It is conventional wisdom that all little boys are bad at some point. Strange thing, however, when I asked my male friends if they ever did anything naughty as a child, their answers were initially ones of denial. “No, I was a pretty good kid and never did anything bad.” Or, “No, I was a nerd and only read books. Rarely left the house other than to go to school.” My lawyer pal asked, “If you mean, did I ever dissect a cat, well no.” While he may not have confessed to doing anything evil, with an answer like that I wondered. Luckily, later in my research I found several fellows willing to fess up. Some were even noticeably proud of the inventiveness of their mischievous behavior.
My spinning instructor Kevin said the only bad thing he could remember was picking up some loose baseball cards one of the other kids had left behind at the local swimming pool. The club manager, who must have observed what happened, called Kevin’s mother accusing her son of stealing. While his mother was satisfied with her child’s explanation, Kevin suffered that summer with the public humiliation of being labeled a thief.
Later Kevin confessed that while he was generally well behaved as a youth, he had a raging temper. The boys in the neighborhood used to taunt him for it and frequently would even pull his fingers backwards causing him excruciating pain. Kevin complained to his father who one day suggested. “Stand up to them boy.” Not knowing exactly what that meant, Kevin happily took the initiative by punching the lead trouble maker in the nose. He doesn’t recall if he broke anything but he does remember that the bully’s parents showed up at his house the next day to vehemently protest his beating up their son. After that incident, no one fooled with Kevin.
Mario Cordero—who manages Vietti, one of Piedmont’s most famous wine producers—likes to tell his: “like-father-like son” story. When his eldest child, Francesco was in his early teens, he climbed out of his second-floor bedroom window late one night. Somehow, he managed to scale the roof and climb down the opposite side of the house so no one would see his. His father was familiar with the maneuver as he did the same thing in his youth, only difference is that Mario never got caught. His son, however, was not so lucky as Francesco took the stunt further. He decided to “borrow” his father’s motor bike, drove it into Alba and on the way home had a minor accident. When the local Polizia arrived and saw Francesco was not seriously hurt, they drove him back to Castigione Falletto leaving the wrecked bike behind. With Francesco safely returned to his home, the policeman issued Mario and his wife a heavy fine for not controlling their son. Not only did Francesco get punished for stealing and destroying Mario’s bike, but also for embarrassing the family, probably the most serious of the offenses. Francesco ha fatto butta figura, something which is not acceptable for Italian families, especially for one of such prominence.
Marty Morse, our neighborhood’s unofficial mayor, runs a shoe box-sized TV repair store a block from our apartment. Marty is a gregarious sort. With little provocation, Marty proudly ticked off some of his mischievous escapades as a youth. First, he bragged about being an eight-grade dropout. As he was bored in school, he resorted to spending most of his day on the streets of Queens in lieu of going to PS 3. Marty’s list of exploits was exhaustive. “I stole hub caps earning $5 a pop. I put Elmer’s glue in peoples key holes who I didn’t like to block them up. One Halloween, I ran a hose down through his homeroom teacher’s basement window and turned on the water. I forged my mother’s signature on my attendance cards. Despite his juvenile delinquent tendencies, Marty tuned out fine. If anything, he is a Horatio Alger success story. His tiny shop is a ruse for his real business, that of being a parking garage real estate mogul!
Glenn Rice, a stock broker-turned food manufacturer— “The only Irish guy in North America making a brand of artisanal hummus called White Camel,”—delighted us at a recent dinner party with his youthful pranks. He was raised around Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, and to ward off boredom in the summertime, he would untie the boats on the dock late at night for what he called “a midnight cruise. “
Like many young boys, Glenn was also fascinated with pyrotechnics. He delighted in taking apart the contents of standard fireworks, then rebuilding customized cherry bombs. For fun, he would detonate them in neighbors' mailboxes or on their front porches. One time, Glenn launched a cherry bomb into a neighbor’s outdoor cocktail party. Luckily, no one was hurt but within five minutes of the cherry bomb's surprise landing, Glenn received a call from his victime telling him never to try that stunt again. Now as an adult, Glenn acknowledges how naïve he was not to have considered neither the potential danger of his prank nor the threat of being brought up on arson charges. Most likely, his neighbor was once a rascal himself and understood the thrill of Gleen’s mischievous behavior.
Michael, a developer, another dinner party guest, regaled us with several bad-boy stories. In the category of "how-can-I-gross-them out," Michael recounted his favorite scatological prank. “You put some dog excrement in a paper bag, place it on the steps of a neighbor’s home and light a match to it. The natural inclination of whoever discovers the burning bag is to stomp out the fire.” For the rest of the guests grimacing around the table, it didn’t take much imagination to visualize the messy outcome. Michael still laughs about the look of combined shock, horror and disgust on the people’s faces. Only naughty little boys would find this side-splittingly funny.
George, another friend, told me about being manipulated by the bad boys in his Detroit neighborhood when growing up. George was four at the time and liked to hang out with the “older guys” who were all of six or seven years old. They all used to congregate in a vacant lot several blocks away. One day, one of the older boys commanded George to go home and bring back some kitchen matches. He eagerly complied hoping to gain the gang of boy’s respect. When he returned, he found a stock pile of wooden boards, twigs, and cardboard boxes in the middle of the lot. They proceeded to light a veritable bonfire which caught the attention and fury of an old man living next store. As the older boys had longer legs, they escaped easily but little George was caught and received the beating of his life. He was escorted back to his home with the man tightly clutching him by the collar. When the man explained to George’s parents what had happened, he added that the boys had set a fire on top of the neighborhood’s gas main hook-up!
Little George had a cousin, Billy, who lived upstairs in his building. Billy was gregarious, inquisitive but also a scatter-brain. Like most little boys in the 1940’s, Billy was a big fan of the top comic book superhero, Captain Marvel. Billy was intrigued with the Captain Marvel’s ability to fly so one day he decided to try it himself. He raided an orange towel from his mother’s linen closet, tied it around his neck, then carefully climbed to the top of the garage roof. His coterie of young pals surrounded the area looking up in disbelief and pleaded with him not to try to fly. But, Billy could not be persuaded. He flipped the cape dramatically, extended his arms in front of him and yelled the magic word, “Shazam,” while simultaneously heaving his little five-year-old body into space. He landed in the bushes which fortunately broke his fall.
Billy reckoned that perhaps there had been a lack of scientific preparation the first attempt, so he reappeared the next day with an umbrella. Terrified, his pals yelled to come down from the roof. Once again, he resisted their squeaky pleas and catapulted his body into the air. One more time, Billy landed in the bushes sustaining multiple scratches, scraps and colorful bruises. But his daredevil spirit was not squelched.
Several months later, Billy learned how to fly. He took a hair pin and stuck it into an electrical outlet which sent him flying! Later in life, Billy moved to Hollywood and had a career writing comic books.
Next week we will explore the topic of naughty girls to see if there is equity in the mid-level evilness of youth. Will the girls or the boys win the title? Read on and let me know your decision.