I know I am not alone in this. As the last weeks of summer have begun to give way to the beginning of the school year, I have been glued to Netflix, watching the oddly compelling story on Stranger Things.
If you have not watched any of this eight-episode Netflix original I will not ruin it for you here. However, if you spent any time as a kid in the 1970s or 1980s, loved Stand By Me, or The Goonies, or Close Encounters… you will absolutely flip for Stranger Things.
Early on in the series, I noticed something that has always bothered me. I am talking about the idea that kids are generally not to be believed, while adults get the benefit of the doubt in nearly every situation.
We all know humanity comes in a wide spectrum of intelligence and rarely does a dim-witted child grow up to be anything but a larger version of the same. If we all accept this truth, then it would stand to reason some meaningful percentage of smarter children could regularly outwit the adults who reside on the opposite side of the bell curve. No matter the logic, kids typically have a much greater burden of proof when they have something unbelievable to share and I don’t see this changing anytime soon.
As the story of Stranger Things has unfolded before me, I was reminded of two particular situations from my youth when, until I presented irrefutable proof, the freaking grown-ups simply wouldn’t listen.
Growing up, we participated in the classic April Fools Day pranks:
- Salt in the sugar bowl
- Saran wrap over the toilet bowl
- Talcum powder donuts
- Cutting the bottom out of the cereal box
By the time my brother, sister and I were a little older, none of these stand-bys were fooling anyone. For a few years, April 1st came and went with no meaningful shenanigans at 29 Surrey Place, but we all knew it was only a matter of time before something new happened.
Last year I wrote about my son Oliver taking this springtime prank tradition to a whole new level in a story called, Won’t Get Fooled Again, but what happened to me when I was ten was a different situation entirely.
March 31, 1979, was a very rainy day in Penfield, NY. After lunch, my friend Michael came over and we went upstairs to my room. We might have been playing with Legos or my Erector set, but I can’t say for sure. What I do remember is we eventually got bored with what we were doing and we ventured into the semi-off-limits space known as my sister’s room. She, of course, was not in her room, so we were just poking around looking for something to pique our interest when Michael blurted out, “Oh man, look at that!”
I looked up to see him, mouth open, staring out my sister’s window. I took two steps toward him and then I saw it. From the vantage point of the second story window, we could see the entire backyard of our next-door neighbor. In the center of their backyard was a twenty-four foot, above ground pool. It had been raining so hard that the pool had overflowed and was collapsing right before our eyes.
We stood there in utter amazement for what seemed like ten minutes (but was probably more like thirty seconds), before deciding it was best to go tell a grown-up.
We clambered down the stairs and found my mother in the kitchen.
In the way that excited children do, we tried to explain to my mother that something big was afoot out in the neighbor’s yard. There was only one problem… she was on the phone. As Michael and I jumped up and down, pointed towards the imploding pool and made a mishmash of excited kid sounds, my mother just “shushed” us and walked as far away as the long green cord would allow her.
Michael and I walked over to the kitchen door and watched out the window as water continued to pour out onto the neighbor’s lawn.
Eventually, my mom finished her call and said, “now what were you two making so much noise about?” Calmly, we explained how we were upstairs and saw the neighbor’s pool collapsing and how it was still falling apart in the pouring rain. She smiled and with a knowing glance said, “Oh, you two. Tomorrow is April First, you’re not going to get me that easily.” She turned and walked away.
Michael and I looked out the window at the collapsing pool, and then again at each other. After a moment, we chose to chase down my mother and drag her to the window. Once she saw we weren’t kidding, she immediately got on the phone and within thirty minutes there were a dozen people working to keep the pool next door from flooding all of our basements.
Whew, that was close.
Always Practice Safe Sausage
My father has only one brother and my mother is an only child. So, my brother, sister and I were a little light in the aunt and uncle department. But as they say, when God closes a door, he opens a window and it just so happened my mother’s mother was one of six. So although I only had the one uncle on my dad’s side, my mother’s family provided me with a handful of Great Aunts & Uncles.
The majority of these “once removed” elder aunts and uncles lived in the same town of Jamestown NY, to which we would journey at least once a year.
I wrote in greater detail about this branch of this family in another story called Jamestown Milk, which you may enjoy. However, the crux of this particular “don’t believe the child” incident took place well before we ever got there.
I must have been four or five years old. We set out mid-morning on the three-hour drive to Jamestown in our full-sized, brown Ford Rand Wagon. Although we were typically the family on the picnic benches eating egg salad sandwiches, for some reason on this particular trip my parents decided to spring for lunch at a NYS Thruway Rest Stop.
We pulled into the Angola Rest Area, about half way into our drive to Jamestown. Angola is, in my opinion, the coolest of all highway rest areas, because you park your car and then travelers in both the east and westbound directions cross a footbridge to the restaurant which sits atop the median in the middle of the highway.
My brother and I ran across the bridge, stopping briefly to look down on the speeding cars and trucks thirty feet below.
In the early 1970s, NYS Thruway rest areas were not full of fast food joints like they are today. You basically had two options: sit-down restaurant or cafeteria. The Nazarians opted for the cafeteria.
My Dad grabbed a tray and walked the length of the food shelves with my brother and me. My mom and sister walked just behind us. I don’t remember what I got to drink, or if I picked up chips, a pickle or even a cookie. I do remember I selected a hot dog for my main course.
We got our food, paid the lady at the register and found a place to sit.
We all sat quietly eating our food, but when I took the first bite of my hot dog, I knew something was wrong. Very much like a clear, saran-wrap condom, my hot dog was completely encased in plastic.
The bun and condiments were totally normal, but the dog itself was basically laminated.
Thinking I might be a bit off my nut, I took a second bite, but when it was as unpleasant as the first, I decided to tell my dad. I tugged on his sleeve and said, “Dad, um, my hot dog is covered in plastic.”
He looked down at me and with a knowing smile said, “not it’s not honey, some hot dogs have a thicker casing than others – yours must just be one of those.”
Being an agreeable child, I took another bite. I tried to imagine this foul experience was by design, but it was so nasty I simply couldn’t accept it. Rather than bug my dad again, I just kept taking bites and removing the shredded plastic from my mouth as I ate.
I was about three-quarters of the way through my lunch when my dad looked over and pointing at the pile of shredded plastic sheath asked, “What is that?” I calmly explained that it was the aforementioned plastic from the outside of my hot dog. He picked up the remaining 25% of my lunch, and on close examination pulled a perfectly formed plastic shroud from the remaining stub of wiener.
He immediately apologized for not believing me and said, “Come with me.”
With the remainder of my lunch in hand, we walked back up to the cafeteria line where he politely explained the situation. Moments later we were walking back to the table with a brand new, unvarnished hot dog; which I proceeded to eat in only a few bites.
Many times in the future when some adult would doubt a “child-like” claim of mine, the story of the plastic hot dog would be brought up and I would at least get a fair hearing before being dismissed as just another nutty kid.
How many times have your kids made you feel stupid because you didn’t believe what they were telling you? Next time a little one pipes up with a story that seems too goofy to be true, give the kid a break and fully listen to what they have to say.
Crazy kid story turns out to be true? There are certainly stranger things.
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved