Life on the frozen tundra of South Dakota Life on the frozen tundra of South Dakota

A Childhood Attempt At Permanently Disabling Ourselves

A Childhood Attempt At Permanently Disabling Ourselves

Boredom is an important part of every child's life. As modern parents we seem to go out of our way to try to "protect" our children from this affliction. We purchase toys, provide activities and rearrange schedules in a vain attempt to prevent ourselves from hearing those dreaded words, "I'm bored!"

After giving it some thought, I've come to the conclusion that boredom is a good thing for our children. I know that flies in the face of everything our child's psychologist will tell us. The so called "parental experts" will convince us that if our child sits on the couch staring at the wall for twenty minutes while we wash dishes, that they will be warped for life.

I did happen to turn out warped for life, but not because my mother chose to clean up after dinner. And most certainly not because I was usually forced to help!

So, here are my arguments for the benefits of boredom:

First, life is boring. A good portion of a person's life is going to be spent doing something they'd rather not be doing. It's called work. Very few of us would spend mind-numbing hours in a cube, or doing hard physical labor to build something we won't use ourselves. That's why they pay you to do work; because nobody in their right mind would do it for free. Learning to survive periods of boredom as a child gives us good practice for the hours of boredom we will endure as adults. The child who doesn't learn how to handle boredom at an early age is in for a rude awakening once they enter the workforce.

Second, a majority of my childhood memories stemmed from boredom. When you are faced with nothing to do, the natural response is to look for ways to entertain yourself. This encourages creativity, because if a boredom solution was easy to find, we probably would have discovered it before we got bored!

The summers of childhood were magical, mostly because they were driven by boredom. We would constantly be on the lookout for new ways to entertain ourselves before the doldrums overtook our life and ate our brains. As children we just knew that if we remained bored for more than an hour, it would most certainly prove fatal.

So, I wrote all of that to explain this particular memory. One summer day my brother and I were in our normal search to cure the tedium of inactivity. The particular year in which this happened remains a mystery, but I speculate it was either 1979 or 1980.

My mother was (and still is) a pack-rat. She inherited this characteristic from her parents. Because of this, our garage was always filled to the brim with "treasures" that were too good to throw out.

Well, they were too good for her to throw out. They weren't too good for other people to throw out, which is where most of them originated. She would be driving down the street and see items placed along the curb waiting for the trash haulers to come take them to their final resting place. She believed these items still had plenty of life left in them (and more often than my father cared to admit, she was probably right) so she would place them in her car and haul them home.

Unfortunately, not everything had an immediate useful application so they would get added to the stack in the garage. Soon, not only was the garage too full to hold the car, but even smaller things like our bicycles and my father's tools were getting squeezed out requiring them to find a new home. I am not exaggerating when I say that from the time I was born until my freshman year of college, my father's car always stayed parked in the driveway as there was no physical way to fit it in the garage.

This supplied my brother and me with an ever-refreshed cache of wondrous items worthy of exploration. On this particular day, however, the treasure trove wasn't found in the garage. It was found in the items normally housed within the garage which had been displaced by the ever growing mountain of materials. These items had been relocated to the small space behind the garage next to the neighbor's fence.

The particular item of interest discovered on this day happened to be a scaffolding board.

Now, if you're unsure what a scaffolding board is, let me explain. When working on a project requiring people and materials to be elevated for an extended period of time, say for example when painting a house, a scaffold is built. More or less it is a temporary structure made of two side stands, between which a platform is placed to allow a person to stand and work. A scaffolding board is a board sized to provide this platform. This particular scaffolding board was about two inches thick, a foot wide and twelve feet long.

Extracting this board from the pile of assorted items resting on top of it was a challenging task for two young boys. The board itself weighed as much as either one of us probably did. This was our version of Mount Everest and we were not going to be deterred from our mission. I don't remember how long it took us to get it out, but we finally did.

Now that the board had been surgically removed from the back of the garage, our next task was to find a suitable use. It didn't take long for us to realize that the eave of the garage was approximately eight feet high. With a twelve foot board resting on the edge, that made for a fairly comfortable 45 degree incline in which we could shimmy to gain access to the garage roof.

Of course, we did this on the back side of the garage out of the view of the kitchen window. Deep down inside, we knew as soon as our mom caught sight of us on the garage roof she would put the kibosh on our fun (isn't that the mission of a parent?) We knew the inevitability of this happening, so the goal was to maximize the amount of roof time before the punishment reigned down. By placing the scaffolding board out of view, this decreased our exposure time before getting caught.

There's something about getting on the roof of a building that is attractive to young boys. Standing on the peak, we felt like Sir Edmund Hillary himself, except we had much more convenient access to the bathroom. We explored the entire top of the garage, which didn't take long being it was a small single-stall. The most exciting part was the electrical lines that ran from the nearby pole over to the house, crossing the garage roof about three feet above peak, and allowing us to do a version of the limbo dance with lethal consequences should we fail.

Merely standing on the roof grew wearisome, and soon we were seeking out our next branch of the adventure tree. This turned out to be jumping off the roof. On the side of the garage facing the house, the yard was pitched so that it ran rather steeply down to the base of the wall. From the wall to the top of the incline was about six feet, with about a three foot rise in that span. What we discovered was that as long as you jumped with enough horizontal distance, the drop was only about five feet.

My brother, who generally was more adventurous than I, was the first one to garner the courage to do it. After he made a few successful jumps, I too joined in the fun. Pretty soon we were running a circuit around the garage, climbing the scaffolding board up to the roof, racing over the peak and launching ourselves into space until we landed with a thud in the grass. It was the best of times.

It was also short lived, as it didn't take long for my mom to glance out the window and see our elementary school version of base jumping. As mothers do so well, she panicked and came out of the door screaming bloody murder. So this was the end of our short-lived boredom buster.

Not that we wouldn't remember this activity for those ill-advised times when my parents left us home alone.

So we had to search for another outlet for our adolescent energy. We removed the scaffolding board from its perch against the side of the garage, which resulted in a near double concussion as it tumbled down.

I don't remember what prompted us to drag the board around to the other side of the garage. At some point, however, we made the discovery that the board placed along the pitched portion of the yard allowed one end to stick up in the air. We being boys naturally understood the simple machine known as the "lever". The peak of the transition from the horizontal portion of the yard to the slope created a natural fulcrum.

Now, we also had the benefit of having a climbing apparatus that used to be referred to as monkey bars or a jungle gym. I don't know if the terms have changed over the years, but I'm guessing it's been replaced with a neutered name such as "play system." Our monkey bars were actually found in one of my mother's dumpster dives, so I guess it wasn't all bad.

In any event, the board was positioned in such a way that a person could climb up the monkey bars and jump off onto the elevated portion of the scaffolding board. The natural result of this action is that whatever object was placed on the lower portion of the board was propelled upward and a very high velocity.

It didn't take long for us to figure out that the most entertaining object to propel into the air would be another boy. Cue the music of "Sabre Dance" by Aram Khachaturian.

It is at this point I am extremely grateful that I had the foresight to go inside and get my camera, so that not only could this activity be documented for future generations, it will also serve as verifiable evidence that I am not making this story up. I don't remember who exactly took this picture, but I seem to think that at some point my friend Shawn stopped by and joined us in the fun. If it wasn't him, then it was a different neighborhood kid.

Me jumping off the monkey bars and propelling my brother into the air

This proved to be an immense amount of entertainment. The momentum generated by jumping off the jungle gym was enough to propel the kid on the other end much higher than the point at which we were jumping off of the garage roof. And despite the fact that much greater heights were now being introduced, my mother didn't seem to have a problem with it. Or perhaps she just gave up for the day.

We would take turns jumping and being launched into the sky, only to come crashing down. Our landings weren't as picturesque as those by the acrobats in the circus, but it didn't matter to us. Somehow we made it through this activity without anyone shattering a femur.

Not to say there were no injuries. My brother, being two and a half years younger than me weighed much less than I. This meant when he was on the end of the board and I jumped off the top of the monkey bars, he would gain much more altitude than I. Unfortunately the pictures turned out a bit blurry, but you can see the result of him becoming a projectile.

My brother Tim getting launched.

We had a great old time until jumping and launching and landing and laughing. The nature of the sloped surface, however, meant that the scaffolding board would slowly work its way down closer to the garage. At some point in time the board had slid underneath the overhang of the garage roof and without either of us noticing, I launched my brother into the air.

Or at least that was my intention. What actually happened was I launched him right up under the overhang where he came to an immediate halt. I still remember the crunching noise. Understandably, he cried for quite a while. I still cringe when I think about the sound.

So Tim declared that he was done with this game and that he was going inside the house. Somehow, I convinced him to launch me one last time so that I could get a picture of him coming down on the board. This resulted in one of the best action photos I have personally taken:

My brother Tim doing the launching.

He jumped and I clicked the camera. Then, in an instantaneous act of brotherly love I hopped off the end of the scaffolding board. The result of this meant when my brother landed on the board, there was no weight on the other end to slow him and he crashed to the ground. So in effect, he had jumped off the top of the jungle gym.

Now it's one thing to jump off the top of the jungle gym when you are prepared for the seven (or so) foot drop. It's another to expect to only fall a couple of feet and then experience a much harder landing than you had anticipated. The net result was another episode of my brother crying and finally storming inside the house. It's a wonder he speaks to me now that we're grown up.

The scaffolding acrobatic team never reformed and the board was placed back in the junk cocoon behind the garage, where it lived for about fifteen more years. The memory of this day's activity will live forever.

It would occasionally get drug out again for the aforementioned roof scaling activities, but it never again was used as a springboard.

The scaffolding board itself met its demise in the mid 1990's when I was helping my father re-shingle the garage. The board was dug out from the same spot it had resided during this time, only now it had seen quite a bit of weather and was noticeably spongy. I was skeptical we should use it, but my dad assured me it was fine.

So we were both standing on the board working on the roof when suddenly we heard a very loud CRACK! We both had time to turn and look at each other with expressions of wonderment, then suddenly the board gave way and we both crashed to the ground.

As we lay on the lawn, I heard a noise. I looked up and saw the air hose from the nail gun noticeably slackening. A split second later the gun came over the edge of the roof. There was nothing we could do but close our eyes. Thankfully the gun landed between our bodies, and didn't discharge.

In the end, we can celebrate the irony that the scaffolding board survived the abuse that we dished upon it over the years, and finally failed while being used for its intended purpose.

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This page last updated on 07/11/2018