Suburban Guided Missiles

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
You don’t want Sammy pointing his toys at you.

Submitted: June 07, 2015

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Submitted: June 07, 2015



Sammy used the experience in his inevitable march to becoming a rocket scientist.  He has a PhD now and wears jackets with leather patches on the elbows.  I ended up being a writer.  I could have skipped the trouble and still bang on a keyboard all day for barely enough rent money.

I hadn’t learned yet that it wasn’t just my behavior that counted.  No way you’re going to behave if you hang out with misbehavers.  They always drag you into their vortex.

Every kid growing up in the 1970s had Estes rockets.  You built them from kits, shoved fireworks-sized engines up their rears, then launched them into the sky.  Preferably in some large, open space.  That would give you a reasonable chance of recovering your device.

We had several parks and an abandoned airport that qualified.  But getting to any of them required a lengthy bicycle ride, or a willing adult with an automobile.  If we were too lazy for the first, and not lucky enough for the second, we always had the option of firing the rockets in our neighborhood.

Shooting them off amid houses and trees was risky.  If you can’t see the entire flight path, the odds of recovery diminish.  Barking dogs, fences and wind are not your friends when you are tracking a dot in the sky.

Thus began Sammy’s journey toward elbow patches.  Instead of the traditional vertical approach, he turned the launch pad 90 degrees.  Immediately, we had early prototypes of Hellfire missiles leaving smoke trails down our street.  That solved the problem of our toys going somewhere we couldn’t find them.

And created the problem of having dangerously fast objects flying around our neighborhood.  But since we were armed with the same good judgement that all teenagers possess, we embraced the extension of our hobby.  We were in control.

After we figured out how to account for gravity, we became adept at firing our rockets from the foot of my driveway.  We aimed them at the end of the street, where there was a large stand of trees.  By the time a rocket got to the trees, it would have spent most of its energy. Most fell safely to the ground after hitting leaves or branches.  Occasionally one would hit solid and something would break.  They were easy to fix.  And a few dollars to replace.

Some would get stuck in a tree.  We were climbers and retrievers, but for years you could see the ones we couldn’t get to, flopping around in the wind.

Confidence is a good thing but it is a dangerous weapon in the hands of any teen named Serge.  Properly built rockets fly predictably straight when launched in the absence of wind.  We were certain the houses on each side were safe.  We checked the street and driveways for oncoming cars.  We could see far enough down the lone side street to be sure no oncoming traffic would intersect our flight path.

I hadn’t learned yet about the exception to every rule.

In this case, it was Sammy’s older brother, Frank.  He was the most successful jock in the northern half of the state.  Tennis champion, badass wrestler, star running back on the football team.  Took us all the way to the state championship his senior year. 

After he got the scholarship to Football U, Frank’s daddy gave him a beautiful, jet black 1968 Mustang Shelby Cobra GT.  A racing car with a brutally powerful engine, that happens to be street legal.

They lived at the far end of the side street.  That fateful day, Frank had some kind of function to attend at school.  He happened to emerge from behind the last house at the same moment I pushed the ignition button.

If he had been driving in any way remotely resembling the speed limit, the rocket would have blazed past him before he made the turn.  But Frank never did anything like ordinary mortals.  He must have been going 50 before he slowed for the turn.  Any lesser vehicle would have flipped over rounding the corner as fast as that Shelby.

If I hadn’t aimed my rocket ridiculously low, it would have gone over the oncoming vehicle.  It was an old rocket I’d patched together so many times I was tired of it.  I launched it on a low path designed to hit the street while still going full speed.  I wanted it to disintegrate into a million pieces, like a dragster that goes out of control and cartwheels down the strip.

Turns out my rocket disintegrated into far fewer than a million pieces when it lodged squarely in the grille of the Shelby.

Sammy said my face turned as white as the Mustang was black when Frank got out of the car, scowled at me, and pulled the rocket out of the grille.  He threw it at me backhanded without even looking my way.  Perfect toss.  He truly was a great athlete.  He mumbled something about being too dressed up to kick my ass in this heat, got back in the Mustang, and took off.  The jock left a trail of scorched rubber on the street as he peeled out.

Our taste for neighborhood rocket launching diminished at that point.  In a few years, my friend would get a degree, then apply the skills he learned at the foot of my driveway to cruise missiles.  These days, when you read about drones blowing up bad people from far away, think Sammy.  He didn’t start putting the leather patches on his jacket until he had a parking space with his name on it. 

All I got out of the deal was this lousy story.

© Copyright 2018 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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