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WARNING: THIS SITE FEATURES ORIGINAL THINKING...Jim Croce once sang Don't tug on Superman's cape..., which seems like reasonable advice should we not wish to anger the supreme powers. We do have this duality in our culture: the Superman that is the state collective, the leftist call to a politics of meaning managed by the state, the deification of "we're from the government and we'll take care of you" - versus the Superman that celebrates individual freedom, private property, freedom of conscience, free enterprise, and limited government. We humbly take on the latter's mantle and, eschewing the feeble tug, we dare to PULL, in hope of seeing freedom's rescue from the encroaching nanny state. We invite you, dear reader, to come and pull as well... Additionally, if you assume that means that we are unflinching, unquestioning GOP zombies, that would be incorrect. We reject statism in any form and call on individuals in our country to return to the original, classical liberalism of our founders. (We're also passionate about art, photography, cooking, technology, Judeo/Christian values, and satire as unique, individual pursuits of happiness to celebrate.)

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May 02, 2005
The Coming Environmental Disaster - Episode III-Toys
Filed in: Current Affairs, Satire

Episode III – Toys or “ What Happened To The Lead In My #2 Pencils?” – or, “What did we ever do without the Consumer Protection Agency”?

In the mid to late forties, toy selection from commercial sources was abysmal.  Wartime shortages and general lack of disposable income seemed to be the main reason for this situation.  We had Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys and my all time favorite Erector Sets.  I’m happy to see they survive to this day.  I suspect, however, they survive not because of child consumer demand, but more likely children’s Grandpas consumer demand.  I insist on having my grandsons follow my path and that includes ownership of all the toys listed above.  I knew I was fighting a losing battle when my youngest grandson, Geoff sat in front of a pile of Lincoln Logs and asked, “Grandpa, Where do I turn it on?”  Lifting little Geoff, age 5, to my knee, I called for Ruby, also 5, and Samantha age 8 to join us.  Stevie (a name he no longer tolerates), 13, is unavailable.  He’s plugged in to his X Box with earphones and microphone conversing with other participants as they play the latest destroy-everything –in-sight game.  I was initially concerned by these games, but as I learn more about them they are actually acting as a counter to the Left-wing propaganda spewed on a daily basis by members of the Wisconsin Education Association Council.

A topic for another episode just entered my mind.  A game where all the objects of our ire are well-know Democrats.  Hmmmm, this could work!  I digress.  That seems to be happening to me a lot more lately.

Are you all comfortable, I said?  Yes, they said.  And off we go back in time to the forties and a simpler, less stressful and riskier time. 

School was out for the summer in 1948.  My friends and I have been waiting anxiously for this.  We were free and ready for action.  We did not have much in the way of organized athletics.  With the exception of Grade School football and basketball nothing!  No Little League yet!  So, by necessity we improvised.  For example, we had two versions of baseball.  First, we played what we called over the wall.  Eight of us marched each day to a park we called South Shore (the official name was Roosevelt Park).  All of us batted right handed so we’d line up on the left side of a make shift diamond and start our game.  The wall was a chain-link fence surrounding the Tennis Courts.  No one and I mean no one played tennis in those days so we didn’t have to worry if the ball went over the fence.  Hence, we had our name, “Over the Wall.” 

Our second selection of baseball was a game we called “Fast Pitch”.  This involved going to Stephen Bull School yard and marking off 60 feet for the pitcher’s mound and drawing a strike zone on the wall of the building behind the plate. With a regular wood bat (no aluminum for us you woosies) and a tennis ball we shouted Play Ball.  Pretty ordinary stuff, right?

Well, it wasn’t sunny everyday.  At age eight, with World War II still fresh in my mind, explosive ordinance occupied an important part of my immature brain space.  We couldn’t actually buy explosives so we had to improvise.  Today I’m sure we’d be arrested as terrorists for what I am about to describe.  The sound of explosions was music to our ears, but “Cherry Bombs” (M-80’s for you youngsters) were hard to come by.  We had to solve our lack of firepower some way, but how?  Well there is an old method that every boy of that era knew.  The materials were readily available and the result impressive. 

First, we would sneak into our houses and obtain a heaping handful of kitchen matches.  With a knife we would carefully cut the tips off the matches.  Soon a pile of 50 or 60 match tips was sitting in front of us.  While most of us were doing that, the others would head off to the gas station and see if any nuts and bolts could be found.  The larger the nut and bolt the better.   One day in July my friends Joe and Dan were looking for bolts and came across the mother load.  While walking the tracks they spotted huge nuts and bolts that must have fallen off the train.  We had three full sets.

A find like this required more matches.  We were now in the big leagues of pyrotechnics. With three boxes of matches in our procession we began the delicate task of creating our masterpiece.  The secret in preparing the device was to leave as much space as possible in the threaded nut to allow a substantial amount of our match tip fuel to be inserted.  Some space must be left to thread the second bolt into the nut.  This was the critical step in the process.  Carelessness here and fingers, eyes, and a possible limb or two would be taken off.   When the two bolts had been secured to the nut we were ready for action.

This particular day we chose the street in front of my house as the firing range. Standing, what we felt was, a safe distance from the impact zone; I threw the giant nut and bolt device as far as I could.  Upon impact with the ground a tremendous explosion occurred.  One of the bolts flew off and hit the fence surrounding Zieger’s Grocery Store. A large oblong hole was the result.  The second bolt flew in the other direction and penetrated the window of a 39” Plymouth Coupe’.  The nut was never recovered. I suspect it was a block or two from the impact point.  Needless to say, the gang was in serious trouble that day.  The whole problem was that there was no Consumer Product Safety Board to show us the error of our ways.  Did we learn our lesson?  Of course not!  We feigned repentance and continued on.

At this point in the story, Ruby asked, “Grandpa, is this why you always go to the store on I 94 and buy illegal fireworks?  Yes, I answered, it is because I was deprived as a child”.  Samantha said, Grandpa, your making up stories again.  And Stevie was still talking to someone in cyberspace about the quantity of virtual guts that had been spilled.

Another activity was our version of “Soap Box Derby”.  Unlike today where fathers engineer their children’s cars, buy them crash helmets, fire retardant suits covered with decals and have Dale Jr. autograph the car, we were on our own.  Our materials consisted of an orange crate, some loose boards and a pair of old roller skates.  Supplies – a hammer, some nails and sand paper.  That was it.  No sleek aerodynamic vehicles for us.  A crate nailed to two boards and metal roller skates nailed to the bottom of the boards.  The construction process was quick and not concerned with the durability of the vehicle.

First you fixed the roller skates to the boards with about four nails in each skate.  Second, you nailed the orange crate to the boards.  And finally (this is the most important step) you sanded the orange crate very carefully.  If you missed this step it is likely you’d come home with a butt full of splinters.  That done, we found some oil and bathed our roller skate wheels in it.  The reason for this was simple the skates had been lying in the junk pile and were rusted solid.  We were ready for the race.  Off to South Shore Park again!

There was this hill at the park.  Some would have described it as more of a cliff.  Each of us lined up our poorly constructed flimsy orange crates waiting for someone to say go.  I guess it was Ron (In my day it was mandatory for every third boy child to be named Ron or Ronnie as everyone called us.  In a group of ten or twelve guys, someone would call out Ronnie and four of us would answer).  Off we sped, no helmets, no kneepads, no elbow pads, only skin and bone.  It was about three seconds into the roll that I realized something, there is no way to steer this thing.  I was gaining speed at a rate I did not anticipate.  The well-oiled wheels were actually turning.  At first, I didn’t feel any pain.  But, once I saw the blood my reaction was intense and immediate.

I had a large deep gash in my hand where part of the orange crate skewered me.  Should I go home or try self-treatment and try to avoid the inevitable lecture that would be waiting.  Self-treatment for sure!  Beside the lecture I would get a dose of Iodine as well.  So, I wrapped my hand in oily rags as tight as I could and hoped the bleeding would stop before suppertime.  If I kept my hand closed they (my mother and father) wouldn’t notice.  That worked, that is, until the next morning and my pillowcase and sheet were covered with my type O+.  Now I had to pay for my carelessness, blood soaked bedclothes (I always wonder why they called sheets and pillowcases clothes), and a large swabbing of Iodine. 

My seemingly endless medical mishaps remind me of my favorite hand made toy.  For those of you old enough to remember medical thermometers that aren’t digital, you probably know where I’m going.  On boring rainy days before the good radio shows came on the air, we were desperate for entertainment.   This game required a strong container, and blunt object and one medical thermometer.  First you break the tip off the thermometer and allow the silvery metallic liquid to flow into the container.  Dispose of the glass remnants and the fun begins.

In the container is this silver liquid ball just sitting there, not entertaining at all.  But, with a well-placed sharp blow the liquid breaks into many little silver balls that fly around the container.  By moving the container to induce slight movement the balls join together and return to the original single ball form.  Repeat this over and over or until you get bored or “Terry and the Pirates” came on the Motorola Radio.  The liquid, by the way, was Mercury (If you hadn’t guessed). 

Were I to perform this activity for the Grand Children today the Burlington Fire Department, wearing Haz Mat suits, would be breaking down the front door and rushing the Grand Kids out in sterilized bubbles.  I, of course, would be arrested for child abuse.  They’d probably institute the death penalty in Wisconsin just for me.

Another little medicine cabinet innovation was based on the functionality of a particular item found in every 1940’s home.  When a kid got sick there were two medical options available.  First, Cod Liver Oil!  AAAAArrrrrrggghhhh!  I rather deal with the symptoms of leprosy than take a swallow of Cod Liver Oil.  Next, another harrowing experience for a youngster with the flu.  The dreaded long plastic hollow tip with the sturdy rubber ball attached to the end.  You know what this was used for, don’t you?  The enema tool, Yikes!  No wonder I hardly ever missed a day at Holy Name Grade School.  Being kids, we were able to find a use for this dreaded tool that was much more fun.

The formula was to gather up a number of #2 lead pencils. You know the kind, the ones you needed two hands to hold.  Get a knife and split the wood covering the precious lead.  If done right, the lead would drop out in one piece.  This was not really necessary because the game required further processing.  Gathering up the lead and placing it in multiple layers of paper, place the paper on a concrete curb and with a hammer pound the lead into a fine power.  Carefully pour the powder into the rubber ball of the device mentioned above and magic you had a weapon.  This was much better than the traditional squirt gun because it left a telltale deposit behind.

This particular day the object of our attack was a friend.  His name was Larry, we all called him Sundown.  Larry’s mother was insistent that he be in the house before the streetlights went on, hence the name.  Unfortunately for him it stuck with him throughout his life.  He died a year ago and the gang was still calling him Sundown.  Anyhow, four of us were lying in wait for Larry to show up at Stephen Bull School (Our nickname for the school was the Zoo – I have to tell you about that someday too).  Joe was the look out and Dan, Ron, Jim and I were armed.  Joe yelled here he is and we jumped from our cover squeezing the rubber balls with vigor, aiming face high only to find out that it wasn’t Sundown, it was Lucky the beat Cop in our neighborhood.  After the attack, he kind off looked like Al Jolsen singing mammy.  Only his white uniform shirt was also covered with the black lead powder.  This offense was official and the gang was assigned community service (we called it detention) with the threat that Reform School was not far away.  Joe, of course, got away as usual.  He looked so innocent no one believed he could be guilty of anything.

If there were a Top Ten List of Dangerous Toys in my day, they would have been the most popular.  One thing that never bothered us was risk.  We had fun and as a result we took risk.  Some times we won, some times we lost, but we always had fun.

And I must remind you once again in 1940 the life expectancy was 62.9 years and in 2005 it is 77.6 years.  How can it be that I’m still here writing this?  I must be some freak of nature.  OK kids stop laughing and get off my knee.

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