We were in Dunkin Donuts today clutching coupons for free tuna sandwiches if we bought medium coffees. We did, and while sitting there eating our free sandwiches, I noticed a small boy excitedly jumping around waiting for his father to buy him an ice cream at the Baskin Robbins that shares the space with Dunkin Donuts. (I guess the theory here is that just in case the donuts alone are not enough to kill you, the ice cream will deliver the coupe de gras.) My point is that the anticipation of soon having an ice cream to eat was enough to make this young boy delirious with joy. As we get older, it takes a lot more to make us happy than it used to. It made me smile to think of the simple things that delighted me as a boy.
Today I hate snow and the thought of trying to drive around in it. When it snows in New York, people get behind the wheel and slip their brains into the glove compartment before pulling out to terrorize the rest of us. It was so different when I was a kid. The sight of fat, white snowflakes falling on a gray day meant we would soon be building snow forts, sledding down the hills, and having snowball fights while taking cover behind the parked cars. When my mother called me in for lunch, every crevice in my body was filled with melting snow. My lips were blue and I couldn't feel my toes as Mom peeled off the boots, snow pants, soaked gloves, and hat with the ear flaps. I was frozen to the bone and couldn't be happier.
Every once in a while, some unexpected cash would fall into my young life like manna from heaven, in the form of empty soda bottles that rewarded the bearer with a five-cent windfall. These were not easy to find, as people didn't disdain nickels in the Fifties; they took the bottles back themselves. If I came across a large Coke, Seven-Up or Hoffman soda bottle, it was off to the grocery store on Rockaway Avenue where the suspicious owner would always ask: "Did you buy that here". "Yes" I lied easily, desperately wanting that nickel. Then it was off to the candy store (after making a mental note to add the white lie to the "Venial Sin" category for that week's confession.
I was a good student at Our Lady of Lourdes school. I had a gift for memorizing things, which made hitting the books almost unnecessary. I tried to go to school prepared for that day's lessons, but sometimes I spent too much time reading comics or watching TV during the time I should have been doing homework. We all know that sinking feeling of walking into the classroom unprepared, and hoping the teacher doesn't call on us. When this happened to me, and it rarely did, I went on the offensive. When the teacher looked up for someone to answer a question, I would raise my hand and wave it around like mad. I developed this simple strategy after noticing that teachers generally did not call on kids with their hands up. It worked every time. Putting one over on the teacher shouldn't have made me happy, but it did.
Happiness came from trivial things like not getting hit when you knew you deserved it; having your sister take the fall for something you did; finding a great prize in your Cracker Jack box like a magnifying glass that you could turn into a solar death ray to incinerate ants. Seeing that kid in Dunkin Donuts today reminded me that joy is all around us if only we look for it through the eyes of a six-year old.
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