When I was a kid growing up in Clairemont in the late sixties, naturally, I walked everywhere…to school, to my friend Albert’s house a block over, to the store for candy bars with my hard-earned weekly allowance, to the canyon, and anywhere else the creative, adventurous mind of a nine-year old boy would take him.

The sidewalks had these little copper buttons nailed into them every so often; wafer-thin and about the size of a penny. They had mysterious numbers stamped into them; in my mind they were some kind of code that told the police where everyone’s Dad lived in case someone got into trouble.

But they also had a much different meaning to me; every one had to be stepped on as I walked. If I missed one, something terrible would happen and I would lose The Game.

Morbid, horrible things. Hippies would come, force me into their souped-up car and make me take LSD. Then I would of course promptly go to a high-rise building somewhere and jump out of a 13th story window, just like Art Linkletter’s daughter did. Or the bright flash and the resulting mushroom cloud would appear, just like in the movie they showed me in school. Except it would appear over Miramar, where my Dad was. Poof. My house would burn down with my Mom, brother and sisters in it. The entire Manson Family would break out of jail and come looking for me and drag me along with them, making me witness the horror of them devouring my entire neighborhood. The list of things I imagined was endless; the sum of my fears were contained in those little copper buttons. It was up to me to keep all the bad things that were happening in the world in 1969 at bay.

It was all a big secret, my solo button-stepping. Although I played other button games with my friends in the neighborhood, the one I played when walking alone was serious business. The other kids didn’t seem to understand the real significance of those little markers; the girls saw them as some kind of an elongated hopscotch game; it was complicated and made no sense to me. Dreamy husbands and babies…To us, the boys, when one was spotted it was called out and the rush was on, pushing, shoving; the first one to step on it won. If you called it and stepped on it first, you were King. Disputes over who called it first were common and often defined the pecking order. For me, unbeknownst to them, my secret game was being played at the same time; all that mattered to me was that someone stepped on it, hopefully in time.

I remembered all of this the other day when I was walking the dog down Limerick Avenue, two blocks from my old house. I looked down, and there one was. A Button. In the same instance that I remembered I thrust a leg out and stepped on it.

Whew. Just in time. Saved the world from yet another unspeakable horror.

You’re welcome.

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nan shartel Jan. 22, 2010 @ 5:55 p.m.

childhood is more then great for boys and girls with imagination..the field across the street from my house was the trail to California..with stop incampments along the way

lunches brought from home were gobbled down as look outs watch for the errant Redskin was a huge field and occupied a day of travel from East to West

when moms were heard calling everyone to dinner our imaginations were put away 'til next we met in Kansas or Nebreska or some other pairie land that needed to be crossed

wild flowers were picked to bring was legal then...and we set forth to find civilization...about a block away..

Bee Bee Guns were shoulder and silver cap pistals holstered as we fade into the light of day

this is a GREAT blog stevenicker...thx for the treat


CuddleFish Jan. 22, 2010 @ 7:18 p.m.

What a great piece, thanks for posting that!!

Great post yourself, nan! :)


SDaniels Jan. 23, 2010 @ 4:38 p.m.

Very cute, and poses a great question-- What is it that makes us choose to do the 'step-on-a-crack, break my mother's back' routine, to express and relieve ourselves of our innate compulsions? I find myself sometimes doing this as an adult, and have to shake my brain out of it, or I'd be lurching down the sidewalk like Rainman! ;)


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