Slowly, over the decades, we are getting softer and softer. We consitently identify elements our our existence that watch dog groups deemed dangerous, and we eliminate those menaces. Menances which, really, to be honest, were only dangerous to idiots and drunks.
Take larn darts. Now to most folks, lawn darts were just good, clean fun. Sure, once every few years, one would land on Uncle Charlie's foot and go right through. And you'd have to scrap the fucking barbecue to take Charlie to the fucking hospital again. But lets face it - Uncle Charlie was either an idiot or a drunk. Often both. Everyone secretly knew that Charlie had it coming.
So we banned lawn darts. I think this was a mistake. Ok, sure, the injuries were rarely fatal (and invariably, the instances that were fatal were usually taking out the exceptionally stupid) but the occasional foot maiming did serve as an object lesson to us kids. The lesson was this: never get so drunk that you become stupid enough to take a larn dart through the foot.
That lesson worked on me. I watched my idiot-stick drunken uncles get plastered and injure themselves with lawn darts. It really, really made me not want to become a drunken asshole.
But there is one loss that ecipses all others. That greatest of childhood toys, the clackers (alternately refered to as kerbangers). This was a classic. The toy consisted of two insanely hard balls (made out of some weird, space-aged glass/plastic hybrid), connected by a length of string.
The idea was to hold the plastic ring, and allow the balls to dangle loosely at the ends of the string (I was too young at the time to understand the humour behind the "dangling balls" reference). You would then set the balls in motion, swinging outward and then back towards one another. When they struck, they would rebound sharply with a loud clack (hence the name), and fly back upwards. By building up enough speed, you could have the balls strike each other twice each time, once at 6:00 and once at 12:00. This would look, and sound, very fucking cool.
There was only one problem. While you were learning, you would constantly fuck up. You would lose control of your balls (stop giggling) and they would fly about with the vicious speed of a cop-killer bullet. When these fucking balls slammed into your knuckles, it felt like you had just punched a steel girder. It hurt. Like fuck.
But we kept at it. Because it was important to be good at clackers. Kids who were not good at clackers were wussies. And no one wanted to be a wussy. Fuck, even some girls were good at clackers. As a guy, you couldn't let something defeat you if a girl was good at it.
As a child, Clackers taught me two important life lessons. The first was this: if you are willing to stick with something, and put up with some pain and discomfort, then you are capable of doing something that is pretty fucking cool.
The second was just as important, but less obvious. Clackers taught me that even a toy could fuck you up. They taught me that, even if there is an activity you really enjoy, it could some day turn on you, like an inconstant lover, and cause you more pain and misery than you had previously imagined existed.
I learned then that no matter how much I loved something, it had the capacity to hurt me. No matter how wonderful or innocuous a thing may seem, within it lay the seeds of your destruction. I learned that anything truly worth doing is worth doing with all your heart and soul, because to do otherwise risks pain and defeat.
I learned that, even when you do everything right, commit completely and utterly, and give it your all, sometimes, for some un-knowable reason, the balls still crush your fucking knuckles.