The Adventures of Harry Fruitgarden: Whats it All About?
By Lawrence Vijay Girard
Why? Why? Why? I keep asking myself, but I can’t seem to get a clear answer. When I look around people seem so purposeful, like they know what they are doing and why. I feel like I can’t quite figure things out. It’s not that I’m dumb. At least, I don’t think that I am. I get good enough grades in school. But in school all we talk about is names, dates, or particular information: like in science or history. I want to know about life. Not just what has happened in the past, but what I am supposed to be doing here, today. What’s it all about? That’s what I want to know.
Sometimes I just need to get away and think things out. That’s when I look for a special “thinking spot”. Unfortunately, my thinking spot at school is a place where I’m not supposed to go.
A soothing westerly breeze was ruffling my bright red hair as I mentally soared in a cloudless sky. Nothing could hold me back. I was free as the air and flying high above a living canopy of stately oak trees. Even though my eyes were closed, the sun was bright. I remembered that my freckled face was subject to sunburn. “No,” I thought, “the sun is my friend. I greet it with appreciation and accept its warming embrace.” As I tried to recapture that wonderful sensation of flying, the balloon of my thoughts was popped by a loud whistle.
I recognized the source of the whistle immediately. It wasn’t a friendly puckering of lips that you use to call a friend or to imitate the call of a bird. It was the blaring whistle of the playground “Safety”, who was on guard to catch students doing “evil” things. Things that the school officials felt weren’t safe for the “little ones”, like climbing the twenty-foot fence behind the handball court.
I knew from experience that there was only one way to escape. I had done it before, but it was risky. I looked over my shoulder to see where the Safety was. He was on the right. Okay, I would go to the left. But first, I would have to get to the ground as fast as possible.
It is amazing how fast the mind can work in a pinch. I have heard that when a person dies their whole life flashes before their minds eye. I’m not sure how that could work with a whole life, but right now all of the times I had climbed and descended this fence were totaling up in my mind so that I could use any of those past experiences to help me in my present moment of need.
I remembered the first time I had tried to climb the fence as a third grader. Looking up from the bottom, the chain link fence seemed to go up forever. I had been pretty nervous about climbing up. It was a long way to fall if I made a mistake. Now, as a seventh grader, I had climbed the fence hundreds of times and I was now a veteran.
There is a double reason why the fence is so tall. The first is so that we won’t be able to accidentally throw balls over it. The second is that on the other side of the fence there is a golf course, and everyone knows that golfers have a tough time keeping their golf balls on the course. The builders of this fence thought they were protecting us kids from potential harm, but what they were really doing was creating a truly great climbing spot.
On the northern side of the playground there is a double handball court made out of cement, with one of its side walls parallel and just a foot and a half from the fence. The ends of the wall are only about ten feet tall, but as it peaks up in the middle it rises to a full twenty feet. Since the chain links in the fence are the perfect size for inserting a youthful size foot, climbing up by hand and foot is simple as can be. If you get tired on the way up or down you can just lean back against the cement wall and rest.
The cement wall also does duty as protection from the eyes of those who feel that climbing such fences is dangerous and not to be done. The key is to keep your head from poking out above the top. I had been careless. I had let my head rise up above the top and now my only hope was a desperate escape.
I had descended quickly before, but it is always a bit risky to go too fast. While my feet were well protected in my tennis shoes, the chain links of the fence can scratch your hands pretty badly if you aren’t careful. And if you get going too fast you might lose control and fall. The key is to lean back a little and let your rear slide down the smooth surface of the cement, while letting your feet angle so that they will slide freely down the fence. Then, you just let yourself slide down, grabbing the fence every once in awhile with a hand – just in case something goes wrong.
In the excitement of the moment I really went for it and let myself slide down at full speed. I dropped down the fence so fast that I could hardly believe I was already at the bottom. It had been incredibly smooth and exhilarating. In fact, it was so much fun that I wanted to do it again. I had to remind myself that my first priority now was escape.
I shuffled to the left side after reaching the bottom and looked around the corner.
There was a small group of kids playing nearby and no sign of the playground safety. Yes, he had gone to the other side. I walked casually into the group and acted like I had been playing with them all along. A few moments passed and it seemed like I would be safe, but then, the Safety appeared from behind the handball court and started toward our little group. I wasn’t sure if he had seen who it was up there. Had he recognized me?
“Harry, I saw you up there!” the Safety yelled as he approached our group. He reached out to take me by the arm. I knew he would present me to the teacher on playground duty and I would have to stay after school. They might even send a note home to my parents. No, I couldn’t let this happen!
Did he really know it was me? Maybe he was bluffing. Trying to get me to admit it when he wasn’t really sure? I could play that game too. Who was he or anyone else to say that I couldn’t climb the fence? There wasn’t anything wrong with it. Why won’t they just leave me alone?
“No you didn’t!” I screamed back at the top of my lungs, stepping back to avoid his grasp. I could see his eyes widen with surprise at the strength of my response. There was a moment of hesitation, had I called his bluff? Would he back down?
“Yes I did!” he shouted back at me. “I saw your red hair, and there isn’t anyone else with red hair around here. You were up there and I caught you!”
“No you didn’t!” I rallied in my defense. I was desperate. I knew he had me, but I wasn’t going to give up.
There was a momentary pause as the safety tried to decide what to do. He was bigger and stronger than I. I had always avoided physical fighting in the past. I used my mouth to attack or defend as words came to mind. It had gotten me into plenty of trouble in the past, but never into a fight. The safety started toward me and in that moment I made my choice.
As he grabbed for my arm I side stepped to the right and let my feet do the rest. I was off like the wind, with only the vague thought that: He couldn’t turn me in if he couldn’t catch me!
Don’t misunderstand, I am no great athlete. I can run well enough, but I am not going to be invited to the Olympics. Right then though, I did have a burning desire not to be caught.
As I took off across the playground the safety was quick to respond. He pursued me with a vengeance and yelled at me to stop. It didn’t take long for everyone on the playground to figure out what was going on. I don’t know where the teacher on duty was, but nothing stopped us in our race. I maintained my lead and began to feel more confident that he wouldn’t catch me, but he had another trick up his sleeve.
As the safety chased me he began to call out for help. He was wearing an armband that identified him as the Safety for the period, so the other kids had reason to believe that he was to be trusted. At first, just a few kids joined the chase. Gradually their numbers increased until about half of the kids on the playground were chasing me, while the other half stood watching this unexpected spectacle with youthful glee.
There were now about thirty kids chasing me. It was like nothing I had ever seen or experienced. The energy of the moment brought me to a whole new level of awareness and I began to run, twist, and turn in ways that I had never before imagined.
I forgot why I was being chased. I only knew the joy of not being caught. I was running, stopping, swirling, ducking, and jumping, it was like a dance. I felt that I was in harmony with my pursuers. They were not the enemy, but my friends.
The yelling had stopped, but the dance continued. Shouts of anger had been turned into smiles of adventure. I was like a comet with a trail behind me. I was tireless and filled with a joyful confidence.
When the school bell rang to end the recess I knew I had won. Like the bell at the end of a boxing match, the hostilities cease, and so I stopped running and was patted on the back with congratulations by my former pursuers. Even the Safety came up to me and smiled. By unspoken consent nothing further was said about my fence climbing. I had earned my freedom.
Unfortunately, the missing teacher who was on playground duty chose that moment to appear.