The Good Old Days

June 20, 2003

Summer is finally here. According to the people who decide such things, "Summer" was officially here about a month ago. Spring started sometime close to the end of February. I have no idea who these people are, but I think they’re the ones who go around putting mulch on children’s playgrounds. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Now that I’m an adult Spring is when I can turn off the heat during the day and open the windows. Summer is when I stop turning on the heat entirely and have to close the windows during the day and turn on the air conditioning. Why is heated air called "heat" while cooled air is called "air conditioning"? Ask the people who decide when Spring and Summer "officially" begin.

When I was a kid, of course, Summer was marked by one important event: the end of school. We could tell it was getting close because we’d have Field Day, which was an entire day when the teachers didn’t have to work and we were pitted against each other in hundred-yard dashes, tug-o’war matches, and pipe-wrench fighting. One year we had an unofficial contest on Field Day to see whose whose notebook produced the most smoke when burned. But I digress.

At some point before or during Summer I would hear an adult, usually an adult who would punctuate his remarks by taking out his cigar with his false teeth still attached to it and shaking it at me, talk about "the good old days." These were a brief Edenic period during The Depression, The War, or The Black Plague when children were carefree, happy creatures who were content to play with a forked stick and a ball of twine and didn’t talk back to their elders. Personally I never talked back to these prelapsarian creatures, mainly because they scared the heck out of me by occasionally barking, "Don’t talk back!" At the time I believed the good old days really were good, and that I was somehow missing something in my childhood, but now I realize they were doing me a service. They were trying to make me appreciate how good I really had it.

Summer was perfect when I was a child. I realize I’m barely old enough to say this, but they really were the good old days. What do children have now to look forward to? Cartoons are now aimed more at adults than kids, ditto for movies about superheroes or creatures from outer space, parents are paranoid about the dangers of sugar and dairy products, which not only wipes out candy but makes life hard for the ice cream man, kids get dysentery or exposed to toxic runoff playing in creeks, they get hookworms from running barefoot, and old abandoned light bulb factories–one of the greatest places to play "follow the leader"–are strictly off limits for reasons that are incomprehensible. Firecrackers, which used to be so small you could hold one in your hand and watch the fuse run down until the last minute when you threw it to your feet, now carry enough firepower to blow up a carport and are more unpredictable than a crazy old man talking about the good old days. Camp counselors can’t let kids sing copyrighted songs or they’ll have to pay for them, and pet prairie dogs carry monkeypox. Okay, that last one shouldn’t even be brought up.

When I was a kid we were happy with hamsters, gerbils, garter snakes, frogs, turtles, and black widow spiders as pets because you could keep these things in a jar or large aquarium. Any pet that requires that you plant half an acre of sagebrush isn’t worth keeping. And if you’re my age or older, you remember the one kid in your class with asthma, and the one kid with allergies – and usually they were the same person. It was that pigeon-chested kid with the glasses made from the bottoms of soda bottles (back in the days when soda came in glass bottles, and using a broken bottle to take out opponents in the hundred-yard dash was "part of the game" instead of "a reason to see the school counselor"). He was the kid who sat on the edge of the playground while the rest of us played kickball. And playgrounds were covered with sharp gravel, whereas now they’re covered with fungus-laden mulch, while half the kids have asthma and the other half have allergies, and no one plays kickball because balls are too dangerous, too expensive, and the rubber contains arsenic. What I’m getting at is that the good old days really were the good old days–and that’s even more frightening than me with my cigar.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

A Kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they drew. She would occasionally walk around to see each child’s work. As she got to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was? The girl replied, "I’m drawing God." The teacher paused and said, "But no one knows what God looks like." Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing, the girl replied, "They will in a minute."

The children had all been photographed, and the teacher was trying to persuade them each to buy a copy of the group picture. "Just think how nice it will be to look at it when you are all grownup and say, ‘There’s Jennifer she’s a lawyer,’ or ‘That’s Michael. He’s a doctor.’" A small voice at the back of the room rang out, "And there’s the teacher, She’s dead."

A teacher was giving a lesson on the circulation of the blood. Trying to make the matter clearer, she said, "Now, class, if I stood on my head, the blood, as you know, would run into it, and I would turn red in the face." "Yes," the class said. "Then why is it that while I am standing upright in the ordinary position the blood doesn’t run into my feet?" A little fellow shouted, "Cause your feet ain’t empty."

The children were lined up in the cafeteria of a Catholic elementary school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. the nun made a note, and posted on the apple tray: "Take only ONE. God is watching." Moving further along the lunch line, at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. A child had written a note, "Take all you want. God is watching the apples."

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