Play time is different for kid’s nowadays. Gone are the times when your parents would kick you out of the house armed with only a ball and your bike, and you wouldn’t see each other until dinner.
Friday was meatloaf night, I was always late on Friday night.
Imagination and pick-up games ruled the neighborhood. Everyone would meet at the “spot.” And the “spot” was different per social class child gang. Our “spot” was a cleared out field that was going to be developed into houses as soon as the plots of land were bought. In the background stood the forest which was only a few hundred feet of uncleared woods, but at 10 years old, perfect for building a tree fort or going hiking without any fear of getting lost forever like Hansel and Gretel…the Brothers Grimm version, not the weird movie remake.
Two other important differences from the way children play today.
There was a clear cut winner, whether it was an individual or team sport. Not everyone had an equal chance of winning. It did depend on your skill. If you swung and missed the ball three times with your bat, you sat down, you were out. You didn’t keep swinging until you eventually hit the ball. Often if you were the kid that sucked at baseball, you were the kid that was King of dangerous homemade bike ramp jumping.
For better or for worse the names of the games were not always politically correct. No one seemed to notice or care. Two prime examples from my childhood was: Smear the Queer and Black Man’s Tag.
If you are unfamiliar with the game Smear The Queer, the rules are simple. Throw the ball in the air and whoever catches has to run without being tackled. This could be played with any number of kids from 2 to 200. There is no designated place to run to, you just keep going until A) you’re tired or B) you’re tackled. If you get tackled then you throw the ball in the air and it starts all over again.
The great thing about this game: no thinking required. A helmet should have been required, it wasn’t, but definitely thinking went out the door. Your caveman instinct of survival kicked in and you just ran and ran until your friends piled on top of you like fat kids on the last Klondike bar.
For most, the offensive word in this game is Queer. But I think the scarier word is actually; Smear. Think about how you would Smear something. Now think about violently Smearing something…or someone. Queer could be derogatory or empowering depending on how you say it. (Think Queer Eye For The Straight Guy) However, Smearing is Smearing, and there is no coming back from a proper Smearing whether your finger painting or recreating a Slasher movie.
In Black Man’s Tag the basic concept was that one person was “It”, and would tag the other players who were running back and forth between two safe zones. If you got tagged, you would join the “It” person and help them tag people until their was only one left, which was usually my friend Gilbert. He was damn fast. He was German. I don’t know if that is what made him so fast, but I think Germans played around with genetic enhancing during Word War II.
He may have been a by product of that.
We played this in the school’s parking lot with each end of it being the safe zones. You could not be tagged in the safe zone. If only big cities worked this way too.
I don’t know why it was called Black Man’s tag. Never really thought about the name until I became an adult. I had Black friends who played it. They never said anything about the name either.
“Hey, why does it have to be Black Man’s tag, why can’t it be Island Pacificer Tag? Or Spanish-American-Croatian Tag? Huh? Racist!”
The names of both of these games could admittedly have been chosen better. Maybe Black Man’s Tag could have been renamed Zombie Tag and Smear The Queer could have been renamed Rugby.
But as a kid it didn’t matter what the name of the game was, we just wanted to play.
Good job Gilbert, you genetically enhanced bastard. Good job.