Cardboard Sledding

When I was a kid, we didn’t have cable. Or even a working TV sometimes. We definitely didn’t have video games or cell phones. And nobody I knew did either.

 

Summer meant being outside all day. We would only come inside for food and water. And not always even water because we could always drink that warm, rubbery water from the hose. I’m pretty sure I recently read that it is considered a carcinogen now.

Thanks for the cancer, parents.

I had some friends as a kid that weren’t even allowed inside their own house in the summer. They had to ask permission to go inside, even to pee. And while we were allowed inside at my house, we didn’t ever want to be there.

 

When I was 10 we moved to a small town right next to the ocean. We were one bridge and about two miles away. The bridge was one of those huge ones that the boats traveling down the intercoastal could pass under without anything being raised and lowered.

This is it.

That bridge was a bitch to ride your bike up. I never successfully managed it. But it had these massive embankments leading up to support it. Like four giant hills guarding the bridge.

 

My brother T, sister J and I would go hang out behind the local businesses at the base of the bridge. We would wait till they threw out a few cardboard boxes. Then we would climb into the dumpsters and pull out some nice big pieces of cardboard.

 

On a semi-related note, we also used to play in this giant shipping crate that they used to collect newspapers for recycling. It was literally a steel box full of old newspapers. I have no clue what the draw was, but I remember it being fun. Those were dark and desperate times for entertainment.

We would climb in and out through the donation holes. Until my mother found out and we got in trouble.

We would rush away from those empty lots and dirty dumpsters, sometimes with shop owners yelling at us to keep out of their trash. We would take our stolen cardboard down to the bridge and climb the embankment.

 

Then we would sit on the cardboard and push ourselves off and slide down the hill. Those embankments were the highest hills we had ever seen. It was thrilling.

Apparently a lot of people did this.

We would slide down the embankment for hours until the cardboard was torn into tiny, useless shreds. Or until someone got hurt. Getting hurt was always the universal symbol for us to go home.

 

But there was this one time that my piece of cardboard had been damaged before anyone else’s. And rather than wait my turn, I thought I would try to see what happened if I tried to roll down the hill on my side.

I wasn’t even this smooth.

I don’t recommend this to anyone.


I made myself sick (because I get ridiculous motion sickness) and tore my favorite pair of shorts. They were just a simple pair of elastic waistbanded shorts that my mother had made. We were so poor that she made a lot of our clothes. They were white with rainbow pinstripes. They went with everything I owned and made me legs look extra tan. I really miss those shorts even though they would never fit me now. They were my Technicolor Dream Shorts.

I would so wear this thing.

Lost Forever

I was 12 when we moved to the small town that I consider my home town. We stayed there till I graduated high school and my father still lives in this small town. It was the longest we lived anywhere. I like to think that I became who I am in that town.

 

But the day we moved in; my brother, T, and my sister, J, and I decided to go for a bike ride to explore the town. We were only in the way of the parents’ unpacking.

 

This was long before the days of giving children cell phones with GPS units. Or maybe it wasn’t. I think poor people grow up in a different generation that middle or upper class people.

 

We grew up without AC, in Florida. We didn’t have cable, or even a color TV for some period of time. We didn’t eat fast food, or junk food, or fancy store bought bread.

 

So J, T, and I hopped on our bikes and explored our new town. The parents didn’t ask where we were going, and we didn’t think to tell. We rode down to the main strip. It was like a cute little town in an old movie.

 

The main strip was a bit touristy, but it was full of quaint old shops and antique stores. There was a bakery and new age shop and a comic book store. And, most importantly for me, a two story library.

 

It was summer, and hot out. I was the responsible one, and hadn’t thought to bring water. And we didn’t have money to buy any.

 

Also, we were utterly and completely lost.

 

None of us had paid attention on our way to the downtown area. We were young and drunk on the freedom of a new town and adventure. We had just been riding for the pleasure of riding.

 

We were exhausted and pedaling back slowly in the midafternoon heat. Sweat was running down the nape of my neck. I wanted to stop and rest, but I wanted to find our way home more.

 

We rode for a long time, longer I felt, than we had gone out. And still, none of us recognized our surroundings.

 

We came to a shady spot in the sidewalk. And J just stopped.

 

She was the baby and T and I knew we couldn’t leave her, so we stopped too. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

 

She was nearly in tears. “I can’t go on! Just leave me here! Go on without me! Have mom and dad come back with the car to get me.”

 

T and I exchanged looks. I could tell he was trying to not crack up laughing. It was so her. Melodramatic and unintentionally hilarious. And we wouldn’t dare to laugh at her in the moment. No matter how hard it was not to.

 

T said, “No, we can’t leave you here. We have to be close.”

 

I said, “Yeah, J. Please keep going. You can do it!”

 

“No, I can’t! Just leave me here! Go on without me!” J wailed. I’m pretty sure she even got off her bike at this point and flounced down on the sidewalk. Correct me if I am wrong here, J.

 

It took some doing, but we somehow convinced her to keep going.

 

She got back on her bike and we rode around the corner. We had been two blocks from our house.

 

We have NEVER let J live that down.

 

Every time I drive past that spot in town by our old house, I crack up. Every time someone in a movie says anything like that (no matter how serious the scene), I crack up.* And sometimes, one of the three of us will randomly call the other and say those words, and I crack up.

 

In fact, I have been laughing so hard writing this that I am crying.
*I am the WORST person to watch movies with.  My favorite thing to do is urge two men to kiss during those intense and weirdly homo-erotic fight scenes where they are all up in each others faces. Also, I make fun of everything. Even in movies I love.

Ratty

As a child, in the summer, my mother would throw us outside for the entire day. We were only allowed inside for lunch. If we got thirsty, we had to drink from the hose. And let me tell you, nothing quenches thirst on a miserable hot day like warm, rubber tasting water from a rusty hose nozzle. (Also, in searching for a photo I just found this is also unhealthy. Awesome.)

Mmm. Carcinogenic!

 

We did what we could to occupy ourselves. It usually involved digging holes in the yard. We would create this whole interlocking city with a series of canals and locks. We had a whole section of dirt in the yard where we could spread out. It was like a miniature, muddy Venice. These games with my little sister and brother usually devolved into someone getting pissed and destroying Venice in some kind of Godzilla crossover movie. It was ugly.

 

But our favorite activity was hanging out in the kiddie pool. We would drag the hard plastic pool into whatever spot of shade we could find. Then we would fill it up as high as we could with water. And the three of us would jump in.

I couldn’t find anything any cheaper looking. Also, it’s weird to think the three of us were ever small enough to fit in here.

We played a game called “Piranha” most often. Despite it’s ominous name, it entailed nothing more than us letting our legs trail behind us while we pulled ourselves around the perimeter of the pool on our hands. We would travel around the edge, whirling faster and faster, singing this song: “Piranha, piranha, piranha, piran.”

 

I have no idea why this was so much fun for us. As far as I know this game never culminated in us biting each other or anything like that. Which is actually very surprising considering my family.

 

One day, we were in the kiddie pool, playing Piranha when we heard a squeaking. We looked up, and there, by the water faucet on the side of our house, was a rat!

 

I’m sure this rat was just like any other typical rat you would see anywhere in Florida. But for some reason, in my mind I have it built up as some disgusting mutation of a rat. Actually, it looks like the grand high witch as a rat in that movie Witches.

What I saw.

My brother and I were grossed out by the presence of the rat. But we also didn’t want to do anything about it. We were very young.

 

My little sister, however, thought the rat was adorable (is it any surprise that she has a pet ferret now?). She jumped out of the pool and started carefully creeping up towards the rat.

“What are you doing?”

 

“It’s cute and I want to try to pet it.”

 

My brother and I laughed at her. “Don’t do that. It’s going to bite you.”

 

“No it won’t. I just want to pet it.”

 

My brother and I started yelling at the rat to try to get it to run away. We began splashing water in it’s direction, hoping to chase it off. Notice that we didn’t get out of the pool. We weren’t going to get bit by some rat just to save my sister.

What my sister saw.

My sister yelled at us to stop trying to scare it away. She was finally close enough to pet the nasty thing. She reached down, closer and closer.

 

My brother and I were mesmerized. Watching in anticipation. Wondering if she was going to get bit as predicted.

 

She reached down, and the fucking rat bit her!

 

My brother and I started cracking up. Laughing at her. Saying I told you so.

 

She went inside, crying to find our mother and tell her that we were making fun of her for getting bit by a rat. I don’t know if my mother ever even took her to get shots or anything. She could have gotten rabies for all we knew.

And J, if you are reading this, it really is your own damn fault. We tried to stop you.

Plumbing New Depths

I broke the power cord to my laptop. I’m waiting on a new one, but until then, I’m typing this on my tablet. Please excuse any spelling errors.

I had a lot of interesting experiences working in Miami. Like the maggot incident. And splitting my pants open. Working construction was one of my favorite jobs.

I was hired on as a laborer but quickly began filling any role required. When the secretary was on vacation; I helped to cover administrative duties.When the acquirer was busy, I would go pick up supplies in my truck. I learned to operate the Bobcat to help keep the work site clean.

Yeah, I'm kind of a badass

Yeah, I’m kind of a badass

That was one of the best jobs. Being entrusted with heavy machinery is incredible. Especially if you are immature as I am and pretended you were a dinosaur with giant jaws of steel.

Rawr!

Rawr!

It was also my responsibility to keep the Bobcat lubricated. I don’t know why, but this always struck me as being kind of sexy.

Or is that just me?

Or is that just me?

One day I showed up for work only to find that the foreman had been using what i had begun to consider to be ‘my’  Bobcat. He had driven over the sewer line and crushed it.

Our plumber was unavailable and there was somehow nobody to fix it. The foreman turned to me.

“Have you ever fixed a pipe before?”

“Nope.”

“Well, it isn’t that hard. Just dig it up,  saw a clean cut, and cap it off.”

It actually did sound easy. Too easy. But I knew I could figure it out. I’m good with that stuff.

I started digging. I don’t know how the fuck he had broken the pipe. It was four feet under the ground. I dug until I nearly passed out.

Some of you may think you know what hot weather is. But unless you have been that close to the equator you have no clue. To get some idea, wet a bathrobe and a towel with boiling hot water. Then go outside on the hottest day of summer wearing the bathrobe. Put the towel over your head so you have to breathe through it. That’s an approximation of Miami in the summertime. Short of that, try running into a burning building in full firefighter gear. I’ve never done that, but I have always imagined that it’s similar.

I used to have a theory why it was so hot near the equator as a kid. I imagined the equator to be like a belt the earth was wearing way too tightly. And the equator was giving the earth a serious muffin top. And that caused the areas near the equator to bulge and the bulge made it so much closer to the sun, which made it hotter. I still like that theory.

Muffin top!

Muffin top!

I could tell when I was nearing the broken pipe because of the smell. It was intense. I was working with a crew of 25-30 men. And our contractors were all men. There was only one coed bathroom.

Once I hit mud I knew I was there. I reached down to scoop it out as I didn’t want to damage the pipe any further with my shovel. And that is when I realized; I had no gloves.

There were apparently no gloves anywhere on the job site. And the pipe had to be fixed immediately. As I said, there was only one bathroom.

I sucked it up and reached in with my bare hands, scooping out sewer mud. The sun was baking down on me. It was a miserable, smelly job. I gagged several times in the process.

Nothing will teach you plumbing faster than the desperation of the summer sun and no gloves. Unfortunately, someone wasn’t aware that our only bathroom was temporarily out of order. I had cut the pipe and was applying an epoxy to cap it off when someone flushed the toilet.

My face was only inches away from the pipe. I was deep in concentration, trying to fit it all together. A rush of water washed through. Like sewage waves on the beach. I got splashed all over the front of my shirt, face, and hair.

I remember this stinky purple gunk.

I remember this stinky purple gunk.

Nobody wanted to spend lunch next to me that day.

Comic book love

When I was 10, we lived a few short blocks away from a comic book store. I don’t remember how I first got into comics. I think it was most likely my brother. Whenever we had any spare change we would walk down and buy whatever we could afford.

 

The owners never made me feel strange for wanting to hang out in there. I didn’t appreciate it then, but I do now. It never occurred to me that it would be weird for me to be in there. It is only as a grown woman that I have been made to feel unwelcome in a comic book store, and at comic book conventions.

 

But back then, I was just hanging out with my brother. We bought comics. We discussed the relative merits of different superheroes. We were both really into Marvel, most likely because of that old X-Men cartoon. Do you guys remember that? It always seemed really focused on Jubilee even though she was the lamest, most boring one.

marvel comic book

One of my favorites. I wish I still had it.

Anyway, we both had this brilliant collection of Marvel trading cards. They were my most prized possession. I don’t even know what happened to it.

Marvel cards

I had the vast majority of these suckers

My second most prized possession during that time was this baseball cap. I have no idea where it came from. It was white with a blue brim. It had wolverine embroidered on it.

wolverine

Exactly this image

I loved that hat. I wore it every single day over the summer between 5th and 6th grade. The white got dingy and dirty. And the brim started smelling like a wet dog collar.

 

I only took it off to shower. I think I even slept in it  a few times.

 

Unfortunately, my mother decided that I wore it too often. And so, tragically, she confiscated it and threw it away.

 

It was heart breaking.

 

But I never lost my love of comics. I still read them, I still collect them. I still discuss the relative merits of different superheroes.

And I still really wish I had that hat.