How much fun could you possibly have in a run-down residential neighborhood in Lewiston, Maine? That’s the question my childhood friends and I tested ourselves with every day during the summers. The answer is more than you’d think. As soon as our mom left for work, my brother and I would hurry over to knock on the door of the white and green house across the street. One of five children would appear behind the screen door: Amil, Angelina, Victor, Anthony, or Star. That was everyone’s cue to spill out onto the street and begin another day of shenanigans.
On this particular day our shenanigans were taking place in the barren lot behind the old abandoned laundromat around the corner from our houses. We were playing one of our favorite games: hide from Cielo, the insanely annoying little girl down the street.
“Guuuuyys! Where’d you go?” Her whiny voice echoed around the block as we peeked out from behind the ugly building. The tiny, neon-pink clad goblin appeared at the end of the road.
“Oh shit here she comes hide hide hide!” Whispered Anthony, our lookout. Adrenaline rushed through our bodies as we shoved and shushed each other. I crouched down to make sure I was out of Cielo’s sight, and noticed something colorful lying in the dirt. Of course, children are legally required to inspect anything colorful they find on the ground, and as a law-abiding citizen I naturally obeyed. It was delightfully smooth, made of blown glass. Red, blue, yellow and green swirled their way through the mysterious object. Whatever it was, it was absolutely beautiful.
“Woah, guys look at this…” I marveled. Everyone crowded around to have a look at the treasure I had found.
“What is it?” Victor asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied, passing it over to him. We were befuddled by the thing, each one of us trying to get our hands on it so we could look for clues as to what it might be. It made its way over to Angelina.
“It kind of looks like a spoon. Like a really fancy spoon,” she offered. We all nodded at this theory, but it didn’t feel exactly right. Yes, there was a thin cylinder that looked like it might be the holding part which turned into a bigger part at the end with a dip in it where maybe you could scoop things. But the shape was too weird for it to be meant as a spoon. Besides, who needs a blown glass spoon? We went back to the drawing board.
“Oh, there’s a hole at the end!” Amil pointed out, and it was true - there was a small opening at the smaller end.
“Maybe you blow in it,” my brother Alex said.
“So it’s a whistle!” I exclaimed. That made sense. Lots of people had decorative guitars and drum sets, of course someone could have a pretty looking whistle! We all looked at each other, waiting for someone to offer themselves up to try it out.
“Lemme see it,” Victor said, extending his hand. He wiped the end off with his shirt (the most reliable way to remove germs) and wrapped his lips around the little tube. A soft “ooo” emerged from the other end, the kind that goes in and out like when you blow on a bottle top. That was good enough for us. Mystery solved!
Once Cielo finally gave up her hunt for us, we emerged back out onto the street and filled the rest of the day with play. Foursquare, jackpot, hide and seek - we were truly masters of monkey business. By dinnertime Alex and I were absolutely bushed. We bid "see you tomorrow" to our friends and went in for the night. As I pulled down my pants to change into my jammies I felt something press against my leg. My treasure! How could I forget? I raced down the stairs, eager to show it off. Hearing the heavy creak of my father’s footsteps at the end of the hallway, I knew I had found my lucky first audience member.
“Dad, look!” I lifted the whistle to my lips and started blowing away, even though it only made a sound about 25% of the time. My dad turned, that calm smile on his face that comes when a child is about to do something cute, but as soon as he registered what I was doing that smile disappeared pretty quick.
“Get that out of your mouth!” He demanded. I was confused by his angry tone.
“No it’s okay, I cleaned it off already!” I assured him.
“Who gave that to you?”
“Nobody! I found it!”
“On the ground next to the laundromat!”
“Give it to me right now.” He began coming closer to me, coming for my treasure. I backed away.
“Why? It’s just a whistle!”
“It’s not a whistle, Maddison. Give it to me.” He held out his hand.
“If it’s not a whistle, what is it?”
“It doesn’t matter. You can’t have it.” I was so utterly confused by everything happening. What else could it be besides a whistle? And why was it making my dad so mad, and why wouldn’t he even tell me what it really was? But I had learned over the years that it was best not to argue with my dad when his face was this particular shade of red. I reluctantly dropped the beautiful glass object into his hand. Life is unfair.
The next day I told my friends about the bizarre incident in the hallway to see if they had any theories. We all sat on their front porch, pondering.
“What if it like, means something bad, you know?” Amil suggested. Angelina’s eyes lit up.
“Ooh, what if witches use it to make potions and stuff!” This got us all thinking. There were so many possibilities about what evil this object could bring. Was it a religious artifact used for summoning the devil? Perhaps a real-life horcrux? Our brainstorming session was interrupted by Anthony bolting down the street towards the house, waving something in the air.
“I found a lottery ticket!” He hollered, “Not scratched!” We all got up to see if he was bullshitting. He wasn’t - Anthony had brought home something that may have been of actual value. This was new territory for us. Alex immediately started planning.
“If we win, we should make the garage into a super cool clubhouse. We could have like a couch, a TV, a fridge -”
“Ooh, a vending machine!” Angelina interrupted, “And an air hockey table!”
“No, ping pong table, I’m better at ping pong,” I suggested.
“Or we could do a pool table,” Alex ventured, but this was met with a chorus of boos.
“Pool is for old people!” Victor declared. We all nodded. Anthony was quick to bring us back to reality.
“Will somebody give me a coin so I can scratch this thing?” He said. We all dug through our pockets and came up short. Victor started scrounging the porch for dropped pennies, but found none.
“My dad’s always got coins on his nightstand,” I said, “I’ll run and go get one.” I bolted into my house, thumping up the stairs as fast as my feet could take me. Boy, I couldn’t wait to get our new clubhouse. We could watch movies and have sleepovers… my train of thought was interrupted by the sight of my dad’s nightstand, unusually bare of any change. Maybe he’d have some lying around inside one of the drawers. I slid the top drawer open and my jaw dropped. Colors! So many pretty swirly colors, all living inside three very familiar looking objects. One of them looked very very familiar.
“My whistle!” I blurted aloud to the empty room. I picked it up for closer inspection. Yup, I’d recognize that beauty anywhere. The image had been stuck in my mind ever since my dad confiscated it last night. It was shinier than before… had he cleaned it? If this thing was so bad, why would he go to all the trouble to wash it? Why would he keep something evil in his bedside drawer where it could haunt him in the night? And why would he have two more of them? This was all too much for my teeny little mind to handle. The coins, the lottery ticket were long forgotten. I grabbed all three whistles and raced down the stairs, burst out my front door and yelled,
“GUUUUUYS!!” The kids all whipped around to look at me, running like a madman towards the front porch. Panting, I struggled to get out my news.
“I think… my dad… stole… my whistle…” I plopped down onto the floor as everyone crowded around me.
“What?” Amil asked.
“My whistle, from yesterday… it was in his drawer. And so were these.” I held out my hands to show them the evidence I had found inside. Gasp.
“When he took it away, he told me it wasn’t a whistle, but he wouldn’t tell me what it really was. I think it’s because it actually is a whistle, and he was lying about it so he could take it from me because he obviously really likes them and he wanted it for his collection.” I explained. The anger swelled in me just saying it out loud. Betrayed by my own father. He had let greed desecrate the sacred bond of flesh and blood.
“Man, are you gonna tell him that you found out?” Anthony asked.
“Oh he’s gonna know,” I replied, “he’s gonna know when I don’t put his whistles back in the drawer. He’s gonna know when I give them to you guys instead, and we form our own whistle band, and the whole neighborhood talks about how great we are. He wants to steal from me? I’ll steal from him right back.” The kids marveled at my dark monologue. Nobody said anything for a few seconds, then Anthony broke the silence.
“Cool, let’s start playing!” He exclaimed, and we did. We were toot-toot-tooting our whistles up and down the street. Did they make noise most of the time? No. Was the noise impressive when it did come out? No. Did we care? Absolutely not. This was a matter of principles now.
After about 20 minutes of that we got bored and started doing other stuff - scratched off that lottery ticket (in a completely unexpected twist of events, we did not win anything), tried to make a clubhouse in the garage with stuff from our houses, played cards in said clubhouse. Then, just as we were wondering what to do next, my dad’s car rolled into the driveway. We suddenly remembered what had happened and all the rage from that morning was reborn.
“Come on band, let’s go practice in front of the house,” I proposed. Everybody knew what I was thinking: I wanted my dad to see us out there, blowing on those whistles, and know that justice had been served. My army rose at my command and we marched into the street, righteously tootleing away. But alas, my dad had gone in through the back door and did not witness our display of protest. We decided to just keep doing it until he called us in for dinner.
Now, Lewiston is not exactly the pride and joy of Maine. Our lovely neighbors throughout the state refer to us as “the Dirty Lew.” It’s a fair nickname, we are pretty grody. The primary pastime for people above the age of 15 is doing heroin. Fun fact: the father of the kids across the street is a man named Face - he is called that because of the tattoo he has on his face, and he is a drug dealer. For this reason in particular, the cops were being called on their house about twice a month. They never could nail Face, but they sure did try. Their efforts included a nightly police patrol around our neighborhood - and that’s exactly who showed up as we were parading around with these whistles in our mouths. At first the officer gave us a friendly wave, but then his brow furrowed and he stopped the car. Fear coursed through all of our bodies as the door swung open and the man walked toward us.
“What are you kids doing over there?” He called from across the street.
“Just playing our whistles, sir!” I yelled back. The closer he came, the more concerned his expression got.
“Can I see those?” He inquired, and we all placed the objects into his large palm. He shook his head and sighed.
“Where did you get these from?” He asked. My friends and I looked at each other in confusion. If my dad had been lying, why was the officer acting weird about the whistles too?
“Um, they’re my dad’s,” I admitted, "but one of them is mine that he took from me."
“Is he home?”
“Yeah, he just got here.”
“Which house is yours?” He asked. I pointed to my house. The policeman turned and started walking towards my front door. My stomach dropped. I chased after him.
“Please mister officer, please don’t do anything to my dad!” I begged. He continued up my steps and rang the doorbell.
“No sir please don’t arrest my dad, I don’t care that he stole my whistle, just don’t send him to jail!!” My father opened the door to the sight of me sobbing and burying my snotty face into the policeman’s shirt as he stood there, baffled, and let it happen.
That was the night I discovered what a marijuana pipe was.