Hard hits and near misses

By the time we entered high school, Buzz, Sparky and I had become a trio, mutually dedicated to inventing mischief.

Buzz and Sparky were smart and energetic. Both tended to pursue social activities such as KAYS club; I was a jock, and we were all scholars.

Forbidden on religious grounds to attend certain indecent activities, I avoided popular school dances. Neither did I participate in the development of after-hours drinking skills. Though I had no particular interest in dancing or imbibing, I occasionally joined my friends in the aftermath of their misbehaviors, if only as a chaperone. Did this enable bad behaviors, or just offer a pragmatic way to safeguard my buddies? Such questions didn't arise, back then.

One summer, Buzz and Sparky drove up in an old Dodge Ramcharger, looking for an accomplice. They offered me the driver's seat, which I readily accepted, since working their way through a six-pack or more had already challenged their cognitive skills and physical coordination.

What they really wanted to do was set off a bomb. I happened to possess a certain chemical and some waterproof fuse. To avoid parental scrutiny during assembly, we took the ingredients with us when we headed down a country road and parked by the South Solomon River. Shrapnel is less menacing when the explosion occurs underwater.

There I loaded the casing, pouring in the explosive mix, inserting the end of a roll of fuse and packing dirt around it to confine the contents. Only then did I realize I'd dropped and lost my jack knife in the forest floor clutter. We couldn't twist off the thick fuse, nor did we want to waste the entire roll.

But Buzz had a .22 pistol, which he figured could sever the fuse well enough. Sparky grabbed it, carefully aimed, and pulled the trigger. And missed.

He tried again and again. Fuse still intact, the bomb stood upright against a large fallen log, now speckled with bullet holes.

"Lemme do it," slurred Buzz.

He stood back, swaying, the pistol waving in erratic circles, and fired. The fuse parted neatly at the proper point.

"You couldn'ta missed," complained Sparky. "You were aiming at the whole damn log."

Another bad idea nearly ended in tragedy. We'd been cruising in Buzz' car until I had to head home and get some sleep before work the next morning. The two of them picked up another friend and continued their fun, now amplified by booze.

I was abruptly awakened in my basement apartment when the light flashed on; there stood Sparky, shirtless, covered with scratches and blood.

"Jon, you gotta help us," he croaked.

He and Buzz had driven onto a railroad crossing, using it to position the car tires on the rails. Each tire overlapped both sides of a rail, which served to keep the car on the track without steering; in fact, anywhere but at a crossing where the rails are recessed below the road surface, it would be hard to get the car off the track.

Unless a tire blew, which is what happened a couple miles west of Woodston. Unfortunately, it happened as they were crossing a trestle over a deep gully that fed into the diversion dam reservoir. Fortunately, the ravine was dry; the next one wasn't.

The car slammed into the sandy bottom, smack on the driver's side. Buzz was hurt, but the others managed to get him out through a broken window in case the car caught fire. They left him lying on the sand while they went separate ways to get help. No cellphones back then.

I don't remember how Sparky got back to town, 8 miles away. I gave him a shirt, and we drove my pickup back to the scene. Buzz was nowhere to be found. I imagined him wandering in the dark, collapsing in a field with a lethal brain injury.

We slowly drove back to Stockton, searching the shoulders and ditches. Finally reaching town again, we drove up the hill to Buzz' house and saw the lights were on inside.

His mom let us in. Buzz sprawled in the middle of the living room floor, much the worse for wear. In a plaintive, quavering voice he repeated, "I walked ... and I walked ... and I walked." Which he had -- staggering from one ditch to the other, he'd walked all the way back. We must've missed him on our return to the scene from my place.

"Jon, why did you let them do this?" his mother anguished.

I guess I was supposed to be the group's voice of reason, though at times an unreliable one. Buzz and Sparky hastened to explain I hadn't been along for the ride.

We took Buzz to the hospital in Plainville. He had a broken arm, but apart from bruises and scratches, wasn't otherwise too messed up. He was admitted overnight, and we rescued him the next morning. I did the driving.

Other hijinks targeted class work -- e.g. devising a scheme so we all could make perfect scores on petty vocabulary tests our martinet English "teacher" used as a substitute for actual teaching; or enraging a hapless substitute teacher by circulating a parody of his cherished college thesis on an early Kansas agronomist. Both versions began "Elam Bartholomew loved the soil." Let's just say in our parody, Elam's love was other than platonic. Wish I still had a copy.

Jon Hauxwell, MD, is a retired family

physician who grew up in Stockton

and now lives outside Hays.

hauxwell@ruraltel.net