Child Psychology and the Growth of Violence in America
Getting Hit by Guys Named Joe
Recent years have heaped publicity onto a large number of psychologists from the Home for the Humor Impaired. These and many other well meaning, if naïve, “adults” go around spreading the myth that children learn violent behavior from television. This is preposterous; children learn violent behavior from guys named Joe. Then again, perhaps this is another Up the Lake phenomenon. Nick, Skip, and I spent most summers Up the Lake with no TV at all, and all ended up just as psychotic as the average American boy, if not more so. Our mentors in our evolution to destruction tended to be guys named Joe (due to the inherent "Italian Bronxness" of most Up the Lake families) who were the previous generation of Up the Lake kids.
In order to keep each Joe straight for the beginners, I will vary capitalization. The following is a reference for our instructors of mayhem and their complex interrelationships to each other. Now then: JOE (whose father is named Joe) was up almost every weekend with large groups of friends at his cabin, which was far away from ours, making it a perfect hang out spot. (He now has two daughters.) NICK was one of the guys hanging out with JOE. He was also cousins with joe (whose father is also named Joe,) who would come up occasionally. (joe now has two sons, amazingly named Joe and Nick.) When JOE, NICK, and joe were growing up, they often hung around with Nick's older brother, (you guessed it) Joe (whose father isn't named Joe, but his brother-in-law, nephew, and son are. Also his son Joe's buddy is another Joe, from a different family’s cabin). Therefore, it is possible to yell, "Hey Joe!" on the beach when crowded, and get upwards of two hundred and seven heads to turn. (I do this for fun on slow days) Oddly, confusion is held to a minimum thanks to the use of Joseph, Joey, and the modifiers “big and little.” The latter tend to stick, leading to foolish anomalies like the large and imposing ex-high school football star that could, most likely, beat the tar out of all of us that still call him "little Rich”.
Speaking of beating the tar out of people, (didn't think I'd make it back to the main topic, did you?) Nick, Skip, and I learned much valuable information from hanging out with JOE, NICK, and friends; most of which is not repeatable in a family publication, and will never be revealed until our parents are too old to remember our names. Some of the tamer stuff had to do with weapons of destruction. These discussions and demonstrations, coupled with Nick's at home learning (possibly genetic, possibly from his brother Joe, the jury's still out on that one), meant I learned more about guns and knives, in that little cabin, than I did over two summers working in a government arsenal.
Along with happy little nuggets of information (like why the groove on a survival knife is called "a bleeder" and other nifty kid stuff), JOE and company also acted as referee and cheering mob at the boxing ring. The top part of the beach had a squared section surrounded by railroad ties, to keep the sand from being washed away. Nick as Skip would head directly to that area after returning from every single Rocky movie. I didn't go to the films as my tastes for "icky boy movies" didn't develop till later. (Translation: I was a big ole wuss.) They would then reenact the boxing matches, including all the cool lines on the beach. ("You ain't so bad" and "I must break you" were the most important.) In later years, when I first saw Rocky III, I was stunned to discover that I knew all the dialogue. Apparently it was nothing but cool lines. The rules were always 1) No really hard punches. 2) No head punches. 3) No rules after 1 or 2 have been broken. OK, number 3 was never actually said, but it inevitably happened. One accidental punch would send the two evenly matched combatants brawling in a flurry of arms and legs, and I would usually do something stupid, like be within fifty yards of the Tasmanian Devil like mass of destruction, and get sucked in too. Although I was bigger than those two, my coordination and fighting ability were not up to their levels. (Translation: I was a big ole wuss.) Therefore, I usually ended up severely dazed. (This may explain a lot.) If this sounds destructive (and it does), you should have seen the summer Star Wars opened, and we slapped the bejeezus out of each other with plastic oar “lightsabers.” Now, before our pals in the liberal press start blaming the movies for our belligerent playtime; the movies actually reduced chances of injury by suggesting some limitations and controls. When activities were just left up to our, and the Joe's (mostly the Joe’s) imaginations, things were never quite as safe.
Once JOE brought up a single pair of boxing gloves. Nick and Skip decided, after being encouraged of course, to try them out in a one handed match. Again, no head shots, jabs only, and the ungloved hand couldn’t be used. When ESPN decides to show one-handed, nighttime, preteen, deep-woods boxing, the "Tale of the Tape" will have only one variable: reach. Nick had it, and landed a continuous barrage of jabs. Skip did not, and was visibly beginning to seethe. (Good Jr. High vocabulary word there.) Finally, his eyes actually glowed bright red and flame shot from his nostrils. Then Skip let loose a mammoth, video game finishing move sized punch, directly at Nick's (stunned looking) face. Nick was more than willing to return the favor, after his head snapped back, but JOE, NICK, and a passing infantry division instantly grabbed him and said, "No...no... it was an accident," in a surprisingly honest tone. A couple of hours later, when things calmed down, JOE leaned back in his chair, and very philosophically said, "That was nooooo accident, Nick."
Just because I didn't have as great an inclination toward the fighting arts as my comrades, (Translation: I was a big ole wuss) doesn't mean I never joined in the festivities. One evening, Nick and I were hanging out with joe, and Nick and joe's sisters. joe decided Nick and I should box because he was bored. Many children have lost their lives due to the boredom of a Joe. Given the limitations of the space and supplies in the cabin, and our foolish willingness to follow anyone five or more years our senior named Joe: Nick and I found ourselves kneeling face to face, attempting to beat the snot out of each other with a throw pillow covering each fist. As the pillows were larger than our arms, and weighed half as much as we did, it was slow going for an incredibly long time. Eventually, Nick turned around to yell at his sister, to stop her continuous helpful advice. (Like, “hit him.”) I then threw a hook to his head that took three hours and fifty seven minutes to land, which it did, with a very unmanly sounding "flumph.” Based on this thunderous blow, joe decided I was the winner and therefore had the privilege of boxing him...whoopee. As soon as we started, he pushed his right pillow into my face, placing me in total sensory deprivation. Despite this handicap, I was able to launch a furious combination of punches, which I believe may have made it as far as his elbow. Then he would hit me in the side of the head with a throw pillow which I still believe was wrapped around an anvil. I would then execute a rolling crumple into the nearest wall. After dragging the bits of myself that were still functional back to the center of the room, the little play repeated another eighty or ninety times, until joe got bored, and airplane spun Nick until he threw up. Having had our fill of fun and thrills for the evening and realizing that even if you're hanging out with older guys, you can't be cool of you are nauseous and unable to stand, we went home.
The three of us did carry on the proud tradition. One day, when he was still “little,” Rich got into a fight with an older boy. Nick, Skip, and I stood guard with others around the boxing ring, until it was evident that the other boy was simply too big. During one of the round breaks, (Yes, sir, we had it all,) Nick told Rich that he should just make friends. Skip then whispered something to him; words of encouragement, we foolishly believed. Rich offered his hand in friendship to the other boy, when the other lad returned the offer, there was a sound like a wet sock slapping a dead fish. The other kid ran home holding his eye, and I put Rich on my shoulders and we carried him up. I can only dream that all the “little Joes” of my childhood will provide the same kind of support to the next generation someday.
The encounters with Nick's brother have been left until last because: while joe and JOE were quite adept at causing us to be entertaining and in danger of injury...Joe was the consummate artist. I can only assume it was the fact that Nick, and by extension us, was his younger brother that we got the "special" treatment that we did. Only true family love and devotion could bring out that level of creatively amusing torture. Joe not only shone in creativity, but also in timing, execution, and escalation. If Nick ever writes a book about growing up with his brother, it will make my stories look like an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine.
A typical evening with Joe began when he suggested foot races from his cabin to another one which lay down the rough dirt "road,” around a harsh right angle bend with a downward sloping curve, and then up a big hill. This race was to run under the enjoyment enhancing conditions of pitch darkness, no flashlights, and full speed, close pack running. There was nothing visible to describe, but each race sounded exactly the same: quickly pattering feet with one to four whoomps (there you is) along the way. After the first thirty or so tries we actually got to the point that not all of us would stumble into a nearby rock, tree or 1978 Chevy Impala. Therefore, Joe decided it would be more fun to play "Gauntlet" based on the Clint Eastwood Movie. For those of you who haven't seen it, the big finale is Clint driving an armored bus down a street with every armed bounty hunter in the known universe shooting at him. That would have been far easier. Joe had us run the race route one at a time. The other three would hide in the woods by the road, and then leap out of the darkness and hit him as he ran by...all in the name of fun. However, since the runner would occasionally make it by a single person without killing himself, this lessened Joe's entertainment. He then changed it, to all three people jumping out from the same surprise location. By this point everything below our waists has been twisted, sprained, or impaled on a wooden stake of some sort. The run had evolved into a tentative walk through the darkness, followed by a (failed) attempt to sprint by the attackers. I suppose at this point the name should have been changed from "Gauntlet" to "Mugging" but none of us was coherent enough to concentrate on nomenclature. Although my memory is a little fuzzy for the whole evening, I think Joe finally eliminating the running part, calling it something like "Thirty second endurance.” A better name would have been "Getting the hell beat out of you by your friends for the sole purpose of bringing entertainment to a guy named Joe,” but that would be too long for the club t-shirts. That summer I learned the true advantage of an older brother. It lets you experience the thrills of boot camp, without the hassles of actually joining the service.
I believe it was the same weekend where Joe came up with his crowning glory of nifty and amusing ways to injure us youngsters: B B Gun Tag. Yup, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Joe, naturally, was always it. He would, and I quote, “pump the gun only once”, and we would hide. You'd be surprised what an added incentive to stay hidden it is when, "tag, you're it," changes to, "bang.” Even though a single pump causes only a twinge of pain, and barely leaves a mark, the instinctive reaction to avoid being shot is still amazingly powerful. Having grown up Up the Lake, Joe was a crack shot, removing all of the suspense and mystery from the game. Nick was running serpentine up the road, while Joe calmly stood his ground leading his weaving target and shot him just as he reached the hill crest, making the whole scene look a lot like the end of a famous Tom and Jerry cartoon. At one point while I was hiding, I heard Joe pump the gun four times. Relying on my extensive mathematical training, I quickly computed that four was more than one, and immediately popped out of hiding and surrendered. (Being a big ole wuss does provide an occasional moment of safety.) As I was walking back to base Joe yelled, "Move!" and fired, what he claims to this day, was a warning shot without aiming, pointed nowhere near me. Eyewitness descriptions however indicate it was not the fact that the B-B decided this story needed a truly comic ending, which made it hit me in at the top of the thigh. I can only describe the sensation as a metallic bee sting. (Or is that a bee-bee sting?) For some reason, it was highly unnerving to actually see the thing sticking into the top of my leg, trying to pretend it was a brass pimple. I popped it out and, once again decided that I had just had too much fun that day, and it was time to pursue something less dangerous, like knocking trees on my head. If you ask Ashley, Joey and Nicole ("Nick") - Joe's three kids - what their favorite up the lake story is, they always say, "The time when Dad shot Jeff in the butt.” Hmmmmmmmm...Maybe it is genetic after all.