I'm back. Thanks for your patience.
Left: Two Kids in Competition. (The Checker Players, Bingham, 1850)
While visiting the town of Houghton Lake in north-central Michigan, I was parked next to an elementary school at quitting time. As they waited for their rides, one ten-year-old boy said to his buddy, “If you fist-bump me again, I’m gonna bite your face.”
But school was out and both kids needed their rides, maybe even from the same driver. They were stuck with each other. When I pulled away, The Fist-Bumper still had a face, and the two were bosom buddies, lazily shooting the bull.
When my gang was ten, playing Lucky Strike was one of our rituals. Walking around town, the first guy to spot a discarded pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes could step on it, holler “Lucky on me,” and slug the shoulder of the nearest other guy, who was expected to endure the blow without protest or tears.
Usually, the Lucky puncher gave a dramatic but half-hearted jab, partnered by a lot of shouting and editorializing about his victim's character flaws. The intent was to menace and annoy, not to inflict important pain. No one said this, but we understood it.
Occasionally, some thug-kid joined us from the margins and showed his poor breeding by lambasting the victim with an all-out roundhouse that brought tears, curses, or both. The violator would then feign innocence; he didn't know the rules, he didn't swing that hard, blah blah blah.
That might have been my introduction to a phrase I’d hear so often in life, verbatim or paraphrased or silently implied: “Not our kind of people.” These days, I use it only in order to mock it, even as I grudgingly admit its significance, see pretty clearly the dangers of any We vs. Them.
By the way, the Lucky Strike mayhem rarely happened with only a pair of kids. An audience of two or more somehow validated the tradition and bore witness. Who had quick enough feet to get to the empty Lucky pack first? And how hard was the punch to the shoulder? After all, if it was too weak, the puncher’s manhood might be in doubt. Oh, yes--and how stoically did the victim receive the blow?
So as we walked our streets and alleys, each kid was constantly on the lookout for used-up packs of Luckies. I won't speak for other towns, but that is how the Clawson males, always on the prowl, became such rotten listeners. I thought you ought to know, and those guys don't say much.