Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Just for Fun, Fifties Style

As we get older, the joy of being a kid gradually recedes, and we are forced to shoulder the responsibilities that come with adulthood. This is the natural order of things, but sometimes we forget how carefree we once were. Kids don’t need a reason for doing something as long as it’s fun! The older you get the harder it becomes to do things just for fun. My wife tells me I've stopped seeing the humor in things and maybe she's right. I wasn't always so crabby; just to prove it, here are some of the things I did as a kid just for the hell of it:

We would have contests to see who could hold their breath the longest. There is a trick to this that involves filling your lungs with air and letting it leak out slowly. This technique prolongs the time required before you need to breathe in by slowly releasing the pressure on your lungs to let the air out all at once. Unless you intend to become a pearl diver, this skill has no practical application, but it is fun.

How about closing your eyes and then pressing your knuckles against your eye lids to produce patterns of dots and light. This was certainly a cheaper and less dangerous hallucinogen than LSD. The only problem is that it took time for your eyes to adjust after doing this for a while, so no roller skating or bike riding right after your “psychedelic trip”.

A game I played mostly with my next door neighbor, Robert, was called mumbly peg. Robert rarely played with the rest of the kids because he was "different". Frail, pale, bookish and nervous, with thick round glasses, Robert was the kind of boy that other boys delighted in bullying. I wasn't so noble as to play with him out of pity. Robert had a beautiful pen knife that was a necessity for the game of mumbly peg. Each boy in turn would hold the knife in his palm and then quickly jerk his hand and flip the knife to make it stick in the ground. You scored points by the way the knife landed. Robert's mother was named Helen, and she was a cool, slim English beauty so different than the other "ethnic" mothers on the block. Think of Jane Wyatt in "Father Knows Best" and you'll have an idea what she looked like. I know she appreciated the time I spent with her son, and I very much wanted to please her.
(See 10/4/08 post: "Neighborhood Character: The Gildersleeves" View ).

This one was probably a guy thing. It required the placement of the left hand under the right armpit and then vigorously flapping down the right arm. The action produced a rude sound that duplicated that of someone passing gas. This activity was better when practiced in a silent, group setting…a quiet classroom was perfect.

Another guy pastime (girls were too refined) was spitting contests. These were of two types: distance and accuracy, and each required unique skills. The distance contest was simply a measure of how far one could spit, and only needed a good set of lungs and a knowledge of which way the wind was blowing. The accuracy contest involved setting a penny on the ground beneath a tall stoop, climbing to the top step of the stoop, and taking turns to see who could spit closest to the penny. The winner got to keep the coin unless there was a direct hit, at which point no one was interested in claiming the prize.

Money was tight, and this next activity was done not so much for fun as profit. There were a lot of subways in the neighborhood, and some of the underground structures were empty spaces covered by grid-like metal gratings. People would drop things that fell through the gratings and could not be easily retrieved. We would take a common metal padlock and cover the bottom with chewed bubble gum or a bit of axle grease borrowed from under a nearby car. We would then tie a long string to the top of the padlock, lower it into the grate and hover it over the spot where someone had dropped a coin. We would then drop the padlock onto the coin, and if luck was with us, the coin would stick to the padlock and be fished out. VoilĂ , candy money!

These dopey little games amused us in a time before thousand-dollar video game systems were needed to hold a kid’s attention for a couple of minutes. There were no adults to oversee our entertainment, and so we had to fend for ourselves finding things to do that were fun and cost nothing.

Most parents today would hyperventilate at the thought of their little "Precious" fishing dirty coins out of a subway grate. Maybe they should be more concerned about the endless hours Precious spends in front of mindless, often violent video games, or in Internet chat rooms.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association


The Whiner said...

You must think I am a terrible parent, letting Ava play Wii and not letting her old coins out of drains.

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

It's funny how a bunch of poor kids, maybe with a yoyo or a spinning top was a treasure. Taking skates and building wooden scooters out of vegetable crates made us happy! A cheap rubber ball, a "Spaldeen" was a world of drama and sport for us. God, I miss those days!

Jim Pantaleno said...

Laura: Quite the contrary...I think you are an extraordinary parent my dear.

Joe: That's why it's up to us old guys to keep the old days alive in our blogs!