Unlike many youngins I know today who’d implode from boredom and cluelessness without access to a tablet, television, or other nonsense-powered technology, my childhood homies and I were pretty active, outdoorsy kids. Though we were introduced to computers early and were known to overdo it on the Nintendo, we were just as happy out the house, searching for gumballs and rocks for our slingshots and befriending weird white kids in nearby neighborhoods for access to their trampolines and fruit snacks.
When not building sprawling Lego kingdoms and power-watching Sister Act 2, Thurston (my first non-family friend, who I met soon after moving into our one-story Peach castle at the wise age of 4.75) and I made itineraries, packed lunches, and rode our bikes hither and yon around 1998, Virginia in search of adventure and adult ire. We were, briefly in reality yet forever in our hearts, part of the Ghostwriter team. We neighborhood hellraisers fought atop and rolled down dirt mounds inside construction sites, swung across ditches, claimed newly vacant homes on the block as playhouses and occasionally got kicked out of Toys R Us for climbing up the bikes into those miniature log cabins and doll houses and throwing balls and toys at passing customers.
We spent summers in backyards playing kickball, catching poison ivy, and corralling and dividing beloved, tolerated, and feared kids alike into factions for neighborhood-wide hide-and-seek operations.
The Age of Jenny Jones makeovers was a helluva time.
Recently, on a trip back to 1998, Thurston and I agreed on the provenance of the most ridiculous, most slaviest of our childhood exploits, Hot Peas & Butter.
I’m assuming 70-something percent of y’all have no idea what the fuck Hot Peas & Butter is, so lemme explain.
During “Hot Peas and Butter” — a leisure activity once enjoyed immensely by reputable Atlanta wordsmith and fervent advocate for the trap lifestyle Tip Harris and the products of past romantic overtures with his partner in matrimony — when you find a hidden belt, you’re allowed to beat the shit out of whomever you encounter en route to the base. If you’re in luck, you’ll corner your least favorite neighborhood kid and watch them squirm to avoid a lashing. Occasionally belts are dropped and folks get to scrapping. Agreeing to play meant being down to take a beat down in the name of fun. Some kids ran back around the house, others hopped the fence to escape to freedom.
Harriett Tubman would be so proud.
“It was those damn Crouses.”
The Crouses are from “the country,” up yonder in Radford and New River, Virginia. I share a last name with their mama’s side of the family. I don’t know. Their house and yard was a frequent site for our juvenile fuckery.
One time, after a contentious round of “Bubblegum, Bubblegum in a dish…,” Omar, my neighbor’s youngest brother, was chosen to be it. The rest of us goofed around by the big tree in Santana’s front yard as Omar did his thing out of our sight in the backyard. The gate burst open and he summoned us past the truck in which Mr. Crouse made and sold some of the best fish sammiches i have eaten in my 32.6 years of Blackness to the war zone, watching us spread out, surveying and searching behind trees, inside the shed, beside fences, on clothes lines.
“You’re cold…you’re getting colder!” as someone approached a picnic table or waded through a thick patch of grass.
A few of us convened upon their patio, nervously looking inside cooIers and peeking around the side of the house.
“You’re getting warmer…” from Omar across the yard. Panic swept across the dancerie. Weaker foes backed away from the drama, inching towards safety.
“Bitch kids” is what we called that type.
The ancestors told me the prize was inside the grill, but I played it cool. I fumbled around by the sliding door, looking on the side of the house, keeping my third eye on my immediate targets.
“You’re getting hotter!”
I lunged towards the grill, lifted its cover, and there it was. A long leather belt with a big silver buckle. Apparently, you’re supposed to yell out “Hot peas and butter, come get your supper!” but we were far too cool for that shit. I grabbed that motherfucker, spun around and there he was, the new kid who could never have company when his parents weren’t home without a lengthy logistical debate via house phone, likely because their house smelled like potpourri and dumpster juice-infused pot liquor, Kaymonn.
Kaymonn beat me one too many times in Goldeneye and I didn’t fully trust that nigga. This was my time. He took off running. I swung with the power of 1001 disenfranchised ancestors with each strike, landing two or three blessed blows. Amen.
If we had more initiative, we would’ve taken our Ass-Whippin’ Nigglet act up the road to Colonial Williamsburg to get work as surly young field niggers in their live slavery exhibits over the summer. Next time.
We played and beat the hell out of each other for a few weeks, carrying out our overseer wishes and plantation dreams upon one another up until Santana’s younger brother, a budding tattletale, got hit in the face with the belt buckle and their mom forbade us from playing ever again.