Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Parker School Merry-Go-Boom

Remember the good ol' days when no one cared about personal safety? We had no seat belt laws, in fact, I clearly remember riding shotgun in Grandma's 1971 Chevy Impala, standing up on the passenger seat. We weren't required to wear bicycle helmets, it was just assumed that if we were stupid enough to crash our bikes (and we were), we'd manage to not crack our skulls in the process. Maybe we (and by "we" I mean society at large) were naive, or maybe it was just a convenient way to manage the overpopulation problem. At any rate, for a child growing up in the 70's, danger was everywhere, and we laughed in its face.

Take, for example, school playgrounds.

Nowadays, there are all sorts of rules and regulations that dictate proper monkeybar height, mandatory woodchip depth to cushion falls from the slide, and the scheduling of inspections and routine equipment maintenance. Due to this wussification of our nation's playgrounds, kids of the 21st century have to put forth quite an effort if they want to injure themselves.

Such was not the case for kids of my generation.

For one thing, all of our playground equipment was built on rock-solid asphalt. No woodchips, no synthetic rubber cushioning. If we fell, we bruised. We bled. We didn't have much grass on our playground, either. The area that wasn't black-topped was simply a large area covered with stones. Most of the time it served as our kickball field, but let's face it, it was basically a rock garden. Did we throw these rocks at each other? Of course we did. Our only rule was "don't aim for the head", with the emphasis on "aim for". By the time I hit third grade, our school nurse was so good at stitching up gashed foreheads she could've given the Toronto Maple Leafs' trainer a run for his money.

All of which brings us to the Parker School Merry-Go-Round Incident of 1973.

You remember those playground merry-go-rounds, right? A circular bench on a vertical axle, anchored in the asphalt? Parker School had one, and it was pretty popular with the second and third grade crowd.

One morning in particular, a bunch of us were in the mood to spin till we puked. To that end, we recruited Big John to supply the elbow grease.

John Pizzarelli was a fifth grader who was old enough to be in seventh. His poor reading skills combined with his blatant disregard for the mandatory attendance policy led to him being held back a couple times. He was enormous but also a real sweetheart, and he could be counted on to make recess a more enjoyable experience for everyone. You need someone to push you on the swings, higher than you ever imagined? Big John was your man. A fall guy to start the rock fights? He's ready and willing. And, of course, he was the perfect source of power for the merry-go-round.

I took my seat and hung on tight. I should add here that this particular merry-go-round did not have any sort of safety straps or restraining bars. There was a bench and a bar to hold onto, and that was it.

It wasn't enough.

John got the ride spinning, beyond any speed that would be considered safe. Mistaking our terror for excitement, John redoubled his efforts and soon we were pulling four G's with our innards in turmoil. My palms started sweating, and I could feel my fingers slipping from the metal bar.

The next thing I knew, I was flying through the air. There were no woodchips to absorb the impact, no fancy padding to cushion my descent. Just the old-fashioned thunk of head against blacktop. A crowd gathered around me, and when I regained my bearings, I managed to stand up. The bell rang, so I headed to class.

Halfway through roll call, I became engulfed in a wave of nausea. Mrs. Fedak called my name, and when I tried to say "here", all that came out was my breakfast. Pop Tarts and chocolate milk, if I remember correctly. I went to the nurse, who called my dad and suggested that he take me to have my head examined.

Not the last time someone would make that suggestion, by the way.

It turned out that I had a mild concussion, and the doctor sent us home with ice packs and instructions to not let me sleep for a while.

In the aftermath of the merry-go-round incident, the Parker School administration took a crucial step in improving the overall safety of the playground. Oh, they didn't lower the monkeybars, replace the stone field with sod, or install woodchips and padding. They established and enforced one simple rule:

John Pizzarelli was no longer permitted to push the merry-go-round.


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The Simple Dude said...

It took many more bumps, bruises and concussions for them to do away with the asphalt around the spinning things apparently.

Same with us. I stopped by a playground we used to frequent a couple weeks back and saw that fancy black rubber synthetic stuff. How they hell can you have any fun without at least SOME risk of injury??


Eva Gallant said...

You are such a great story-teller. I could picture it all! It also explains a lot about you! lol

Kenton said...

I refuse to make my son wear a helmet. I made it through many years of reckless bike riding without any personal protection. I think he'll make it too!

Hannah said...

Great story! And so true. I will never forget the day a boy in my class threw a rock at a girl on the swings and split her head open. She had to leave school to go get stitches. Now when I ask my daughter's principal about getting swings for the playground, she tells me they can't have swings because the insurance cost is too high. They're missing out on all the good stuff.

Elizabeth Newlin said...

That's awesome.

My elementary school had a giant metal play structure shaped like a bubblegum machine. It sat in the sand and had steps up the side into the round part that would house the gum if it was a real bubblegum machine. I jumped up the stairs once (as you do when you're 6) and because they were metal and sat in sand, I slipped and cracked my forehead on the top step. 6 stitches. gotta love insanely unsafe toys.

Misfits Vintage said...

Awesome story telling.

I remember my Mum having seatbelts installed in the back seat of our car in 1977 and how OUTRAGEOUSLY OVERPROTECTIVE everyone thought she was being. Don't waste your money! Children don't need seatbelts! If they go through the windscreen and die, just have another kid!

Sarah xxx

Quirkyloon said...

(singing)I think I read this post before!

It was funny and now e'en more!

hee hee

J.J. in L.A. said...

I took a merry-go-round trip like that more than a few times. That's what made childhood FUN. We used to have a real firetruck at our park's playground and we spent hours climbing all over that thing.

They revamped the park about 15 years ago, and everything that made it fun was gone. Including the fire truck. It was a 'safety' hazard. Sure, when you had stupid kids who didn't know how to keep from falling off...

Suldog said...

We grew up tough. I remember loads of injuries on the playground, and all that gushed blood were slathered with Mercurochrome. I think that stuff is illegal now, but My Mom swore by it.

"Jimmy, I'm going to paint your leg with toxin and send you back out to play. First, though, have some whole milk with raw eggs mixed in. Have to keep up your strength!"

Julie Dunlap said...

LOVED the merry-go-round growing up. The thrill of nearly falling off, the lessons in centripetal and centrifugal force, the wagers on who will puke first in class... all add value to the education of youth.
Now, however? Merry-go-rounds give me a headache. Even the photo you have made me feel a little motion sick. But your story was a fabulous reminder of days-go-round-gone-by!

I'm Jane said...

The merry-go-round was the best! Truly an appropriate tool to judge the general toughness of your classmates. Although, really, it all came down to who's hands were the least sweaty.

My dad had a 1970's era Impala. I used to call it the Tank. I remember one day riding with my dad (without a seatbelt, of course) and and being rammed head-on by a car that was going around a curve too fast and had veered into our lane. Our car barely shuddered. No dents, no damage, nothing. The other guy's car was totaled.

Our cars are wussies now too.

IT (aka Ivan Toblog) said...

Reading this brings to mind what Dick the Butcher* said. "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." They've taken all the fun from playgrounds, construction sites, and vacant lots.

*Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2, 71–78

If I Were God... said...

Simple solution for a simpler time (you thought I was gonna say 'simpleton', didntya?)

Linda Medrano said...

Ah the bad old days! Actually, I'm really glad they are more safety aware now. I brought both of my babies home from the hospital nestled in my arms. How stupid I was! (Of course, at the time, there were no "car seats" for infants.

Fred Miller said...

And when we wanted to play War we just threw rocks, steel cans, ancient Indian artifacts, and antique farm equipment. No Halo 3.

A couple of years ago, Tessa's kid and I rode our bikes to the creek and chucked huge rocks off the bridge into the water and broke up the ice. Kid told me loved me like five times that evening.

Mike said...

I believe it was sometime in 1986, grade 2, we were biking and I fell, scraping the side of my face off. Hosptial? No. Wash, big ass cloth bandage, and back out to the bikes.

What happened to us? Why did we get so wussy? In 10 years the leaders of this free world are all going to be a bunch of bed wetting cry babies.

Peter Varvel said...

This gave me the same physiological willies that my fear of heights gives me.

Phillipia said...

I love favorite line: ...maybe it was just a convenient way to manage the overpopulation problem...

Boom Boom Larew said...

I feel nauseous just reading this... good times! So, how soon do we get the "What ever happened to John Pizzarelli?" post?

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