John Strikes Again

by Artie Richard

Once upon a time in Gerritsen Beach there were two best friends. One was John Kauffner and the other was me. I don’t think a cross word ever passed between us. Not that we didn’t disagree sometimes, just that it didn’t matter.

John was very smart and I was, well, normal. This put me at somewhat of a disadvantage. He was always able to outsmart me. Luckily he was not a mean person. However there were a few things that seemed to tickle his funny bone. I was raised as a fairly strict Roman Catholic. John was a fairly non-strict Lutheran. Few things gave him more pleasure than tricking me into eating meat on Friday, a huge no no for us Catholics. His poor mother, a saintly soul, would offer me lunch and it would cold cuts called Cincinnati. As soon as I had finished the sandwich John, with a wicked gleam in his eye, would inform me that it was Friday. Since it was summer vacation I never had a clue what day it was. I was sure I would go straight to hell. John strikes again.

On Sundays I had to continue to wear my "Sunday clothes," the same ones I had worn to Mass. It was considered the right thing to do by my grandmother. There were some who thought that the Pope would call her for advice from time to time. This could really cramp a kid’s style. It was almost impossible to have fun while wearing your best clothes. It meant you really had to be careful. John would usually think up some particularly disgusting, messy task to accomplish on Sunday. "Lets caulk the boat." Try to do that sometime without getting the stuff on your duds. "OK, John, but we’ll have to be real careful." Sure. John strikes again.

The most effective way of getting payback was one that was always entirely accidental. I would break John’s glasses. When I think of him during those years it is always with some kind of tape somewhere on his glasses. One day we were over at the park on the handball courts. John was sitting on a park bench. I was hitting stones with a stickball bat (broom handle). "Quit hitting them this way, ole Rich." As he said this he was sitting with his legs stretched out straight in front of him. One stone, so help me God, hit the ground in front of the bench, rolled up his leg and, like a heat-seeking missile, smacked him right in the eyeglass lens. I think he mumbled something like "Aw shit, ole Rich. Not again." Tape would not help this time. I don’t know what he was telling his parents because they never let on to me.

Another time we had come home from a Douglas Fairbanks movie, The Fighting O’Flynn, I think. Doug was always jumping and vaulting and leaping and doing falls, but mostly vaulting. At that time he was my hero. So I vaulted off of John’s back porch. Unfortunately I took the back porch railing with me. Probably rain-water-rotted anyways. To their eternal credit John’s parents were only interested in if I was hurt. They never even made a fuss about the dismantled railing.

One of the salient memories I have of this period involved John’s younger sister Marret. John and his sister were truly typical siblings since they never seemed to agree on anything. Luckily, since she was only a girl, it really didn’t matter what she thought about anything. She was at a time in her life where she was totally enthralled by horses. This might have been due to the fact that her father had been a Hussar of the Kaiser during WW I. At the time there were some popular and inexpensive plastic toys that took the form of running horses with bowlegged cowboy riders which slipped neatly onto the saddles. I guess Marret just dumped the cowboys but she had what seemed like hundreds of these horses. In reality it was probably about 30 - 40. They were all the same grayish, bluish colors. I assume, knowing Marret, that they all had names so they all had to look different, right ? A few bottles of Testor’s paints took care of that little problem. She made pintos, roans, blacks, whites, chestnuts, etc.

One day John hit on the most devious and devilish plan of his career and it didn’t have me as a target. It was so simple. Nobody would get hurt.

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As soon as he whispered the words I knew that he had hit on something really epic. "Let's paint Marret’s horses." All we had to do was wait until she left the room for about an hour or so. Of course we used John’s Testors since those colors were decidedly un-horselike. The whole thing took only minutes. Hell, neatness didn’t count. As a matter of fact, it was to be avoided. Then we waited. I must admit, now that I think back, to being just a bit nervous about what we had done. These were now ugly horses of biblical repulsiveness. What would happen when she saw her beloved horses in this condition ? I had seen Marret lose it once or twice. Now, too late, I began to have some misgivings. Then we heard her moving about in the room. The one thing we hadn’t thought of was that to get from John’s room to safety one had to go through his sister’s room. This was an unfortunate error in planning. Suddenly a scream. "OH GOD NO, OH NO." Silence. "I’LL KILL YOU." We both knew full well who YOU referred to. Instantly she was among us with something in her hand, I forget what. She seemed to be focused only on John as if I weren’t there. Her mouth twisted into a cruel slash between nose and chin, she somehow seemed... bigger. She gave new meaning to the word rage. Meanwhile, I stood as if in a trance literally unable to save my friend. I think he may have jumped up on his bed and found himself cornered. Leaping out the window probably was not an option since we were on the second floor. I clearly remember thinking how fortunate I was to have no siblings. My sister had not yet been born. Under normal conditions John would have been able to easily handle Marret’s attack. This was definitely not normal conditions. All the yelling had drawn Ma Kauffner to the scene and without her who knows what would have happened? Usually a word or two from Ma was enough. This time she had to place herself between the combatants or rather the combatant and victim. Both of us received a stern admonition on what a mean and nasty thing we had done. Personally, I liked the pink horse with the purple stripes. John strikes again.   

Time about 1947


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