Of the families that lived in Grant Park that were friends with each other, there was one group that among them had four boys named Will. It was such a popular name, that these parents had entertained the idea of creating a band called “the Willdebeasts,” consisting exclusively of their kids named Will. If any of the Wills quit, replacements could even be found on any number of streets nearby.
In this particular group of Wills, there was Will Paulson, who had a brother named Mitchell, and Will Goldberg, and Will Applebee and Horn, Will Horn, the cute but overactive red head who had asthma and whose sister Cali had seizures.
These Wills were mostly known by their last names, so that when they were together their parents could be clear about who they were yelling at. Only when multiple Wills were getting into trouble would someone yell, “Will” in order to get them all to react. But most times it would be “Paulson” or “Goldberg” or “Horn” or “Applebee.” The siblings would be called by their first names, so there was Mitchell and Paulson, for example, even though Mitchell was also a Paulson.
And among this group of friends whose ages differed but slightly there was also Ronald, who had no Wills in the family, but wanted to be called by his last name in order to be, so to speak, an “honorary Will.” So Ronald Lipton was indulged and known as Lipton, for the sake of the club.
Lipton was, of all, the nicest and easiest for the parents that he visited, although he caused trouble for his own poor parents. He would come over to another Will’s house, for instance, and he would be quiet, pleasant, never fight, and would be of such low maintenance as to allow the parents to get on with whatever they needed to do, and also keep their Wills out of their hairs. He never complained about what was fed him nor did he ask for food before it was ready. He said thank you and was polite. So he was well-liked and always welcome just about everywhere.
But one reason he was always so good was because he wanted to play other people’s gameboys, a pleasure he had not yet been allowed at home. The Lipton parents were not too keen on gameboys, would have preferred that he read a book, and his seeming obsession with the toy at other people’s houses, as well, concerned them, as they thought it might have been an indication of a tendency towards addiction.
Lipton had been so enamored with the gameboy he had once run away from home, at the age of 7, over his parents refusal to allow him one. He left a note that he was doing so, and, in it, explained that he would be living at the creek that ran by the end of the street in which the Goldbergs lived. His parents found the note, and then the boy right where he said he’d be, barefoot, with a sandwich he had made and a comic book. Jack Lipton, ever patient, explained to his son that walking barefoot around the city could get his feet cut on glass or something worse, and also, “not for nothing, but you see that scary looking house over there, right by this creek you wanted to live in? Drug dealers!” (It wasn’t true as far as the Goldbergs knew – but that wasn’t necessarily the point).
In time, those who had allowed their children these electronic toys, the Goldbergs and the Horns included, testified to the fact that the obsession didn’t last once the toy was owned, and that although their Wills were intent on their games early on, they would later, when punished with the game’s removal, let weeks pass before remembering to ask for it back.
And so the Liptons were swayed to secretly plan, against their own pure desires, to bestow upon their son a game for Christmas.
Then in late October the boy made another bad move. After a day of playing with Goldberg and more specifically Goldberg’s gameboy, a call was placed to the Goldberg household by Ronald himself. In the muffled sort of speech that is his way, a slight impediment that sometimes unfairly presents him as a little less than the gifted child he is, he asked Mr. Goldberg if he could talk to Will, because he wanted to tell him a secret.
Earlier in the same evening during Dinner with the Applebees, the Goldbergs, and Lipton (whom the Goldbergs had been keeping), some teasing went back and forth between Carol, Applebee’s sister, and Lipton, whom Carol loved, and according to the love notes she drew at the dinner table, would kiss if he would marry her, to which Lipton wrote back, “I hate you Carol.”
So this is the innocent talk that Mr. Goldberg thought was going to occur, and which he preferred not to hear any more of. It was for this reason that no surveillance was employed upon the call.
But as was discovered the next day at breakfast from discussion with the Goldberg Will, Lipton was actually trying to convince Goldberg to sneak out of his house and bring the gameboy whereby Lipton could come outside and continue his “battle.” Goldberg apparently said no, and it is generally agreed that this was true. But Lipton was hoping for a different answer, and could not abide this denial of his heart’s desire.
So after Goldberg had gone to bed there came a knock on his window. He is a sound sleeper, as was later explained to Lipton (for future reference), but Mrs. Goldberg heard the knocking even through her ipod headphones and declared, “who’s doing that knocking?”
When she went into Will’s room to investigate, she heard it again and saw light from a flashlight leaking in through the shutters and straight away panicked. She told Mr. Goldberg that someone was outside knocking on Will’s window with a flashlight. He headed for the door and told her to lock it behind him.
Outside, he looked around, walked up the driveway on the side of the house where Will’s window was and into the backyard, clicking on the sensor light himself and then, seeing nothing, returned to the inside.
Mrs. Goldberg now was set to call 911, but Mr. Goldberg thought it was probably a kid playing a prank and suggested first that she call the neighbors, who had kids, and see if they were accounted for.
It didn’t occur to him at the time that it could be Lipton, although it should have, given the previous incident in which he ran away to live at the creek, and given that he had been over just that day.
But Lipton’s house was over three blocks away, so instead his suspicions bent towards the Horn’s Will who lived only two doors down, or maybe little Andy Traxton who lived one door down and was known to steal sugar from restaurants, hide it under his pillow and apportion this treat to himself at the rate of one pack a day, since his parents limited his sweets.
Mrs. Goldberg’s call to the Horns, rather than accusatory, was phrased as an inquiry as to whether they had noticed any prowlers with flashlights, at which point, Mr. Horn looked out the window of the room in which his son was sleeping and reported that there was a kid running up and down the Goldberg’s driveway at that very moment. This information was relayed with urgency to Mr. Goldberg, who ran out the front door in time to see a blur disappear towards the backyard, yelled, “WHO IS THAT” and commenced to chase. Mr. Goldberg took the turn around his house at such a pace that Mr. Horn, who was still watching, was bemused and surprised that he did not fall flat on his face.
In the backyard Lipton stopped, frozen and shaking, barefoot (yet again), wearing only pajama shorts and a t-shirt. The minute Mr. Goldberg realized who it was, it all made sense to him, and he immediately took a much more nurturing disposition, telling Lipton that Mrs. Goldberg thought he might be a robber and inviting him into the house.
Entreaties such as “please don’t tell my parents,” and sympathy rendering utterances such as “tell me this is a dream”, “I’m so stupid” and “I don’t like being yelled at like that,” evoked such immediate sympathies from Mr. Goldberg that he felt compelled to explain to Lipton that he would someday laugh about all this, to which Lipton replied that he never laughs about getting in trouble.
Mrs. Goldberg’s call to Mr. Lipton went like this:
“Your son’s here.”
“I’ll be right over.”
After Jack Lipton had come to get his son, Mr. Goldberg felt genuinely guilty for having scared him out in the back yard during the chase, such that this worry and the worry over whether the boy might have just ruined his chance to get the object of his desires this Christmas, as his parents had, unknown to him, planned, kept him from sleeping.