Mr. Ackerman was old and fat and slow. Before he could really get moving in pursuit—his pince-nez always fell off and delayed him—we were out of sight huddled under a railroad bridge in a little dry wash a good quarter-mile away. In the right wind we could hear rich Teutonic oaths spluttering in a juicy shower of saliva.
Of course, Mr. Ackerman could have stopped us at any time, just by complaining to our stern father. If I'm not mistaken, he found a certain joie de vivre in protecting his tree house from the uninvited. Right up until the time we went all the way into South Pasadena to high school he sat daily guard over his sidewalks. He had a fine, full, busy retirement.
The bat and ball were another case in point. We'd start out playing baseball in the accepted manner, with a little wrangling over turns at bat and such. In minutes the game would deteriorate into shrill accusations of "Cheat! Cheat!" Somebody would throw a stone, nature's gift of ammunition to the young, and the ball game instantly would turn another facet. We dropped bat and ball. Instead of baseball, we played stone tag. Our mother would come out on the back porch and ask plaintively,
"Why can't you play ball?"
"We are," we'd answer, whistling a stone past an incautious head.
"We're just deciding the score."
Stone tag, as we played it, was a great game, in which the loser was a double loser. The point of it was simple: you threw stones at one another. It's still played in our neighborhood endlessly, day after day, year after year, despite all the tearful threats and punishments handed out by outraged mothers. All children with appropriate terrain play stone tag (though some of the smarter ones claim they're only throwing "hard dirt"), but we had a refinement I've never run across around here.
The slave of the hitter
The hit person—he who had suffered—outside of all reason became the slave of the hitter. He was placed—the hit one—in the grain room of the barn, locked in for varying periods in a dark little cubbyhole full of spiders and the dusty smell of chicken mash. The hittee could come out only upon agreeing to do the will of the hitter, who spent the interim devising some punishment of peculiar horror and ingenuity. I remember once we made my little sister Jeanne breathe gasoline from the tank in the corner of the garage until she fell into something approximating a coma and went around dizzy and distracted for a considerable period thereafter.
We had access to tools, too, and sometimes even used them to make "cars" and "boats." But mostly our talent lay in the devising of weapons. The sharpened stick, the stick sword, the dagger—we whittled them with precision and used them with skill.