There was a lot more snow in those days. I know that sounds like something a toothless, shell-shocked World War I veteran would say, but I am fairly certain the meteorological annals will support my claim. I remember mountainous caverns of ice and dirt that became the playing field for our fourth grade bloodsport, "King of the Hill." I'm sure you've played too; the rules are simple: one kid stands atop the largest snowdrift on the playground and pronounces his/her superiority and dominance over all he/she surveys. The other contestants then try to wrest this proclaimed position of superiority/dominance from the proclaimer. What ensues is good, clean fun and maybe even a trip to the emergency room, if competition is particularly heated.
Having no real shot at taking and keeping the hill solo, I lobbied for a position on the team that had the most chance of winning. The pecking order is well-defined by the time fourth grade rolls around and Ron Dalquist was the clear choice for the alpha male chieftain of our schoolyard clan. Ron had all the qualities so essential to leadership: good looks, athleticism and a loud speaking voice. We would have followed him anywhere. Presently, he is a chronic alcoholic and a pulltab addict, but that is another story.
"We don't stand a chance against that fat cow," remarked second in command, Jeff Gernand. He was referring to the ruling monarch, Duane Kohl, who was at that moment strutting the summit, arms crossed like a narcissistic Sumo wrestler. This was prior to the "incident" with Duane,*
so he was still an unknown, despite being the largest kid in our entire class. All we really knew of him was that he was very large, held a strikingly bitter life view and was making us look bad at the moment.
"He has sentries at 2, 6 and 10 o'clock." I said. Comments like these were the reason that I made it into Ron's squadron. He liked my faux
military jargon a great deal, and besides, I was the only one who could make proper machine gun noises.
"I've got to have time to think..." Our mop-topped leader was trying to buy time. There was more to this game than a bunch of fourth graders pushing each other down, after all.
"What if you and Jeff attacked from here and I sneak around and flank 'em...?" I suggested. I wasn't entirely sure what that meant, but I had read it before in more than one Sergeant Rock comic book.
"Yeah..." Ron said. "Yeah... Anderson, you sneak around and... and... um, flank 'em." He looked at Jeff. Jeff shrugged.
"Aye, aye, Herr Kapitan."
I loved German accents. It was confusing, but it added flavor to our war games. Somewhere far away, quite unbeknownst to us, President Nixon tried to answer some very embarrassing questions and pull off some strategic maneuvers of his own.
I circled the great ice mound cautiously, like a brave stalking a buffalo. The sentries were discussing last night's episode of Star Trek,
grown quite complacent in their perceived superiority.
"He didn't die, he was just faking it."
"He wasn't faking it. The alien made him think he was dead."
There seemed to be some confusion over a plot point. Maybe the script was a little sophisticated for their intellectual palate; I wasn't sure, but was happy for the diversion.
I waited for the charge
command, wiping my nose with my sleeve. Minutes passed. What was the delay? I was mentally prepared to charge the hill, but the command did not come. Soon the bell would ring and our opportunity to become Ultimate Vanquishers of the Universe would be spent in vain.
Came the warcry from the other side of the hill, at last. That was our favorite warcry, despite its origins and affiliations. I sprang like a bobcat and charged up the hill, all guts and glory. I felt purposeful and alive, like a roughrider at San Juan.
Then I noticed something.
As I had just about reached the summit, I spied Ron and Jeff heading for the school building, completely oblivious to my heroic charge. I stopped just a few yards from Duane, who was leering at me like a leopard must leer at a mongoose before he eats it.
"You're a dead man, Anderson," said Duane, advancing on me like a polar bear.
"I don't doubt it," I said.
Duane threw one very slow grizzly bear swipe, which I ducked. I then fell to my knees and thrust my skull into his midsection with all the force of my fourth grade might. Much to my surprise and the stunned amazement of his dullard sentries, Duane toppled backwards over the ridge of his stronghold and tumbled to the bottom like some great Redwood log.
Even Ron and Jeff stopped to notice, since the noise must have been deafening.
I raised my arms and turned to receive the cheers of the elementary school multitude, as if they were Romans and I was Spartacus. I came... I saw... I pushed Duane off the hill in a complete masterpiece of panic and dumb luck. It was beautiful; my comrades had deserted me, yet I still managed to pull off a poorly planned and completely misguided scheme to enjoy the gratification only victory can bring.
Mr. Nixon would not be so lucky.
*See Swedish Pancakes Versus The Great Snow Storm Of 1975.