Saturday, February 11, 2012

Some Clair Park Stories

Everybody in the suburbs grew up with some sort of park or playground nearby.

The neighborhood I grew up in only had a few kids my age, but I still think we had some of the most fun out of anybody else in the district. We grew up in the area of Upper St Clair that my friend, Jay, so accurately describes to this day as "Lower St Clair". Lower St Clair means that none of us grew up in large houses with wealthy families and a huge ego. Take note of the "and" at the end of that sentence, because though some of my friends did grow up in large houses with well-off parents, none of us developed the sense of self-importance that a lot of the other kids did. I think that's a large part of why I still retain a large group of friends back home, while other people I know have grown distant from their old high school group.

Me? I'm quite certain I'll have a lot of weddings to attend in the next ten years. Pretty crazy, huh?

That being said, my neighborhood really only consisted of me and two other friends, but we grew up in the best possible place a couple kids could hope for. Once you cross Fort Couch Rd. past my house, the expanse of city that stretches out from Pittsburgh to the South Hills abruptly stops. Even a few hundred yards from my house, the landscape, dominated by concrete, bars, and stores abruptly ends, giving way to new housing developments, and just a bit past that, woods and even a few farms. Follow that until you hit West Virginia. Actually, don't do that, West Virginia is where brain cells go to die.

In our neighborhood, there were some woods, a creek, a parking garage, a mall, and my favorite, a 20 ft wall outside the beer distributor, where the three of us would get together, sit on the wall, and eat combos (or throw them on the street below in hopes that cars would run them over). That is, until they guy who owns the distributor told us to get lost....after 4 or 5 years of us causing no trouble whatsoever. Still, a pretty diverse set of options for a few kids to fill up their time in the summer.

But where most of the stories I remember best happened was the park. Clair Park, to be more precise. Two jungle gyms, a basketball court we used to play days' worth of street hockey, and a large field below, where we played football.

Many games between the "Red Wings" and "Penguins" took place on that court.
It was the Dark Ages, so Hull/Fedorov/Yzerman generally dominated Fata/Kraft/Beech

What follows is a collection of short stories I find humorous from the time I spent at that tiny park.
-Bloody tic-tac-toe.

On the field below the park, the kids in the neighborhood played a ton of football. None of that two-hand-touch crap. We beat the hell out of each other. One year, there was a decent snowfall, followed by rain, and then more snow. It actually led to the best sledding I've ever done, since ice + one of those old wooden sleds with metal runners is a match made in heaven.

Plastic sleds are for nosepickers. These things MOVE.

One afternoon, a game of football commenced in the snow and ice. If the mark of a good nose is that a soft bump does not turn it into a red fountain of blood, then I was not blessed with a "good" nose. At one point during the game, I took a shoulder to the face, and Mt Vesuvius erupted, staining the once pristine, white snow a vibrant shade of bright red. 

Some of the other kids were shocked, but I had seen my insides pour out of my nose before, so to alleviate tension, I grabbed a large chunk of ice, brought it to my nose, and drew a tic-tac-toe board on the ice. I then played against my friends, as they called out spaces on the board, and I drew on some x's or o's for them. Remember, I had several hallucinations as a child, so I'm a little nuts.

I still wonder if anyone else ever found the pool of blood I left. If they did, I sincerely hope they called the cops. If not, something is wrong with that person.

The only reason I told this story instead of others, is because I'm quite certain nobody else ever did this.

-Chlorine Bombs and "Deals" at School

This is one my Mom never knew about. Sorry, Mom.

Science is fun. Bill Nye told me so. That said, we discovered in 7th or 8th grade that when mixed, chlorine and rubbing alcohol produces a gas. When put inside a bottle together with the cap screwed on tight, the gas expands inside the bottle until the bottle cannot take it any longer, and it explodes. 

See how the moron in the video moves closer to the bottle? Yeah, don't do that, it's really dangerous. We knew this, but exploded with a sound like a bass drum. After a while, the park became a graveyard of plastic bottles, blown to hell by our concoction of pool supplies and disinfectant. At first, we were unsuccessful, but we learned the key to doing it (shake it), and kept it going for months, experimenting with different shaped bottles to get different sounds. Large bottles, like 2 liters, gave more deep, resonant sounds when their insides exploded.

The thing is, none of us owned a pool. How did we get the chlorine?

We did drug-deal style exchanges with another kid. Obviously no drugs were involved. Instead, in our infinite 13-year-old suburban shadiness, we met this kid by his locker, slipped him a 5, and he gave us a chlorine puck. After school, we ran to the park and unleashed hell. Surprisingly, we never got in trouble for the hundreds of explosions we caused, and luckily, nobody ever got hurt.

It just struck me a few months ago that what we were doing to get the chlorine was done in exactly the same manner as a high school hallway drug deal is portrayed in 90's tv shows like Saved By The Bell. I got a real kick out of that.

-Will Thinks He's a Daredevil....Again

When I was about 12, my Grandparents got me a bike for Christmas, complete with BMX pegs. I rode the thing all the time, off small jumps I built, or other things I found. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was a huge video game at the time, so extreme sports were a big deal.

At the same time, the park was undergoing a renovation from the old wooden jungle gyms that taught character, into these new, watered-down padded hunks of politically correct crap. In their infinite wisdom, the construction workers left a large pile of dirt mid-way down the such a manner that it formed a perfect ramp.

We talked for days about taking a bike off it, but none of us ever got the balls to do it...until my stupidity reared its ugly head.

Debates (which looks like "diabetes") had gone on for days about whether or not it was safe, and we concluded that it wasn't. I'm an idiot. At one point in this fateful day, I found myself atop the hill with my bike, looking down. My friends had gone down to one of their houses for food or something. I began pedaling.

As I flew down the hill, picking up speed, the true magnitude of the pile came into view. This was no small pile, but a 5 foot clump of dirt, after which was even more hill, thus increasing the trajectory and distance of the jump.

In my final moments, I glanced over to where I saw one of them coming back down the hill to the park. With what was sure to be my final breath, I yelled "IT'S NOT SAFE", and took to the air, leaving my bike mid-flight, and landing in a heap on the ground below. Nothing broke, but I never did something quite like that ever again.

As I laid on the ground, looking up at the sky, wondering if I was ok and if the pain had simply not set in, one of the kids came running over. Did he ask if I was alright? No. "DUDE! THAT WAS AWESOME".

These were my friends then, and strangely enough, they still are.

All of these stories are true, and yes, I'm a little imbalanced. Still, I enjoyed all of them, just like I did when I experienced (mostly) every other story that I didn't tell here today.

Today, the park is a shell of its former self. We're all a bit older, so the idea of getting together to sled or hang out by the picnic table isn't as appealing as it used to be. The football field is completely useless, as they installed new drainage pipes in it a few years ago, and simply covered up the pipes with rocks, making football a really horrible idea. I'm glad I got to use it while I still could. Maybe I'll take a walk there when I'm home in a week or two, and see if any new kids are using the park like we did.

That was a really long post, and I'm glad you made it this far. I had fun writing it, and I hope it was enjoyable to read, even if the stories aren't necessarily easy to relate to. It's just a continuation of my ongoing attempt to perfect storytelling. It's a skill a lot of people take for granted, and simply vomit onto a screen in 140 characters on Twitter. Tonight wasn't a great night, so I'm more glad than I usually am, that I have this platform for getting my mind off of things, and letting me hopefully entertain a few people.

I'm going to bed.