We neighborhood kids amused ourselves outside playing kickball, having Kool-Aid stands, and playing cleverly devised games, such as Shark Attack, where one kid was the shark who tried to "bite" the rest of us as we climbed all over our swing set and threw things at him or her. We once even tried to make a "movie" with the regular camera I had gotten for Christmas. I would make the neighborhood kids pose in a series of "scenes" as I took their picture. We soon abandoned this idea after a few said "scenes" because it was very tedious and who knew when the film would get developed anyway.
On the rare occasion that a new family would move into the neighborhood, it usually meant the more the merrier. Usually.
One summer day, we neighborhood kids were in my backyard playing a somewhat elaborate variation of "house" when a new boy approached from the sidewalk. He established that his name was Paul and that his family had moved in just up the street. We explained to him what we were playing and invited him to join us.
And, that's when he blew it.
He very enthusiastically added this nugget to the plot of our game, "I know! Let's play like you find me lying naked in the woods!"
We all stopped in stunned silence as we tried to wrap our heads around that one. Finally, someone called out, "No way!" and still another, "That's gross!"
The moment passed and it seemed that the group would let it slide, but Paul was, to use a cliche, clearly skating on thin ice. You just can't throw things like that out when you're trying to make new friends.
But Paul didn't seem to know this because as we were in our pretend "house" he added this, "And then I'll be in the kitchen and you guys come in and find me naked." And that pretty much sealed his fate.
"Yeah! You're perverted!"
"Yeah! Perverted Paul!"
So from his first day in the neighborhood he was dubbed Perverted Paul, and the name just stuck. It became second nature to call him that in casual conversation: "Do you think Perverted Paul would play kickball with us?" or "Did you see that dog that was in Perverted Paul's yard?"
Deep down I knew that it probably wasn't very nice to call Paul this, no matter how perverted he actually was. It preyed on my conscience enough that I decided to confess it at our school penance service before Easter one year. I had already gone to confession with my family a day or two before, so I didn't really have too much to say, but I thought it was the perfect time to come clean about the Perverted Paul thing. Since it was the only sin I had to confess, I knew it would likely receive a harsher penance. I couldn't just hurriedly slip it in between fighting with my sister and accidentally spilling a milkshake on the upstairs carpet and "forgetting" to tell my mom.
I walked solemnly into the confessional, made the sign of the cross, took deep breath and began, "Bless me Father for I have sinned...I have called my neighbor Perverted Paul." And then I waited, head down. When the priest didn't immediately reply, I looked up, only to see his face turn red as he shook and wheezed, trying to hold in his laughter.
He chortled out a light penance, and I left dismayed. My conscience felt no cleaner, but I didn't have to struggle much longer because Paul and his family ended up moving. I could only hope that he had learned his lesson and would keep his nudist ideals to himself in his new neighborhood.