Once in great while, I get to time travel. I don’t need physics or machinery or even a white lab coat. It’s much simpler than that; I just go and work as a Watchdog Dad at one of the Heathens schools. This program is designed to have positive male influences present at schools throughout the day so as to deter kids from becoming filthy drug dealers and tax cheats. We help out in classes and eat barely cooked meals with the kids so as to re-live the torture of grade school. But the real trip back in time? That takes place on that playing field where hierarchies are established, hearts are broken and gravel is shoved up into the nostrils of the weak: The Playground.
Today I tottered out there, dizzy from trying to keep up with kids adding “9’s” and “6’s” and subtracting “3’s”, eager to shake these mathematical puzzles from my brain. As the children of 2nd and 3rd grade came tearing out the halls, ready to unleash yet even more crazy from their bottomless wells of boundless energy, I quickly found another adult; it would be necessary for there to be witnesses if any of these psycho-monkeys decided to band together and beat the monitors to death with red rubber balls and rocks.
Quickly they segregated: the boys kicking footballs and shoving their enemies into trees, while the girls quickly banded into packs of 3 or 4, apparently bound by various shades of pink or sparkle. And suddenly I was 8 again. I was the last kid getting picked for the pickup football game, left behind with a kid who insisted on being called “Punker Joe“, his only defining quality that I can remember being twin trails of snot running from his nostrils to his mouth. I can’t seem to recall my own children’s birthdays, but as vividly as getting hit by a bus, I can repeat the names of Shea Morenz, Bodine French, Austin Prince and Adam McLean, the Lords of Vieja Valley grade school in the early 80’s.
Their chatter left me devastated: “let’s leave Emily alone, we’re not with HER!“, “you SUCK!” and “Parker put a booger on my butt!!” I could handle that last one, but I was dazed by the collective effort to ostracize the loners and kiss the asses of the popular. Nothing’s changed since 1983. Attitudes are getting better or worse, depending on who you talk to, parents are acting like friends to their kids, Western society is on the brink of collapse, all that, but the pecking order on The Playground is the same.
Brittany, Brit’ney and Kylie are gonna prance like princesses declaring who’s in and who’s uncool; Riley, Jesse and Corbin are looking for chances to kick someone (literally) off the monkey bars and that weird group of kids will be off in the corner trading Bakugon ninja-jedi cards, twin trails of snot streaming down their upper lips, their eyes looking at me knowingly, silently inviting me to join their band of lovable losers.