Scotty Coogan was a boy who lived on the block behind ours. He was a year younger than me, which by this time would have made him about eight years old.
He was a kid with a mop of dark brown hair, boundless curiosity and unfortunately, very noticeable B.O. With his uncombed hair, frayed jean jacket and blue jeans, I’m sure that my Grandfather might have considered him a bit of a scruffy looking little kid. He was certainly that, but he was also one of the most curious kids I had ever met – one of those kids who was “always into something”.
Here are some things that I did with Scotty that I probably never would have done on my own:
- Discovering a backyard with a garden of home grown green peas, and spending half an hour eating fresh peas and jumping into the pile of discarded pods.
- Climbing a tree to watch a woman sunbathe topless. She was laying on her stomach, but still it was kind of exciting!
- Climbing up the back of a billboard on Fort street and admiring the view of the surrounding blocks
- Raiding every pear, apple tree, and blackberry bush on our block, and almost being too sick to eat supper.
- Stealing pop cans from people’s windowsills for candy money
- Walking into Christ Church Cathedral during the middle of the day, and playing with the toys that had been put out for the Sunday school kids
- Finding a hole in the ground behind that same church and discovering a small underground meter room. Sneaking in there to tell secrets.
- Tearing around Victoria on our bicycles to exotic locales such as Beacon Hill Park and The Royal B.C. Museum
- Climbing the seemingly endless and incredibly steep hill of Rockland Street up to Government House and walking through the beautiful flower gardens until we got bored. (I learned that Government House is where the Queen stayed when she was in town. I think we wanted to see what a Queen looked like.)
- Bombing up and down Muir street on our bikes playing Cops and Robbers. It seemed like Scotty was usually the Robber. Each chase culminated in a jump off the edge of a driveway and a very hard landing on the grass. (I must have had iron-clad testicles at that age.)
Heroes and Villians was just a game, up to a point…
One day, me, Scotty, my sister, and her friend all spent 30 minutes being superheroes. The game was not complex: somebody would say “where’s Superman?” and that was Scotty’s cue to jump off the edge of his house porch (the side with the missing railing), land about four feet down on the grass, and exclaim “Here I am!”. That’s how it went on TV too. It was perfectly authentic.
The trick as I saw it was to pick a good hero. Scotty had already claimed Superman. My ace in the hole was Captain Marvel. “Shazam!”, and down I went with a perfect landing. It was awesome.
There was no rhyme or reason to this except that we were eight or younger, and superheroes in capes were very cool and exciting.
One day, when we were bombing around on our bikes, heading down the block from Scotty’s house towards mine, we noticed a man using some steel wool to scrub the rust off his car bumper. He told us how Coca Cola helped remove rust from chrome. I tried a bit of it on my bike fender, and decided that it did work.
The man asked us if we like comics. Scotty and I said that we did, and the man invited us up to his apartment to look at some comic books that he had. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to, but Scotty didn’t hesitate, so I followed him up.
The man showed us some odd little black and white comics that depicted familiar-looking characters doing very unfamiliar things to each other. I looked at a story about Wimpy and Olive Oyl. Wimpy had this humongous male part and ate a hamburger while he was doing something naked with Olive Oyl. I read another story where Popeye the Sailor did something with a woman that made her stomach immediately huge afterwards. I felt a slightly cold, nervous, squirming feeling in my stomach. It wasn’t right. It was maybe even dangerous to look at these, and I might get in trouble. Even at that age, I could tell how crude the experience was, and I felt sickened by it. I decided that I didn’t like it all that much.
I felt scared and claustrophobic. The room seemed to stink of nastiness. I wanted to leave, and after a while we did. It had seemed too stuffy, too “closed in” up in that man’s apartment. I was very relieved to be outside again,back in the sunshine and the open air.
Some months later, I was hanging out on our block with my sister and her friend when a large car drove up to the curb. Scotty McGoughan leaned out of the passenger’s window. I couldn’t see the man driving the car, but I wonder if it was the same man who’d showed us the dirty comic books. Scotty was very excited, saying that he was going on a trip to the lake, and that we should come with him!
I had that same feeling of dread again. None of us wanted anything to do with it, and we watched the car drive away with Scotty inside.
Doing the right thing.
Many months later, Scotty was playing too rough one day, squishing my sister Kim behind a screen door on a friend’s porch. Kim yelled at him to stop and fought back the best she could, but it was too much for her and she began to cry.
I felt like shit, but stood there doing nothing until Dad’s voice rang inside my head: “Protect your sister!” I got mad and told Scotty to knock it off. He didn’t listen to me. I yelled at him again and he seemed to get pissed off at me for ruining his fun.
Scotty had two older brothers, Dan and Mick. Dan, the second oldest, was always picking on Scotty, beating on him and making him cry. I thought Dan was a cruel kid. Maybe this was how Scotty learned cruelty. He must have decided to pick on someone weaker than him. I knew that it was wrong to pick on someone else weaker than you, no matter your reason.
Scotty came down the steps onto the grass, and we stood kind of face-to-face. He was probably pissed off that I called him names and killed the cruel little buzz that he was getting from hurting my sister. This was the moment of confrontation. So I punched him in the side of the head. Then he punched me in the side of the head. Then we grabbed each other and tumbled down onto the grass, struggling and rolling around, hitting at each other, and yelling out various little kid curses.
The next thing I knew, I was wiping the grass off my jeans, and Scotty was walking away crying and saying how he was going to get his brother after me. I was a bit worried about that, but fortunately Dan never showed up to take revenge.
After all that time of following Scotty around – this smelly, adventurous little kid – I had done something good on my own. I don’t think I played with Scotty much for quite a while after our fight, but Kim and Dad were happy with me.