On Playing

Written by Mike Parish, Illustrated by Dan Tarnowski, Video by Sean Cunningham
On Playing

As a kid, playing was my world. My imagination was the only thing holding me back; the possibilities were limitless. It did not matter if I played alone or with others; I always traveled somewhere, away from reality and into the unknown.

Today, I can’t imagine kids playing quite the same way. I spent a large period of my youth at an old school field which was bordered by a patch of woods and a sump. I’m not really sure if the world itself has changed, but back then, the vast and somewhat deserted piece of property seemed so private and unbreachable, while today, when I find myself in the same area, everything seems so much smaller and so much more fragile, like at any moment a battalion of dozers and steamrollers will rumble through and flatten the place.

I think around third or fourth grade I was free to do whatever. I am thankful that at such an age I was able to explore, was cut loose and was allowed to leave our yard. In the mid-nineties, before the advent of the Internet, the world not only felt much bigger but I believe it actually was. We weren’t able to learn things by sitting in front of a computer. The only phone we had was the one in our kitchens, the ones we didn’t want to talk on for long and had no reason to because the only important piece of information was if someone could play.

My friend Nick remembers the days when it was all right to walk right up to someone’s porch and ring the doorbell. In today’s world, this kind of behavior has been phased out, even demonized. Finding themselves waiting in a car outside of someone’s house, people will call each other today. “I’m outside your house, bro.” This is just what they do; it’s strange to appear on doorsteps unannounced even if a person knows you’re coming. In many day-to-day situations, technology makes it easier to interact with the outside world by using devices, rather than simply using yourself.

Cell phones enhance people’s private, physical lives; as a result, people have become less approachable. It’s all right to interrupt with a text message at any time, but personally, I’d rather have people talk to me in the physical world instead of always having to be “home” in the communicative one. With cell phones, we’re always on call because we make it so that we have to be and something about this has never sat right with me.

People these days, at least in my old neighborhood, seem much more paranoid and protective over their property and children. Is it because of technology, of more information available everywhere, of more news about muggings, kidnappings, terrorist plots, murders? See something, say something. Everyone’s a suspect.

I see it when I walk down the street. I am the phantom that will break into your home and ransack your existence. I’ve lived in my neighborhood longer than the eyes of the mistrustful and somehow, because I walk and smile at others, I have become the outsider.

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