Tipping the Sliding Scale

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What’s that Lassie? Daddy’s stuck in a 24” diameter 20-foot spiral durable thermoplastic tube slide? Sadly, it’s true, and before I lose all feeling in my extremities and depart on my vision quest, which should happen any moment now due to a combination of hunger, sleep-deprivation, cramped darkness, and because one of the rescue workers looks alarmingly like Matthew Modine, I should explain how I got myself into this predicament.

A few days ago (or has it been weeks? I’ve lost all sense of the passage of time in here) we brought Jack to a newly constructed playground a few towns over and we were still 7 miles out when its flagged spires and soaring cupolas first appeared from behind the tree line. Minutes later we pulled into the parking lot, stepped from the car and stared in speechless awe at the grandeur and excess of this tribute to modern architecture, infant intemperance and pre-school pleasure seeking. Before us rose a living and literal Tower of Babel sculpted from the finest plastics school and property taxes could buy and constructed to stimulate and captivate every child’s mind, body, spirit while challenging every parent’s vocal chords, nervous system and intestinal constitution. (“GET DOWN FROM THERE! Oh my God he’s going to break his neck. I just threw-up a little bit in my mouth.)

Soft synthetics, 100% post-consumer recycled high Density polyethylene (HDPE), internal fiberglass-reinforcing, textured slip-resistant deck surfaces and triple-coated rust-proof galvanized steel molded into colorful slides, climbing walls, balance beams, log rolls, stepping stones, staircases, cargo nets, alphabet boards, spinning letter blocks and a Baccarat table swarmed with hundreds of children like paparazzi outside a Paris Hilton court hearing. As Jack was assimilated by the impish horde a wee lass lost her balance on a spiral staircase that Eschered from the first to the third level. Before anyone could react she fell and plummeted to the ground where she bounced. Bounced! The ground in the parks I grew up playing on consisted of concrete, packed sand and medical waste, but this playground was built on a rubberized base. The only rubber we saw on playgrounds as kids were the used condoms left next to the teeter-totters by sexually active teenagers and occasionally George Michael. And with that memory, WHAM, I was lost in a flashback of nostalgic reverie for the beloved character-building tetanus shot requiring playground equipment of my youth.

The Slide (aka The Slippery Griddle) – Machine hammered sheet metal riveted to salvaged lead electrical conduit pipes at an 80 degree angle. Surface temperature in direct sunlight greater than that of space shuttle heat shield tiles upon re-entering earth’s atmosphere. Numerous substantiated accounts of exposed leg skin liquefying on contact.


The Swing Set (aka The Fling) – Made from Cold War Soviet water pipes and anchor chains from retired NYC trash barges. The object was to 1) swing high enough to completely flip the swing over the support bar while still sitting in it or to 2) swing high enough to completely flip the swing over the support bar but at the last second leap from the seat at the pinnacle of the swing then plunge awkwardly to the ground shattering as many leg bones as possible.


Jungle Gym (aka Vlad Tepes’ Goodtime Cage of Lunchtime Fun) – A dome of webbed steel erected with surplus rebar. Essentially it was a grouping of interconnected triangles which stood 15-20 feet off the ground at its peak. During its reign thousands of victims tumbled between the bars and impaled themselves on the rusty I-Beam rivets used to hold the configuration together.

Goodtime Cage

The Merry-Go-Round (aka The Centrifuge) – An octagonal platform set atop an axis and swiveling ball joint from Military Pilot G-Force Training Modules. The object for older students was to spin the apparatus with fast enough centripetal force to launch the younger students clinging to the framed railings bolted to the platform into orbit or at least into the teacher’s parking lot.


Spring Riders (aka The Root Canal) – A Cast metal rotomolded animal, plane, insect, vehicle or sea creature set atop a suspension spring from a 1972 Chevy Blazer. Through a gentle rocking motion, the device would bend back and forth giving the rider a sense of rhythmic floating until he or she fell out of time with the ride and smashed their front teeth into the top of whatever object they were on.


My son Jack motioning wildly to me from the entrance of a tube slide at the structure’s summit pulled me from my wistful trance and upon bartering a fair price with an indigenous Sherpa I was able to join him. Fearless he suddenly jumped into the mouth of the slide and was swallowed by the twisting gloom. Seconds later he reappeared at the bottom of the slide laughing and waving for me to follow him. Maybe it was the high altitude and the thin air or perhaps it was just my love for my son, but in a momentary lack of judgment I leapt feet first into the slide. Slaloming through the darkness I thought for a moment I might make it to the bottom, but my rigid 36-year old limbs betrayed me and I Augustus Glooped the first turn. And that brings me back to the beginning, where I am stuck in a 24” diameter 20-foot spiral durable thermoplastic tube slide.

Hold on a second something is happening outside …I can almost make out what the rescue workers are proposing…. Jaws of Life … Water Pressure …. High Colonic … Amputation …. Heimlich Maneuver …. Clogged Drain … Plunger … Liquid-Plumr…. Wait, what’s that beautiful ethereal music? It sounds like Madonna’s Crazy for You. It is! I must be starting my Vision Quest. Oh, hello there, are you my Totem Animal? But you’re just a gopher? What are you doing? Hey don’t touch that, this is my tunnel. I don’t care if you know Kenny Loggins. No, I won’t get you Matthew Modine’s autograph…

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