When my dad was a kid, 8 or 9 I think, he used to take a shortcut to school through a swamp. He lived right outside of Boston, and at the time much of the land was just wasteland and woods. He lived in a neighbourhood full of kids, each family forming a kind of platoon. He was one of eight, and 6th from the top. Anyway, he was walking to school one day when Tom and Philip Begley stopped him in the path. There was a little pond next to them, it was muddy and full of little bugs and frogs. Philip Begley, who was maybe 15, looked at my dad with a smirk before speaking. In my dad's description, he was the weirder, more sadistic, more evil of the two. “Hey Stephen, you wanna see me catch all the frogs in the pond?” My dad looked at him but didn’t say anything - he was too confused to employ his normal method of dealing with the Begley’s - which was just to run.
Tom stood behind Phillip. He had a toaster in one hand and an extension cord in the other. He connected the circuit and pulled down the switch. Without a word, he threw it into the pond. With a horrible hissing sound, a sound that my dad loves to recreate, all of the frogs floated to the top of the pond. Their little webbed feet twitched and then they were still. My dad, also still, didn’t know what to do. I think he ran at this point, but whenever he tells the story it’s a little unclear.
But that’s what my dad is like when he tells stories. Some parts have incredible detail and others are vague and change each time. When you ask him to clarify he doesn’t say that he can’t remember or that it’s fuzzy, he just repeats what he said before as if you didn't hear him correctly. The story always moves to another time when the Begley’s actually did try to beat him up. When he finally got home his two older brothers, Dennis and Freddy, asked him what was wrong. He told them what had happened, and, in his words, “yeah..they beat the shit outta the Begley’s”. He always starts laughing here and says something like “I got mercenaries to finish the job”.
I like this story so much because of how my dad tells it. He does it in this kind of monotone voice that is both sensitive and funny. It was such a mean and weird prank, and he’s the first to express that, but he also has this air when he tells it that's like, “what do you expect? We were bored.”
The last time I heard him tell it we were in the kitchen. My dad was making dinner and as he spoke he emphasized each point by smashing a clove of garlic with his fist. He continued to tell us about the “chestnut raids” he would mount on the Belmont estates, or, in his memory, where the rich people lived. He described whipping the other kids from his stingray with long beans, and as he spoke he sharpened his knife with loud metallic swooshes. He just started laughing again and said, “God we were so bored”, as if that explained it all.