, Derry, New Hampshire


October 3, 2013

Column: Finding joy in the mundane dumbness of boyhood

The other day I overheard an animated conversation between two sixth-grade boys, singing the praises of “Minecraft,” a wildly popular video game I know absolutely nothing about.

As usual, I couldn’t resist the temptation to offer a contrarian’s perspective: “Hey, do 11-year-old boys ever play in the woods anymore, build forts, have dirt-clod battles, stuff like that?”

One kid asked me what a dirt clod was. The other said he didn’t like to play outside.

Such is life for too many boys in the 21st century. Don’t get me wrong. As a kid, I wasn’t averse to vegetating. I watched more than my share of dumb TV in the ‘60s, held captive by the antics of Gilligan on the worst deserted-island set in Hollywood history. But I spent even more time outside, doing dumb guy stuff while interacting with my peers.

As luck would have it, I grew up next door to the O’Brien clan, four boys my age or close to it. If we weren’t playing marathon games of Whiffle ball, we were having dirt-clod battles with other neighborhood boys. Our archenemy was bivouacked about 50 yards away, past a grove of stately pines in the backyard of yet another neighbor. I’ve since wondered why Mac McCarthy, an elderly gent, never noticed the hellfire raining overhead as he methodically mowed his lawn.

We went through a phase where we blew things up, mainly dead animals, in a small patch of woods on Broad Street. This was certainly twisted behavior, but we did have standards. No dead dogs or cats allowed. We had both for pets, for crying out loud. Dead birds, rabbits, and possums were all fair game, as long as they weren’t grotesquely decomposed.

We picked an orifice and inserted a predetermined number of firecrackers. Then we made Danny O’Brien, the youngest, light the fuses. The result was never as glorious as we’d imagined, but it gave us something to strive for.

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