Slice of Life 14:
In pursuit of a memoir topic, a student of mine recalled a time when she got stuck on, “that circle thing that spins around and around.” She explained in her small accented voice, attempting desperately to convey the seriousness and peril of the situation, “My brother was running around and wouldn’t stop and I started to slip. My head was dangling off and my hair was dragging in the woods chips until I ran into my brother and fell off.”
“You got T-boned?” I responded with raised brow interest.
“I don’t know what it’s called, but do you know what I’m talking about?”
“A merry-go-round,” David shouts out from across the room.
“Noooo. It’s not a merry-go- round.” I roll my eyes. “We have what Magi’s talking about in the park by my house and we always had them in the parks I played in growing up. You just sit on a merry-go-round. This is different.”
I drew it on the white board for clarification. I pointed to my drawing. Not knowing the real name of the contraption I say, “It’s called a death-trap is what it is. It’s a death-trap. It’s every man for himself on that thing. And it’s always the unsuspecting kids that vulnerably hop onto the middle, wide-eyed, grinning ear to ear…while the cruel prankster offers to spin. The older kid then ruthlessly keeps spinning, whirling, and running circles around to keep pushing- faster. faster. The cries and pleas from his spinning victims, begging mercifully for him to stop have no weight. Ugh. It was rough in those days.” I say with a slight grin.
They started laughing.
They thought I was joking, I partly was, as I usually am, but I also was so dead serious. The thought conjured up so many memories in Kennedy Park. Riding my ten-speed along it’s rough, uneven pathways in a pair of cotton hand me down shorts and an ill-fitting tee. Most likely with purple jelly shoes, which for all purposes were useless and prospectively disgusting, laced in hard earned grime and dirt, but it was the feminine cherry to my tom boy cake.
Discarding my bike along the chain-linked fence, I would race to the steel monkey bars, dismounting from the ledge which housed the 14 foot silver slide. The same slide which served to scald many a unsuspecting behind in the sweltering days of summer, when the brutal sun would beat down and deviously cook the slide like a frying pan. I was keenly aware and avoided it with this astute knowledge in hand. Upon my dismount I would swiftly swing my legs through the rungs and allow my torso to fall, hair suddenly snapping me in my face. I would hang… the pounding blood rush would signal my next trick. Swooping my arms behind my legs, so as to appear to be in a backbend, I would grasp the rung behind my legs and perform a reverse flip off the bars. I would hang on those bars til my calloused hands bled.
I would climb the bar that hung the swings, “Mogli,” style, and perform similar tricks, including “tight-roping,” from side to side. I was fearless. Most of the time. Even when I wasn’t, I took the risk anyway. If I fell on my face, I had the gratification of knowing I tried. Most often enough that was enough for me to dust myself off, and go at it again.
The playground I remember was paved in cement. Housed metal monkey bars, chain-linked swings which would squeeze and pinch our bare legs, scalding silver slides… “death-trap” galore. We stubbed our toes, scraped our knees, calloused our palms, fell on our heads.
It wasn’t safe. It was just fun. It summoned for us to attempt death defying tricks, and we gladly accepted the challenges.
Listening to Magi’s story about her hair dragging along the wood chips makes me happy. I empathized with her in a way she will never know. I hope kids still perform death defying tricks. I hope they still swing on bars with calloused hands, stub their toes, and scrape their knees. I even hope that ruthless kid continues to push his victims to a vomitus state. This is being a kid. Learning to take risks, falling, recovering.
I say down with the merry-go-rounds… Bring on the death-traps.