I chose the sword.
All the neighborhood kids had all the weapons gathered, and we were each picking one for the great afternoon war. There were cap guns and pop guns, machine guns and pistols, BB guns, laser guns, water guns, and little wood rifles.
I chose the sword because it was cool. Because the point, in an afternoon game of war, when you're 7, is to chose a weapon that'll make you unstoppable, make you scream, "rrraaaaaa!" and make you seem terrifyingly cool.
It was about a third longer than I was tall, an arching samurai sword somebody had made out of wood, covered with electrical tape and painted black. All the other kids had guns, but I had this heavy, wood sword.
I remember standing there, thinking everybody must wish they were me, when an older boy said, "You realize that's the only weapon you get, right?"
I was shocked and a little indignant. "Yeah," I said. "Why?"
He said, "Well, that means you don't get a gun."
"This is all I need!" I said, and he said, "Well, just don't cry when you lose."
That day I died repeatedly.
I charged across a field and my little brother, with a pop gun pointed at me, said, "per-chew, per-chew," and screeched, "You're dead!"
The neighborhood baby pointed a machine gun from his hip to my chest. He said, "Uhn-uh, uhn-uh-uh" and screeched, "You're dead!"
I tried an ambush, waiting behind a garbage can until an enemy walked by, but someone saw the top of my sword, stuck up in the air like and idiot's flag, and he shot me from behind.
In every charge, I was killed. At every corner, I was killed. I died and I died and it wasn't cool at all.
I tried to trade a 5-year-old for his orange squirt gun and he wouldn't. He was like, "No. You're stupid."
And I was. I lost and I felt like a loser.
For the whole afternoon war, I couldn't hit anything or even get close. I was so mad, I swung at the ground, screaming "aaarrrgh" and the sword cracked in half. The kid who owned it yelled at me and I went home.
You know how sometimes you know you really made a fool of yourself, but you don't know how? You think about how it happened and it seems like everything went like it was supposed to and then, without warning, you're the stupidest kid on the street? This was like that. I was a fool and I didn't know exactly why. I imagined Mr. T saying he pitied me. I went over the whole series of sad events in my head. The sword was cool and I should have been cool, but instead I was an idiot.
I decided something then. Not because I knew if it was true, but because I didn't want to be a lifelong Elmer Fudd. I decided "cool" was a set up. Pursuing "cool" will make you stupid.
Later that summer, Tim Burton came out with "Batman" and Batman wore black. Before that, the TV Batman and the toy store Batman wore blue, but now the cool one, the blockbuster movie one, wore all black, and every boy but me gave all their old Batman stuff away to Goodwill, where my mother bought it. Another mother told my mom the old blue stuff wasn't cool and she asked me, "Have you heard this Danny? You don't care, do you?"
I didn't know who made the movie, but I knew they manufactured "cool" and "cool" wanted to kill my mom's present and turn my toys to trash. I knew the whole thing was a set up. It was a scam. I hated "cool."
So I walked up the street wearing a brown shoe and a black shoe, both untied. I had one pant leg rolled up and one rolled down and I was frowning fiercely. A girl on a bike asked me why and I said because it didn't matter. It was a 7-year-old's protest against "cool."
Daniel Silliman covers crime for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.