Life changes you. I used to be a lot more fun, but now I’m a cranky old man, just like the ones who used to yell at us when we were kids, and who we taunted in return by ringing their doorbells and running like hell. Sometimes, we might even wedge in a small stick to hold the bell button down so that it rang continuously. We never knew what made these old farts so mean, only that they wouldn’t let us come into their yards to retrieve the balls that someone hit in there during a friendly stickball game. There was one real hard case…a nasty, Irish ex-cop…he would take the ball and puncture it with an ice pick before tossing it back with a sneer.
At some point this guy became such an object of hatred that we decided he needed to be taught a lesson. One of the old man’s passions was raising pigeons. This was a big hobby in Brooklyn for reasons I could never understand. Pigeons to me are like flying rats, but many people kept pigeon coops on their roofs. A cousin on my father’s side had a roomful of trophies he’d won racing pigeons. Personally I found this cousin to be loud and obnoxious, but he became a different man around his birds.
Anyhow our vindictive little brains worked overtime trying to hatch a plot to hit this old crank where it would really hurt…by doing something to his precious pigeons. We thought about poisoning them, but in the end that was ruled out as too drastic. Instead we decided to try to get to the roof where the coops were kept and let the birds out. The job was delegated to an older guy I'll call Joey. Joey was in his late teens, but not quite right in the head; mentally he acted about eight years old. We knew he would do anything we asked of him to win our approval. Kids can be really mean when they put their minds to it.
We waited until our victim left the house to shop. Getting to the roof was no problem. We just sent Joey up onto my roof and waved him down the row of attached houses until he reached the crank’s roof half-way down the block. The coops were closed but not locked. Joey opened one and started waving his arms around to get the birds to fly out. They just stared at him showing no inclination to move. Poor Joey stared down at us not knowing what to do. Meanwhile the lookout we had posted yelled out that the birds’ owner had just turned the corner with his groceries and was heading home!
We motioned excitedly to Joey to get out of there, but the poor soul thought we were urging him to work harder,so he just stood there waving energetically as the confused pigeons looked on. It was like the scene in the movie “Rear Window” when Grace Kelly had crossed the courtyard and was in villain Raymond Burr’s apartment searching for evidence that he had killed his wife. Just then Burr returns home and is mounting the stairs to the apartment while Jimmy Stewart in the apartment across the way is frantically trying to warn Grace of the danger. We were scared like only kids can be, not knowing what the crank would do to Joey if he ever caught him.
Luckily Joey got tired of trying to free the birds and soon came back down. We were disappointed that our little revenge plot didn’t work out, but also very relieved that Eddie’s guardian angel was on duty that day. We stayed clear of the crank’s house for a while after that. Maybe a year later the old man died. I can't say many tears were shed in our crowd. Looking back, I can only wonder (and sympathize a little) what life had done to this man to make him so mean. It kind of sneaks up on you, and before you know it, POW, you're a crank. (Kids should be ringing my bell and running any time now.)
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