I Dare You


I started reading George Carlin’s book, “Last Words” this week. He starts out talking about his childhood, growing up in New York city. It reminded me of my own childhood and the crazy things me and the neighborhood kids did together. Growing up in New York, Carlin had ready made entertainment all around him with no lack of great things to see and do. Growing up in a small mid-western town like I did, we had to come up with our own entertainment. And we had no lack of imagination to do it with. I was born in 1956, so my formative years were the Sixties and early Seventies. I grew up with Rock N Roll and the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. Woodstock and the first man on the moon. It was an exciting time to be alive. Of course none of us kids understood the cultural significance of the things happening in our world. We were too young. We just wanted to have fun.

The entire town was our Kingdom. But the park, only a block away from my house, was the center of a lot of our activity. One day I hopped on my bike and rode to the park shelter to see if anyone was around. A couple of friends were there and we were soon in the thick of planning our exploits. One of my buddies had an old lipstick tube he had found and the other had a pocket full of firecrackers. I’m not sure which one of us came up with the idea, but we decided to make a bomb. Why, you ask? Well, to blow shit up, that’s why. There was no harm or malice aforethought in what we did. We just wanted to make an explosion. And we, well, you’ll see.

Back in my day, (an expression used when talking to my grandkids) back in my day, lipstick tubes were made of metal. One of my friends pulled out his pocket knife and cleaned the old lipstick out of the tube. Every kid had a pocket knife back then. It wasn’t a weapon, it was a tool. He soon had a nice little glob of sticky, oily red lipstick on the picnic table. And a knife blade and fingers full as well. I set to work with my own knife on the firecrackers. First you pull the fuse out and then slice the firecracker length wise until you reach the center which is filled with gunpowder. I opened up about 15 firecrackers. The lipstick tube now being about half full of gunpowder was then packed with the paper from the cut open firecrackers. The science behind why firecrackers explode is this: The gunpowder is wrapped tightly with several layers of paper. The fuse is lit and when the sparks reach the gunpowder, the gunpowder ignites. The force of the ignition is tightly bound with the layers of paper, and it has to go somewhere. Boom. A few twists with the pointy end of your blade made a nice hole for the fuse, and we were ready.

The picnic tables at the park were made of heavy planks of wood, each two inches thick. We jammed the lipstick tube between two of them and lit the fuse. We ran like hell. That was one of the most exciting days of my entire young life. The explosion was HUGE. The whistle on a freight train was not as loud. The siren on the cop station roof was not as loud. The explosion made my head ring and my hearing was probably permanently damaged that day. Wood splinters from the thick and heavy two inch planks of the picnic table flew in all directions. Some were embedded in the wood posts that held up the shelter roof. The heavy screws that held the planks in place were twisted out of shape. We couldn’t even find any metal from the lipstick tube although we didn’t stick around long because we knew someone would call the cops. On our bikes we flew in three different directions, laughing and cheering all the way down the street.

Needless to say, I had a great childhood. Yes, there was some vandalism involved. And some stealing. There was some fighting and cursing and smoking and there was some alcohol. There was fishing in the river. There were a lot of dares. Like the time we rode our bikes screaming through Carleton College’s underground tunnels scaring the hell out of College students because somebody dared us to do it. You didn’t pass up a dare. I regret none of it. Think of the stories we gave other people to tell. “Remember when those kids…” Your welcome.

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Summer Weekend

pop bottles

Discarded pop bottles along the river
turned in at the Red Owl, nickle a piece.
Enough for the Saturday afternoon show,
25 cents, a dime for popcorn.

We see the “Three Stooges” or “Mighty Mouse”
and then the show, a western or war movie.

Walking home after, down main street,
old men in overalls sit on the bench
in front of the corner bar,
chewing and spitting, drinking.

Teenage boys in cars whistle and honk
at girls, and we think they’re
crazy, us not ten years old.

Men gas up at the filling station
because tomorrow, everything is closed.
After church we’ll play baseball
in the street or ride our bikes.

We’ll watch “The Wonderful World Of Disney”
on TV Sunday night, go to bed
and dream of far away places.

My Father Danced

My Dad never danced, had never learned.
My mother had to dance with her sister in laws
at get togethers and weddings they went to.
The men would stand around, talking, smoking,
and drinking their drinks. Never dancing.

One day my mom said, “Lee, you’re going to learn how to dance.”
She put a polka record on the phonograph and said,
“Alright now, take my hand, other hand around my waist. Now
it’s like this, one, two, three, one, two, three, move your feet
like this, one, two, three, one, two, three…..”

The song ended and another one began and they did it all over again.
And at the very next wedding and forever after, my father danced.