Friday, February 02, 2007

Kid & Play


Venture to the nearest park and watch the kids playing on the monkey bars or trying to climb up the slide versus sitting on their behinds and slide down it. What do you notice first? The big toothy smiles or the lack of teeth? It doesn’t really matter at all…but what does matter is that kids, in general, know how to have fun.

The usual games of tag and hide-and-seek are played while parents stand on the sidelines wishing they were home lounging on a couch or able to join the fun and not be perceived as an overzealous parent. To the parents that are reading this, try joining the fun the next time you’re at the park and watch your stock go up in the eyes of your staunchest critic.

I notice a cadre of parents fiddling with their cell phones, trying to appear as if they’re negotiating the next LeBron James-like contract. I wanted to slap each parent in the forehead and say, “Pay attention to your kid!” but I had to restrain myself. This Black man is not trying to see the inside of nobodies’ jail anytime soon.

The Trip
On a recent visit to a playground in Roxbury, Massachusetts, I noticed some kids wearing shorts in the dead of winter while some were outfitted in Tough Skin jeans- the kind with the reinforced knees- and wearing many brands of sneakers. The typical assortments of LA Gear-like flashing sneakers were in the majority, but there were some sneakers that a sneakerhead would appreciate. Spotting a few pair of Air Force 1 white-on-white sneakers that were an odd shade of pewter and some Air Jordan 3 cements and a pair of Reebok 5411s that appeared to be brand new, this playground had it going on and the kids reigned supreme.

As the kids ran and jumped and encouraged the ‘it’ kid with chants of, “You can’t catch me Mr. Doo Doo Head!” to chase them and shed the title, I noticed that the kids that wore, what I would deem, expensive sneakers, didn’t care if they were limited editions or knock-offs from Payless. They simply wore them as they were intended to be worn.

Reminisce with me for a second....do you remember the days when you’d hurry home from school to watch television shows such as He-Man, GI Joe, Tom & Jerry or the Smurfs? After watching a favorite cartoon and rushing to complete any homework that your teacher had given you that day…it was off to catch up with your friends to swap stories about the day’s BIG events at school, which amounted to a classmate being caught cheating on a test to someone getting hit in the head while playing dodge ball. From time to time, the talk would flip to what female seemed to go through a metamorphosis and began to look fly. For me, the stories included all of the above, but the topic of sneakers always found a way into the conversation.

Whether it was stories such as the black and silver “34” Air Trainer SCs that Bo Jackson wore in Oakland to the gum soled Air Force 1s DJ EZ-Rock wore in the cover photograph of It Takes Two, or the Brooks that Dominique Wilkins wore in ’88; sneakers bogarted their way into the conversations.


Back on the playground, I spoke to some of the adults about sneakers and their thoughts about the self-described ‘Sneakerheads’.

Bonnie, a middle-aged mother of 3 who grew up in Boston’s South End, said, “I buy sneakers for my children that I know they’re going to beat the shit out of.” She continued to say, “My son, Brett who’s 9, has been asking me for those Heelys and I keep telling him “No” because I don’t trust them. What’s to stop the things from the wheel popping out when he’s walking downstairs and him having an accident? Shoot…I buy their sneakers at Marshalls or this year, for back-to-school shopping, I went to City Sports because they had the buy one get one half-off sale going on.” When I asked Bonnie about the folks that spend $100 dollars or more on sneakers, she exclaimed, “That’s f**king ridiculous [waving her hands above her head]! You know what I can do with a hundred dollars? I can feed my kids for a week on that kind of money or put it towards fixing my car that’s been acting up.” Seeing Bonnie so animated prompted a Hispanic gentleman by the name of Juan to join our conversation, “I know the kids want to look good, but what happens when a kid is beat up for his sneakers or worse…stabbed or shot?” I probed Juan some more and he went on to say, “When I was growing up, the sneakers everyone had were Converse. I used to buy them for twenty dollars, which was a lot of money in 1976. I used to work at a grocery store bagging groceries and I would save my money so that I could go to the movies (and) buy comic books and sneakers from Jew Man.” By hearing the mere mention of Jew Man, I quickly figured that Juan either lived or grew up in New York City. “The South Bronx baby!” he shouted. Just the mention of Jew Man took me back and brought a sly grin to my face.

As the grin receded, my attention was quickly refocused on the children playing on the jungle gym and swings. They were having fun and seemed to not have a care in the world. They didn’t care if their sneakers got scuffed or torn from the merry-go-round.

One could surmise that kids don’t care about the quantity or the quality of sneakers. Kids don’t go home and break out a toothbrush with an accompanying jar of soap and water to bring back that like-new look. Kids just want to have fun, wear their sneakers, and play. Who said that the young ones don’t know how it should be done? It’s all so s-i-m-p-l-e.

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