On more than one occasion I can be quoted as saying that America has wussified itself to the point that I can’t wrap my head around how kids have any fun these days. I mean, I understand that we should take extra measures to protect children, but in reality, there is a certain number of kids that just have to get hurt *AND* there’s sort of a rite of passage that comes with doing dangerous things when you’re a kid.
It all started with a cap gun. I was going through Facebook today and came across a post by a friend of mine. You know the posts, the “if you grew up in the 80’s….” and there’s a picture of some board game like Chutes and Ladders, or characters from TV like Erkl….why the hell did I choose Erkl? Anyway, I usually pass those things up because, well, a lot of those things from the past deserve to stay right where they are, in the past. I don’t really get a sense of nostalgia looking at them. But today was different. He had posted a picture of a cap gun. Man, that right there got the memories rolling. Cap guns were bad to the bone. Remember you’d get that roll of caps and go shooting after each other? Or better yet, take the caps and smash them with a rock? How about scraping them with a rock or a knife until they fizzled about a butt hair away from your finger and left a burn blister? And we were stupid enough to do it again with our unburnt fingers until they were all blistered and aching.
Talking about the cap guns of course turned into a conversation on all the other stupid, read “dangerous” stuff we did as kids. Now, I’m not trying to teach anyone how to do this, and I suggest that you don’t, but anyone my age will remember taking 3 or 4 empty tin beer cans, cutting one end off of one of them, then cutting both ends off the rest of them, duct tape them together, cut some holes in the bottom and an exhaust hole on the side, pour in some gasoline, drop in a tennis ball, strike a match and “BOOM” instant canon. My uncle Terry taught me to do that before I was even 10 years old. HA!!
Then there was always the one kid in the neighborhood that tore apart the lawn mower and built a go-cart with the engine. Of course, as soon as he had it out on the street the genius in us took over. I mean, if you have a go-cart you gotta have a ramp. So, we’d hit up someplace where homes were being built……it seems like homes were always being built when I was a kid, anyway, you’d hit one of those construction sites, peel yourself off a couple sheets of plywood, and drag them back to the neighborhood. Then, if making a ramp so you could jump a lawn mower engine powered go-cart wasn’t brilliant enough, you propped that ramp up with a single row of bricks, stacked like 5 or 6 high. That ramp would be all wobbly and as soon as the first person tried it the bricks would fall as soon as the go-cart hit the ramp, then you’d get this pathetic….hop off with two wheels, swerve all over the damn street and, God forbid, try not to slam into a neighbor’s car, or swerve the other way and run into your friends, although they were safe because they saw your ass coming and were hauling it out of there in every direction.
I basically told that same story on FB when my friend Rob replied with
“Two words: Lawn Dart. Wait, three words: Lawn Dart Chicken. We used to throw them straight up into the air and wait to see who would run for cover first.
Every toy I seemed to own as a kid had a DC motor or a heating element designed to leave me with electrical burns or just plain old burny-burns.
Of course, we learned young what danger looks like. A few cuts and burns and puncture marks and you start getting a finely-tuned sense of what danger looks, smells and tastes like.”
Lawn darts, or Jarts as we called them in the Cincinnati area, and heating elements were a staple of our youth. We’d be at my grandma’s house and my dad and uncle would be playing Jarts in the back yard. Once they got bored and went in the fun really started. I remember one time a friend of mine that lived in my grandma’s neighborhood got a Jart stuck in his shin. I honestly don’t remember if I was the one that threw it at him or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that it was. haha!!
As we got older the ante was upped. Around 10 or so someone inevitably gets a minibike. Is the minibike an opportunity to learn safety and responsibility? Is it a chance to get out on the dirt lot and tool around? Hell no, a minibike means one of two things, more ramps or a rope and a skateboard. To this day, my left forearm is slightly discolored from being dragged about 15-20 feet. I wrapped that rope nice and tight around my wrist, stood on the skateboard ready to make history, he hit the gas, I went straight down and got dragged screaming like a little girl. I was picking gravel out of my arm for a week after that. Needless to say, mom wasn’t impressed.
Finding a gallon of gasoline in the garage and a box of matches, or a lighter, gave you the instant thought of “what can I set on fire”? Ever fill an empty coffee can halfway up or so and toss in a match? Why were gasoline and lighter fluid so intriguing? Even as a kid you’re smart enough to know that a wrong move with that could kill you. What possessed us to do it? I mean, we never burnt down houses or set forest fires or any shit like that, but we’d do ignorant shit like spell our names on the street and light it. Idiots!!
Which of course leads us to fireworks. Summer wasn’t summer without getting your hands on some fireworks. Ohio and Kentucky were pretty strict on fireworks laws so you really couldn’t buy much more than sparklers or snakes, remember those things? But, the great state of Tennessee, the home of Elvis Presley, was totally open. A quick 4 hour ride down I-75 would get you across the border and you’d be able to pick up the good stuff. Granted, we were just kids, and couldn’t drive, but there were always the older brothers around the neighborhood that would make the trek. They’d come back with a trunk full of stuff, enough to get them jailed if they were caught. Huge bricks of firecrackers, bottle rockets, Roman candles, M-80’s, you name it. M-80’s, remember those? Weren’t they something like a quarter stick of dynamite or something like that. Summer called for blowing shit up. Again, we didn’t set any houses on fire or cause forest fires, but we surely didn’t mind having roman candle wars using garbage can lids as shields. The local elementary school sat on this main road up on this little hill. There was this exercise area that had outdoor wood equipment. We’d sit up there at night and shoot bottle rockets at cars going past. On more than one occasion we had the joy of running from some pissed off old man or, God forbid, a guy in his twenties that could catch us. We never did get caught, but we sure had some close calls. Why did we go back?
Anyway, like I said above, I can be quoted as saying that America has been wussified. In my heart of hearts I wouldn’t trade one moment of my childhood, and I’d probably do it all over again if I could, but maybe they’re right, or at least partially right, in keeping kids away from that stuff. It’s amazing that we weren’t badly injured or killed.
Any young people out there reading this, this should not be used as a textbook of how to set shit on fire or blow things up. I’m just recounting my youth. You guys stay safe out there.
That’s all I have for now. If you were a kid of the 70’s early 80’s, what kind of crazy crap did you do? I’d love to hear it.
Y’all come back, I’ll leave the light on for ya.