I believe in the barefoot, bubble-wrap-free, no-adult-supervision summers of my youth. Growing up in suburban New Jersey in the 1970s, I would launch out the back door of my house in the early morning wearing only a bathing suit and towel. Blades of dewy cut grass would stick to my bare feet as I sprinted across the lawn and hopped on my banana-seat Schwinn, riding down the street to the Fry sisters house – no helmet, no protective footwear or body armor. We’d race our bikes to the town pool, where we’d spend the day doing cannon balls off the high dive and ignoring the “no-running” commands from the teenaged lifeguards. Lunch was snack bar Pixie Sticks and French fries, bought with our collective change from our piggy banks and the coins that found their way from our dads’ pockets to the tops of bedroom dressers and the bottom of sofa cushions. Water-logged, our chests aching from a day of freestyle races, underwater breath-holding contests, and shouts of Marco Polo, we’d ride back to our neighborhood for an afternoon game of street kickball with the Roberto boys. We were left to referee our own fights over rule violations and used our soggy pool towels to wipe the blood off inevitable scraped knees. Holding the ball, curbside, we players would cock a hip to the side and look down, tapping our blackened, calloused feet on the steaming asphalt, as we waited for the car to pass, an unwelcome invader from the adult world. After best out of three, we’d hear the tinny ice cream truck music calling us to cool Bomb Pop and lemon ice relief – just in time to spoil dinner. Sun fading, towels wrapped around our shoulders, we’d retreat to our respective houses for a rushed evening meal after we couldn’t ignore our mothers’ shouts anymore. But parental presence was like a Peanuts cartoon – “wa-wa-wa-wa” sounds from distant big people unseen, out of frame. After begging to play outside just a little while more, our parents would release us to the wild before the inevitable bath and bedtime when the street lights came on. The after-dinner activities began with hide-and-seek kids clustering behind maple trees and parked cars while one of us counted to a hundred and shouted, “ready or not, hear I come.” Lightning bug catching followed, the sadists among us removing the little light-up part of the bug. Then we’d hear it. A sound inciting a frenzy far beyond any excitement the ice cream man could muster. It was a low whining sound, similar to a vacuum cleaner that would get louder and louder until we’d see a glorious flash of orange turn onto our block. The bug spray truck! The city workers would lumber down the street in an orange truck spewing out a delightful thick grey cloud of mosquito-annihilating DDT. We’d all race behind it, disappearing from the world of cares and street lights coming on and grown-ups calling us inside, into an eternal grey summer fog of barefoot, carefree, wild, filthy childhood bliss.
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