When I was growing up books were printed on paper. Music was made portable thanks to Sony’s Walkman which was about the same size as the iPad and as thick as a dictionary. For all we knew, downloading had something to do with the laundry and tweeting was for birds. I thought ‘Yars Revenge’ was perhaps the finest video game for the Atari 2600 ever invented never believing it could have been topped.
Growing up we needed our imaginations. We needed to be able to see dragons in our backyards and Indians in the woods next to our house. We especially needed our imaginations running on all cylinders when we played with Matchbox. Our imaginations were as important to us growing up as a full QWERTY keyboard on your touch screen cell phone.
As much as we used our imaginations, it surprised me to find out my parents relied on their imaginations too (I wondered if they saw those pesky aliens trying to suck out my brains too?)
My parents didn’t have iTunes. No aircards loaded on their Netbooks. They didn’t have 42” LED televisions (we didn’t even have cable) or a whole lot of money. The only books they had about child rearing were written by a guy who, I thought, was a half Vulcan half human hybrid on the USS Enterprise. Their imagination was just as important to them as it was to us.
Thankfully, for my sister and me, my dad had the imagination of a five year old coupled with a driver’s license and the ability to work power tools. Our lack of toys from Burn’s Department Store and the lack of the latest in dot matrix floppy disc Texas Instrument’s computer games were more than made up for by our father.
Thanks to him, we played basketball games in our driveway with our mom’s washbasket he had cut the bottom out of and nailed to the siding above the garage doors. We swam (sort of) in a pool dug in our backyard. He lined his homemade sinkhole with plastic sheets from the garage.
(Our garage, his sanctuary, was like a Home Depot of collected items from god only knows where. Cabinet hinges, door handles, enough penny nails to frame out a house, scraps of wood and metal, wire, and of course duct tape. I would have likened it to a junkyard but my dad knew where every screw, lag bolt, and piece of plastic was. In fact, a better way to describe the garage might be to liken it to the (His) Taj Mahal.)
You might not think a shallow water filled hole, that would make a Serengeti watering hole look clean, would be fun, but you would be wrong. We may not have swum so much as we floated in our pool but thanks to that hole, I had a place to strap on my goggles and snorkel and a place besides the bathtub to break out my boats and rubber sharks. The dirt pool was fun until my dad put a catfish in it that he caught at Antietam Lake. Our pool was officially closed after that and we went back to the overly chlorinated community pool.
We did donuts in dirt parking lots in the Buick Skylark convertible with black leather bench seats and platinum grey paint job my grandmother let my dad borrow. We caught bunny rabbits in our backyard and built our own cages for them (which they subsequently chewed their way out of and ended up behind our furnace within about 4 hours of their capture). We watched him solder shiny metal bits and pieces together with the kind of intent people watch car crashes on the highway with.
He kept us busy with games of tag through the dining room, invented words we believed were apart of the English language, and cooked us his Hungarian Pizza for dinner (you don’t want to know).
Of all the activities we played, swam in, spoke, ran around, and ate, perhaps the one thing that my dad was known for was Coma.
While my mom could have sworn he was in one most days, my dad was not talking about the medical condition. Coma was a game. The origins to how it came about may never be known, but spontaneity was my father’s strong suit, so I’m sure it came to him like a divine vision while he was drilling a hole in something or wrapping it in duct tape. Regardless of the origin of Coma’s creation, it was his go to activity when his or any other children in audible radius to him got too loud or a little too wild. He would quite literally, put us in a coma.
We would come running to play Coma like Lemmings to my dad (which, as you will soon see, did not speak highly of our judgment).
The general idea behind Coma was fairly simple, to stay as still as possible, as if in a coma, for as long as possible. The kids were instructed to find a spot, usually on the floor, choose the position best suited to remaining perfectly still and at the count of three, freeze. No talking or moving beyond what the involuntary functions, like blinking and breathing, your body would allow.
As a participating member of Coma, it was in your best interest to come up with a position that was fairly easy to remain in. Leaning your hand on your head and elbow on the floor would spell an elbow filled with the unshakable pain of pins and needles and an early exit from the game. Contortionist type positions, though admired by the other kids for the sheer chutzpah of attempting it, was another sure fire way to get you eliminated early. Your best bet for a Coma victory was to lie on your stomach and bury your face in your crossed arms. This maneuver concealed any giggling outburst. It also was the easiest position to fall asleep in (which I did regularly).
And what did the warriors of the carpet stand to win after conquering their fellow motionless combatants?
Bragging rights. That’s right; we drank from the chalice of ‘I’m better than you are’.
Looking back on it now, it would have been nice to have won something. A cookie, a sip of my dad’s beer, something to rub in the faces of the others. Instead, you spent 30 seconds celebrating your victory and then dropped to the floor again before my dad finished “3, 2, 1, Go!”.
Backyard pools came and got filled in. Washbasket-ball only lasted as the nails held the basket to the siding. Culinary creations masterminded by my father never lasted longer than normal digestion. One game endured through our childhood. Coma.
But like finding out Matchbox cars are not as much fun as their commercials might suggest, Coma did eventually lose its appeal. As we hit double digits, Coma’s luster dulled. Soon it was only talked about out of reverence and nostalgia (more from my parents than any of us).
In this day and age, it’s rare our kids (or us for that matter), are left with nothing but our imaginations to keep us busy. Thanks to Apple, Sony, Comcast Cable, youth soccer leagues that begin as soon they are able to walk, and Toddlers and Tiaras, imaginations are left to manufacturers and television producers. Thanks to unwillingness on my part to buy all of that stuff and a lack of money even if I wanted to buy all of that stuff, I and the kids are left to our own imaginations which is why, like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, Coma has made a comeback at my house. Besides, who needs Wii’s, iPhones, Mp3 players, Netbooks and Kindles when at the count of three you could put yourself in a Coma?