The summer solstice had barely passed last month when the Things began assaulting me with their annual rite known as Whining for a Slip `N Slide. Normally, I’m all for old-fashioned outdoor fun, such as catching lightning bugs in empty pickle jars and beer league softball, but experience has finally taught me to just say “oh, no” to the good folks at Wham-O.
A few years ago, on a July day so balmy the Good Humor vendors roared at the children outside their trucks to piss off so they could bury their sweaty bodies under Bomb Pops and assorted Push Ups, we were stuck in the checkout line at discount store. That’s when they spotted it: The Double Auto Racer Slip `N Slide. Side-by-side lanes of mustard yellow plastic lovingly caressed by dozens and dozens of refreshing jets of garden hose pleasure. I plunked down $12 and we brought it home, visions of endlessly cooling glides dancing in their heads.

Then I read the instructions. These started with a warning in letters as big as a super-sized box of Band-Aids, and in a color approximating that of the blood that could soon be spurting out of your child’s severed head. Similar warnings also appeared on every side of the box, on a separate insert card and both sides and ends of the Slip `N Slide itself. Each began with words like NEVER, AVOID or AMPUTATION.

Do people receive this kind of heads-up before they buy firearms or watch any of the Real Housewives shows? I think not. It’s just a sheet of plastic with holes punched in it, I thought. Chill, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, just chill.

Nonetheless, after putting the ambulance service, National Guard and funeral home on speed dial, I wrenched the faucet open. The liquid promise of summer refreshment spurted forth … and it was good.

At least, that’s what I kept telling my children as they stood there watching little fountains of municipal water flood my weedy Kentucky Blue.

“What do we do?” asked my son, Thing 2.

“Take a couple of running steps, dive and slide,” I said, finishing with my best Homer-esque “whoo-hoo!”

They looked blankly at each other, in somewhat the same manner they do when I ask them to clean the basement or to step away from fluffy black kitty with the white stripe running down its back and bushy tail.

My daughter, Thing 1, ventured forth and offered a toe. “It’s cold!” she declared.

“It’s hot outside; hence, you counteract the heat with cold. Slip `N Slide. Have fun,” I suggested. “Now!”

She took a few tentative steps back and ran like the girl she is, on her tiptoes with arms flopping every which way, and fell forward. She skidded about two feet. She tried again. This time she went three feet.

I held higher hopes for my son because he had seen enough Discovery Channel specials and animated films about penguins to have learned something about gliding on one’s belly. He carefully backed up about 35-and-half feet and bolted like a washed-up Olympic sprinter racing for the last bottle of anabolic steroids. When he reached the edge of watery frivolity, he leaped and landed smack on his scabby knees. He then fell over on his face.

I groaned and uttered the most devastating threat I could think of: “I’m getting my suit on.”

In the time it took me to change, our backyard had turned into a 21st century Yasgur’s Farm. Minus the free love and brown acid, of course, but high on the mud.

“Watch me. Lift your head and arms up like Superman,” I said. “And scream. I don’t care if it’s from the cold water, the pain of your body hitting a stray acorn or from actually having fun. Scream `til it hurts. It’ll help.”

I took two deliberate steps back. I bent my knees and leaned forward. I started ahead. Then I remembered.

I hadn’t done this in about 25 years.

And 30 pounds.

After I recovered, slowly and painfully, the kids dove in for about 10 minutes of “fun.” The Slip `N Slide was then rolled up and there it sat on the mulch next to an oak tree for the rest of that summer, forgotten by them, but most certainly not me and my aching, faded youth.