As a child I had a philosophy of living on the edge, of doing things that no one else dared. When I jaywalked the street, I didn’t even look both ways to see if traffic was coming. I just stepped out onto the road and hoped I didn’t get run over. I learned that philosophy from a friend of mine named Ryan. He always claimed to live on the edge, and demonstrated this fact to me one time when he said,
I’m livin’ on the edge, and then stepped out into the street. I saw he wasn’t afraid, and I didn’t think I needed to be either.
Jaywalking wasn’t the only place where Ryan lived on the edge. There was this park near our neighborhood, and on the playground was a wooden castle. I say “castle” because that is the best way to describe it, it was basically a fortress with towers that you could climb up. Like any playground, some of the towers had slides coming out of them, and there were nets to climb on as well. The whole “fortress” was basically divided into two towers, and between them was a beam on which a tire swing hung. The beam was maybe one foot wide, and probably eight to ten feet across. Well, being that you could climb up the towers, it was only a matter of climbing over a three foot wall to get on top of the beam.
That beam is another place where Ryan, and later I, would live on the edge. One time at the park, Ryan climbed onto the beam and walked across it to the other side. When I first saw him do this I was awed by how dangerous it seemed. One slip and he would have been dead. (Well, not dead, but at that age it sure seemed like it would be a fatal flaw.) I was especially amazed at Ryan’s bravery because I had personally witnessed ambulances coming to the playground at my elementary school and picking up kids that had had major falls on the playground there, some of which were rumored to have been paralyzed.
My amazement didn’t deter me from crossing. I remember my first time going across the beam. I didn’t walk like Ryan. I made my way across on my hands and knees. It only took me one or two times going across the “wussy” way, as Ryan called it, before I gathered up my courage and walked the beam. After my first time walking it, it didn’t seem so dangerous, and I’d walk it repeatedly whenever I visited the park. I’d even tell random kids how brave I was, then I’d climb up the tower and walk across the beam to show off. I also admit that I was just as guilty as Ryan, and I’d try to influence other kids to do the same. Eventually the Parks Department put up a small section of chain-link fence to prevent children from climbing onto the beam. That was a sad day.
In all this living on the edge, no harm was done. I never got hurt, and I didn’t know anyone that got hurt. I think kids are a lot tougher than some adults give credit. Kids do dangerous things by nature, I don’t think they are held back by the fears that adults have. I’ve seen adults get hurt doing dumber things than I ever did as a kid.
Speaking of kids doing danger things, I want to reminisce some more about my childhood. One of my favorite activities as a child was playing on the staircase in our house. It was a standard set of stairs, thirteen steps, and carpeted. Some of my favorite activities included sliding down the stairs on pieces of cardboard. Plastic sleds were better, but usually my sleds didn’t last very long for that very reason.
Yes, there is a great excitement in going down stairs. I loved the rush of going down them, and I wanted others to experience the same. One time I basically threw my sister down the stairs. Okay, I didn’t just pick her up and throw her down, but it almost amounted to doing just that. I was about six years old. I told my sister I wanted to make a roller coaster ride for her, so I told her to get into her stroller at the top of the stairs, buckle in, and I was going to lower her down the stairs in her stroller.
Well, even at a young age I understood something about physics, and I knew a stroller would have trouble rolling down steps. I had a way to overcome that fact, however. I was going to hold the stroller, and let it fall gently down each step. In fact, I had already tried this very action by putting a teddy bear into my sister’s stroller, and doing exactly that. It had worked perfectly with the teddy bear, and I figured I was all set to try it out on a person. Naturally I would have wanted to go down the stairs in the stroller myself, but I was too big to fit into it, so I decided to play out my fantasy vicariously using my sister. She had no objections whatsoever, and there we were at the top of the staircase.
As I began to push her stroller forward, it took me all of three seconds to realize that the forty-or-so pounds that my sister weighed was too big a burden for my young self to carry. Though I tried to hold onto that stroller with all my might, my sister inevitably tumbled forward. I was a bit worried when I saw her head plummet into the steps, yet I found relief when I discovered she was unharmed. Indeed, kids are resilient. Like I said, a lot tougher than some adults may think. True, this activity could have ended in disaster, but when I look back on it, it is one of the funniest things I can think of.
Quite frankly I’m amazed that kids survive into adulthood. The title of this post refers to another activity that I enjoyed doing on that staircase. When there was no cardboard to slide on, I was satisfied with just jumping down the stairs. I made a game of it with my brother other friends. The goal was to see how high up the staircase you dared to jump. I think the highest I ever did was five steps up. My brother got six. I can do one now, any more than that and I’d hit my head on the frame.
One time a bunch of thumbtacks had been spilled at the base of the staircase. Despite the fact that there were these tacks in the carpet, it in no way deterred me from playing the jump-down-the-stairs game. I jumped down those stairs right into the tacks. My brother did too. This turned into a whole new game. The rules were simple, jump down the stairs, then see how many thumbtacks got stuck in your feet. Surprisingly the thumbtacks didn’t really go in that far, maybe a quarter of the way, and there really wasn’t that much blood. Still, talk about some of the weird things that kids do.
I may never jaywalk or walk across a beam ever again, but I know I’d never jump into a pile of tacks ever again. No way. I don’t want pins stuck in the bottom of my feet. As an adult I have played a game called tack-throw, where you go shirtless and have your friends throw tacks at you. You can play this either facing towards the thrower, or away. Towards means you’re tougher. That game isn’t even comparable to what I did as a child. Blood, to my knowledge, has never been drawn in tack-throw.
I suppose kids will keep on doing dangerous things, and, based off my experience, I’m not sure that that’s a bad thing. I think a little living on the edge is a good thing. It certainly amounted to an interesting childhood for me, and, in some ways, I wish I could be that fearless boy that I was so many years ago.