Country kids take rain for granted. In fact, country kids are not particularly fond of rain. If you live out in the country, and you get up on a sunny morning, the number of things you can do is almost unlimited. But if it’s raining that same morning the list is cut down to a nub, and one worrisome part of that nub is the possibility that Mom will remember the list of inside chores she’s been after you about for the past three weeks.
But to a city kid, rain expands the possibilities of life in a big way.
For one thing, there’s the curb.
On most days a city curb is a good place to give a miss. Why? Have you ever seen those signs posted all over? CURB YOUR DOG!
You know what that dog is doing on that asphalt while it’s being “curbed?”
It ain’t giving birth to a coconut even if it looks like it might be. It’s getting rid of two pounds of dog scat that started out as one pound of dog chow.
Now you take two pounds per dog — three if it’s a small dog — and you multiply that by two dogs per household, and then by half a million households, and you can begin to understand why a nice deep rush of rainwater racing down the gutters is looked upon by city kids as a genuine blessing.
At last! A chance to run barefoot in the street!
Plus which, there is nothing quite as much fun as watching someone trying to curb a dog while the water is running high. Oh, you think city folks don’t do that? Listen in while a snooty apartment dweller in $500 designer slacks and two-buck flip flops dares to suggest to Rover that he do his thing on the sidewalk while the cop on the beat happens to be watching.
“Hold it, ma’am! Curb your dog.”
“But officer ... !”
“Either that or put a cork in him and take him back up to your place to do it on the rug. Ain’t having none of that on my beat. Why, if my precinct captain was to come along ...”
Just warms the cockles of your heart, doesn’t it?
Anyway, give that same curb just five minutes during a decent rainfall and it’s playtime! Or maybe I should say sailboat time. Even today. Even in the largest cities, some kids — a few — switch off the TV set and put aside the computer, cell, and iPod.
Today, if it doesn’t float, it’s not fun.
So out come the flat sticks, and the little paper boats, and the nut shells, and the curled up leaves just as in my day. But the kids these days have something extra going for them — plastic.
While driving home from work down in the Valley back in ’87 or ’88 I saw an 8- or 9-year-old kid with a styrofoam boat that had a lot going for it. It was an inch thick, a foot wide, and as light as a feather. The kid had loaded a shivering little Chihuahua onto it and was hustling boat and dog down a swift running curb, trotting alongside to keep up.
I drove on and the kid passed out of sight behind me, but then I stopped for a light and kid, boat, and dog swept by me and sped around the corner. It occurred to me all of a sudden that the reason for the speed of that water might be a large drain out of sight around the corner. I looked, but I could see nothing.
The light changed and I rolled forward, turning my head to the side. I was more than a little worried about what I was going to see, and what I saw was definitely not good.
Nothing. No kid. No boat. No dog. Nothing!
Except one bodacious drain sucking in everything in sight.
I braked and got a horn for it, but I wasn’t about to drive off and ignore what I thought might have happened. But then I relaxed. There on the corner, leaning against the building, was a now soaking wet kid and one small, wet, still shivering Chihuahua.
No boat though. I suspect it was on its way to boat Valhalla.
Don’t ask me what happened while boat, dog, and kid were out of sight around the corner in that fast running water. I’d like to know, but no doubt never will. I assessed the kid as not too bright, thinking that anyone with even half a brain should have realized why the water was roaring around that corner. Well, at least he did the smart thing instead of the honorable one.
He didn’t go down with the ship.
On the other hand, about two weeks later, and maybe even in that same block, I saw the same kid and felt forced to revise my opinion of him. This time the water along the curb was even deeper, so deep that it ran a third of the way out into the road, slowing down the traffic to a crawl and giving me a perfect view of the same kid sailing a new ship along the curb, where the water was running rather slowly this time, which no doubt explained the spread of the water into the street.
And what a ship that kid had this time!
Even with the crawling traffic I had perhaps no more than 30 seconds to look at the resplendent clipper ship the kid had launched upon the waves, but I have to say that it was an absolute masterpiece. Imagine a two liter coke bottle lying on its side with the labels removed and a layer of dirt inside it to give it ballast so it would keep one side up. Then picture three tall dowels — not sticks, real dowels, I could see them — jammed through the top side of the bottle and fitted with sails.
And what sails!
Where he got them I don’t know, but the kid had taken at least three bras, cut them into separate cups, and mounted them on his masts with some kind of little spars. And there it was, a splendid windjammer, sailing majestically down the curb under full white, yellow, and pink sail.
Now I’m not sure of the dynamics of sailing, but let me tell you, the way that kid had that ship rigged I feel certain it could quite easily have sailed upstream against the flow in a good wind.
And I’m even more certain that you guys out there would just love an introduction to the original owner of one of those sails.
It would have made a pretty fair parachute.