Al Batt: Marshal Wannabe at The Put It Back Store
Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt
A friend suggested we try paintball.
I declined. Here’s why.
I liked Roy Rogers better than Gene Autry.
I liked Gene Autry better than Hopalong Cassidy.
I liked Marshal Matt Dillon more than the other three.
I wanted to visit Dodge Center, Minnesota, because I thought it’d be like Dodge City, Kansas, where Marshal Dillon plied his trade. That would have been great. I got a Twinkie instead. A Twinkie was the breakfast of third-place finishers. Back when I hoped for Twinkies, I was armed like my cowboy heroes wearing the white hats and some who didn’t wear white hats like Hopalong and Marshal Dillon (a man of many hats).
I owned light artillery — squirt gun, cap gun, pea shooter and rubber band gun. They were weapons of mass irritation. We were seldom told not to point a toy gun or loaded forefinger at someone in those days of yore, but we were warned constantly to be careful or we’d put someone’s eye out. Even a squirt gun was capable of that dastardly deed. I tried to offset that concern by using my squirt gun for good things — watering thirsty garden plants and as training for a future career as a volunteer firefighter. I figured that had gotten my brother his gig.
I scrimped, saved and used my meager retirement savings kept in a Prince Albert tobacco tin to buy a spud gun at The Put It Back Store. You know that place. No matter what I grabbed from a shelf, begged incessantly for (I’ll never ask for another thing), claimed to be the only boy in the world without one, or how many times I asked bravely, “Can I have this?” my mother said, “Put it back.”
The spud gun was a puny plastic pretend pistol that used air pressure to propel potato pellet projectiles with a pop from pole to pole and all points in between. I didn’t read the terms and conditions.
I had a brain cramp on a day our yellowish report cards were arriving in butterscotch-colored envelopes. I took my spud gun and a potato to school. I did so because not all the positions for people who do stupid things had been filled. My bad decision was an unplowed pasture that couldn’t wait for show-and-tell day. I had a date with destiny and wasn’t worried about possible litigation. Johnny Cash wasn’t singing “Don’t take your guns to town, son” as I left the house. Because he wasn’t, I blamed him for everything.
I sat at my desk and put my spud gun and ammo inside it. I looked around the classroom. I spotted Gary. He was drawing in a Big Chief tablet in an effort to overcome his fear of trapezoids. I liked Gary but he made a perfect target.
I loaded my spud gun by using its muzzle to pry out a tater fragment. The two girls sitting between us were problematic. Their heads were in the way of Gary’s noggin. Then one girl leaned to the left to stir a paste pot with its built-in paddle. The other girl leaned to the right to pass a note to a friend. Their heads parted like the waters of the Red Sea. It was meant to happen. I aimed and pulled the trigger.
The tuber torpedo hit Gary’s ear with the plunk of a ripe watermelon. His functional vocabulary dropped to a single word that he shouldn’t have said as his Ticonderoga #2 yellow pencil flew farther than the potato missile had.
My teacher gave me a look that could freeze water. She had amazing powers of perception and used them as judge and jury in finding me guilty. I had no alibi and errors weren’t dismissed with a “My bad” in those days or I’d have said that. If we learn from our mistakes, I’d be a genius twice over.
I was afraid I’d be sent away. Sent away to the school dungeon or, even worse, to the principal’s office where the principal wasn’t always a pal. Instead, my teacher blistered me with the scolding of the ages. She told me I could have put an eye out. The legend is that her words still echo in those hallowed halls.
She seized my spud gun. I had to apologize to Gary and I had to mean it.
“You’ll get this back when you’ve learned to behave yourself,” she said.
That hasn’t happened yet.
Al Batt’s column appears every Wednesday in the Tribune.
Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt I was playing the part of me. I’d spoken at a thing in... read more