Being a kid can leave you down the drain, in a hole
I'll admit I might have said, "There's nothing to do," on more than one occasion during summer vacation from school. By contrast, I whined "Do I have to go to school today?" just about every day of the school year.
Sports occupied a good deal of our summer time. One of the primary ones was tag football in the street. We might have been dumb kids, but we weren't dumb enough to play tackle football on macadam.
As it was, tag football was dangerous enough. We ran the risk of being impaled on the tail fins of the '50s era cars parked on the block.
An even more dangerous element was that sometimes a high pass or a punt would collide with electrical wires or TV cables.
The peril did not come from electrocution. We ran the risk of being chased down and caned by the little old lady across the street for interrupting her viewing of the "Dialing for Dollars Afternoon Movie."
Street baseball, which was played with a solid rubber ball or a "de-fuzzed" tennis ball, presented another type of challenge. If the ball got beyond the outfielders, there was an all-out race to grab the ball before it rolled into the storm sewer at the end of the block.
Sometimes we were successful; sometimes we weren't. But even our failures provided us with something to do another day when nobody felt like playing football or baseball.
The guys would draft the skinniest kid and hold him by his ankles while he was lowered into the storm sewer opening to retrieve lost tennis and rubber balls.
Not only did the guy have to be skinny, he had to be able to tread water. When that kid would locate a ball in the storm sewer, the guys holding would often get so excited they started clapping. (Believe me! That water was cold!)
Fortunately, the guys were usually quick to fish me out. However, this was not necessarily because they were nice kids - although they usually were.
I was so skinny that when I wore a cap I looked like an upside-down exclamation point. So, I was crucial for another recovery expedition that we would do every June.
There was a Catholic grade school just up the hill from our neighborhood and behind it was a sidewalk with about a 20-foot section of wrought-iron grating. During the course of the school year, the students would lose various items in the grated concrete pit.
There was always some loose change, but equally prized were the little toys and trinkets that would also fall in. They were on the level of Crackerjack prizes, but for us they were a treasure trove.
There was a narrow opening between the grate and the school, so with the help of some Vaseline and a really good push from some of my buddies, I would make it to the treasures. I learned from sad experience not to divvy up the loot until they pulled me out.
The first time I handed up the money and trinkets, everybody took off to the nearest candy store. I felt like I was in prison all afternoon until my mom came looking for me.
When she pulled me out, I wished I was in prison. I would have been released from jail long before I was allowed to come out of my bedroom.
Rain provided a bit of variety in our daily play routine. If it really poured, we would abandon our street baseball game, as well as our shoes and socks, and go wading in the torrent of water that rushed down the gutters.
Experienced waders such as we knew enough to wait a few minutes so the rushing water cleared out the sticks left over from frozen treats, as well as candy wrappers and other litter.
Actually, those sticks provided another activity. Some guys would save them and make little rafts out of them. These would be launched in the fast-moving water for a one-way trip to the storm sewer at the corner.
As an added bonus, these rafts were something I could play with in case the guys let go of my legs while I was fishing balls out of the storm sewer.
On dry days, we could take a break from our usual routine by going in my backyard and playing with water's natural enemy - dirt.
Usually, this would mean using sticks to dig trenches and fox holes to fight countless battles with our plastic toy soldiers. Many years later, I was digging up the ground to put in a flower bed and discovered a battalion of soldiers that didn't know the war had ended a few decades before.
Sometimes, though, we would be more ambitious and attempt to dig the deepest hole we could in a misguided effort to visit China.
Once I jumped into the pit for my turn and didn't start digging until I was about 5 or 6 feet down - too deep to get out on my own. Everyone had left to get something to drink.
At least, I thought, I wouldn't have to worry about treading water. Then, a torrential rainstorm started.
(Walt Kozlowski, a freelance writer from Mount Carmel, composes "Walt's Way" for each Sunday edition.)