Al Batt: I was working on degrees in teetering and tottering

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

We knew little, but we suspected a lot.

Al Batt

Each day was a test we hadn’t studied for back in the time before Vanna White landed her demanding letter-turning gig.

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In a world filled with “aww” and “eww,” there were many mysteries. If medicine was good for us, why did it taste bad? Are the crusts of sandwiches good for us? Why do some people cut sandwiches diagonally? When I was given two forks at one meal, I thought one was for defense.

The world was a big place, but our school was small. Recess was a glorious moment of excessive freedom. We had no adult supervision because teachers were happy to get shed of us.

We faced injury each day from things designed to hurt us behind the school, where no one could hear us scream. Playground equipment wasn’t there to enhance our egos. It was made of museum-quality, sharp, unyielding metal covered in lead-based paint. Even though our class sizes were small, the school was willing to lose a few students in order to have a playground. The playground was the reason the school nurse was always crying.

When it came to the playground, we were all on the varsity team and nobody rode the bench. Monkey bars, a horizontally mounted ladder, taught us how to walk things off. Mothers had prepared us for the wages of our tomfoolery. “If you fall and break a leg, don’t come running to me” or “Bet you won’t do that again.”

We had monkey bars because a cement mixer was unavailable.

There was a multi-passenger, model-horse free, merry-go-round that was kid-powered. A city park miles away had a smaller version we called the puker. The name was appropriate. The rumor was that the city had won the puker in a poker game.

We didn’t have a plastic slide with a protective dome. We climbed a vicious, slippery metal ladder begging to bark a shin, to get to the top of a metal slide. He who hesitated, didn’t slide. At the wispy end of summer, I skipped to the playground on a sizzling hot, sunny day. I scaled the ladder and sat down on molten metal, which turned me into a burger frying on the grill at Minske’s Cafe. Good times.

The only thing our playground was missing was Snidely Whiplash tying damsels to the railroad tracks, but 1000 violins didn’t need to play for us. We had a teeter-totter that fostered cooperation.

I was bestride the teeter-totter that day. Folks without as much book learning as we had called it a seesaw. The teeter-totter was our Dow Jones Industrial Average, it went up and it went down.

A classmate, let’s call him Evel, short for Evel Knievel, made another of his daily attempts to go all the way over the top of the swing set — a full 360 degrees. He tried this every school day until the snow grew too deep. He’d recruited the strongest kid in school to push him. I’ll call him Atlas, short for Charles Atlas. Atlas grabbed the chains holding the swing’s seat and backed up to get a good run at it. “This is the time,” said a hopeful Evel, the poor man’s astronaut, from his seat.

“He’ll never do it,” I thought. It would be impossible unless rigid poles replaced the traditional chains.

I was at the top end of the teeter-totter in either the teeter or the totter position, when I saw Evel fly as if he had Acme Jet-Powered Rockets in his back pockets or was launched from a catapult.

Atlas had pushed too hard and Evel had gained too much momentum. There was no seatbelt and Evel was on his way to a soft landing on sharpened gravel. He wouldn’t get a certificate of participation.

It was an amazing thing for a teeter-tottering kid to see; so amazing my partner seated at the grounded end of the teeter-totter fell off. That’s not a good thing for the rider in the highest seat and the landing could knock out fillings or fracture vertebrae.

I headed down at supersonic speed and hit the ground with a resounding thud.

I fell off.

I was speechless.

But I walked it off.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.