Reflections from a Jungle Gym

Scott Kinney

It had been one of those nights, one of those horrible nights that nothing seemed to go right. Some days it seems a person just wakes up under a dark cloud that follows them around in stereotypical fashion. I was fully embroiled in just that type of situation. Plans had been made, fantastic, wondrously scheming plans, but plans (like rules, it seems) are made to be broken. If there was one saving grace, it was that it was almost over. At long last, it was almost over.


“Fuck them,” I muttered angrily under my breath. My friends had let me down. It wasn’t all their fault, I’m sure they would tell me all sorts of good excuses for why they couldn’t meet me. “We were high!” “We were drunk!” “We thought you were kidding!” I wasn’t kidding, but that mattered little now. The house we meant to hit remained unscathed. That bothered me.


I was about halfway to my car, walking along at a brisk pace, when I heard a vehicle behind me. At 2:00 AM, I had a pretty good idea it wasn’t going to turn out to be Joe American taking the kiddies out for ice cream in the family Station Wagon. A quick, subtle jerking glance over my shoulder confirmed my worst fears. It was a cop. I was cheesed.


The squad car pulled up beside me, and the officer rolled his window down, shining his vehicle spotlight in my direction, illuminating me like a frightened raccoon caught nosing through a backyard garbage can. I blinked, shielded my eyes, and tried to block out the light with my free hand, the hand that wasn’t holding the gigantic bag of loot that had no doubt caught his eye.


“Evening sir,” the cop said in a pleasant, yet ominous tone. “What are you up to tonight?” The officer looked almost stereotypical, like Carl Winslow from “Family Matters.” He wasn’t looking at me. He was looking at the giant ass garbage bag I had slung over my shoulder. Honestly I didn’t know what I could possibly tell him that would prove satisfactory at this point. I was dressed all in black, my face was streaked with war paint, it was very late, I’m sure I was breaking a rarely enforced curfew law, and there was the matter of the large sack I carried. Never mind the fact that it contained little more that toilet paper and silly string. To officer do-good, I fit classic burglary suspect behavior. I could tell by the expectant look on his face he probably thought I’d aced some house, and was on my way back to my den of sin with the loot like a felonious Santa Claus. I could tell him the truth, that I had been planning to toilet paper a house and my friends forgot to show up, but that was still breaking a law, albeit a minor one. I could only imagine my mother’s horrified face as the coppers hauled her first born up to the front door at three in the morning. I wasn’t going to do that to the poor woman. I was going to lie my way out of this one. I was a smooth son of a bitch, and dammit, I could pull this off.


“I’m just heading home, officer,” I said with as much confidence as I could muster.


“That wasn’t my question,” the cop said. “I asked what you were up to tonight.”


It was clear this police officer was skilled in the arts of interrogation. I was sure my “I’m going home” claim would make him forget all about my shady looking clothes and behavior. This was going to take some serious, believable lying.


“I was just hanging out with a few buddies,” I offered innocently. “We were playing video games, we watched a few movies, you know, stuff like that.” Perfect. Clearly he’d buy that.


“What’s in the bag, sir?” the officer asked. Dammit. The million dollar question. I was hoping the ole boy would at least play the game with me for awhile, until I could actually think of a satisfactory thing to say about the bag. Suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, it hit me.


“VIDEO GAMES”, I practically screamed at the officer. “None of my friends had gaming systems, so I brought mine from home, along with a few board games.” Alright. If this fucker didn’t buy this, I didn’t know what to tell him. It seemed perfectly plausible that a teenage boy would be lugging a trash bag full of gaming systems and board games down a sidewalk in the middle of the night.


“Let me take a look,” the officer said.


“Whaaa……what?” I retorted, clearly non suspiciously


“Let me take a look in the bag,” he repeated. “If all you’ve got in there is CandyLand and video games, you won’t mind.”


Clearly the officer was being difficult. I wanted him to buy into my bullshit without questioning it, and he was fighting me at every turn. Of course I didn’t want him to look in the bag, he’d know all that toilet paper damn sure wasn’t to combat my early onset incontinence. The time for talking was over. It was time to act. I took a few shuffle steps towards the squad car, and then in one graceful lunge, I turned and took off running.


“HEY!”, I could hear the officer shouting behind me. “Stop right there! Come back here!”


I really didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I was in panic mode, survival mode, and I had to escape. When presented with the fight or flight option, I had clearly chosen the latter. Being that the officer in pursuit was a large man to say the least, my odds were better than I might have thought, but that was a rational thought. As I tore away from the shouting police officer, I was incapable of rational thought. I was a little surprised I hadn’t been brought down by gunfire. The only things running through my head, other than what I’m sure were a torrent of obscenities, was the goal of putting myself as far away from the police man as I possibly could.


The layout of the neighborhood I was in was built in such a way that the houses were situated directly behind one another, with small backyards. It was sort of a street-house-house-street grid, and I was trying to take advantage of it. In one sense, the relative simple setup of the neighborhood made my crazed flight fairly easy. In another sense, the simple setup wouldn’t be hard for Johnny Law to search. I ran in a straight line, into the dark sanctuary of the backyards, the trash bag of toilet paper and silly string still slung over my shoulder. It impeded my frantic march, but not by much. Honestly, I didn’t even feel it, the adrenaline was really pumping, and I didn’t want to leave behind evidence. Really, there was nothing the police could have done had they found my goody bag. I hadn’t committed any crimes, so my prints weren’t stashed away in some vandalism delinquent database or anything. Again, rational thought seemed to elude me.


I bounded gracefully through a handful of backyards, hurtling garden hoses and patio furniture with the fineness of an Olympic sprinter. If any of these quaint suburbanite houses had been outfitted with motion sensor spotlights, I was moving too quickly to set them off, in all likelihood approaching the speed of sound. It was at least six backyards in before I hit a fence, a little chain link number that I cleared with relative ease. I felt like I was on COPS. It was exhilarating, but tiring as all hell. Eventually, I reached a backyard with a medium sized wooden fence that took actual effort to scale. On the other side, I found myself in an oasis of sorts, the type of backyard I’d been searching for. It seemed darker than the other yards I’d encountered, but perhaps that was just because I was on the verge of passing out. The house was dark, like all the other ones, and there was a jungle gym set up in the middle of the yard, the kind of jungle gym with an enclosed slide, the type with the little wooden roof on top. I was home. Law dog, if he found me, was going to have to smoke me out.


Its funny, the thoughts we tend to have in the pivotal moments of our lives. I never felt like an adult, like a real man, until the moment I squeezed myself up into the covered shelter of a child’s play fort jungle gym. I wasn’t a big guy, but I felt like fucking Gulliver’s Travels as I sat there at the top of that slide, my knees up under my chin like one of those Peruvian basket mummies people find sometimes. I was clutching my garbage bag of toilet paper tightly. Quietly, I waited.


There hadn’t been any sight of my cop friend in a while. I use that term loosely, because from start to finish, it probably had taken me a minute or two to arrive at my hiding spot. It only felt like forever. As I sat, peering out into the darkness, I caught sight of him. The officer was driving his squad car slowly down the street, shining the light from house to house. I hoped I was hidden well enough. Suddenly my sanctuary seemed awfully wide open. I didn’t have time to bemoan my present circumstances for very long, because suddenly, without warning, the light hit me. Once again, I was shielding my eyes. My mind raced. Now he could add resisting arrest to my charge of possession of toilet papering paraphernalia. As quickly as the light hit me, it moved on. He hadn’t seen me. My lungs burned. I realized I had been holding my breath. The air never tasted so sweet.


I watched the officer drive around a little more throughout the next fifteen minutes or so, but I was no longer worried. I felt strong, triumphant. I had won. In my fevered fantasy’s I pictured the poor bastard driving his squad car home, curling up into the fetal position, and having a good cry. I was actually starting to get comfortable in my child’s playhouse fortress. They say that pride comes before the fall. Quotes stick around for a reason.


I was awake, I’m pretty sure of that, but I was in the strange, cloudy world between consciousness and the abyss when I noticed the kitchen light in the house in front of me snap on. Shocked, I blinked, then blinked again, convinced I must be seeing things. It had to be three in the morning. No way did a light just come on. No fucking way.


“Easy, easy there,” I told myself. “Maybe it’s one of those automatic lights. These people are probably on vacation….yeah…..probably on vacation and…..”


I could start to make out shadowy movement coming from the kitchen area, nothing more than a person or persons moving around, arranging things. My automatic timer light hypothesis was dead in the water. They weren’t on vacation. Somewhere, in that house, a person(s) was very much awake. Awake, and no doubt loading up some big ass firearm, ready to blow my ass halfway to Mexico. I was quite sure I was going to die. This was how it would end for me, shot to death in a suburban backyard over a toilet papering job. Suddenly, getting taken home to my parents sounded downright warm and fuzzy. Quietly, almost imperceptibly so, I could make out the sound of the back patio door being slowly opened. My nightmare was only beginning.


The door was open, and then it shut, and I began to wonder what the hell was going on. I wanted to scream. “Stop dicking around with me. Just finish it.” Nothing happened for what seemed like hours, until I became aware of a soft jingling noise. And then a small ball of fur, nosing around aimlessly by the door. Sweet Christ. It was a dog. And worse. It was a yappy dog. A fucking yappy dog. Fucking yappy dogs (I believe that may be their scientific name) are renowned for their annoying habits. This little bastard didn’t disappoint me. Seemingly for no reason, Yappy Yapperson began a chorus of annoying little yippy barks, in my general area. Clearly he’d picked up my scent, or was somehow aware of my presence. Growling with all the fierceness of a vacuum cleaner, the dog bounded over to the jungle gym and began to bark up at me. Fuck me. I was screwed.


There really isn’t a lower point in a man’s life than being cornered in a child’s play fort by a dog the size of a football. I began getting thoughts, dark thoughts that involved knocking the beast unconscious with one of the tubes of silly string I had in my garbage bag. I thought about growling back at it, making it see that I was clearly the alpha male, forcing it to beat a hasty retreat. In reality, all I did was sit there, wondering how it could get much worse. Then, suddenly, it did.


“Winston! Quit yer bitchin!”, I became aware of a man’s stately eloquence coming from the shadows by the back porch. “Yer gonna wake up half the damn block.”


In the moonlight, the man’s features came into focus. Bathrobe, glasses, slippers, lily white legs aglow in the night. A fearsome adversary to be sure. He stood on the patio, hands on his hips, motioning to Winston to come to him.


“Listen to him, Winston. For the love of god, listen to him…..”


“What’s got you all agitated?”, the man said. “There a squirrel up there or something?”


“Oh, it’s a lot bigger than a fucking squirrel”, I thought.


The man started forward. It became clear that he was not aware of me yet, not like his dog was, but he sensed something was afoot in his backyard.


“What is it, Winston? What’s up there?”


He was getting close now. He was getting too close. Once again, it was decision time.
Like a Jack-in-the-box I exploded out the front of the play fort. I can only guess what was going through the bathrobe man’s mind at this moment, but it had to have been priceless. I’m not really sure how exactly the next few moments played out. Real Time was lost on me. I exited the front of the play fort, which means I probably half ran/half fell down the slide. In the frenzied terror I was in, I do recall hearing a dog’s soft yelp or surprise as I busted loose from my hideout. I can’t be sure, but I may have stepped on Winston. Serves the little bastard right.


I tore my across the backyard, and literally ran full force into the little fence gate that was keeping me from freedom. Luckily, it was only waist high, and the force of my forward momentum carried me gracefully over the side. One mild testicular trauma later, and I was a free man. I didn’t stop running until I reached my car. It wasn’t until later, when I was safe in my home, that I realized I didn’t have my garbage bag anymore. God knows where I lost it


I’m not sure what ever came of my cop friend, bathrobe man, or Winston. I never saw any of them again. I can only speculate how traumatized they may have been from the goings on that night. I know this, though. Every now and then, on more reflective nights, I still drive out to that neighborhood. I park the car, and I remember.

Euphemism Campus Box 4240 Illinois State University, Normal, IL 61790-4240