GET OFF MY PROPERTY!!!!!
As much fun as we had in our neighborhood, not everyone was happy. One time we were playing football in the street in front of my house and a driver in a station wagon leaned on the horn and said something as we parted and he drove past. “Stupid kids!” Of course my only option at that point was to hurl the football with all my might at his back window. Even though the soft Nerf ball bounced harmlessly off his window, he still came to a screeching, heart-stopping halt. You know those moments in life that immediately follow action sans thought, in which you wonder what the hell you were thinking and ponder the wisdom of remaining a non-interfering Watcher the rest of your life, never speaking or taking actions that potentially would have a negative outcome? It was definitely one of those. Fortunately my dad was a few feet away pulling weeds, and quickly came over to apologize and point out that there was no damage, so the guy stayed in his car and drove off. Suffice to say I never did anything like that again.
When we played on my block, we'd wander onto our lawns and those of our neighbors, especially during games of hide-and-seek. One home was particularly frightening, as it contained the meanest old man in the world. I remember the first time I ran through his flower bed, and up the hill. I never saw him, only heard a bellowing, “WHAT ARE YOU KIDS DOING?! GET OFF MY PROPERTY!!!!!” It was terrifying, as if the house itself was yelling at us. In some perverse way it also encouraged us, and running on to that lawn soon became a dare. Back then, my block was my block. My friends and I would assemble and do what we wanted, go where we wanted, limited only by the extent of our imagination and moreso the cruelty of adults. We were human and free. How dare they yell at us, forbid us from exploring every inch of our block. How dare parents call us home for dinner, or not let us out after dark? Adults were no fun at all, and I knew I would never, ever sympathize or be like them.
Time defeats all children eventually. We grew up, started driving, went off to college and other interesting places, and the four streets that were once our world became ordinary and hardly noticeable, something to roll over as we ventured out into a veritable universe. There were no children, and the neighborhood grew quiet for a few years. Occasionally, a new couple would move in with an infant, or young couples in the neighborhood would have children. It was still quiet. More time passed. Those children became toddlers, began running around on their front lawn giggling in the sprinkler as their parents watched from the front steps. It was cute. My mom would look out, then punch me in the arm and ask when she was getting grandchildren. That was less cute. Even more time passed. The kids got braver, and would start to explore neighboring yards and cross the street. Just as I formed a group decades earlier, so too did they bond with one another based on geographic proximity and relative ages. Sometimes a ball would “accidentally” land in our yard or roll under a car, the perfect excuse for a mischievous little boy to come over. “HEY! Get away from my car!” my dad would shout from the window. I'd laugh and tease him, imagining the kid fearing our house and remembering going through the same experience with another old man a lifetime past. My dad just grumbled about kids getting hurt and not wanting to be responsible but I'd be off to see my girlfriend, to explore a world greater than these measly four streets. Kids play. It's harmless and adults should let them do what they do while they still have the free time to do it.
The children have multiplied like self-replicating nanotechnology. We should have seen the signs. For years no one came to our house on Halloween, once my generation outgrew it. Then a few kids came. Then a few more. When we didn't recognize someone, we wrote it off to good costumes. It was the only warning we would ever get. Now there are dozens of children in the street. Their parents are not always around, and I don't know where half of these kids come from. A wooden horse with the words “children at play” scrawled on it is sometimes put across the road to deter vehicles. When I need to get into my own driveway, I have to wait for a sea of imps to part, many of whom are giving me dirty looks. I've almost had to blow the horn at them. Most are out past 8, sometimes until 9 and now that school is out they'll probably be out even later. “Don't these kids have homework or bedtimes?” asks my dad, and all I can do is respond sympathetically. He's 100% right; why are they still out there at those hours? Why does the ice cream man drive by after dark? These animals run around screaming, dueling with sticks, throwing balls and pine cones, and they ride their bikes up our driveway and down into the street, often without checking for cars. I don't understand kids. When I see how untamed and out-of-control they are, I worry about the future. They'll never put responsibility before play, or respect their boundaries. They'll never feel the weight of the consequences of their actions.
I can't understand or relate to this new generation of savages. I was never like that.