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School Daze

Just reminiscing.

School daze.

Do you remember being a kid?

My childhood was a looong time ago, but I’m always surprised by how much of it I remember. And by how much of it I don’t care to remember.

One thing I do remember is how the days when school was in session, from elementary school until I started high school — fall, winter, and spring — c-r-a-w-l-e-d past, like a snail scared of a speeding ticket. But summer always whipped by like a smack across the cheek. And then at summer’s end I’d hear those words, or see them emblazoned on signs in store windows…”back to school.” I dreaded those words, the way the radio announcer would say them so gleefully, and the signs looking so cheery. Parents felt and looked exactly like that, of course. I swear, it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that the sound and sight of those words didn’t make me sick to my stomach.

These days, I occasionally run across a kids’ playground. Sometimes I’ll stop and examine the equipment. Slides, swings, stuff to climb on, all made of thick and sturdy plastic in bright primary colors. Rarely anything higher than 6 feet. Maybe 8. The ground covered in a thick layer of wood chips, sawdust, or sand. Looking at it, I can’t decide whether it’s good that these things are constructed with the kids’ safety in mind, or whether kids today — and their parents — are just wimps.

When I was a kid, the playground equipment was made of steel, sometimes iron, and asphalt. The jungle gym. Steel pipes intersecting at right angles so it was a bunch of cubes piled atop one another. Thing was probably about 10 or 12 feet tall, but to a 7-year-old, it looked like a damn skyscraper. Climb while dodging the feet of the kids above you trying to kick you off. Those making it to the very top were the kings and queens of the playground.

Crack the Whip!

The swings. Thick chains attached to a thicker steel frame maybe 15 feet off the ground, the seat heavy canvas. Hold tight, because the goal was to loop around the top of the frame without falling off. Sometimes kids made it, sometimes not. When recess was over, you’d have these deep imprints from the chains on your hands. Hurt, too. A lot. Only for a while, though.

The carousel. Wedge-shaped steel plates welded together around a fulcrum to make a circular platform. Handholds of steel pipe. Climb on, and one of the stronger kids would start running while hanging on to a handhold. When the carousel was spinning as fast as they could make it go, that kid would jump on, and yee-hah! Trick was to hold on tight enough so you didn’t get thrown off and maybe crack your head on the asphalt or break something else. Wasn’t easy. That thing was spinning so fast you’d get dizzy. Every so often, some kid would throw up.

Oh, don’t forget the slide. I’d say about 12 feet high, the slide just a long piece of sheet metal. In early fall and late spring, I had to make sure my dress covered my ass and as much of my thighs as possible. Sheet metal baked in the sun can get mighty toasty, you know? I don’t recall getting burned, like first-degree or anything. Just a stinging. Hurt a bit, but that never stopped me from running for the ladder again.

You ain’t dead, so get up and play.

Everything you played on gave you blisters. And if you fell and skinned your knee or elbow? Fuck the blood, get up and play some more! No tears, either. Big boys and girls don’t cry, and nobody wanted to get tagged as a crybaby. You’d be an embarrassment to your whole class. Shunned for a week, or until everybody forgot about it.

Where were the teachers who were supposed to be looking out for us when a kid took a tumble, you ask? Watching. You had to be unconscious or REALLY banged up before they’d come over. Don’t you get all shitty about it, either. Kids got scrapes and bruises all the time. That’s the way things were in my Rust Belt hometown, and nobody had a problem with it.

There was a big field behind the playground. The older kids, and sometimes the younger ones, would head out there for a game of Crack the Whip. That was my favorite. One of the older and stronger kids would be the engine. They’d hold the hand of the kid behind them, and that kid would hold their hand, and so on. So, there’s a chain of maybe seven kids. The engine starts running, pulling the other kids along. Well, when everybody saw what was going on, more and more kids would join. Sometimes there’d be a string of 20. When the chain got long enough, the engine starts making sharp turns, zigzagging. If you were at the tail, you’d better hold on tight, ’cause you’d get thrown off, and I mean THROWN. Good thing we were on grass instead of asphalt.

Kings and queens of the playground.

I loved being the engine. I was strong and fast enough to crack the whip, and I was pretty damn good at it. Loved to see the kids at the tail go flying every which way.

So. Are kids and their parents wimps? Or is the kids’ safety paramount? Safety, I suppose. I doubt you’d ever find a playground like from my childhood these days. Certainly not in urban areas. Government regulations wouldn’t allow it, and besides, people are so litigious these days.

Would I ever want to be a kid again? Hell, no. But I wouldn’t turn down one last game of Crack the Whip.



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