Back when I was 9 years old, the world was a different place for kids. There were no seat belts in the back of the family Ford, we drank water out of garden hoses, we played outdoors all day, out of sight of our parents, returning to the house only for lunch and dinner. And since it was New York City we played in the street - Stickball, Ringalevio, and Red Rover. We were especially overjoyed when the Fire Department would open the hydrant on our block on a hot day, so we could play in the water stream…in the street…with cars coming through… lots of cars! Other times we would wait for the street cleaning truck to come down our block and position ourselves so that the spray from the truck washed over us. That’s what people did back then.
There were seasons for everything back then. We played “bottle caps” in September, spun “tops” in October and in November our Dads would go pheasant hunting. I really wanted to go with my Dad when I was 9, and he finally gave in and agreed to take me, since his hunting partner could also bring his son, who was around my age, to keep me company. When we arrived at the farm where they would be hunting the Dads handed us a Daisy BB gun and told us to hang around that large building over there, while they went off into the woods to hunt pheasant. That’s right, they abandoned two young boys in the woods and went marching off. That’s what people did back then.
By the way, a BB gun is a type of air gun designed to fire spherical projectiles similar to shot pellets. Well, we were in hog heaven – shooting at everything from trees to squirrels to birds to improvised targets. Luckily, having never shot a BB gun before, we did not injure or kill any living thing, ourselves included. But our Dads were gone for a couple of hours and we got bored with the gun, so we started playing with a ball and bat my playmate (and soon my savior) very wisely brought with him.
The large building we were told to stay close to had a very loud, cacophonous sound emanating from it, so we decided to investigate. It turned out to be a large, commercial chicken house with possibly 1000 chickens inside. After investigating we returned to our ball and bat. My father’s friend’s son (his name now lost to time) was pitching, and I was batting. A pitch got away from him and went sailing over my head into the bushes near the chicken house. I ran into the bushes to retrieve the ball and after a few minutes of searching I took one memorable step and the ground gave way under my foot. Actually it wasn’t the ground at all, but a rusted metal 4X4-foot cover over a very, very deep pit filled with … (wait for it) … chicken poop! As my foot broke through the cover and I started to descend, my father’s friend’s son (I do wish I could remember his name) grabbed my jacket and pulled me to safety. I hadn’t even noticed he had followed me into the bushes, but boy am I glad he did. He saved me from a most disgusting demise.
I can imagine a lot of ways to shuffle off this mortal coil, but drowning in chicken poop would be, by far, the most embarrassing. It would, however, most likely have gotten me an honorable mention in that years Darwin Awards.