"Mrs. Simon, can Billy come out to play?"
I can still hear them asking that.
They always came to my house and asked my mom if I could come to play.
She always said yes. She knew it was safe. She knew they'd never be mean to me.
I was a popular kid. In fact, I was everybody's favorite in the whole neighborhood.
Just ask them. They'll tell you.
Probably I was everybody's favorite because I was the best chooser.
I had all the best poems to choose with. All they ever knew was "One Potato."
I knew them all. My favorite was "Ackabacka." It's why I was their favorite too.
We'd all get together to decide who was It. Everyone would stick two fists out. I would stick out one. I would use the other one to tap all the other fists. I knew when to stop the poem and how to trick it so I was never It.
One of the tricks was if it was going to turn out me being It, I could tap my tapper fist on my chin to make it come out one off. I could always count far enough ahead in my head.
If I counted wrong anyway, I just came out with another verse to the poem.
I was smart.
They wouldn't want me to be It anyway. They were my friends.
No one was ever afraid to knock on our door and talk to my mom. No one ever said we were creepy. That would be mean. You aren't mean to the popular kid. They needed me to choose.
One time I had a birthday party. Everyone showed up. Even the kids who were mean to me tried to come. My mom stood up for me. She wouldn't let them in because I hadn't invited them because they were mean. All my friends stood up for me too. It was a fun birthday party. It was the best ever. We even had ice cream. I got to taste it and it didn't even make me sick that time. My mom and my friends made all the mean kids go away. They didn't get to have ice cream, either.
So we got together and played all the games every year when it was my birthday, and every day, too. They'd knock on my door and my mom wasn't sick that day or anything, and they'd say, "Mrs. Simon, can Billy come out to play?"
Mom didn't want to let me go, but she knew the kids needed me to be the best chooser, so she always said okay.
We'd all go down to the lot. I led the way, like the popular kid is supposed to.
Then we'd all stick out our fists and I would choose who was gonna be It.
Sometimes I'd start out with One Potato. I never really liked Eeney Meeney Miney Mo. There's a bad word in that one. Sometimes they would beg me please do it.
One time I got really brave and said the naughty word too. I got even more popular after that, but maybe some other kid could get in trouble because of that, so I never did it anymore.
Ackabacka was the best.
I'd go, "Ackabacka Red has got the Ackabacka blues. Before we can play we've got to choose. Ackabacka soda cracker ackaback boo. My mother told me to choose you." If I had counted wrong, which I never did, I had a backup plan. I would keep going. "O-U-T spells out you see and that means you not me."
I also could always work the count to make sure it was never me. I would tap either once for ackabacka or once for acka and once for backa. So whoever got tapped on last would put that fist behind his back and I'd keep going.
"Ackabacka soda cracker yellow blacka bee. Somebody's gotta go but it won't be me. Ackabacka soda cracker ackabacka boo. My mother told me to choose you."
I'd go on until everyone was eliminated but the kid I didn't like that day that I wanted to be It. Nobody else liked that kid either that day. It was usually some kid who threw a hissy and wouldn't be it. So we'd have to pick some other game to play and choose all over again.
All the kids like me choosing anyway, and some days we'd just do Ackabacka until it was time to home or for me to take my medicine or something. Also, they always thanked me for being such a good chooser.
It wasn't always easy being such a popular kid. I get tired easy, for one thing.
So anyway, that was my childhood.
I'm big now. I'm still popular now, too. Mom died, so they ask me directly. Even though I'm big, the kids in the neighborhood, the new kids, still knock on my door and beg me to choose It. If I'm not too tired, I say sure.
Then for a long time I wasn't home. I had to go talk to a bunch of doctors and they gave me a different better medicine and did other stuff I don't remember so good. I'm better now. I'm maybe not all fixed but I'm not sick like I was. I could play now.
Except, there aren't any kids here. Everybody grew up and then the new kids grew up too. So it's just me.
I still like to play, though, and of course kids want me to play. Once you're popular, I guess, you're always popular. Kids hear you're a good chooser, the BEST chooser, and they really just have to have you choose if it's going to be done right.
The games are a little different now. I'm not supposed to go out, so we play in my basement.
Since I don't have permission to go out, someone else goes out and brings the kids to play. It's super important that you know it is someone else who goes out and brings the kids over. I don't know their name. Maybe it's my mom. Except she's dead, that's right, so it must be someone else. I just know it's not me, and I would never go outside without permission.
Somebody nice who wouldn't hurt anybody so they trust him, brings the kids for me. We go down in my basement. The kids are always smiling and if they cry any I just tell them shhh and they smile big and happy because I'm such a good person having playtime, that's all.
They stand around me in a circle. It's just a light hanging from the ceiling. Then I go around the circle going "Ackabacka soda cracker" until one is eliminated. When they're eliminated, nothing bad happens. They just fade back into the dark shadows. That's all. They're quiet and don't say anything, too.
It takes a long time to play the game right. I think years.
Really I start out when someone brings me just one. I'm always really clever and make sure they get eliminated and not me. I mean, who could choose if I eliminate myself?
Really it's my responsibility to stay in so I can be the chooser. Then when they get eliminated, that Someone Else person brings me another one.
So it takes a long time.
Then we I get a bunch of them, that's when they can all stand around me in the circle. Then I can go Ackabacka all around the circle and when one gets eliminated, that's when they fade back into the shadows. When there's a new one, then they can come back out of the shadows and be in the circle for me.
Then we all go upstairs to the kitchen and have ice cream. I call it ice cream, but ice cream really makes me sick so it's really brownies or something. But it's always good and the kids always thank me and wish me a happy birthday.
There must be some new kids in the neighborhood now. I can hear them knocking on the door. "Mrs. Simon, can Billy come out to play?"
I'm not supposed to go outside. They really, really want me to come play, though. I'm inside the dark house. I'll just peep out from behind the curtain real quiet and see what they want.
One of the kids is playing Police Officer. He's in a tie like big people clothes, but I'm pretty sure he's playing Police Officer. He looks mean. He's asking me to come out and play, like this:
"Mr. Simon? You're going to have to talk to us, William."
That's how I know he doesn't really wants to play. He calls me William. William is the one who gets punished when he's bad. William is not me. I'm Billy.
Then he's saying, "William? Can you tell us why you took those kids?"
I have to hide a little more behind the curtain and peep out from the dark house. I'm not supposed to talk to strangers, but maybe it's okay if I just listen a little. Maybe he won't be mean later.
Then another kid comes onto the porch of the dark house. He's really playing Police Officer because he's got the whole outfit on.
He says to the first kid, "Anything?"
"No, he just keeps chanting that ackabacka bullshit."
Please don't get me in trouble for telling you the bad word he said.
Then the first kid asks, "How many?"
The second kid dressed up like in Police Officer says, "Last call from the site, sixteen in the basement. Plus the one he wasn't finished with in the kitchen."
I don't like these new kids. I won't play with them. I'll just withdraw here in the dark house and not look out the curtains anymore.
There are bad people out there.
I won't go out anymore, ever.
It's okay. I have enough kids I'm popular with anyway.
Okay, everybody, stick out your potatoes.
Ackabacka soda cracker, ackabacka...
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