It was 1997, summertime was in full effect, and that meant freedom. At least as far as we could pedal anyway. We didn’t need much in those days, a pack of cigarettes, and a place to chill. I had a paper route, that my friend would help me with… I’d pay him in packs of cigarettes.
I would ride my bike, or roller blade every day… delivering the news, and I always had my portable CD-player. Imagine that… only having one album to listen to at a time, through crappy foam covered headphones.
It was either Lost Boyz, OutKast Atleans, Mxpx, Wutang Forever, Blink 182, or Rancid. There was more, but those ones… I played religiously.
We had three main hangouts… the playground, the woods, and the convenient store. PSA: The next time you shove your kid down the twisty slide picture this… people have probably done drugs, had sex, and pissed in that twisty slide. That’s really all I have to say about the playground.
Anyway, when we weren’t at the park smoking, we were usually at the store trying to get someone to buy us cigarettes. This usually took up a lot of time… I guess something about buying smokes for kids, just doesn’t sit well with some people.
Cigarettes were not easy to come by. We would either get ripped off… or have to pay the price of an extra pack to get them.
There was an older guy that would bum me one for ten back… when I got the pack that I pretended I was already waiting on. Then I’d hope not to run into him for awhile. I always did though, and eventually had to pay up.
He even chased me with his car one time. Me this little chunky kid, pedaling as fast as I could… winded like I just sprinted a mile, but it was really only like ten feet.
When he caught up, he grabbed my shirt collar, ripping me off my bike. “I thought you were going to have my ten cigarettes yesterday?” I pulled my pack from my pocket, recollecting on how hard it was to get.
The pack, torn, and smooshed from landing on it… when I was so rudely yanked from my bmx, peering in for a quick count, I only had 12 left. He snatched the pack from my hand, took his 10, and threw the pack back at my feet. He left me with 2 smokes, and a warning not to fuck with him, and he was out.
This is where most people will say “I would’ve Jaw’d that mother fucker” First of all… no you wouldn’t. Second I was like thirteen.
When we didn’t need smokes, we were stealing things from the convenient store. At first it was just to see if we could get away with it. We did it so much, it became so that it was more about the challenge than anything.
Back then, we for some reason, thought that wearing giant pants was cool. Giant bell bottom pants, like Jnco and Kikwear. They cost about as much as my first car for a pair, and they had 3 foot deep back pockets. Yeah I know what you’re thinking… we were pretty cool!
It turns out though, that those ridiculously long back pockets served a tremendous purpose. My best friend would walk slowly in front of me and I would fill those humongous back pockets with everything I could grab. Then we’d buy a 25 cent pack of gum from the old lady at the counter, whose glasses were so thick I’m pretty sure she could see through the wall, so we must have been pretty smooth (somehow I doubt that).
I still consider it a lifetime achievement that I stole, and ate, all of the string cheeses that the store had on display. You wanna know what death smells like? I smelled it for like a week after. I don’t think I’ve ever been the same after eating that much cheese at one time.
We got so ballsy that we even stole the Budweiser blimp that was hanging from the ceiling. We pulled it off like a professional heist.
He distracted the cashier, I pulled it down, then bent down to tie my shoe. My heart exploding in my chest, as I squeezed, and the are hissed out of the little clear blow-hole. Then I met him in the isle for the pass off. From there I went to the counter for some Winter-Fresh, and he slipped into the bathroom sideways, doing his best not to expose the now deflated, big red blimp.
Then banging and shuffling around for what seemed like 20 minutes, stuffed it into his sock, concealing it with his oversized pant leg. When the toilet flushed… there was only 20 steps, and 2 glass door, standing between us and the end of the heist.
We walked out of that store cocky as all hell, laughing hysterically, feeling like we just made off with some huge take. Really we just looked like a couple of morons, fumbling around and bumping in to one another.
In the woods we participated in all sorts of extracurricular activities. We built forts, had fires, took turns clam-baking inside of a 50gallon plastic drum. We would even include the neighborhood girls sometimes, to play this game called “Hide & Go Get It” I’m not gonna explain that one… use your imagination.
One of the tree forts that we built was so impressive that my best friend’s older sister and her friends even came to party with us some nights. I’m not gonna lie, to be in middle school, sharing beers with high school and college kids… I felt like I was the shit. We fit in pretty well too, we were chill for the most part, until one of us had too many sessions in the clam-baking drum, and fell on the fire.
What can I say? We were kids trying to hang with the big dogs, there was a lot of blunts and beers involved. That place didn’t last too long… we got lushed one night, and I don’t really recall how it happened… but we burnt our sanctuary to the ground.
We didn’t have computers, or cell phones… we didn’t have shit, besides a desire to run free within our own little world… our neighborhood. Kids, high on life, weed, and stolen brews. Fueled by nicotine, and the drive to do whatever the fuck we wanted to do.
From the woods to the playground, to the corner store. Where I was stung by an entire bees nest, got beat up, hooked up with girls, drank my first beer, sampled numerous types of drugs, even pulled off heists.
As we got older, and in to harder drugs… hung with different crowds, we rarely visited our old chill spots. Though, we did continue to nab from the corner store. We moved on to cars, forgot about our bikes, forgot about the time that girl let me feel her up, while she road on my handle bars, forgot about being chased out of the pitch black playground by the cops, or being so stoned walking endlessly through the dark woods. We grew and our world did too.
Eventually the convenient store closed, the woods were replaced by houses. The park is still there… when I visit it feels haunted. It’s empty… and I can remember the laughter… the fights… the freedom… parts of each and every one of us kids are embedded within the spirit of that playground. And I think to myself… Maybe I’m the ghost.