Monday, October 30, 2017

Busting Caps: How I Caused the Biggest Bang in Leaf Rapids

While I think myself as a pacifist, I can't deny that much of my play and entertainment revolved (and still revolves) around fantasy violence. I'm not educated enough to know if humanity's violent tendencies stem more from nature or nurture, nor do I understand why cowboys and indians and cops and robbers were games played almost exclusively by boys.

What I can say is there's something deeply satisfying about gunning down an imaginary foe, vanquishing something, even if only metaphorically. Lobbing nukes at Gandhi in Civilization, gunning down raiders and mutants in Fallout, slaying dragons in Dungeons & Dragons, beating up thugs, goons, robots and monsters in games of all kinds. Considering the suffering wrought by real-world violence, I have to wonder if these hobbies serve the greater good. Are they an escape valve for our darker impulses, or am I simply rationalizing my own behaviour?

The older I get, the more questions I have, the fewer answers. So instead of philosophizing further, a story:

Like many little boys, I used to play with cap guns. In the 70s, cap guns, at least the ones I had, looked like pistols from the Old West; wood and iron, with a chamber for caps: segmented rolls of paper, each segment containing a four or five millimeter diameter dot filled with gunpowder. By pulling the trigger, you could advance one segment up out of the gun and into the path of the gun's hammer; when the hammer slammed down, the cap would go off, producing a burst of sparks and noise. It was a very satisfying, visceral way to blow off steam, and many a friend went down in those days, plugged by my imaginary bullets. (Of course, I took my fare share of hits, too.)

With a child's logic, I reasoned that if popping off one cap at a time was fun, it must be exponentially more exciting to see a bunch of them explode at once. So one slightly overcast day in 1976 or 1977 or 1978, I gathered my friend Kelly Bear and took him to the town's only drug store, located, like most of the infrastructure of Leaf Rapids, inside the rust-coloured Town Centre. Using several weeks' worth of saved allowance (at the time, $1.00 a week), we purchased many, many red boxes of paper caps, which at the time were quite cheap; perhaps ten cents a box, perhaps a quarter. The druggist must have thought we were going to re-enact the American Civil War.

We carried out munitions out behind the Town Centre, at the corner where a loading ramp overlooked a steep dropoff of some two or three metres to the earthy ground below. A large boulder with an admirably smooth, flat top rested in that miniature canyon; we piled our caps atop it, and I carried a heavy stone about the size of a football up to the top of the loading ramp. Kelly wisely stuck his fingers in his ears as I hefted the stone over my head and flung it at the boulder below.

My aim was truer than it had any right to be. With a window-vibrating CRACK the caps exploded, the BANG so loud that my ears rung, and kept ringing, for minutes. Our nostrils filled with the acrid tang of exploded gunpowder, and countless bits of debris - chiefly the tattered remnants of the paper caps and the boxes they'd come in- rained down like dangerous confetti. Kelly and I both reeled, me more than him, as I hadn't been smart enough to anticipate the scale of the explosion.

It was tremendous, and best of all, we had plenty of caps left; once we gathered them all up (a time-consuming process), we figured we had about a third of our stash left, which we promptly used to repeat the experiment, taking turns blowing them up until we had only a handful of leftovers. No subsequent explosion was as amazing as the first, but we still had a lot of fun.

Perhaps luckiest of all, no one interfered with our play. We probably wouldn't have gotten into much trouble, given the era, but we felt like renegades, desperadoes, blowing things up because it was fun. To the best of my knowledge, no adult ever found out (until now).

To this day, I don't know if that experience was good or bad for me, or for Kelly. But if I had it all to do over again, I would.


Colin Dunn said...

I remember doing similar things. A roll of caps and a hammer worked quite well. It’s one of my few enduring memories of childhood.

susanRN92 said...

As a girl from the same era, I add that I did not play with caps and guns. The first time I saw the roll of red tape with powder, it was being wielded by a boy with a rock. Sounds like a universal experience from back then.