This post is about my childhood experience entitled Street Lights.
Sitting in class just staring at the clock, I am thinking “finally, a day where I actually want to be in school”; but not because I actually wanted to be there, it was because at around 2:30 the real fun begins. It’s the last day of school before summer vacation. Just sitting there watching the hands of the clock slowly tick away, it’s the only time that even comes remotely close to waiting for Christmas to come. For a school year full of boring subjects, detention, homework and parents yelling at me for not doing my best, finally the last day of school is upon us.
As 3:05 creeps closer, I get antsy and squeamish like I do when I go to the hospital and the doctor says I have to go the “lab” and get shots. However this time it’s a joyous occasion, as the classroom begins to fill with laughter and your thoughts are full of what you are going to do for summer vacation. All I had on my mind were the street lights. For my friends and me, street lights were always a marker for fun; it was either the starting marker for hide-and-go-seek, the goal in some random game we made up, or the times up marker – time to go home.
Pre-Summer vacation started at 3:05 on the last day of school. I really never had a curfew; the only stipulation was that I had to be inside when the street lights came on. Real-Summer for me started in June. As a California, kid there is two or three days sometime in the latter part of June where the street lights didn’t come on until about 9:30 p.m. In my mind, everything was a build up to just those few days. Sure, I could wake up at the break of dawn with my friends and head out of the house at 7:00 a.m., but for me, morning time play never really caught the excitement of night time fun. There was always something about going to 7-11 at six o’clock in the evening. to get a New York Seltzer, Bazooka Joe bubblegum and hand full of Mystery Mix Now-and-Later with my best friends. Walking home, we would always run into the street lights coming on and we all knew it was time to go home. But not in June – we could ritualize our 7-11 runs at six o’clock and still make it back home for a full game of doorbell ditch. Doorbell ditch was a game where we would go ring somebody’s doorbell and then run-away before the “victim” got to the door. Call us rebels. Call us the street light mafia.
Back in the early 80’s, California didn’t have half the rules and regulations that we currently “enjoy” today. As a kid in California, we could go to the grocery store or a local convenience store and buy firecrackers; Black Cat firecrackers to be exact. The infamous Black Cat firecrackers, when set off, were as loud as a shot gun and the soot filled the air like a San Francisco morning fog with the very distinct smell of the Fourth of July. Through all the smoke filled air, all I remember is hearing my friends laughter and the blurry haze of a half lit street light flicker and struggle to come to full life.
Growing up I never really thought about the street lights and summer vacation as being my routine. Every morning, I would get up and eat huge bowl of Malt-o-Meal, take the absolute quickest shower I could think of, grab my left over Lemonhead and Boston Baked bean candy from the night before and stuff them in my pocket. I would then grab whatever crazy project my friends and I were working on, whether it is a rubber band gun made out of Popsicle sticks or the tire off an old grocery cart that I kept on the side of the house to make a go-kart. Mornings would usually start off playing a game that most boys played but never really liked “Smear the Queer.” Smear the Queer was game where you would get tackled for being “it.” Somebody always got hurt, no one really liked it, but it was a game to prove our manhood to each other. Smear the Queer usually ended within 20 minutes when somebody got hurt and went home. This was usually followed by us gathering around thinking about how much trouble we were going to get into if so-and-so told on us; this usually was followed by a game of hide and go seek and then a rubber band fight. By this time, we were usually out of breath from running around so we would usually race back to one of our houses because Press Your Luck was coming on television. On our way, we would always see the old Mexican woman selling hot tamales from her hand held basket; the big Laura Scudder’s potato chip truck that seemed like it never moved, and the familiar sound of the Pan-Am airplane flying over head.
Press Your Luck was synonymous with summer vacation because it was the only time we got to watch it (unless you were home sick from school). We would usually run into the house smelling like grass, candy and dirt, plop down in front of the television still itching from the grass on our skin and wait for a Press Your Luck “whammy” to come. The best “whammy’s” were always the break dancing or the Michael Jackson ones; we would usually erupt with either dancing or cheering at the television. I think this was somehow a precursor to what we see today at football games. After Press Your Luck was over, whoever’s house we were at – their mom had the unwritten task of feeding three, four or five boys lunch, which was usually some sort of sandwich and juice. Of course, if it was Jason’s mom, she made something gross like celery sticks and sugar-free Crystal Light. Jason was cool, but we always avoided his house like the plague. After lunch, we would run outside and play touch football in the streets; the goal always being the street lights.
As a kid, I never really paid attention to my surroundings or my so called “status.” I couldn’t tell you if I was rich or poor, if I went to the correct school, if I ran with the right kids. But one thing I was very aware of was where the street lights were.