Cooties, Concrete and Chivalry
*From the old website archives, with a bit of updating...we'll take a little break from the email scammers, while I revisit some of my better, self-deprecating columns, like this true story of a particularly stupid 7 year old 'n friends*
Of all the sources for subject material out there, I still find myself to be a primary source for quality self-deprecation. Over the years I've managed to put myself in situations that, if not at the time, wound up at some point to be quite laughable. A good deal of it was allowing childhood imagination given free rein, which led to no end of helmetless falls from bicycles, barns, trees, and having been hit in the head with a bird house.
Not many of you have that unique distinction, I'll reckon.
Any way you look at it, a gift is a gift. I was klutz-gifted. I bear my scars proudly, and accept new ones as merely maintaining my klutz-tradition. One of my first moments came under the guise of attempting to uphold a word I had never heard of, let alone could spell or define: chivalry. Nowadays I know it to be a word deemed politically incorrect by a small but vocal foaming-at-the-mouth segment of the population (like Barbara Boxer); but in my pre-teen youth, I had no clue.
At the age of 7, I was like most little boys: easily bored, obnoxious when bored, endowed with some imagination, and firm in the notion that little girls were the single, solitary creator and distributor of cooties. In short, girls...ack phooey. Part of that thought process came from having two older sisters who'd occasionally use me for a punching bag, so I really didn't think too highly of the gender back then. Little did I know what was coming up a few years later, with the confluence of carbonating testosterone and RRrrrrowr, but I digress.
One day at school, four second grade lads of dubious boredom and obnoxiousness were doing what second grade lads did at most playgrounds in 1964: looking around for something imaginatively stupid to do during recess. Being one of that foursome, I'm here to tell you that we found it. Along the east side of playground, where the parking lot and playground met, a new water or sewer line was being laid. Sitting along the trench, slightly elevated above the playground, were as-yet unburied pipe segments, each individual segment weighing about 400 lbs.
But most important to four bored/stupid boys, one of these segments, pushed down the gentle incline onto the playground, would collide with a set of metal monkey bars, making for a most satisfying BWWHANG noise.
Simple minds were, and remain, easily amused.
Now one might assume that with the first definitive BWWHANG, some spoil sport adult would come investigate, and put an end to our fun while verbally confirming that we really were pretty stupid as little boys went. For reasons I can't recall, no adultly admonition was immediately forthcoming. So the four of us strained to push the pipe back up the incline, and let it fly again: BWWANG.
Life was easier and not as litigous in 1964.
We were preparing for a third go -- we'd just rolled the pipe back up the incline -- when here comes, wouldn't ya know, one of those cootie-packing girls. Ugh. And right then and there, she had the unmitigated gall -- two more words I had no clue about then -- to start playing on the musical monkey bars. OUR musical monkey bars.
My chums were at the pipe, preparing a third chorus, and I was between them and the cootie-packer, yelling at her to vamoose, while she ignored me (cooties caused that, I was sure, since I knew boys should always be listened to). At that moment, my chums let fly with what was intended to be the cacophonous climax to our silly little orchestration of really loud noise with no discernible melody.
Whatever else my folks taught me in those days, blaming audible flatulence on the dog was rather non sequitur at that moment (I would learn tactical and strategic digression later on). But there was this other silly notion of right and wrong, and not standing by when someone was potentially about to be hurt, even if she was a cootie-carrier. My 7 year old mind had more of a notion of what could happen if the pipe knocked off, or hit Ms Cootie 1964, than what it might do to me. So this bored, stupid little boy with his imagination working overtime, stepped into the path of the pipe, intending to stop it short of the monkey bars.
Despite the size and mass mismatch -- 400 lbs dead weight vs about 60 lbs soaking wet at the time -- I was successful. Just not in the manner intended: my feet-clad loafers were unable to brace my puny 60 or so pounds against the momentum of 400 pounds working in conjunction with gravity; thus, my feet slipped backward, and down I went. With the pipe now sitting atop my right hand, and against my forehead.
I stopped it, alright.
And a millisecond later, I stopped everything else within earshot, with my version of ouch. I'm told by witnesses that I shrieked like a stuck pig. I have, since then, lived on a farm with pigs; I am certain I was louder.
The pipe could only be removed from my hand with expedience one way; by rolling it back off. It didn't feel any better going off. And thus, this no longer bored but still rather stupid 7 year old got his first ride to the ER, and all the things that went into piecing together a rather mangled right hand, culuminating in a nice cast, suitable for signing. Then I spent the next five-six weeks at home, learning to write with my left hand by writing over and over again, "I will not play with cement" about five million times. There was no tripping me up with "cement" or "cooties" in a spelling bee, after that.
My return to school provided me with a very short spate of celebrity, but one person was conspicuously aloof: that cootie-carrying little girl. She never signed my cast, nor bothered to thank me for what I did that day. She only denounced me as the stupidest of those stupid boys who wound up with a really gross hand for a while.
Perhaps she didn't appreciate the cooties comments, either.
Pondering it all nearly 45 years later, I have to admit that she had part of it right. Still, the bored, stupid, imaginative and klutzy little boy that still lurks within me is certain that a particular not-so-little girl today has probably grown up to be a radical NOW activist who wants to feed all men to the nearest war zone.
And still has cooties.
*2009 note: the monkey bars were removed from the playground during the summer of 2004, as "a safety hazard" (candyasses); all else was as it had been at the school, when I paid it a visit in the fall of '05 (visit the September 2005 archives of this blog for those memories). I just learned a couple weeks ago -- May 2009 -- that this school is closing, after 50 or so years of service, to be torn down and rebuilt, starting with the summer of '09. I wonder if they'll dig up and replace the pipe...if they do, y'think they'll let me have a piece of it, for old times' sake?*