5-18-2005 When I was a sprat of ten...

Much earlier today I was informed that my co-workers and I will no longer be carrying pagers on our belts in the very, very near future. As technology marches forward, so must we. Or, at least I'm told. As of next week, the pagers will be replaced by cell phones. I debated the merits of this decision with one of the people that helped to make it. I don't have a problem with it, per se, but the pager thing kinda worked for me the way it was. Dial the number, punch in a few digits, and in a flash the recipient of the page was on the blower. But, alas, if there's some technology we don't have just yet, it's gonna eat at us until we eventually succumb to it's mass appeal and go and get the damned thingie. Such is the life of the average American since Coleco began the rapid decline of civilization as we knew it by introducing us to Pong. If it's calling to us from Circuit City, we ain't gonna be totally happy until we grab the thingamabob.

We may be divided upon all sorts of cultural, political and religious lines these days. But we all have one thing in common to a large degree. Red state or blue, we're all technoratis on the inside.

My kid owns a bitch-slapping, flat screen something-or-other television that dwarfs the old screen at the Sandy Beach drive-in. He doesn't just watch sports. He WATCHES sports. And every time somebody goes and throws a Super Bowl with a free porno half time show, he's buggin' me to get on over there and take in the nudie/sporting event with him and his boisterous Rolling Rock crew. Indiana Pacers in the playoffs? He's buggin' me again. Atlanta Braves baseball? Same deal. I decline the invitation every single time. It's not that I don't wanna get just as drunk and stupid as the Rolling Rock crew. It's just that the thought of watching a television long enough to land an F/A-18 on top of it does not interest, or excite me in the least. Fact is, the kid has no concept at all of what went on before he entered this constant fray we call life. When I was a sprat of ten, we watched Lost in Space on a thirteen-inch black-and-white television that on most nights looked like a "live" ultrasound even with the annoying rabbit ears twisted every which way. And we were quite content with such a "modern" device.

And when I sort of grew up and got married, the pressure to deliver better than what passed as adequate just a few years before began to weigh on me. Lo and behold, the great provider of all material things treated his flock of rodents to a nineteen-inch advertising box. Whoa! Nineteen inches? Whoa! And before too long, a second one joined the family. The boy and I could watch baseball out here. And wifey could watch Knot's Landing out there. Then came the 27" wave. And a few years later, a 31-incher with PIP capabilities was added to the inventory. And that's about as big a video box as I can stand. On a 19-inch screen, Shaq appears to be an immovable force. On a 31-inch screen, he looks dumber than a deformed tadpole. The smaller Sharon Stone was a sex kitten. The much larger version of Stone makes it all too obvious why air-brushing photos is the norm in the advertising world. And Peter Jennings never seemed so smug and utterly annoying until the picture tube made his drab likeness even larger than his inflated ego.

Yup. 31" of imported glass was enough for this numbskull. If the kids wanted something bigger for their rooms one day, they would quickly be introduced to swirling cones at Twin Kiss and learning how a savings account works. And all these years later, I am without a television large enough to stress your average floor joist. I do not have one of those stupid theater systems attached to my advertising unit. And I could funkin' care less. I know those 21-billion jiggawatt plasma televisions with the nuclear-powered sound systems are just waiting for me up there at Best Buy, but as things pertain to me, they might as well be on the Island of Misfit Televisions. I'm certainly not some sort of hammerheaded technophobe. I just do not feel the need to run out and buy something simply because it exists. Apparently, I stand alone in that practice.

Actually, I think we've got too much available to us these days. While still that sprat of ten I previously mentioned being once upon a time, we had next to nothing, and we basically lacked for nothing at the same time. Looking back, I can't even remember the latest gadgets, but that's assuming there were any in the first place. Sure, Spirographs were kinda other-worldly. And Slinkys defied all sorts of logic that probably escaped the lot of us at the time. Viewing those funky-looking banana seats on the newer bicycles was kinda like going into a Pier Imports store for the very first time. Very queer looking. And somebody said the kids in Greenwich had baseball bats made entirely of aluminum. Well, what didn't those kids of the rich and famous have?

There was little to do unless we thunk something up. But once we thunk it up, there was little we couldn't do. And we did it all devoid of parental supervision so long as we were home on time for supper. Oh, and scrubbed up. Whether it was foolin' around on that catch dam across the river, playing chicken with those metro trains hurdling towards New York City, or trying to fish bobbing balls from the swirling intake at the water authority complex, we never lacked for anything important to do. And despite the constant warnings from the old-timers that everything that was any fun at all was sure to kill us, nobody died save one.

If we actually scratched up enough kids worth their salt to play some serious baseball, 85% of them wouldn't have a glove. We played anyway. Fishing poles? I don't think they got around to inventing them until 1979 or so. We snatched one of those rounded closepins off of mom's line, tied some line to it, wrapped the length of line we'd need around it and tied a hook on the end of it. Once at the brook, we'd just unroll the line from the closepin and sit there and wonder why the fish never seemed to bite. And once the boredom really set in, we'd toss those "fishing poles" of ours away, and go flippin' rocks and lookin' for some crayfish.

If there were pricey gadgets in those days, the memory of such things escapes me now. Sure, the kids with the paper routes had enough dough to buy cooler stuff than we had ever hoped to buy. But unlike these days, where you just about need a second mortgage to keep up with the Jones', a model rocket, or real store-bought skateboard never seemed to break anybody's bank. Go-carts were produced from the parts of the old barn not yet weather-beaten to death. And skateboards were always made of a single plank from the bottom of the old grain silo. They had this nifty upwards pitch at one end which looked really cool as we flew down the hill at the end of Direnzio Heights, right before we had to make the turn at the bottom and usually suffered yet another nasty road burn. We may have wailed like stuck pigs on occasion, but a trip to Griffen Hospital's emergency room wasn't nearly as bad as most made it out to be. Then again, if you could keep from wailing and gettin' all of the panicked stay-at-home mom's running into the street, dried blood mixed with a helping of road silt was something to be displayed as if it were a badge of honor. Diane, look what I did on Direnzio Hill. Cool, huh?

We didn't play much football after the only kid that owned one moved away to Groton. It was very, rarely cold enough for much hockey. And basketball was something that white kids living in the newest of the subdivisions rarely, if ever thought about. The black kids down in the valley played nothing but basketball, but we rarely ventured that far down the hill. Dodgeball was the rage. Especially when we played in gym class and we could cream all of the girls. This was back in the day before they all got shipped off to faraway colleges and became militant lesbians. You wanted to kiss them, but you didn't dare try. And after enough frustration was built-up inside, there was nothing left to do than to bonk them in the face and get 'em to crying real good like. I wonder why they all hate men these days. Hmmm. Got me.

Buck Buck was the absolute apex of all known sporting endeavors. We played it in gym class, we played it at recess and we had at it at the corner playground. If anyone, man or woman, came out of their house tonight and happened upon a game of Buck Buck, police units from all five of our zones would divert from their current calls and head "Priority One" to the scene of the reported riot. If a local gym teacher was caught teaching his thankful students how to play Buck Buck, the outcry from angry parents and nervous school board officials alike would surely have him being hanged by the gonads until he wised up. What once passed as harmless, albeit, rough fun, is now too violent to ever be acceptable in a world run by the neurotics, the bulimics, the Prozaciacs, and the militant feminists. Boys used to be boys. Now they're preoccupied with high-tech toys and wouldn't know a boy unless it jumped up and launched a dodgeball at somebody's head. And he'd likely end up in Skrep & Todd's $700 million juvenile center for doing so.

Where once we played with our little sisters Mr. Potato Heads after being grounded for simply being boys, now the boys are being reduced to being Mr. Potato Heads themselves because they do little more than vegetate in front of their high-tech toys. Where once we were wild-eyed, sun-poisoned and not afraid to explore our world, now the boys are red-eyed, wearing sunblock and rarely, if ever, wander too far away from their basement Xbox wonderworlds. The fact is, if the boys from my ancient neighborhood ever got into a pissing match with the boys in my current neighborhood, they'd be treating these pampered candy-asses much like they treated the girls in gym class a long, long time ago.

They can't read a compass. They can't down a Starling with a B-B rifle. They can't start a campfire without an accelerant, or a sulphur preparation attached to the end of a sprig of cardboard. They can't build a go-cart without the help of Black & Decker. They'd probably refuse to jump aboard an onrushing train. I doubt that they could ever appreciate the rush associated with swimming like hell across a pond known to be home to leeches. They've probably never even thought of skiing across town while hanging onto the back bumper of a bus. They've never even heard of Buck Buck. And I doubt that they'd have the nuts to hang onto a bit of chain link with one hand, while leaning way out over the swirling intake to the water authority's compound. They don't know how to have fun without staring at some 'spensive toys bought with daddy's overtime. If that's not bad enough, they now play soccer!

And, sadly, they can't amuse themselves for hours on end with little more than their imagination and an exhuberant willingness to explore that which lies all around them.

When I was a sprat of ten, you either proved your manhood on that puke machine at the corner playground, or your name was forever scratched from the list of those that could hang with anyone, or anything. You sat in the middle, and we got to spinning that thing until you either got dizzy beyond dizzy and puked your Wheaties all over the place; or you cried and begged to be let off. And if you cried, you knew that forever more, whenever we stopped directly in front of your house and hailed on you with a shout of "Call for Timmy," that shout was another chance to prove yourself before the boys. To puke, or not to puke?

These days, the Nike boys cry when their 'spensive memory cards go on the fritz. And they tend to puke when daddy refuses to refinance the homestead and run right out and grab that 21-billion jiggawatt plasma television with the nuclear-powered sound system.

When I was a sprat of ten, crying usually followed one of step-dad's beatings. And coerced puking was not in my repertoire. And my everyday life was full of wild adventures now turned memories. What will the boys from this current RX Generation remember and one day pass onto their boys? The Xbox cheat codes published on the internet? The Day the Plasma Died? How to have a tattoo removed without getting an infection?

When I was a sprat of ten, we had no such high-tech tomfoolery. And now that I'm old and just about obsolete, I'm thankful that I wasn't born any later than I happened to be.

When I was a sprat of ten, we had fun.

And we never had any money to speak of.