Monday, July 03, 2006

BAJA COURT, The 4th And A War Gone Awry


When I was a kid, the fourth of July meant Baja Court. A culdesac with four homes on it, running slightly uphill off of a lightly trafficked suburban street with a Spanish name I only just now realized meant "ladder" in English and climbed, ladder-like, higher and higher to another suburban housing grove, where I lived, called Yerba Beuna, which made up the last row of houses before "the hills".

Now "the hills" for us kids were the backdrop for an entire Stephen King novel full of stories, but today is the morning of the 4th of July, so I wanted to tell you about Baja Court.

Baja court was home to what we kids thought was one of the richest men in our city. After all, Mr. Decker owned four bowling alleys, and bowling alleys were BIG buildings. Double Decker lanes was the one we knew and threw at, but he had three more as well. He had a pretty wife with a stack of blonde hair on top of her head, and a two-story house with a swimming pool in the opulent, but cramped, backyard.

And every 4th he would make a trip to Reno Nevada to buy all the good fireworks that were not legal in California, including bottle rockets and M80's and enormous fountains and things that shot up in the air and burst into sparkling jester tassles...

He would also fill three or four garbage cans full of ice and sodas and beer, and put them out on the asphalt at the apex of Baja Court, so that everybody was sure to keep their whistle wet.

He would BBQ hot dogs and burgers on a rented BBQ made out of half a 57 red and white Chevy Bel Air that had been turned into a trailor. As night approached, he would bring out his huge cache of volitiles and start handing them out to greedy kids the way I imagine aid workers hand out food and water to the victims of disasters...

We always grabbed for the firecrackers and the bottle rockets. Half the fire crackers we got we would save for flat tire pranks later down the road. The other half we threw at the feet of yacking women, mostly, to get a scream out of them which was more fun than most people realize.

The bottle rockets were for war. These--despite parental 'sternity'-- were lit and aimed and shot at others possessing bottle rockets and they, in turn, lit and aimed and fired back. You lit, you shot, you ran, you took an exploding bottle rocket to your backside and you rolled into a bush, lighting and shooting again. Great fun. Adults yelled at you and you barely heard them-- they had been garbage can dipping for a few hours now-- and the cops that cruised by were more interested in looking at the older girls (I believe) than keeping twelve year olds from putting out each other's eyes...

Now directly across the street from Baja Court was a nicely kept, single story house belonging to a retired couple who had tired of the outdoor fourth celebrations, and were probably more interested in watching fireworks on TV with their curtains closed. This is the way it seemed to me, back then. A green glow flickered through a dark and drawn curtain. Every now and then a silhouette would move toward the kitchen and return to a chair The garage door was mostly down, but not all the way down. You could see the garage floor (looking downhill) and you could see that this man and his wife used the garage for a tool shed and gardening center, and you could see a five gallon can of gasoline sitting on an oily piece of cardboard that looked like it had been placed under a leaky car for years. And you could see the errant bottlerocket laying on this oily piece of cardboard and then watch as it exploded and lit the cardboard on its corner, and you could see the oil light up, and the flame start to brighten and smile and wink and dance like an intoxicated shy girl, and you could tell that there was about to be a confrontation between the flame and the fuel vapors, and you could tell it was going to be LOUD.

Now I don't know about everybody else, but at my elementary school, we would get a couple of good-looking firemen in uniform to come to the school once a year, and we would all go to the auditorium and watch firemen light things on fire just to show us what not to do. They would put a candle in an enclosed box that resembled a two story doll house with a glass wall so we could see in, and they would place three or four DROPS of gasoline on the top floor, then close the lid and we would watch the fumes travel down the stairs and eventually into the lit candle and the little house would go WHOOOM! and we would all jump and then laugh and giggle.

We figured there was more than three drops of gasoline in the can but we weren't certain. In my mind, a WHOOOM was coming and there was nothing we could do about it.

Except for G. G ran into the garage in his bare feet and started stamping on the cardboard. (He had originally attempted the run with shoes, but he had fallen out of both of them in his first few steps and that was that.) This wasn't getting him very far, and by that time, my guilt had led me running toward the flame as well, and I yelled something about the can and G figured I meant something about the can and he grabbed it and started running out the door with it, spilling gasoline out of its uncapped spout as he ran, the can, obviously full and very heavy for him, and the spilling gasoline, obviously more than two or three drops...

There was never any real WHOOOM! There was, however, fire. A big boiling bunch of it. Heading mostly in the direction of G out the garage door and following him like a reputation still follows his sister. I was busy stamping around on the cardboard and watching G get overtook in a brief moment by a dirty flame with black smoke. (It wasn't even a pretty, let's stop and watch the pretty fire, type of flame.) It caught up to him, singed his arm and lit the spout of the gas can on fire which now looked like a lovely little replica of a burning oil well (and hissing loudly) requiring experts to extinguish.

Except G was no expert. His idea was to grab the entire can and fling it across the street, toward the unsuspecting Baja Court crowd, who were far enough away to not get hit by the spilling flames, but were close enough in the light available, to be scared shitless...

The can twirled and tossed flames in all directions, then landed and spilled open in one flooding rush of flaming liquid. In spots, the oil in the asphalt was heated up enough to try and continue burning, but for the most part--like all 4th of July's-- there was the big bright moment and then it was over.

Parents weren't sure whether G was a hero or a troublemaker-- it was a tough call to make, I can see that now. I thought for sure he... WE were gonna get ear tugged and sent off before the garbage cans ran dry and the older girls all ran off with somebody who had a car...

But it never happened.

Independance Day, I guess...

1 comment:

carol said...

brave boys. happy 4th,Scott.off tomorrow back to the country you are all now independent of.we had an American-style Halloween boys v. girls dorm house water fight my only term ( semester) at my Lebanese boarding school before I was extricated due to the escalating war. Funny, now I remember how we were warned not to walk up to the village street on our own in case we were kidnapped..people kept leaving all that term and I thought it was all a lot of fuss about nothing until I was being rushed to the airport myself with as much Durm und Strang as you can imagine.
Anyway, Heathrow tomorrow should be a doddle. See ya.