Today’s, Blast From the Past, brought to you by: The Grownups Wanted Us Dead
The Monkey Bars
The same demented parent who designed the teeter-totter likely invented the monkey bars. I am certain his thought process was something like this: “What can I design that will make kids drop themselves onto the blacktop head-first?”
Our monkey bars were quite simple, think ladder: two parallel metal pipes with rungs came out of the ground vertically, after about seven feet they made a ninety-degree bend, stretched horizontally for six feet or so, then made another ninety-degree bend back to the ground. The rungs went half way up each vertical side and all the way across the horizontal side. The vertical rungs were there to help the kids climb up to the horizontal rungs, where they hung upside down until their legs grew completely numb – at which point they would fall off and crash head first onto the blacktop.
For the most part it was the girls who liked hanging from the monkey bars, while the boys preferred swinging Tarzan style. Now, most of the girls figured out from watching other kids fall that there was a limit to how long one should hang upside down. Most of the girls learned that we needed a friend on the ground to help us down if we did let our legs get too numb -– landing on another person is much less painful (for the faller) than landing on the pavement. Most of us also learned that if we were wearing a dress the monkey bars were not the place to play. Dee Dee was slow picking up that last lesson – which explained the presence of all those Tarzans.
I truly do not understand how Carman survived the monkey bars. She really wanted to hang upside down with the rest of us Jungle Janes, but she was afraid to venture into the middle of the monkey bars. She chose instead to stay safely at the very end of the bars, handing from the first rung on the horizontal span – with her head directly over the ladder. She didn’t need a spotter – after all she had five steel rungs to slow her fall to the blacktop.
Of course, fall she did.
Now, when I was a kid playground teachers did not yell, “Don’t touch her! Don’t touch her!” They yelled, “Well, pick her up and bring her here, you morons!” So we scraped Carmen from the blacktop. Her lip was split, her two shiny-white, brand new front teeth were gone and her nose was kind of smushed to one side. There was also a tad-bit of blood. It gushed from her nose, poured from her scalp, oozed from her hands and spurted from the spot where her right front tooth should have been. It was a wonderfully gruesome sight, we talked about it for weeks after – just about the amount of time it took for all of Carmen’s stitches to come out. The retainer holding her two front teeth remained a bit longer.
The monkey bars were not blamed for Carmen’s accident – Carmen was. “Maybe it’ll knock some sense into her,” an adult would respond when told Carman’s sad story. That summer we had a dozen or more sprains, eight times as many bruises, two broken legs, several broken arms and one dislocated shoulder. In every instance the kids were condemned, not the monkey bars.
You know, I kind of understand why we didn’t realize the grownups were trying to kill us. I mean — we were kids. Kids love and trust their parents far beyond what is rational or fair. What I don’t understand is why the parents didn’t figure out it wasn’t working. We were racking up hospital bills, but we stubbornly refused to die. However, that didn’t stop the grown ups from trying.
Dad: “Here’s a Band-Aid, kid. Shut up, paste it on and go outside and play.”
Mom: “Why don’t you have a nice ride on the merry-go-round, Cupcake? That’ll cheer you up.”