By Brian M. Howle
During the Thanksgiving holiday break, I was once again in Columbia – at my beloved’s, frantically trying to finally complete the latest home improvement project that we had begun a few months back. There are certain jobs that mere mortals undertake which, when completed, give you a whole new appreciation for the craftsmen and artisans who do these things professionally, day in and day out.
In my eyes, anyone who lays ceramic tile for a living has been elevated to mythological “god” status. Don’t ever quibble with these folks about their rates for services rendered; they earn every single penny. Be nice to them.
Anyway, during one of the many much-needed breaks (required to realign my spine from the question mark formation that threatened to fuse my vertebrae together, after staying hunched over the backerboard and mortar for hours on end), I slipped out the kitchen door and began to play with our black Labrador Retriever, Maggie. Maggie’s most favorite game in the whole, wide world is fetching her “bone”, an odd-looking toy shaped like a bone, but consisting of two, small neon-green soccer balls on either end of the “bone”. As long as you can throw it, Maggie will happily chase it down and bring it back, lathering it with yet another coat of dog saliva in copious amounts.
While engaged in this relaxing game, I noticed some of the local kids playing in the woods behind our house. At first, I couldn’t really see them – I could hear them talking and laughing, and from time to time, see the tree limbs shaking in the general area of their play. Then I noticed electronic noises mixed in as well causing me to run to the kitchen door to listen for our phones ringing. But the sounds were not emanating from the house. The younguns were the source.
When they eventually made their way out of the woods, I discovered the source of the sounds I had heard. Among this hand of children, pagers, beepers, and cell phones were as prominent as pine needles in a Carolina forest.
I just had to shake my head in silent disapproval. And I think Maggie concurred with me, but then again, it could’ve been fleas.
For a guy who’s always considered himself pretty hip ‘n happenin’, there are some things that seem sadly out of place when it comes to the amenities endowed upon our children these days. And I’m beginning to worry that the entire, arnazing, bewildering, humbling, frustrating and thrilling experience of “childhood” may well be slipping further away from each uscceeding generation. My heart sinks at the thought of some child in the not-so-distant future having only one or two years of pure childhood.
My best guess at the current timeline for children is about 5, maybe 6 years, tops.
Now, when my friends and I were growing up, that timeline ran up to, oh, about 13 to 16 years. Of course, some matured earlier; others – like myself – took a leetle longer. But generally speaking, I’d say a good 13 years was spent in happy, unending, all-consuming, mindless play.
Every time I start up on the subject of differences between my early years and my kids’, that uneasy parallel – of hearing my parents say the exact same thing – pierces through my brain like a billboard featuring a 30-foot image of Katherine Harris, that much-maligned Florida Secretary of State. That being said, I begrudgingly begin the next sentence with …
When I was these kids’ age, there were hardly any electronic toys and gadgets. That’s mainly because, when we were kids, the few electronic toys and gadgets that did exist came from Japan, and at the time, “Made in Japan” was synonymous with “Piece of Crap”.
See, we had just bombed the Japanese back into the stone age, and their manufacturing facilities were gone. They cobbled together little shops and started churning out whatever they could to make a yen, and were slowly but steadily rebuilding their manufacturing infrastructure. And post-war restrictions on what raw materials they were allowed further slowed down their ability to produce top-quality items for export. As a result, a lot of their stuff was considered cheap junk.
I guess the Japanese didn’t care for that a whole lot. But hey, they sure did change their image, didn’t they? Now, anything we Americans spend the time and research to invent – and then toss away as unimportant – becomes yet another opportunity for the Japanese to perfect, produce and sell en masse back to us. Now, we look at Sony, Lexus, and Furbies they way they used to look at RCA, Cadillac, and hula hoops. Oh, well, that’s what we get for dropping the “big one”. Actually, the “big two’.
So, without the current fare of today’s distractions, we had to revert to using our wits and imagination. It was either that, or watch the pine trees grow. Not being horticulturally inclined or noticeably retarded, we chose to play.
There were the obligatory football, baseball and basketball games; the board games, the card games, the dizzying array of play games (Red Rover, Dodge Ball, Spin The Bottle, etc.); bicycling, skating, swimming, boating, hiking, and eventually, golfing. We had stuff to do.
But above all – more than anything in the whole world – we played Kick The Can.
A simple enough concept: Mark a spot for a “base” (usually on the walkway leading to the front door of the house at which we were playing), take an empty soup can and place it on the base, pick one person to be “it”, and line up everyone to one side. Then give the signal to start, and someone kicks the living daylights out of the can, sending it as far away from the base as possible. Everyone races out of sight (usually behind the house), whoever’s “it” retrieves the can and places it back on the base, and then tries to make visual confirmation of the others. Upon spotting a player, “it” would then quickly run back to the base, put one finger on the top of the can, and holler out, ‘One, Two, Three on …” and then say the person(s) name(s). Those caught would have to surrender, and then take a seat beside the base – a sort of makeshift “jail”.
There was only one way to “free” your buddies. You had to fake out “it”, stealthily approach the base and time it so you reached the can before “it’ did, and once again, kick the living daylights out of the can. Then all prisoners were reinstated in the game, and “it” would angrily retrieve the can and return it to the base, and start all over again.
Strategy was paramount for A successful game. Each had his own technique:
• Some took the “Clinton” approach – they simply hid in someone else’s yard until the game was over;
• Some utilized the “Gosh”” (a.k.a. Gore/Bush) approach – they made their presence and participation known, but stayed way back from the nitty-gritty action;
• Some employed the “Sand Piper” approach – making their way quietly but quickly to within sight of “it”, only to turn tail and run back into the safety of their hiding place;
• And a brave, select few (like myself) took the “Banzai” approach – Never stop running from the first kick; encircle the house and zip by the unsuspecting keeper of the can like a banshee, and just kick the living daylights out of that can.
Now, I watch these neighborhood kids at play, and can only imagine the scenario fo their version of our beloved game – Kick The Can, Version 8.0:
Blasphemy #1: The “can” would be available in designer colors, made of unbreakable state-of-the-art carbon fiber compounds, and light up like Tokyo on New Year’s Eve – price: $20 to $250.
Blasphemy #2: Of course, there would be a special “Kick The Can” Nike line of shoes – probably a Tiger Woods commercial, too, with Tiger driving a “can” beyond the city limits – price: $75 to $200. (Knock-offs for $20, though).
Blasphemy #3: Oh yeah, they make more than shoes. Nike shirts, shorts, socks, whatever – price: $10 to $60.
Blasphemy #4: “It” would have a battery of detection devices at his disposal: Video cameras, Radar (X , K Laser and Doppler), Infra-red Heat Seeking Monitors, Motion Detectors, Sound Detectors, Reconaissance Satellites -price: $80 to $3 billion (Hey, rich kids play, too).
Blasphemy #5: The active players would have the same technology, plus: for communication – Cell Phones, 2-Way Radios, Palm Pilots, Internet Access and GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) receivers for exact locations in planning attacks – price: $25 to $4500.
Blasphemy #6: Oh yeah, we used to play at night a lot: Night Vision Goggles – price: $150 to $850.
I can hear you now: “There he goes again, way out there where the loonies fly. What dreamer!”
Maybe so … but do you think those kids of the future will still at least have a Maggie in their lives? What’s that? You do?
Then you haven’t seen the latest item from Japan.
An electronic, robotic dog.
So … who’s way out there now, huh?
The previous article originally appeared in Alternatives NewsMagazine, June 8, 2000.