Whenever I run into another old townie, the topic of conversation always becomes My Home Town in The Good Old Days.
And at some point, the inevitable question gets raised: Was life really better then?
Of course, some things were better and others were worse. All life issues are trade-offs and have to be considered case by case. And perhaps no case is more riveting than The Fork of Fury.
It happened in Dickie's Minute Lunch (on the site of what's now Community Bank) in the mid '50s and it involved a trio of local teens.
One was my dear friend Bob Griffin. Bob was a great guy. He was warm and funny, an undyingly loyal friend and a great athlete. Almost always easy-going, buried not too far under his laid-back exterior was a volcanic temper. Bob was never mean, nor did he ever look for trouble, and he never backed down from it either. Also, he was arguably the strongest and toughest kid in town.
The second member of the trio was Bobbi Sutphen, Bob's girlfriend at the time. I never knew Bobbi, only who she was, but I do remember she was arguably the prettiest girl in town.
Third was Skeeter Kunath. Skeeter was another great guy. He was a sparky, upbeat carrot-top with a sunny disposition, who bopped rather than walked to a beat only he could hear. He didn't have a mean bone in his body, but he was arguably the most mischievous kid town.
So there they were in Dickie's. Bob and Bobbi at the counter sharing a plate of French fries; Skeeter at a table with pals.
Remember I said Skeeter was mischievous? While he was never mean-spirited, he simply could not resist bugging his friends. For example, he gave all his pals nicknames only to get their goats, and he always played pranks just fun. Unfortunately, one kid's fun can become another kid's flashpoint.
Skeeter, seeing Bob and Bobbi sharing a private moment, knew it was his God-given duty to disrupt it.
Dropping on the stool next to Bob, he started making small talk. Bob tried to ignore him, but Skeeter kept rapping on like Old Man River. This went on for a bit and Skeeter, deciding to up the ante, reached across Bob and snagged a French fry. He was merrily munching away when Bob said, "Skeeter, don't do that again." And as soon as he did, Skeeter grabbed another one and popped it in his mouth.
"Skeeter," said Bob, very levelly, "I'm not gonna warn you again."
So the line in the sand was drawn and Skeeter just had to cross it. As he again reached over, Bob sprang, driving his fork in the back of Skeeter's hand.
Time stopped. All three of them sat there for long seconds, dumbstruck, staring at the fork sticking out of Skeeter's hand, vibrating back and forth, like something out of the cartoons.
Then reality came roaring back, as Skeeter jumped up, pulled out the fork, and yelped, Yowyowyowyow." Then he shook his hand and lumbered back to his table, where he could lick his wounds, figuratively and maybe even literally, as his friends razzed him nonstop.
Leif Dickey, owner of the Minute Lunch, just stood there, shaking his head, making his displeasure known, but not really doing anything about it, since to him it was just one more case of Boys'll Be Boys -?of which he'd seen more than his share.
After that, life returned to normal in the Minute Lunch and in My Home Town. There were no lasting wounds, physical or psychological; Bob and Skeeter were still friends, and everyone now had a new crazy tale to tell.
... later ...
But that was then. Would it be the same if it happened, say, a decade ago? Not even close. Here's how it'd unfold.
First, Leif Dickie, with visions of liability dancing in his head, would've had to call the police so the incident was officially on record.
Next, stellar members of the local constabulary would show up - perhaps Sgt. Law and Officer Joyce. The officers, now officially aware of the incident, would have to investigate and report it. After interviewing all the witnesses and participants, they (with visions of liability dancing in their heads) would call the rescue squad, to transport Skeeter to the hospital so his wounds could be tended to and reported.
After that, the officers would have to arrest Bob under New?York state criminal statute 138.31-B. - ADW (Assault with a Dining Weapon).
Meanwhile, back to Skeeter in the ER: Even though he said he was fine, the personnel (with you-know-what dancing in their heads) couldn't just release him. So he'd receive an X-ray, an MRI, a tetanus shot, maybe even a rabies shot, and they'd report his wounding to the authorities. Then he'd be releasedwith a $3500 bill hanging over his bright-red head.
As for Bob? Well, he'd have to appear before the Honorable Justice McLaughlin, who with Solomonic wisdom would find Bob guilty of ADW and fine him. Then he'd mandate Bob see a counselor.
Of course, the counselor would ask Bob why he stabbed Skeeter. And when Bob told him he didn't stab Skeeter, but only stuck a fork in his hand, the counselor would realize Bob had a deep-seated inability to face reality. So, realizing his own limitations, the counselor would refer Bob to a psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist - after administering battery after battery of tests - would ask Bob a searing and relevant question: Had he ever dreamt he was a mythological beast? Bob, putting him on, would say he had - that he always dreamed he was Mighty Mouse. The shrink, would make an instant diagnosis: Narcissistic personality disorder, with delusions of grandeur and would insist Bob come back twice a week for at least a year. At the end of the year, the shrink figured he'd have enough material to get an article published in Psychology Today.
Meanwhile, Skeeter, having come to the authorities' attention, would be sent to a counselor specializing in trauma. When he kept insisting he had no trauma, he only had a friend stick a fork in his hand, he'd also be sent to a psychiatrist so he could deal with his debilitating sense of denial.
Because Bob had youthful offender status, no names would be reported in the Enterprise. But of course everyone'd know it was him who got convicted of ADW. As a result, parents would forbid their children from associating with him. Bobbi's parents would lead the charge, not wanting their daughter to have anything to do with a homicidal maniac.
Furthermore, the high school cafeteria staff would be issued strict orders that under their aegis Bob would be allowed to eat only with chopsticks.
This is if it happened 10 years ago. But what if it happened today?
Well, it never would happen today.
Instead, if Skeeter wanted to bug Bob, he'd send him a text: "ICU & gf SMH ;-) "
Bob would take one look at it and block all further calls from Skeeter.
Bobbi meanwhile would've missed the whole interaction since she'd be texting one of her friends: "@ DML w/B & ff's :-)"
And what with today's health consciousness, they might not be sharing a plate of French fries but a bowl of celery sticks (hold the dressing).
So, were things better or worse Way Back When?
As I said, everything has to be compared case by case. But in some cases, there's no comparison at all.