There was a boy, maybe 8 or 9. He was at work inventing something, late afternoon Monday, along South East Avenue. I saw him as I was driving home from work.

There were eight old cans of paint, stacked two high, so four of them were opposite each other on one square of sidewalk, and maybe 30 feet south there were another four cans set up approximately the same way. 

As I drove by, he was just laying a 5-foot length of PVC pipe across the top of two of the cans. In his hand was another piece of pipe and he was heading up the street to put that in place.

Have no idea what his plan was. Was this Olympic-inspired and these were the lowest high hurdles ever? Was he about to introduce a bike to the mix and attempt great leaps? Would he end the night in the urgent care center with a broken elbow? 

I don’t know, but by then I was past him and found myself saying to my empty car, “I love that kid.”

You never see a solitary kid outside anymore, making something from nothing. Rummaging through the garage or basement for innocent junk, just sitting there forgotten, a kid sees those paint cans, that odd scrap of wood, those pieces of PVC pipe left over from the bathroom remodel in a different way and her mind cranks and there you have made up fun, no adults needed.

I was 9, my brother John was 11. It was summer. We were bored. Our mom was over at Emerson teaching typing in summer school. Man, could that woman type. Wanting to be productive and needing cover for the prohibited exploration of our joists-and-insulation-only-attic, we gathered up rags, Mr. Clean in a spray bottle, and a length of clothesline. Up through the attic hatch in the back bedroom closet. Hot and dusty. We delicately made our way joist by joist toward the small windows in the dormer at the front of the house. Pried out the window. Then carefully we each tied one end of the clothesline through our belt loops and, I’m sure, awkwardly backed out the window onto the high roof of the house.

Our plan, of course, was to wash the woodwork on the front of the house. Can’t do that too often. An often overlooked task. And we set to work with our Mr. Clean and old ripped up undershirt rags. It was going swell. Those eaves were spit polish clean when we saw mom drive up in the Chevy wagon. She didn’t see us since inexplicably she did not review the roofline of her house upon arrival. So we shouted out to her. “Mom, look at us. We’re up here washing the front of the house!”

I don’t remember her exact words but I do know she expressed serious concern for our safety. Clearly she could not see from that distance our carefully thought out safety plan. “Don’t worry, mom, we’re tied to each other,” John called down.

That’s the moment we should have started writing the screenplay for “Dumb and Dumber.”

There was the clubhouse we nailed together with found wood, mildewed carpet and   appropriated folding chairs over a couple of summers. Fabulous, ugly construction. After a time and with our attention shifting to manufacturing a line of scat cars we’d sell for a lot of money, we wandered next door into Mildred Moeller’s yard to retrieve an errant baseball and looked at our clubhouse, hard by her wire fence, looking hideous as a backdrop to her lovely and treasured flower garden and we knew it would have to go. Dear woman had never said a word.

And so, kid on East Avenue, keep making up ways to have fun. If those paint cans tipped and spilled open, painting the sidewalk green and blue, so much the better.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...