Thursday, May 29, 2008
Where We Played: Rice Park
It's a wonder, really, that every kid in Burbank didn't end up sterile because of all the power lines that are draped across some of Burbank's parks. Maybe this was an urban legend, but I'd heard that the electric company donated some of the land to the city where several power line towers and transformers are amassed. (Most cities fence those areas off, by the way.)
In any event, the park where I spent most of my time wasn't one full of power line towers: Rice Park.
Rice Park sits behind Kennedy Grade School. I wasn't an athletic kid (in fact, from the second grade until eighth grade, I grew increasingly fatter by the minute), but I spent a lot of time at Rice Park. But doing what? I owned a tennis racket that I'd bought at a flea market, and I loved knocking tennis balls around, often over the fence, but I never learned how to play. I also loved playing Horse at the basketball court. But as soon as any other kids came up, I left. I was a magnet for trouble (maybe all fat boys are), and so I learned quickly to remove myself from situations before they happened.
One time that I didn't remove myself was shortly after our family had moved to that part of Burbank, and I was riding my bike up and over the dirt hills that sat over from and behind Rice Park. What I didn't realize was that Rice Park was a little bit like the island on Lost in that there were the kids who hung out in the park, and then there were The Others. The Others hung out over by the dirt hills, and they didn't like it when some fat, younger kid came riding up and over their hills. As was usually the case, I was outnumbered: about six or seven of them to me. The one I remember the best was this red-headed kid who was notorious for causing problems -- their pack-leader. He grabbed my handlebars while The Others surrounded me. I honestly don't remember what happened next -- they may have knocked me off my bike and given me a warning -- but I do remember that such incidents weren't uncommon in Burbank in the 1970s. The upshot was, I stayed away from the hills after that.
During the summer of 1979, I spent a lot of time by the Little League part of Rice Park, not because I liked baseball (I didn't) or because I was friends with some of the players (I wasn't). No, I started going because a girl from another part of Burbank -- a girl I didn't know but had started seeing riding her bike around our part of town and, as these things happen, developed an intense, heart-pounding crush on -- had begun going to the games. I had started losing weight, so my confidence should have been on the rise, but it wasn't, so I would merely situate myself and my bike near her in the hope that I'd catch her attention. And one day, while I was eating Milk Duds, she came up and asked me for one. That's all that happened. She asked me for a Milk Dud, and I gave her one. The fact that I still remember this should give you some idea of just how fricking excited I was! I didn't see her again until the fall, when she was (miraculously) in my high school Geometry class (I was a freshman; she was a sophomore), a class I would end up failing because I spent all of my time either talking to, or pining for, her. She would even walk with me to my locker after every class. There was only one hitch: She had a boyfriend who was three years older and could easily have been one of The Others. And one time she warned me: "I can't let my boyfriend know I'm walking with you."
Too bad. But at least we'll always be bound by shared Milk Duds at Rice Park and, uh, Geometry...or at least our mutual hatred of it.
P.S. I took Geometry over during the summer and got an 'A' in it, which further proves just how damned smitten I was of this girl.
What park did you hang at? Memories, anyone?
(photos of Rice Park courtesy of Renee Greco)