Friday, August 26, 2005

Everybody do the water slide

Summer is ending…and my back is eternally grateful.

Normally the changing of seasons and my body parts don’t have any correlation. That is, until this summer when my wife came home from Sam’s Club with the toy du summer for my kids – THE WATER SLIDE.

My wife, bless her heart, seems to make these purchases when I am traveling. It never fails. I’ll be calling from an airport in Portland just to “make sure everybody is okay before the flight leaves” and she will casually mention, in between updates on disciplinary measures, (Do you know what your daughter did today?) that she has purchased something that is a) inordinately expensive and b) requires assembly on my part. The farther away I go, the more expensive and technically complex the purchase. A talent buyer called me the other day and wondered if I was interested in performing in France this December. I hesitated only out of fear my wife will buy a “do it yourself” jet in my absence.

The WATER SLIDE was not a spontaneous purchase. She had actually researched it, meaning she saw one in a neighbor’s backyard and said, “where did you get that?” I’ve noticed that, in the land of suburbia, there’s no longer one kid on the block with the cool thing that every other kid wants and therefore, tries to befriend. That’s how it worked where I grew up. Mark lived four houses away. I always thought he was a weird kid; the kind who would just stare into space in the middle of a conversation, returning to Planet Earth a short time later with no explanation. But he had all the cool toys including a BB gun, Monday Night Football and an honest to goodness “fort.” Not a fort constructed from couch cushions or empty moving cartons. No, this was a fort built atop the rafters of his garage, complete with electricity. Yes, the average summer temperature above Mark’s garage was 182, but that didn’t stop me from asking him to “play” in hopes he would invite me to his house and eventually, the fort. The best I could offer at my house was a ping-pong table, a sport that didn’t agree with Mark.

Today, I live in a neighborhood where, if one kid gets a toy, everybody else eventually ends up with the same thing, albeit bigger and more ghastly looking. When my wife saw a slide go up in the backyard three houses down, naturally she decided we should own one as well. So while I earned a living 1,500 miles away, she popped by Sam’s Club and came home with the Bounce Around WATER SLIDE, which required two fully grown men to lift into her car. When I returned my first job was to move the box from the garage to my backyard and assemble it for word was out that the Schwems now owned the biggest WATER SLIDE on the planet.

Notice my infatuation with capitalizing WATER SLIDE. Trust me, if you see this behemoth, you’d do the same thing After hearing my hernia pop while lifting the box, I made it to the backyard and opened it. The first thing I saw was an installation CD. Bad sign, I thought. Most kids’ toys come with instructions. This one comes with video. I guess the manufacturers assume everybody has a computer in their backyard and can easily follow along while navigating the plethora of WATER SLIDE parts in the box. . This was not the type of slide that blew up in a couple of good sturdy breaths. On the contrary, when deflated, this slide resembled a tent that could hold Boy Scout Troop 344, all the Scout leaders (gay and straight) and any Grizzly bear wandering by the campsite in search of a dry bed. Add to this, a 15 foot “slip and slide” that attached to the slide’s base, eight plastic yellow stakes, and a motorized air pump that could, according to the CD, inflate the slide in under two minutes. All I could think was, “my lawn is gone forever.”

Now I don’t mean to sound like Grandpa growing up in the Depression but when I was a kid, we set up a sprinkler in the backyard and jumped through the stream. For hours, I might add. My friends who grew up in the city spoke fondly of the open fire hydrant. If I set up a sprinkler in the backyard today and told my kids, “go ahead,” they’d reply, “go ahead and do what exactly?” In just 25 years, backyard water fun has evolved from lawn sprinklers to 15-foot high slides that require a steady stream of water AND electricity, a combination that seemed like a bad idea.

Nevertheless, I soldiered on, pounding the stakes into drought-hardened soil, filling three plastic bags with water to anchor the slide, snaking a hose through the yard, coupling it to the slide and running an extension cord to the outlet in our porch. With much trepidation, I flipped the switch and the motor began to hum. True to the manufacturer’s word, the slide quickly rose from the grass higher and higher until it resembled a Macy’s Parade balloon. I turned on the hose and fountains of water cascaded over the roof, soaking the slide itself and the slip and slide. Within seconds my children scrambled up and hurtled themselves down face first, stopping at the yard’s end. Other children followed their “fun” radars and showed up in minutes, turning the backyard into the most popular daycare facility in suburban Chicago. It’s been that way for the entire summer, with the WATER SLIDE playing host to entire Little League teams, second grade reunions and numerous picnics. A neighbor has even borrowed it twice, showing up with a U-Haul to move it three doors down.

As I watched the backyard chaos, I could only wonder what kids will be playing with when my daughters have houses and children of their own. I wonder what it will cost to install a roller coaster that starts at the bedroom and ends in the pool’s deep end? The folks at Wal Mart probably have it on the drawing board now.


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sonya said...

so, what's the last thing YOU bought for the kids... I want a true confession. although, I am quite certain that men do not have the same compulsion to buy crap for their children. I'm going to put our waterslide on craig's list right now. actually, I'm giving it to my neighbor so we can still play on it.