Updated: Mar 19
It was summer.
My two older brothers and I had access to a stick welder. And we had a pile of scrap metal. And, we had just watched Conan the Destroyer. And, there was no adult supervision. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Wilt Chamberlain took out the baddies with giant swords. We would make swords. Not those flimsy foam ones you get at the Dollar Store the dog likes to eat. Real metal swords. We took bar stock & welded on a handle, took the angle grinder and sharpened a point, then ground down both sides of the bar stock until it was sharp enough to chop wood (we tried, an ax worked better). Then we had real sword fights. With real swords. We mimicked Monty Python's Holy Grail a thousand and one times. "...It's just a flesh wound..." They also worked great for throwing. The good guys always did that.
Then we heard about fencing. Which has nothing to do with fences. Back to the scrap metal pile. We found a ¼” thick metal rod, welded it on a 3-inch diameter cutlass and welded on a handle, and sharpened the tip. Done. We could go fencing now. They also worked great for throwing. The good guys always did that.
Then we got our hands on a multi-pump BB gun rifle. My brother thought he would try it out, aimed it at my face, and pulled the trigger from 10 feet away. The BB hit me square in the forehead right above the bridge of my nose and embedded itself under the skin. We had to squeeze the BB out like popping a zit and hope my dad wouldn’t notice the hole in my forehead at the dinner table.
Then we got our hands on a 500 pack of Bottle Rockets. We inserted them into the barrel of our pellet guns, which normally only fired pellets. But this day, they fired rockets. We had made our very own Rocket Guns. Soon tiring of shooting off bottle rockets, we quickly discovered it was way more fun to shoot bottle rockets at each other. Since it was too easy to dodge a single rocket, we added two more long, thin tubes to our barrels with electrician’s tape. We could light three bottle rockets at the same time. They weren’t very accurate and had a tendency to fly off in all sorts of random directions. A triple barrel Rocket Gun! Quick reflexes were a plus and thankfully, there were only 500.
Then we dragged out a long length of rope we found in the barn and hung it from the huge box elder tree next to the house and added a large tractor inner tube. By including an additional 6-foot length of rope at the top of the inner tube, we could slingshot each other around in circles, then let go for extra height. My brother gave me some extra boost one time but released at the wrong moment. I flew towards the house rather than away and rocketed through the window. The glass exploded all over me and the kitchen table, strangely, not a scratch. My dad took me to the hardware store and I learned how to putty in a new plate of glass into a window frame that day.
Then we saw Michal Dudikoff in American Ninja. Ninjas could jump buildings. It seemed plausible. We would give it a try. Our fence lines were thick with trees. We would climb up a tree and then jump to the next tree. If you climb to the top and leaned, it would bend in the direction you wanted to go. A more advanced version of The Floor is Lava, we spent the afternoon jumping from tree to tree and made it nearly a ¼ mile without touching the ground. Maybe we were ninjas.
Ninjas always had throwing stars. If we were going to be ninjas, we had to have throwing stars. We tried cutting them out of sheet metal with tin snips, but that never worked very well to keep them symmetrical. They would fly off in all sorts of random directions. Then we discovered a pile of rusty old circular saw blades. We sharpened both sides all the way around with an angle grinder and those worked great. My dad came home from work that day and the side of our shed was covered in sharpened saw blades sticking out. He never said a word.
My dad wasn't into guns at all, but he had several rifles in the closet. You can’t watch Invasion USA, Commando, or Total Recall and not be curious about guns. The .22 was the easiest to operate, but we needed shells. I convinced my 7th grade buddy to sell me a box of .22 long rifle shells in middle school. He brought the ammunition to school and I handed him some money. He handed me the ammo in Biology class. Zero gun safety classes, we fired off the entire box of shells in the backyard then replaced the rifle just like we found it before my dad got home from work.
Then we discovered some shotgun shells in a coffee can in our workshop. If you cut the shells in half with a hacksaw, you could pour out and collect the gunpowder. We quickly learned that if you poured gunpowder on stuff, it would explode. Soaking the gunpowder in gasoline also produced fun results. All the shotgun shells quickly disappeared. The now empty coffee can was replaced just as we found it.
Growing up on a working farm, there is gasoline everywhere. And we three boys quickly discovered playing with gasoline was even more fun than guns, swords or fireworks. Each spring it was necessary to dispose of old gas that had sat in tractors or machines. The easiest way to do that was simply set it on fire. After being a single parent for a decade, my dad remarried. Shortly after she moved in, my dad's new wife looked out the front window. We had poured gasoline all over the driveway and set it on fire. She looked out the window of our farmhouse and all she saw was flames and black smoke. That was her introduction to her new step-kids.
Kids sword fighting, throwing circular saw blades through the air, or firing triple barrel Rocket Guns at each other. That was a normal summer day in the 80s. And by the way, these are not the Near-Death stories, that’s an entirely different essay.
But here’s a quick one. The Milwaukee River was a mile from our house, and we would often walk down to the river after school to go ice skating. We could skate for several miles up or down the river. At 12 years old, I skated out onto the ice and fell through, sinking up to my chin. The river current was very fast and nearly pulled me under the ice. After climbing back onto the ice, I had to remove my ice skates, don my boots, and then walk the mile back home completely soaked. The temperature was about 20 degrees, and I was completely by myself. I trudged through the snow and walked the mile out of the river valley. By the time I got back to our house, all my clothes were completely frozen and had turned to ice, pant legs, sleeves, gloves, all frozen. I put everything in the dryer, dried them, and put them back on like nothing happened by the time my dad got home from work.
Somehow, we all survived, Unsupervised.