I don’t know how it was at your grade school, but in Slidell, Louisiana, in the late 1960s, we had certain playground customs.
So, for example, if you decided to choose up teams for kick ball (or play a game that required someone to be “it”), nobody—at least at Florida Ave Elementary—began with, “One potato, two potato, three potato, four…” That was, well, so fifties.
We had far cooler “selection rhymes.” My friend Craig usually went with:
“Engine, Engine #9, going down Chicago Line…if the train should jump the track, do you want your money back?”
“Y-E-S spells yes, and…(pause for Craig to do word math in his head, trying to figure out how to manipulate the outcome and subtly stop on the kid he either wanted on his team or wanted to be “it”) you are definitely…going to…be…the one…who is IT!”
I preferred a rhyme I learned from my friend, Cheese:
“My mother and your mother were hanging out clothes. My mother smacked your mother right smack in the nose. What color was the blood?”
“G-R-E-E-N spells green and you are…not on my team…this game…but YOU are!”
After the game got underway, that kid nobody liked would run up and ask which side he could join. If we didn’t resort to lying — “Sorry, but the principal said we can’t have more players than this” — someone (or several someones) would yell emphatically, “Tick tock, the game is locked!”
Inclusiveness was not our strong suit. The girls, jumping rope on the far side of the schoolyard usually went with the far more literary, but equally exclusionary: “Criss cross, applesauce, no one else can play with us.”
In races, if you got to be the “starter,” you would abuse your power by saying things like: “On your MARK…get SET (dramatic pause for tension while kids leaned forward until they were almost parallel to the ground)…SMOKE A CIGARETTE!” This resulted in making everyone look foolish—false starts, bodies collapsing in a heap. Such tricks were almost always met with a punch or two in the arm, and it was still totally worth it.
If, during dodgeball, let’s say, you declared a kid “hit” and told him to get out of the ring, he might threaten, “Why don’t you make me!?” To which you were expected to say in a snarky voice, “I don’t make trash, I burn it!” or sometimes, “You’re already made and too dumb to know it.” (Bam! Ten-year-old tough talk at its finest!)
If he resisted—bowing up or resorting to name-calling—one of your cohorts would step forward and speak of the cheater in third-person, “He thinks he’s hot snot on a golden platter. But he’s really cold boogers on a paper plate.” (A disgusting image, I know, but you have to admit: As put-downs go, that’s Hall of Fame-type material.)
Most times, the chastened kid would then turn to the “Old Faithful” of childhood comebacks, “I’m rubber, you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you!”
Then, if he still refused to leave the circle, someone might threaten, “C’mon, get out of the circle… or I’ll hit you so hard, I’ll kill your whole family!” Possible replies included “You and what army?” or “Better bring your lunch, ‘cuz it’s gonna take you all day.”
When everyone got bored with all this dumb bickering, we would call a temporary peace, lock arms and begin steamrolling across the playground like a row of German Panzer tanks, disrupting other games, tromping over any innocents in our way. Our chant? “We won’t stop! We won’t stop! We won’t stop for a lollipop!”
Then, smelling like a flock of goats and snickering proudly at all the carnage we’d inflicted, the bell would ring. Our teacher would appear, we’d line up by the door, and some kid, the class knucklehead usually, would blurt out some crass, off-color joke.
Maybe something like, “What’s brown and lies by the fence? (pause for maximum comedic effect, then the punchline) Gomer’s Pyle!” All the girls would scream,“Gross!” All the boys would hoot with laughter. The teacher would glare at us and shush us into the building.
I don’t remember what made me think of all this. But I think it may have been the result of watching the evening news about the 2016 Presidential campaign.
Feel free to draw your own parallels and conclusions.