. I just couldn’t. He and the man saw me climb down the fence and give myself up. The man put us in the back seat of his car.
“Where do you live?” he asked. “1097 Mayson Turner,” I said.
“Do you know you could have hurt somebody? You’re damaging our property down there!”
“That wasn’t us,” Elan told the man. “It was the other boys throwing rocks.”
“We were throwing them too,” I said in shame. The man took pity on us, talked with us, drove us home and politely asked us not to throw anymore rocks. I felt disappointed in myself.
I was raised better than that! But when I suddenly took responsibility for my bad behavior I also felt a strange sense of freedom.
Historian Daniel J. Boorstin wrote, “Our discontent begins by finding false villains whom we can accuse of deceiving us. Next we find false heroes whom we expect to liberate us. The hardest, most discomfiting discovery is that each of us must emancipate himself.”
In a sense, I felt I did that. I went to God, confessed my wrong and changed my behavior. No more rocks! Well, maybe one more. Psalm 94:22 said, “But the LORD is my defence; and my God is the rock of my refuge.” I need that one.
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