By Paul D. Dickinson
Many of the things in my life that have turned out to be stupid– started out as being cool– in fact there is a fine line between what is cool and what is stupid. My entire life is full of stupid moves– I call it a well rounded education.
When I was about 15, me and my friends built a fort, And like a good skateboarding ramp, all forts need to be made out of lumber stolen from a construction site. When you are 15 you will run down a busy street with a huge sheet of plywood. We felt protected by some sort of Amnesty– we were building a fort, after all. We built said structure on a vacant ravine in the middle of inner city St. Paul. This wasn’t that long ago, really, but it was indeed before they attempted to put condos on every inch of God’s green earth. So there were vacant lots and ravines that, like the plywood, we considered our birthright. So we built this fort right into the side of a hill– it was part Hobbit home and part machine gun nest. It was cool. We need a place to stash all Playboys we found with the covers removed in the 7-11 dumpster on Grand Ave, as well as other precious treasures of teenage boys including knives and cigarettes.
The thing about building a fort, and this explains why people jump Snake River Canyon with a Motorcycle or climb Mount Everest- once the fort is done, you have to do something else. So we got some rope, the same way we got the plywood, and built a system of commando style links between a few trees- we would shimmy like Rambo between the trees – that was cool. Then we started firing model rockets with the nose cones glued on– out of the ravine, down into the houses and traffic below. To protect ourselves from retaliation, we built Burmese style tiger traps in the side of the hill- so anyone unfamiliar with our elaborate secret path , running up the hill to get us might fall in one of these pits- that was cool.
But it was stupid when Bobby O’ Niell brought his mom’s 45 Automatic down to the fort. Now, at first it was cool , because nothing is cooler than a gun. But the jackass had some blanks in the gun-which really made no sense, his mom was a real estate agent, not an actress in action films! Well, he starts shooting it off- and it was as loud as hell!! We began to argue. Bobby just kept firing the damn thing. It seemed like a good time to leave either by foot, or elaborate commando rope network. But I didn’t, because I was stupid.
All the Kung Fu movies I had been watching did not prepare me for happened next–an overweight but intrepid St. Paul Cop, gun drawn, had run up the hill, somehow dodged all of our death traps- and before I knew it, I was lying in the dirt, face down and handcuffed- not cool. I got lucky– Since Bobby was older and had the gun, they brought him to jail– but this cop actually brought me home- where a fate worse than jail awaited me from my parents. But they were not there- It was my lovely Grandma that lived with us– She really sweet talked the cop, made all sorts of promises. When the Cop left- she looked at me, with the most severe look I’ve ever seen on a human being and said “No more Fort”. Cool.
Paul D. Dickinson is a Minnesota poet with many books, a film about him, and he is the co-host of the famous Riot Act Reading Series, which is generally run out of the Turf. He also fronts the band Frances Gumm.