It certainly looked that way—if he and his friends could catch us.
We had shot off our big mouths, and now the chase was on.
The Monkey Trail incident was the first time in my life I thought I was going to be ganged up on and get my ass kicked. Oh, I would go on to endure several group beat-downs in my youth, but the prospect is pretty terrifying when you’re only 11 years old.
The day started out innocently enough, with Craig Stewart and I riding our bikes through the Monkey Trail, a wooded lot in Sixteen Acres that connected Donbray Road and Lumae Street. I don’t know why it was called the Monkey Trail. Go ahead and Google “Monkey Trail” and you’ll get about 180,000 hits. There seems to be one in every city and town.
Countless neighborhood kids used to fly down this particular Monkey Trail on their bikes as fast as they could, after picking up speed on either Donbray or Lumae. It was kind of a daredevil tradition. Pick up a head of steam and take on the trail with all its bumps and see if you can make it to the other side without putting on your brakes.
On this fine summer day, I was 11 years old, and Craig was eight, and after we blazed through the Monkey Trail, we concluded, “Wouldn’t it be fucking hilarious if we blocked the path with logs and branches and shit?” I don’t know which one of us had this brilliant idea, but I, being the older one, will accept the blame.
So there we were, busy at work, laughing our asses off, laying a huge fallen tree and other debris across the trail, when all of a sudden five kids on bikes came whipping around the corner into the trail. The first one put on his brakes and tried to avoid the log by swerving to the left, but he hit it anyway—not head-on—but enough to flip him over the rotting tree and onto the ground. The second kid swerved to the right and his bicycle fishtailed, his rear wheel heading toward the log, so he bailed on his bike and hit the dirt. The other three slammed on their brakes and jumped off their bikes.
Holy shit. We were caught red-handed—both of us holding opposite ends of the log. And these guys were big—three or four years older than us.
“What the fuck? You assholes! I almost fucking got killed!” said the first kid.
“You guys are fucking dead!” said the second.
“No, no, you got it all wrong!” I interjected. “Some asshole blocked the path and we were moving all this crap out of the way.”
“Yeah,” said Craig, unconvincingly. “WE almost got killed.”
I would by lying to you if I gave you detailed descriptions of these guys, even in the interest of writing a compelling narrative by making them scary dudes with scars, and hideously ugly with braces and acne, etc. But the fact is that what they looked like has faded in memory over the years. The only thing I remember about them was that they were big, and they were pissed.
“Yeah, right, you little fucking liars,” said the first one as he brushed dirt off his clothes.
“Oh, you guys are dead,” said the second one.
“We should kick your asses,” said the first kid as he and the second guy took each side of the log and began moving it out of the way. “Hey, you! Fucking four-eyes! Help us move this before I break my back.”
I wore glasses when I was a kid, and “four eyes” were usually fighting words with me, but a challenge at this point was out of the question. We were younger, smaller, outnumbered, and way out of our immediate neighborhood. We were smack in the middle of a wooded lot, so there would be no adult to put a stop to the massacre. While it was the ultimate indignity for me to help them move the log, there was also a sense of relief that they weren’t going to beat us to a pulp. Truth be told, they were probably much too old to give us a beating, although I wasn’t going to push my luck by telling them what they could do with the fucking log.
“Get the fuck outta here and don’t come back!” said the first guy.
“If we ever catch you in here again, you’re dead!” said his buddy.
So Craig and I rode to the corner of Donbray and Martel Road and stopped. And then we started yelling at these guys. I don’t remember who came up with this brilliant idea either. But I, being the older one, will once again accept the blame. From several houses down we couldn’t see them in the Monkey Trail, and maybe we figured they’d walk out to the street, give us the finger, yell a few epithets, and go back and finish clearing the path.
“Hey! Fuck you, you motherfuckers!” I barked. “Ha! Ha! Ha! You guys are a bunch of cocksuckers!”
We were practically doubling over in laughter. Were we insane? Yes. Quite.
“Eat shit!” Craig screamed. “Fuck you, you fucking assholes!”
Suddenly, all five of them came tear-assing on their bikes out of the woods. They had already picked up some speed, and we had just been sitting there. But not for long. We instantly screwed. The chase was on.
I headed for Wilbraham Road, away from my home, but I figured we could lose them in the woods behind Glickman School if we pedaled fast enough. God, what were we thinking? Why did I assume they wouldn't come after us?
Jesus, my calves were burning. I had never pedaled so hard. At Wilbraham Road I glanced over my shoulder, but Craig was gone, and the kids were nowhere in sight. Where the hell did he—they—go? Craig must have headed in the other direction, I reasoned, down Martel to Fenway to Fairlawn, and either fled to the Putnam’s Puddle woods on Sunrise Terrace or to the safety of his house.
Oh shit, who was I kidding? They must have caught up to him, I thought. I was much faster, and I had my red Raleigh racer, and all he had was his Apollo Racer. His bike was good for leaving skid marks—he held the neighborhood record with a 52-foot skid—but the thing was heavy and slow, and so was he. Christ, I thought, they probably took his bike and left him on the street, bloody and crying. I rode like a madman down the sidewalk on Wilbraham Road and then flew down Maebeth Street—my street—to Craig’s house.
Then Craig appeared out of nowhere, unscratched, unscathed, and sweating like hell. “They… almost… caught… up to me,” he said, panting heavily. “One guy reached out and almost grabbed my shirt—just as I turned into the Mezettis’ driveway on Catalpa. I just rode into their back yard. I don’t think anybody was home.” The pursuers had probably thought that he lived there, one street away from ours, and they apparently gave up and took off, not wanting to face his parents. From then on, he was home free, having cut through a couple of yards to Maebeth. There was no sign of the bastards as we caught our breath.
But being lucky wasn’t good enough for us. Oh, no siree. Craig and I kept urging Dan to exact revenge, even though we were the ones who had acted like punks. No, we didn’t tell him about our swearing and taunting. Ken was 16, and he got his friend Carl, who was also 16, and I had visions of turning the tables on the Monkey Trail dudes. So all four of us walked to the scene of the crime. Craig and I figured the assholes would be hanging around on the path, but when we reached our destination, they were nowhere in sight—and that was a good thing, in retrospect.
And did we have thoughts about blocking the Monkey Trail again during this second visit? Of course. We were little weasels—what can I say? But Ken told us to cut the shit and go home—that was enough excitement for one day.
Moral of the story: if you shoot off your wise mouth, you might just get your ass kicked. Did I learn my lesson from this experience, or am I still a punky kid? Well, 35 years later, I have a message of apology for those dudes on the Monkey Trail: “Fuck you, you motherfuckers!”