A Rotten Banana
My mom was and still is a thrifty gal. She’d make a depression-era farmer’s wife appear to be Daisy Buchanan. If my mom were to win the Power Ball tomorrow, after the initial shock wore off and the “Congratulations!” mylar balloons began to deflate, she’d spend her soonest clear-headed moments strategizing her first big splurge on a full-priced winter coat at TJ Maxx. Later, she’d place the lottery ticket by the phone where she could reuse it for scratch paper. But more on home-sewn rompers and double coupon days another time.
Sometime into an especially hot Nebraska summer, I got my sights set on cooling down with a backyard Slip & Slide. Even better, the Wet Banana. The Wet Banana came on the scene in the 1980s, a hipped-up version of the earlier favorite, named from the notion that, true, a banana peel may be slippery – but you haven’t seen nothing ‘til it’s wet! And it was yellow, naturally. And, oh, was it ever slick! It was a dream-come-true for every kid who wished for a way to combine two coveted outdoor summer pastimes: slides and sprinklers. (And it also brilliantly avoided the smarting bumburn inflicted by the searing hot metal slides of yesteryear.)
Unfortunately for me and my brother, Marcia wasn’t about to come aboard the SS Wet Banana Funtime Cruise. But we were drunk on Saturday morning commercials that showed us there was a better life to be had. She responded in the way we had both come to expect when asking for anything outside our Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. “Oh, I could make that myself in about five minutes.” Cringe. That always anticipated and dreaded response was like barbecue skewers jammed in my ear drums. Although, in that instance, a response usually reserved for parachute pants or Star Wars curtains seemed alternatively tantalizing when used in reference to a backyard water toy. How could my mom make this happen? I wanted to find out.
Following some detective work and a trip to a local hardware store, Marcia scored us the key ingredient – a long and narrow plastic tarp – though black, not yellow. Careful digging in our garage led to some metal tent stakes for securing the tarp to the ground. Buying a sprinkler to complete the creation was unnecessary. Not when we already had one out back in the shed. Rotating tractor style, of course. If the sprinkler meandered too close, we had to stop and move it back again so as to avoid a tragic collision of sharp plastic and bare flesh. If the sprinkler got too far away from the tarp, we had to move it closer or risk the tarp drying out, resulting in a wicked plastic burn (a kissing cousin to the carpet burn).
At first reveal, the other kids from the cul-de-sac gathered in our front yard (the front yard, yes…what, you thought we’d hide this out back?) to try out the modern invention that later came to be known in neighborhood folklore as the Black Banana. It was quite a sight to be seen. And our friends didn’t quite know whether to be jealous or feel sorry for us.
Prior to future manufacturing tweaks, the real Wet Banana had one pitfall, quite literally. After so many minutes of sliding, a crater-like pit of water developed in the grass at the end. So after you had run across the lawn and threw yourself down on the tarp to live out those three wonderful seconds of pure joy, you’d be dumped into a warm swampy puddle for the grand finale. In that way, the Black Banana was no different. And, the Black Banana, much like an actual rotting banana, wasn’t exactly durable. So if you were particularly unfortunate, one of the stakes at the end of the tarp would tear through just as you neared the finish. The entire tarp would then engulf you – resulting in a sort of plastic-coated child-filled Twinkie.
Our Grand Island neighborhood, by no means hoity-toity but quite nice in an ‘80s suburban development sense, had aesthetic standards as such: 1.) no indoor furniture on the porch, 2.) no chain link fences, 3.) no campers and trailers parked in the driveway. Perhaps we contributed to a revisement version of the association’s bylaws that included: 4.) no wet, torn-up tarp thrown across the front lawn for several days at a time.
Now, I’m sure there are some who think this is made up. No way would this work, you might think. No way could anyone recreate the Wet Banana using simple items you’d now find at a Home Depot. Fair enough. I myself even wondered over the years if I had dreamed up this entire thing. So I emailed my brother. Here’s his response so you can read for yourself.
“I believe the Black Banana was made from black plastic that you can buy at the hardware store in a roll. It felt like a trash bag but was a little more heavy duty. People use it for weed blocker in planter boxes and for home construction. The corners tore to hell. It killed the grass underneath which irked Dad. I can’t remember what type of sprinkler we used?”
Now that scorching summer heat is upon us, I can’t help missing our Black Banana and wondering whatever became of it. Paint drip drop cloth? Garden frost protector? Lining for the bed of my dad’s pick-up truck as he hauled home a deer carcass (contributing to a tragedy on two fronts)?
If only I could be so resourceful the next time my children plead for an enticing checkout lane trinket. Although, who’s to say I can’t continue in the traditions of my mother? Today’s PVC plumbing pipe can surely be tomorrow’s jungle gym. And if my children are lucky enough, I will find a way to prove that.