Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Sergeant Pruitt And The Slingshot

I know it’s now two days after Christmas, and the whole Christmas-memories thing is over for the year, but I just remembered this one as I was pouring my morning coffee and looking out the kitchen window.

Our family moved from Hickam Air Force Base in Oahu Hawaii to Ft. Meade Maryland in 1976 when I was ten years old. We moved to a remote area of the Army base, on the edge of a large forest with multiple hiking paths and dense forests. There was an old small quarry nearby- well, more of a series of abandoned heaps of gravel and stone in a pit, and it was a favorite hang-out for the local kids, especially for breaking bottles and shooting cans with BB guns, rocks, and the holy grail for ten year old boys- the Wrist Rocket.

I wanted one bad. It’s a black wire-frame sling-shot with rubber straps and a leather cradle for the ammunition, all resting on a hard rubber base that sits over the wrist, providing incredible tension when pulling back the straps for a shot. The velocity that can be achieved is amazing. They were the new status symbol for sixth graders- the Tiger hand-held electronic football game had not yet been invented.

I begged for one for Christmas- it was certainly #1 on my massive wish-list, and I verbally reinforced that top pick on a regular basis with my parents. “Puhleese?” My dad was uncertain- he was worried I would kill someone with it, while my mom was much more understanding.

I got the Wrist Rocket that Christmas morning, and later that day, headed out with it protruding casually out of my back pocket like it had been there my whole life and I wasn’t just showing off my Christmas present. I hit the gravel pit with a couple bottles in my hand, and found a few other kids to hang with. I had a blast. One of the kids mentioned that if you got the special ammunition made for the Wrist Rocket (they looked like enlarged BBs but with flattened sides for your thumb and forefinger to rest against when pulling back the cradle for the shot), and hit a big rock or the paved road a huge shower of sparks would erupt. My purpose in life was set.

I got hold of a handful of these, and decided to test the shower of sparks theory. My parents were out of the house for the day and I was alone with my younger sister. I had an idea- I could go upstairs and shoot down at the road, maximizing the resulting spark shower. I don’t know if that makes much sense, but it sure did when I was ten years old.

I went upstairs, lifted the shades of my bedroom window, opened the window, and took aim at the road that ran between our strip of military row-houses and our neighbors across the street. Yes, you probably know what happens next.

I placed the steel ball in the cradle, pulled back as hard as I could, and let loose a power-shot right at the middle of the street.

I was confused for a second. The shower of sparks did materialize, but my friend did not tell me about the amazing shattering sound that accompanied them. It was wonderful to behold. It all happened in a split-second.

I caught movement beyond the strike-zone, and looked up to see the final pieces of a large window dangling and falling to the ground. There, in its place, was Sgt. Pruitt, holding his newspaper, sitting at the kitchen table, and looking up at me with shock and horror on his face. I looked at him. He looked at me. And then I realized the sudden disintegration of the window was a result of my ricocheting bullet. Fear shot through me as fast as that bullet. I did the only thing I could do: Duck down, crawl out of my room on my belly, and hope somehow that Sgt. Pruitt didn’t really see me. No such luck.

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