Often I find myself thinking about my life, and re-living certain events that I may daydream about while on the PATH going to or from work. Some are benign, like the days when my friends and I would camp outside my house on lawnchairs with sleeping bags and we would laugh, talk and eat junk food during warm July summer nights.
The year was 1983 and my friends and I were all around the ages of 11, while my brother and his friends were 14. We were still living in Richboro at this time, a very typical suburban community 40 minutes outside Northwest Philadelphia. Richboro was one dominated by farmland, and in 1975 my development was created by a very new housing developer, at that time, called Toll Brothers. The name of the development was "Tanyard Farms", which consisted of about 60 cookie cutter single family homes. The development was like a little isolated village, because of its one entrance/exit to the development.
In 1983 parents wouldn't think twice of having their young children sleeping outside under the stars, without parental supervision. Dear Lord, what were they thinking?
Looking back, we absolutely were out of control and frankly, I am amazed we didn't get into more trouble. The first rule of childhood vandalism is that you never vandalized your own neighborhood. Like I said, Tanyard Farms was like a little village, so we would go out and terrorize the other local developments, which were within easy walking distance. The second rule is that you vandalize late at night when everyone is asleep. Saturday night at 3am in suburbia the only thing stirring were trees and pre-teenagers wired from sugary junk food like squirrels on crack. Here is a quick list of vandalism and pranks I remember from my Sleep Out days:
1. Soaping cars. Sure, this was relatively harmless, and as a kid you are thinking its no big deal. Get a bar of soap, go to the windows of a car and write nasty things on it like "I [heart] cock" or "Ass Master". Now that I am a working stiff, like the guys whose cars we soaped, I would have wanted to strangle those damn kids who soaped my car. Think about your commute in the morning, and getting delayed 20 minutes because some neighborhood kid put obscenities on your car. Sometimes, on special days, we would even see the car owners driving by our neighborhood with some of the obsenities still intact.
2. Toilet Paper Trees. I wish there were digital cameras in 1983 because we absolutely went to town on some houses out there. We would turn maple trees into weeping-toilet-paper-willows. Like I said, as a kid you are just laughing and not really thinking about the implications of your actions. I can only imagine the horror of these folks walking out and seeing their soaped up car & trees filled with toilet paper.
3. Egging Houses. This is a very risky move. First off, throwing eggs at someone's house at 3 in the morning makes a decent amount of noise. The "clomp" "clomp" "clomp" sounds of 8 kids hurling eggs at aluminum siding in the early morning will wake up some of the sleeping homeowners. So as soon as you see the lights pop on - you are doing your best impression of OJ Simpson (the 1983 OJ Simpson who was doing Avis car ads and running thru airports, not the 90's OJ Simpson who was running knives thru his ex-wife and her friend). Egging a house was one of the more rare vandalism acts, but it also was extremely hilarious. You see, eggs, if not cleaned properly, easily stain aluminum siding. If the homeowner doesn't catch it in time, that egg stain will be a nice permanent addition to their house. There were some quacky neighbors that left their damn egg stains up there for years!
4. New Construction Destruction. Richboro was an up-and-coming community, and Toll Brothers wanted to build more houses around our neighborhood. Big, big mistake. The kids of Tanyard Farms were very territorial because they watched "The Warriors" too many times and thought that they were The Baseball Furies or The Orphans. So when some jackass decided to build a new house near our neighborhood it was open season. Some of these builders would put mirrors, sinks and toilets in first, while the frame of the house was still being put together. This was an extremely bad idea. I don't want to go into tremendous detail here, but lets just say that the builders learned very, very quickly to seal all entrances and windows while they were building new homes near Tanyard Farms.
5. Fireworks. Our favorite trick was the timebomb. We would get a pack of firecrackers and a cigarette. We lit the cigarette, and put the fuse of the firecrackers at the end of the cigarette, near the filter. We then would leave a few of these "bombs" on the front porch and back porch of a house and walk away. In about 10 minutes, while we were far away we would hear the "blam-blam-blam-blam" rattle of the firecrackers going off. We were very careful with something like this, making sure that it was set on concrete and not near anything flammable. Another joke was to take a smoke ball (you lit these and it would smoke for a solid 30 seconds with no flame) and climb onto a neighbor's roof. Light a few smoke balls, drop them down the victim's chimney and run away. That would wake people up VERY fast. Again, it was harmless and one of the more RARE pranks we did.
6. Knock-and-run. An oldie but a goodie. Its very simple, but also very effective. Ring the doorbell about 10 times and run away. If you were very bold, you may hide across the street and see if someone comes to the front door and watch his or her angered reaction. Its always good for a laugh or two, especially those people who are extremely disheveled.
7. Dodging cars. This is what we called it, but the actual term should have been "hiding from cars". Usually we would be walking down the middle of our suburban streets, with only moonlight and our night vision to guide us. Being kids, we were hyper vigilant about getting caught by the fuzz (when was the last time you used THAT word??). So when we would see headlights approaching, it was like something out of a Vietnam movie, with someone saying in a loud whisper: "Incoming!" You have kids diving into bushes, hiding behind parked cars or climbing trees to avoid being seen. Not so much a prank, but dodging cars was a lot of fun because of the rush of trying not to be seen by anyone was addictive.
8. Letting the air out of car tires. Oh we did these LOTS of times. I know that some kids in Hoboken slash car tires or key cars. We never did that, most of our pranks (with exception to new construction) were just that - pranks. We were just interested in causing mayhem.
9. Pool Jumping. It was hot summer nights and the older, bolder boys of the group would often strip down to their shorts and jump into a neighbors pool. The even BOLDER ones would do a cannonball into the pool and then jump out, rejoin the group and we would scurry away while watching all the lights turn on at the house we just woke up.
Looking back, those were just extremely fun and free days. I can still remember the crisp mornings, when the dew is on the grass and your sleeping bag, the sun rises and there is a soft glow all around you and your friends at 6am in the morning. Everyone got about 2 hours of sleep, but they usually shuffle home around 6am and go to sleep in their own beds, always keeping our secrets to ourselves. Those were the nights when you didn't care about mortgage payments, 401Ks or WMDs.
The best sleep out in the history of sleep outs was one year when it rained unexpectedly on us. We all had to go inside Edward D's garage, and out of boredom decided to put on a shadow puppet show. Sadly this won't translate very well for those that weren't there, it was quite simply "you had to be there" kind of moment. But the magic we unleashed that night with the creative jokes and improv between a group of friends was nothing short of falling-down-gasping-for-air-funny. I still look back and remember that night with our hand shadows acted by Paul F. - all caricatures of real people he knew in his life and his zany imitations of them.
There are moments in each of our lives that we experience a special moment in our existence with someone else that is, for lack of better words, magical. I'm not sure if it was that night that changed me to who I am today, but I always like to entertain people with a good story, joke or witty comment. I think its because in some ways I hope to capture that moment of laughing so hard that you actually feel cleansed afterwards. I remember an early youth filled with laughter and fun, something that stories are made of and memories that are cherished.