We took our sons to a playground today. Two actually. It was a standard autumn weekend in our town, the kind of morning that always makes me think of someone’s phrase (I think maybe Gusfield, or if not him then Kerr, possibly Rorabaugh) about the “peace of a Protestant Sunday.” A day when there was little traffic, the leaves had only just began to fall, and it was too cold to go swimming but not yet cold enough to need a jacket.
Our boys (ages 5 and 7) have tired of most the playgrounds we go to. Some of that is the older boy affecting an attitude. Some of that is genuine ennui with the same play structures. And some of that is bafflement and unease at the more popular places, the places where one could (ostensibly) make new friends, but where no-one is wearing masks.
And so first we tried a new play space. One that is hard by the levee, not too far from where the sidewalk ends and the industrial spaces have yet to be reclaimed by gentrification. The kind of neighborhood where the Catholics, and the better sort of Evangelicals, do their level best to reclaim the down-and-out. The kind of neighborhood where live the sorts of people about whom Steinbeck, and McWilliams, and Gardner wrote.
The kind of neighborhood where well-meaning City Fathers can invest quite a lot of money in a playground splashpad that gets used, quite honestly, rarely and only really ever for showers. Where the drinking fountains quite often have a sort of whitish film in the water from where people have done their laundry, using plain bath soap. Where the play structures themselves hardly ever get used by children because they provide such very good shad for sleeping it off.
Where well-meaning ushers at the “multi-cultural, welcoming” outpost of a megachurch in the city’s richest suburban can approach two gay dads and invite them in to services, despite mistaking our younger son’s name (a standard Old Testament prophet) for a reference to a minor character in the Star Wars franchise. Where such well-meaning ushers can then be cursed at by freshly-awoken drunks pouring forth the kind of racist screeds that I last heard in Texas.
Someday, when I’m paying for therapy for my children, I know this moment will come back to haunt me.
And yet there is also that moment where the train goes by on the levee. You know the one, the superliner headed east with the observation car. The train where you can finish off three novels in between falling asleep somewhere outside of Elko, waking up in Green River, falling asleep again when the land becomes flat right around Denver, waking up in Des Moines, and stepping off in Chicago just in time for tea. That train is what I want my kids to remember, and what I know they won’t.
So instead we went to the other playground. The one where all the parents from low-incomes neighborhoods bring their kids, it being in the very heart of a rich neighborhood, where no one talks about the fact that they had to install a grinder in the toilet of the bathroom to deal with all the needles, where no one, but no one, was wearing a mask.
A delicate balance, you see. Trying to determine the real dangers for our as-yet unvaccinnated children.