We had a family friend named Ron, who everyone called Captain Ron. He was always found shooting heroin in an abandoned rowboat on the beach. Jokes about Dick Cheney were a staple in his repertoire. His big prediction involved the world flooding and people living in houseboats and treehouses from thereon out. Drive-bys would be done by speedboats and everyone would get drunk on rooftops. The number of drownings per year would skyrocket, accidental or murder, and many paranoids wouldn’t be caught dead without leaving their house in scuba gear. I liked to imagine him nodding off, sailing a big ship and wearing a White Zombie shirt with an eyepatch and peg leg, a parrot on his shoulder yelling phrases it learned from listening to Captain Ron’s ramblings to himself.

“I got psycho blood!”

“God, I love it, honey!”

“Someday, I will crack the universe in half!”

His son Joey used to eat his lunch in a tree. He wore a Freddy Krueger mask and shot his dad’s pellet gun at cars that drove by. Joey and I started making homemade bombs and setting fires together, becoming pyromaniacs when we were 8 years old. Captain Ron’s garage had cans of gasoline and what felt like a lifetime supply of firecrackers and M80s. We never knew what we were doing, or even how to make a bomb. Just supplies, our imagination, anecdotal evidence, and trial-and-error. Most of the first bombs didn’t work, but we eventually found different ingredient combinations that produced the result we were after.

We’d go to a field shortly down the road from my trailer and set the bombs off, one by one, listening to home-recorded Ozzy tapes and smoking cigarettes I stole from my grandma, while we marvelled at our craftsmanship from afar.

Some of the bombs were buried underground to see if they would kick up dirt; some had action figures or toads attached with duct tape. But most either sat on the ground, or on top of a piece of wood, one or both of us lighting them and sprinting away to an overturned barrel. It’s a miracle neither one of us ended up with an amputee, though I was fascinated with the look and mechanisms of prosthetic limbs at that age.

On one of our bike treks to the field, we crossed paths with a couple kids who lived a little ways down the road and had access to guns. The recoil from the rifles we shot affected my small frame so painfully and extremely, I ended that summer with more bruises on my right shoulder and chest than I’ve ever had in my life, trying as much as I could to hide them from my parents.

These new kids seemed to come into our lives almost as a test of how much trouble we were willing to get ourselves into. Their mischief of choice was a game of breaking-and-entering and getting their kicks by pranking whoever lived in the house, either moving furniture, picture frames, shoes, etc. or sounding off an airhorn in the middle of the night. At times, these games resulted in being chased out of the house, threats concerning the police or physical assault escaping the mouths of angry homeowners, meth abusers, and moochers.

I can’t tell you how many flaming bags of dog shit we lit on people’s porches, how many mailboxes we hid garter snakes in, how many lawn ornaments we threw on top of roofs, how many items we stole from houses, rocks thrown into open windows, shooting piss from Super Soakers at front doors, shooting rifles at abandoned houses and pictures of Osama Bin Laden.

Things quickly grew out of hand when the kids, donning paintball guns, wanted to play a game where they would shoot at our neighbors’ dogs in a “paintball drive-by.” My stomach dropped, nearly kissing the core of the earth while Joey did all the talking, eventually convincing them it wasn’t a good idea. That was one of the last times we saw them hanging around, other than a few run-ins at the local park where they’d be arrested for selling meth years later.

Joey remained one of my best friends, hanging out almost every other day. But after the night he shot me with these modified Nerf bullets he made, where he super-glued thumbtacks to the ends, my parents stopped letting us hang out. And when Captain Ron moved to Mississippi, he took Joey with him, and I never saw either of them again.