The Gift That Keeps on MaimingOpinion
My friend, Jackie Holloway, always had cooler stuff than I did while we were growing up, so, when I got the chance, I always enjoyed spending a weekend at his house. He had guns, and a mini bike, and right across the road from his house was a sand plant where they dug frac sand out of the ground. There were several acres of waste sand, which we used as a substitute for the Sahara Desert, so we could play Rat Patrol. A lot of that waste sand ended up on the floor of Jackie’s house.
He also had a Slip‘N Slide, one of those long plastic mats you could stake out in your yard and slide on. We’d been playing on that one summer day, but had quit, and Jackie’s dad had turned off the water hose attached to it. I decided, later, to take one more slide while no one was looking. I took a good running start, dove onto the slide, and came to a sudden, surprisingly painful stop when I hit the plastic. For future reference, those things don’t work very well when they’re dry. Plus, when they’ve sat in the sun for an hour with no water, they get really, really hot.
That happened in the mid 1970s. It wasn’t until 1993 that the Consumer Product Safety Commission found out what I’d done. Well, not me, specifically, but a lot of people, apparently. They issued a warning about the Slip’N Slide. Actually, it was mostly a warning for adults, since the slides aren’t long enough for big people. At least one teenager and seven adults have either become paralyzed or gotten bad neck injuries from Slip’N Slides. Good summer fun.
Perhaps a Slip’N Slide is not at the top of your children’s Christmas list, but that’s not the only dangerous toy out there. In a radical departure from my usual Christmas Gift Guide MO, I’ve decided to write this column very early this year, so you’ll know what not to buy your kids. Or what to buy them, if you don’t like them. What you do with the guide is up to you.
Now, when I was a kid, and someone got hurt using a dangerous product, they pretty much patched themselves up and went on with life. Our society was not so litigious at that time. Toy manufacturers offered some fun stuff, and depended on the safety feature that God gave us to keep us from getting hurt doing stupid things. That safety feature was called ‘parents.’ Our folks usually stopped us from hurting ourselves too badly, and hauled us to the doctor when we did.
It’s a different story now, but perhaps you’re old enough to remember the kind of roller skates I had back in the 1960s. They were made out of sharp steel and leather straps, and they were designed so the front end came off your shoe just about the time you got going good. The skate would flip under your foot and the strap would mash the metal into your Achilles tendon and try to cut it in two, which was just as well, since the wheels rarely rolled.
Well, there was an off-shoot version of these skates during the 1970s called Moon Shoes. They didn’t attach much better, and instead of stationary wheels on the bottom, they had springs. The idea, I think, was to allow a kid to bounce on them to achieve Emergency Room height. Unfortunately, the Moon Shoes were made from the same sharp-edged, soup can metal as the skates, and typically came off in mid-bounce, which gave a kid something to land on besides the soft lawn.
Then there was the Gilbert Glass Blowing Set from the 1950s, and the Mattel Creepy Crawler Set that my brother and I had. Honestly, parents these days are entirely too overprotective, if they object to kids running hot plates in their rooms and squirting liquid plastic into them. And I can’t think of anything more fun for a youngster than heating a big wad of glass to 1000 degrees, getting it to a nice, malleable molten state, and then blowing air into it with a metal straw. What could go wrong?
We’re not even going to mention the U-238 Atomic Energy Lab. There has to be a line someplace, and I’m personally opposed to a world in which we have to seriously consider the threat of nuclear-capable ten-year-olds. But it was a real thing.
Lawn darts, on the other hand, were a lot of fun. I remember when someone brought a set of those to the summer camp I went to as a kid. The idea was to throw them so they came down in a circle on the ground, but that was boring, so we started throwing them straight up to see what would happen. It turns out one of those things will make a pretty impressive hole in a sheet of 26 gauge roofing tin.
To be clear, none of these toys were dangerous, with adequate adult supervision. I don’t think we need to worry about toys these days as much as we need to worry about adequate adults . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who still has a slight limp from those skates. Write to him at [email protected].