Scott Yost is taking a well deserved break from column writing this week. We bring to you a classic from May 8, 2014.
Silence is maad in heuen. [Silence is made in Heaven.]
– Inscription in Wyclif’s Bible, 1382
Let me start with a couple of stories, both of which took place at the park.
First, this happened the other day. I was at Troy A. Johnson Park on Briarcliff Road and I was, as is very common for me, shooting basketball and listening to music on my iPhone.
I’d been there about 20 minutes and I was the only one at the park and I was really enjoying it, because it was extremely peaceful. And the weather wasn’t just nice, but perfect – not too hot, not too cold, but perfect, just like Goldilocks’ final bowl of porridge before the bears came in and ripped her to pieces.
I have an app on my iPhone called Rdio that lets me stream virtually any song or album known to man instantly, so I was changing the music up, but, at the particular time that this story takes place, I was listening to the very soothing songs on James Taylor’s Gorilla LP, one of my favorite albums ever.
Now, while I was doing that, a mother and her little boy pulled up and got out of the car, which was fine: The rules say that you have to share the park, and that’s OK because one kid isn’t a problem from the point of view of tranquility, so I went back to happily shooting my basketball and I tried to pay no attention.
Now, at Troy Johnson Park, there are all these Fisher-Price, Radio Flyer, etc., community toys and play vehicles that stay strewn all over the paved area for kids to play with. You know, the kids get in the pretend cars and pretend to drive around on the pavement.
Well, as I was shooting basketball, my heart sank when I realized that the only kid at the park wasn’t headed for any of the cars or wagons – he was making a beeline straight for the toy lawnmower.
“Noooo!” my mind screamed as the child gleefully grabbed the toy lawnmower – a rattling contraption of pure evil – and began pushing it wildly around in a circle on the paved area next to where I was relaxing to the melodic musical stylings of James Taylor.
The toy lawnmower for kids does not have an internal combustion engine, but I swear I think that it is actually louder than any gas-powered lawnmower known to man.
Now, the whole idea of a “toy lawnmower” doesn’t make any sense in the first place, because mowing the lawn is work, not play – but, regardless, some toymakers in their infinite wisdom made a “play” version of a lawnmower, and somehow they had managed to design it to be noisier than a real lawnmower. It is no surprise to me that some poor mother or father had left the toy there at the park for the whole community to hear – so that they didn’t have to.
On and on the kid went, round and round, merrily mowing the concrete right next to where I was trying to relax and shoot basketball.
I thought I could mentally outlast Lawnmower Boy, but I could not: He kept mowing and mowing, making an amazing amount of racket with the lawnmower and he broke my will quickly. I shuffled off in defeat. I took my ball and went home.
So that’s my first story. My second story also happens at a park – only this time it’s at a different park near a different basketball court that I also use quite a bit.
This time, I was sitting at a picnic table and it was also a very nice afternoon and there was a father and mother and their two kids – a boy and girl – off in the distance. Now, they were on the other side of the park, and I was at the picnic table next to the basketball court. I was on the phone with Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Bill Bencini.
I had my legal pad and pen out since I was interviewing the chairman for a story I was writing, and, right in the middle of that conversation, the little boy took off from his side of the park and began running around, eventually running right toward me. He stopped right next to where I was talking on the phone and he started screaming in this harsh, high-pitched continuous scream. He wasn’t screaming in pain or anything; he was just screaming for the pure sake of screaming. He continued to run around near me screaming this long continuous amazingly shrill scream at the top of his lungs right in my direction.
At that point, of course, I couldn’t hear Bill or anything else other than the loud screaming. I kept waiting for the parents, who were watching this go on, to tell him to be quiet. I had my hand over the bottom of the phone to try and protect Bill from the horrible sound, and I just kept staring at the parents, but they didn’t make any motion towards their child or seem to have any inclination to tell him that he should not be disturbing the nice man on the phone who was clearly trying to work.
I mean there were plenty of places in the park to scream at the top of your lungs, but he had chosen the spot just a few feet away from me.
The screaming went on and on.
I continued to glare at the parents from across the park and finally I called out to them, as nicely as I could given my frustration. I said, “Excuse me – could you please tell your son to be quiet.”
The mother looked at me, seemingly amazed that I would even dare to make that request, and here is what she said: “Well, it is a park …”
Yes, it is a park, and yes, parks are a place where kids play, but it is not the post-apocalypse human-zoo-world of Mad Max where anything goes and the only rule is kill or be killed. You know, a park is still is a civil place where the rules of normal human decency continue to apply.
Finally, the parents got the kid to stop screaming.
Later, I tried to tell some people about my two events of intense noise pollution at the city’s parks but they were completely unsympathetic. They said to me sarcastically, “Oh, so kids were playing at the park – heaven help us all.”
However, despite what some people say, this is a serious problem and parks are most certainly not just for kids – they are for everyone.
I understand that kids have a right to be at the park even when I, or some other poor adult, is trying to get some work done, or is perhaps just trying to relax and commune peacefully with God’s creation of nature.
And, as a bridge builder not a destroyer, I am interested in narrowing the gap between people and helping us all get a long; so, to that end, I’ve come up with some new games that kids can use to replace their normal outdoor games and create a more peaceful environment for those of us trying to enjoy nature in a public park …
Quiet Mouse in the Park. This is an outdoor version of the popular kindergarten game, so all kids should already know the basic rules. The goal of the game is to see which child at the park can remain the most quiet and the most still. The winner is the one who makes not one peep for the entire four-hour duration of the game.
Hide and Hide. In this variation of the popular game Hide and Seek, one child closes his eyes and counts to a hundred while all the other children hide. When he or she reaches a hundred, then that child hides as well. The children then all remain hidden. The game is over when it is time for the children to leave the park and go home.
Smear the Talker. The kids all stand around and look at one another and remain in that position until one of them talks. As soon as one says a word the other kids throw him to the ground and physically force him or her to be quiet.
Another good game for kids at the park is a version of “Tag, You’re It” that I came up with. It’s called “Tag, You’re Qui-et.” In this game, all the players quietly move around and tag others, who must remain silent and still for the rest of the day.
Capture the Gag. The age-old game Capture the Flag has nothing on this game. Gags and rope are distributed around the park and, when the game starts, the kids grab, or “capture,” the gags and see who can force gags on the most other kids and tie their hands behind their backs so the gags can’t be removed.
Duck, Duck, Diffuse. In this game, the children get in a circle and one child stands in the center going around the ring calling out as he does, “Duck,” “Duck” and then suddenly, “Diffuse!” and, when he says that, the kids all spread out – or rather, they diffuse – to the far corners of the park and remain there until it is time to go home.
Monkey in the Middle – of a Sensory Deprivation Tank. The kids all stand and close their eyes and cover their ears and imagine that they are in a sensory deprivation tank. The winner is the one who stays like that the longest.
So those are some new games I came up with to help the situation at the park and there are some other games I am working as well on such as Rock-Paper-Whispers and Musical Stares to name two, but I’m still tweaking the rules on those games right now, so I will let you know when I get it all worked out.
Now, if I can just find a replacement game for Marco Polo before the summer gets here then maybe I’ll be able to get some peace and quiet at the pool, too, for a change this year.