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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Summer Street-light Nights
and a Game Called C-A-R

Since the lines above make reference to a neighborhood game called C-A-R, and since this game has not likely been played anywhere on earth for nearly forty years, (and since it was created by and exists only in the minds of a few now-grown men and may well be lost if not recorded here), I shall do my best to explain this rigorous, dramatic game of romp and risk to this generation whose imagination and energy have been thwarted by video games.

First of all, this is a city/suburb game. It requires a “tightly woven” neighborhood with patch-pocket yards and lots of side streets. If you look at the “game board” of our neighborhood in Roseville at this link, our street was Buckhannon that runs parallel to the bottom edge of the picture. That was the “track” street. The “flank” streets are those that run perpendicular to the track (they’re the vertical lines in the picture.)

1. C-A-R must be played at night after the street lights are on. (We tried it once in the daytime, and it was a complete flop.)
2. There must be at least four participants, but the more the better.
3. The game begins at the gool yard. (I’m pretty sure this word was supposed to be “goal,” but for some reason, the kids in our neighborhood pronounced it “gool” (as in ghoul). Our yard was usually gool.
4. Divide all participants into two even teams.
5. The object of the game is to walk as far from the gool yard as possible, BUT you must be in the gool yard when a CAR passes you on the “track” street. If a car passes you before you return to gool, you must “end zone dive” onto the nearest lawn as if struck by said car, roll as if from the impact, and lay dead until the next round of the game.
6. Both teams must begin walking in opposite directions down the “track” street (Buckhannon in our case). If any participant sees the headlights of a car approaching, they must turn toward the gool yard, cup their hands and yell "C-A-R. . .C-A-R" at the top of their lungs.

The thrill was in wandering far from gool and “pushing your luck.” The challenge was in gauging your distance from gool and your ability to outrun the car and arrive safely before it passed your point on the sidewalk. If the headlights were coming from either direction on the track, it was easier to gauge, but sometimes there was more than one car and sometimes we were simply outflanked.

For instance: our gool yard was between Marlene and Linwood. If I was bold enough to venture as far as say Barbara Street, and then a “scout” behind me yelled C-A-R for a pair of headlights coming down Hoffmeyer, I had to “haul” to beat that car back to gool, and if the car turned toward me before I passed Hoffmeyer, I was a dead duck.

Sometimes cars would come with little warning down Linwood or Marlene and outflank all of us—that was a massacre, and we were all obliged to die dramatic deaths on the dark damp lawn of an unfamiliar yard. We’d then return to gool for the next round. Since dying was half the fun, there was really no way to lose at C-A-R.

This explanation falls short of the drama and adrenalin the game could produce night after night summer after summer for the boys in our neighborhood. It was all part of the magic of summer street-light nights when parents allowed us to stay up and out hours later than usual. It was that time in life, when we dreaded a mom's call from a distant porch, because all moms were in cahoots (to use one of my mother's words)—as soon as one called their kids in, the others followed suit.

And then we fleet-footed renegades were marched into the bright light of the bathroom, forced to scrub the grass stains off our knees (usually saving full baths till Saturday night), and sent off to bed. I remember lying in the dark, still “cooling down” with nothing but a sheet draped over a leg. Every screen window in the house was open (I knew of no home in our game board neighborhood that had air conditioning), and we'd lie there thinking of what the next day held until the drone of the fan in the window lulled us to sleep... and our thinking turned to dreams.

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