Concentration Charlie


snakebox When I was growing up, there was a boy in my neighborhood who was several years older than I was–and he was fond of bullying me. One morning, I was alone shooting baskets in our driveway when he approached me from the street. 

He was holding a small cardboard box. 

There was something weird about the way he was holding that box– away from his body –and out  toward me. He was holding it from the top and I could see there was a hole approximately 3 inches in diameter cut out of the front of the box and something was sticking out of that hole with some straw– or dried grass around it. 

The thing that was sticking out was a copperhead snake–with its mouth wide open. 

I dropped the ball and ran into the garage and jumped up on top of my father’s car and scrambled up into the storage space next to an old wicker rocking chair that was being stored there. The boy with the snake pursued me.

Or tried to. 

He jumped up and caught hold of a crossbeam to pull himself up and as he did, his hand came straight down on a rusty nail that was sticking up. He pulled his hand back, ripping it open. He ran screaming up the driveway, cradling his bleeding hand in his other.  He had dropped the box on the ground and I cautiously approached it. 

The snake, or about 8 inches of it, was still sticking out of the hole in the cardboard box with its mouth wide open,–but it was clearly dead. He –or someone– had cut off about a foot of it, jammed a bent coat hanger inside it to keep it taught and then pried its mouth open to show its fangs. 

Then he had come looking for me. 

I wish I could say that was the last time that boy bothered me, but it wasn’t. 

Many years later, right after I got out of the army,  I ran into him at the beach. I was happy to see him, actually. Aside from my parents, he was the first person I saw that I knew after I had gotten out. 

As it turned out, he had been sent to Vietnam, so I asked him what it was like. 

As we stood there in the sunlight looking out at the ocean, he told me that his favorite thing was when his artillery unit fired “Concentration Charley” onto a predetermined position on a known Vietcong pathway at night. 

Then the next morning he and a few others would go out into the jungle to “see how many arms and legs they could find”. 

I’m no psychologist, but I know for a fact that he suffered terrible abuse as a child. 

I suspect the trauma of those events resulted in making him abusive toward others.


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