By the time we had reached the fourth grade, my life-long chum Johnny and I had made a daily ritual of going to the other’s house and playing until our mothers said it was time to go in. Depending on the day and the weather, we could be found playing war against invisible enemies, fighting monsters on the Atari 2600, digging a hole the size of Guam, or any other number of activities that our young minds conceived.
The clubhouse in Johnny’s backyard was a favorite spot to play. It was also there that we embarked on what would soon become our first criminal venture together.
In November of 1987, nothing seemed cooler than colored hairspray. Bear in mind that the late eighties were a heyday for glam rock, big hair and feminine men in spandex pants. So, coloring your hair for Halloween didn’t seem all that outrageous, considering the styles of the times.
Shortly after Halloween, Johnny managed somehow to get his hands on two cans of hair coloring — one blue, one with silver sparkles. I didn’t ask how he got them and I didn’t care, because they looked like a whole lot of fun to me.
Immediately we took to our bicycles with the blue can. (What the hell were we going to do with a can of glitter spray?) There was madness and mayhem to be constructed here, after all. We soon sprayed “X”s on trees and strange designs on sidewalks. Our coup de grace, however, seemed a stroke of genius to our feeble nine-year-old brains — we found the gas markers on the streets (the little blue “—G—” symbols”) and sprayed them everywhere so the utility workers would drill in the wrong places! (In hindsight, it’s amazing that we never realized that one rain shower would wash away our bits of destructive graffiti, but what the hell. We were nine.)
Suddenly, Johnny was struck with a better idea than our counterfeit gas markers. If the spray was in liquid form when it came out of the can, it must be in liquid form inside the can, right? And just think of the cool things that we could do with blue paint!
Quickly we set to work. We set up shop behind Johnny’s clubhouse with a bucket, the can of blue hairspray and a pocket knife. I kept watch for Johnny’s mom (who would be none too pleased to see us playing with a pocket knife, to be sure) and, ignoring the “Contents Under Pressure” label, Johnny started chipping at the can with the pocket knife.
After a few minutes, he’d made a dent. A few minutes more and the can was about to give.
Then all hell broke loose.
In one horrifying moment, a terrible hissing sound filled the air. A moment later, Johnny was blue. Blue face, blue jacket, blue hair and blue hands — he looked like an oversized Smurf.
I was struck dumb, but Johnny’s mind immediately went into action. He grabbed the can of silver sparkle spray and covered the front of my jacket with it.
“What the hell —?” I started, but Johnny shut me up.
“Trust me,” he said. “I have a plan.”
Amazingly, Johnny whipped up some tears then went running into the house. He came out with his mother a moment later.
“Oh my God, are you all right?” she asked me. I could only nod. “Did you see the face of the guy who did this?”
I shook my head.
“Stay put. I’m going to call your mother and tell her what happened,” she said, and went back inside.
Johnny looked at me with a blue smile on his blue face.
“What the hell did you tell her?” I asked.
“I told her a guy on a quad drove by and sprayed us with the two cans,” he said. “He got me with the blue stuff, and you pushed me out of the way, which is why you only got a little bit of the sparkly stuff on you.”
“Why did you tell her that?” I asked, terrified.
“Did you want me to tell her the truth and get us in trouble?” he asked. “Trust me. We’ll be fine.”
Right at that moment, Johnny’s mom peeked her head outside and told us that my mom said to go home. This was not something I was looking forward to.
At the dinner table that night, I underwent a series of questions. What happened? Did you get a good look at him? What was he driving? Are you all right? Why aren’t you blue?
I managed to dodge them all, saying that I’d really rather forget about it. They bought it, thank God, and I was able to finish my dinner in peace.
After dinner I walked back down the street to Johnny’s house and almost shit my pants when I got there.
There were cop cars in the driveway.
I made my way slowly up Johnny’s front walk. At his front door I stopped dead. Johnny saw me through the door, his eyes wide, and he gave an almost-imperceptible shake of his head. Don’t come in, it said. And keep your mouth shut. Then he smiled, almost as imperceptibly. Trust me.
I ducked down below the opening, and slinked off to the side of the porch. From there I could hear everything — thank God for screen doors.
“The quad was yellow and black,” Johnny was saying. “And there were some sort of stripes on it. The guy was wearing a black jacket with black gloves and a black helmet. I couldn’t get a good look at his face. All I knew is that we were out in the front when he drove up and started to spray us. Joe pushed me out of the way, but not before I got covered. Then he drove away.”
All at once I was on the verge of abject terror and complete hysteria. That Johnny was lying to police officers was bad enough, but that they were buying it was even worse. I couldn’t believe it — we were actually going to get away with it! I didn’t know whether to laugh my ass off or cry my eyes out.
“I think that’s enough,” the police officer said. “I think we knew exactly who you’re talking about.”
At that moment, I jumped off the porch and ran around to the back of the house. I waited until the cops were out of the driveway, then I crawled back out front and knocked on the door. Johnny came outside and we started talking.
A million questions floated into my head at that moment. How could you lie to the police? What happens if we get caught? What are we going to do?
All of my doubts disappeared, however, when Johnny turned to look at me.
“I told you I had a plan,” he said. “You just had to trust me.”
And I have, completely, from that day forward. To my knowledge, no one ever caught on to us.
It was a really good plan.