We were immortal once.
We were young and reckless and full of mischief. It was before real life started…before jobs and careers, wives and kids, before broken hearts, and before any of us died. It was before we knew life could be hard…it was a time when we challenged all of our boundaries, all of the rules, all of the restrictions. We tasted freedom and wanted more…and we wouldn’t be denied.
Like I said, we were immortal once.
It was part of my coming of age time, from a sheltered Catholic school room of about 22 kids to the public high school where life was about to change drastically. I started playing soccer somewhere around 5th grade…I was a tall, lanky, and uncoordinated player on the field, but I had a couple coaches, Mike Bosch and Mr Wells that recognized that on the field I was less than capable…but as a goalie, where my long arms were an asset, there was hope. By the 8th grade, I had more guts than skill…but it carried me well in grade school and I was a halfway decent goalie. But I was about to learn that high school was different.
Lebanon high had just started their soccer program. The players were a bunch of hellions and partiers…we were a rowdy, rough looking lot. My freshman year, the shirts were left over from some other sport, old red and white striped long sleeve shirts with only a number on them. There were not enough for the whole team so guys being subbed in often had to trade off. The tattered candy striped shirts along with the rough looking group made us look more like a prison work gang than a soccer team. But I made the team…barely…on 3rd string. I was going to be sitting the bench a lot being 3 deep on the roster…but I made the team and felt good about it…I just needed a foot in the door.
So, unsure I would ever play, fate stepped in. One goalie quit, then one got hurt…then all of a sudden, I was freshman with the starting position. “Starting” goalie was technically accurate…but “only one left” or “no one else wanted to do it” goalie would also have been just as accurate.
I was still pretty green back then…but there I was…all thumbs and nervousness rolled into a goalie position, trying take recklessness and make it experience…trying to be the player the team needed.
But this isn’t a story about soccer…it’s a story about running the pigs…a ‘game’ we used to play.
I’m this young naive kid who’s all of a sudden thrust into a starting goalie position and some of the older guys had to decide what to do with me to ‘toughen me up’ and help me get over the jitters. Tim, Mark, and Brian were those trainers that were going to bring me along, take me in.
Mark Wells, Tim Cole, and Brian Peters were like the three Musketeers. They were an inseparable, slap boxing-beer drinking-goofball buddies that were thick as thieves in all aspects of life…whether they were on the field playing with all their hearts, creating fun or mischief, or just figuring out how to have a laugh…and a buzz.
They were always tooling around in Brian’s old Maverick that had some kind of a race engine…and it often had to be push started. It was grey and blue and loud as hell with these ridiculous oversized Craiger Mags…they were always rolling around in that car.
But this isn’t a story about those guys…it’s about the game.
So..I’ve set the stage…I’m this young naive guy who wants to belong…and I live on Concord Drive. Tim Cole and his brothers live downtown Lebanon…and Mark and Brian are always spending the night with Tim. Why? Because the house that Tim’s family lives in is an old mansion of a house on Mulberry Street….and behind this house is a row of garages that Tim’s dad owns. There are probably 5 or 6 of these garages filled with God knows what, but one garage, one garage belongs to the boys. Let me rephrase that, one garage belonged to us.
So these guys started to invite me down to start hanging out at the garage. It’s the invite that is part initiation, part challenge. Looking back, I know it was a right of passage.
The ‘boys’ are Tim, Mark, Brian of course…along with Tim’s younger brothers Andy and Ben, and a few of their friends like Mark, Greg, Jerry, Dana, and Kent to name a few.
Now, most nights on the summer weekends, you could find any number of the boys, or their friends, in this garage putting their money together, chipping in change and dollar bills to go buy beer…and then with whatever you had left over, you would play cards until 2 or 3 in the morning.
Now, Kent and I didn’t live near them…it was about 2 miles or so…but what we would do is wait until our parents had gone to bed, sneak out our parent’s houses, meet up and then make our way down to the garage, drink and play cards, and then make our way home.
When it’s that late at night, it’s very rare that you would see anyone out. You might see a car or two in your 20 minute walk….but the one thing you were scouting out for was the unexpected run into Lebanon police cars.
Lebanon, as most towns did, used the infamous Ford Crown Victoria with the performance 350 V8 engine. It was the workhorse of most police forces in the early 80s and we became VERY familiar with this model.
We knew the sound of the engine.
We knew the pattern of the headlights.
We knew the outline of the car from blocks away.
We also got to the point that we made a game of identifying the car by it’s headlights. We could tell you what make and model of ANY car it was by the outline of the car and pattern of the headlights. BUT when it came to the Crown Vic? We knew one a mile away.
We were never wrong.
Why were we good at this? Because it was extremely important to never get stopped by the police. We were kids out after curfew without our parents knowledge. If you were caught you could be held by the police or taken home, written up…a number of things but ultimately our jailbreak freedom was contingent upon our parents never finding out. God’s honest truth, I would have rather gotten gotten shot by the police than get caught and face my dad. So when we were out, and a cop ran across us, we would SCATTER like cockroaches into the dark, running in all directions.
First time you run from the police, you think you’re going to die. You think they’re going to catch (or shoot) you, beat you up…that you would get shanked in jail…and if you survived that, your parents would literally kill you. Adrenaline rush like you’ve known.
So it happened ever now and then…and a funny thing happened. We didn’t get caught. Funny thing happened after that…we started doing it on purpose.
So every now and then we would play this game of informal cat and mouse with the police…to the point where we actually made it a game and called it “Running the Pigs”.
The game would go something like you would expect…Kent and I and anyone with us would start from our end of town and work towards the garage. If we had not had a thrill in a while, we would sit in the middle of the street just hanging out…and we would be laughing and carrying on just sitting in the street waiting for a car to come around the corner. These streets had different names like Broadway and Orchard…Deerfield and Mechanic….but the game was the same. We would sit and wait and carry on until a police car turned the corner or crossed our path. Then like banshees in the night, we would take into the night….across yards and alleys. Over fences and around houses and garages.
So me and a couple buddies (usually Kent) we lived south of downtown, south of a little creek that runs at the bottom of the hill on Broadway and Mechanic. On the south side of the creek, the yards are deep and wide, probably 1/4 to 1/3 acre lots, neighboring neighbors with the same size. Those lots didn’t usually have tall fences and some had alleys and walkways. All through these yards are trees and shrubs, so that flashlight/spotlight line of sight is limited. This is our ground, we knew the neighborhoods and layout. This is where we played the game.
So let’s say a cop spots you a half block away. You bolt across the front yard and through the backyard, and cut an oblique path across another backyard. Most often before the police get to where you had been 20 seconds ago, you’re already a good 30 yards into another backyard. EVEN if they would have gotten out of their car to chase you, which they never did, you were already way ahead of them. So instead of getting out and chasing, the cop would gun his Crown Vic cop 350 engine to go around the block to try to catch you when you come out on the other side. But you’re not dumb…you can hear him and see the lights (the Crown Vic ID skills I mentioned earlier) , double back or find a good hiding place and wait him out.
BUT the police had their game too. Those officers had names like Toller, Leak, and Bens. Whoever we came across always radioed for other officers to join in the hunt. It got trickier with multiple cars, they would circle and search for us with spot lights trying to smoke us out or sit with lights off waiting for us to cross a street down the way. I always wondered if secretly they thought it was fun too. Would they be excited to have something to chase, something to give their mundane nights a little excitement?
I still wonder.
(Come to think of it, if they had police dogs in those days we would have been toast! It would have been a game we would have probably played once…just once.)
So south of the creek, that was where we ‘Ran the Pigs’, where we played our game. BUT the garages we went to, they were downtown…the other side of the creek.
The downtown area was exactly what it is today. Large commercial buildings and parking lots, and lots and lots of light. There was not a lot of spaces to duck and hide…so on the north side of the creek, we usually were careful and didn’t mess around a whole lot.
So, one night, we’re out goofing off…it’s probably 12 or 1 or 2 in the morning…I think it had been a while since we had done anything and we’re just laughing and carrying on. It must’ve been really late because the town is dead, no cars, no cops anywhere, and, as far as we’re concerned, we own the night.
We decide to go up to the garage, wandering north of the creek into downtown area, thinking we would stop in and see if any of the older guys were at the garage that might buy us beer and, like I said, we’re just walking around downtown like we own the place. We’re laughing and taking jabs at each other, not a care in the world.
We’re about a block away from the garage… and a cop turns the corner about a 1/2 block in front of us, turning onto our street towards us. His headlights land on us like we’re on stage, (or in a line up?) blinding us like deer in headlights… and we’re sitting ducks, standing there open jawed caught.
For half a second the world stopped….I mean we literally froze in mid step, mid-conversation…felt like the whole world and heaven above skipped a beat…
…AND THEN THE WORLD EXPLODED as we scattered instantaneously and simultaneously in all directions, running into each other as we took flight. We were downtown and without the cover running and running like our lives depended on it. That car’s spotlight came on and lights and that just made us run faster. It seemed that Instantaneously there was another police car and spotlight circling the area searching bushes and dark building corners…we were the blood in the water and the sharks knew it.
As I remember, Ben and I fled in one direction for a second, then I lost him as we ducked behind buildings and cars and fled. One second I was running with someone, next I was alone. I knew that if I could make it to the Cole’s house, then I could get into the garage and hideout. I also knew instinctively that whoever did not get caught would rendezvous there.
It was one of those things where you would duck behind one car, then another moving in and out of the shadows of buildings and cars and fences and bushes. The cars must’ve spotted someone else because they moved away from me down the street. I waited for the right time and cross the street, down the alley into the Cole’s backyard and then crawled in the back window of one of the garages.
And then I waited.
A short time later a knock on the garage door brought the hair on my neck to stand up…my heart stopped and I didn’t know what to do… it turned out to be one of the guys.
Slowly, the boys came trickling in.
One by one, the handful of us found our way to the garage.
No one had been caught.
We may have celebrated our endeavor with beer and laughed it up all night…or we may have decided that tempting our fate once that night was enough, laying low just long enough that the police gave up and then we slunk home, I don’t really remember.
So…Why tell this story?
I look back on those years with rose colored glasses…we all were alive back then, not only alive, but filled with life and a sense of adventure that filled and overflowed from us….the world was open and inviting and you had this sense of awe and wonder of the possibilities that were before us. Our hearts were ignorant of any real pain and loss…in our worlds we were untouchable…we were immortal.
I think most of us have this time in life…the time when we were immortal…but something happens that changes that. I think, in my life, the death of Mark Wells, part of the Three Musketeers, was the end of that immortality. He wrecked a car my sophomore year, lost his life at 18 crashing into a tree on the way home one night.
So much of his life was in front of him…so much loss. His future and our world, our immortality, it all came crashing down that night.
I look back and know that as young men, we needed an adventure, a journey to manhood. Society did not give us a path or a means of initiation to manhood, so we made up our own.
I have learned that even as a grown man, you need adventure, you need to be alive, you need to seek that out, in GOOD, healthy, LEGAL ways. (Besides, fleeing from the police is now a felony)
I have buried many friends…not so much from motorcycles or daredevil ways, but by heart attacks and vices and suicides. I also know friends who have died in their chairs in front of the tv, or at the bar in a comatose neon light…their bodies living on, but their hearts long dead.
Are you there?
Are you alive?
…not just existing..nor just occupying space…not waiting for the next bad event…
Is this speaking to you?
Does life still hold a wonder for you, an adventure you still want to partake of?
Is there LIFE in your living?
GOD created you for more…are you seeking it out? Are you still learning and growing? Are you still reaching out giving a hand or asking for help? Are you contributing or consuming? Are you someone who’s known for giving life to your friends…or taking it?
Those are the questions right there…honest friends will give you honest answers. We need those kinds of friends.
”Rage, Rage against the dying of the light“, a line from the famous poem by Dylan Thomas reminds us to choose to live, to fight against the gravitational pull of death, against the constrictions of a broken world that is trying to suffocate your life. If you haven’t read this work in a while, maybe you should. I love what Dylan is implying and the fire for living…but let’s add a little divine into it because life is not always fighting against the dying of the light as much as it is protecting the light within you, guarding the wellspring of life, your heart.
There’s a saying that every man dies, but not every man truly lives. I choose to live fully, as much as I can.
Yes, I fight the demons assigned me
Yes, I wrestle with God
Yes, I wrestle deep within my heart and soul
I fail, I fall, I hurt, I bleed…and I am part of a fallen, broken world.
I go forward because the Light that is within me will never be extinguished and the world needs to see this.
Those of us who have survived the days of “Running the Pigs” are older and wiser. We know that we are no longer immortal in this world.…but this I know:
I will not waste the kiss of life that God gave to me.
I will not cover the light that burns
I will not be overcome
I will not play it safe
I will struggle to fully live, to be fully alive
And when I leave this life, it will not be because death has triumphed, it will be because He called me home.