Courtney Ball

The Strange and Lawless World of Danny’s Place

(True stories, but names changed so as not to soil anyone’s image.)

When I was in high school, one of my best friends, Tim, started spending a lot of time with a kid named Danny who lived down the street from us. At first, my other friends and I couldn’t understand why. Danny was a weird dude.

Then we realized that Danny had lots of toys and basically no rules at his house. His father was rarely home. When he did come home, it was clear he did not want to be bothered.

They say an idle mind is the Devil’s playground. Danny’s playground was well equipped. His father ran an excavating business, and in their huge back yard were a garage and all kinds of machinery to mess with. Danny also had a three-wheeler and was the only one of my friends who owned a car.

His possessions and the complete lack of adult supervision were enough to entice Tim, me, and the rest of our small gang to look beyond Danny’s odd behavior. Once we did, we realized that not only was Danny a little crazy, he was also a hell of a lot of fun! He was up for anything, and his creativity for mischief-making was unmatched by anyone else I knew.

It’s a wonder we didn’t all die at his hands, really. Some of us, including Danny, came close a few times.

I remember one camping trip we all took in southern Iowa, when we decided to cross the border into Missouri and buy a bunch of fireworks. Afterward, I was in my parents’ car and Danny was driving his truck. Before long, we were engaged in a Roman candle battle, firing them off at each other as we drove down a country road. It ended when Danny’s truck abruptly pulled to the side, the doors flew open, and everyone dove out. Firework explosions and smoke filled the cab as we all watched.

Danny, like most teenage boys, had a fondness for explosives. The difference between him and us was that he usually had plenty of unsupervised access to them. One time, he burned all the hair off his face and part of his head when he emptied the gunpowder out of his fireworks and held a lighter to the pile.

Another time, Danny found his father’s shotgun and decided to try it out. Knowing that it was illegal to shoot a gun inside city limits and not knowing where to go outside city limits, Danny used his basement.

If Danny’s house and yard were a realm of relatively lax rules, then his basement was its inner sanctum, the place where all laws and sense were simply abandoned. Danny found an old couch somewhere and dragged it down into his basement to use as a can’t-miss target. He, Chuck, and Tim took turns blasting the stuffing out of it that afternoon.

Here’s another event that took place in Danny’s basement. One summer day, he and four or five other friends had been playing with fireworks again. At one point they went inside to hang out in the basement, and someone came up with the idea of shooting a bottle rocket into the floor drain, just to see what would happen.

So, they held one over the drain, lit the fuse, and let it go. The muffled hissing of the rocket was followed by a dull pop. A second later, as they all stood around it watching for whatever might result, the drain erupted with a room-covering explosion, splattering each of them head to toe with rank, dripping sewage. Screams of shock were followed with howls of laughter.

Part of me wishes I was there to see their faces at that moment, but I really am thankful I wasn’t present for that particular incident. I imagine the story of the event is actually more fun than the experience of it.

Sometimes I miss my friends and the crazy things we did. Still, now that I am a father, I am also glad not to be raising teenage boys!

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Courtney Ball

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