Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Tales of Small-Town Life: Safety First Edition
The last time I was able to spend a significant amount of time exploring my favorite childhood and teenage places of leisure, I couldn't help but feel disgusted. The playground equipment outside my elementary school and the park near my parents' old house had been replaced by puffy, plastic, multi-colored pieces of shit. A large fence blocked the entrance to the railroad bridge near the lake, over the Platte River. This bridge's graffiti alone is a 40-year history of small-town teenage life, a record of who loved who, which class ruled, who sucked, who died, and how much ass Led Zeppelin kicked. Someone painted the Swan Song logo there. I drank on this bridge, walked on this bridge, ran on top of and underneath this bridge, and hung on tightly while a train sped by above, globs of bird shit loosened by the train's weight falling all around me. This is now denied, in perpetuity, to every teenager growing up there. Nearby, at the lake, I wanted to collect my thoughts near the rope tied to the tree at Stoner Beach (supposedly given its nomenclature for being a pot-smoker's hangout, but I never saw anyone smoke dope there, and everyone hung out there anyway), which we would grab onto tightly, swing across the lake, and drop ourselves into the water. Some of us even tried the bicycle/rope combination. Unfortunately, I couldn't collect my thoughts because not only had the rope been cut down, but also the entire tree. These desecrations were committed in the name of safety. A bloodless coup organized by asshole kids' jerk-off parents and aided and abetted by lawyers, park rangers, school administrators, and, why not, let's blame them too, fundamentalist Christians. These jive turkeys want to tear down the house of fun because of some misguided crusade to keep children safe. But you can't keep children safe. Because children are idiots. And they're bored. And they have great imaginations.
Personal example: Sometime in the mid-1980s, in the backyard of my paternal grandparents' house, no playground equipment, railroad bridges, or ropes in sight. I remember a backyard full of kids. My aunt, uncle, and cousin were visiting from their then-home of Germany, so my cousin and brother were there for sure. Probably some other neighborhood kids, too. We ran out of things to do, so I went inside and grabbed some plastic glasses from the cupboard. I started filling them with dirt from my grandfather's garden and throwing them in the air. If you threw the glass just right, the dirt would fly out in mid-air and briefly cover everything. I think I was pretending they were bombs. My brother and cousin got in on it, too, and we were having a great old time throwing cups of dirt in the air. I packed one pretty tight and fired it into the air as high as I could manage. My sister picked just that moment to run outside. I remember her saying, "Hey you guys," and then gravity called. The dirt-packed glass came down directly on top of my sister's head, cutting a gash in her scalp. The blood started flowing, my sister started crying and screaming, and we all ran inside in terror. I remember my mother's calm acceptance of the situation. We could not surprise her. However, my aunt flipped the fuck out. I remember her yelling, "They WHAT? With DIRT? WHY WOULD THEY DO THAT?" My sister calmed down after a while, and we were forbidden to take anything from the kitchen outside. She didn't even need stitches, but she had a pretty nice knot on her head. So, you can build as many fences as you want, but kids are still going to do stupid shit.