That was what we called any patch of land in Hopatcong that had some trees. Most times it was just a plot of ground that someone hadn’t started to build a house on. One such place was down Sante Fe Trail from the bungalow. It was surrounded by homes, and had one very large boulder and one slightly smaller one, thus we named them Momma Rock and Poppa Rock. Our group of kid friends in the neighborhood (Skinny Ray, Fat Ray, Phillip, Joseph , Michael,Georgie and someone whose name escapes me) would spend hours playing war or siege of whatever we called it when one group of us on the Poppa Rock, supplied with sticks repelled attacks from the other group whose home base was on Momma Rock. The attacking team tried to scale the larger rock and claim control of the top. And of course the attacking team had sticks too which were usually thrown at someone on top of Poppa rock in the hopes of knocking him off. No nice games of tag or hide and go seek for us, oh no…we played War. And it could and did get nasty at times. Needless to say these play dates would end with all of us coming home bloodied, bruised and dirty, the classic desired condition, favored by all boys of our age.
Mom predictably didn’t like our choice of games, being the sane pacifist that she was, but boys will be boys.
Each of our friends had their own personality quirks, but one that especially stood out above the rest was Michael, our neighbor from across the road (though I remember it I will leave out his last name, as he probably is a prominent attorney or something today). Anyway he was in a word- nuts. He knew no fear, would take any dare offered to him with no regard for personal safety or the fact that he actually had people back home that wanted him to live past his teenage years. I always thought that this was the kind of guy that the military or a terrorist group would love to recruit. He questioned nothing, had no fear and once he decided on a course of action, was immovable.
Like I said- nuts.
One day, after we had pummeled each other with sticks in the latest battle for control of Poppa Rock, we were resting, breathing heavy, bleeding and sweating, when one of us noticed that there were an inordinate amount of bees swarming around. With a little searching we realized there was a bees nest nestled amongst some rocks on the ground nearby. Most of us, certainly a creature loving coward like myself thought “oh well, we should just stay away from that part of the woods”. There was general agreement with this sentiment, with one exception. Yea you guessed it. Michael. He was angry that nature had done the inexcusable act of being nature and had imposed itself on our woods. So he had the genuinely stupid idea of getting a firecracker and blowing up the nest, thereby ridding the world of these disrespectful bees. He felt these were “our” woods, and no bunch of bees were going to drive us out of our playground. Trying to dissuade Michael of an idea he came up with, was as futile as trying to win an argument with a religious zealot or a right wing conspiracy loon. Ain’t happening.
So we all remained silent as he raged on at nature and ran home for the firecrackers. Now if we had a lick of sense we would have just gone home at that point, but let’s face it we were stupid. Any group of kids that thought it was fun to try and scale a big rock with your so called friends beating you over the head with sticks, were not Cume Laude material. Stupid is what we were. So we stayed.
And yes in a few moments, Michael was back, a crazed look in his eyes, intent on his mission. And we continued to prove our stupidity as we watched him light the firecracker within feet of where we sat. He wasn’t even intelligent enough to know to drop the thing and get out of the way. No, he just stood over the swarming nest, lit the firecracker and let it drop.
We smelled sulphur, saw smoke and waited. But only for a second. I am not sure if he injured any one bee or not, and I hope he didn’t. What he did do was piss the shit out of the other very live bees that didn’t cotton to someone trying to blow them up. And they didn’t think too highly of his friends either.
Within seconds they attacked like Patton’s Third Army, and we were overwhelmed. Screaming, being stung over and over and then we stupid kids started running this way and that to escape the onslaught. Michael stood there with a foolish grin on his face thinking he had won this particular skirmish. That was until he realized his face was covered with bees taking their justified revenge. Only then did we hear a muffled “Oh Shit” and watch as he scrambled to get away, tripping over some rocks and falling flat on his no longer smiling face. I didn’t bother with the to and fro business; I just ran in a straight line for the light that meant the road, away and out of the woods. From there, crying, and hurting from the stings, I ran as fast as I could back home to Mom. Don followed shortly. And honestly at that point I didn’t care a whit if any of the others got out alive, especially Michael.
Well you can imagine what it was like trying to explain to Mom how we looked; swollen, bloodied, bruised. I am sure Don got the worst of it as he was the older brother and was supposed to look out for me, but we tried to explain how it happened, and when she heard Michael’s name, she shook her head as she applied ice and balm to our wounds, muttering under her breath…..”that kid is a nut”.
I have no idea what became of the motley bunch of friends we had back in those days in Hopatcong. But I hope that we all learned something that day: Don’t fuck with nature, and for God’s Sake be careful who you choose as a friend. He just might turn out to be a nut.