09/25/2012 01:05 pm ET Updated Nov 25, 2012

Kids on the Block, Enemies and Revenge Never Pays

I consider myself blessed to grow up where and when I did -- the south side of Chicago in the 1970s. The neighborhood was overflowing with kids, it was safe to go out and play all day long during the summer and there was always something to do -- games like kick the can, ghosts in the graveyard and flashlight tag. With all those kids on the block, it was easy to make friends.

It was also easy to make enemies.

My first enemy incident was terrifying. I was visiting a kid my own age who he had 13 brothers and sisters. Yup, 14 kids in that family (which was not that unusual on the south side). Anyway, they had one of those old-school "giant" bicycles, where the front wheel is ridiculously tall and the back one is small. The kid's much older brother and his friends were riding it, and I begged them to let me try.

They finally did, and even had to help me get on the enormous bike. Of course, I immediately lost my balance, and slammed right in to the gas street lamp at the end of the driveway -- just as their father was pulling in. He immediately saw the lamp was broken -- but luckily, turned his wrath on the older brother who had helped me climb on. The yelling commenced, and I high-tailed it out of there.

The older brother was grounded for a while, and his sibling who was my age warned me he was "out to get me." I took alternate routes home from school for weeks, hoping to avoid him. One day, I rounded the corner at the end of our block, and saw him and his friends in the distance, approaching our house. I could tell they were throwing something, but I stayed out of sight until they were gone. When I got home, I found eggs smashed all over the front of our house. A little too naive to think strategically, I went in, told my father, and he went directly to that kid's house and spoke to his father. That led to more grounding, a highly motivated enemy and an extended period of walking home in terror via alternate routes.

While I don't think I really deserved that first enemy, there's no doubt I earned my second. There was another fairly large family on my block, and the intimidating father would come out on his front porch every night and yell for his kids to come home to dinner in a booming voice. His brood included a couple of girls, one a year older, and the other two years older than me. I really liked the girl who was two years older; she taught me north, south, east and west, and how to spell Mississippi.

But Maureen, the girl who was a year older, used to make fun of me for being fat and a slow runner. One day I was sitting on my friend's porch after school, and Maureen rounded the corner. She was late, so it was fair to assume she was held after class. I saw her take some papers out of her folder and throw them in the street. I waited for her to pass, and then picked them up. They were two tests that she had failed. That explained why she was late and why she threw them away. She didn't want "booming-voice Dad" to see them.

I was sick of her making fun of me, and saw my opportunity for revenge. I waited until they were eating dinner, ran up to the front door, slid the tests under the door, rang the doorbell, and ran. I watched from behind a bush. Booming-voice dad opened the door, saw the tests, and bellowed "MAUREEN!"

I didn't see Maureen for weeks, but she had me in her sights. One day, after her grounding was over, she came running up behind me. I tried to pedal away, but realized it would be better to dump the bike and run. As soon as I hit the brakes, she grabbed the bar on the back of the banana seat on my Schwinn Stingray and pulled. That launched me over the handle bars, and I landed face first on the sidewalk, breaking a front tooth, and leaving the nerve exposed. Unfortunately, it was hours before I could get in to the dentist. If any air entered my mouth the pain was excruciating. Even worse, this dentist "didn't believe in pain killers."

To this day, I fear the dentist more than public speaking, and have forever given up on getting revenge.