You'll put your eye out!
December 1, 2004 10:42 AM   Subscribe

You'll put your eye out! My childhood was fraught with peril. I rode bikes without a helmet. My friends made flashpowder bombs. I brought knives and lasers to school. I survived. Blogger Tim Blair did too, and asks "What insane risks did you take as kids that would now induce rage and fear if repeated by your children?"
posted by bitmage (147 comments total) 91 users marked this as a favorite
Two words: potato cannon.
posted by Robot Johnny at 10:50 AM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

Here's the actual article that Blair links through another blog too.
posted by biffa at 10:51 AM on December 1, 2004

I figured I'd post here since the thread at the link is huge. When I was 17, I used to snag these 6 foot long unsheilded metal cables from oil pumping units, and throw them into powerlines. Caused grass fires, exploded transformers, all kinds of bad stuff.

Also used to go joy riding in front loaders and backhoes left in the oil fields. Stupid stupid stupid. Once I was driving a front loader about 20mph and had the bright idea to slam the scoop down. It scraped off about 1/2 of pavement and lost control and went into a ditch.
posted by Photar at 10:57 AM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

I didn't wear a seat belt or bike helmet for years, back in a less enlightened age. No way am I allowing my son to do either of those things.
posted by Songdog at 10:59 AM on December 1, 2004

I was actually just telling a story to my sister (born 1986 to my 1970) a story along these lines at thanksgiving. Apparently, around age 4, I was with my mom while she was visiting a freind and I started acting up. I guess she wanted me out of her hair, but nearby, so she told me to go play in the garage. "Yeah, son, those sharp objects on the wall, those are toys. Those cans contain candy and soda." Upshot is that I tripped over something, fell face first into the lawnmower and ended up with a broken nose and two black eyes.

When I got a little older, I had a three-speed bike with a banana saddle. At some point the gears went and then one of the handbrakes. Rather than get them fixed, which was expensive. I just borrowed my dad's screwdriver and removed all of it, and took to stopping my bike by dragging my feet. Then they replaced the normal asphalt in my neighborhood with tar filled with rocks. One day I was barefoot and going down a steep hill. Doing the drag thing was out of the question so I swerved onto somebody's lawn, hit a stump and went ass over teakettle. Aside from a few cuts and bruises I was fine.

Good times, good times.

My youngest sister, sadly, has never ridden a bike with out a helmet, although she did manage to get a nasty stiches-requiring cut when her and a freind were swinging the garden hose around with the sprinkler attached. So she has known the childhood joy of self-maiming recreation.

My other middle sister however, refuses to let me hold their new baby after I've smoked unless I wash my hand first. That kid's going to miss out on things if that pattern continues.
posted by jonmc at 10:59 AM on December 1, 2004 [3 favorites]

One incident stands out for me. My dad was a special agent in the FDA, had a .38 in his closet. I swiped a bullet and we - my idiot friends and I - drilled a hole in a board just big enough to wedge it in. We then took turns shooting at the back of it with a BB gun. I was the "lucky" one who hit it just right. I learned about action and reaction when the shell casing came backwards and took a big chunk of bark out of the tree right next to my head.

Also, we made cannons out of tennis ball cans taped together, ignited at a small hole in the bottom with some lighter fluid swirled around inside. I got the bright idea to soak a tennis ball in lighter fluid and "fire" it out of the cannon. Perfect fit, right? And it worked! The tennis ball flew at least two hundred yards. What I didn't foresee was that everywhere it landed it bounced, and on the bounce it splashed flaming lighter fluid everywhere. I almost started three forest fires at once, and spent the entire afternoon firefighting, hoping we could get it put out before somebody called the fire department.

Ah... the memories...

And on point, I got the following in an email a couple of months ago.

Subject: I can't believe we made it!

According to today's regulators and bureaucrats, those of us who were kids in the 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's or even the early 80's, probably shouldn't have survived.

Our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paint.

We had no childproof lids or locks on medicine bottles, doors, or cabinets, and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets.

Not to mention the risks we took hitchhiking.

As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.

Riding in the back of a pickup truck on a warm day was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. Horrors!

We ate cupcakes, bread and butter, and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we were never overweight because we were always outside playing.

We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle, and no one actually died from this.

We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then rode down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the street lights came on.

No one was able to reach us all day! No cell phones. Unthinkable!

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo 64, X-Boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, video tape movies, surroun d sound, personal cell phones, personal computers, or Internet chat rooms.

We had friends! We went outside and found them.

We played dodge ball, and sometimes, the ball would really hurt.

We fell out of trees, got cut and broke bones and teeth, and there were no lawsuits from these accidents. They were accidents. No one was to blame but us. Remember accidents?

We had fights and punched each other and got black and blue and learned to get over it.

We made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out any eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's home and knocked on the door, or rang the bell or just walked in and talked to them.

Little League had tryouts ! and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment.

Some students weren't as smart as others, so they failed a grade and were held back to repeat the same grade. Horrors!

Tests were not adjusted for any reason.

Our actions were our own. Consequences were expected.

The idea of parents bailing us out if we got in trouble in school or broke a law was unheard of. They actually sided with the school or the law. Imagine that!

This generation has produced some of the best risk takers, problem solvers, and inventors, ever.

We had freedom, failure, success, and
responsibility --- and we learned how to deal with it.

And you're one of them!

posted by JParker at 11:00 AM on December 1, 2004 [5 favorites]

At 13, I decided that I was going to be a Broadway star and ran away from home, hitchiked across the states and got to NYC...where I quickly discovered that "there's no place like home, there's no place like home!" Gods forbid that my child ever try anything that stupid.
posted by dejah420 at 11:03 AM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

So I was born in Louisiana, down in Baton Rouge, we had some family that lived out along the Atchafalaya, and whenever we would go visit them, we would go swimming in it. Without adult supervision of course. But wait? Why is swimming in a (at this branch of the river) slow moving river dangerous? Mainly because of the alligators, and water snakes. Yeah, we used to go swimming in the same water as alligators. The rule was, you waited till the middle of the day when they were usually up on the beach sunning themselves, then we could jump in and splash around (about a 1/2 mile from them mind you), but at the first sign of one getting back in the water, it was time for us to get out.

And it's not like our parent's didn't know about this, hell, the would go with us sometimes. Actually though, the alligators weren't the dangerous part, the dangerous part were the snakes, because you really couldn't see them swimming up.

Or another summertime favorite, since we had never heard of let alone owned paintball guns, would have being BB-gun fights. Use the pump kind, keep the number of pumps low (2 - 3 usually), and wear sunglasses (we weren't stupid you know...). Guaranteed to get at least a couple of really good hits in that hurt like hell.

Frankly folks, I'm amazed that I survived my childhood. Truly amazed.
posted by KirTakat at 11:08 AM on December 1, 2004

We had freedom, failure, success, and responsibility --- and we learned how to deal with it.

Or not, since somehow we have turned out to be the parents who have forced all this overprotective bullshit on our children. Not to mention the climate of fear we all live in these days.
posted by briank at 11:11 AM on December 1, 2004 [4 favorites]

My gran told me a story from my mother's youth, about how a kid drowned in the field behind her house. They used to have a little pond there called the 'doggie', because that's where people would throw their dead dogs. Anyway, the kids used to play in the field and one day one fell in and drowned.
posted by biffa at 11:13 AM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

I grew up in Halifax in an area where the foundation of any new house had to be blasted out of bedrock. One of my favorite things was to go to a new home site and sift through the rubber tire blasting mat for colourful pieces of "dynamite wire" (as we called it).

One day I got an extra-special bonus: brand new dynamite wire neatly coiled inside a plastic bag with a shiny silver tubular thing at the end of it. I knew this was a blasting cap because TV at the time was saturated with government commercial warning kids who found such an item to immediately call the police and DON'T TOUCH IT.

So of course my friend and I (both of whom grew up to graduate from medical school, for what that's worth as an indication of native intelligence) decided it would be cool to 'break open' the blasting cap with a hammer. We had the thing on a piece of wood and were just deciding which of us would have the honour of smashing it when his mother called him in for supper. And, being kids, we just forgot about it after that.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 11:19 AM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

I've lit my fair share of tennis balls, fallen out of tree houses and shot potato cannons...

but none compares to videotaping our trek through the town while toiletpapering the girl's soccer team's houses.

...come to think of it though, i don't think i would be enraged or fearful with my child if they did that, i would just pretend to be so their mom wouldn't punish me, too.
posted by mic stand at 11:20 AM on December 1, 2004

I grew up on a farm, so pretty much everything I did as a kid is now immoral, illegal, politically incorrect or would be thought of as too dangerous. Some examples:
1. Riding in the back of a pickup truck on public roads.
2. Driving a tractor at a young age (7-8 maybe).
3. Pouring gasoline into rat holes and lighting it.
4. unsupervised use of firearms (11-12).
5. using a chainsaw (10-11)
6. riding on tractor while pesticides were being sprayed.
7. camping in our 60 acres of woods without adults.
8. hunting and trapping
9. unsupervised use of metalworking machinery (lathe, milling machine, grinder) and no safety glasses.
10. jumping ramps on our bikes, occasionally first pouring on some gasoline and lighting it.
11. going out into the Chesapeake Bay in a small boat or canoe, without adults or life preservers.
I had better stop. Scary part is, the really dangerous stuff was after we got our drivers licenses.
posted by 445supermag at 11:21 AM on December 1, 2004 [2 favorites]

biffa- how unfortunately demented. WTF?
posted by mic stand at 11:23 AM on December 1, 2004

I grew up in Connecticut next to a farm with a swamp and stream, etc. My brother, my friends and I would wander off into the farm (probably trespassing) nearly every day and just wander. We could end up hours from home sometimes.

We used to play on an old rotted out log over one of these little pond/swamps. I don't recall how deep it was, but it was hella muddy and we used to lose shoes, watches, etc in the mud all the time.

Also, I remember riding my bike way over to my friends houses many blocks away - mind you, this was as early as second or third grade - without bike helmets or fear of strangers.

Once, a van pulled up on our street. The driver was doing some kind of bible study in the back sort of thing and all of us kids got into this stranger's van - with our parent's permission but without their supervision - and hung out with these creepy old guy who told bible stories while illustrating them on a big piece of paper.

In fourth grade, as a fundraiser, they gave all us kids a cardboard suitcase full of kitchen crap and we all went door to door in our neighborhood trying to sell it. All of us went by ourselves - no parents involved.

This is not to mention the hundreds of unsupervised block street whiffle ball games, the encounters with feral cats in the back yard, the firecrackers in the coffee cans full of caterpillars and the dozens of incredibly stupid things I did after I managed to survive elementary school. I had a fricken great time as a kid and I feel bad that the current kids can't have similar experiences without an army of adults around them.

By the way - this is quickly becoming my favorite Metafilter post ever - nice find, bitmage.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:25 AM on December 1, 2004

When I was about ten, my friends and I would make homemade gunpowder by grinding together charcoal, sulfer and saltpeter. Then we would just burn it in piles, or try to make rockets with it. None of the rockets ever worked, but we're lucky none of them ever exploded.

When I was about fourteen, my buddy Thom and I used to take big glass jars, put some water in the bottom, toss in a few chunks of carbide, and screw on a lid with a lit fuse in it. Sometimes the jar lid blew off. Sometimes the jar exploded.

The most dangerous thing Thom and I did was make rockets from old rifle shells that contained cordite. We would pull out the bullet with pliers, pull one straw of the cordite halfway out for a fuse, and light it - never knowing where the shell would go.

We are truly lucky we never hurt ourselves.
posted by wadefranklin at 11:26 AM on December 1, 2004

Oh yes, fire. I set one on the stone railing next to the front steps. I fired bottle rockets out my bedroom window. Dipped sticks in gasoline, lit them, and waved them around. Oh, and I set my dad's lawn on fire once. This is all anecdotal, of course. You can't prove anything!
posted by Songdog at 11:28 AM on December 1, 2004

No kids, but plenty of unsafe accomplishments.

Probably the worst were my exploits on ice boats on the Detroit river. The river would freeze over and a few friends and I would go out with metal fence posts and break chunks of ice free. We'd pound holes into them sort of like perforations and they'd break free. We'd then use the pole to push ourselves around on our impromptu raft. This is already fairly dangerous what with being on a barely seaworthy chunk of ice in freezing water but to complicate things ships would come by. If the ships came by we'd have to head for dry land, of course to get to dry land we'd have to cross the ice. Thanks to the wake from the ships though the ice would be breaking up around us. We stopped doing this some time in high school because somebody kept calling the cops on us.

I was (and still am I guess) an amateur pyrotechnician. Before we learned to make gunpowder and that the components were available at the drug store we'd make pipe bombs with paper match heads. We'd cut the match heads off and put them in a copper pipe with one end plugged by wood and a nail. We'd ram the match heads into the pipe and seal it, insert a match as a fuse and I don't remember what we used to light the actual fuse. Lighting the match head alone would've been suicidal. This would blow up the copper tube which was usually buried under a pile of sand. One minor problem. If you smack a paper match head with a hammer you'll notice that it ignites even though normally you're not using the striker. This happened during the ramming process one time (I wasn't present) and resulted in an explosion while it was in my friends hand. No fingers lost but there was some major surgery and rehabilitation involved.

I stole bullets from my dad, I'd put them in a vice and pry the bullet from the casing to extract the then hard to acquire gunpowder. Once I pried too hard and the primer ignited. My parents were in the next room and asked about the explosion: "I was just playing with caps".

I screwed around with a 9 volt battery, I HAD to know what was inside and why a 9 volt battery had more voltage than a 1.5 volt batter even though it seemed smaller. I had a rough idea of the chemical reactions involved and knew the chemicals were at least very similar between a 9 volt and 1.5 volt battery. I got it apart and saw the series combination of 6 small 1.5 volt cells. Then for some reason it decided to explode. Literally. Battery acid was shot into my eye along with the terminal. I was terrified that my parents would kill me so I washed out my eyes as best I could and went to bed figuring that I'd be blind in the morning. After the initial shock of not being able to see (my eyes had produced a lot of puss to get this foreign crap away from them) I was relieved that I could in fact see.

I took many high speed spills off of my 10 speed racing bike while attempting stupid things on hills, stairs and ice. I never broke anything though but I've had some nasty road rashes.

Inviting myself into a decades abandoned beer factor with rotting floors to explore the place.

I took my folks car for a joyride when I was in grade school, I didn't crash and as far as I know they still don't know.
posted by substrate at 11:31 AM on December 1, 2004

BB-gun fights!!! My friend "accidentally" shot another friend at almost point blank and lodged a BB in his stomach which required an emergency room visit.

Let's see... Other recollections include riding bikes on a semi-frozen pond (and trying to break through the ice, often successfully), playing tackle football and various sports in the street(s), rope-towed skateboard rides behind bikes down steep hills with traffic and no method for stopping save for skidding on your ass into the grass, riding bikes off of piers, riding bikes off of huge ramps like Evil Knievel, and assorted other stupidity.

One day we made up a game that involved one person riding a bike at a rapid rate while the bystanders attemped to throw large sticks into the spokes thus causing the rider to flip over the handlebars. WTF were we thinking?!

For some reason, I also recall making molotov cocktails or at least an adolescent approximation using assorted garage liquids. Blowing things up (particularly glass bottles) always seemed like a nice way to pass the time (rocks, BBs, tossing into the air, etc). We also had bottle rocket wars (shot out of lacrosse sticks) and roman candle battles that often went awry.

Oh, the list goes on... Somehow I escaped relatively unscathed.
posted by shoepal at 11:34 AM on December 1, 2004

Oh man. I grew up in rural South Carolina, and got myself into all kinds of dangerous situations. Some highlights:

- My brother and I would go on all day hikes throughout the woods behind the house. Often we'd end up on other people's property or discover weird things in the woods (like burnt out cars with bloody articles of clothing lying next to them). Keep in mind we did this even in deer season, and the woods was the home of several wild dogs, if not other potentially dangerous animals.

- Like every boy, I had a fascination with explosives. I used to disassemble model rocket engines to recover the black powder. Then, I'd pack it into a cavity with a wood-burning iron behind it and (eventually) a nail in front of it. Plug in the iron and wait to see what happened, etc., etc. Still have both eyes, fortunately.

- Similarly, the blowtorch was a lot of fun. Many, many model airplanes perished beneath the hideous flame. Paint fumes, burning plastic, lots of great carcinogens. I once also pointed it at concrete to see what it would do. I _did_ almost put an eye out that time (the heated concrete expanded faster than the concrete surrounding it, and you can guess the rest). I think that episode ended with the blowtorch lying on the ground engulfed in flame up to the actual bottle. I put it out with a towel and went merrily on my way.

I think kids should have at least as much freedom to do stupid and dangerous things as we did. Parents can't always be there to watch them, in any case.
posted by Kikkoman at 11:39 AM on December 1, 2004

One word: Trampolines.

OK, more words: Trampolines on a concrete driveway, with a sprinkler squirting through it, and four or five kids jumping. We should all be dead, or paralyzed, really. Those suckers are slippery when wet.
posted by emjaybee at 11:40 AM on December 1, 2004 [2 favorites]

Definitely the time I convinced my babysitter to let me ride my skateboard and hold on to the back of her car while she drove in my school parking lot.

We had freedom, failure, success, and responsibility --- and we learned how to deal with it.

I made it to adulthood without any broken bones and no permanent damage. That said, I do have 50 stitches on my leg from a childhood accident that could have seriously maimed me. Keep in mind that the people who are around on this thread to post are the ones who survived childhood. The people who died from head injuries because they weren't wearing bicycle helmets aren't around to talk about it.

I'm not what one would call a careful person, but if I had children, I'd suddenly be a lot more cautious. It's one thing to juggle a coffee and a bagel while driving stick up the highway without wearing a seatbelt when I'm alone. I'd feel quite different about it if I had a child sitting in the back seat or if I had a child of driving age. As I get older, I am starting to sympathize with those parents I thought were "paranoid."
posted by deanc at 11:40 AM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid (probably 10 or 11), there was a church that was U-shaped and the roof in the _ part of the U sloped down at the back so you could just climb on top. A chain-link fence closed the U at the top so you had to climb the fence to get to the "courtyard" part.

So, all but one of me and my friends would get on the roof and one person had to stay in the courtyard. The kids on the roof would tear the shingles from the roof and whip them at the kid in the courtyard who would have to race around and gather up the shingles (they're very hard to aim). He would then throw them back at the kids on the roof and if he hit one, the victim got to switch places with him. It was a severely vicious game. You wouldn't believe how fast those things fly. To this day I'm surprised no one lost an eye. I got one buried in my skull and it literally stuck there. We pulled it out and it was covered in blood and hair (which it had sliced off as it entered my head). I still have a scar on one knee from one that grazed me.

And speaking of fire, yes, kids are stupid. {wmv}
posted by dobbs at 11:40 AM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

Being just a girl, I don't have any first-hand stories. But my husband and bro-in-law should by all rights be dead now. The usual stuff, BB guns, regular guns, bad driving. My fav is my husband's desert blasting experiment. He and some buddies headed out to Joshua Tree (before the BLM took it over) and dug holes in the ground, put in tablespoons of black powder, and lit it up. Fun for a while, but being easily bored, they upped the ante. Dug one big hole, poured the rest of their powder in, and piled on big rocks. Lit the fuse, ran 50 yds away and hid behind their car. BOOM! The only slightly smaller pieces of rock landed behind them. I think they just fired guns at rock targets after that. (They were out of powder, after all.)
posted by killy willy at 11:42 AM on December 1, 2004

I haven't checked but I'm guessing 100% of the people posting to this thread are male.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 11:42 AM on December 1, 2004

Hey Turtles... you know the Delta Halifax? Where the parking garage from Scotia Square almost meets with the hotel about 5 floors up, that spot above the main entrance? Back when it was the Chateau Halifax, my friends and I used to climb across that, from the garage roof to the hotel roof. Literally nothing under us for about 25-30 feet (except instant death, I guess). Can't for the life of me remember why we wanted to do it, but we did.

Oh, and the time my friends were out on a boat on Penhorn Lake, poured a bunch of gasoline overboard, then lit a match. And we were all science nerds so it's not like we didn't know what would happen next. And of course all the homemade gunpowder mixtures...

OK, now you've got me looking at a picture of my 2 year old son, trying to figure out how to prevent him from trying any of this crap... and knowing it will all, ultimately, fail.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 11:43 AM on December 1, 2004

My dad was a special agent in the FDA, had a .38 in his closet.

Drop that Vioxx, now!

I can't imagine that in 4th and 5th grade I was riding my bike to school everyday. It was about 2 miles each way and we had to jaywalk across a 4 lane street. We used to play around in construction sites all the time. They were great for riding bikes around too.
posted by euphorb at 11:46 AM on December 1, 2004

I grew up in Georgia. We used to put things on train tracks -- it started small, with pennies. And then we graduated to larger and larger stuff. The area around the tracks was filled with dumped furniture and even appliances. We tried a small chair. Then a lay-z-boy. Then a small refrigerator.

The obliterations by the train were amazing to watch.

This was our daily activity for about 2 weeks when I was 10. Good times. No deraillments.
posted by zpousman at 11:47 AM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

I read a book about the Viet Cong when I was 12 and learned about fertilizer bombs. My friend and I found a paper bag of fertilizer in his garage and poured diesel fuel on it. We decided that a model rocket engine would be a good igniter, so I lit the fuse, dropped it into the bag and ran like hell. Naturally, the engine took off-- it shot right out of the side of the bag into a patch of tall grass behind a frat house 200 feet away.

We were disappointed because we didn't have another engine. Then we noticed that the grass was burning, so we pushed a wheelbarrow full of rain water over to the burning patch and put it out. If we weren't paying attention, we could have burned down half the college because we were too incompetent to blow ourselves up.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:48 AM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

killy willy/Turtles - don't be too sure. My wife recounts bb gun wars, tile fights (slinging ceramic tile squares at each other), falling off of horses at speed, and many other escapades that make me wince. Childhood mayhem is an equal-opportunity employer :-)
posted by bitmage at 11:50 AM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

Ah! My bus stop in middle school was about 1/2 of a mile from my house. I walked to it (in the dark depending on the time of year) every day. Cars flew down the old rural road I was on at speeds way over the posted 25MPH speed limit.

At least three times, strange men stopped and used the "I'm a friend of your mother and she is in the hospital" line on me. Obviously, I always told them to go screw. I would come home and tell my mother this and she'd always cluck her tongue and say "what is this world coming to?"

I had to leave so early that in the winter during snowstorms, I sometimes had to go up there before we knew if school was canceled or not. I have many memories of standing alone (I was the only student at this school bus stop even when the weather was good) in a foot or two of snow for a couple of hours before giving up and walking home.

Good times, good times.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:55 AM on December 1, 2004

There was an interesting article in the Washington Post last week about BB guns. Basically, many of the modern bb and pellet guns kids end up with today are just as powerful as a .22 rifle (Reg. Req.).

Shooting arrows straight up and fleeing lest we get impaled wasn't dangerous enough, so my friend Craig and I would tie firecrackers onto'em.

Turning "snappers" (those lil teardrop shaped tissues that popped when you threw them at something) into concrete-scorching bombs was a big favorite. For 5 bucks worth of snappers you could fill a papertowel and cause a huge bang.

The less said about spraypaint + lighters ='s flamethrower, the better.

Good times, good times.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:56 AM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

Man, I thought my near-death/arrested by police incident with the flaming tennis balls in an alley near Sidwell Friends was somehow unique. Kids know: Tennis balls are really the ultimate flaming projectile.
posted by bardic at 12:01 PM on December 1, 2004

Subject: I can't believe we made it!
We have a skewed view of risk, particularly as we get older, precisely because we did make it. The narrow escapes become miracles: "God was looking after me."
Members of the I can't believe we didn't make it! club never show to argue the contrary position. That's why evolution is such a mystery to many. The mistakes disappear, and survivordom looks quite orderly.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:03 PM on December 1, 2004 [3 favorites]

Pipe bombs are a fun craft project for your 9-13 year olds. We could fill copper tubes with match heads and smokeless powder from my dad's shotgun shells, then crimp the ends in a vice (!) and file a hole in the casing for a piece of cannon fuse, which the weird guy at the gunshop sold us by the mile. These bombs kicked ass, we would put them in the door panels of abandoned cars and blow them apart. And when we discovered that the cannon fuse would burn under water, well, the fun just multiplied. Until my friend Jason actually had one explode between his legs when he was tamping down the match heads with metal rod. Copper shrapnel in his legs, stay in the hospital, and total gounding and lockdown for the rest of us. Supposedly none of it hit the family jewels, but come to think of it Jason started acting real strange after that...
posted by LarryC at 12:03 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

Man I love this thread. Is it safe to post now that Tom Ridge has resigned? HEHEHE

A friend of mine and I used to go down to the beach. Probably around 12 at the time. He would ride on my handlebars, we would go as fast as possible on this one very steep road. No hellmets, in shorts and T shirts. And the brakes on my bicycle were sketchy too. Didn't always work.

Gas bombs, fireworks, BB guns, wrist rockets. There were no street lights in my neighborhood.

Axe throwing contests in my friends back yard.
His Dads police issue .38 made a few appearances.
Rock fights. Dirt bikes.

And that was all before the teenage years. That is where other things got introduced that made the risks that much greater.....
posted by a3matrix at 12:09 PM on December 1, 2004

In this instance, a gun-toting Bible belt family structure might actually be a good thing. I know one such family, and the four boys (ages 6 to 17) are allowed to roam the rural farmland where they live, get fleas from their dogs, and ride dirtbikes and four-wheelers until they wear themselves out each day. A happier, grimier bunch of hoodlums I've never seen.
posted by Saellys at 12:15 PM on December 1, 2004

Not to bust up this nostalgia fest...

I had a great childhood too, with all my siblings and friends (boys AND girls). Wouldn't trade all the mischief, fun and freedom for the wide world. OK. Hurray for us. But now I do see where some lines would have been appropriate.

For starters: things that go BOOM and children should not mix. (To better illustrate this, where's the long thread of stories from surviving kids who blew off thier hands, some fingers or toes, lost eyesight or suffered permanent disability or disfigurement as a result of all the unsupervised playing with explosives. There are thousands of folks out there. What about fires that spread and destroyed homes, or worse? Don't even mention the child's funeral that could easily have been prevented with just a hint of smart adult foresight and supervision.)

I mean, come on. The safety pendulum may or may not have swing too far to the side of uptightness or even paranoia. But having grown up and lived to post about all our wild escapades, we do have serious grounds to wonder: what were our parents thinking?

(By the way, we used to get washing machine motors from the dump and attach them to bikes to make cool scooters. There were no brakes, or just sucky ones, but in the snow and ice especially these homemade scooters could fly down "dead man's hill" faster than any sled -- you just had to cross your fingers when it was your turn that no cars or trucks were on track to be barreling through when you reached the busy intersection at the bottom of the hill, or.... well.)
posted by jellybuzz at 12:18 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

The amazing thing is that with the exception of #2 and #7, my parents were completely fine with all of these things. BTW, I didn't really grow up on a farm (only 2 acres), and it definitely wasn't rural, it was in a suburb of the big town in the midwest.

1) Age 11 to car-driving-age, every weeks or so I drove a tractor to the 7-11 down the highway a few miles. I couldn't reach the clutch, I recall. I had to jump off the big spring-mounted seat onto the clutch to get it to engage. You can get an old-style tractor up to 40-45 miles an hour!
2) Had roman candle fights and BB-gun fights with friends.
3) Learned to weld from a father who disdained safety glasses or gloves. Welded a lot of rocket-launchers for bottle-rockets and other flaming projectiles.
4) Unsupervised .22 rifle usage.
5) Threw Jarts straight up after reading about the abuse of Jarts in the newspaper. It gave me the idea.
6) Drove my dad's bulldozer.
7) With friends, rode around in the bucket of the bulldozer way up at full extension, dad driving. That was one of our favorite things, actually.
8) Rode on the tail of the pickup truck down many a dirt road.
posted by Invoke at 12:24 PM on December 1, 2004

I used to have to walk to and from school with my younger sister -- about a mile from our house, and crossing some major intersections -- when we were as young as 6 and 5. I have a 5-year-old daughter now, and there is no WAY I would let her walk the 10 city blocks from our apartment to kindergarten.

One time when I was about 8 and my sister was 7, we were daring each other to eat things from the backyard -- there were tomato plants and plums growing, stuff like that, but there were also milkweeds and other stuff. My sister squeezed one of these weeds and drank the juice and ended up with a 105 fever and poisoning. Of course, our parents didn't take her to the doctor -- just waited it out.

When I was about 9, my sisters and I decided we'd play "circus," which meant we climbed up on the bar my parents had in the family room and then jumped off onto a thin air mattress -- about a four-foot drop. After we got bored doing regular jumps, we upped the ante by daring each other to do flips. I took the bait and ended up landing smack on the top of my head. I remember literally seeing stars and having a horrible pain in my neck and spine, but I couldn't tell me parents what had happened, because we'd all get busted. I ended up telling my mom I tripped on the stairs and bumped my head.

We also did the Girl Scout cookies / school fundraising things / trick-or-treating, going door to door with no supervision.

And, of course, the carpooling, with four kids squished in the back seat and four more rolling around in the "way back."
posted by mothershock at 12:26 PM on December 1, 2004

When my little brother and I were kids, we had a game where we'd knock a basketball around the yard using baseball bats, aiming for opposite "goals". We were literally running around swinging baseball bats at full force toward the ball, which was usually within four inches or so of somebody's legs. Somehow, we never managed to accidentally kneecap each other, though.
posted by vorfeed at 12:27 PM on December 1, 2004

Hoho, you guys got nuthin' on my wild and crazy youth. I played LAWN DARTS and lived!
posted by picea at 12:29 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

Jellybuzz: exactly. My sister lets her daughters ride around sans helmets on four-wheelers. Sure they like it. But my niece also has a 6 inch permanent burn scar from where her leg touched a hot tailpipe. My kid wouldn't be allowed within a mile of that thing--ever seen one flip? Neck-snap city.

My dad was missing a finger joint on his right hand from some fun he had with a lawnmower as a kid--and I've always had a healthy respect for those blades as a result.
posted by emjaybee at 12:30 PM on December 1, 2004

times have changed, my friends. I submit to you this:

I dressed as a suicide bomber for halloween in the 12h grade, and went to school with fake dynamite, wires, and a clock all duct taped to my torso under a big jacket. This was pre-9/11 obviously.

everyone got a laugh out of it! seriously! I have no doubts that anyone trying that today would end up at another school, or prison.
posted by plexiwatt at 12:30 PM on December 1, 2004

The issue seems to me to be an interesting outgrowth of the whole business of risk. When you look at risk, the more remote the possibility the less you worry about the particular... but any reasonable risk analysis also has to consider whether a particular risk is so unnacceptable that you will try to prevent even a very remote occurrence. Many years back a family friend's son (he was not a kid, more like college age) was riding his bike down a steep hill when the front wheel collapsed and he went over the handlebars, cracked his skull and died on the spot. I don't know really where the line is drawn; you know, I get in the car and drive, I eat cheeseburgers, up until recently I smoked cigarettes. Nevertheless, I wear a helmet on my bicycle, and I'll try to get my kid to do the same.
posted by nanojath at 12:32 PM on December 1, 2004

5) Threw Jarts straight up after reading about the abuse of Jarts in the newspaper. It gave me the idea.

Precisely! Bang on. Perfect.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 12:33 PM on December 1, 2004

1) rock fights by the railroad tracks
2) jumping ramps on shitty bikes
3) skateboarding down hills on cheap plastic boards
4) bottle rocket fights
5) bottle rocket fights from cars when older
6) car chases
7) climbing water towers and other tall buildings at night
8) throwing snowballs at cars (the danger here was mostly from getting our asses kicked by pissed off drivers)
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:34 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

For comparison with "normal" today, I've noticed that my neighbor drives her teen daughter to the school bus stop in the mornings. She then comes back home, so it isn't as if this is just a nice thing to do for her daughter on her way to work. We live on a dead-end street and the bus stop is about 3 block-equivalents away.
posted by Invoke at 12:37 PM on December 1, 2004

Taking turns sitting in an abandoned tractor-trailer tire and then being pushed down the (pretty busy) street. Biking to school in all weathers, biking several miles all over the place to friends' houses, or wherever. Without, of course, helmets. Never wearing shoes in the summer. What M-80s will do to Barbie, Ken and GI Joe. Sledding down hills that ended in traffic, or semi frozen deep ponds, or huge trees and thickets. Treehouses. Fighting with wooden swords. And, because we lived for a couple years right on Long Island Sound, swimming, canoeing and sailing, totally without adult supervision, all over the place. My parents didn't have a clue as to where I was from morning until night: one time I ended up on an island way the hell out there and didn't get rescued for hours. And, for what it's worth, I am a girl.

But the really dangerous stuff was high school: boys, marijuana, LSD, beer and cars. That stuff I regret, and can't believe I lived through! hehehe. good times, good seriously stupid times.

My kids (now 21 and 13) were always been allowed to do everything - until we got to the drinking/drugging/driving stuff. For that, we have a contract: I'll pick them up, no questions asked. For the rest, well, with the young one, I try to shove him into bike and skateboard helmets, but I don't always succeed (I know he takes it off when he gets around the block.) Through their childhoods they wandered around the neighborhood, they bike, we camp and hike and fish, shoot bottle rockets, make dry ice and firecracker bombs. They've never been abducted and we've only had a couple trips to the emergency room: being towed while on your skateboard by another kid on a bike is not a good idea. Neither is skateboarding on your stomach down a hill into traffic (I did stop that one!)
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:38 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

Fired a broadhead hunting arrow straight up into the sky when I was around 13 or so. Didn't see it again until I heard it hit the ground a few feet away a few looong seconds later.
posted by jim-of-oz at 12:39 PM on December 1, 2004

Similarly, I know of at least one person with permanent, severe brain damage from crashing an ATV without a helmet. If you think about it, taking a (for example) 1-in-10,000 risk of catastrophy might be acceptable in the name of fun and adventure. But if you do it 100 or 1000 times and your 10 friends do as well, you're suddenly looking at a pretty high probability of tragedy.


Stupid things I did were mostly things like throwing objects at the school bus driver on the highway. Also, climbing around in half-built buildings was fun.
posted by callmejay at 12:39 PM on December 1, 2004

My dad and his brother, when they were kids, were playing with their father's shotgun when it went off and blew apart a large section of the couch inches away from where my dad's brother was sitting.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:40 PM on December 1, 2004

I spent junior high in a northern Alberta town that had a toboggan hill that is still the best one I've ever seen. It was way kind of in the middle of nowhere and the only way to get to it was to have your parents drive you - and if you were lucky, they'd meet you at the bottom to drive you back up because it was a pretty crazy walk. Two big things strike me as crazy... everyone had GT SNORACERS and on the way down you would always try to hit people climbing back up.

Also, because the oilsands projects were right there, someone's dad would always bring out a massive inflated inner tube, take it to the top of the hill and cram 15-20 kids on it then push them down. At the bottom of the hill there was a huge depression that would result in every single person getting thrown off - it wasn't unusual to see the ambulance there on a Saturday afternoon.

My dad gave me a pellet gun one Christmas and to "test it" he opened the front door and shot a couple decorative lights off his own tree. My favorite thing to do with it was to lie on the floor of the living room with the barrel sitcking out of the blinds and shoot the neighbours' exhaust fans on the roof. For years my dad used to wonder why none of the twirly fans on the surrounding houses actually twirled.
posted by jeffmik at 12:43 PM on December 1, 2004

It's nice to see that I'm not the only one who lived a dangerous childhood!

Among my exploits:
- Dad operated a shooting range. He used to send me out to burn the trash. Guess what was in there...
- Riding a 125cc motorcycle on gravel roads at 12. That one cost me a lot of skin and a wrist brace for the summer.
- Shooting guns/archery with no adult supervision
- Paintball "initiation". You had to stand six feet in front of everyone and run until they couldn't hit you any more.
- I was hit by a garbage truck when I crossed the street on my bike when I was 12 or 13. Actually he only ran over my bike. I hopped off and landed about two feet from the front of the truck.
- My friends decided to see who could jump their cars the highest. The friend I was riding with was determined to win. He made it to about 50 before hitting the jump. While we were airborne his speaker box came over his back seat to smack us in the back of the head. The landing was the bad part. It ripped off his oil pan, broke his front axle, etc.

None of that killed me but I have a sneaking suspicion that sitting in a cubicle for the rest of my life might.
posted by srburns at 12:46 PM on December 1, 2004 [2 favorites]

Yep, the standard tackle football in the rocky field, bb gun fights, bottle rocket fights, model rocket engine + black powder + match head bombs for me.

Then there was the homemade napalm. I was astonished at the amount of styrofoam that one soup can full of gasoline could dissolve. I was fooling around with it in the backyard one afternoon when I heard my mom pull up in the driveway. I didn't have anything to put it out with so I just stomped on it with my foot......wrong answer. I now had a shoe on fire and the rubber sole was melting and dripping off. I'm not sure how I got out of that one.

In grad school we would climb onto the roof of the bathroom/changing rooms and jump across 6 feet of concrete into the shallow end of the swimming pool. You'd have thought my medical school friends would know better than to engage in one-slip-away-from-total-paralysis behavior, but oh well.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 12:46 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

8 year-old boy
.22 LR bullet acquired from friend at school
Little Brother (witness, willing accomplice)
Bullet placed on back patio (concrete)
Large rock, held chest high above bullet
Nothing, though lead part flattened
Try again
More screaming
New sliding glass door for patio
posted by HyperBlue at 12:47 PM on December 1, 2004

When I was 7, one of my friends had steady access to torpedoes (these were explosive devices that were placed on railroad tracks to warn the engineer to stop the train when he ran over them). We would gather in a circle on the pavement, cut off a quarter or half torpedo, and hit it with a hammer. We would then laugh because everyone was mouthing words but nothing was coming out.

At about the same time, we would gather on a nearby train trestle and wait for a train to come. We would then flip over the side and hang from the ties until the train had passed. The drop to the ground below was 25-30 feet, so failure to hang on meant bruises and the occasional broken bone.

At 10, someone in the group got hold of a spring-loaded skeet thrower. Russian roulette ensued: first you were the target as your opponent launched a rock at you from 20 yards away, then you switched places. Game continued until someone was hit. Rules were you had to face the shooter and there wasn't time to duck.

At 13, along with several other members of my high school football team, I attempted to sneak into East Berlin. We thought it would be really cool to wave at our coach from the other side of the wall. (We had the idea that Checkpoint Charlie was like the guardshacks at the main gates of the military bases and we would be able to stroll through while the guards were inspecting cars.) Not really dangerous, but stupid nonetheless.

In high school, we would use desk staplers as duelling weapons (open the stapler, hold it by the base and swing -- a hit on your opponent resulted in a staple wound).
posted by joaquim at 12:47 PM on December 1, 2004 [2 favorites]

You know what’s really freaky? If you extrapolate backwards in time, each one of us has made it through a minefield of accumulated ancestral stupidities that would dwarf this list. And that’s not even counting the chances of spouses meeting, sperm & egg combinations, etc.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:47 PM on December 1, 2004

Also, one time it was too cold to go tobogganing outside so my friend and I decided to go down the stairs (flight of 20 or so) in a tupperware box thing. He went first, with me following right after. My parents came around the corner, wondering why he was screaming so loudly, just in time to see me slide face first into the door at the bottom of the stairs and get knocked out.

I love tobogganing.
posted by jeffmik at 12:48 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

We are very poor at realistically evaluating risk. I recently read an article ("Fearing the Worst" by Sarah Scott) that argued pretty convincingly that the odds of a child being abducted by a stranger are lower now than they were thirty years ago. Thirty five years ago I went out the door Saturday morning and didn't return home until "the streetlights went on". Now, I won't let me daughter walk to the store on her own. We used to "call on" kids to go play. Now? Play Dates. (Aaaargh!).

Why? Because the first thing that goes through my head when I think of my daughter walking out of the house alone is her tied up in the back of some freak's van. My parents didn't face a media barrage every time a child was abducted. Now? Way, way more kids die of cancer than are killed by strangers, but the fear of stranger abduction is on every parent's mind every single day. As someone in the article pointed out (paraphrased): "I don't know the names of any kids who have died of cancer. I know the intimate details of several children who have been abducted and killed."
posted by Turtles all the way down at 12:53 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

It should be noted that kids still do dumb things and survive.

I was kayaking a few months ago with a group of people; we were all in pfd, helmets, kayaks, wetsuits, etc. We were playboating in a fairly strong hole (or hydraulic, where some water moves upstream in a strong wave, can recirculate you over and over if you're unlucky). We all have throw ropes in our boats in case anybody gets in trouble. Then three kids show up with a sled to which they've taped huge hunks of foam. They then proceed to run the drop and get flushed through the hole on their contraption, wearing jeans an T-shirts.

It looked like fun.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:55 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

i grew up in a small town in montana, not much to do except play near the train tracks or local mill.

used to put pennies on the train track but could never find them again - so my brother and i taped a few down with duct tape. sat back against the station house to wait. when the next train came through, one of the pennies shot off and pinned me to the wall of the station by a hair - half an inch lower and i'd have gotten a 1 cent lobotomy. it actually stuck sharp-side first into the wall. we didn't tape any more pennies after that.

we did jump our bikes into empty coal cars off an embankment a few times; we stopped doing that the day the train car we were currently in started moving.

the mill was fun. almost got buried in loose grain a few times. that would have killed us... suffocation and all. still don't know why the grain storage sheds were kept unlocked.

we also spent quite a bit of time in the "playhouses" we found - defunct hay balers, abandoned in a field. we crawled through them every chance we got, and i'm surprised noe of us ever got stuck or shredded by the rusting metal.

we also used to break into the high school boiler room by climbing in through an air duct... tight fit, but we figured out you had to drop into this narrow shaft, turn backwards to get your legs out up to the knees, then flip over to a seated position to wiggle the rest of the way into the room. last time i did it i was just barely small enough to get back out again without becoming a permanent resident in the duct - and as i had gone out first, if i hadn't made it my brother would have had no way out to go and get help.

after moving back to michigan we experimented with bb gun fights, napalm (vaseline + gasoline), white gas, bottle rockets and anything else we could find that went "boom". had a good time with all that, until i left for college and my younger brother got nailed for blowing up mailboxes... good thing this all happened pre-oklahoma city or he'd still be in jail.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:55 PM on December 1, 2004

I note others with a similar attitude to mine as a child: "Death? Dismemberment? I can handle that. Getting caught? Uh-uh, no way." I remember wrecking on my Huffy and sliding into a curb. It dislocated my hip, and gave me serious road rash. I was panicked because I couldn't move my leg. A friend dragged me out of the road and the hip popped back into the socket. (!) I staggered home, covered in blood, but I remember that my biggest fear was getting caught. "I'm just in the bathroom, Mom! Running lots of water! Nothing to worry about!"

Side note: this comment really got me:
"I feel sorry for today's youth. Imagine this same conversation twenty years from now: Dude! Once, I played my Nintendo, during a freaking thunderstorm, man! There was, like, lightening outside and everything!" Harsh.
posted by bitmage at 12:57 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

Tame, but funny at the time:
This band-geek, bored in the brass section of a large HS band as the conductor worked with the woodwinds, used a butane lighter to fill a trupmet mute. Then, when lit, a mildly percussive large blue flame shot out of said mute [fire, fire]. However, the second time, just as the flame was lit, the conductor called us to attention. I dropped the mute to the floor, but the lingering flames lit my accomplice's shoelaces on fire. Resulting smoke caused evacuation and suspension.
posted by HyperBlue at 1:00 PM on December 1, 2004

One incident I managed to live through happened when I was 17. One of my best friends joined the Marines when he turned 18. When he got out of boot camp he came back to our town a totally changed person. Spoiling for a fight. He carried a huge hunting knife. One night we drove up to Hollywood just for the hell of it. Cruising around, a car full of gang-bangers pulled up along side of us. My friend, Tom, thought one of them was looking at him the wrong way. He pulled the hunting knife out, made sure they saw it and cursed at them. One of them pulls a pistol and aims it right at us. I yelled at Tom, they got a gun, which is when he snapped out of it and veered off onto a side street where we made our getaway.
posted by redneck_zionist at 1:04 PM on December 1, 2004

jeffmik -- Wow, fellow Fort McMurrayite. I still miss Confederation Hill and Hospital Hill.... took a few spills there myself.

My friends and I would make modifications to our sleds.... made for more interesting collisions when you tried to ram into each other. Pieces of 2x4 or lumber scraps, that sort of thing. Also building large, steep snow ramps and 'jumping' your sled... good times.
posted by vesper at 1:12 PM on December 1, 2004

What is it with boys and explosives? My dad had guns EVERYWHERE when I was growing up and I never touched any of them or the bullets except when I was with him. (Literally everywhere. We would open up the desk drawer to get tape or scissors and would have to push aside 2-3 handguns. We would shut a door and 2 rifles would fall to the ground that were propped up behind it. Boxes of bullets everywhere.)

I also rode my bike down and VERY busy street and big hill to school everyday. A 3 mile ride both ways. Always alone.

Take the bus to Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley (a street full of wonderful unique record stores, head shops, and such and really scary homeless people, ex-hippies, and punks) and hang out with punks and street people all day long and take the bus home. Again, no cell parents just knew I was "going to Telegraph."

No bike helmets, ever. No ski helmets, ever.

The main thing I did was disappear all day long. All day. Leave at 8, come back at 8 in the summer. No cell phones. I would leave with a friend and just play in the neighborhood. My mom and dad had NO IDEA where I was. It was wonderful and I hope that when my daughter is that age, I will allow her to do the was a huge part of my childhood.
posted by aacheson at 1:23 PM on December 1, 2004

A quick look at my girlhood:

1) I had a mini-bike at age 8 which I rode every day after school until suppertime. All my neighborhood pals (boys) immediately complained to their parents until they too had mini-bikes. This lead to all manner of dangerous fun -- skeetching behind the mini-bike, racing, hooking our younger brother's hot wheels up on a tow line behind the bike and making them ride on it over hills, ramps and whatever else we could rig up in our attempts to kill them.

2) Jumping off roofs. Not even with a makeshift parachute, just to jump off of it.

3) Snake collecting.

4) Hide and seek at midnight. We'd use whoopee cushions to make each other laugh and uncover our hiding places, but also making the evil neighbor lady mad enough to come out and chase us with a flashlight.

5) General bad behavior in cars with no seatbelts on.

6) I could go on and on and on.

I don't think I'd enjoy being a kid now days.
posted by Tomboy at 1:30 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

I managed to make it down the 30 ft fire pole on the playground without a safety harness or a helmet.

Do they still have the climbing rope in gym class? That thing was attached to the gymnasium ceiling 100ft in the air. Whew, to think I'm still alive to talk about it today....
posted by Gooney at 1:31 PM on December 1, 2004

When I look back on this one, I am scared for myself, let alone any kids that might try it today. I ran wild like a monkey like everyone else here, taking all kinds of liberties with semi-private and actually private property in my hometown. One of our favorite haunts was the marina next to the public park. You could sneak into the boat club and play on its balconies...I learned early that adults mostly don't call you on being somewhere you shouldn't.

Well, this was along a tidal river that went out to New York Bay. One day when I was ten or so, I was at the boat club with some other kids. We went out onto this floating dock in a small inlet at the boat club -- you could jump onto it from the bulkhead. It was used to launch small sailboats, but it was empty that day. We got a big long pole from somewhere (who knows ...) and had fun pushing the dock around from side to side. Then somebody noticed that the dock was only loosely tied to the bulhead with some nylon twine. So if we undid the twine, we would have this really cool floating raft and could travel all over the river with it. Just like Huck Finn. Great idea, man!

So we untied it and started poling down the inlet. Came even with the corner of the bulkhead, and suddenly, horrifyingly, the power of this tidal river, which was racing out on the outgoing tide, took hold of the raft and sucked it out into the current. The shore started drawing farther and farther away from us as we drifted out toward the center of this very wide river which was rushing for the ocean. The river was too deep for the pole to grab. We were being sucked out to sea. It was SOOOO scary -- we were about to be flung downriver like old trash.

Well, somebody's brother or something was on the shore, and they went running out to the end of a long pier and lobbed us a plastic bailer on a long rope. It fell across the 'raft', we grabbed the rope, and with the kid on the other end hanging onto a piling, we hauled ourselves in. We poled the raft back alongshore to where it belonged, tied it up, and coolly and quietly walked away. An odd silence took over; we never really talked about that adventure and nobody ever proposed doing it again. Certainly nobody's parents ever heard about it. I thinkwe realized we could have been seriously fucked for once. All of this took no more than 10 minutes to unfold, but I'll never forget the feeling of the current taking that raft, that 'oh shit' moment when you realize that this time, you really are in over your head.
posted by Miko at 1:37 PM on December 1, 2004 [4 favorites]

I can't believe I read the whole thing... as a child of the 80's helmets have been around all my life so I can hardly imagine not riding without one.

Gasonline in a supersoaker would have to be my favorite childhood story. I remember looking around my parent's backyard after my friends and I had finished... the lawn didn't look normal for the rest of the summer.
posted by asterisk at 1:38 PM on December 1, 2004

Chemistry set + model rocket engines + match heads + lighter fluid + the occasional M80 + anything else that burns = homemade fireworks. That was what we did in my friend's garage. Oh, and there was plenty of unsupervised use of the propane torch.

I don't suppose they make chemistry sets like that anymore, though.

We all survived with no injuries. However, a guy I went to high school with lost an eye and a hand doing basically the same thing.

If my daughter did anything like that, I'd freak.
posted by expialidocious at 1:48 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

My best friend in junior high actually ran over his grandmother on a bike with no brakes. I still vividly remember the cry of "Look out, Maw-Maw!", immediately followed by a sound that only the collision of a dirt bike and a grandmother could possibly make. It's a memory that still brings me much merriment (everyone was okay).
posted by malaprohibita at 1:57 PM on December 1, 2004 [2 favorites]

One thing we did that hasn't been mentioned yet: blowguns. Take an aluminum arrow and saw off the tip. Saw off the plastic part with the notch for the bow..

Get a box of stick pins for $.99. Make little cones out of paper and then stick the pin through the tip of the cone. Now you've got darts.

This was all great fun until I got one in the throat, which pretty much ended my brief but exciting blowgun career. I can't believe nobody ever got one in the eye.
posted by Atom12 at 2:03 PM on December 1, 2004

I can think of three people from my junior high that died doing stupid-ass kid shit. Didn't stop me from sneaking out after midnight and hanging out with whomever happened to be on the beach that night, taking busses to Hollywood and going to clubs without any way of getting home, eating whatever someone said was acid, and burning anything we could get our hands on.

Some of it was fun, but I'm glad my niece and nephew have actual parents (one of whom is still aghast at what his little sister pulled).
posted by goofyfoot at 2:06 PM on December 1, 2004

Most notable would be my early experiments in bootlegging at age 16. I didn't have the money/welding skills to make an alembic pot still, so I settled with fermenting apple cider with acquired wine yeasts. On the second or third batch, I upgraded from the usual 2-liter soda bottle to a gallon glass jug.

Of course, while I had the recipe and procedure almost down, I had neglected to learn about fermentation locks, so I simply screwed the metal cap onto the jug and let it sit in my room. After a few weeks of tending to it, I assumed that the reaction had stopped and left it to age a bit, cap screwed on tightly. I forgot about it and went about my life.

The day I got off for Christmas break, I was reading in a room downstairs when I heard a loud explosion followed by the sound of shattering glass. I don't think that I'll ever forget that sound. I was clueless for a few seconds until I went up to check my room. sure enough, the glass jug had exploded. Shards of glass were strewn across the room. Near where it had been sitting, the drywall was torn up, as was the side of my oak bookcase. On the other side of the room, shards were embedded in the ceiling, not to mention the gallon of hard cider that was slowly spreading across the floor.

In the end, my parents didn't punish me so much as laugh at me. It did put an end to my bootlegging, though.... for a while.
posted by The White Hat at 2:07 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

I, too, am a child of the 80s, when bike safety really became a big issue for parents. Hell, my dad wouldn't even let me *have* a bike - he thought it was too dangerous.

No, instead, my sister and I were allowed to go off and ride horses unsupervised whenever we damned well pleased. (We ourselves didn't own horses, but had friends and family who did) Bareback, if we felt like it. I got lost more than once and chased by wild dogs another time. My sister was a bit wilder and went jumping in the backwoods whenever she had the chance.

Same thing went for guns. I wasn't allowed to have any gun-like toy, save for the more bizarre-shaped water pistols.

But stuffing a handful of bottlerockets down a home-made potato launcher and blasting them off for the 4th of July? No problem.
posted by Sangre Azul at 2:09 PM on December 1, 2004

You mean, there's noone else who used to fire Estes model rockets - "A" size rockets with "D" engines shoehorned into them - horizontally, at passing traffic (favorite target: wood trucks, semis loaded with logs, which had to slow down going up the hill) on their rural roads? Enhancing their aerodynamics with extra fins to get them to fly straighter? Setting up crude but effective impact-detonating explosives on them?

Only me? Okay... heh.

Childhood in the city (5-10 yrs): dirt-bomb fights, sewer exploration, waterballoon attack from 15-story rooftop, dumpster burning, ok-you-distract-the-cops-while-we-spraypaint-tag-the-cruiser,
subway track expedition, "sliding" the apartment building steps, which were bare concrete - you put on your old Converse or Keds with the worn-to-slick soles, and slip from step to step as fast as possible, trying to reach bottom the fastest from 15th floor,

Tens/teens in the boonies: apple fights, BB gun fights, treehouse 100 feet up a huge maple, bicycle jumpramps including hurling ourselves off the tops of 80-foot gravel pits to try to land as far down the slope as possible without hitting the flat bottom, shootin' rats at the town dump with .22s, driving old cars out on the frozen lake in the dead of night with no lights on, dirt-motorcyclin' waaay out in the woods (and sometimes walking home hurt or pushing the bike out of the woods, out of gas), quarry-lake diving, all manner of fireworks up to and including pilfered det-cord and paper company dynamite (12-ga shells make great grenades, really!)... garden thieving, pumpkin demolition, school bus and farm equipment disablement, street sign theft, unsupervised fishing, hunting, camping, walking around, being gone all weekend.

Oh and D&D too.

And we used to wait in great anticipation for ice storms, because that was the best time to go runner-sleddin' down the big hill by Rick's house - down the highway, that is. Nearly a mile and a half of 4-5% grade, covered with black ice... we'd sharpen up and polish the runners on the grinder/polisher and wait until conditions were perfect. I think we hit close to 50 mph at the sweet spot of that hill - or at least it felt like it, from 4 inches above the road surface. There certainly was no way to stop until the road flattened out, except for the very risky practice of edging way over to the side of the road, trying to JUST catch the rougher gravel edge enough to slow you down - as opposed to catching it hard and getting spilled.

Plus, once we had licenses and cars, very high-speed driving on slippery, snow covered roads, at night, with all the lights off. In 3 cars driving about 5 feet apart. Rick went on to be a fighter pilot. :)

Never broke a bone, but sure got bruised up, cut up, and sprained a lot. I thought it was a lot of fun, and I'd probably let any kids I might have eventually do lots of it. Well, maybe not so much the city stuff...
posted by zoogleplex at 2:10 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

One of my best friends walked into a spinning airplane propeller and lost his entire left side. He's all right now.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:10 PM on December 1, 2004 [2 favorites]

I used to carry a pocket knife to school. No body really cared.
posted by joelf at 2:33 PM on December 1, 2004

Some homemade bombs.
A couple of mistakes with HF acid.
A few unsuccessful attempts at hacking a military computer.
Casual B&E.

I turned to simple civil disobedience after I turned 18 because, you know, you can go to jail for some of that other stuff.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:37 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

Explosives here, but my friends and I went beyond pipebombs. We went to thermite and took out power to a 3 or 4 block area when we took out a transformer. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Although to my own credit I wasn't there when my friends lit that one, though I did help make it.

The closest I came to genepool self-removal was mixing a batch of our favorite smoke bomb/propellant which is just saltpeter and white sugar. To get it to work just right, you need to mix equal amounts and then carefully melt it. Once it starts turning brown, get it off the heat and into your rocket/bomb. If it heats up too much it will, of course, ignite.

So, we made this in small batches, tablespoon by tablespoon. Of course, you can imagine the visual of two or three kids hovering around a melting white powder in a spoon over a candle, but that never got us in trouble. The trouble came when we decided to melt a large batch all at once in a soup can. The initial stages went okay, but I walked away and neglected to stir it frequently enough. As I bent over the can a moment later the propellant ignited and shot a cone of powder in the air, which then also ignited.

Did I mention that this was inside my parent's garage?

Anyhow, no serious burns, a ton of smoke and a failed attempt at playing dumb later (what scorch marks, Dad?), I think I was grounded until, oh, last week or so.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:50 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

You are all pansies.

I ran with scissors.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:56 PM on December 1, 2004

I used to have a lead melting set. Melt lead and pour it into molds ... make yer own leaden soldiers, etc. I'm not sure how much of my brain that stuff ate away.

Now I'm not sure of this, but I think the rear window of my parents car actually rolled all the way down. It's a wonder I never threw myself out of it. I say, if a kid is dumb enough to throw itself out of a moving car, let it. Keeps the gene pool a little cleaner.
posted by MotherTucker at 2:56 PM on December 1, 2004

vesper - Fort McMurray, it is! Its been many years since I've been back so I thought perhaps my memory had exagerated the hill into what I think of it today but my dad confirms it as well. I was "asked nicely" not to return to school after grade 8 for an incident that involved the breaking of all the bleachers at one of the high schools. oops.
posted by jeffmik at 2:58 PM on December 1, 2004

Someone mentioned above the game where you try to get a stick through someone's spokes. We played that too, except it was done with everyone on bikes. We'd ride towards each other as fast as we could and try to get the stick in the other person's front tire as we passed. Like jousting. There was also the version with ramps. We'd make a bike ramp using whatever plywood and cement blocks we could find, and everyone not riding would line up at the base of it to try to get a stick through the jumper's spokes at the top of the ramp. This led to some impressive crashes. We also set up ramps so that we'd land in the brush off the road. This being Hawaii, there were often fissures and lava pits hidden under the brush. Once, when doing this on my own, I was stuck in a 12 foot deep hole until my dad got home and heard me yelling.

There were, of course, also rock fights and dart fights and roman candle and bottle rocket wars. These usually ended badly, but never with any serious injuries. We'd also set traps for each other. Covered pits, tripwires that brought down a barrage of rocks and dirt, that kind of thing. As often as not, the trap setter would forget after a few days and set it off themselves.

And the tree swings. We had one swing that was responsible for three hospital visits. It was a thirty foot rope hanging over a thirty foot gully. That is, the rope hung from a tree branch sixty feet over the bottom of the gully. I don't even remember what the fall was like, all I remember is my hands slipping and then waking up on the rocky gully floor, unable to breathe. I thought I was dead. I walked back to the house, took a painful shower, decided the gurgling in my chest was probably not a good thing, and told my mom I needed to go to the hospital. When my brother fell he ruptured his spleen. We had to take it down after that.

One of our favorite things was "exploring." We'd just head off somewhere that looked interesting, like the city flood water drainage system. We got lost under the city a couple times, but we were always able to find our way out by looking out through those curb drains and figuring out what street we were under. Abandoned factories were also a common destination of these expeditions.

And then of course, there are the flammable things. Gasoline in a super soaker was cool, but what I remember as the most fun (and definitely the most dangerous) stunt I pulled with gas involved putting about six ounces of gas in a big black plastic trash bag, making a hole a few inches above the level of the gas, lighting it, and throwing the bag straight up as high as I could. Eight out of ten times, this would result in a rising sheet of flame about twenty feet over our heads. Two times out of ten it would go out, and we'd all be covered in a fine gasoline mist. When that happened, someone would drop a match on the lawn, and a ring of fire would race out from the point the match touched. Getting caught by the fire meant you lost. It also meant you were briefly set on fire yourself, but it was so little gas, and so vaporized, that it burned off without scorching.

And the rest. Unsupervised cave exploration, dune diving (jump head first off the top of a dune, try to land in a somersault), camping alone, river rafting on floating telephone poles, jumping off roofs and out of trees, tag on the roof of the school (we had covered walkways between buildings, so it was like a highway system up there)...

I can go on, there were hundreds of things like this. I mean, our bike ramps always got taller and taller until someone had to go in from injury after jumping. We never wore helmets. We had competitions on the trampoline to see who could do the most crazy stunts, often ending with one or more people landing head first on the metal bar (no padding over the bar and springs on our trampoline). The all time worst thing, though, the one that makes me thankful all my brothers are still alive, was the car stunts. We had an old Mazda 323 that had been totaled, but still ran. I decided to teach my youngest brother how to drive stick with it, since it didn't matter if he crashed it. For whatever reason, I decided this could best be accomplished while hanging on the top of the car, giving instructions through the sunroof. This of course set off all kinds of light bulbs in our heads, and so we found a new game. We'd go out to a big empty dirt field, choose one person to drive, and everyone else would climb on top. The driver would then proceed to try to shake the riders off at 30 miles per hour. I remember hanging on to the side of the car, one hand in the sun roof, one on the door handle, with my body parallel to the side of the car, trying to figure out how I could roll so I wouldn't get run over by the tires when my grip failed, which it was going to do very quickly. The other thing we'd do was stand on the hood while the driver sped up as fast as they could in the available space, then the driver would slam on the brakes and we'd fly off into the dirt. If you managed to land on your feet, you won.
posted by Nothing at 2:59 PM on December 1, 2004 [5 favorites]

A guy two years above me in Primary (Elementary) school used to play with explosives and chemicals. I can remember him early on as blond and pretty good looking. He's not any more. He blew half his face off in a chemical accident. Nasty.

And me and my next door neighbour still experimented with the gunpowder from fire crackers.....
posted by sien at 3:01 PM on December 1, 2004

My childhood car seat was just that, a seat for the car. It had folding hooks that went over the bench seat so I could see over the (all metal) dash board. Seatbelts were either non-existent or on the floor somewhere. Try doing that now without getting arrested...
posted by tommasz at 3:01 PM on December 1, 2004

Oh, right, the explosives. There were those too. Nothing so interesting as thermite, but we did try controlled demolitions of small trees and the like.

And since I forgot to mention it above, no one was ever seriously hurt, except for that one ruptured spleen, and that healed.
posted by Nothing at 3:04 PM on December 1, 2004

mic stand: are you calling me demented or my gran?
posted by biffa at 3:08 PM on December 1, 2004

The neighbor kids and I used to ride on big sand dunes with dirt bikes and 3 and 4 wheelers.

We hung out in a really structurally unsound 3 story log cabin that we spent a summer building with dead tree branches. (Fortunately, when it collapsed, no one was in it.)
posted by sophie at 3:08 PM on December 1, 2004

And while I'm here, people wear bike helmets? They look so stupid, why don't you just watch where you're going?

And now I think of it, we used to do that running battles with rockets thing as well.
posted by biffa at 3:10 PM on December 1, 2004

My friend Chris and I liked to burn stuff. We also liked explosions. We were maybe 14 when, in his backyard, we affixed many, many firecrackers to a toy bulldozer (or something). After the explosions, the bulldozer was burnt and still smoldering, and I thought it would be cool to dump some lighter fluid on it. So I liberally doused the flaming toy with flammable liquid, and I still don't totally understand the physics of what happened: so far as I can figure it, the flame shot up the spout of lighter fluid, "rebounded" against the inside of the bottom of the can, and shot back out in a huge, flaming jet. Had Chris been standing about one foot to the left, he would've been charred. As it was, we torched a couple raspberry bushes, and that was the extent of the damage.

Chris and another friend and I also once somehow obtained a vial of mercury, and had a grand time pouring it on the carpet and pushing the little shiny blobs around with pencils. Amazingly, we managed not to touch it, but damn if we didn't come close to potentially fatal mercury poisoning.
posted by Dr. Wu at 3:10 PM on December 1, 2004

Eh, thermite's for pussies. Getting your hands on some quality aluminum powder is the hardest part. Yeah, it burns hot, but it's not as cool as nitroglycerin.

Anyway, this guy is way more hardcore than any of us pussies.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:16 PM on December 1, 2004

shootin' rats at the town dump with .22s

My mom told me that when she was in college, a suitor invited her on a date to shoot rats at the town dump. She declined.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 3:17 PM on December 1, 2004 [2 favorites]

I have a story about someone who didn't survive. I had a friend in his teens who dove head first into a river about 3 feet deep. Got out of the water and said his head hurt and wanted to lie down. He went to a friends house and went to sleep on his couch. He woke up the next morning and was paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life. He died a couple of years later.

Woohoo first post!
posted by Justin Case at 3:24 PM on December 1, 2004

Female Junior Electrician @ age 9: I had the top bunk replete with one of those wrought iron light fixtures that simply hung on the wall. A piece of wire I found and the pocket knife my mother foolishly bought me (parental warning was technically adhered to) were just what I needed to conduct the experiment.

Climbed up on my bed, stripped both ends of the wire, removed lamp shade and bulb. Wrapped one end of wire around the base of the bulb i(n the grooves), pushed the switch of the lamp to ON and while holding the bulb in one hand, the insulated portion of the wire in the other, stuck the bare end of the wire in the socket to see if the bulb would light.

When I made contact, a shower of sparks issued forth and then the entire house went dark. Immediately after that sort of groan a house makes when the power goes out, I hear my mothers voice calling out my name. Not in fear, panic or anger. Just that tone of resigned knowlege that if X occurs, A probably had something to do with it!

Trust me, there were plenty of other events to encourage her belief this equation = true!
posted by sillygit at 3:29 PM on December 1, 2004 [2 favorites]

Justin's story reminds me of another story I heard. A friend of mine used to hang out a local rugby club when she was back in the valleys (that's Wales to you furrners). Anyway, there was a bloke at the club called Tube, who apparently was so called because when he was 12 he jumped off a bridge into a river failing to see the piece of wood floating just below the surface. He severed his cock irreparably and thus has to piss through a tube for the rest of his life.
posted by biffa at 3:38 PM on December 1, 2004

somehow we have turned out to be the parents who have forced all this overprotective bullshit on our children. Not to mention the climate of fear we all live in these days.

posted by rushmc at 3:50 PM on December 1, 2004

You know, I did some pretty wild stuff on my bike when I was a kid - I rode it so hard I eventually cracked the frame, actually. I used to build ramps in the street out of 2x4s and stacks of plastic flowerpots, as a sort of high-speed balancing act combined with the possibility that the whole rickety structure would just collapse. I'd ride standing up, with feet on the handlebars, with feet on the handlebars laying on my stomach facing backwards. I'd ride barefooted, in shorts and a T-shirt; I'd ram curbs, ride on the train tracks, cut big spiraling wheelies in the street.... I skinned my knees, twisted my ankles, scraped my elbows, tore my clothes, polished my shoe soles smooth. I even got rammed by a car once, coming too fast around a blind corner; I rolled up the hood and onto the windshield, rattled but uninjured.

NEVER ONCE did I bump my head.

Helmets, pfeh.

I'm not planning to have any kids, but if I did, I know quite well what kind of mayhem they'd get up to when my back was turned. I know the fashion these days is to never let kids outside unless they're strapped into GPS-tracked Michelin Man safety suits, but I think it's a bunch of crap. What fun would childhood have been without summers full of thrilling exploration, devious invention, and petty danger?
posted by Mars Saxman at 4:06 PM on December 1, 2004

He severed his cock irreparably and thus has to piss through a tube for the rest of his life.
Great, now my legs are squeezed together too tightly to freaking walk.
posted by substrate at 4:11 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

Kids nowadays have Jackass and Dirty Sanchez to inspire them.
In my day you had to make up your own stupid passtimes.
Sometimes the local news would report on some dangerous new craze - for us to try out.
Tabogganing, now that was some dangerous shit, not that the youth of today have to worry themselves with it as global climate change has meant no decent snowfall for the past 10 years or so.
(What Mars said)
What is this idea that a child cycling alone is in any way dangerous? Is there a statistical reason for this fear?
posted by asok at 4:12 PM on December 1, 2004

Oh man, I'm lucky to be alive.

I don't even know where to begin. Rock fights, fire, modified or improvised fireworks. Me and my brother used to try riding out bikes up trees. Trees! Skateboarding of all sorts, from street to half-pipes to offroad down cliffs and hills, biking down cliffs and hills, taking big wheels and shopping carts down cliffs and hills, cardboard surfing down cliffs and hills. We pretty much did everything fun you could with a dirt cliff and hill, including just throwing ourselves off it to cartwheel like a ragdoll.

Climbing huge trees and falling out of them quite frequently. Wrist rocket fights. Throwing stupid shit at each other. Rolling down stuff in tires or barrels. Climbing into storm drains and sewers, swimming in industrial runoff and poop. Climbing buildings and structures, taunting bee hives and crotchety people, picking fights with jocks twice our age and size and beating the snot out of them. Intentionally tumbling and falling down stairs. Stair sledding! Jumping off of roofs into pools, trampolines, bushes, and trees! Jumping off of roofs to the ground!

There used to be a series of hills with horse trails that ended in perfect ski-jump style ramps in this large park near where I grew up where 10-20 feet of vertical air on a bike was a daily occurance. We're talking 3 or 4 second flight times, jumps in the 50-60 feet long 'cause the hill fell away again after the ramp just like a ski jump. I remember bailing out on that and landing on my butt so hard I thought I'd be able to reach back and feel my tailbone sticking out. No one even owned a helmet then.

My dad introduced me and my brother to surfing, body boarding and body surfing at very young ages. Like 4 and 5. He taught us to swim by simply tossing us in the 4-5 foot tall surf off a rock-pile jetty. We thought it was great.

A few years later he hand-crafted and shaped plywood skimboards for us. That is probably the most dangerous thing I ever regularly did.

A skimboard is like a short, squat, finless surfboard. To use it you stand on a sandy beach, wait for a wave to come and coat the sand with a nice, thin layer of water, start running, throw the board and then leap on the moving board to slide at high speed right into the pounding shorebreak. If you do it right, you can launch yourself off the shorebreak to some really impressive heights and do flips and stuff. If you get really good you can ride the shorebreak like you were surfing.

If you do it wrong - and doing it wrong happens about 2/3 times - you catch an edge of the skimboard on a bump or rock and get slammed to the wet sand, producing many bumps and scrapes. We called 'em rasberries or strawberries, and were a badge of honor. Wet, compacted beach sand for some reason is more dense and abrasive then sidewalk concrete.

I landed straight down on my head in several inches of water so many times I'm amazed I can still speak. Once I caught about 10 feet of air, rotated, and came down on my head like a lawn dart in about 2 inches of water. The crash was so severe a lifeguard came running over instantly with a backboard and collar in a totally panicked state, and was pretty pissed off when I stood up, shook my head and darted off to catch the next ride.

I've body-surfed in 15-20 foot hurricane swells. You know the waves are big when you get sucked up over the falls and it slams you all the way to the ocean floor in 8-10 feet of water. I remember body surfing the world famous "Wedge" in Newport Beach, CA and almost drowning a few times, only to go right back out after catching my breath.

So many wonderfully stupid things. I don't think there was a month of my childhood where I didn't have some scab or contusion somewhere on my body. I've got scars on all my knees and elbows, and a few on my head. I was lucky, because my whole family was pretty wild like that. My mom told us lots of tales about climbing the huge trees in the foothills of Los Angeles where she grew up and regularly encountering mountain lions and coyotes and such.

If I lived somewhere where it snowed I'd either be dead or have ten times the scars and injuries.

I only broke one bone during all this, and it was my collarbone when I was about 6. I was rollerskating. 3 or 4 weeks into healing and wearing the stupid sling I felt I was better, and I was sick of not being able to play, so I went to the monkey bars and tried to hang by my arms, rebreaking the collarbone. Apparently the playground supervisor heard my collarbone snap before I started screaming.

I still skateboard and mountain bike. When I skate, I skate the new and wonderful skateparks that are popping up everwhere, but I wear full pads, wrist guards and a helmet. Yeah, because it's safer, for one. But for another reason because it lets you skate more, because when you're skating concrete vert bailouts are part of the game, and it's just much nicer to be able to slam down on your kneepads and wrist guards and slide on the plastic armor.

Damn, now I want to go do some skateboarding or downhilling on my mountain bike. If you guys don't hear from me in the next couple of days, blame bitmage.
posted by loquacious at 4:38 PM on December 1, 2004

I am female but always hung out and played with the boys. When I was about 8 my uncle told me if I could kiss my elbow I would turn into a boy and I spent an entire summer trying to do it. Thankfully, I never succeeded.

I grew up in Florida back when there were only three area codes. The mosquitos being what they are down here, big pesticide fogger trucks would drive through our neighborhoods in the evening and all the kids would run out into the street to play in the pesticide fog. I still remember the revolving amber light on top of the truck shining through the fog.

Other fond memories include slalom water skiing in very shallow water and trying to hit sleeping nurse sharks on the head with the skeg of the ski. Also running the boat wide open and jumping out in a cannon ball position to see how far you could skip over the water before sinking (this once resulted in being stranded in the water for over an hour once when my cousins thought it would be fun to take off without me).

Also, shooting bows and arrows at aerosol cans to see what would happen. Roman candle fights on the beach, taking off all day in the boat, sliding down hills on a piece of cardboard (no snow here) to a busy street with no sidewalk. Let's not forget Mumbley Peg, which involves a sharp knife and varying degrees of dexterity. I got my first BB gun at the age of 10 but only shot at targets or other kids during organized battles.

Before the era of skateboards we would take an old skate, pull it apart, nail each half to the end of a board, and sit on the board to ride down a steep hill (Yes, there are hills in north Florida). Or, in the alternative, stand on the board holding a rope tied to the back of a bike and seeing how fast you could go without falling off. No helmets, padding, shoes, or common sense was involved.

Dr. Wu's post reminded me that when I was 5 or 6 thermometers still had mercury in them. Ours broke, and my mom encouraged me to hold the mercury in my hand and watch it roll around. No common sense there, either.

As teenagers we moved on to the invention of pool skiing. This involved a surfboard, a rope, and a VW bug. The trick was to jump off the surfboard into the pool, not on the deck, before you ran out of pool.

For many years I had various scars from cuts, burns, encounters with barnacles while being dragged behind a boat, sprains, etc. Nothing permanent.

I have two daughters and would never let them do the above activities. I have been accused of being over protective, and they are right.
posted by Flamingo at 4:42 PM on December 1, 2004

I'm not what one would call a careful person, but if I had children, I'd suddenly be a lot more cautious. It's one thing to juggle a coffee and a bagel while driving stick up the highway without wearing a seatbelt when I'm alone.

You might consider the safety of the baby in the back seat of the oncoming car, then. You might not care much whether you live or die in a fiery car accident, but I'm sure the occupants of the other car are going to hold a different opinion.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:46 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

Damn, now I feel the need to add more danger from my childhood.

There was the time I plugged an industrial plug into an outlet hooked up to some flimy wires. Big sparks and the fusebox blew. Yawn. Or the time we took an acorn fight to the Next Level by bringing in the Grape Shot (aka one of those surgical tubing waterballoon launchers). Sigh.

Most of the big boomy stuff was done with some vague supervision. The pellet gun and the damn boaters who would fish off my grandfather's dock, for example. He'd be there pumping the gun for me as I took pot shots at them. One summer, we even launched bottle rockets at a boat of them (and if you were hit by anything in Lake Wyle, South Carolina side, I'm sorry). My dad, who builds weapons for the Navy, treated me to Fun With Rail Guns and the Electrified Bird Feeder (to zap greedy squirrels).

Sigh. So who wants to do a Stupid Shit MeFi MeetUp? Or are we all grown up and weeniefied by now?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:51 PM on December 1, 2004

It seems to me that almost all of my stupid let's-cheat-death stunts were performed as a full adult, not a kid. Lessee...

I licked snow off the propane tank that heated the school. Naturally, I stuck.

Oh, and the first seven years of school involved walking a half-mile to the bus stop. It wasn't uncommon to see bear scat, and there were a few times that I had to turn around because of a bear on the road.

And there was a psychotic ex-pat Brit teaching grade six, who had us playing "Pirates." This involved setting up the trampoline near the ropes, a horse and springboard near the tramp, and a ton of matts spread across the gym. The floor was filled with sharks, there was a starter-pirate, and sheer insane chaos would erupt as we ran about like banshees.

Springboard over the horse onto the tramp leap to a rope shinny to the top and jump across to the next rope wait for someone lower to get it swinging slide down leap off onto skinny bench run across mats rinse repeat.

I believe all that good gym equipment is now entirely banned. Go figure.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:05 PM on December 1, 2004

Robocop is bleeding: I'm in. Anyone got a trampoline and some lawn darts? I figure if we throw in a shopping cart, a rope swing, some paint ball guns and maybe some hockey sticks or something we'll be all set for mayhem.

Five fresh fish: I always wanted to play on a huge acrobatic trampoline and/or have access to one of those giant foam cube landing pits.

Someone needs to start one of those indoor playground thingys - y'know, with the tubes and ball pits and such - for adults. Indoor rock climbing is ok and all, but we need giant trampolines, rope swings, crash pits and stuff. Maybe some bungie harnesses for jumping around. Slides. Pugel-stick platforms. Tennis ball cannons. Laser tag or paintball.

I sincerly think if adults engaged in more non-competitive or points based play the world would be a lot better off, and we'd be healthier, happier, and less stressed out and less serious.
posted by loquacious at 5:17 PM on December 1, 2004 [2 favorites]

- Chlorine and brake fluid in a bottle. Shake, throw, kablam.
- Aluminium foil and caustic soda solution in a glass bottle topped with a balloon to trap the flammable gas. Tie off the ballon, attach a strip of lit paper, watch it float off then explode in a fireball.
- Crossbows.
- Pen guns. Take the inner ink tube from a ballpoint and stick a couple of fine needles in one end. Tie a rubber band tightly around one end of the pen tube to make it into a launcher. Sink holes into your friend's backs or necks from across the room.
- Ninja stars made from galvanised tin.
- Reenacting the Battlecircle books by wearing cricket pads and motorcycle helmets then beating the crap out of each other with homemade swords, axes, lengths of chain, pick handles and broom sticks.
- Body surfing in flood-swollen creek beds filled with barbed wire and dead animals.
- Making napalm with soap flakes and other stuff.
- Digging tunnels in mountains of land fill without a second thought about them collapsing.
- Slingshots.
- Throwing bent metal coathangers over power lines.
- Tryng to find the magic combination of bleach and mothballs that let Reece make plastique in The Terminator.
- Home-made flying foxes strung waaaaay up in old gum trees.
- Aerosol can flamethrowers.
- Coating your hand in Vaseline, dipping them in petrol then setting them on fire to look cool in home ninja movies.
- Setting punji traps at the bus stop.
- Stand in a close circle. Throw a metal compass (the thing with the point you use to draw circles) straight up. First one to move is out. There Can Be Only One.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:27 PM on December 1, 2004

"My mom told me that when she was in college, a suitor invited her on a date to shoot rats at the town dump. She declined."

That wasn't me, dude. I did that in high school, left that state to attend college elsewhere.

Not the sort of thing anyone ought to advance as a date possibility, methinks...

obiwan... you're a madman! Let's do beers! :D
posted by zoogleplex at 5:31 PM on December 1, 2004

"Actually, the amusing part of this is, so many of you seem to believe doing stupid and dangerous things is "cool". I have a sneaking suspicion we won't see many posts from the kids who killed themselves." (a quote from a comment on the original site))

I don't think anyone here is glorifying their actions. If anything, it seems to me that the admissions of behavior as a child is shocking to even the authors. I know that I'm sitting here reading through these posts and laughing because they bring back memories, and because if any of my younger siblings or family members tried any of the things I did, they'd be sent directly to "Time out" (a farce of a punishment if you ask me).

Donna V mentioned the behavior of college students today, and as an instructor at two major universities, I can attest to the terrifyingly irresponsible behavior I see and hear about on a near daily basis. (NB: Not a single one of my students in the past three years has admitted to "Time outs" being effective. They all plan, in their own words, on beating their kids. A scary and ironic swing of the pendulum, if you ask me.)

Many of my students behave irresponsibly, and when asked for an explanation they respond with a version of this: "I was never permitted to do anything as a kid, and now it's my life and I don't have someone watching my every move. I can do what I want, and try things my parents would freak about if they knew." I've had students seriously (and, unfortunately, fatally) injured because of this. It goes way beyond just drinking and partying. In fact, it seems to me--at least-- that the irresponsible behavior such as "street louging," playing pick up games of "release" until 4 am after sneaking out, firework exercises and the like have been replaced with other forms of dangerous behavior that is much more difficult for parents to track and stop-- serious drug use. In my area there is a terrible problem with Heroin and Cocaine. What age groups contribute to the largest part of the problem? Middle school and high school students.

Let me say that again, because it bears repeating. ~Middle school and high school students.~ They might not be climbing trees or playing lawn darts, but they're being "adventurous" in a far more damaging and dangerous way. I say let them fall out of a tree and break a leg! You learn from experience, and if you try to jump into the learning curve halfway through the process, you're bound to put yourself in more danger. I'd rather see a teenager or pre-teen fall into a frozen pond and deal with potential hypothermia for a few days or weeks than have him or her begin snorting crushed up OC's or shooting heroin, and thereby creating a problem that will destroy the rest of their life.

And there you have my two cents, for what it's worth, in my very first post here! Yay!
posted by Lyrique Tragedy at 5:37 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

Age 10: Sold Girl Scout cookies in my cute little uniform door to door, alone.
Age 11: At slumber parties we would run around the neighborhood at 3:00 am in our little nighties, toilet papering the boys' houses.
Age 12: Ran away from home on my bike-- ended up in the hood. It got dark and cold, so I turned around and went back home.
Age15 to 18: Hitchhiked everywhere. My high school was 6 miles away and mom gave me $5.00 for the weekly bus pass. By hitchhiking, I could pocket the $5.00

We also did a lot of other crap that makes me cringe in retrospect-- stuff like sucking on sourgrass that had probably been peed on by many dogs. If my brother was picking me up in his truck, he wouldn't come to a full stop, just slow down and I had to hop in even if my hands were full. And I have an old burn scar on my leg from getting a ride on a motorcycle which I was specifically forbidden to do.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:43 PM on December 1, 2004

Well said, Lyrique Tragedy.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 5:55 PM on December 1, 2004

I slept with two, sometimes three big housecats in my crib.
posted by mcsweetie at 6:02 PM on December 1, 2004

When my parents went out I'd take the card joy riding (when I was 15) and because there wasn't enough space in the front/back seat for all the kids in the 'hood, I'd put the rest in the trunk.

Aside from that, which you can't really blame on the parents, I was given waaaay too much freedom for a 12+ year old. Untold hours unsupervised. I'm really surprised I got through it alive.
posted by e40 at 6:20 PM on December 1, 2004

reading all these comments is amazingly nostalgic and therapeutic- I really needed this. awesome post.
posted by exlotuseater at 6:32 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

I invented bungie-jumping. It was 1965. I was 7. I climbed a tree, about 12 feet high, tied a rope to a branch and the other end to a belt-loop on my pants. Then I jumped out of the tree. In theory the rope would keep me from hitting the ground. The belt-loop slowed my descent by roughly one-billionth of a second before being ripped off. I think the impact from hitting the ground gave me a concussion but I was too embarassed to tell anyone about it.
posted by TimeFactor at 6:35 PM on December 1, 2004

And then there was the sunbathing - slathered in nothing but Johnson's Baby Oil. SPF 0.
posted by ericb at 6:41 PM on December 1, 2004

walked into a spinning airplane propeller and lost his entire left side

Wow -- the same thing happened to my friend Eileen.
posted by forrest at 6:43 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend's grandfather lost most of his left hand to a propeller. And he once landed a plane without deploying the landing gear. Caused a big stir at the airport.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 7:07 PM on December 1, 2004

I think we give ourselves way too much credit that we know that our kids aren't doing this stuff. Even the most controlled and supervised kids get free time occasionally. I am confident that there are just as many exciting ways to get maimed or killed in today's environment.

But I do think that we need to encourage our kids to just go out and find something to do. I have kicked my boys off the nintendo and out of the house only to hear them whine that there is nothing to do. About a month ago, I had to teach my eight year old how to play wall ball. (Whip a tennis ball against a wall (outside) and the other player tries to catch it on the rebound.) I was so proud today when my 8 year old told me that he played wall ball at school today. He grinned when he told me that he wasn't paying attention at one point and got hit in the head and some other kid got hit in the stomach and tossed his cookies....

Now that's progress.
posted by notmtwain at 7:14 PM on December 1, 2004

when I was young they sold hats with propellers on them

I would never let my child wear such a hat
posted by mr.marx at 7:19 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

I haven't read all these yet, but what a great thread already.

I lived across the street from a large woods that fell away down into a valley from the hill we lived on. From the time I was at most seven or eight it was routine for me and often one of my cousins to spend much of the day wandering around the woods, following the path of the creek, finding stuff and trying daredevil stunts, etc. My parents thought nothing of walking out to their driveway and shouting my name, draaawwwwwn oooouuuuut, at the top of their lungs, to which I was expected to reply with an answering holler and then start the 10 - 15 minute trip home to dinner.

Needless to say, this is not something my son does or would ever be allowed to do, and it saddens me that he'll miss out, but uh uh. No way. We do live in a totally different, higher-crime location now, but on the other hand, the woods I was wandering around in was right next to a shooting range, of which I was at the time blissfully unaware, and only as an adult have I learned about how violently crazy some of our neighbors were.
posted by soyjoy at 7:23 PM on December 1, 2004

I was a pretty gentle child, so most of my "You could have put an eye out!" stories are from high school, but one of my favourite things to do when I was little was street luge down our rather steep, and badly-paved street on banana boards. I tried to be Mary Poppins a few times, grabbing an umbrella and jumping off of tall fences and the like. I was never hurt, but I was always wildly disappointed.

Fire never held any interest for me. All the best fun happens with snow and ice. Whatever winter activity we could get our hands on, we were doing it. In high school, we went tobogganing most weekends, and that was when I claimed, "You're not having fun if you're not getting hurt." as my personal motto. (The thrill we all seek comes from the possibility that something good could go horribly wrong.)

We'd see how many of us we could pile onto the GT Racer, and just go tearing down the hill, bodies dropping like flies. Whoever had managed to hold on til the bottom couldn't wait to climb back up the hill and laugh at everyone else nursing their bruises and pulled muscles. Two of us would sit cross-legged, facing each other on a plastic saucer, laughing and screaming all the way down, til we went flying off the ramp we'd built and landed in a pile of limbs and agony. I got a nice crack on my skull one night (!) when we tied a wooden toboggan to the back of a snowmobile and went racing around a field, trying to lose whoever was clinging to the toboggan. We hit a huge rock, and I flew back, bouncing the back of my head off said rock. Ugh. I can still remember feeling sick from the pain.

If we couldn't get to a mountain, we'd make do with a city hill, and just race each other down the hill all day. I mean, going as fast as we possibly could. Skis can fly really far if you crash the right way. In our cars, we'd fishtail all the way to the store under the flimsy pretense of, "Well, I have to know how the car reacts if it ever happens to me!". And a 360 simply was not dangerous enough, we always had to try for more. (Although, I once slid into an unintentional 360 on an icy bridge, and it was a terrifying experience.)

In the warmer weather we were much more subdued. We played the occasional game of full body contact duck duck goose (Yes.), and sometimes we jumped off the garage roof onto the trampoline, but I don't remember anyone ever getting too badly hurt. Summer sucks.
posted by digifox at 7:27 PM on December 1, 2004

My mother and her friends used to break sheets of ice over each other's heads for fun.

Her sister once decided to see how far up the beach she could park a speedboat. She took it out to the middle of a lake and gunned it. The boat finally stopped in the middle of a highway.

I guess that's what happens if you grow up without a TV.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 8:05 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

Our old swimming pool. What memories! We used to dive in any time we felt like it, even in mid-winter when it was green with algae. If the covers were on it we just used to pull up a corner and swim beneath these big entangling plastic sheets. No fence, no parental supervision.

The pool had long rubber hoses that dangled from the sides at regular intervals and squirted out water. The idea was that they pushed dirt and leaves into the centre for easy vacuuming. Me and my friends used to yank them out, use them to tie each other to the outdoor furniture and then push each other in, strapped to a deckchair. The idea was you had to free yourself before you ran out of air.

If anyone looked like they weren't going to make it, we'd upend an empty bucket and push it underwater over their head. The air trapped in the bucket would allow them an extra 30 seconds or so.

Lots of sunbaking without protective cream - this was Australia in the 1970s after all. Nowadays skin cancer is one of the top killers, so I guess that was stupid.

Our explosive of choice was chlorine mixed with brake fluid. This had a sometimes-unpredictable reaction time. I remember once approaching an improvised bomb to see why it hadn't exploded after nearly a minute. WHOOOMP!

My older brother used to dig tunnels all over the backyard with his friends when he was a kid, WW2 prison-camp style. Sometimes the tunnels collapsed, but no-one was ever buried. Many years later, I found out he'd gotten the idea from my uncle, who used to dig tunnels in the sand dunes down on the beach, pretending he was one of the Rats of Tobruk.
posted by Ritchie at 8:40 PM on December 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

If we're talking kids doing things unsupervised that many parents wouldn't do today, that's my childhool. Out in the bush, on a lake, next to no one around. I don't recall having a limit on where I was allowed to go: my parents trusted that I would only go as far as I was comfortable, I guess. Nor on the lake, once I was old enough to use the canoe. And I'm sure we swam unsupervised.

I never worried about bears. Or strangers. Or anything. The early years were certainly idyllic: there was no one.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:50 PM on December 1, 2004

Oh. Tunnel digging, yah. In the snow shovelled off the roof, so it was a pile like 12' high. And in the snowbanks on the side of the road, of course. And jumping off steep embankments so that we slid beneath the snow. And silly ass stunts with sleds and skiis.

Hm. And then there were trees, which I'd climb umpteen dozen feet up, and sit and read a book. And slingshots and BB pistols.

Not many kids get to have all that fun at age eight any more. Nowadays they're stuck in front of the frigging boobtube, or if they do get out of the house, they can't leave the yard. Ugh.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:56 PM on December 1, 2004

I was a pretty well-behaved child of the 80s, but even I have memories of tobogganing brakeless down big hills studded with rocks, trees and the occasional chain-link fence. There were also a couple excellent hills behind my high school, and we would regularly steal cafeteria trays to use as makeshift sleds. Hurtling down a snow-covered hill on an inflated inner tube was also fun, but in retrospect it really wasn't a good idea to pile six guys on it and let it go. I still can't believe I managed to find my glasses after that.

Later on, when I became a Japanese high school student for a year, I responsibly brought a bike helmet with me, only to discover that nobody in Japan wears bike helmets. Despite biking at least a couple of miles almost every day, I never sustained worse than scrapes and bruises. Even that one time I got hit by a car, I was just knocked down and got back up easily enough (she wasn't driving very fast). But man, you should have seen what some of those other kids got up to, bicycly speaking. Imagine one dude on the seat, one on the handlebars and one perched on the back wheel, while the ostensible steerer holds a bookbag in one hand and an umbrella in the other. Good times.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:00 PM on December 1, 2004

Ah, college:
Gang, listen up: What I am going to describe is DANGEROUS. I'm not telling you it could go wrong, I'm telling you it did go wrong and I had to clean up someone else's blood.

Do not empty a plastic two liter bottle. Do not prepare the cap by making a hole in it smaller than a centimeter in diameter. The smaller the hole the more powerfully dangerous, up to a threshold you must avoid experimenting to find (and do not remember that it's much easier to make a hole gradually bigger than smaller). Do not fill the bottle with water and then empty it, to remove the CO2 from the soda that will inhibit the burning. With the cap off, do not spray for barely more than one full second into the bottle with a can of aerosol Right Guard. Do not screw on the lid. Do not place the bottle the ground. do not apply flame to opening in the cap.

You would never do these things because the result, when done exactly wrong, is a total flameover of the fuel/air mix inside the bottle that sends it (literally) rocketing away, probably faster than you can turn your head to track it, and certainly louder than you want to hear. MUCH louder. A tremendous high volume and high pitched wooshing/hissing noise, probably no more than two feet from your ear, were you foolish enough totally disregard what I said and do what I told you not to do. Under these conditions, the bottle behaves like a rubber balloon on steroids releasing it's air. Fuck steroids: like a balloon with lightning up its ass, a HARD balloon with lightning up its ass.

Yes, it hit somebody. In the head. Well, more like the face. Yes, there was a lot of blood, and stitches, too.

Oh, and be sure not to flush the bottle with water between each flight.
Somehow, I still have all my fingers. But tinnitus is a bitch.
posted by NortonDC at 9:16 PM on December 1, 2004 [2 favorites]

Age 5: climbed onto garage roofs and jumped off into the snow
Age 6: Cap guns!
Age 7: wandered around the whole neighbourhood on my own in off hours
Age 9: took buses downtown and to the world's fair, with my little sister (age 7) and without our parents. From this age onwards, quite often went around town with a couple of bus tickets in my pocket, with friends or on my own. Usually had some kind of knife about my person, too. (Still do. They're useful.)
Age 10: got a bicycle and rode it all over. No helmet (nobody did, then). Still do.
Age 15: climbed on rooftops routinely, with some interior spelunking of old buildings

Probably lots I'm forgetting about.

No kids, but I think I'd find the lives of modern children awfully planned and claustrophobic. I became me in the downtime when I was allowed to play around outside without adult supervision. If every waking moment is planned for you, how do you ever figure out what you want to do?

And I'm "just a girl".
posted by zadcat at 9:56 PM on December 1, 2004

more reading... did that, did that... bike ramps, fireworks, BB guns, catching air on snowmobiles(!), cooking CO2 canisters over sterno cans until they exploded (no, the CO2 does NOT extinguish the sterno you've just blown all over everything), "gee, what happens if you pour lighter fluid on a full can of Right Gaurd, ignite it, and the shoot it with a BB gun?", trampolines, spraying clothing you're wearing with Right Gaurd and igniting it, building and testing bridges over rocky creeks out of spools of wire found in the woods, spelunking rain-runoff sewers...
posted by NortonDC at 10:02 PM on December 1, 2004

Norton, that was so not hilarious.
I must not try that sometime.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:11 PM on December 1, 2004

1) Walk along a concrete pipe that is crossing the span of what will be the front wall of a very big reservoir. Get halfway across. Look down at the ground far, far, below. Lose nerve. Drop to your stomach and cling to pipe. Crawl slooowly back. When you finally reach the end of pipe, get off trembling.
2) Go to the fairground. Get on the cha-cha. Think it will be fun to sit up on the edge of the cabin instead of being seated with the safety bar across your lap. Slip over the edge. Have friends grab your legs before you fall under the track wheels. Try desperately to get back in the cabin as you spin around upside down with the cabin behind you swinging back and forth to within inches of your head. When the ride finally stops, get off trembling.
3) Find a car dump guarded by a truly vicious pack of dogs. Make your way to the centre of the dump. When the dogs spot you, hide in a car that still has windows and doors while they slaver and bark outside. Get you friend to distract them so they run after him. Repeat hiding/distracting in turns until you can both make it out of the dump. Tremble.
Ahh! to be 12 again.
posted by tellurian at 11:15 PM on December 1, 2004

Let's see...

* Building campfires in the woods behind the house to cook apples (I was actually pretty darned safe about it, all things considered)

* Selling Girl Scout cookies and Campfire mints door to door, alone, from the age of 9-11

* Building my own bow and arrow and shooting it at, well, anything, with very little accuracy but some danger

* Roller skating down a very steep street (in Seattle, we have some seriously steep hills) with a substantial amount of car traffic, no helmet, no pads, no brakes. On a regular basis. Ramp jumps and such as well.

* Roller skating at high speed around Green Lake while racing a group of boys. When some pedestrians wouldn't get out of the path I had to hit the gravel at speed. (As above, no helmet, knee pads, anything.)

* Dislocating a hip while speed skating (notice a pattern) against some boys in a local rink during a poorly-supervised public session

* "Creekwalking" -- walking barefoot down Thornton Creek, following the current in the cool creek water, through lots of people's back yards. This one ended when I stepped on a three-inch shard of broken glass. After that I wore an old pair of shoes for creekwalking.

* Sliding down a very steep grassy hill (in the summer, when the grass was dry) on flattened cardboard boxes. There is no steering mechanism. There were some trees and big holes on this hill. The winter equivalent was going down the street on plastic garbage bags when it snowed. Spinning all the way. We had snow ramps on the side of the road that we aimed for. (Sleds? No one had sleds. It doesn't snow THAT often in Seattle.)

* Random playing throughout the neighborhood; exploring people's yards and outbuildings, etc. There was one building and lot we loved exploring -- it had tunnels and had clearly been abandoned for some time. I think I found out much later that it had once been a sewage treatment plant! Yuk, but it wasn't really gross when we explored it.

* Walking 2-3 miles each way to school after I transferred to another school instead of my neighborhood school. I tried to take back ways, including paths through peoples backyards, empty lots, etc. One lot with a creek running through it was downhill and hidden from any road where I could be seen. There was a little hut in there that someone had built. I'd hang out there for a while during every walk home, just playing. (Keep in mind this was the mid-Seventies and Ted Bundy was around in Seattle. Yet parents still didn't seem to freak out about this stuff the way they do now.)

* Random unsupervised fireworks experiments, etc.

* Bicycled all over the place, as much as 20 miles from home on a given ride, no helmet since no one wore them then.

* In high school and college, organized a "Killing As Organized Sport" game in which people, using squirt guns and other water weapons, were assigned targets to assassinate. Ran the game from, first, my locker at school, then from my office (I worked at the school's radio station and had an office in there). Managed to not get in much trouble. Nowdays they would suspend me and send me to a shrink.

* Helped friends build a "Funnelator" -- a big funnel and plastic tubing slingshot, and used it to fire water balloons at people from the top of Kite Hill at Gasworks Park

Damage: many scars, scar tissue in hip, two dog bites, no broken bones (amazingly). I was also the subject of an attempted abduction when I was 13 and walking home from the store, but that was luckily thwarted. All in all I am glad I had a relatively unscheduled childhood. The 1970s and early 80s weren't all that great but at least we were still free to be stupid. ;)
posted by litlnemo at 12:03 AM on December 2, 2004 [1 favorite]

One point in favour of bicycle helmets: when I was about 14 a kid from the school on the other side of the fields from my own cut through our grounds with a couple of friends. He was blissfully unaware that the scholl sign had come off its stand leaving the stand on its own, basically two upright black metal posts with 2 cross bars which normally bounded the face level sign. He was going pretty quickly when he looked up and became suddenly aware of the stand as he buried his forehead in the lower cross bar. Very bloody, totally unconscious, off to the hospital.

Typing this has also reminded me of another great secondary school story. (substrate may want to stop reading now) There was a kid in the second year (about 12-13) who was around the same size as us older kids (15-16) and who used to pick on all the normal sized 12 year olds. One day during break he's picking on this little kid, roughing him up a bit, when all of a sudden the little kid just goes for him, taken by surprise he falls backward and hits his head on concrete and is stunned. The little kid lands on him but being shorter and in front of him as he falls back his face is on a level with the bullies crotch, which he bites. Bully goes into shock, ambulance called. School legend says: punctured testicle.
posted by biffa at 2:12 AM on December 2, 2004

Bottlerocket and Roman candle wars.
posted by zardoz at 3:35 AM on December 2, 2004 [1 favorite]

I am so loving the swimming pool stories-- there is so much dangerous crap I had totally forgotten about-- including diving in the shallow end, racing around the outside edge, leaping off the diving board onto a body board or raft and attempting to surf it to the other end, cannonballing on top of other people. We were nuts and would try just about anything.

We also routinely flung my mother's silky terrier into the deep end just to watch him dog paddle to the steps and haul himself out. He was the first of our many pool dogs.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:16 AM on December 2, 2004

Great post! One of the dumbest things I did as a kid was lay under a moving train. Most of the not so sane stuff I did as a kid involved a bike:

- firing bottle rockets from our hands while riding our bikes
- jumping over long lines of friends on our bikes
- in the winter, ride our bikes as fast as we could down the street straight into a snow bank with someone sitting on our shoulders.

The list goes on! As kids we thought WWF wrestling was real (sorry if I just spoiled it for you) and imitated ALL the moves on each other. Nothing like being clothes lined for real. The list goes on. When I have kids: No bikes and no overnights at Neverland Ranch. Problem solved!
posted by The Perfect Killer at 7:58 AM on December 2, 2004

Stupid childhood antics. My favorite topic.
Lemme preface this by saying my dad is an organic chemistry professor, and has trained several grad students that went on into the field of making things go boom.

Some of the highlights
- Finding a copy of the Anarchists Cookbook, and starting to make RDX. Dad noticed, asked what we were doing. He helped correct the recipe. This of course set my friend and I on a "rewrite" binge, and we got dad to correct as much as we could. Some of the stuff in that book is downright wrong, and dangerous.
- Contact explosives #1 - Tennis ball, filled with black powder, magnesium, and strike anywhere match heads, sealed with some orthodontics wax. Learn how to put out a fire.
- Contact explosives #2. - Take a shotgun shell, remove the buckshot. Fit the rest of the shell in a 6" long PVC pipe. Fill the pipe with wadding (or, if you're entirely stupid, metal), and seal. Add a streamer onto the end. Glue a BB onto the primer of the shotgun shell. Toss into the air. Run like the idiot you are.
- Model rockets. Did you know you can take a multi stage rocket, put a fuse in between the 1st & 2nd stage, and rig the whole thing to explode in mid flight? I tastefully named them all "challenger".
- Standard bottle rocket/roman candle fights.
- Take an aluminum arrow, fill the shaft with gunpowder, glue a primer in the end of the arrow in place of the arrow head, glue a BB on the end, make a Rambo face.
- Thermite, homemade black powder, homemade picrates, pipe bombs. Christ. How am I not in jail?
- Seriously, if I did half this crap now, I'd be in prison.
- There were various other chemistry projects. Remaking those cool glow stick things was my favorite.
- Knife/hatchet throwing. This brings me to my theory that the Boy Scouts Organization is a training camp for miscreants.
- Skate boarding, on my teeth.

If/when I decide to have children of my own, I'm going to make it well known if they want to do something stupid, don't do it without some sort of supervision. I don't want a nerf world, but I could have been a little less destructive.
posted by fnord at 9:07 AM on December 2, 2004 [2 favorites]

Reading all these made me think about the mother of one of my son's friends, who called me a couple weeks ago when he was supposed to come over. "Where are the boys?" she asked, "Walking to the supermarket." I said, "Oh! Is that SAFE?" she sounded horrified. And I thought, but didn't say, "Look, if two 13 year old boys can't walk by themselves half a mile to the supermarket and back, then there is something seriously wrong with them, and the world." We don't live in Beirut or Fallujah.

She won't let her son come over and play with my son - and I didn't even tell her that they went to the store to buy dry ice. You can blow up plastic Sprite bottles beautifully with dry ice.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:27 AM on December 2, 2004 [1 favorite]

Propane and Nitrous Oxide in a soda bottle make quite a rocket.
Growing up in Atlanta, we used to sled in the dark very early in the morning, (any later and the sun would melt the snow)
posted by Megafly at 12:07 PM on December 2, 2004

I know this is a very late reply to Civil Disobedient but the secret to getting high-grade aluminum powder is to live in a town that has a siding manufacturer. They threw it out by the bagful.

If your friend's older brother just happens to have a summer job there, you don't even need to steal it from the dumpster.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:01 PM on December 2, 2004 [1 favorite]

robocop - Rail Guns!? No fair.

"I sincerely think if adults engaged in more non-competitive or points based play the world would be a lot better off, and we'd be healthier, happier, and less stressed out and less serious."
I second the notion.

"I'd rather see a teenager or pre-teen fall into a frozen pond and deal with potential hypothermia for a few days or weeks than have him or her begin snorting crushed up OC's or shooting heroin, and thereby creating a problem that will destroy the rest of their life."
I second this notion as well. It's too bad there's not some way we could...oh...regulate these things to say...avoid sales to children.

The not-so-fun part of bottle bombs

I spent the good part of my childhood playing with fire and electricity. I can understand now why my parents didn't want me making explosives and were always worried about that burning smell downstairs...

Some of my favorite memories were summers when our extended family would get together "up north" (in wisconsin vernacular that means basically anywhere north of where you currently are in the state). We'd all play with fireworks, run around in the woods and ride motorized vehicles all day, starting around 10 or so. The adults were generally pretty safety conscious; we got lessons and had helmet/long pants requirements for the vehicles, and some amount of supervision. Of course, the adults spent the whole time drinking, so toward the end of any given day, things got more exciting.

Things such as shooting bottle-rockets at the boat-house, blowing a 33-gal barrel about 30 feet in the air, jumping over the fire wrapped in toilet-paper ("mummy outfit"), climbing trees, and lighting saturn missiles with NO FUSE were standard fare. That was all the adults, mind you. The saturn missiles incident involved my uncle trying to roll away from the sporadic stemless bottle rockets shooting all over the place while trying not to spill his highball (he actually lit the side of the thing).

At night, the adults would "supervise" the kids lighting off all variety of fireworks for an hour or so. It was pretty annoying having drunk people yell "get your head away from that" when you were, in actuality, nowhere near it. Oh, and all the fireworks (including illegal ones) were provided by this guy they knew who sold them out of his apartment once a year.

Oh, and I got driven through a field in an almost-broken cargo van, me and my friend holding onto metal hoops on the floor in the back. It got airborne once and the driver bashed his head on the steering wheel. That was only about a year ago, though, so I don't know if that counts.
Looking back on all this, am I a hick?
posted by nTeleKy at 2:48 PM on December 2, 2004

Does anyone else wonder if the epidemic of childhood obesity is a partial result of the overprotective environment that kids are raised in these days ?? Nobody loses an eye or fingers or toes playing PlayStation, but maybe too many will drop dead of heart disease before the age of fifty. Who really had the 'safer' childhood ??
posted by marsha56 at 6:22 PM on December 2, 2004

Actually, marsha56, I was wondering if an increased parental emphasis on childhood safety was an unintended outgrowth of lower modern birthrates.

Of course, it could also be the other way around.
posted by NortonDC at 6:40 PM on December 2, 2004

uh. i sprayed some wd40 into the air and lit it once and caught a field on fire. fire department came out and everything. and one time i was juggling garden shears and dropped them, one end went into my thigh. i only posted this to mark the thread so i would remember to read it later. just so you know. FULL DISCLOSURE.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 8:05 PM on December 2, 2004

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