2007-08-23 / Sam Bari

Surviving childhood by playing "the game"

You can't beat a system you can't understand
By Sam Bari

When I was a kid, as many of you know, I ran around with a noname ragtag group of ne'er-do-wells with questionable virtue, character, and sense of purpose. Our primary occupation and major pastime was attempting to survive childhood without actually working at it in the traditional sense of the word.

My guess is that adults made up rules at some point that said children were to be obedient, respectful, quiet and studious. We were none of those things. We went to school because it was a great gathering place away from home. The law also required us to spend a certain amount of time there. However, school to us was just summer vacation with classroom time. It was sort of a minor annoyance.

Class, no matter what the subject, was not much more than a game. We played this game and the teacher tried to catch us. Whenever the teacher would turn around, leave the room for so much as a nanosecond, or even look away, we'd throw a spitball, pass a note, whisper to a classmate, or do something to make everybody laugh. That was the game. If the doer of the deed were caught, the teacher would get a point. If he, she, or they got by with it, the point went to the student.

Unfortunately, whoever was caught was usually punished. The severity was wholly dependent on the teacher and the amount of patience he or she had left for such foolishness. Daring classroom stunts at the end of the day were generally punished much more severely than transgressions committed in the morning. Anything mischievous occurring late in the day at the end of the week was punishable by something just short of death by call to parent. Nothing could be worse.

On several occasions students were known to be cleaning erasers and washing blackboards by the light of the moon to avoid a call to a parent because of a deed of daring do. Nonetheless, the game continued, day after day, year after year, and it never ceased to amuse us.

At the end of each day, we'd gather in front of the candy store or at the playground and see who won the game. At the end of the week, we'd tally up the points and whoever had the most points was declared king. Whoever wascaught the most, was declared the loser, or lame, or pathetic, or some other epithet that described the most pitifully inept to the extreme. Usually it was Pookie Grossberg. Pookie couldn't get by with anything.

The game never seemed to do too much damage to our learning abilities; it just made learning a little more fun. Besides, we had other methods that put learning on our terms. If we needed to know anything serious, someone in our group of ruffians was an expert on every subject that was worth knowing.

If we had a question about math, science, history or geography, we asked Nicky the Brain. Nicky knew everything. Nicky's dad was a college professor, and Nicky inherited the "know gene," although I don't remember calling it that back then. Anyway, what Nicky didn't know, he'd find out.

If we had a question about business, we asked Louie Hammerman, better known as Louie the Lip. The Lip knew more ways to make money than most politicians knew. At age 10, he had his hand in everybody's pocket. He was brilliant. The Lip was also our comic book and baseball card expert. His comic book collection was legendary.

When anybody needed to know something about sports, Muffin Duffy, the only girl in the group, was the last word. She knew every player on every team in every sport worth watching. In those days, sports that were worthy consisted of baseball, football, and basketball. That was it. When we got older, the list expanded slightly, but not much. I think one of us discovered hockey when we were teenagers.

Despite our lack of social skills and classroom etiquette, we survived childhood. A few of us even went to college. All of us got jobs. We lived in the days of toys made of metal covered in lead based paint. We were the generation that started rock 'n' roll. We played the game until the last day of high school. And none of us died or sued anybody for anything. It was life, and it was all part of surviving childhood in a system we can't understand.

Tune in next week and we'll talk about The Hornsickle Stubfester Soggy Mountain Band. It's a great story, I promise.

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