Teenagers and parks

7 08 2009

I joined the Green movement in 1987 after getting super stoned at Par Hill Park in Joplin, Mo.

“We have to save the world, man… The planet. The rivers. This grass.” Chris cracked up. Mark cracked up. We all cracked up. “Seriously man. We have to save this park.”

Of course, Par Hill  was in no danger of ever not existing. It was about a square mile in the middle of a middle-class neighborhood in a small town in Middle America. It had man-made ponds and streams and wooden bridges that rocked back and forth when you walked across them. There was a tornado slide on one island and a wooden fort with gun turrets on another. There was a sandbox and playground on one corner and a row of super-cool looking boulders with a malfunctioning street light that shocked you when you touched it on the other side of the park. It was on this side — the “teenager side” if you will  — that I spent most of my youth (outside of school and the steamy hot kitchen of the local Red Lobster).

We would gather in Par Hill in the middle of the night to play soccer under the security lights and functioning street lights. We would hang out there to drink beer or wine we snagged from an older brother or parent. We would meet there before going to the river to drink and swim and swing off the rope swing. We ran from the cops in that park. We hid from cops and angry old people in that park. We learned quite a bit about ourselves in that park.

I took Zahra to Par Hill Park the first time we traveled to Joplin together. I hope to take our daughter there someday. And out of respect for the teenagers (some like me who want so badly to get out of their hometown they sometimes go to the park alone and write sentimental poetry; some like me who went there just to get fucked up), we won’t go at night and we won’t go to the teenager side of the park. We will stay near the sandbox and playground and when my daughter ask me about the other side of the park, I’ll change the subject and tell her that’s just someone cooking dinner — “Smells good, though.”

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