Monthly Archives: December 2014

Dreams of Fire


I like neon.

You see, I’m partially color-blind; the subtler shades of red, green, pink and purple are beyond me. So I’m drawn to bold colors; and no colors shine brighter or purer than those of a neon sign. I’m fortunate to live in a town where vintage neon survives, and new neon still appears.


A lighted plastic sign merely shines. But neon burns in the air. It does somersaults. It flashes, it blinks. Glass tubes channel glowing gases into words and shapes of blue, orange, red, white, and yellow fire. They hang in the air, flaming, like the words of an impressive, if commercial, deity.

neon creamery

The glory days of neon are past; other technologies outcompete neon in cost and installation, ease of maintenance, power usage, even brightness. But not style. Glass is a liquid, and the glass tubes of neon, argon, and other gases paint the sky, and anything reflective, with shapes that have the fluid, organic nature of life itself.

Moreover, neon tubes glow with a depth that shames the flat light of fluorescent tubes and the eye-jarring intensity of LEDs. And so old neon is cherished, and new neon is still commissioned.

neon creamery reflection

But the old neon is best; its aim is high, with impressive results. When the sun goes down, the Rio Theater’s neon draws its name on the night in elegant Moderne curves.


While the flashing, blinking, garish neon at the older Del Mar is anything but elegant. And yet the colors flare and burn gloriously. A few years ago they barely lit at all, but enthusiasts restored them.


Many venerable businesses maintain their neon well: a skating rink, a liquor store, grocery stores. We locals can’t imagine them without their trademark signs.



Some signs decline. The original patron dies or moves on, the new landlords don’t care and, tube by tube, the sign fails. A neon sign, like Blanche DuBois, survives on the kindness of strangers. Left to itself, it sinks into disgrace and decrepitude.


Little in this life is for the ages. Eventually every neon tube in existence will crack and spill its gas, every transformer will fail. Businesses move, buildings are torn down, and the glowing glass tubes will go down with them.


All the more reason to honor the folks who put their time and money into preserving these crazy, ephemeral assemblages of twisted glass tubes and wiring and glowing gas. So that for a little while, shapes of fire can be written on the night.


Although if it is true, as some physicists say, that information may never truly be destroyed, somewhere along the quantum conduits that tie together the universe there should be a cul-de-sac, an eddy, where good, dead neon signs gleam in velvety darkness for all eternity, without need of buildings for support:

A neon afterlife of glowing light and color, where the dreaming minds of the color-blind are allowed to come and visit. And smell the everlasting popcorn.

Christmas Night Police Blotter Haiku

A few months ago our central heating went south, which it has done from time to time.  The repairman, who’s serviced our furnace on and off for 20 years, fixed the thing.  And then he made his pronouncement.

“This model has a rated life of 23 to 25 years, and you’re at 24.  It might make it through another winter, but if I were you I’d start saving up for a new unit.”

And then of course we forgot everything until the furnace went south again, three days before Christmas.  The HVAC company sent a different guy this time, and he made no dire prognostication; just held up a badly corroded igniter and said, “Here’s you problem.”  And he replaced it.  But if the other principal parts look even half that bad, this puppy’s on life support.  I called the HVAC people and made appointment for a nice man to come out and tell us how many thousands of dollars that this is going to cost us.  At least it’s a union shop.

It’s Christmas night, and the heater’s working away merrily; which is good, because the temperature plummeted today and tonight’s low is basically at freezing.  AI’ve spent a cozy evening at the dining room table with Rhumba, pounding out police blotter haiku while she knits sample stitch patterns for my new sweater.  My new sweater has been in the works for something approaching a decade; at this point she may be planning the Great Pullover of Ghiza.

Such is the blinding pace of life in the Boomer/Rhumba household, especially when we have the week off.  And it’s good, because frankly it’s difficult to write good haiku when your mind’s already on the affairs of the next day.  And this week, it’s not.

So I enjoyed doing this.  And I’m posting them here instead of at, although they’ll end up there eventually.  Hope you enjoy them.  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, a Joyous Solstice.  Don’t eat or drink more than you actually enjoy.  And drop a line; getting a little echoey around here lately.

Last seen at the beach,
wearing camp colors and
hefting a chainsaw.

They’d like to break up.
But each of them holds ransom
the other’s key ring.

“Pay obeisance to
the King of Nicaragua!
And… stand me to a meal?”

Too much coke! he groaned.
Lying on the PCH,
wearing only shorts.

Was it news to him
that the cheap iPad he’d bought
from “some guy” was hot?

His whole neighborhood
can hear the porn movies that
the deaf man watches.

Others can get elbowed
shooting hoops but no, not him.
He’s calling the cops.

Two taps on the glass?
So she thought, after midnight,
alone in her bed.

He refused to leave
unless the bank gave him access
to his wife’s account.

He thought it was love.
She didn’t, and passed her card
to another man.






Tales from the Thrift: The Ghost in the T-Shirt Aisle

Every Saturday I hit the neighborhood Goodwill thrift store for a good look-round. There’s much to find; wealthy areas have the best thrift stores, and in the aggregate this city is pretty wealthy. Though the swag’s not a patch on what it was seven or eight years ago when you could score a two-hundred-buck Aran wool sweater for $3.75. Sometimes I miss the housing bubble.

Yes, we’re wealthy here in the aggregate, but less so in the particular. Living costs are high. Respectable citizens like myself routinely shop Goodwill, to stretch those precious dollars. But we don’t socialize; when I spot an acquaintance, they rarely want to talk. They seem uncomfortable, as if I’ve learned something I’m not supposed to know.

And yet today, somebody tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Can you help me with something?”

I turned to face a lean, older, African-American woman in a gray pants-suit. She pushed a shopping cart; in it she’d laid out a man’s gray suit with several shirts and ties.

“I’ve been here for two hours, and I can’t make up my mind,” she said with some frustration. “I’m putting together an outfit for my husband to wear for when my daughter comes home from India next week. Can you help me pick the shirt and tie?”

Why do these things happen to me? I have barely the awareness to walk in a straight line, but on occasion total strangers will pick me out of a crowd to ask for life advice. Or directions on getting to Highway 17. Life advice is the easier of the two.

And today I wore faded denims and a Dickees cop windbreaker. Hello, Mr. Fashion Maven.

The woman had not a lined face so much as one of cords; cords moved in her cheeks, her neck, her wrists. Her suit was neat, but older and well-used; she’d probably bought it here. She looked to me like a decent person who’d worked hard all her life for not a lot of money, and never complained. But felt that a little help wasn’t too much to ask.

It wasn’t. I’m good with colors. I’m partially color-blind, and I’m good with colors. Go figure; but my wife rarely makes color choices without checking with me.

The suit was deep gray; not ultra-dark, but rich. Maybe a little blue to it. A good choice. All three long-sleeved shirts were also shades of blue, ranging from washed-out sky-blue to a medium sapphire. The sapphire was one of those thick-fabric non-wrinkle jobs; it retained its body, even used. The others were limp.

“The dark blue,” I said, meaning the sapphire. “But none of these ties work. You need one with blue in it. The greens and yellows don’t match the shirt.” Each tie included a bit of grey; she’d matched them to the suit. But they weren’t the right grays.  And in any case, you can’t omit the shirt from the equation.

“I’ll come back with more ties,” she said decisively.

“I’m not going anywhere.” I’d been working my way down a 20-foot rack of t-shirts.

I felt confident about the shirt; dark-skinned and olive-skinned people like her family and myself look good in strong colors. It’s you pale people who favor earth tones, blacks, and pastels.

“So, is your daughter on some educational trip?” Trip, India, homecoming: I was trying to make sense of it.

“Yes, she’s a business student, and she went to India for her studies.” The woman looked like she had the means to maybe send a daughter to St. Louis.

“She’s coming home, and I want my husband to be in a suit to greet her,” she said. “She’ll be so surprised. Because usually he dresses sort of Santa Cruz.”

She wanted her daughter’s home-coming to be special. Santa Cruz is the name of our town, a casual seaside community. “Dressing Santa Cruz” means that you think a t-shirt and denims will do for an anniversary dinner at Le Haute Spot. And, if the weather’s cold, an O’Neil hoodie. I neither joke nor exaggerate.

The woman left, and returned promptly with several ties that were less ghastly — marginally. I chose a faded tie that had at least some blue in it, though not a shade that especially matched the shirt. Still, it could work.

The woman in gray thanked me, and went her way. I had questions, but let them lie. So I made purchases and, without meaning to, walked out the front door just as the woman did. Night had fallen with a thud; and we both turned into the same dark alley. My home and her car lay past the other end. I unlimbered a flashlight and offered to escort her.

And, given another chance, I asked my questions:

“So, where does your daughter go to school?”

“Stanford.” Whoa. The rich kid’s school. Yet they’re not shy with scholarships for exceptional students of any price range.  The upper echelons of society can always use fresh blood — in small doses.  

Stanford’s still quite a leap for a family of modest means.  But it seems that Daughter was sharp as a tack (“She got her first ‘B’ at Stanford,” her mother told me) and had applied for every scholarship in the universe.

And so Daughter’s graduating in spring with a master’s degree in business —  $50,000 in debt. Strangely, that’s not bad at all. Recruiters are eager for Stanford MBAs. The daughter will leave school to face a vast row of open doors.  She’ll know a lot of things — and a lot of people who can help her. Doors could open for her all her life.   

“Well, there’s nothing like a full ride scholarship,” I said to her mother.

“There’s a full ride, but plenty to pay for besides,” she answered. “And we’ve been paying it.”

We got out of the alley and back into the light, and went our separate ways. I wish her well.

I really do. Because her daughter’s story reminded me of a friend who’d gone to Stanford, too, forty years ago.  He, too, was of modest background.  He, too, bucked the odds. His name was Mike Garcia.

Mike’s parents and mine were friends, so I spent a lot of time with him and his three brothers. Mike was the only one I could stand; we had a lot in common, but he was the improved version: better-spoken, more confident, more physically able, gifted in both the sciences and the creative arts.

And he dreamed big. Mike was the kid who went to Europe as an exchange student. Mike was the high school class valedictorian. And, somehow, though his family had no money, Mike was going to become a doctor.

And he did. He earned a full-ride scholarship to Stanford, where he majored in chemistry and hob-knobbed with the children of the wealthy, the famous, and convicted Watergate conspirators. That’s Stanford.

But because he was exceptional, and frankly very likable, Stanford took care of him; among other things, it got him jobs on campus and summer work that paid the rest of his expenses. When Mike graduated, he joined the military; it has its own medical school. He got in. He graduated, then interned. He became an officer and a doctor.

I’ve omitted one fact: Mike was gay. He never really came out, certainly not to me. He discretely navigated his sexuality through Stanford, into the military, and through medical school. And then, out the other side and living off base, he felt that it was time to be himself.

And it was the early ’80s, and he was himself with a partner with AIDS, before AIDS was widely understood. Mike died relatively quickly. The military was civilized about it; perhaps more civilized that they would be later.

And what does this have to do with a hard-working woman of modest means who’s putting together a celebration for her own brilliant child? Who plans to stuff her slovenly husband into a Goodwill suit just to make it clear to her daughter  how much they both love and care for her? And whose husband probably will let her?

This has nothing to do with that woman.  But it has everything to do with her daughter.  Her daughter may come to move among the elite in America.  She may meet and work with people whose names the newspapers venerate as geniuses, as movers and shakers.  She may become one of them. She may come to believe that talent and hard work are all it takes for anyone to rise to the top. So she’ll be told by the other people who inhabit society’s lofty peaks.

And if she does believe that, she will be wrong.  It’s luck.

The luck of the draw for parents, resources, contacts,  school, physical ailments, a million things. Mike’s luck ran out, disastrously; but he went as far as he did thanks at least in part to an exceptional public high school: heavily subsidized by the paternalistic company that dominated the town’s economy.

The daughter of the woman in gray got good genes and talent. But where would she have gone without the kind of parents she has?  Without that exceptional woman, and her husband, who gave her the values of hard work and persistence and study? And beyond that, gave whatever money they could raise to get their gifted daughter into the nation’s hottest business school? That daughter is her own person; but equally, she is her parents’ achievement.

So why didn’t the woman in the gray suit go as far in life as her daughter did?  Good question; but if genes, hard work and grit alone were all it ever took to reach the top, I’d be watching her on TV.   And George W. Bush would be a small-town insurance agent attending AA meetings and working on his third marriage.

I hope that her daughter knows this.  And knows that she will never find, among any future cohorts of the mighty,  a person more worthy or exceptional than her mother, the  woman in gray who flagged me down in the t-shirt aisle of a thrift store for the use of my fashion sense.

There remains Mike, the ghost raised in that aisle after so many years of silence.  Mike, who’d done everything right, as it’d been explained to him; who only wanted what other people had, and didn’t understand what he was risking. We are all Mike.

For Mike, to the young woman, and to her mother, I include a stanza from a poem that I’ve always respected. Nothing in it, I expect, would be news to the woman in gray.

Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure,

I’d face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
’Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:

Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul’s stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.



A Question for the Elks Club

On Saturdays, Rhumba and I just get in the car and drive.  We generally have a couple of errand that we want to run; and along the way, we stop for coffee and remember a few more errands and obligations.  We roam all over town: inspecting, buying, considering, visiting.

Then it’s time for lunch, or a late-late breakfast at our favorite dive ‘way over on the East Side.  Then, who knows? Sometimes I think we’re the world’s oldest teenagers.

But we’re never sure exactly where the day will take us, and what makes a better Saturday than that?  Last Saturday took us to the Elk’s Lodge, a place more foreign to me than some destinations requiring passports.

The Elks are one of those fraternal clubs where, 50 years ago, leading white male citizens of the town met to drink, smoke, play cards, eat cheap dinners, do deals, give money to youth sports, and perform fraternal rituals.  Even today, there’s a parking space at the Santa Cruz lodge labeled “Reserved for Exalted Ruler.” It’s not a joke.

Come the twenty-first century, people still meet and eat and drink at the Elk’s Lodge, though in much-reduced numbers.  Reduced so much, in fact, that women are now welcome as members.  The many photos on the walls showed no members with dark skin, however. I could be overly naive and say, well, perhaps they just didn’t want to join the Elks.  Because, it’s true that few people do.  We’d only stopped by to visit a craft fair the Elks had staged; not a very good one, either.

I idly checked out the building. The lodge was quite large and well-equipped. It featured a canteen with bargain prices, a billiards room, a card room, a  large bar (which was emphatically open), and lots of function space. There was even a swimming pool, I was told.

What the lodge lacked was many signs of life, aside from the craft fair.

Still, I picked up a membership application.  Its date of last revision may have been 1954:

Did I believe in God? Would I promise to uphold the Constitution of the United States? Was I a veteran?  Was I a member of the Communist Party or any organization which sought the  violent overthrow of the United States Government? Had I ever been convicted of a felony or a crime of mortal turpitude? Was I  foreign born, and if not I was of course a naturalized citizen, wasn’t I?

Mmmmmm…. tastes like… Dwight D. Eisenhower. The entree for last Thursday’s dinner was deep-fried macaroni and cheese: perhaps another reason why Elks decline in number.

The Elks and I live in alternate realities.  You see that a lot in these culturally-polarized times.  I still have the application, but all that ideological baggage trumps cheap food, billiards, and a  pool. I just don’t think we’d get along.

Rhumba and I chatted up a few people at the craft fair and hit the road again, this time for the Church of the Holy Dividend, the house of worship for the upper classes (lower classes welcome if hard workers).  We were members once and still have a few friends there, plus a couple of acquaintances I wouldn’t mind never seeing again.

This was the day of Holy Dividend’s 150th birthday bash, and we’d stopped by to see what they were up to. The first person we ran into was Regina: former head of the altar guild, wife of a retired priest, former college instructor, former stock-car racer, military veteran, and retired special education teacher.  She’s been around — she even lived in Eastern Europe when Americans didn’t do that. She takes no guff from anybody, she has a theatrical manner, and she likes to keep you off balance.  How are you, Regina, we asked?

“Well, my BONES are melting thanks to the chemotherapy.  But fine, thank you very much.”  That’s pretty much a Regina answer.

She’s suffered cancer for many years, and it or the chemo is going to finish her one of these days.  But I can’t say that her condition ever got her down.  Regina just soldiers on.

Regina’s 20-something daughter Hope is much like her; so of course they fought like cats when Hope was growing up. Hope turned into a quirky, sulky, intelligent, judgmental teenager who aspired to spend her life clerking in a video store.

With a hundred thousand of Regina’s money, Hope instead got a master’s degree in library science as a digital archivist: a profession that might resemble clerking in a video store, but on the grand scale. Hope never got a job in her field, though; too much competition and not enough work except internships and “work for experience” (never money).

After college Hope served a year or two with Americorps down in New Orleans; she loved the town to death.  After Americorps she returned home to more fruitless job hunting and more “work for experience.” She finally got a job that paid actual money, working with developmentally disabled adults. And she was good at it.  When last we saw her, Hope had snagged the offer of a similar job back in her beloved Nawlins, and was happily packing.

Although Hope’s expensive education got her no employment, I consider it anything but a waste. It helped her become an intelligent, broadly-educated young woman who can speak and argue clearly and thoughtfully on most areas of culture and life and the human condition.  Nobody puts anything over on Hope. Aren’t those all the qualities that a college education is supposed to impart?

“So,” I asked, “How’s Hope doing in her new job?”

“Oh, she got FIRED,” Regina said breezily.  “She showed up at the school, and it turned out that they had one teacher for every 16 disabled people.  There was no support staff at all; they were just warehousing them like animals.  So Hope told the board that what they were doing was all wrong, and she told them what they needed to change. And they fired her! Honestly, I wish she could be more diplomatic.”  Like mother, like daughter: I didn’t laugh.

“So Hope went right out and got jobs in two different supermarkets to get by.  And she’s started reading KARL MARX!”

Intelligent, quirky, well-read, hard-working, adventurous, cognizant: and now, based on her post-college experiences, looking for answers from the Great Boogeyman of global capitalism.  You can see why America’s not really serious about education for all.  Smart, educated people might cause trouble.

Hope’s not the only one reading the wrong books. Lately at the university I work for, the student have been rioting again.  Well, call them gentle riots.  The students hold a rally with megaphones and chants, then stream across campus and encircle a building or two.

In response, the administration floods campus staff with email about what to do if the students decide to occupy their office: endless contingency plans, do’s and don’ts for dealing with obstreperous demonstrators, and options for working at home.  Campus security monitors the movement of every demonstration and broadcast current status and location minute by minute.

And all the students want is tuition that they can afford.  It costs ever more to get an education, while many students and their families have less and less money. Rhumba and I just kicked in cash to buy food for students who, literally, lack enough money to eat regularly.  This is not a poor area, either.

So the students demonstrate, and the campus bureaucracy hunkers down warily. Demonstrations have become more frequent, too; I thought the students would back off as finals week drew near, but instead they just kicked it up a notch.  Who knows what next quarter will bring?  Who knows what lessons the kids will learn about what the world is really trying to do to them, and whether the world really cares whether they’re educated or not?

So here’s the question I have for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks: can you be an Elk if you belong to an organization that seeks the non-violent overthrow of the United States government?

And can you join if you believe that “defending the constitution” means rewriting it in the name of economic equality?  As Karl Marx looms in the distance, holding a stein of beer and nodding sagely.

I doubt that the Elks would have a ready answer.  But I hope they’ll take their time to think about it, perhaps over a sizzling plate of deep-fried mac ‘n cheese.

The Sound of the Rain

My first clear memory is of storm. And Walter Cronkite, but mainly storm.

I was all of two years old, sitting on the living room floor of our cracker-box house on the waterfront in Petropolis. It was a stormy weekday morning, around 9:30. I know this because the CBS mid-morning news was on the air, hosted by Walter Cronkite. Walter was not to be missed, even on a black-and-white Philco with a four-inch screen. Was I already a news junkie, or did I just like his voice? It’s tonal qualities lay somewhere between your favorite uncle’s, and God’s.

Rain battered the house, and wind. Suddenly the power failed, and the lights. Walter vanished into a dot of light, and thunder crashed towards us from all sides. Mom scooped me off the floor and fled to the bedroom, where we hid under the covers. She feared lightning and the sound of thunder with all her heart. But I found it exciting.

In those days of poorly-insulated houses you could really hear the rain on the roof, feel the wind shoot between the window panes and shake the house. As a child and teenager, I looked forward to those nights when the elements would sing me to sleep.

There’s line from a zen teaching story: “I am the sound of the rain.” It always calms me.

I own my own house now in which, thanks to modern insulation and double-paned windows, I can no longer hear the rain or wind from our bed: only, faintly, traffic. It’s not the same. Rhumba refuses to leave the bedroom window open when the rain comes, on some general wifely principle.

Besides, we’re in a drought. There’s been very little rain to hear these past three years.

This past week all the talk has been of a powerful storm that’s headed our way at last: a big, swirling monster with tentacles that reach past Hawaii to draw in warm, moist air and squeeze the water out of it right over our town. “It’s a bad ‘un,” the weathermen said. “We need the water, but the wind and water will bring wrack and ruin and roofing bills to many.”

And so I feared it, a little. I thought of our leaky rain gutters, sagging fences, aging roof, and dry rot. And I thought: let it go by; let it miss us. Let nothing fail in this house. Let nothing go wrong. For I’m old and full of worry, and want no trouble.

And yet this morning the wind rose as I knew it would. Squat street trees danced and swayed in its grasp. Awnings of stores and restaurants snapped like pennants.

Out on the streets, months and years of yard trash — bark, leaves, twigs, mulch — caught the wind and skipped down the pavement like little elves. Storms of them paced our car on either side, blowing ahead of us at stop signs which we had to obey but they did not.

The wind died by mid-morning, and then the rain came: a hard, steady soaking rain of the sort that I remember from childhood. The kind of rain that comes for the day and brings its own lunch. It’s been with us for twelve hours now.

And a few streets flooded, and the power’s out in the mountains above town; that’s just a given in this place.

But the roof didn’t leak and the gutters hang in there, and dry rot’s for another day. The back fence fell down, but I’ll push it up again tomorrow and call the contractor.

As I write this, I’m sitting downstairs in the dining room; from this space, I hear the rain clearly. It patters on the glass and drums on the ground. And it brings me its own form of peace.

Bedtime is near; the rain’s song can’t reach my well-insulated bedroom, but I’ll hold it in memory.

And I will be the sound of the rain.

Water Babies

Rain cringe

When you’ve got a new pocket camera, there’s no happier place to be than at the window table of a cafe during a thunderstorm. To observe and record all the ways that people react to unreasonable sheets of falling water.

ran couple

Some cringe and bear it. Some make the best of it. And some glory in it, especially children. A dash through pouring rain is a walk on the wild side for a proper six-year-old.

rain kid

Though I would have liked to see what the child did after entering the restaurant. Small children and water have a hate-love relationship. They hate being wet, most of them. But they love getting wet. Because they love water: throwing it, kicking it, pouring it, and especially jumping in it.

I understand: I remember being little. To a six-year-old, water is Mother Nature’s video game. Water moves, it splashes, it makes sounds, it catches the light. It’s interactive — you can make it do things. Before X-box, there were puddles. And squirt guns.

When he was three or four, one of the neighborhood children would stand on the sidewalk with a hose and pour water straight down the storm drain. For a half-hour at a time. He would stare at the water gravely as it disappeared into the slot in the concrete, as if trying to figure out where water went when it died.

We never found out what he got out of it. He wouldn’t say a word. Maybe it just seemed…. awesome.

Most kids — especially boys — can’t pass a puddle without stepping in it. If you give them water for a class activity, two or three or five of them will fling water drops at each other, giggling madly.

Because water is fun to play with and — best of all — your parents and your teachers don’t want you to. “Not in your nice clothes,” my mother would screech. As then, so now: forbidden fruit is sweet.

Though once little children do get wet — even if it’s their fault — some of them turn into little drama queens who insist that the world stop while every hint of moisture is removed from their bodies and clothing. I usually respond by acting out the “I’m melting!” scene from “The Wizard of Oz.”

When kids reach age 10 or so, they become ‘way too cool to jump in puddles. Their interests shift to gaming, media, cars, cliques and, just maybe, their first cell. But…

A few years back, I worked as a teacher’s aide for awhile; and for a short time, I assisted an old man who taught science in the primary grades. He was a year from retirement, and he’d seen it all. One day he demonstrated various properties of water to a group of ten-year-olds. And when he finished, he turned to me and said, “I will now make a fifth-grade class laugh by pouring water into a plastic bucket. ”

He poured the water from a bottle, gently; it drummed in the bottom of the bucket, making precisely the sound of a man pissing.

“HEEHEEHEEHEEHEEHEEHEE” the class shrieked. The old teacher raised an eyebrow at me. Kids. Water. The forbidden. I’m sure they all rushed home after school and tried it themselves.

As a card-carrying adult, I suppose that I should be annoyed when children get rowdy with water. But I don’t. Water is a great teaching tool for consequences: play with water, get wet. You don’t like being wet? Then be careful with water.

And anyway, they love water. They need it: water is the way to be “bad” without really hurting anything. While still really being good. Your mother may rag on you for getting your new clothes wet, but never too hard: because, really, no harm is done than ten minutes in the dryer can’t cure.

I have a memory, from back when the neighbor kids were tots, of washing the car in my driveway on a notably warm day. A steady flow of water ran down the drive and into the street.

Three small children, all siblings, happened to be patrolling the street on little silver scooters. It’s a dead-end court with no traffic.

One of them, perhaps only three, diverted from her flight path and stopped just short of the stream of rinse water. She looked at me gravely, looked at the water. And  deliberately rolled her scooter into and across it. Then she sped back down the street, leaving a black track of moisture behind her.

A minute later her older brother, all of five, made a bee-line for the stream of water and also rolled across it. “MY scooter got wet, too,” he called to his siblings, speeding away.

Kids. Water. The forbidden. Rebellion. Competition. Life. And no harm done.