Take Five in Cold Blood

Like a lot of ordinary, healthy boys, when I was growing up, my friends and I played a lot of war. By “war,” I mean we would choose up sides and pretend, almost exclusively, that it was World War 2. The process started by “calling” our ranks, which works the same way that “calling” shotgun in a car full of teenagers works; first come, first serve. The idea was that if you “called” a higher rank, you could boss around the other kids. Early in the process of deciding to play, you heard, “FIVE STAR!” That kid got to be the five star general, and so on. Once, I decided I wanted to be a buck sergeant, for no other reason than I wanted to be different. The hierarchy was fairly meaningless anyway, since the game of war was controlled by a very specious honor system.

Sergeant Barron in 1972
Sergeant Barron in 1972

My war play peaked right around the time of the real peak of the Viet Nam War, about 1972, so my parents, while not hippies, were disinclined to buy me realistic toy guns, so I mostly made do with old west style toy guns, or lacking that, a backwards tennis racket. (If I could have picked back then, like a lot of kids I would have picked the Thompson sub-machine gun; Dad watched a lot of cheap war movies on TV, and the Thompson was often glorified in them.)

The action of playing consisted of hiding behind the bushes at Johnny Hughes’ house, popping up to fire of burst of .45 cal from the butt of tennis racket by making a machine gun noise in my throat, followed by a volley of, “I got you,” “No, you didn’t,” “Yes, I did,” “No way!” etc.

Johnny seemed to be the leader of the neighborhood platoon. He was the one who told us that “take five” meant that we should take five deep breaths, and that to “die in cold blood” meant to die with your eyes open. I lost touch with Johnny right around that same time, and hooked up with new friends in junior high, when playing war fell away into my past.


  1. So Johnny Hughes was a lover and a fighter. I wonder how he turned out. I bet he would love to read this post.

  2. When Justin was but a wee lad, he called “Gunfire” as we were all getting into the car. He knew he had to say something like that in order to get dibs on the front seat.

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