Note: A story about ‘play’. Before LEGO, before Star Wars, before video games, there was just ‘Little Mouse’ and ‘Big Mouse’, the names my twin brother and I used to refer to one another while we played together. The origin of those chosen names is lost forever, but the memory of them is still resident. It was a time of few rules, few boundaries, and high adventure. We were 6 years old.
“Big Mouse and Little Mouse”
It was a summer afternoon in the mid- 1970’s. TV programming had morphed from morning game shows into midday soap operas which meant the time had arrived to find something else to do. Midday TV was a barren landscape for several hours until Loony Tunes fired up again at 3:30.
Until then, it was time to play outside.
I ran out of the house, my twin brother close behind me. The screen door slammed against the side of our Southern California bungalow. We never used the front-door. The door-knob was broken, and only the dead-bolt worked. The only people that ever came to the front-door were sales people, complaining neighbors, or in rare instances, the police, so we knew to be cautious when answering if someone knocked.
Right outside the side-door was our driveway. It extended 100 feet, crawling up a modest hill just off the street, then jetting back past the house, past our first backyard, and straight up to the detached garage.
My brother chased me out the door with his disc-shooter, a plastic gun bought a few days early from the Lucky’s supermarket toy aisle. It shot little round spinning discs of various colors at middling speed: small enough to hit you in the eye, but not fast enough to do any real lasting damage.
“211 In Progress Adam-12” my brother called out as he continued his pursuit of me.
I was armed with my plastic pellet gun, also from the grocery store. Instead of discs, it shot yellow BB sized rubber balls. They were not as reliable as the discs, but the ammo was cheaper, and fire rate a lot higher. My brother shot two discs my way. One missed completely, passing by me and into the enormous wave of ivy that separated our house from Mr. Poe’s house, lost forever. The second one was a direct hit, bouncing harmlessly off my t-shirt, hitting the faded, silkscreened motorcycle, just under the words “Do It In The Dirt”
I did not fire back. Instead, I ran to the front yard, and tucked myself behind the ivy covered front lamp post. As my brother ran past, I took a couple shots, one whizzed by his head, and the other dribbled out the front of my gun, harmlessly dropping to my feet below. My brother dove onto a dirt patch in the front yard, rolled over, and pulled the trigger of his disc gun. What should have been a decisive blow, misfired, the disc getting caught in the plastic mechanism.
“Wait, wait wait, unfair” he said, as he tried to unjam his weapon.
I aimed at him, and shot three more plastic pellets, one bounced off his head, and the others missed, hitting the dirt in the front yard. As he frantically tried to get his weapon back in working order, I took one more shot, but nothing came out. My gun jammed too.
“Let’s play Emergency!” I suggested.
We put our guns on the front porch, and made our way to the garage at the end of the driveway. The garage door was open, as always. I pulled my Radio Flyer mini red wagon out from its’ storage space next to my older sister’s green Schwinn with banana seat, and yanked the handle until it turned around and came out of the garage. I check the supplies in the wagon: piece of garden hose,metal fishing tackle box, walkie-talkie, hammer, saw, army helmet, and a plastic machine gun: all the things a good paramedic might need.
“I’ll crash the motorcycle” my brother said, as he got onto his orange, Sears catalogue bike. He pedaled it back down the driveway, and took a right turn when he reached the front yard, disappearing into the front of the house.
Within a few seconds I heard the cry.
I jumped into my wagon, grabbing the handle and pulling it back so I could steer. With one leg curled-up in the wagon, and the other outside, pushing against the driveway, Squad 51 raced to the scene of the accident.
I drove swiftly down the driveway with my siren blaring, until I reached the front yard. I turned onto the dirt patch in front of the lamp post. At that point I needed to switch to four-wheel drive, so I jumped out of the wagon, and pulled it across the lawn to the scene of the accident. When I arrived I assessed the damage. The orange bike was on-top of my brother, as he moaned for help.
“The motorcycle is on fire” I yelled as I took the hose from fire engine and turned it on full blast.
“shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” I made a spraying sound with my mouth as imaginary water doused the motorcycle blaze.
When the fire was out, I took a look at the causalities. I pulled the bike off my brother, and sat down next to him with tackle box in-hand.
“I have the first aid kit”, I said as I moved towards the victim, “what hurts?”
“My leg” my brother whispered to me, and he started to move it around. I pulled the walkie talkie out of the squad.
“Rampart, this is squad 51” I said into it.
“This is Rampart”, my brother responded in a deep voice as he still laid on the ground, “go ahead squad 51”
“Rampart, we have a male victim here, aged 6. His vital signs look okay, but his leg is a real mess”
“Copy that squad 51, stabilize the leg, administer an IV with D5W and transport as soon as possible” my brother said, in his best doctor voice.
I put walkie talkie down.
My brother sat-up.
“Okay, my turn to be Squad 51”
“Wait, let’s play motocross instead” I replied.
I ran back to the garage to get my bike, nearly identical to my brother’s. I jumped on and started riding back down the driveway into the street, then up to about even with Mr. Poe’s driveway, next door. Jeff followed me, and we locked our wheels into position in the middle of the street, about 100 feet up from our own driveway.
“The gate falls!” my brother yelled, and we both started peddling furiously, picking up speed with every turn of the little gears. I edged him out for the lead. I turned into our driveway first, but instead of riding straight, I hit it at an angle and went straight for a ½ buried tree root next to the top corner of the driveway. I pulled back the handle bars as the bike hit the root and the bike flew a foot or so in the air.
“I’m Evel Knievel!”
I landed on both wheels, with my brother just behind me. I turned sharply in the front-yard. Dirt spit all over the front porch as my wheels dug into the ground below.
My turn was too sharp. Instead of making the quick loop back towards the driveway, I got stuck, jackknifed near the little retaining wall that separated our yard from the neighbor’s driveway. My brother, who had made a much less ambitious jump, pedaled past me, turned onto the driveway and rode back towards the garage, crossing the earthquake crack finish line before I could untangle my bike and get out of the front yard.
We parked our bikes in the garage, and then I went and pulled Squad 51 back to garage as well.
“Into the space ship!,” my brother yelled.
We both jumped into the front of white milk delivery parked in our backyard, Parked is a kind word for how it sat. It had been there for years, and never moved. Because of rotted holes in the roof and its position sitting under canopy of our Chinese Elm tree, it was covered and filled with sticks and leaves. One back tire was missing. the others had long since deflated and began to give themselves back to the earth.
We both got into the cab, brushing aside clumps of leaves quickly enough to both clear the seats and not see what creatures might be hiding in them. I grabbed the steering wheel by it’s rotting hand grips,
“Rocket launch to space” my brother called from the co-pilots seat.
“We have ignition!”
In unison we both shot backwards in our seats. I twisted the steering wheel side to side in an attempt to steady our ship during flight.
“Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhbrrrrrrrrrrshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhbrrrrrrrrrr” the negines roared.
“Have we left the atmosphere?” I asked my navigator.
“Close.. Oh no!! We are breaking up!! Crash landing!! Crash landing!”
“It’s time to jump” I instructed.
We both motioned to put on our parachutes, then got into position, holding onto the frame of the missing doors on each side of our ship.
The free-fall only lasted a fraction of second. When I hit the ground, I rolled into a pile of leaves, just missing a bundle of branches left from tree trimming a few days prior.
“Time to make an assault on this planet!” I yelled.
We grabbed our laser guns (red flashlights) and crept into the jungle planet behind our garage. This was an area our family had dubbed “the back back” as it was the second back-yard on our property. Situated behind the garage and attached mother-in-law unit, it was 20’ x 50’ wild area filled with giant stalks of bamboo with leaves that tasted like licorice, wild reams of jungle grasses, grown over attempts at gardening, plus old toys, logs, and rusted tools, long lost to the uncontrollable nature. My dad made a valiant attempt to tame it every summer, but the area always fought back with an untamable, ferocious vigor. In the desert climate South Bay beach town in which we resided, it looked and felt like another world.
I put my hand up to my mouth and talked into my radio.
“CRRRT”, I made the sound of radio being turned on with my mouth.
“Ok Big Mouse, let’s explore this place”
“CRRRT”, my brother responded, his hand up to his mouth, talking through his fingers.
“Little Mouse, I don’t see anything yet.”
At some early point in our lives as twins, my brother and I began calling each other “Big Mouse” and “Little Mouse”. The names did not connote to anything in the real world, not to our relative size, nor even especially to animals we liked. They were of unexplainable origins, and we used them while imagining games and new worlds together. For all I know, the nicknames went all the way back to the womb.
We crept through the stalks of of bamboo, holding our guns out in front of us, at the ready to fight any space monsters we might find.
“This could be the Plant Of The Apes” I whispered.
“I don’t know” Big mouse whispered back. That doesn’t look like an ape to me!”
He pointed toward a set of green eyes sitting in a round clump of wild grass.
An alien monster.
White Paw, one of our two cats, blinked her eyes back at us.
We flash our lasers at the beast.
“Keep firing!” Little Mouse called out.
We switched our flashlights on and off at White Paw until she had enough. She got up, stretched, and scampered further back into the wild brush.
“Alien threat destroyed” Big Mouse Said.
“Return to ship” Little Mouse replied.
We both stood up and carefully pushed our way back through the bamboo stalks, to the stairs that led back down, out of the back back. We passed by our space ship, but didn’t climb back inside.
“Let’s play Green Berets!” I called out!
We dropped our laser weapons in the red wagon, and pulled back to the garage staging area, to get ready for battle.
I took my machine gun out. Green plastic, with a motor inside that made a rattling noise when I pulled the trigger, My brother got his from the front of the garage. The soldiers were ready to do battle. We skulked our way down the driveway to the battle-lines in the front yard. I blazed the trail first, hiding behind lamp post near the front of the house. My squad-mate held his position behind the broken-down, red Rambler in the driveway, waiting for my hand-signal to show the coast was clear.
I peered out from behind the lamp to the enemy outpost across the street.
I motioned for my brother to come forward, as I shifted my position to just behind the right-most tree in the front-yard.
For safety, I pointed the barrel of my gun out first, my eyes not far behind. Across the asphalt river I saw what I was looking for. The enemy. My brother joined me behind the tree.
“Enemy spotted” I whispered to him.
We both looked around the tree at the same, so I could point out the targets in the distance.
“There!” I said as I pointed them out.
Across the street a 5th grade girl and her friend were sunning themselves on lawn chairs, wearing sunglasses, and reading magazines and sipping beverages from clear plastic cups.
I quietly nodded to my brother.
“Engage,” I whispered.
At once, my brother and I peppered the enemy with bullets. Imaginary tracers were followed by even more imaginary machine guns rounds. Ineffective, the rattling firing noise of the guns only alerted the enemy to our presence.
They both looked up from their magazines, stunned by the sudden sound of an ambush, but not able to pinpoint the source of the attack.
It took a couple minutes for them to notice the little boys firing at them from across the street, ruining their day in the sun.
“Oh gross”, one said, lobbing verbal grenade in our direction.
“What little nerds,” the other replied, dodging our barrage.
Then in unison, they both went back to their magazines and did not look up again.
We continued to fire, but our rounds could not penetrate their armor.
Time for cartoons.