The Acorn War from Rich Boy Cries for Mama by Ethan H. Minsker
I was 13 in 1983 and had just moved to a new neighborhood in Washington D.C.
“Help me bring in the bags from the car,” said Mother and I followed her outside. She left the trunk open and I ducked in to pick up the groceries. Then I heard a bang over my head. Something had hit the inside of the trunk lid and I saw an acorn roll to a stop on top of the bread in the bag I was holding. I swung around and held the bag tightly around my torso and kept my face down. Another acorn hit the side of the bag and I ran inside, putting the bag down in the kitchen. I walked back out with Mother to get more bags. You couldn't shoot someone’s mother, so I knew I was safe as long as I stayed close to her.
Mother’s house was in Glover Park, just above Georgetown. Our new neighborhood was middle class. The streets were numbered and lettered in a generic sensibility. In a few minutes I could walk into Georgetown or to Wisconsin Avenue. With a front porch, a small rectangular backyard with a one-car garage and tall fences to divide it from other properties, it was identical to every home on the block. Even if a neighbor made drastic changes to their townhouse or landscaped their yard, basically it was still the same as everyone else’s.
The house itself was old. The floors creaked with every step. The foundation had never quite found its comfortable state and liked to shift its weight ever so slightly from time to time. The homes were tightly packed together and, looking across the alley into back windows, I could always find someone awake. My new best friend, Ted, lived two houses away and went to high school three blocks from the Lab School’s new location.
An alley divided my block into an H in a box formation, giving it the resemblance of a castle. With the line of townhouses as the castle’s walls only divided by the alley, each section of roofs were connected since the houses were right next to each other. By popping open a hatch to our roof, I could climb up and walk across the other roofs, even look down into neighbors’ skylights. From that high vantage point, Ted and I would shoot kids with the acorns that fell from the trees that lined the block. But even if we used a wrist-rocket, we missed most of the time, since it was hard to aim from a long distance and the acorns had irregular shapes. It was a war, The Acorn War, which had been raging for weeks between three different groups: Scott’s gang, Nazi Shawn, Ted and myself.
Each kid hoarded acorns in brown paper shopping bags and hid them around the outside of their houses because each acorn had its own little green worm and no one’s mother would let them stay in the house. Sometimes you might find a squirrel peeking its head in the bag. Blocks were divided into territories. Nazi Shawn had W Street and below, Scott, his brothers and their friends had 40th Street and Ted and I had 39th Street. Scott’s gang was younger than Ted’s and mine, but made up the difference in numbers. Conducting missions on their block meant running onto the lawn of the brothers and blasting as many acorns as we could manage with our wrist rockets. You knew when you hit a kid by the screams of pain, or the vigorous
rubbing of a fresh welt. Everyone in the neighborhood knew I went to the Lab School. When I hit someone, they would yell out, “Fuck you retard!” and that just made me shoot them again.
Scott commanded his gang by crying out orders. His voice hadn’t matured yet so he sounded more like a little girl than a pre-pubescent male. Because of their quantity, they could scatter and regroup, whereas Ted and I had to stand back-to-back. There were more than ten of them and only two of us, but we didn’t care. It was something to do after 5 pm during our summer break. Kids were shooting at us from rooftops, over fences, and from behind trees. For the most part, they’d miss us, but when I got hit (especially on the nipple) it stung and left a welt the size of a quarter. Suffering through the pain meant winning. I knew I could turn the battle to our advantage by destroying the right kid. The older brother was bold enough to run up just a few yards from us, fire off his acorns, and then retreat behind the safety of a tree. He reloaded and came at us for his second attack, yelling “You fucking retard”. I was ready and aimed at his head. He was close to me and I held my nut. I waited for him to pull back the rubber tubing, fully extending his arm. I let go of my acorn. It flew in a straight line, hitting its target on the forehead, and he wasn’t able to get off a shot. “Who’s the fucking retard now,” I yelled. He fell to the ground, crying. After that, there was no resistance from the other kids, and they retreated for home. We had won. Ted and I owned their block. That summer we had many skirmishes.