Most of my teenage summers were spent at Eisenhower Park hanging around the small public pool adjacent to the parking lot. During my junior high school years, you could always find me in the pool having a water fight with someone. However, that changed rather quickly once I was in high school.
It was 1970. Although it was a brand new decade, young adults and teenagers were still in the hippy mode, wearing the flared jeans that were fringed at the bottom of each leg, girls wearing halter tops, boys in leather jackets or tie-die t-shirts, all with long hair, and listening Rock and Roll. The crowd I ran around with weren’t hippies per se. I guess I’d call us rebels. There were certain causes we were passionate about and we would stand up to be heard on those issues. Anything else, we’d lay low and just be regular teenagers.
The water fights still happened but not as frequently. Any time spent out of the pool was also spent out of the fenced area for the pool. An old elm tree stood just kittycorner from the pool area. My friends and I would sit in its shade and talk about the things that most teenagers end up discussing — parents, siblings, music, etc.
I started smoking cigarettes under that tree. Back then, a teenager just wasn’t cool unless he or she smoked. It was also under that tree where I felt — for the first time — that I rightly belonged, that I was liked for who I really was. All of us who hung out there felt a little out of place everywhere else. Each of us came from a blue-collar household. In one way or another, alcohol was making out homes dysfunctional to some degree or another.
With this going on in our own separate lives, a person could assume we were prime candidates for ending at Haite and Asberry in San Francisco but there wasn’t one of us who was willing to leave home for something we all knew would be worse. Instead, we band together and leaned on each other during the bad times. What I found odd about all of it is that for the first two years of all of us being together, we didn’t have any idea of what each was going through at home. We just knew we were comfortable in the group.
At the end of those summers so long ago, a ritual was formed, the bubble gum wire. Approximately one mile from the park was an ice cream shop, Swanson’s Ice Cream. The owner had chocolate covered frozen bananas, several different flavors of ice cream you could see made right there and candy. The bubble gum came in wax paper bags of 10 balls each. We would walk the short distance (back then eight blocks wasn’t all that far) and each would buy a bag, usually with a chocolate covered banana.
Once we got back to the park, we would start chewing the gum, always adding more in our mouths. I could only manage five balls before feeling like I was going to gag. A few of the guys could get all ten balls in their mouths.
After the gum was chewed adequately, we would each take our turn wrapping our wad of gum around a wire that helped hold the telephone pole in place, which was close to the parking lot. It was just a way to say we were there.
A few years after I graduated from high school, the telephone pole was taken out and, of course, the wire went with it. Change is inevitable but it was fun while it lasted.