Well, of course Jay Broadhurst doesn’t stink, wherever he might be these days, any more than he did when he was eight years old and I was seven. What calls that offensive phrase to my mind is the sight of the newly paved street in front of my house. It stretches forth in its flat blackness like a newly washed chalkboard, begging to have something written on it. Just like our street in Woodbury right after World War II, when the domestic economy was picking up and all the towns were having their streets paved.
There was no traffic on the street. People weren’t so prosperous yet that they had cars to drive around in. Mr. Lammert still had the car that he drove to Deb’s elementary school, where he was the principal–the car whose right front tire I had destroyed in my wickedness, but that’s another story–and Mrs. North’s son Louie had a Jeep he brought home from the war. These vehicles were kept in garages that faced on the alley, though, and they went in and out by Cooper Street, not Woodland Avenue. At dawn the milk wagon drove on the glorious unmarked blackness of the street, and later the bread wagon. But by the time Deb and I got home from school the street was empty. You could lie down in the middle of it in perfect safety. Or you could crouch down and write things.
“I have a piece of chalk,” Deb said.
“Give it to me,” I said.
“What are you going to write?”
What, indeed? “Kilroy wuz here” would have been good, but the humor of it was too subtle for my second-grade mind. Maybe I would write something about Jay Broadhurst, my sidekick. Who am I kidding? I was the sidekick in that relationship. It was Jay who had put me in a cardboard box and dragged me all over the neighborhood in his red wagon, boxed in, unable to see a thing. It was Jay who had said you could start a Jeep by pushing the starter button. We were sitting in the front seat of Louie North’s Jeep at the time, in Mrs. North’s garage.
“Bet you can’t,” I said. So he pushed the button. The Jeep started right up, chugga-chugga, and although it didn’t move except to shake from side to side the effect was terrifying. I never ran so fast in my life. Or Jay either.
So I felt impelled to honor him in some way on this virginal street, my crony, my sometime partner in crime. I wrote his name, in the boldest print I could manage with Deb’s piece of chalk. JAY.
“Jay what?” said Deb.
“You wrote your boyfriend’s name.”
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
“Yes, he is. Katie has a boyfriend, Katie has a boyfriend…”
“Is not.” I finished the inscription. JAY STINKS. It seemed hilariously funny. We both laughed and laughed.
After that I had to make myself scarce for two or three days when the word went around the neighborhood that Jay was looking for me to beat me up. That was an unusual thrill. I used to have dreams of fleeing and hiding out, mostly inspired by sensational radio dramas. Still I hadn’t ever had a real threat to run from that I can remember other than the nuns, who never actually laid hands on me. But Jay Broadhurst was going to beat me up.
He finally found me in Barry Hurff’s back yard, across the street from my house. Face to face, we stared at each other. Now what? All the kids were watching. Honor must be satisfied. Closer and closer he came.
Finally he gave me a good punch on the arm, turned on his heel, and left. Did I cry? I can’t remember.
I guess I took a lesson from that. We who are writers must be careful. A good insult is a delicious thing to craft, satisfying, meaty. Still, it can cause you trouble if you put it in the street.
(The above picture is of Deb, Mary Liz, and me enjoying life in Woodbury.)