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A Rotten Banana

July 7, 2011

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.)

After these will want to buy something. Bwahahahaaaa!

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)? 

Someone apparently beat me to the patent office on this.

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.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Josh permalink
    July 8, 2011 8:21 pm

    Nice! I used to get hurt on our beat up slip n slide.

    • July 11, 2011 8:17 pm

      Was it due to a bumpy lawn (see comment below)? I’m sure people died on those things, breaking their necks or at least limbs.

  2. Troy permalink
    July 11, 2011 3:42 pm

    My dad wouldn’t buy me a slip n slide because it killed the grass so I went to the neighbors with the bumpy yard they had. Hurt really bad! My dads perfect lawn would have been perfect! And now my kids want one – forget it! I work too hard on that lawn!

    This blog is awesome!

    • July 11, 2011 8:18 pm

      You bring up an excellent point regarding the grass. I’m so glad I didn’t go out and buy my kids one. Our lawn deserves better.

  3. July 12, 2011 8:45 pm

    Well the price finally came down on these things! Just bought the girls a Banzai Duel Racing Slide for $10. (Ok, not a Wet Banana but it’s the same type of slide.) No Black Banana for my girls!! No sir!!

    • July 12, 2011 9:01 pm

      They don’t know what they’re missing. And you should know, the Black Banana will not be undersold.

  4. Timoree permalink
    July 14, 2011 7:42 pm

    Angie! I love your stories!!! Ahh, the Wet Banana. The only thing I wanted for my 8th Birthday. I am pretty sure I got it to atone for the fact that I was getting another sibling. It only took me 6 years to acknowledge the first one, so anything to smooth the path. I was a manipulative little shit. Anywhoo, I did in fact get the Wet Banana for my birthday and all of the above said things happened to our lawn to the delight of my overly anal retentive father. I remember spending hours out there in the grass sliding down it, and eventually inventing a game for my sister and I titled, “Vietnam.” At the tender age of 8, I had no idea what Vietnam (the conflict or the country) was. I just remember our crazy old neighbor talking about picking bananas in the jungle and then also talking about his time in the jungles of Vietnam as he smoked cigarettes and drank heavily from weird homeade bottles of liquor on the front porch. As the child of hippies, my parents weren’t exactly discriminating about who we hung out with. (Except when we lived next door to the pot dealers for that 6 months) Anyway, this all led to my sister and I (to the delight of my parents of course) running down the yard, impaling ourselves on the Wet Banana, that by this time my dog had ran across leaving holes in that would scratch our stomachs as we slid, screaming “Vietnam! Vietnam!” That was pretty much the gist of the game. After “Barbie Holocaust” which I’ll have to tell you about some other time, that was one of the many, many times we cemented our status in the neighborhood as those “weird Adams kids…”

    • July 14, 2011 8:03 pm

      Holy cow, Timoree! I wish your family lived in our neighborhood growing up. You weird Adams kids would’ve definitely livened up the place.

  5. July 15, 2011 6:15 pm

    Who knew that your parents were sooo thrifty and creative?
    I’m rather impressed….that makes the new slip ‘n slide the grandchildren
    seem so unimaginative! So glad I have your blog to give some
    pointers! And I DO appreciate them!

  6. Emily permalink
    February 6, 2012 8:01 pm

    I didn’t have a lot of toys as a kid, but my parents did provide me and my brother with a real backyard waterslide. It didn’t have a splash-down pool at the end, or any kind of inflatable “walls” on the sides, but it did have an inflatable bump. If I remember correctly, we got it the summer of 1992, but we were hardly ever allowed to play with it. At the time, we thought that that was unfair, but now I can see that it was probably because it was so dangerous.

    • February 11, 2012 2:45 pm

      Yes, apparently people broke limbs on those things. I had no idea. I thought they seemed a lot safer than a trampoline. Although what would I know since I was too busy fixing the tent stakes on my black banana to have the fun of risking bodily harm.


  1. You Asked, So I Dug Deeper! «
  2. Gone But Not Forgotten «
  3. A Summertime Back in Time « Childhood Relived

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