The neigh­bor in the house next door, on the oppo­site side of the Smiths was a wid­ow in her mid fifties. She went by: Miss Lil­ly. She wasn’t from a hol­low in Ten­nessee, but you get the descrip­tive gist. She was a chain-smok­er and had a wrin­kled hard face. She was sinewy thin, 5 foot tall if that, with strag­gly hair. Not even a slash of mas­cara dec­o­rat­ed her face. Miss Lil­ly was a hard-ass and wouldn’t take crap from any­one, includ­ing me. When she looked at you, her expres­sion, said, who the hell do you think you are?

I made the mis­take of brag­ging that I was an escape artist… I read a biog­ra­phy about The Great Hou­dini AND me and saw the Tony Cur­tis movie. I fan­cied myself as a younger ver­sion of the great one. Say­ing he could break out of any restraint, Hou­dini chal­lenged the super­in­ten­dent of the Boston police, that he could escape the city pris­on, called The Tombs. After being thor­ough­ly searched, he was man­a­cled in cuffs and leg irons and placed in a locked cell. Not only did Har­ry man­age to pick the locks and escape, he did so naked. And with swift bravado, was out of the pris­on and down the street in ten min­utes. It was a sen­sa­tion.

I nev­er tried an escape while naked; if you didn’t get out of it, you’d be exposed in more ways than one. But my broth­er Joe tied me up many times and I always escaped. You would have been impressed had you wit­nessed it.

The neigh­bor lady wasn’t impressed in the least and scoffed at my brag­gado­cio. “How much you want to bet, boy! I’ll dou­ble it.”

All I got is a cou­ple bucks worth of coins,” I said.

This was easy mon­ey I thought as I retrieved a jar of coins from under my bed and returned to her back porch. She sat there smil­ing with a long coil of rope in her lap.

Put them pen­nies on the rail and get down on your bel­ly then, right there,” she said and point­ed to my feet.”

I oblig­ed as she scur­ried from her per­ch spi­der-like and strad­dled me. I recall, she had a boney ass. With­in a min­ute I was wrapped in her tight­ly tied web. She had hog-tied me and left me there, squirm­ing in the dust. I caught a glimpse of her vari­cose ankles below her black Capri pants as she casu­al­ly scut­tled inside. As I rolled and wrig­gled, I could see her in the win­dow watch­ing me behind a haze of gray smoke and screen. She was laugh­ing. I pulled and tugged at the ropes and could not budge them. Exhaust­ed, I rest­ed and was sweat­ing pro­fuse­ly from both the exer­tion and the embar­rass­ment. This lubri­cat­ed my bind­ings and I was able to free one of the con­strict­ing loops.

Hou­dini could dis­lo­cate a shoul­der to get out of a straight jack­et. If I could only dis­lo­cate all four limbs, I could have escaped. After 20 min­utes, I was defeat­ed. I rolled over and looked up at the win­dow red-faced and dirt caked and mouthed, “I give!” She wasn’t a lip read­er appar­ent­ly, so I yelped, “OK, I give up….” She feigned deaf­ness and cupped a hand behind her ear. Sound­ing sud­den­ly sopra­no, I tried one more time, “ I QUIT!” Miss Lil­ly shrugged back and shook her head with incom­pre­hen­sion and dis­ap­peared from view. She made me lay there anoth­er 30 min­utes before she came out and untied me. I heard her shake the coin jar tri­umphant­ly as she went inside. I crept home. I could nev­er make eye con­tact with that wom­an again.