The art of shooting a pea through a straw with precision is a much sought after skill pursued by young boys in playgrounds and backyards all over America. During my childhood it ranked right at the top, along with spitball throwing, and funny noise making. I refined my pea shooting skills by spending countless hours target practicing in the backyard. I would set up soda cans in a line and then proceed to knock them off one at a time, much like the cowboys of the old west did when target practicing on bottles with their six shooters. I was about to witness a quantum leap in equipment technology that would forever change the game.
My friend Greg approached me on the schoolyard in a frenzied state and informed me that the neighborhood Ben Franklin store had just brought in a new stock of pea shooting straws. “What’s so special about that?” I asked He explained to me that the new straws were larger in length and width than our conventional weapons. According to Greg, these new straws would soon flood the playground and revolutionize pea shooting. This information alarmed me. I did not want anyone at school having the edge over me in pea shooting technology, so I decided we should take a trip to the “Five and Ten” and have a look for ourselves.
The next day Greg and I headed to the Ben Franklin to check out the new super straws. The straws were everything that Greg said, and then some. They were approximately two feet in length, doubling the length of ours and at least triple in width. Without saying a word we each grabbed a straw and a large bag of peas and headed to the checkout counter.
A target practice session had been called and I quickly lined up the cans at the home range. I put a pea in my mouth, inserted the straw, and let loose. The pea flew out of the straw at warp speed and struck the can with such velocity that it put a welt in the metal. By comparison, if my old straw was a six shooter, the new straw was an anti-aircraft gun. The best was yet to come. I soon discovered that by filling my mouth with perhaps twenty to thirty peas and then filling my lungs with air, I could let out a mega-burst of peas that strafed my target like a modern day machine gun.
The straw had passed the target range specs with flying colors and we decided the time had come for a field test. Since Greg’s parents would not be home on Saturday, we would conduct the test at his house. The only obstacle would be Greg’s eighty-nine year old grandfather, an Italian immigrant who was mesmerized by watching the Chicago Cubs on television in the afternoon.
I arrived at Greg’s at one-twenty Saturday afternoon, the exact starting time for all Cub home games. Greg’s grandfather was seated in his recliner with a cup of coffee in one hand and a canolli in the other. Conditions were perfect. Once the game started he would be oblivious to the outside world.
The field test would be conducted on a moving target. In this case the target would be the cars that raced up and down the street in front of Greg’s house. We would hide behind the evergreen bushes by the front door and then fire at will at the passing vehicles. We took our positions and waited in anticipation for the first car to pass. Greg and I took a handful of peas, stuffed our mouths to capacity, and watched a red Pontiac approach from the south end of the street. As the vehicle entered our sights we both filled our lungs with air and exhaled with full force. A blast of peas strafed the vehicle. I imagined Bonnie and Clyde getting shellacked by the machine gun fire of the G-men, when suddenly I was startled by the sound of flying trash cans. The car had collided with some cans a few houses down the street, spewing garbage everywhere. Greg and I looked at each other in shock as the vehicle reversed itself and headed back to the grassy knoll. We darted from behind the bushes and entered the house through the front door, running up the stairs to Greg’s bedroom. I heard Greg’s grandfather mutter “sunama bitch!” as his favorite Italian player, Cub third baseman, Ron Santo dropped a fly ball.
From our upstairs hideout we heard a knock at the door and then the sound of voices. Greg’s grandfather shouted, “Greg-gor-y, get down here!” We quickly placed the straws under the bed and walked down the stairs in a nonchalant manner. Standing at the front door was a heavy-set woman with dark hair who was ordinary in appearance, with the exception of a large red welt on the tip of her nose. “This nice-a lady say you throw something at her car,” Greg’s grandfather said.
“That’s impossible, we were watching the Cubs upstairs,” Greg said. The old man’s face was turning an unusual shade of magenta. “Then why she have red mark on her face?” Greg’s grandfather asked.
“Must have been a wasp,” I said.
“You-a shut up!” the old man shouted.
“I thought it was a bee myself until I looked down and found several peas sitting in my lap after I struck the trash cans,” the lady said. The smoking gun had been discovered and our goose was cooked. “Where are they?” the old man demanded. Much to my dismay, Greg walked upstairs and returned with the two straws. As he handed them over to his grandfather, I wondered to myself if he would destroy the pea shooters by melting them down like the cops did when confiscating illegal handguns. Instead he tried in vain to rip the straws in half, while the veins in his head began to bulge, and his face turned dark red. “Sunama bitches!”
After we were both coerced into an apology, the lady left and we caught the verbal thrashing of our life in a “Godfather-like manner.” Not only had we damaged his respect, but he missed a home run by Ron Santo.
I returned to my house in a sour mood and thought of all the wasted potential and promise the super-straws had held. My trance was broken by the ringing of the phone. My cousin Wes was on the line and by the tone of his voice I could tell he was excited. “I just bought a Daisy lever action BB gun and I think we can do some real damage with this thing,” he said. My mood immediately brightened. Once again, technology had saved the day and gave me reason to wake the next morning.