Gut Rumbles

February 21, 2006

kid games

I lament frequently here about how kids today are lazy little couch potatoes with candy asses and no imagination. When they aren't being shuttled to candy-assed soccer games by their yuppie moms, they are parked on a sofa playing video games. They own oodles of toys that play with themselves while the kid watches. They have cable TV with surround-sound in their bedrooms. No wonder so many of them are fat.

You KNOW that you're an Old Fart when you begin a lot of sentences with "When I was a boy..." as you launch into a diatribe about how today's youth ain't worth a shit. Well, when I was a boy, we didn't have all that electronic stuff to play with and we had to invent own own fun and we actually played OUTSIDE instead of sittin' on the got-dam couch alldatime and today's youth ain't worth a shit because they don't do any of that anymore. Spoiled is what they are.

Nobody plays marbles anymore. Tops are ancient history. I've not met a kid in fifteen years who could build his own kite. Hell, most kids don't know how to fly the store-bought ones. The art of making rubber band guns is gone. Tree houses (or "forts," as we called 'em) come pre-fabbed out of plastic parts from Wal-Mart today.

I first realized that I was a dinosaur before Quinton was born. One of my neighbors cleaned out his garage and piled a bunch of junk on the curb for the garbage collectors. Among the castaway items was an old baby carriage with four perfectly good, ball-bearing wheels on it.

Do you know how long that treasure would have lasted when I was a boy? The neighbor might not have gotten back inside his house good before those wheels were confiscated and attached to some kind of go-cart, scooter or wagon hand-built by enterprising young lads, who had vast supplies of wood and nails that they confiscated from construction projects after the carpenters went home in the evening.

I was deeply saddened to watch those wheels lay by the curb for five days before the garbage truck rumbled up and hauled them away. I lost all respect for the younger generation right then and there. Not one single kid in that neighborhood saw those wheels and felt an irresitable urge to steal them and build something that would roll. I wanted to weep.

What sent me tumbling down this particular memory well was this post. I happen to know that the writer is my age and he occasionally posts about his youth in ways that remind me of ME. I always thought that he was pretty slick, but not nearly as imaginative as I was in MY youngdomhood ... until now.

I had one of those rockets he writes about. Mine was powered by a baking soda and vinegar engine. You put the rocket on the launching pad, added baking soda to one compartment, vinegar to another, buttoned it up and got the hell out of the way. The two ingredients mixed, reacted to create gas pressure and BLOOEY! The rocket took off into the sky, waaaaay up there, until it ran out of fuel and came back to earth.

When the rocket started to fall, the capsule on top opened and a parachute deployed to provide a gentle landing, if the thing managed to avoid getting hung up in a tree or touching down on somebody's roof. That's why playing with that rocket was NOT a sedentary activity. You often had to climb something and perform serious acrobatics to retrieve it from an errant landing.

My friends and I conducted a lot of experiments to learn the effects of space flight on frogs, lizards and other creatures that we could catch and draft into our astronaut program. After much trial and error, we finally refined our technique to the point that a few astronauts actually survived their flights with minimal physical damage. Early test subjects were not so fortunate, I am sad to admit.

But even I, with the imagination I had, never thought to attach a camera to that rocket. Got-Dam! THAT would have been the ultimate in coolery, even better than the time a frog disengaged from the rocket at the apogee of its flight and tumbled from the sky like a warty, croaking rock, ending up impaled and disemboweled on a Spanish Bayonet plant. EWWWWWWWWW!

Of course, we didn't have access to a darkroom and we probably never could have figured out how to make a camera actually WORK in flight, but it would have been fun to try. Just Damn! That's a really GOOD idea.

So, my hat is doffed in your general direction, Elisson. It's too bad you didn't grow up in my neighborhood. With TWO great minds inventing grand projects, there's just no telling what we might have accomplished. Just think about it...

We could have mounted those carriage wheels to the rocket, taped a frog to it, and shot the rocket off down the street like one of those supersonic cars that run the Bonneville Salt flats. We'd have the fastest frog on earth!

Of course, intoxicated with such grand success, we'd probably get the bright idea to tape a pipe-bomb on it and accidentally blow up a neighbor's station wagon after the frog-piloted rocket-car suffered a steering-control malfunction... but even THAT would have made one hell of a story to tell if we survived our punishment.

I wax nostalgic. Ahhh.... the things kids just don't DO anymore!


Right again you are Acidman.

I always tried the water-filled rockets which took air pressure to fly but for the life of me, I just never got them to work right. My brother, on the other hand, could take the pudgy little bomblet out of my hand and send it up a hundred feet.
'Twas ever thus.

Posted by: BlogDog on February 21, 2006 08:56 AM

Ahhhh.....I remember those days. Granted, I never built rockets but I have four brothers and they had a fleet of astrofrogs for their manned flights. Apparently, the parachutes had to be just right. They'd engineer the chutes, attach an astrofrog and launch it from the top of a silo during the testing phase.

You're also very right about wheels. They were hard to come by. I don't remember all of the logistics but they once built a rocket car using a fire extinguisher and an old roller skate. That made a big hole in the wall when it was launched. They also shot bottle rockets out of the barrel of pop guns and a few accidently were shot in the house. Momma sure was pissed when the police showed up. I think she prefered that they execute frogs.

Thanks for reviving some good memories.

Posted by: Susie T on February 21, 2006 09:15 AM

I'm not sure the neighborhood would have survived it, had the two of us grown up in the same neighborhood.

The rocket-powered Frog Car? I'm tempted to build one of those right now. Maybe at the next blog-meet...

Posted by: Elisson on February 21, 2006 09:25 AM

Jeez, I still remember the smell of the Estes rocket engines.

Rob if you haven't already seen it, check out the movie "October Sky".

Posted by: Rich on February 21, 2006 11:49 AM

I dunno, growing up poor we didn't have a nintendo, or a TV worth watching, so we did the same thing. There was stretch of woods between our neighborhood and the Food Lion complex. My friends and I built forts, faught wars, defended our planet from aliens, and had an intricate obstacle course for "new recruits" we would scavange old wood, rope, knives, plastic tarping, make our own improvements. It was a good time. And you know, I never really did get upset that I didn't have a nintendo or sega.

Posted by: Steph on February 21, 2006 12:21 PM

The problem with affixing a camera to the rocket is that, back then, a Kodak Brownie was about the size of a brick of Bryers's Ice Cream.

And, you're right about the wheels. You could always recognize wheels with ball bearings by the telltake click, click, click when you turned the wheel.

Posted by: Jim -PRS on February 21, 2006 04:24 PM

Some of your finest writing is about those boyhood days....I'm glad you enjoyed them.

Posted by: Bonita on February 21, 2006 04:27 PM

A rubber band gun!!!!!! What the hello mello were you thinking? I'm sure the Safety Police are going to show up at your door just for writing about such a dangerous weapon.

I was so sad to see a news clip regarding a school outlawing the game of Tag. Why some of the kids were getting scuffed knees!
Some boys and girls were having their FEELINGS HURT. !!!

Turn, turn, turn, there is no time to play, no season to be young.

Posted by: Wes Jackson on February 21, 2006 04:57 PM

They didn't fly rockets in my neighborhood but our paperboy, who lived about a block away, managed to almost burn down his garage while he was making Molotov cocktails.

The rest of us little kids entertained ourselves by bog jumping in the swamp, trying to sail various vessels of questionable seaworthiness in the pond and endless games of dodge ball, Ringaleavio and jump rope.

And we would have built something with those wheels. We used to make skateboards out of scrap wood and old roller skates. It's a shame kids don't get to do that stuff anymore.

Posted by: Libby on February 21, 2006 05:45 PM

Yep, those are my very best memories of my childhood. I want those things for my children. Sadly though it's the parents that are preventing children from having the same experiences as we did as children.
I'm glad to say that the kids in our neighborhood (the few that there are who don't have paranoid parents) still go out and play everyday after school, they go out into the woods behind our houses and build forts or come home filthy, wet and with holes in their pants from falling in the stream that they decided they could cross by tossing large stones and boulders to make a path. They all know that when the street lights come on, it's time to come home. (that's also how I knew as a child that it was time to go home)
If the parents would take away some of these new age contraptions like video games or at least severly limit their time on them then kids WILL find something else to do. The kids here in my neighborhood are proof of it.
The problem is that parents are lazy these days (and paranoid) and it's easier to let the video games and TV's babysit their children rather then get them interested in other activities. The paranoia comes in the form of ..if their children are on the couch playing a video game then they aren't playing an impromptu game of baseball that might knock out a window or get their kid hit in the eye with the same baseball.
My daughter has had 2 broken arms. Am I proud of that? No, but I am proud that she is out there playing tackle football and climbing trees and being a kid instead of inside "safely" playing video games and getting fat while burning nuerons that could be put to use in more creative and imaginative ways.
Now if we could just get a drive in theater back , my kids would have the great memories that I do about hanging out at the drive in with all your friends.

Posted by: Dawn on February 21, 2006 07:36 PM

I like the idea of the rocket car. I had one of the water pressure powered rockets, had great fun with it. My dad would come out and get that darn thing way beyond where I could. He and I played together with his steam powered engine which I still have, it would go rolling around the kitchen floor on it's iron wheels but the whistle had broken during his boyhood.
I played with the boys in the dugout fort in the prairie, and by myself in the woods behind the house.
I've got a couple sets of ball bearing wheels, they've been used on several things over the years and it was usually something made with my dad's help.
I had a grand childhood, kids don't know how they're being cheated.

Posted by: Aquila on February 22, 2006 04:13 AM

Gads, if some kid made a vinegar and baking soda rocket today, the juvenile "authorities" would haul that kid off to jail, or the BATF would do a Waco on him.

Posted by: the friendly grizzly on February 26, 2006 02:10 PM
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