"The Letter"

If only the mailman hadn’t been so careless, Myron’s scrotum would have remained unscathed.
“We need to steam it open,” Ron declared to Leon, holding the envelope up to the light, trying to see if he could read the letter inside.
The envelope had arrived in the upstairs mailbox on a day that the boys had gotten home before their mother. Parent-teacher conference day meant not only an early dismissal from school, but a reprieve, if for only a few hours, from the pre-pubescent stresses faced by an eleven and a ten-year-old attending private school. The lack of homework or tests to study for that day left Ron and Leon plenty of time to figure out how to open the envelope that had around its edges pictures of little white airplanes encased in blue and red rectangles, and the words “VIA AIRMAIL” written under the name and address of the downstairs tenants who were the intended recipients. Leon had suggested cutting the top of the envelope open with scissors and then carefully gluing it back together when they were done reading the letter it contained, but his older brother Ron feared the tenants with the weird accents and the foul, acrid smells seeping from their windows would know that their mail had been opened.
“Steam? That’s stupid. It’s not gonna work,” Leon said, jumping in the air in a fruitless attempt to grab the envelope out of Ron’s raised hand. “Gimme. I’ll open it!”
“Yeah it will,” Ron said, standing on his toes to ensure the envelope was completely out of Leon’s reach. “I saw them do it on TV.”
Ron and Leon always sensed that there was something conniving and sinister about the two dark-skinned men in their early twenties who rented the downstairs apartment from their parents. Now the brothers had proof that their suspicions were true – an envelope, from India of all places, no doubt containing a letter with instructions about a secret plot to destroy their quiet neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. How the United States Postal Service could let a communiqué that had stamps on it featuring images of a bald, shirtless man, wearing strange, round glasses and a gray, menacing mustache slip through its fingers was less a cause for concern for the boys than how to get the envelope open without tipping off the Indian terrorists that their mail had been read and their conspiracy uncovered. They were prepared to forward the intercepted letter to President Reagan himself, if necessary, or at least to their grandfather, who would know how to get the evidence to the president of his synagogue, who would surely know how to get it to the president of the United States, since they were both presidents. But first, Ron and Leon needed to be certain there was cause for alarm, which meant they needed to agree on how to open the envelope.
            “Moo-kuhn-da and Kuh-lah-ranjan Ra-ja-ka-ru-na,” Ron clumsily read from the envelope, as he lowered it to eye level. Which one is ‘Shit From Man’?”
            “I think that’s Moo-kuhn-da,” Leon said, reading from the envelope after he swiped it from Ron.
            “How do you know?” Ron asked, chasing Leon and the envelope around the dining room table.
“’Cause remember when he found the shit in front of his door and he started screaming to dad?” Leon said, escaping into the kitchen.
“Shit from man, Bernie! Shit from man!” Ron proclaimed in a high-pitched attempt at an Indian accent. He now had Leon cornered between the sink and the stove.
“So when dad was trying to calm him down, he said, ‘Relax, Mike. It’s just from the Chinese neighbors’ dog,’” Leon explained, proudly placing the envelope inside the front of his pants, confident Ron wouldn’t go in after it.  “I think Mike is his English name.”
Ron paused for a moment and considered his options to reclaim the envelope he believed was rightfully his to open, but he knew he had only one. He stepped closer to Leon and locked his younger brother’s head between the crook of his right elbow and the side of his body.
“Give it to me,” Ron said, squeezing.
The headlock was the preferred method of settling scores amongst Ron, Leon and their friends from school. Though less civilized forms of combat might have been the norm on the rough and tumble streets of Brooklyn in the eighties, in the stairwells and bathrooms at the Isaac Benjamin Roth School, and in the kitchen of Bernie and Myra Waxman, especially when Bernie and Myra weren’t home, headlock fights were sometimes intense battles that wouldn’t end until there was crying, or until a yarmulke fell off, whichever came first.
“Get off me or you’re dead,” Leon said, trying to pry Ron’s arms from his head.
It was rare for the person who got put into the headlock first to release himself from the hold, so being the aggressor was essential. Leon had almost no chance.
“Gimme the letter.”
“First get off. I’m serious.”
Ron strained as hard as he could before letting go, much like the Italian kid from across the street whose steaming housewarming gift for the new Indian tenants at the time had been met with such a blatant lack of appreciation. Leon said he was serious, and in a headlock fight that was tantamount to surrender. Ron was obligated to release him.
“Gimme the letter,” Ron insisted, giving Leon one last shove before he had a chance to stand up straight.
“Fine. Take it,” Leon said, pulling the envelope out of his pants and handing it to Ron, his face now as creased and sweaty as the envelope. “They’ll get you when they find out you stole their mail, not me.”
“You open it then,” Ron said, flicking the envelope back at Leon.
You open it,” Leon said, jumping out of its path, allowing the envelope to land on the ceramic-tiled floor, as if touching it again would set off an alarm, informing the envelope’s rightful owners that their mail had been tampered with.
They stared at the piece of mail that had traveled over countries and continents that neither imagined existed outside the comfort of the twenty-block radius in which they were allowed to ride their bikes without prior permission from their mother. Each desperately wanted the envelope opened so they could be hailed as the saviors of Brooklyn when the evil plot was unveiled, but neither wanted to be the one to actually open it because whoever did might wind up dead with a dot tattooed on his head.
“That’s what they do to you when you do something bad,” Ron explained. “They put that red dot on your head, so they know to kill you later. But you never know when they’re gonna come get you.”
“Let’s get Myron to open it,” Leon said without missing a beat.
Always the pensive one, Ron took a moment before he agreed.
Almost immediately after they had arrived home from school, Myron was locked by his older brothers in the bathroom near the kitchen. With the lock temporarily reversed by Leon so that the door could be opened only from the outside, the bathroom served as a holding facility for the spoiled, foul-mouthed six-year-old, and was where Myron spent most of his time when the boys were left home unsupervised. For a ten-year-old, Leon was especially handy with his father’s screwdriver, and Myron was serving a sentence that day for refusing to allow Ron and Leon to play with his Atari 2600 – the one their father had bought Myron for his birthday on the condition that he share it with his older brothers. Had Myron been less selfish with his toys, Ron and Leon might have been too busy saving the earth from Space Invaders to be bothered to try and save Brooklyn from a couple of Indians.
“We’ll let you out, if you open this,” Ron told Myron, leaning into the bathroom door, sliding the envelope under it.
“Puck You!” Myron screamed back.
Unlike most kids his age, for whom pisgetti was a common mispronunciation, Myron preferred to work blue.
“Just open it, you turd!” Leon jumped in.
While Ron saw Myron merely as an untamed, little brat who could be disciplined by the occasional imprisonment, Leon was more than happy to sacrifice him for the sake of the mission. If Myron opened the envelope, Leon and Ron could reap the benefits of being heroes without taking any of the risks. And even if the Indians got Myron before their scheme could be exposed, at least Leon would finally get his own room. Leon saw no possible downside to getting Myron involved, but Myron was as pleased to prove him wrong as Leon was to throw Myron to the wolves.
“You stole someone’s mail! I’m telling ma,” Myron said.
“You do and you’re dead!” Leon shouted.
As the elder statesman of the clan, Ron tried to settle this peacefully. “Just give it back,” he said.
“No!” Myron yelled.
Ron and Leon were likely to be in enough trouble when their parents returned from Parent-teacher night. In addition to being adroit with a screwdriver, Leon was a skilled forger, especially when it came to tracing their mother’s chicken scratches of a signature onto his tests. Leon knew that their mother could never tell the difference between her own signature and his fake. But if she saw her name scribbled next to a failing grade, which was definitely going to happen that night when she was shown his latest social studies test, the yelling might never end. “WHAT AM I RAISING!?” and “BIG SHOT ALL OF A SUDDEN! BIG KANOCKER” were but two of the selections from his mother’s greatest hits collection that he fully expected to hear. “WAIT ‘TIL YOUR FATHER GETS HOME!” would be left off the play list, since his father would likely be standing right next to her with a few choice words of his own.
Ron was more studious than Leon and had no need to forge signatures, but he hadn’t shown his face in math class in months as he was too busy delivering milk and cookies to the lower grades (juice on days that meat was served for lunch), while the rest of his classmates were converting fractions into decimals. Though he knew his duties as a deliveryman would get him into serious hot water when his parents found out, he volunteered for the job every day, since it got him out of the class taught by the dreaded Mrs. Fabricunt – or Fabricant, as she was legally named –  and allowed him to ride the school elevator – a deeply coveted privilege ordinarily bestowed only upon faculty and the crippled.
Though Leon was generally the braver of the two, he would opt to go to sleep early on Parent-teacher nights, hoping, always in vein, that his parents would take pity on their sweet little boy and forgive his puerile indiscretions after watching him sleeping so innocently on his Teams of the NFL sheets. Ron was usually more willing to face the music when it came to their parents, knowing from experience that his mother’s yelling and screaming would stop once his father decided to end it by gritting his teeth and telling his wife in a hushed and angry tone, “Enough! The whole neighborhood doesn’t have to hear you!” But today, Ron wasn’t going down for skipping almost an entire semester of math class and stealing the tenants’ mail. His father’s belt would come off for that.
Leon unlocked the door and Ron led the charge into the bathroom that doubled as the laundry room. Myron screamed for his older brothers to leave him alone, while he barricaded himself behind a pile of dirty laundry, mostly comprised of his skid marked Underoos and the Star Wars sleeping bag he would pee in almost nightly.
“Grab him!” Ron ordered Leon.
“I’m not touching his pee-pee blanket,” Leon said, disgusted.
“Gimme it!” Ron demanded of Myron.
“You’re in big trouble when Ma gets home!” Myron threatened, repeating a line that seemed like it had become his catchphrase ever since he was able to utter his first “puck.”
“There it is,” Leon said, pointing to the envelope that now rested, mangled, on the green linoleum floor, halfway between the toilet and the washing machine. Ron picked it up, trying desperately to see if somehow, some way the envelope could be resealed without the Indians realizing their mail had been opened, but it looked like it was pawed open by an old, spastic dog – or at least a six-year-old, incontinent one.
“What’d you do to this?” Ron screamed at Myron.
“Let’s just give it to the Indians and tell them he opened it,” Leon said.
“No-o-o-o!” Myron whined. “You told me to open it.”
“Where’s the letter that was inside?” Ron asked, frenzied. This was no longer a theoretical discussion about who would open the envelope and how. This wasn’t merely a matter of listening to his mother scream, “WHAT AM I RAISING?” or being threatened with a cheap plastic belt from Alexander’s department store. There was an open piece of mail in his possession that could not be resealed that belonged to two savages who came from a country where people put dots on each other’s heads as bull’s-eyes. Ron suspected the bull’s-eye thing was probably a lie, especially since he had heard it from Santo, the fourteen-year-old fifth-grader and son of the owner of the corner pizzeria. But probably wasn’t good enough for a neurotic eleven-year-old kid who dreaded getting an annual checkup because he was afraid the doctor would tell him he had only months to live. The barely noticeable discoloration around his left nipple meant he’d inherited his grandfather’s heart condition, and the fact that he hadn’t yet grown a single pubic hair was certainly a symptom of cancer, since he’d seen bald cancer patients on television. But at least the doctor would give him a general idea of when the end was coming. The Indians would make him sweat it out for god knows how long?
He was making an executive decision. If the envelope couldn’t be restored to its original condition and put back in the downstairs mailbox, so that Ron and Leon could be exalted as heroes without the terrorists knowing who ratted them out, then it needed to be burned or flushed along with its contents. If the Indians were anxiously awaiting instructions from their superiors, it was perfectly reasonable to assume, even expect, that a letter traveling from India all the way to America would get lost in the mail.
“Where’s the letter, you little piece of shit?” Ron repeated when Myron didn’t answer the first time he was asked.
Myron whimpered, and with one hand protected his face from the punch or the smack he thought was about to come, and with the other, he pulled from his pocket a piece of crumpled white, onion skin paper and handed it to Ron.
“We need to burn this,” Ron declared.
Leon grabbed the translucent, tissue like paper from Ron’s hand and was instantly hypnotized. He’d seen paper like this only twice before, both times on the school principal’s desk – once while he and his friends were being disciplined for passing a copy of the New Testament around, and once while he and his friends were being disciplined for passing a copy of Playboy around. The boys’ punishment for both offenses was the same – a thorough washing of their hands soiled by Jesus and Ms. October, and the recitation of the shema – ostensibly to make things okay again with God.
Actually holding this type of paper for the first time, Leon was amazed at how durable it was, despite being so thin and lightweight. An ordinary piece of loose leaf paper would have been destroyed by Myron clawing at it, but aside from some crinkles, this paper remained completely intact. It had to be very special  paper, he determined, that was used only for official and highly sensitive documents, like reports about the religious and sexual curiosities of young boys, and correspondences containing terrorist marching orders. He was sure he held in his hand the genuine article, and Leon would be damned if he was going to let Ron ruin his chances of saving Brooklyn.
“No!” Leon insisted. “We need to stop them.”
“We need to burn it,” Ron said, inching closer, preparing for the headlock fight he felt was the only way to settle this.
“Look,” Leon said, pointing to the hand-written Hindi on the page, “they’re Arabs, not Indians.”
Ron examined the cursive Hindi writing, and immediately thought of the family trip to Israel two summers earlier. He remembered how he’d gotten nervous when he’d seen Arabic writing on a street sign or a discarded newspaper because seeing their writing, the kind that looked suspiciously like the scribble on the paper he was now holding, meant they were close and could get him – the ones he was really supposed to be afraid of. Suddenly, he was glad the letter was opened. He felt brave, resolute, even patriotic. It was one thing to be afraid of Arabs six thousand miles from home, but they were on his turf now. He felt like going downstairs and shoving the letter in their turban wearing, plane hijacking faces to proudly show them that their plans had been ruined – and all by three Jewish kids, one of whom had pissed his bed the night before.
“We need to figure out what this says,” Ron explained.
“How we gonna do that?” asked Leon.
“We gotta find someone who speaks Arabic.”
“But if they speak Arabic, they could be terrorists too.”
“You’re right,” Ron said.
“I’m telling ma,” Myron chimed in.
Leon was about to lunge at Myron until Ron coolly intervened.
“Bomb it,” Ron told Leon calmly.
Leon smirked and nodded as if he was saluting a commanding officer who had just given him an order he was very eager to follow. He then ran into the living room trailed by a whining Myron.
“N-o-o-o!” Myron screamed, as Leon picked up one of the big, green velvet seat cushions off the big, green velvet sofa that had somehow survived every one of their mother’s redecorations of the living room since the boys could remember. Leon held the seat cushion over his head and ran with it down into the basement, screaming like a kamikaze pilot about to do his worst.
Once downstairs in the wood-paneled basement, Myron grabbed onto Leon’s leg and was dragged a good ten feet across the orange shaggy carpet, before Leon happily threw the green cushion onto Myron’s most prized possession – the U.S.S. Flagg, a G.I. Joe aircraft carrier that now looked more like it belonged sinking off the coast of Okinawa than in pieces on a basement floor in Brooklyn. Crying, Myron ran towards the G.I. Joe Skystriker fighter jet whose pilot had been knocked out of the cockpit in the attack. He wanted to at least protect the plane from further damage before Leon had a chance to reload and toss the cushion again at what was left of his parents’ afikomen gift to him the previous Passover. Even though Leon knew he’d get yelled at by his mother and be forced to immediately put the aircraft carrier back together again piece by broken piece, he relished destroying it every time he had the chance. Maybe it was a way of rebelling against their parents for rarely buying them toys and buying Myron everything he asked for, but the bombing of the “G.I. Joe ship,” as it was known in the family, was a ritual that was performed every couple of weeks, either by Ron, or by Leon, or sometimes by both, whenever Myron’s behavior had gotten too intolerable. This time, however, the strike was a decoy, an attempt to get Myron to forget about the letter and focus on the carrier. Of the hundreds of toys Myron was bought by his parents, he loved his G.I. Joe ship the most. He’d spend hours pretending to steer the ship through the orange carpeted sea, sounding the ship’s alarm, warning the crew of potential danger, and firing the red, plastic missiles at imagined enemies. Playing with his G.I. Joe ship was an escape for Myron – a time when he didn’t have to compete with his older brothers for their parents’ attention and affections by whining the loudest. Having that taken away from him, even for only a few hours, was too big a tragedy for Myron to worry about some letter from India.
As Myron tearfully sat amidst the wreckage, Ron called Leon to come upstairs into his bedroom. In one hand, Ron held the letter, in the other he brandished a hunting knife he’d bought from TV a few months earlier, and kept hidden in the space between the wall and his dresser drawers. He’d seen the commercial featuring the knife that looked just like the one Rambo used in First Blood, and when he called the 800 number to order it, he wasn’t sure when and for what purpose a Jewish kid from Brooklyn would ever need an eleven inch military style survival knife with a built in compass and an emergency fire starter, but he knew he had to have it. Now he knew why. The fifteen dollars plus shipping and handling that he’d pulled from his allowance envelope to secretly give the UPS driver when the knife came C.O.D. had been well spent.
“What are you gonna do with that?” Leon asked.
“We’re gonna stop the Arabs!”
Leon assumed his and Ron’s participation in this would end with a call to the cops and perhaps some sort of medal ceremony at the police station in appreciation of a job well done. For once, they might even make Bernie and Myra proud. What Jewish parents wouldn’t bust with pride at the sight of their two eldest sons being honored as paladins by a cheering and thankful community? Perhaps there was a reward. Thirty, maybe forty, no, fifty dollars. Maybe the cops would even ask them to participate in a sting operation to weed out the bad guys, but at no point would they be in any real danger. Now Ron was bringing knives into this? Well, it had to be more effective than a headlock, he thought.
“I get to hold the knife,” Leon said.
“It’s my knife,” Ron replied.
“You don’t even know how to use that thing.”
“I saw Rambo three times.”
“It’s not fair. Let’s get another one.”
“There’s no time to get another one. It took two months to get this one.”
“Call ‘em up and tell them you need it right away.”
You call ‘em. You’re the one that wants it.”
“What am I supposed to use then? I need a weapon. What if they steal your knife away?”
Ron hadn’t thought about that possibility. He was too wound up about stopping the Arabs to think his plan through – what little there was of it. He pretended to be annoyed by Leon’s selfish demands, but he was secretly relieved.
“Fine. Before we do anything, let’s show the letter to the Mossad guy from the gas station. If they’re Arabs, he’ll know what to do,” Ron said.
The Arabs, or Indians, or whatever they were, needed to be stopped, but there could be no harm in getting a second opinion just to be safe, Leon thought.
 “Okay. Yeah, he’ll know.”
“Good. We’ll take it to him tomorrow.”
The boys never questioned why every Israeli guy they met claimed he was in either Special Forces in the Israeli army, or a spy. They just assumed any man with an Israeli accent, a hairy chest, and a Star of David hanging from a gold chain around his neck was probably a trained assassin and a master of espionage. Besides, even if the Israeli wasn’t who he said he was, Ron figured that if things went wrong, the terrorists would go after the Israeli before they harmed a couple of kids.
“What should we do with the letter until tomorrow?” Ron asked.
“Give it to me,” Leon said. “I’ll hide it. Where’s the envelope?”
“I flushed it. We don’t need it.”
That night, Leon slept with the letter tucked under his pillow. He hoped that somehow, perhaps through osmosis, the meaning of the foreign words written on the mysteriously thin paper would seep into his brain via his Dallas Cowboys pillow, and he’d be able to report the criminals to the cops as he had originally planned. Sleeping with books under his pillow was a studying technique he’d used many times in the past, which explained why he needed to forge his mother’s signature on tests.
It was clear to him that Ron wasn’t cut out for this type of undercover work, and the more Leon thought about it, the more he realized that involving the Israeli would mean any accolades for foiling the tenants’ plan would have to be shared with an outsider. He was willing to stand up in front of his neighbors and his parents to receive his just rewards with his older brother at his side, but not with some greasy car mechanic who smelled like falafel, body odor, and cigarettes.
When the boys’ parents came home from Parent-teacher night, there was, as expected, yelling and screaming, and even some belt waving. Ron had to promise that his days as a milk deliveryman were over, while Leon spent most of his night putting the G.I. Joe ship back together and being warned what would happen if he ever forged another signature. He never did get enough sleep to properly learn Arabic – or Hindi for that matter – not that learning either language would have helped him understand what was written in the letter anyway.

The next morning, Ron’s post-breakfast bowel movement was interrupted by Leon.
“It changed!” Leon declared, bursting into the bathroom, holding the onion skin paper.
There was little regard for privacy in the household, and it was not uncommon for someone to be showering, or brushing their teeth, or doing laundry, while someone else was using the toilet. The only time a lock on a bathroom door was used with any consistency was when Myron needed to be sequestered. Ron was unfazed by the disruption.
“What changed?” Ron asked.
“The words. They’re different now,” Leon said, handing Ron the paper.
Ron studiously examined the writing, as he sat on the toilet. Leon closed the door to prevent anyone else from walking in without warning.
“What’d you do?” Ron asked.
“I didn’t do anything. This paper is magic. It can change words,” Leon said, scared and amazed at the same time. He knew there was something special about this type of paper the very first time he had laid his eyes on it in the principal’s office. He sensed even then that its powers were being wasted on an intolerant, prudish school administrator – and now he had proof.
“There’s no such thing as magic paper,” Ron insisted. “Someone must have switched the letters. It was probably the Arabs downstairs. They know we stole their mail and they snuck in the house to get it back.”
“I slept with it under my pillow. I would know if they switched it.”
“No you wouldn’t. They’re terrorists. They’re good at sneaking into places without anyone knowing.”
“You’re wrong. This paper is magic. We need to figure out what it says before the writing changes again.”
“They know,” Ron said, nervously. “Let’s just tell ma and dad and let them take care of it.”
“We’ll get in trouble, if we tell them!”
“We’ll get killed, if we don’t!”
“If the terrorists snuck into the house, why wouldn’t they have just taken the letter and killed us? Why would they switch the letters and keep us alive?”
Ron knew Leon had a point, but the idea of magic paper was absurd to him. There had to be a logical explanation.
“Maybe ma and dad switched it to teach us a lesson,” Ron posited. But he realized the second the words left his lips that the possibility of his parents trying to teach them something without yelling it at them was even more absurd than the notion of a magical piece of onion skin paper.
“What language is it?” Leon asked, refusing to even acknowledge Ron’s preposterous theory.
“I don’t know. Looks like English letters mixed in with all kinds of weird letters. The terrorists must have found a way to change the language on the paper in case it got intercepted to confuse whoever reads it,” Ron said. “Instead of disappearing ink, it’s changing ink.”
“Looks like the writing on the stores in Brighton Beach.”
“Could be Russian.”
“We need to find out what this says. Maybe there are clues here to find a buried treasure. I’m telling you, this paper is magic!”
Ron decided to go along with the magic paper hypothesis for the time being, since it scared him less than the thought that the terrorists were not only on to him and Leon, but were taunting them with self-changing ink.
“Who do we know who knows Russian?” Leon asked.
“What about the Russian kid?”
“He’s weird. I don’t wanna talk to him.”
Igor, or the “Russian Kid,” as he was most commonly known, was an émigré from the Soviet Union, who despite his limited English, was able to entertain the other kids on the block by performing various tricks. One of his most popular ones involved Igor swallowing air and then farting, as if he’d manufactured the fart literally from thin air. It was a trick many neighborhood kids tried to emulate with only soiled underwear to show for their efforts. Igor was eventually forced to remove the trick from his act, after many mothers, having grown tired of the increased volume of laundry they needed to do, had forbidden their children from ever playing with him.
“What about the guy who lives next door to Joe?” Leon suggested.
“Skinny Joe or Fat Joe?”
“Skinny Joe.”
“Is he Russian?”
“He has that accent...and gold teeth.”
“The one that’s always talking about some amazing car from his country that they’re gonna start selling here?”
“Yeah. Dad said he was gonna buy one.”
 “Okay, but we can’t tell him how we got this, or anything about the words changing. If we do, he’ll wanna take it for himself. We’ll just tell him it’s for a project we’re doing in school.”
Leon agreed and put the letter back under his pillow. Its deciphering would have to wait until after school. For now, the fate of the letter, and perhaps of Brooklyn, was being left in the hands of a man who insisted that the Yugo would revolutionize the American auto industry.

Ron and Leon counted the seconds until school was over. They would pass each other in the halls, and instead of Ron taunting his younger brother, as was the duty of all older brothers who saw their younger brothers in school halls, he glanced at him knowingly. They were on a mission to get through the school day without incident, go home, do their homework, and figure out what the letter said. Ron went to math class, and Leon sat quietly at his desk, while his friends teased a classmate who had the misfortune of coming to school with a bad haircut.
            They arrived home at around five o’clock, did their homework, and ate the milk soup and blintzes their mother fed them for dinner. Milk soup was a concoction of dumplings in warm milk, the recipe for which was handed down to their mother from their grandmother, who had eaten it in the old country with her own siblings after school. But unlike grandma, who had merely the Nazis to contend with, Ron and Leon had an entire borough to save, or at least maybe a buried treasure to find. When they were done eating, they left the dirty dishes on the table for their mother to clean, as they always did, and announced that they were going out to play. But first, Ron and Leon had to go up to their rooms to change out of the collared shirts, slacks, and yarmulkes they were required to wear to school and into clothing more appropriate for running around the neighborhood. They knew they’d get yelled at for leaving their school clothes on the floor in the upstairs hallway and for creating more laundry for their mother to do, but attention to detail and not straying from routine was imperative when lying to her. After changing, Ron walked into Leon’s room, wearing a Yankees cap, a sweatshirt and his favorite blue jogging pants. Leon had changed into an almost identical outfit.
            “Where is it?” Ron asked, anxiously.
            “I can’t find it.”
            “What do you mean you can’t find it? Where’d you leave it?”
            “Right here,” Leon said, lifting the pillow. “It’s gone.”
            “You sure you left it there?”
            “It was there when we got home from school.”
            “Maybe it fell off the bed. Look underneath.”
            Leon pulled Myron’s half of the hi-rise bed out from under his half. As he knelt down to search for the paper under the bed, Ron prayed that Leon would find it. Whether it was a magic letter or a terrorist letter didn’t much matter anymore. As long as it was in his possession, Ron felt like he had some sense of control over his own fate.
            “Got it,” Leon proclaimed, picking the paper up off the shaggy blue carpet.
            Ron was able to breathe again.
            “Look! It changed again!” Leon said, excited.
            Ron grabbed the paper from his brother’s hand.
            “Chinese!” declared Ron.
            Myron came running into the room, forcing Ron to quickly hide the letter behind his back.
            “Get off-a my bed,” Myron whined, trying unsuccessfully to push his half of the hi-rise bed that was covered in Smurfs sheets back under Leon’s.
            “Get outta here,” Leon said.
“Puck You!”
            Leon threateningly lifted Myron’s Papa Smurf pillow over his head, forcing Myron to go running from the room, screaming, “MA-A-A! He’s gonna bomb the G.I. Joe ship!”
            Leon had only intended, if necessary, to throw the pillow at Myron’s head, but the threat had the same effect. Myron was gone and they were able to get back to the business at hand.
            “It’s definitely about a buried treasure,” Leon said.
            “How do you know?”
            “Because China is underground, just like the treasure. We need to find out what it says so we know where to start digging.”
            Digging a hole to China to find a buried treasure made as much sense as anything now to Ron. None of his own brilliant theories had panned out – and Leon seemed pretty confident for someone who had gotten a seventeen on his last geography test. Even if the terrorists understood Arabic and Russian, there was no way they understood Chinese too, Ron thought. He was amazed that even the Chinese understood each other. The paper had to be magic.
Why and how this mysterious letter wound up in their possession would have to be a subject of discussion for another time. Digging to China was Ron’s and Leon’s focus now.
            “Let’s ask Lawrence,” Ron said.
            Lawrence lived next door to the boys with his mother, his sisters Lisa and Kathy, and his psychotic dog Lassie. Lawrence’s father was assumed by the boys to be either dead or living in China, since he was never seen. It was also unclear whether the dog was named Lassie as homage to the film and television star, or because Lawrence’s Chinese family assumed that all Rough Collie’s were required by American law to be named Lassie. Despite the similarities in breed, appearance, and name, Lawrence’s Lassie and the famous Lassie bore no resemblance to each other in demeanor. Her loud, maniacal bark could be heard on the next block, and when Lassie was taken for her evening walks, the neighborhood kids would climb trees and fences to avoid becoming her supper.
            “Okay, you call for him,” Leon said, preferring his older brother got attacked by the insane dog when Lawrence opened the door.
            “You call for him. You’re the one who wants to find the treasure.”
            How the boys yearned for the good old days when they could spend hours at Lawrence’s house without worrying about being eaten alive by his crazed dog. Known to his mother as Ro-ron-say, Lawrence was an extremely generous kid of twelve who had transformed his house into an amusement park for Ron and Leon when his mother wasn’t home. The staircase that led up to the bedrooms had been turned into a slide almost every Saturday afternoon after Lawrence had thrown his mother’s queen size mattress onto the carpeted steps for the boys to thrust themselves down. His kitchen had become the world’s greatest food court where the boy’s feasted on Cheese Doodles, Twinkies, and numerous other delicacies they were denied in their kosher home. His basement had been a den of debauchery where Lawrence had offered them their first ever sips of beer, and their first ever smokes in the form of Lipton tea leaves rolled into loose leaf paper – both of which made the boys feel more nauseous than grown up.
His living room – with an Atari game console in one corner and an Intellivison in the other – had rivaled any arcade. Instead of fighting with Myron for a few minutes of Combat and Video Olympics, they had mastered race car driving, playing hours of Pole Position at Lawrence’s, and had become skilled at maneuvering through the dangerous jungles in Pitfall. It had been almost a whole year now since Ron and Leon were the pampered guests in that house. Lawrence had made the home next door their sanctuary, their G.I. Joe ship – and that damn dog was the big, green, velvet pillow that destroyed it for them.
 “I’ll go, but the treasure’s gonna be all mine then,” Leon responded, hoping Ron wouldn’t call his bluff. “I’m not gonna let you drive the Trans-Am I buy with my money.”
Ron was more a fan of the Camaro, and had frequently imagined himself in a wife beater and slicked back hair, sitting behind the wheel of the shiny red Z28 that was owned by the garbage man who lived a few houses away. But the thought of Leon cruising around town in a cool sports car without him, forced Ron to think of a compromise: “Let’s knock on his door and then run back as fast as we can. When he answers, we’ll talk to him from the porch.”
            With the letter hidden under his sweatshirt, Ron gently shoved Leon into the warm mid-April breeze on the front porch, and then down the stairs to the front of the house. Leon didn’t fight back because he knew that as long as Ron’s hand was on his back, he wouldn’t have to face Lassie alone. They reached the sidewalk, and before they could turn right and begin the ascent up the stairs to Lawrence’s house, they were confronted by a neighborhood menace as frightening as Lassie.
            “The sons! The sons of the kapo! There they are!” they heard spewing from the mouth of the angry lady who lived in the house attached to theirs.
            She was known to the boys as “The Witch,” a title bestowed upon her by their father. She looked to Ron and Leon to be in her seventies, but she could have easily been in her fifties, or even late forties. To them, anyone over twenty looked old. She was a hunched over troll of a woman who was missing her front teeth and spoke with an Eastern European accent.
            “Where are you going?” she demanded to know.
            Ron turned his back to her, so she wouldn’t see the letter through his sweatshirt. She reminded him of one of those creepy gypsy women who told fortunes at Coney Island. If she saw the letter, she’d know it was stolen and turn the boys in, or worse, she’d know what it said and steal their buried treasure.
            They ignored her, as Ron began to push Leon harder towards Lawrence’s house.
            “You go! Sons of kapos! Sons of kapos!” she barked, foaming at the mouth, proving to be an even crazier bitch than Lassie.
Ron sometimes wished he’d had the courage to tell The Witch to get on her broomstick and fly away, or something equally as clever, but confrontations were never his strong suit. Maybe he felt compassion for the woman who used to baby-sit him and have coffee with his mother until she flipped out one day and started harassing his family and accusing his father of war crimes. Perhaps Ron pitied the woman whose own son he could hear telling her on a regular basis to drop dead. The bedroom wall he shared with Morris, The Witch’s Neil Sedaka loving sixteen-year-old, was thin enough for Ron to know the moment Morris had wished death upon his mother. The yelling and screaming he’d hear through the wall was always worse than anything Ron had ever heard in his own house, and was usually followed by Morris slamming his door and blasting Sedaka’s greatest hits in protest. The last time Morris and The Witch fought, Ron couldn’t get Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen out of his head for three days.
Whatever the reason for his reticence, right now Ron couldn’t be bothered with the ravings of a woman who was searching through his family’s garbage cans for proof of collaboration with the Nazis.
“I’ll find something, don’t worry. Kapos! The whole family – kapos!” she yelled, as Ron and Leon gingerly walked up the stairs to Lawrence’s house, trying their best not to make any loud noises that might cause Lassie to come flying through the front window.
When they reached the top of the stairs, Ron slowly opened the screen door, wincing as it creaked, hoping the sound wouldn’t arouse the beast. He motioned for Leon to knock on the wooden door behind it, as he held the screen door open. Leon breathed deeply, rapped twice quickly on the door with his fist, and somehow made it down the stairs behind Ron before Lassie’s thunderous bark shook the block. Two kids playing off-the-wall baseball on a paddle ball court across the street briefly stopped their game and anxiously waited to see if Lassie would be let out. The Witch took no chances, and ran up the stairs to her house, slamming the door behind her. Within minutes of her arrival back home, Calendar Girl could be heard blaring from Morris’ room.
Lawrence’s mother opened the door, and with her small frame and loud rebuke of, “No, Rassie!” she managed, but just barely, to prevent the dog from running out onto the porch. She noticed the boys standing frightened on the sidewalk and she screamed into the house, “RO-RON-SAY! RO-RON-SAY!” followed by something in Chinese that Ron and Leon assumed meant, “Your friends are here.” Seconds later, Lawrence stepped out onto the porch, while Lassie continued to bark behind the closed front door.
“Come up,” Lawrence said, hopefully, with the slightest hint of a Chinese accent. He missed hosting the boys as much as they missed being his honored guests. “I’ll put the dog in the basement.”
“Come down,” Ron said. “We need to ask you something.”
Lawrence opened the door, muttered something in Chinese to his mother, and met the boys on the sidewalk.
“I just solved the Rubik’s Cube in under two minutes. Has to be a world record,” Lawrence said, showing them a Rubik’s Cube that had its stickers pulled off and then sloppily replaced so that each side was one color. It demonstrated the exact type of efficient problem solving Ron and Leon were looking for.
“We need you tell us what this says,” Ron said, handing Lawrence the letter.
Lawrence examined the thin paper and was as impressed as Leon was the first time he touched it.
“Cool paper. Where’d you get it?”
“We found it,” Leon said, impatiently. “What does it say?”
“You could make a great paper airplane out of this,” Lawrence said. His problem solving abilities were surpassed only by his tendency to get easily distracted.
 “Come on. What does it say?” Ron asked.
“Yeah, tell us what is says already!” Leon demanded.
Lawrence looked over the writing on the page. “How should I know?” he said. “I can’t read this.”
“I hear you talking Chinese to your mother all the time,” Leon said before he did a minute long impression of Lawrence and his mother having a conversation. There was lots of bowing, and repeated use of the phrase, “Ching Chong.” Leon had the sense not to slant his eyes with his thumbs, though. There was no point in offending Lawrence.
“Hey, there’s a lot of stuff I could make fun of you guys about. But I don’t say anything,” Lawrence said, slightly hurt. He was right. In a neighborhood where many people knew Ron and Leon as “the Mackie Jews next door to the Chinks with the dog,” Lawrence never stooped to the level of mockery or spewing ethnic epithets. His mother – and his father, wherever he was – had raised him well, which was another reason the boy’s were willing to entrust Lawrence with their secret. He’d never tell on them for opening someone else’s mail, and if there was a treasure to be found, Lawrence probably wouldn’t even want a cut. He’d be happy just to be involved in the hunt.
“Fuckin’ idiot!” Ron said, shoving Leon, trying to teach his younger brother how unacceptable it was to insult people.
“Get off me, dork,” Leon said, without shoving back. His failure to defend himself was his way of showing contrition. Lawrence knew that was the closest he was going to get to an apology.
“This is Korean,” Lawrence said.
“So?” asked Ron.
“I’m Chinese.”
“So?” asked Leon.
“Chinese isn’t Korean.”
Leon grabbed the paper from Lawrence and declared in amazement, “It must have changed again.”
“It looks the same to me,” Ron said, pulling the letter from Leon’s hand.
“What changed?” Lawrence asked.
“This paper is magic,” Leon explained, and then went on to tell Lawrence the tale of the mysterious, spooky, wonderful letter and the buried treasure.
“I knew it the second I saw it,” Lawrence said. “The guy from Big 5 is Korean. Let’s take it to him,” he continued, referring to the owner of the corner convenience store.
“What if he tries to steal our treasure?” Leon asked.
Lawrence took a moment to think about Leon’s reservation before he came up with the perfect solution: “Let’s roll some tea into this and smoke it, then we’ll have magical powers, and we can make our own treasures.” Lawrence had a way of making a stupid plan seem not only reasonable, but in need of urgent execution. It had taken a broken collar bone two winters earlier for Leon to realize that jumping off Lawrence’s porch into a pile of snow twenty-five feet below was a bad idea. But the fusion of his slight Brooklyn accent with what was left of his Chinese accent – the bulk of which he’d lost learning English from the New York City Board of Education and spending hours in front of the mirror impersonating The Fonz – made him sound like a bad-ass Confucius.
“Yeah. Let’s smoke it,” Leon said, excited, looking at Ron for approval.
Ron considered Lawrence’s suggestion for a moment, but only because the idea of burning the paper and finally being done with it appealed to him more than bringing it to the Korean guy around the corner to translate. Ron wasn’t worried that he would steal their treasure. He was a friendly, if not always comprehensible man, who would allow the boys’ father to pick up a copy of the newspaper on Saturdays from his store without paying for it until Sunday. Whether the Korean guy understood that orthodox Jews were forbidden from handling money on the Sabbath, or whether he thought the boys’ father simply didn’t get paid until Sunday and thus didn’t have the thirty cents to cover the cost of the Daily News on Saturday, was unclear. But he trusted their father, and so Ron trusted him. Ron’s desire to end this adventure was motivated not by mistrust, but purely by the fear of what he thought awaited him around the corner, a place he had been avoiding for the past year.
“You do whatever you want. I’m going in,” Ron said.
“Fine. We’ll take it to the Korean guy,” Leon responded. He would rather have seen Ron get a smaller piece of the treasure than none at all. More importantly, the fetid, sticky memory of pissing himself from the pain of a cracked collar bone was coming back to him, and taking the letter to the corner store seemed a much more sensible and less humiliating strategy.
“No! We’re not going there!” Ron insisted.
“How else are we gonna figure out what it says?” Leon asked, surprised that Ron was so against the idea.
“It’s gonna be dark soon,” Ron said.
“So? We don’t have to go in yet. You still afraid of the terrorists?”
“Let’s just do it tomorrow.”
If they just waited, Ron thought, the writing on the letter would probably change again and he wouldn’t be forced to face Scott and Roger, the two brothers who had stolen his blue Schwinn ten-speed bike a year earlier in front of Big 5. The fraternal fourteen-year-old twins, who lived two blocks away on Brigham Street, had made the corner in front of the Korean’s store their base of operations, spending most of their free time there smoking cigarettes and drinking soda out of a paper bag to impress the girls from the neighborhood who would walk by. They were for the most part harmless, but for some reason unbeknownst to Ron, they took a particular dislike to him. While most kids would just get called names or have a drink knocked out of their hands, Ron would frequently get shoved and punched in the arm by the two brothers with the matching blonde crew cuts and the pale Irish skin, who Ron always envisioned when he’d hear his grandmother speak of the Hitler Youth. The bruises inflicted were always more damaging to his ego than his body, but Ron wished he had the courage to stand up to Scott and Roger each time they’d corner him. He’d fantasize about putting them both in headlocks and squeezing as hard as he could until they surrendered and promised never to bother him again. But for now, or until the effectiveness of headlocks outside the Isaac Benjamin Roth School and the Waxman home could be sufficiently proven, Ron was content avoiding going around the corner, and having Leon and his parents believe that his bike had been stolen by some random thief in Marine Park. Since involving one’s parents in a dispute was considered bad form even amongst Ron’s coddled school friends, he shuddered to think about what the Boys From Brigham would do to him if his mother showed up at their house, demanding the return of his bike. And he certainly couldn’t admit to his little brother how he had just stood there, sneezing uncontrollably, while Scott and Roger grabbed the ten-speed from him, shoved him into a tree, and calmly wheeled the bike away, the whole time mocking his reaction to the high pollen count of the early spring day with chants of “HA-JEW! HA-JEW!”  
It was definitely better to delay things and have Leon think he was still scared of the Indians, who could have had guns or bombs, rather than have him know he was frightened of the Irish, who as far as Leon knew, had little more than bad attitudes. Leon admired his older brother too much for Ron to let the poor kid down like that – or so Ron liked to think.
“So go in, fag. We’re going to Big 5,” Leon told Ron, frustrated, motioning for Lawrence to follow him.
“Come on,” Lawrence said to Ron, trying unsuccessfully to get him to join them.
Ron ran back into the house, then into his room and slammed the door. He sat on his bed, fuming, angry at Leon for betraying him. He was the one who took in the mail the day the envelope for the Indians was delivered, hoping to find a birthday card filled with a twenty dollar bill from his grandmother. She had always made sure to mail him his card and gift so that it arrived exactly one week before his birthday to insure that her eldest grandson received her birthday wishes in time. But with the excitement of the potential terrorist threat and with all the talk of a buried treasure, he had, until now, completely forgotten that the card from his grandmother hadn’t arrived. And now Leon wanted to make matters worse by having the audacity to share with someone else whatever rewards there were to reap from the translation of the intercepted letter? All because Leon couldn’t wait a day to figure out what it said? Breaking Up Is Hard To Do started to blare from Morris’ side of the wall, and as Ron listened to the lyrics, his eyes began to tear. He’d heard Morris blast that song dozens, maybe hundreds of times, but only now did he truly appreciate the pain and anguish of desertion.
He became embarrassed that his anger and his hurt feelings were causing him to cry. But as he wiped his watery eyes, they began to itch and burn, and the more uncomfortable they felt, the more relieved he was that his allergies were the cause of his tears. The itchiness spread to his nose and his throat, and within seconds, he found himself violently sneezing. HA-CHEW! HA-CHEW! HA-CHEW! they came firing out of his mouth and nose in loud, successive sets of three that lasted through the end of Breaking Up Is Hard To Do and didn’t stop until the final verse of Oh! Carol. But as he sneezed, Ron could no longer hear the music over the derisive taunts of “HA-JEW” he began to hear in his head. The image of his bike being taken from him now loomed so large in his mind’s eye that he didn’t notice that Myron had made himself comfortable on the floor in front of the VIC-20. The computer was Ron’s and Leon’s consolation gift from their father, purchased on special from the Syrians on Kings Highway, and given to them because he felt bad that they never got to play with the Atari he bought for them on special from the Hassidim in Boro Park. Had Ron seen Myron even looking at the computer, Myron never would have been allowed to write the code that resulted in the words, “MYRON IS THE BESTTT,” filling from top to bottom, each line on the twelve inch black and white television screen that their father bought on special from the Persians in midtown.
But Ron had more pressing concerns. As the details of his bike being snatched away flooded his memory, he recalled venturing out to Big 5 on that day with a crisp twenty dollar bill in his pocket that he had just received in the mail from his grandmother. He had intended to use part of his new found fortune to buy himself some Now and Laters and one of those plastic model airplane kits that the Korean kept in the store next to the wooden paddles with the small rubber balls attached to them by an elastic string. But the trauma of being humiliated by Scott and Roger had made him completely forget about the twenty dollars he had in his pocket at the time. It wasn’t until months later when he had worn the same pants after they had been repeatedly washed and dried by his mother that he had reached into the pocket to discover the petrified, faded bill covered in lint.
It suddenly occurred to him that the letter to the Indians that had arrived in his mailbox the day before, had gotten to him exactly a year to the day that his bike was stolen. He checked the date on his calculator watch to confirm. His twelfth birthday was now six days away. Ron was now convinced that the diaphanous paper that Leon and Lawrence were on their way to Big 5 with was meant for him and not the funny looking foreigners downstairs, who wanted little more than to live in peace without having to step in shit when they left the house. Why else had the envelope landed in his mailbox on the day he was supposed to get a birthday card from his grandmother, who had never missed getting one to him exactly a week before his birthday from the time he started reading at the age of six?
Maybe it wasn’t merely the writing on the letter that had the ability to change, but the envelope as well, he thought. He’d heard his grandmother’s wartime stories of her partisan group communicating through secret code with other brave freedom fighters, hiding in the freezing, merciless forests of Europe, attempting as best they could to sabotage the Germans. Perhaps she had sent him an encrypted message in an envelope that was addressed to him, but that changed once it landed in his mailbox in order not to arouse suspicion. There was no terrorist plot, no buried treasure, only his sixty-five-year-old grandmother secretly urging him to resist the Nazis on his corner the way she resisted the ones on hers. Courage, not cash, was her birthday gift to him this year. She was the only other person in the family who knew the truth about his bike. He had told her about it, hoping she’d buy him a new one, but instead, she had promised him that she’d keep his secret and that Scott and Roger would eventually get what was coming to them.
It no longer even mattered what the letter said, or when and where a Polish immigrant named Shprintze found the time to learn Korean. He had mourned the loss of his bike and his pride long enough. It was time for his year of bereavement to end.
He jumped off the bed, determined to start the next year of his life, his thirteenth –
the one leading up to manhood, and he hoped, to pubes – with a sense of fearlessness. From the VIC-20’s cassette player, he ejected the Frogger cassette game that Myron had been waiting patiently to load. Amidst the cries of “MAAA!” Ron pulled Myron’s Yankees cap off and began beating him in the head with it, using his little brother’s cranium as a war drum. Before he ran out of the house, he grabbed from the closet near the front door an old golf club that Ron always assumed was left in the house by a stranger, since in his mind, golf was for people who lived far from Brooklyn who ate on Yom Kippur. His mother would on occasion use the silver driver to destroy hard to reach spider webs, and when Ron would fantasize about his future as a major league baseball player, he would use it to hit walk-off grand-slams in the seventh game of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. But now the club had a more noble purpose. He ran down the stairs to the sidewalk, clutching the rubber grip, rehearsing the beating he’d be forced to give the brothers if they were unwilling to return his bike voluntarily. First he’d hit them both in the legs, knocking them down. Then as they squirmed on the ground, begging for mercy, he’d threaten them with blows to the head, if they didn’t tell him exactly where his bike was. He was so caught up in fulfilling his grandmother’s prophecy of Scott and Roger getting their just desserts that he didn’t notice Myron trailing behind him, screaming, “That’s my puckin’ club!” Their father had once lifted Myron onto his shoulders and allowed him to free with the club a wiffle ball trapped in a tree in front of the house. From that moment, Myron considered both the ball and the club his.
            Fifty feet from home, near the old telephone pole that always looked like it was one stiff breeze away from toppling over, Ron nearly ran into Ezra, the overly clingy ten-year-old who lived four houses away and whose parents would buy him shoes three sizes too big so he’d grow into them.
            “Where you going?” Ezra asked, nearly tripping, as he clumsily tried to keep pace with Ron in the oversized shoes that made him run like a circus clown who had just shit his pants.
            “None of your business,” Ron answered defiantly. But his impudence only piqued Ezra’s interest even more.
            “Come on. Where you going? Can I come?” he asked, grabbing Ron’s shirt.
            “No! Get away from me,” Ron said, as he started to run faster.
            “You wanna play punchball?”
            Ron waved the golf club at Ezra, motioning for him to get away. He probably could have used the back-up, but an obnoxious pest of a kid like Ezra, whose own mother would pretend she wasn’t home when he knocked on the door, was likely to do more harm than good. Though he refused to back down, Ezra’s big shoes and his total lack of coordination allowed Ron to break free of his needy grasp. Myron then ran passed Ezra, and that was the order in which they raced into battle: Ron brandishing the golf club, followed by Myron, whining for the return of the club, followed by Ezra, who just wanted someone to play with.
            As Ron approached the corner pizzeria, he considered taking a swing at the pot dealing high-school kid, who in between slicing up pies, would hand passersby small yellow manila envelopes from behind the sidewalk window in exchange for cash. First pot dealers, then bike thieves, then anyone else who threatened the peace and tranquility of his neighborhood, he thought. They’d all learn what a golf club to the head feels like. He might even go back and teach the Indians a thing or two, just in case they had any funny ideas. He was feeling confident now, even cocky. The drug peddler’s absence at the window made him hope that Scott and Roger refused to return his bike, so he’d have someone on which he could use the club and unleash the storm of fear, anger and humiliation that was a year in the brewing.
            As he turned the corner, he saw Scott and Roger loitering in front of Big 5, smoking, and drinking from paper bags. They’d grown taller, blonder, and generally more Aryan since the last time he saw them, but it was as if they hadn’t moved from that spot in a year. His legs instinctively stopped moving, as if to tell him to put an end to his ill conceived idea of getting his bike back, even though he could see it leaning against the front window of the Korean’s store, barely twenty feet away. The animals must have broken the kickstand, he thought, probably right after they had adorned his ten-speed with red oval stickers that had “STP” written on them in big white letters. Their cheap attempts to make his bike look like some sponsored race car only enraged him. The stickers that under ordinary circumstances would have seemed cool to Ron, now might as well have said, “HAJEW” on them. Then, Scott and Roger noticed him.
            “Yiz goin’ golfin’?” Scott asked in the type of Brooklyn accent that generally accompanied phrases like, “Fire-exscape,” “Not for nutin’,” and “Ah-Fangoo!”
            “Fuckin’ Jack Nicholson ova heh,” Roger added, moving closer to Ron.
Every last ounce of courage Ron had worked up, thinking about his grandmother’s secret message, drained from him through a nervous silent fart. And he was glad it was silent, since calling that kind of attention to himself at that exact moment would have only led to further shame, for he now had an audience in Myron and Ezra, who were quietly standing behind him, watching the whole thing.
“Lemme see dat club for a second,” Scott said in a mock friendly tone – the same kind an affable subway mugger might use when asking to see someone’s wallet for a second.
Ron thought about just handing it to him and running, but Roger wasn’t about to make it that easy for him. Scott’s older brother by three minutes grabbed the club from Ron’s trembling hand, and from behind, began to choke him with it. If he wasn’t on the receiving end of the hold, Ron thought he might have admired the ingenuity of a headlock administered with a golf club. It seemed highly effective, even lethal, and didn’t require much strain on behalf of the one doing the administering. If he survived this episode, he thought, he might try it on Leon or Myron the next time either got unruly.
As Ron gasped for air and struggled to push the club off his neck, Leon and Lawrence stepped out of Big 5. They were too involved in their discussion to notice Ron’s predicament.
“I thought you said this was Korean,” Leon said to Lawrence, while holding the paper.
“I guess not.”
“Maybe it changed again.”
Lawrence grabbed the paper from him, glimpsed at it quickly and then handed it back, annoyed by Leon’s persistent naïve hopefulness.
“It’s exactly the same,” Lawrence said.
Leon studied the paper intently. If even a Korean – who according to Leon’s mother, ate cats and dogs – couldn’t decipher what the letter said, there was little hope
anyone could, which meant he’d never find the buried treasure, which caused him to lose interest.
“You wanna play Atari?” Leon asked.
“Nah. Wanna light some bottle rockets?” Lawrence responded.
While Leon and Lawrence were figuring out their next move, Ron freed himself from Roger’s choke hold, forcing the club to the ground. By standing behind Ron, Roger had left himself vulnerable to a blow in his most sensitive of areas. Though Ron’s anemic backwards kick landed on Roger’s inner thigh, it was close enough to the intended target to force Roger to release him and drop the club. Ron had not only saved himself from asphyxiation, but he now had a renewed faith in the classic headlock, which if performed properly, would never have left the one giving the headlock exposed to such an attack.
Leon and Lawrence then noticed the commotion, and as the club lay there on the filthy Brooklyn sidewalk, Myron decided that he’d seen enough. Before either Scott or Roger could pick up the club and continue their assault, Myron grabbed it, and with every ounce of strength he had in his small six-year-old frame, he started to swing.
“MINE!” Myron screamed, as he hit Roger in the right knee with the club head, knocking him to the ground in agony. “Leave us alone!” he wailed, as he turned on Scott and gave him an immobilizing shot to the ribs. Ron, Leon, Lawrence and Ezra watched in amazement as Myron single-handedly took down the neighborhood bullies. In an instant, Ron and Leon forgave the little brat for all his transgressions. He was absolved of retrieving disciplinary letters from school out of the garbage and showing them to their parents, after Ron and Leon had attempted to dispose of them. He was pardoned for telling their mother that Fast Times at Ridgemont High was rated R, causing her to return it to the video store before Ron and Leon could watch Phoebe Cates’ infamous pool scene. He would no longer have to serve time in the bathroom or have his G.I. Joe ship bombed for refusing to ever once share anything he deemed his.
Their father had included the preposition “on” in all three of his boys’ names, hoping that would somehow help them press on in the face of any adversity. And now his dream was coming true – at least for his youngest. Myron was on fire, on the attack, on a rampage.
Drowning out Scott’s and Roger’s moans of pain and the other boys’ cheers, a loud squeal was suddenly heard originating from around the corner: “RORONSAAAAY! … KATAAAAY!…RISAAAA!”
Lawrence’s mother was calling for him and his sisters, Kathy and Lisa, to come home. The shrill cry could be heard for blocks and was like Lawrence’s mother’s personal Bat-Signal that she’d project with her voice throughout the neighborhood whenever she wanted her children to return to her.
As loudly as his mother had shouted to him, Lawrence screamed something back in Chinese. Ron and Leon were sure it wasn’t, “I’m coming,” given how excited Lawrence was to see Myron in action.
Myron stood over Scott and Roger, seething, almost daring them with his gaze to get up so he could knock them back down with his club. Ron seized the opportunity to reunite with the bike he’d been separated from for a year. While he tried to restore his ten-speed to its original glory by peeling off the stickers that had defiled its sleek aluminum body, Ezra insisted on ruining the moment.
“You wanna go bike riding?” Ezra asked. “I’m allowed to go up to Kings Bay Little League on my bike.”
For twelve long months, if he needed to get anywhere beyond walking distance, he did so as a passenger on a big yellow bus or in his parents’ 1977 Chevy Nova. Now as he leaned forward on the hard vinyl seat, his hands firmly grasping the foam handlebar grips, he felt in control again. He considered taking a victory ride with Ezra, but mostly to try and lose him in a neighborhood far far away.
While Ron was rescuing his bike, Leon had positioned himself next to Myron to fend off Scott and Roger in case they decided to retaliate. Ron quickly peddled over to join his younger brothers, and in an unprecedented display of fraternal unity, the three stood together, prepared to defend themselves and each other –  Myron with his club, Ron with his bike, and Leon with his bare ten-year-old fists and a piece of onion skin paper.
Lawrence and Ezra were standing on the periphery of the action, ready at a moment’s notice to jump in and help their friends – or run away, if things got out of hand.
“My bike,” Scott sniveled, trying to contain his tears, as he looked up from the sidewalk at Ron.
“You took his bike?” Leon asked Ron, impressed.
“Yeah!” Ron said, not wanting to disappoint him. They were in the midst of a major victory that could result in a story to be told by neighborhood kids for years to come – a story that might even begin with the phrase, “Remember the time Ron and his brothers beat the shit out Scott and Roger?” He liked the sound of that too much to ruin any chances of future celebrity with tales of past humiliations, so he let Leon think he stole Scott’s bike.
“Give him back his bike,” Roger cried from the ground, as he nursed his bruised knee.
“This is mine,” Ron told Roger, as he rolled the bike forward, threatening to run him over. But as he looked down at Roger, he caught a glimpse of the bike’s black pedals. He remembered his bike having silver pedals, and the frame suddenly seemed like it was painted a lighter shade of blue than his was. He jumped off and examined the body more closely. This bike was a Ross, not a Schwinn. He grinned with satisfaction. He was glad the bike wasn’t his. There was more honor in taking Scott’s bike than there was in getting his own back. Scott and Roger were getting what was coming to them just like his grandmother had predicted. A bike for a bike was only fair, and it was all happening because of the letter Leon held in his hand, he thought – the letter that had brought Ron and his brothers together like modern day partisans fighting for justice on the trash littered sidewalks of Brooklyn, instead of the perilous backwoods of Poland. The family tradition of resistance lived on in the three brothers whose names destined them for greatness.
“RORONSAAAAY!” Lawrence’s mother shouted again. This time she sounded angry, and there was no mention of Katay or Risa, meaning they had already come home. Before Lawrence could scream a response, a booming, almost deafening, bark was heard. Every man, woman and child that heard the bark froze in anticipation of what might come next.
“RASSIEEEE!” Lawrence’s mother then shrieked. It was the desperate cry of a woman trying to get her deranged dog to come back rather than stay inside. Everyone within earshot of her cries and Lassie’s defiant barking knew the dog was loose. Trees were climbed, fences were scaled, doors were slammed shut. Car tires spun, leaving trails of smoke, as their drivers attempted to get away in time.
The boys knew their brief moment as heroes had ended. The sound of the psychotic barking was getting closer, and it was time to disband and escape to safety before Lassie made her way to where they were. Leon dropped the onion skin paper to the ground and ran with Lawrence back into Big 5. Even her owner wanted nothing to do with Lassie when she was in a fit of rage. Myron, who had a crippling fear of dogs in general, became instantly paralyzed when he first heard Lassie’s bark. He was awkwardly holding the club over his head when Lassie broke free, and he now stood frozen next to Ron, looking like a golf trophy awarded to epileptics.
As Lassie came striding around the corner, foam dripping from her mouth, only Ron, Myron and Ezra remained standing on the sidewalk. After Myron had come to his rescue, Ron refused to leave his little brother’s side. Ezra’s mother had told him not to come home before dark, so he was just happy to have somewhere to be.
Scott and Roger had managed to drag their sore, beaten bodies along the pavement and decided to play dead in front of the pizzeria.
“Just stay down,” Scott admonished his brother, his voice quivering, as Lassie stopped to smell Roger’s leg.
Sensing movement from where Ron, Myron and Ezra were standing, Lassie walked toward them and began to sniff.
“Stay still,” Ron whispered to Myron and Ezra, while he nervously balanced himself on the bike, hoping that Scott and Roger’s pork and shellfish nourished flesh smelled tastier to a crazed canine than that of three scrawny Semites who were forbidden from eating milk and meat at the same time. Myron was white with fear, and just as Lassie turned her attention back to the Irish brothers, he dropped the club and took off. His tiny legs moved as fast as they could, and he got fifty feet before Lassie noticed and took off after him. Within seconds, she pounced on Myron, knocking him down. Ezra instinctively tried to run after Myron, thinking Myron was trying to ditch him, and he tripped over the golf club. The shoes that wouldn’t properly fit him for at least another year had betrayed him, and his fall to the ground left him with a bloody lip.
Before Lassie could begin feasting on Myron’s frightened little body, Lawrence’s mother came running around the corner in her house coat and flip-flops, holding a leash and wearing her pocketbook. She took her pocketbook wherever she went.
“RAAASIE!” she screamed.
Lassie left Myron on the sidewalk, crying. She then walked over to Lawrence’s mother and barked. Lawrence’s mother inched closer to the dog and began yelling at her in Chinese. Lassie barked back, followed by more Chinese. They were having an actual argument that only the two of them understood.
Ron quickly rode over to Myron, and jumped off the bike, letting it violently crash into a fire hydrant.
“Did it bite you?” he asked, kneeling over his fallen brother.
“I think so,” Myron said, still crying, holding his crotch in discomfort. “It burns.”
“You may have rabies,” Ron said, making Myron cry even louder.
 “Why you run?” Lawrence’s mother rebuked Myron, as she walked over to him, holding Lassie by a leash. She had managed to outbark the dog into submission, and Lassie seemed to whimper a forced apology to Myron. “Let me see bite,” she continued, motioning for Ron to move out of her way. “Take off pant.”
Observing from the store’s window, Leon and Lawrence felt it safe to step out onto the sidewalk. Lawrence took the leash from his mother, and then watched mortified as she tended to Myron’s scrotal trauma.
“Not bite, small scratch,” she said, as she pulled Myron’s Superman Underoos to the side to gain access to the affected area. “Put ointment, make better,” she continued, as she searched inside her pocketbook.
The relief Myron felt from the burning, as she applied the soothing elixir to his tiny, shriveled bean bag, far outweighed any embarrassment he might have otherwise experienced, having his hairless sack massaged by a Chinese immigrant for all of Brooklyn to see. If there was any humiliation to be felt, Lawrence was feeling enough for the both of them.
Ron glanced across the casualty strewn battlefield upon which a perfectly good Ross ten-speed had been totaled and four young boys were down – one with a shattered knee, another with possibly broken ribs, a third with a bloody lip, and a fourth with a potential case of testicular rabies. He enjoyed the sight of Scott and Roger helpless on the ground, but realized that his grandmother would have never sent him a letter that would cause this much devastation. She must have forgotten his birthday, he thought, and he must have opened an innocent piece of mail meant for the tenants. As far as the mystery of the changing writing, it occurred to him that he could never really tell one foreign language from another anyway. The Korean sounded exactly like Lawrence’s mother, and for all he knew, the Indians spoke the same language as the Haitians from the projects across the street. If he couldn’t tell the difference in conversation, why, he wondered, did he think he could in writing?
He became saddened by the notion that this day would not be remembered as the day Ron Waxman and his brothers defeated Scott and Roger in an epic battle. Instead, this would go down in neighborhood lore, thanks in part to Leon and Ezra, as the day Lawrence’s mother rubbed ointment on Myron’s nuts.
“She’s touching his balls!” Leon exclaimed, laughing hysterically, trying to lift Ezra off the sidewalk so he could see.
“I know! I see! I see!” Ezra said, still bleeding, but happy to have someone say something to him that didn’t include the phrase, “Go away!”
“What happened to the letter?” Ron asked Leon. He wanted to slide it under the Indians’ door so they could have their stupid letter and he could be done with all this.
“I dunno. I dropped it when I heard Lassie coming,” he said, barely able to contain his mirth long enough to get the words out.
“I don’t see it anywhere.”
“I think I saw the dog eating the paper you dropped,” Ezra said.
Ron thought that was the perfect ending to this saga. The letter would eventually wind up under a tree or stuck to the bottom of someone’s shoe, and nothing could be traced back to him.
“Why? What’s so special about it?” Ezra asked.
“Nothing,” Ron said.
“Come oooon. Tell me!” Ezra insisted, followed by Leon’s reluctant recounting of the tale of the letter. It was just easier to tell him the story than hear Ezra whine.
“But, guys,” Ezra said, excited, “if the letters on the paper changed, and the dog ate the paper and then bit Myron, then that magic is in Myron now!”
“Go home, Ezra,” Ron said, dismissively.
“Yeah, go home, dork,” Leon said.
“You not run from dog. Next time bite you very dangerous!” Lawrence’s mother scolded Myron, as she pulled up his pants.
“Fuck you, lady!” Myron responded.
Ron and Leon looked at each other, stunned. They both knew what the other was thinking – that Ezra was right and that they finally had proof the letter was magic. It had turned Myron’s “P” into an “F.”