Playgrounds of the Imagination
Song sung blue, everybody knows one
Song sung blue, every garden grows one
That's the sound of Summer, July 1972. It wafts over from Barry Bates' radio on his back porch, three houses up. Plainview Drive is a dead-end spur off Princeton Pike with 13 houses on one side and 12 on the other. Nobody's yards are fenced in. I can run from the Franks' back yard all the way down to the Goodmans'. And I often do.
But more often I'm on my steed, my Schwinn Sting-Ray with a banana seat and a padded sissy bar sheathed in blue plastic with sparkles in it. My handles have blue tassels. I ride all the way up the slight grade to Princeton Pike, turn around and roar down to the dead-end. And while I do this, I am not a 9-year-old boy named Tommy Womack, I am the homicidal fanatic Japanese pilot Mishikushi Takanowa, guiding his Mitsubishi Zero down onto Pearl Harbor. That's not asphalt beneath my bicycle wheels, it's the Pacific Ocean, and I'm yelling, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" Sprinklers tilt away from me. Dogs and toddlers cower under my assault.
It's the summer of the new window unit in our living room. It's a day and age when central air conditioning is a newfangled thing only availed to the well heeled. Brian Bassett's house at the top of the street has central air, but I think of him as a rich kid anyway, because his house has a two-car garage. A giant fridge-like box is in back of their house groaning and rumbling, and it sends sweet deliciously chilled air into every vent of their house. I'm in Brian's house a lot. It's delightful. But the Womacks are catching up. We now not only have a window unit in the kitchen but a brand-new one in the living room as well. It's loud, so we turn the television up even louder. It's deafening in there, but cooler.
Summertime when school's out is the best feeling in the world. I'm out of the house by ten in the morning and I won't do much more than pop in for pee breaks and Kool-Aid until seven or eight in the evening. There's whiffle ball in Terry Cates' back yard, kickball in Kerry Alsbrook's back yard, and when we play army, the whole neighborhood becomes a war zone, whether Mr. Polley wants us running through his back yard or not. We carry what look to be simple sticks that have fallen from trees, but they're really machine guns, and when we fire them we grunt "unn unn unn unn unn unn uhhhhh!!!" God help anyone caught in the crossfire. We'll cut you to ribbons. The fate of the free world is in our hands.
It's eight in the evening and the sky has gone dusky. Lightning bugs are blinking all over Layne Smith's back yard. We're on his swing set and Barry Bates' radio is still playing.
I know a place, ain't nobody cryin' I'll take you there
I blaze on my bike back home, dismounting in the front yard while the wheels are still rolling. I run in the front door and feel that luscious cold air. Dad's in his recliner and Flip Wilson is on the TV. (Loud.) I run to the window unit and stand in front of it, pulling my shirt up so that it balloons.
They say happiness is not experienced, it is remembered. Whoever said that was never nine years old in front of a brand-new air conditioner.