Friday, March 11, 2011

How not to solder a padlock in the woods at midnight

Since my one attempt at teenage vandalism did not come close to succeeding, I can tell the story.

When I was in eighth grade, the big chunk of woods behind our house was purchased and subdivided for development into what are now called McMansions. Because the land is quite ledgy and rocky with Dedham granodiorite, the first two operations consisted of cutting down most of the trees and then dynamiting the ledges and hauling the boulders off the shattered land.

This did not sit well with me, but as a 15-year-old with $10 in my savings account I was quite helpless to stop it. The developers had all their legal permits.

The dirt road to the development was quite a ways in the woods and blocked by large metal posts driven into the ground and secured with ametal chain and a padlock the size of a softball.

One day after school I decided to solder the keyhole of the padlock that held the chain in place across the dirt road. That way the trucks couldn't get in and cut and dynamite any more trees and ledges down.

This plan would take cunning and stealth and certain pieces of equipment: a Bernzomatic blow torch and a roll of solder from the cellar. It would also require sneaking out of the house at night after my mother went to bed. It would also require a Hogan's Heroes type of disguise, which in this case was all the dark stuff I had in my bureau and a navy blue ski mask, even though it was summer.

Fully equipped at about 11 p.m. I snuck out of the house with ski mask, matches, torch and solder and hiked through the woods to the construction site and tried to find my way down the little, circuitous deer paths I chose so as not to be seen beneath a street light. Once I got to the chain and lock I discovered I knew nothing about how to solder, particularly the part about heating the lock as well as the solder, and I didn't bring any flux. So the solder kept beading up and rolling off the padlock didn't plug up the keyhole, which my plan required.

After a couple minutes I heard voices and leaves rustling in the woods and froze in a cold sweat with visions of the fluorescent lights of the Easton Police Station and the inevitable call home to mom that I had been arrested, was in the pokey and needed bail money to get out. As the voices got closer, I panicked and bolted as fast as I could in the opposite direction: deeper into the woods toward Stoughton. I fell a few times, banged my knees and head on rocks and trees, scraped my face on saplings but just got up and tried to run even faster. I was scared but also astonished. How could I so easily get discovered and caught?

There were yells and screams of "Someone's up there in the woods," and it sounded like half a dozen people were following me. By their footfalls and voices I could tell were spreading out to cut off my routes of escape and trying to flank me from the sides to cut off any alternate routes. So I ran faster, zigzagged like a tailback and tried to throw them off my intended path, which I didn't know.

They were gaining on me. Who were they? Did the developer hire Green Beret squads to camp out and watch over their stuff at night just to catch people like me who didn't know how to solder?

Finally, like a deer in a deer drive, or a rabbit chased by a wolf pack, I zagged when I should have zigged and got cornered and tackled in the leaves and rocks. The man who knocked me down pinned me on the shoulders. He was much bigger than me. I couldn't wriggle away or see him. "I've got him," he yelled and the rest of the group converged. "What's this," one said grabbing my hand, "It's a blowtorch."

I still had the ski mask on. The group converged over me with clenched fists and wild screams about 'let's kill him.' At this point I thought my face would probably not have recognizable features within a few minutes and waited to hear what your own bones sound like when they crack on a warm mosquitoey night. I thought I was going to die.

"Pull his mask off," they yelled. The lead guy ripped the ski mask off my head. Then they all said in a puzzled voice: "Drugless?" It was my schoolmates. "What the hell are you doing out here?"

I told them my story and they told me theirs. I was trying to solder a padlock in the middle of the night. They had all taken LSD and had been running around in the woods high as kites since it got dark.

"We came this close to killing you, you idiot." They said.

So the soldering the padlock idea didn't work out.