On the long list of early-adolescent activities I participated in, and of which I am not particularly proud (though nonetheless willing to share with thousands of “06880” readers), few rank higher than the true tale I am about to tell.
It is Halloween. I’m in 8th grade. I’m also desperate for acceptance by the hundreds of 8th graders clogging the halls of Long Lots Junior High, all of whom know telepathically how to dress (chinos and penny loafers), talk (“groovy,” “outasight,” “hey man”) and walk (coolly), while I have to work at such things as if they’re a full-time job.
I am part of the in crowd, which is merely the most important thing in the entire universe to me, but I am fully aware that my position there is tenuous. I can be cast out at any moment by the queen bee, who has the power to do such things and often does, just on a whim (or perhaps simply to watch her fellow 8th graders squirm).
So naturally I am
willing eager frothing to do anything it takes to stay cool.
Including tossing my own parents’ mailbox into the pond across the street.
I do not, mind you, set out that Halloween night to vandalize my mother’s and father’s mailbox. That is the furthest thing from my mind. The nearest thing is to follow along with whatever the rest of the in crowd does.
This, I quickly determine, is tossing other people’s mailboxes this way and that.
Now, I do not have anything against these folks. In many cases, I do not even know them. I have certainly never noticed their mailboxes.
And I should emphasize that I am not exactly a major player in this juvenile delinquency gang. I am not the person — Ricky, let’s call him — who cunningly determines which mailboxes will live, and which will die.
I am not the one — hmmm, Glenn sounds like a good name — who physically uproots the mailboxes Ricky has selected for extinction.
I am only one of many mindless drones who haul the mailboxes to the places our leaders decide will be the final resting places: The woods. The fields. The middle of the road.
Or, in the case of my parents’ mailbox, the pond across the street.
Let me say, in my defense, that I do not think trashing my parents’ mailbox is a particularly wise idea. I wonder whether they will be able to replace it in time for tomorrow’s postal delivery.
I hope they will not see me.
I pray the cops will not come racing down the street.
But like a good 8th grade follower, I keep my concerns to myself.
Part of my brain waits for my friends’ peculiar code of honor to kick in. The one that will enable them to say, in the middle of demolishing this particular mailbox, “Hey, wait a sec. That’s Dan’s parents’! Lay off, guys. This is wrong!”
Another brain part waits for someone to gracefully put his hands over my eyes while the dirty deed is being done.
I might as well wait for them to start discussing the use of imagery and allusion in Lord of the Flies.
Rather than letting me off the hook, my friends maliciously egg me on. To get me in exactly the right vandalistic frame of mind, they use the key phrase guaranteed to propel any insecure 13-year-old into action: “Come on, man. Everybody’s doing it.”
So I do it.
I help yank the mailbox out of the ground. I toss it in the air.
I hear the splash as it hits the water. I watch the ripples as it sinks slowly, s-l-o-wl-l-y, to its watery grave.
I feel ashamed, giving in so easily to my friends.
But I feel elated too, as my “buddies” slap my back. They congratulate me for trashing yet another mailbox.
For one more day, my place in the in crowd is secure.
There is, of course, a moral to this story. I am now many years older, and perhaps a bit wiser.
So here is a message, especially to all you socially insecure 8th graders out there:
If you even think about tossing my mother’s mailbox into the pond, I’ll kill you.