Flat Crazy

If I told you all the stuff that we did, or was done to us, or was done by those we knew you would deduce we were a bunch of idiots, jerks, and/or reprobates. Or worse. Too much TV was not a cause. We had none. Movies were not a factor because we were not allowed to go to them and what was showing there were old scratchy and spliced copies of El Cid, Spartacus and Ben Hur (although we were not  allowed to go to movies in our town this did not mean we did not go to movies somewhere else). We, we were told, were naughty by nature. We attempted to do our very best to prove them right.

Seefeldt (in this case, Paul, not his older brother Dale the genius behind our learning to hotwire the mission jeep) would do just about anything on a dare. Sometimes it took a little bit of a bet plus the dare. Take the time, for instance, when he sucked an atabrin tablet to the very last bitter bit. We all got giardia sooner or later, in spite of the fact we had cast iron stomachs and could eat anything anywhere (and did). For giardia one takes atabrin. This small, innocuous yellow pill is remarkable in its extreme bitterness. If you swallow it quickly, you are fine. But if you happen to hold it on your tongue for a nano-second too long….the bitterness lingers long.

The bet was this. The first person to suck that little yellow monster to the very end would get 20 roops (rupees). This was a group effort, and a number of us promised to ante up 5 roops each in the event of a winner. I tried it. Within the first five seconds I wished I hadn’t. Even though I scraped my tongue the taste lasted all day long. 20 roops was way, way too small an amount.

One of the interesting byproducts of this little yellow pill is that you turned yellow too. Your pee was yellow. Dark yellow. Your skin turned yellow. And even your eyeballs would become a pale yellow. You could always tell when there was girdia going around by a quick glance at skin tone.

Seefeldt eventually won the bet, fair and square (rules demanded it be proctored because, as you will recall, we were aware of the inherent evil of mankind and the possibility of cheating). He said he needed the money.

It was Seefeldt who also shot a marble all the way up the hill to Ellengown from the school. Took him several hours, a good walk spoiled. This was during marble season. I suppose he wanted the practice.

It was Conrad, however, that ratcheted things up a notch with his pipe gun. He came to school one day with fleck marks all up his right arm all the way to his arm pit. Seems he had someone in the buzz (i.e. the bazaar) weld one end of a pipe up, weld two handles onto it and drill a small hole near the welded end. With a little firecracker powder tamped in there and using the fuse through that little hole you could effect quite a little bang. You could say they were having a blast. The amount of powder got a bit bigger and the notion to put some wadding in and some gravel in and tamping it all down seemed like a good idea at the time. Until the back end exploded. Conrad had a high-pitched infectious laugh and he laughed about it, but he had come pretty close to doing some serious damage to himself.

And then some idiot decided that hair on your legs was not enough to define you as a real man. You had to prove it by bounding out to Sircunda and back in a day. Christy did it. Wagner did it. Everyone was doing it. 20 miles out there. 20 miles back. O.K. O.K., me too. And, as always happens, these things get just totally out of hand. And by the time I was a senior Walter Clark and I decided that we would jog out to Nag Tiba and back in a day–50 miles and a lot more up and down, much more difficult than the Sircunda day hike.

We got out there in about five and half hours. We had heard that Fleming (Mr. Bob Fleming, our biology teacher, when he was a student at Woodstock) had done the trip out and back in 12 so we were out to beat that. Shoulda. Coulda. Woulda–if it had not been for the monsoon clouds and the less than brilliant idea of trying a shortcut down a mountain we were unfamiliar with. We realized in fairly short order that we had erred but because of the clouds we could not orient ourselves to where we were. Were we on the north side of Nag or the south? Turned out to be the north. Oops, wrong side.

So it took us 16 hours. Or 17. I would like to forget. 

Yes, we did some dumb things. And some of them turned tragic. Steve Schoonmaker was pretty dexterous. It was Steve who started us on “tree to tree”–seeing how far we could go before touching the ground. His leaps onto Deodar branches from nearby trees were really quite amazing. It was Steve who told us how one could, if one wanted, reach out of the door on a train, grab the bathroom window bars and from there ease around to the area between the bogeys (dangling there for a second or two before you made it to where your feet would touch something again) from whence you could climb onto the roof of a moving train. But I am sure Steve was not the one who first discovered this. The year after we left India, Kenny Getter, a good friend of my brother Norman, and Fred Bauer, who was in our WNHS (Woodstock Natural History Society), were standing on the roof of a train facing the wrong way when it passed under a low bridge. Both were killed instantly.

Mason was a case all by himself. It was rumored he had perfected a type of liquid gel which was supposed to be applied to a doorknob. The gel would dry and when  the next person grabbed the handle and turn it, the gel would flash into flames. It sounded pretty cool but I never saw it. I did see the dynamite. He bought this from Smiley on Mullingar Hill and would break up the stick into smaller half inch and one inch segments. If you ever visit Landour and come across any of the pipe fencing at the chukkar that looks amazingly like a pretzel, it could have been his handiwork.

And it was from Mason I bought Punga, his little chainsaw driven go-cart. I was standing at the fence at Chenowyth when I hear this high-pitched motor screaming up the hill from Mullingar. We could identify nearly every vehicle that came our way by its sound and this was not on our charts. For a brief instant I saw something small and orange flash by Ivy Cottage. The thing came zipping up the hill, full tilt and when it came by the house and up and beyond Kellogg church I was flabbergasted. Here was Mason, ruddy cheeked, hair swept back, grinning like the tooth fairy zinging by at 35 MPH about 2 inches off the ground in a go cart. That may not seem strange to you. But in that location in India 1967 it was strange, different, unique and intriguing. Mainly because we had never ever seen one out there. Ever. I headed over to Prospect Lodge just the other side of Sister’s Bazaar where he was staying. This thing was a marvel of engineering, a simple McCulloch chainsaw engine set at a full throttle with only a cutoff switch on the steering wheel, activated by the right thumb. EVERYONE wanted to give it a try.

What made it ever more of a marvel was that he devised a two-fer-one deal. You could take the two front wheels off the go-cart and attach them to another frame he had for a mini-bike. Then you could detach the engine and chain drive and transfer them over and bolt them onto this same frame and…whadya know, a mini-bike. This thing went just as fast as the go-cart but tipped over very easily, as I was to discover.

I asked Mason what he was going to do with it…hint hint (SELL IT TO ME). Thus started several weeks of bargaining and in the end I paid 500 rupees for it, about a hundred dollars, a raja’s ransom at the time. But I HAD to have it. It was way, way too fast to be merely dangerous. A year later we were leaving and I had to sell it and got what I had in it. My need for speed was satiated by this little punga (which means “useless” in Punjabi, so named by Kishan who ended up doing repairs on it when it went down). 

There are some things that happen that just happen. There are other things that happen that happen by choice. Considering just the latter, I could have been dead by now. Me and a lot of my classmates.