by Chris Cochems
Serendipity n -- The faculty of making fortunate and unexpected discoveries by accident.
Synergy n -- The action of two or more substances, organs or organisms to achieve an effect of which each is individually incapable.
Being 7 in July, 1954 meant many things. It meant that playing all summer was not considered a waste of time. It also meant that your mother probably didn't work. Every day was a new adventure. Children were called kids, and Summer Break was called vacation. Of course there were rules. The uniform of the day was cut-off jeans -- and, if your mother woke up before you did, shoes. Everyone had to watch for the Good Humor Man and the Helms Bakery truck -- you had to spot them in time to run into the house, and beg your mother for money before they passed by. Nobody could do anything that would cause a parent to come outside and yell. Oh, and "my mom said not to talk to strangers, and come home before dark." Of course, whatever any mom said applied equally to all of us -- mom was more of a function than a specific person. Everyone had heard of kidnapping, but it was not something that happened. The term "substance abuse" had not been invented, primarily because there were no substances in our neighborhood to abuse. In short, we were the otters of Southern California, free to play at almost anything.
"We" were an association of professional 7-year-olds, granted membership by virtue of being male, 7 years old, and living in the same post-WW2 housing tract. Meetings were 7 days a week, sunrise to sunset, although attendance was not mandatory for every meeting. Meeting location was my front yard for two reasons. First, another member lived next door, but his parents planted dichondra, and we were discouraged from being on Dennis' lawn. Second, and most importantly, we lived on the street at the extreme edge of the tract, and had a cow pasture directly across the street. Mind you, the pasture itself was fenced with barbed wire and off limits; it was only useful for looking over the fence for dead gophers and throwing rocks into puddles after a rain. The important part was the 10 foot dirt strip between the pavement and the fence. As the pasture was three or four feet higher than street level, this dirt area sloped up to the pasture level. In pre Disneyland 1954, this was the closest thing we had to a "Magic Kingdom," and it was wondrous.
Imagine a jungle of Chenopodium (also known as Lambs Tongue) and tumbleweeds miles (actually one whole block) long and dirt to dig in. Lambs Tongue branches made perfect (although non-functional) bows and arrows, and provided habitat for spiders to hunt. Tumbleweeds were chiefly useful for covering forts (immense excavations in the dirt) or for hiding secret tunnels from fort to fort. We would work all day tunneling, carefully hide the tunnel with tumbleweeds, and ask our parents to come see our new tunnel "tomorrow." Mysteriously, the tunnels always collapsed during the night.
On this particular July morning, I was the second one up, and was greeted by Dennis with:
"There's a can of beer in the weeds."
"Empty or full?," I asked, not really excited yet.
"Full," he answered. This was marginally more interesting.
"Show me," I said.
Sure enough, there hidden amongst the tumbleweeds, was a can of beer. This can of beer, however, was slightly larger than normal. As a matter of fact, it was about three feet high, and two feet in diameter. This was a treasure well worth savoring. Tumbleweed scratches on our bare legs convinced us that the can really needed to be in the street.
We pushed and pushed, but the can stayed safely in the tumbleweeds. It apparently did not yet know that it was in the wrong place. Necessity being the mother of invention (this is as incontrovertible as the fact that toilet seats only have one approved position, and men always get it wrong), we invented the lever. A 2 x 4 and a cinderblock brick later, the can caught on, and obligingly rolled out of the tumbleweeds, across the by then 98 degree asphalt and into the gutter across the street. At this point, after the real work was done, the rest of the association arrived.
Something was now clearly wrong about the position of the can -- it was lieing on it's side. With a full quorum, however, tipping it onto its end -- first the top down, then the top up -- was not too strenuous. Of course the fact that the temperature of the can was now nearly the same as the asphalt temperature meant that you had to do things quickly.
We basked in the glory of our triumphs at length -- almost 90 entire seconds -- then decided the can must have more amusement planned for us. The cork at the top of the can provided the answer by fairly screaming "open me." A quick tug on the cork showed that we needed tools, and a mom ruling on the operation was deemed necessary, as none of the existing rules applied to opening beer cans. So Dennis disappeared into his garage in search of suitable tools, carefully avoiding the sparse patch of dichondra, and I led a spirited brigade to "ask my mom."
Imagine yourself basking in a bubble-bath, almost asleep, and at peace with the world, when a mob of seven-year-old boys bursts through the bathroom door. As you dive beneath the bubbles, the mob speaks excitedly: "We found a can a beer across the street. Can we open it?" "Ok, but don't drink any, and CLOSE THE DOOR NOW" you calmly answer. The mob emerged from the house with a victory shout -- "She said ok." Remember, permission from any mother was permission for everyone. Dennis was waiting with all of the tools anyone could ever need -- a hammer and a screwdriver.
How long does it take for a highly motivated workforce of seven year old boys to puncture a cork with a hammer and screwdriver? Almost exactly as much time as it takes a mother having second thoughts to leap out of a bubble bath, pull on a robe, and emerge dripping from the front door. The beer geyser was in full eruption by then, at least 30 feet into the air, and the beer river had reached half way down the block. We were dancing jubilantly under the geyser, and were thrilled to discover that 100 plus degree cans of beer empty completely if shaken then punctured abruptly with a hammer and screwdriver. And that, Mrs. Williams, is why Scott came home today from my house smelling like a brewery.
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