"I got you!"

"No you DIDN”T! You missed!"

"You’re cheating!"

"No I’m not, you MISSED!"

And so on and so on…

Such were the vagaries of a game we used to play back in my childhood parks and on the streets called Cowboys and Indians or when we tried to reenact World War II with good old Americans vanquishing their enemies from either Germany (Dirty Krauts!) or Japan (Sneaky Nips!).

Back in its infancy in the early to mid 50’s television here in the United States seemed to supply a steady diet of shows that focused on the West. Here’s just a few of the heroes of the plains and prairies that made life “safe” for the pioneers as they journeyed across the country in search of their own personal Promised Land.

Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger along his trusty sidekick Tonto and Matt Dillon as well as a slew of more forgettable ones that have been lost to the annals of time.

In order to recreate their exploits kids of that era pretty much grew up with a ubiquitous cheap toy known as the cap gun. It was usually made of some type of metal or metal alloy and if memory serves me correct they looked pretty damn realistic when compared with the real thing. The thing that made the cap gun special and unlike its forlorn cousin the pop gun (for babies!) was that it actually made a noise when you pulled the trigger!

Basically there were two types. First you had your ring type gun which consisted of anywhere between eight to twelve little percussion primers that fit in to the gun itself and could be squeezed off in pretty rapid succession. Those were “okay” but if you were quick on the draw you had to constantly re-load the gun and this would slow down your efforts in pursuit of your quarry.

If you wanted some real “firepower” you could buy rolls of caps that ranged in size from fifty to five hundred. They usually came in a single strip and released a small charge as the gun was fired. I swear, to this day I can still smell faint aroma of gunpowder wafting from the gun after you took aim at your target and squeezed the trigger.

As the 60’s rolled around and Western shows began to decline they were replaced by others that were more related to World War II. The ones that immediately spring to mind are Combat!, The Rat Patrol and Twelve O’Clock High and since the weaponry had “improved” during that time so did the cap guns. They were now able to do something called rapid fire. It was something their ancestors could only dream about.

Anyway, I can’t recall the number of hours we’d spend hiding in the bushes, behind trees or parked cars lying in wait for our enemies to appear. During those years I must have feigned injury or death thousands and thousands of times without ever realizing the true horror of such things. Chalk it up to youth but we were pretty much ignorant of those things that we considered trivial and that stood in the way of what was then considered fun.

Today, the cap gun has become a relic of its former self. In urban areas cops began mistaking them for the real thing and there are plenty of stories of kids being inadvertently gunned down when the cop thought their lives might be in danger.

Today, in order to alleviate the situation I described above laws have been passed so that they don’t get mistaken for the Real McCoy. Nowadays cap guns in the United States must be manufactured in such a way as to distinguish them from their deadly cousins. This usually includes bright colorings such as neon orange, red or pink.

Personal Commentary

On a side note, I can’t remember the last time I saw kids outside playing with cap guns and since I don’t do much toy shopping anymore don’t even know where’d you find them in a store. Maybe that’s a sign of progress or political correctness, I’m not here to judge or opine on that but it seems a bit of a conundrum to me when kids today can blast away at some image on a screen with relative impunity. Images of guts and gore explode right in front of them, usually as fast as the gun will fire.

At least back in my day and ethnic or racial stereotypes aside, those images were relegated to ones that existed only in our imagination.

Besides, as far as I know, video games still can’t recreate that faint smell of childhood that I mentioned earlier. It’s the one that lingers on my fingertips and permeates my nostrils when I decide to go back in time and relive some of those long forgotten memories.

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