Have you ever entered into a battle outnumbered?
Thirty-five years ago, I spent a summer at war. That fight changed how I see the nature of conflict. Instead of a sling and five smooth stones, I used the common potato to defeat a Goliath of a different sort – a large band of teens.
At that time of my life, I was living in a co-op in Toronto, and did most of my work from home. I was court sketching by day, and doing illustration work late at night. Now a freelancer gets the jobs that no full timers want to do, because they’ve already put in their regular hours. Freelance pick up the overflow, and thus often work into the wee hours of the morning. Generally, you are finishing your work not long after the first cock has crowed.
Compounding this lack of sleep was another factor. The young couples who had originally populated these co-ops gave birth to children who by then, had grown into teenagers. Most people know that teens are nocturnal – they spend endless hours at night just hanging out.
Every evening in the summertime those teenagers would congregate in the green space lining both rows of co-operatives. They would smoke weed, drink, and put on their boom boxes loud, very loud. That music would reverberate all up and down that corridor like a sound chamber. Boom, boom boom, plus the loud babble of voices, all night long.
Because I had a studio apartment I had to leave my one window open for ventilation and fresh air. That meant that I had no buffer from the excessive noise. Yes, I did all the usual things. I complained to the various co-op boards, no help there. I complained to the law. The few times the police responded, the party just broke up for half an hour and then started up all over again once they left.
Eventually, I took matters into my own hands. It happened like this.....
One night I woke up per usual. Boom, boom boom. You might say I snapped. This is the frame of mind that precipitates all crimes of passion. I went to my cupboard and grabbed a bag of potatoes. From the open window I started to hail fire and brimstone upon that unholy noise below. Whack, thump, whisssssh... “What was that? What the Hell? Hey who threw that? Ow, (thud), son of a bitch I’m gonna kill somebody!”
I looked down. My bag off ammo was spent. I realized for the first time, that black darkness was on my side. Looking up through the glare of the street lamps, they didn’t know where that volley of missiles was coming from. There was confusion, the thumping of running feet, and the party dispersed in full retreat. I had routed the enemy.
A strange calm ensued. The lowly potato had accomplished what months of complaining could not.
I realized that I had been lucky. My attack had only succeeded because my location remained undetected. I decided that I would not push my luck, but that I would operate under subterfuge. I would throw a single item every night at whatever time I woke up. After that I would go back to bed leaving everyone nervously waiting for the next salvo. I started buying groceries in a new way. I saved out eggs, which sat on my counter going green. I was empowered. Stuff that had occupied the back of my fridge, destined for the garbage, suddenly regained a new life and a new purpose. I was reborn.
The battle became a bizarre comedy. One night the teens thought they could identify my window. They started to rain garbage and rocks on an apartment below me. When a bewildered bald middle aged man appeared on the balcony, he was assaulted with the same barrage. He called the cops and I could hear the teens trying to convince them, “But officer, HE THREW AN EGGS AT US”. “Yeah right kid, keep it moving, step into the cruiser”.
Over the course of the summer, my strategy proved to be effective. That nightly mosh pit was moving further away from my window. Even though they couldn’t figure out exactly where the missiles were coming from, they could get a sense of my vector and range. By the end of the summer, they congregated far away, at the opposite end of the park. I had one last victory that reinforced to me, that I have a pretty good arm – a dead on hit with a rotten egg, from about a hundred yards. Take that baggy-pants kid.
By the end of the summer, I had won. No more nightly disturbances. Yet I was strangely deflated. I learned something about those who enter into the theatre of combat. You can take the dog out of the game, but you can’t take the game out of the dog. It’s the nature of being human – I missed the conflict. It had given my life a strange meaning and purpose over and above the mundane. It had made me feel virtuous, virile, defiant, counter-culture. It was that strange flaw we all share, that the act of war might be the oldest and most universal source of human entertainment.
I also learned some useful life lessons.
Any s***-disturber can feel virtuous. You just need to find an enemy to throw things at.
If you have a good strategy and patience, time is on your side.
And now I know today, yes it’s true. Teen-agers CAN be trained.