The Rough Boys and Treasure Island
Although it was steemin’ hot and quite late in October, Spiderman would not make for the shade.A guard never leaves his post.So he stood by the entrance and waited,
his eyes looking up the block, his feet placed solidly on the pavement, his intentions steadfast.He was like a large grey rock. To him, guarding was more than a job.It was his duty.And, as someone
once said, “Dooty is dooty, to be sure.”
Finally at 3:30 they showed up at the end of the block on Alondra.Small they were and a little hard to make out.But he knew it must be them.Besides, who else walked
together in threes all wearing white uniform shirts?It was them all right.
They were, from left to right, or from short to tall, whichever you choose:Juan Plata, short and precious, his head buried in a book, Billy Huesos, taller and almost
skeletal, and Israel Manos, the leader, probably because he was tallest of all.They were rough boys. They were the nicest in the hood.It depended on who you talked to.
Israel pushed open the gate saying, “Hi Spiderman.” Billy patted him on the head as he walked by.Johnny said nothing.Like I said, his head was buried in a
book.Spiderman wagged his tale.Now they would let him off his chain.Now he could play or chew on a bone. His charges were home from school.
The lot was there in East Rancho Dominguez.Don’t get me wrong.It sounds rural, all old California.It’s not.It’s right next to the armpit of L.A., Compton.No one would
stay there if they had the money to move out.Not if they were in their right mind.So the boys lived in Rancho Dominguez but they went to Roosevelt Middle School just five blocks away in
Compton.Still, the lot where they played wasn’t bad.It had a lot going for it.That’s why they were there.
Number one it was safe.The surrounding cement block walls plus guarding by Spiderman made it so.Nowadays they’d call it a “safe haven.”And there was supervision.Juan’s
grandpa lived there in a trailer on one end, one of those silver Airstream jobs.
It was much safer than the park on Atlantic Avenue.There was no dope dealing or scoring going on and no gangsters.The only crack pipes they found were
only there because people out on the street had thrown them over the wall trying to hide the evidence just before getting hassled by the Compton Sheriffs. Even then they’d be broken.Gramps would
have to clean them up with a broom.Naturally he complained to Israel when it was his turn to hold the dustpan. Being old he complained a lot.
“ I got better things to do than sweep up broken glass,” he’d say, “ at least the junkies eat their bags of tar.”
“Whadda you expect the crack heads to do?” Israel replied, “Eat glass?”He was such a thoughtful boy.
The only other problem was when they’d have to repaint the outer walls when tagging crews from the 7Os would cross out the graffiti of the CGs, or
that of Lime Hood.But that was cool.Gramps had plenty of paint.Juan would often do the job, trying to get kids in the hood to help him, trying to convince them it was fun.He probably thought he was
Tom Sawyer or something.Always had his head in a book.But lots of paint wasn’t the only thing they had.They had junk, plenty of junk.Other parks had leaky water fountains, rusty swing sets, yellow
grass and cigarette- butt sand boxes but they had more than that. They had junk.
They sat down as they always did at the round wooden spool table.Here they ate lunch on Saturdays, had councils of war on Sunday night, and plotted
play the rest of the week. This was a Monday.So what would it be?
“Cops and drug fiends?” said Billy.
“King Arthur and his Knights?” said Israel, “We already got the table.”
They both looked at Juan for his suggestion.None came.He was silent in his book.
“Oh shit,” said Israel, “he’s deep in it again.”
Billy knew what this meant.Juan was deep in his book and wouldn’t come out.He wouldn’t talk.No response. Not unless you broke the code.It couldn’t be
done unless you knew the key.
Billy leaned over and peered at the cover.
“What is it this time?” asked Israel.
“Something called Treasure Island,” he replied.
“Then we’re in for a quiet spell.I know nothing about it.”
“Me neither,” remarked Billy.
Israel sat back, crossed his arms, put his fist under his chin and pondered.Juan was so hard to reach when he was like this.He wouldn’t come out ‘till
he finished, or until you spoke to him like a character in the book. Sometimes it lasted a chapter.Sometimes it was the whole book.He looked over.It wasn’t too thick this book.
“Wadda you think?” posed Billy.
“I think we’re gonna hafta wait,” he replied.
“But I gotta go home in an hour. Just break the code,” he pleaded.
“Like I said, I know nothing about it.I’ll never find the key in time.”
Any code breaker knows that to break a code you have to know the key.For Juan the key was in the book.If, somehow you could talk to him through the
book, you’d break the code and he’d snap right out of it.But Israel knew nothing of the book.Not too many seventh- graders had read a novel.In class, when the teacher asked, “Now who here has read
a novel?Raise your hands.” Only one hand went up out of thirty-six kids.Thirty-six.And it wasn’t like he had a copy of Cliff’s notes in his back pocket.He checked.
“I suggest,” he said to Billy, “we make it two, Sir Lancelot and Sir Gawain.King Arthur here is busy.”
So they found two sticks of appropriate length, followed by two garbage-can lids with appropriate shine, and repaired to Camelot, which was on the
other side of the lot, leaving King Arthur at his round table, neatly wrapped up between the pages of Stevenson.
Two days later he was still the same.They sat at the table again.But this time Billy said,
Israel watched.Billy turned to Juan and said, “Is that you Black Dog?”
At this Spiderman’s ears went up.
“Not you Spiderman, you’re grey. Sit down boy.
Spiderman sat down.
“And quit ear-hustling.”
He turned back to Johnny.
“It is you Jim Hawkins?”
Johnny’s eyes brightened but he didn’t respond.He did however lower the book a bit.
Israel watched intently.He sensed Billy had something up his sleeve.
“Watch this,” he said.“Is that you Long John Silver?”
He put down the book immediately, faced him and said, “Yes my lad, said he; such is my name to be sure.And who may you be?”
He’d broken the code.Israel was flabbergasted.How had he done it?He asked him straight away.
“I lucked out.I was watching Disney’s re-runs last night.They had on his first color movie,Treasure Island.It was good too.It was about a pirate, Long
John Silver and about a treasure
island what else?”
So that was it. Now Juan was talking.The problem was he was only talking like Long John Silver. But at least that was something. From now on they
would have to call him John or Johnny. He would pay attention to them, sometimes nodding in agreement, sometimes shaking his head.If the situation fit, he’d talk, but only like Silver.It wasn’t
much but it was something.
Halloween came.It was no surprise that Johnny was dressed as a pirate. He even had a stuffed bird, an old cat toy, glued to his shoulder.When they
asked him about it he said,
“I calls my parrot Cap’n Flint, after the famous buccaneer.”
No matter who he thought he was, or how he dressed, he got no more candy than the rest. A pirate can’t pirate more candy than a criminal or a ghost.
They knew this because they counted it all right there on the table, “dividing up the spoils” they called it.Even the others had got into the spirit.After Halloween they found new things to get
into, new treasures.The grandpa would watch them and fill the lot with the treasures he brought back each weekend when he went collecting on trash day.When he was a boy people called him a
trash-picker.Now they called him “green”.It irritated him.
“I can’t see why they call an old fart like me green,” he said, “It just don’t make no sense.”
He went out on weekends collecting junk.The boys would help him sort it out when he got back.The lot was full of it.Old refrigerators, spools of
copper wire, glass antique door knobs turning purple in the sun.New stuff every week.One day he came home with two large gray cylinders.
“Come help me lift ‘em out boys,” he said, “they’re mighty heavy.”
They placed them against the wall.
“What are these Gramps?” Israel asked.
“Hell if I know,” he shook his head, “but they’re full of somethin’.Heavy things are often valuable. ‘Less they’re rocks of course. Some of them’s
valuable too, like diamonds, rubies, and such.Billy looked at the cylinders. They were a dull grey and marked army.
“Well,” said Billy “if weight makes ‘em valuable, those things must be a treasure!”
Johnny didn’t have to agree aloud.His aching muscles told him it must be true.
The next day at the round table Israel made an announcement.
“I know what’s in the bottles,’ he said, ‘it’s helium.My mother bought some balloons from the 99 cent store.Helium bottles are all the same color.And
I got better news, this!”
With that he removed two packs of 99 cent balloons from his pocket and waved them about.
“You’re a lad, you are, but you’re smart as paint,” said Johnny, “I seen that when you first come in.”
Their fate had been decided.They became balloonists. They proceeded to fill the sky of Compton, Rancho Dominguez, and Paramount with balloons.Who
knows where else they drifted.Red ones there were and blue, yellow, and green. Naked balloons and one with strings. Then they tied dirty notes to them and sent them aloft.I’m sure whoever read them
was shocked. Like I said, they were rough boys.
One day Gramps said, “Winter’s coming on and I need an Army field jacket.Want to come along?”
For a boy of thirteen an army surplus store is impossible to turn down.They all answered yes except Johnny. He said,
“Thank you kindly sir,” and saluted.
While Gramps was looking for a jacket they foraged through the canteens, steel helmets and backpacks hoping to find a Luger, or a Walther P38.Israel
found something even more valuable, a stash of surplus air force weather balloons.Huge ones.
“Do you know what we could do with these?!” said Billy.
Of course they all knew.
“If we was only rich.” Israel said with a sigh.They knew what could be done with them as much as they knew they were broke.
As they drove home Gramps noticed they were quiet for a change, like they were lost in thought.
The next day they were attaching toy soldiers to the strings instead of nasty notes.It might have gone on that way forever, or until the gas ran out,
but Billy changed all that when he announced one day that he’d seen a movie called Danny Deckchair.
“Yeah,” he continued over their round-table discussion, “the guy attached his balloons to a chair just like ours and took off!”
“No!” said Israel.
“Seriously Homie, he flies right away!”
Johnny’s eyes opened enthusiastically.
They bought two packs, filled up 10 balloons and attached them to the chair.Nothin.,Ten more.Nothin. Twenty more and it hadn’t moved an inch. The next
day the news was even worse when Israel said,
“I googled it during computer lab and you know how many balloons it takes?Four thousand!”
“Four thousand party balloons.But it would take only four the size of the ones we saw at the surplus store.”
“Yeah,” said Billy, “ but we can never afford it.That’s twenty bucks!”
Just then Johnny walked up.He could see they were obviously sad about something.
“Why there you all are together, like a happy family, in a manner of speaking.” There’s nothin’ like a sarcastic pirate.
They told him what they’d found out and how impossible it all seemed.
“I know when a game’s up, I do; and I know a lad that’s staunch.”
Israel took heart from his words.
“I’m a staunch lad I am,” he said, “and I’m not going to give up.We can do this thing.”
He looked at them both and stood up straight and looked even taller than usual.
“We can do this thing if we really want to.Once we set our course I’d hate to be the man who’d stand in our way.Let’s do it men.”
“We can split the price three ways,” offered Billy, “What man of us can’t raise seven bucks?”
“But dash my buttons!” said Johnny.
“It’s settled then.It shall be done.We’ll sign articles on it.”
“By the powers,” said Johnny, “but this tops the stiffest yarn to nothing!”
And so it was decided.
A week later they all had the money.Billy got it from taking back dead car batteries to Liberty Battery on Atlantic Avenue where they rebuilt them.
Gramps had two in the yard.He got the last one with a five finger discount from a dusty car parked in an alley.They weren’t going anywhere anyway.Johnny got his money up when he cut up some soap
and bagged it up.A dealer who posted up in a garage worked through a hole in the garage door. When he left for lunch Johnny took his place.He sold it as a dime to a crackhead.He figured he was
doing him a favor.Israel got a pizza from Two-for-One Pizza on Alondra.Someone had ordered a big one right before closing time and never picked it up.Wonder who it was?He happened to stop by and
picked it up for free. They knew him there. Then he went door to door and sold the big one for a dime.They took it at the third door he went to. So the money was up.They were rough boys.
For the ship they choose the lightest aluminum armchair they had, the one that folded.
“We should name our craft,” said Billy, “people name boats and aircraft all the time.We’ll name her,” he said looking at Johnny, “the
Hispaniola.”Being Hispanic, all three were of one mind.So the Hispaniola she was.They attached thick nylon cord for the balloons and stepped back to look at her. She was completely makeshift,
totally unsteady, and no doubt dangerous. So they loved her to death.I’ve known women who were the same.
“Ah, she’s a handsome craft, she is,” said Johnny.It was a sentiment shared by three.
There was only one thing more to decide.Who’d sail her?She’d stand only one.
“That’s got to be either you or Johnny,” Israel said looking at Billy, “I’m too heavy.I guess you’ll have to flip.”
They flipped and fate sealed it in a flash, snap, just like that.It was Billy. Johnny’s face showed instant disappointment.But he was one of the
crew.He’d share equally in the glory no matter how small he was.They’d signed articles.
Israel asked, “Shall we launch it now, or shall we wait?It’s almost dark.”
Johnny answered, “ Wait is what I say; but when the time comes, why let her rip!”
It was decided then.They’d launch it in the morning.
Saturday morning was clear and warm.Spiderman had assumed his post.He didn’t know it was Saturday.So when he saw some figures down the block
approaching, not wearing white uniform shirts, and not at the proper time, he was a bit disconcerted. He stood at attention.When they got close enough to make out he saw it was the three alright,
but not dressed as usual. Israel Manos looked almost the same, but walked with a measured pace, a bullhorn in his hand.Billy Huesos had on a steel army helmet and was wearing fatigues and a BB
pistol in a holster. Johnny Plata had on his tri-cornered hat from Halloween, the stupid cat-toy bird Captain Flint plastered on his shoulder, and a wide belt with a plastic cutlass looped through
it.They were keeping step together like soldiers on parade.
Israel pushed open the gate and said seriously, “We expect you to do your duty today Spiderman.”Billy patted him on the head with his gun hand.Johnny
said nothing even though his head was not in a book.“Dooty is Dooty, to be sure.” thought Spiderman.This day was going to be different. Spiderman went on high alert. They marched to the launch site
and grabbed the helium canisters.
Billy straightened his helmet.Johnny straightened his parrot.Israel checked the batteries in the bullhorn.They began filling the balloons.They’d fill
up pretty quick. Attached by the nylon cord the first one rose skyward until it peaked over the wall. That left three to go.Number two wasn’t any harder.The chair rose about two feet, straining on
the ropes attached to the stakes in the ground, the ground wires.
“You better get in now,” said Israel, “me and Johnny can handle it from here.”
Billy got in.He was beginning to sweat.The chair settled back down immediately. The ground wires went slack.
“What’s the matter?” he bawled.
“We still got two to go.Don’t worry.It’s just your weight.” said Israel.
They filled up number three.Still nothing.Ground wires slack, movement nothing.Still, Billy sweat even more. He wasn’t sure this was going to
“We still got one left,” announced Israel.The three balloons, attached as they were by six foot ropes to the arms of the chair were in the air now and
way over the height of the wall. People on the street were beginning to take notice.That wasn’t good.
They started to fill the last balloon. Johnny’s eyes were as big as saucers.This afternoon was going to be big he just knew it.Israel grabbed the
bullhorn and announced to Spiderman,
“Spiderman, stay alert, don’t let anyone in.It’s almost launch time.”
Spiderman thought, “What did he say?Why’s he telling me to stay alert?I’m always alert for lunch. It’s my duty.Dooty is dooty , to be sure.”
And he had a duty to perform as now a crowd was forming outside the gate. It was a chain-link gate and he could see right through.Men were carrying
their children there on their shoulders. Women were pushing their babies in strollers there to see what was going on.Soon the police would probably come.
The last balloon had filled.The ground wires were straining but not enough.The wind was flexing them.Slack then taut, slack then taut.Sweat was
running down Billy’s face in torrents.
“What the Hell’s the matter?” he bawled.
“The weight’s too much,” Israel answered.The balloons are full!We got to cut down on the weight!”
Outside, a crowd was heading toward the gate.A police siren started wailing off in the distance.
Billy knew what he had to do.He jumped off.The ground wires went taut again. They were under unbelievable strain.He pulled out his gun and turned to
“It’s all your fault,” he said, “so you’ve got to face the consequences.He stepped towards him with the gun.Then he handed it to him.
“When you want to come down,” he said, “just shoot a balloon or two.They’re BBs, not pellets, the holes should be small.She should come down real
Johnny took it from him with care and placed it in his belt.A friend is a friend even if he is a rough boy.The siren stopped.A black and white had
pulled up to the gate.
Johnny looked at the balloon.Three seconds earlier he would have never considered sitting in the deck chair.Three seconds later he couldn’t imagine
having sat anywhere else.
They cut the ground lines and he was off.It may be noted by fans of Stevenson that this was the first time the Hispaniola, carrying Long John Silver
and Captain Flint, set sail since her first voyage in 1883.It only confirms my suspicion that such risky occupations such as treasure seekingare not exclusive to any age, be it of man or
Asthe ship with balloon sails ascended, Long John looked down. Two sheriffs were approaching the lift off point and the two remaining rough boys.He
“Did any of you gentlemen want to have it out with me?”
But he never heard their answer.The men, the boys, even massive Spiderman were getting too small now.He could see the whole block, then two blocks,
then more.Soon he could see from Alondra to Compton Boulevard. At first he was scared, being up so high.But now everything appeared like a model train set.Look, the tiny cars were there.Then there
were the tiny trees.And look, there was the train too.Everyone knows Compton was on the other side of the tracks, the wrong side.And so it was.He could see it quite clearly, though it was getting
smaller and smaller.The only problem was, how could he steer a course for Treasure Island?But not to worry, the wind would see to that.
You’d think Treasure Island was out at sea next to Catalina.It wasn’t. It must be inland somewhere, as that’s where the wind was carrying him.It took
him up near some big smog-congested city, then over green hills.That’s when he caught a glimpse of it.The island.
Yes, that must be it.He was in the right place.Because couldn’t he see birds?It looked like large pink birds.He turned to Flint, who was still on his
shoulder and said,
“Ah, “says he, “this here is a sweet spot, this island- a sweet spot for a lad to get ashore on.It’s a pleasant thing to be young, and have ten toes,
and you may lay to that.”
He took the gun out of his belt, and shot one balloon.He descended slowly, just a bit at a time. Yes, they were tropical birds!He’d seen pictures of
them.They were flamingoes. And there were the trees.Certainly trees like that never grew in Compton!And there were other animals too he’d never seen before.So this must be the place . It was
surrounded by water as any island should be.And there was an open area where he could land.He made another shot as he drifted over it.He came down same as before, and landed with a gentle thump.
Now he’d unbuckle the seatbelt and disembark.But he had one problem.His seatbelt was stuck.He thought he had all the time in the world to get it loose but he didn’t, because behind the log right in
front of him, just catching his scent, was a full grown male Bengal tiger.What was he doing on an island?Nothing.He wasn’t on an island.He was right at home in the L.A. zoo.So he got up to
investigate. You can imagine how shocked he was to find a young tender pirate there on his island surrounded by its moat.He wondered just how he’d got there.He wondered again just what was it about
this young tender pirate that smelled so good?He decided to find out.
Long John saw the tiger.He was too terrible, too big, and much too close for his liking. Right now you probably think the Juan in him was trembling.It
wasn’t.The Long John in him wouldn’t let it.He was as cool as a sea cucumber.The tiger was within two feet.His whiskers were as thick as pencils.His eyes glowed like flaming coals.Before he could
duck, the tiger let out a terrible roar, and swiped his paw by Long John’s face, knocking Captain Flint off his shoulder.The claws were like needles and left five marks on his cheek. He wouldn’t
take any more.He was a Rough Boy.He was long John Silver.The tiger had finished his roar, so he said to him,
“Put a name on what you’re at; you ain’t dumb I reckon.Him that wants shall get it.”
The Tiger stood down and walked over to the already senseless Flint and pawed him a bit.He wasn’t going to fight at all.
Long John finally got the seatbelt unbuckled.He said to the tiger who was now rubbing his face against Flint,
“That’s your sort, is it?Well, you’re a gay lot to look at, anyway.Not much worth to fight you ain’t.”
By this time a huge crowd had formed outside the moat.People visiting the zoo that day were there along with helicopters flying overhead, reporters
arriving by the score, and dozens of cops including the swat team in their Hummers.They didn’t know what to do.The tiger seemed completely occupied with Flint, rubbing his face on him, pushing him
about with his paw. Long John looked up and saw them staring.It irritated him. They seemed obsessed with finding a way to get him out but didn’t want to enter the tiger’s layer. Really they had
nothing to fear.The answer was simple as soup.
Captain Flint wasn’t a real parrot, remember?He was a retired cat toy.Being that he was stuffed with catnip, he had little to fear but a severe
mauling.Right now he was doing a somersault in the back of the enclosure. (the tiger not Captain Flint)Someone found a long ladder and persuaded Johnny to come over the moat.He did, but at the last
moment they wouldn’t give him a hand up.
“Who’ll give me a hand up?” He roared.
He had to shinny over the cement wall, and doing so he skinned his knee. That pissed him off.He stood on the top of the wall and looked at the crowd
severely.Being a Rough Boy, and being Long John Silver, he spit in front of them all, right on their precious cement.
“There!” he cried, “that’s what I think of ye.Before an hour’s out I’ll stove in your blockhouse like a rum puncheon.”
They’d never heard a boy talk like this before.They started laughing, all of them.
“Laugh, by thunder ,laugh!Before an hour’s out, you’ll laugh upon the other side.Them that die’ll be the lucky ones.”
They considered what he said.They considered how he said it.They considered that he’d tamed the tiger.They fell silent.
A cop approached him with a blanket, bundled him off the wall, and stuck him into an ambulance thinking he’d gone quite mad.
Now you’re probably thinking there was no treasure in all this but there was.It started with interviews with CNN.There were the interviews first, for
all of them, all three.Then that was followed by their appearances on the Tonight Show and Saturday Night live.Then there were book deals, followed by the movie, and finally the television
series.All three cashed in on the treasure and shared it equally. They’d signed articles.In short, the three poor boys from Rancho Domingues were rich.I can’t tell you what they all spent it on but
I’ll tell you about one thing.
Long John, who was back to Juan now he’d finished the book, bought a wonderfully smart African Grey which he named Captain Flint. He taught it to
talk. He gave me a present of a Moroccan bound first edition of Treasure Island we bought at Christies in London.Why me?Because I’m his Gramps of course. I’m older now than I was then and I was old
then.I have trouble sleeping at night.I have dreams of the whole affair.“And the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts, or start upright in bed, with the
sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears; Pieces of eight!Pieces of eight!”Damn bird.
Author’s note:If any of this seems too familiar it’s probably because every bit of Juan’s dialogue is pirated word for word from Long John Silver’s
statements from the classic book Treasure Island.I had to admit it because didn’t Long John say, “Dooty is Dooty, to besure.”?Sorry R.L.S.
© Copyright 2016 Steven Hunley. All rights reserved.