Hosing a Memorial Day BBQ in the backyard brought back childhood memories. Where I grew up we didn’t have a back yard, we had a front yard. It was a concrete space probably about 15′ x 15′ bordered by a 3′ cinder block wall. There was a tree, a small wispy one whose branches draped over the yard providing little shade but a nice touch of green. I don’t remember any actual dirt in the yard but there must have been a crack in the concrete large enough for the tree to get the water it needed to survive. It was actually a pretty hardy tree when you consider what it survived – snow and ice during the winter and high winds in the Spring when the tide, just a few steps from the cinder block wall, would rise to lick that wall. One year we had a particularly intense storm. From the front room plate glass window I watched trash cans, lounge chairs and even a small shed fly past my window like a scene out of “The Wizard of Oz.”
The memory which came to me was of the summer I decided to hold a carnival in that front yard. I devised a milk bottle throw game from old milk bottles, we did have actual glass milk bottles back then – delivered to our door twice a week. I made beanbags which had to be thrown though the mouth of a clown – a poster we found which I glued to a sheet of cardboard and cut a hole into. The real attraction was the spinning wheel. I made it from a bicycle wheel to which I glued numbered red and black squares playing cards. I made a sheet with those same numbers and colors and kids had to put pennies down to play.
I can’t remember the actual motivation for all the work it took to make this carnival (whose prizes were all stuffed animals and toys I was tired of). Looking back I suppose it was to make myself feel popular. I didn’t have many friends. I enjoyed having friends but I didn’t put much effort into getting or keeping them. If someone wanted to be my friend I was in 110%. If someone gave me the cold shoulder, I walked away. I didn’t try to infiltrate any of the groups which existed in my neighborhood and my school. I was just as happy being by myself and reading. I must have thought that the carnival would attract kids and, while they were in my yard, I could imagine they were all my friends.
The first weekend there were lots of kids but they weren’t very good at the games. I ended the weekend with most of my toys and more pennies that I needed. That’s when I decided to see how smart these kids were. I weighted the wheel. It would land almost always on one or two numbers. To my surprise and perhaps delight, the kids caught on very quickly. They pushed and shoved to lay down their pennies and spin the wheel. They got excited when they won and grinned like it was Christmas morning as they took away a toy.
But then something unexpected happened. They thought they were getting one up on me. I could see it in their eye as they stepped up to spin the wheel. They didn’t feel bad that they’d figured out a flaw in the wheel, they felt superior. I should have anticipated this. I was, after all, probably the smartest kid in the neighborhood. I was certainly the best student. Imagine what it would be like to feel you’d outsmarted the teachers’ pet. They gloated. They whooped. If it was now they’d probably have said something like, “in your face!”
This was not what I wanted. I closed down the carnival. I didn’t think about what they would think. I’m sure they thought they’d shut me down. I had given them the final victory. I had been too clever for my own good.