Physically, I’m living out in the uncivilized backwoods of Buffalo, New York, but my head spent most of the day in Michigan. There are a few reasons for this: First is one of my good friends from Chicago, who was originally from Michigan and has chosen The Great Lakes State as the location for her wedding today. Another was a recent football game where the Detroit Lions killed the New England Patriots, and no I don’t give a shit that it’s still only the preseason. Third was the fact that I spent a good part of the day checking up on some facts I recently learned about Detroit housing prices; I knew the city had good houses available for prices as ridiculously low as New York City has them for prices that are ridiculously high, but it turns out that some of those places are priced in the hundreds of dollars. Not hundreds of thousands; not hundreds for monthly mortgage; but hundreds as the full prices of the houses.
Rob reinstated his annual cookout today after a two-year hiatus, so it was my first time attending it since the original was created around our college graduations in 2005. It was very subdued compared to what it had been, since we’re both mature adults on the cusp of opening up exciting new chapters of our lives. I spent a lot of the day joking with others about how I was going to move to Detroit and buy a house just like his for $500. It was a very settled gathering even for me, because most of the people there had seen me around by then and knew me and I was able to feel pretty comfortable. Between Detroit jokes were games of Kan Jam, water guns, and face-stuffing. There was a little bit of reminiscing with Rob too, after I noticed that one of the trees in his backyard had a sturdy brand leading to the roof of his tool shed. It took me back to the days when both of us were young kids living on Abbott Road in South Buffalo, using a big tree to climb onto the roof of the old tool shed. This time, a rather horrifying thought came with the fond memories: Just how old was that tool shed on Abbott?
I took the issue to Rob, who told me that old tool shed existed before his grandparents moved into that old place on Abbott. In other words, the place was rotting from the time we were born to the time they finally tore it down. Of course, that’s presuming they did tear it down. Neither of us have been back to the original houses in awhile, so someone could have turned it into a bomb shelter which doubles as an ice cream parlor for all we know. And there we were back in the day, climbing all over it like your average Spider-man wannabes. As I left the cookout and thanked Rob for the invitation, he confessed that he hadn’t been able to get that thought out of his head himself. Great minds think alike, and these two particular great minds were hit with a scary truth: Holy shit, we should be dead by now!
By most accounts – including those of both Rob and me – we should have fallen right through a rotting soft spot on the roof and been impaled on an upturned pitchfork or something. We also should have broken our necks around Cazenovia Creek, hurt our shoulders falling out of trees and climbing fences, and been repeatedly bruised from our rough sports games. Both of us agree that it’s something of a miracle we’ve managed to last this long.
South Buffalo is a real rough and tumble place where kid safety is a concept somewhat disregarded in favor of letting the kids figure everything out for themselves after nearly getting killed a few times. The people there write off a lot more dangerous child behavior than most what about the children shriekers. For god’s sake, the most popular little league sports in the area are hockey and lacrosse! South Buffalo is a place in which deluxe safety accommodations don’t go much further than placing plastic shields into the electrical outlets. Those who don’t use them are quite confident in their kids’ ability to learn after zapping themselves once or twice.
Even by those standards, the two of us were nuts. We spent a significant chunk of our time learning to scale a ten-foot chain link fence to get into each other’s yards, then learning to scale slightly shorter chain link fences whenever we needed to get from Abbott Road to Marbeth Court in a pinch. Of all the things we did which would cause hysteria in any concerned parent, that was the thing we thought the least of. We also hopped from backyard to backyard with an alarming regularity. There was one occasion when Rob managed to bring down an entire phone line, and another when he wrapped a glave around a phone line. He seemed to have a talent for avoiding electricity. When an electrician visited us once, Rob was actually able to chase him up the telephone pole while me and a couple of other friends stood at the bottom removing and replacing the small steps the poor worker placed there so he could climb the pole. We also managed to crawl into a broken basement window.
When we got a wee bit older, our frequency for dangerous behavior actually increased as we got privileges to visit Cazenovia Park regularly without supervision. There are points along the creeks where there’s a drop of about 20 feet into onto the bank of the creek, without any fences to hold back unsupervised kids like Rob and Me. Let’s just say learning which parts of the cliff could be scaled required a bit of trial and error. We also took trips down to the foot of one of the creek bridges. When we got bored of doing that, we ran around in the middle of the local golf course whether or not there were golfers there.
Both of us were out of our minds, but Rob was the more athletic of the two of us and the most prone to high-risk derring-do stunts. If we made one of our periodic journeys down to the foot of the southernmost bridge at Cazenovia Park, Rob would occasionally insist on using the back landing to climb back up to the bridge. The part we used to climb down to the foot was slanted, but the other end was straight up and down. Rob would climb the up and down part, even though there were nice, pointy rocks at the bottom. I never tried to follow suit because even if I wasn’t lacking the physical strength, the idea of doing that was a little too insane for me, even back then. He was also the one who occasionally discussed the idea of diving into the creek by jumping off the Cazenovia Street bridge, something I had to talk him out of repeatedly. Of course, he had to talk me out of taking a flashlight to explore the sewer drain on the bank of the creek, so whoever was the better of the two of us is perfectly debatable.
Even as we started to get old enough to be aware of what would kill us and what would merely cripple us for life, we still found ourselves crossing Cazenovia Creek by bicycle on one occasion and walking across the concrete bank on many others. While that wasn’t very dangerous by itself, getting onto the fenced-off concrete bank could be dangerous in certain parts. Of course, we always thought the trickier parts were the perfect spots to get onto the bank. For good measure, we rode our bicycles on the park casino. (I still do this!)
Still, it’s the earliest days from when we were both living on Abbott Road that stick out in our heads because we had a nice, big, safe backyard which our twisted imaginations turned into a real barbershop of parental horrors. We had a swing set…. On which we removed the swings so we could climb the side poles to the top bar, which we would try to cross hand over hand. We had a jungle gym which we rolled over onto every side and placed next to the tree so we could climb the tree, enabling us to finally reach the tool shed roof. We climbed up a wheelbarrow situated forever against the tool shed. Rob’s backyard had one of those giant electrical wire spools which we used for log rolling.
Going over our stunt backlog now, in our maturity, Rob and me can’t help but wonder: And our parents thought video games were bad?