Lord of the Latchkey Kids
This may seem a wee bit wiggity-wiggity-whack, but the 1985 movie The Goonies makes me weep like a baby. Like a baby!
Of course, when I watched it the first time as a kid, I didn’t cry one bit. True, I likely wet myself in terror. Specifically, during any scene referencing the pirate One-Eyed Willie. Which I might’ve mistaken for hot tears washing over me. But, nope, just pee.
Today, ah, different. Today that movie hits me right in the bawl-my-eyes-out bone.
“Our parents . . . it’s their time, their time up there. But down here it’s our time, it’s our time down here.”
I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself.
Oh, more time? Sure, me too . . . . . . .
Oh, that’s just your contact lens? Moving on . . .
If you don’t get it, maybe it’s because you never experienced the life I once led, the life of a Latchkey Kid. In which case, you can’t even begin to imagine the pure and utter thrill of being a kid completely free of adult supervision. Because most of the day, it was their time, it was their time out there. But from 3:00 to 5:00 it was our time, it was our time . . . yeah, okay, you got it.
We were something like the Goonies, us Latchkey Kids. Although, the name Goonies certainly detracts from how cool we were. Perhaps a better name would be Lords of the Flies – yes, we were Lords of the Flies! (Here my high school English teacher Mr. Davis would remind me that Lord of the Flies references a decomposing boar’s head.)
Like in the book Lord of the Flies, we Latchkey Kids didn’t need grown-ups to feed or shelter us. We didn’t need grown-ups to dictate how to run our complex society. But, let me be clear, we did not kill anyone. Okay, yes, we poked at some roadkill with a stick now and then. And maybe one time it wasn’t quite dead.
My life ended and began when I turned eight and my mom headed back to work in our family business. My older brother worked off and on at an afterschool job, and it was decided I’d be fine being on my own. After all, I was in third grade. I had begun learning fractions, how volcanoes erupt, and how to read the hands on a clock. I was practically ready for my own apartment.
Lucky for me I was not alone after all. There were others like me. Yes, several of my friends were also left to their own devices between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00.
After school, friends would end up at each other’s houses and their siblings’ friends would end up at those same houses and no one’s parents seemed to be around and we all sort of mixed together like one big scabby patch of pus. Which was what we often looked like by 5:00.
We’d take care of ourselves by taking care of each other. Take for example, food. From my friend Cindy and her brother, I learned to prepare an easy, delicious afterschool snack. Sure, I’ll share that recipe with you. Got a pen? Take a piece of Wonder Bread, spread it generously with margarine and microwave it. Yes, when zapped for about 8 seconds, no more mind you or it’ll get tough, the bread and margarine fuse into a splendid gelatinous sponge of butter-flavored goo with roughly the same nutritional value of aerosol cheese.
From my friend Geri and her brothers, I learned how to cook frozen chicken strips in a Fry Daddy. You’re worried about teens driving? How about allowing 8-year-olds to man a vat of searing hot grease? In my opinion, this is a good way to prepare them for one day operating another piece of machinery capable of causing extreme fiery carnage.
Full disclosure, I wasn’t completely without grown-up company — they just weren’t 3-dimensional. From Andy Griffith, I learned how to whittle a stick while sleuthing out who stole Mr. Martin’s prize milk cow. From the Bradys, I learned how to drive a car and how to stop just short of knocking over a raw egg. From Mr. Wizard, I learned how to build my own ant farm, which I had done before but not intentionally.
Some days my brother and I would relax by scaling the 6-foot narrow brick wall that attached to the side of our house. Often, from there, we would climb onto the roof so we could sprawl out more comfortably. Like clockwork, at that exact moment, the retired elderly couple who lived across the street would come out of their house and sit in lawn chairs, watching us from their front porch. I get misty-eyed just thinking of those beautiful moments of inter-generational bonding.
Like the independent colony that we were, we Latchkey Kids created our own form of language. This consisted of words like crappola, fartnugget, turdburger, numbnuts, dickhead, dickweed, dickface. Oh, and whore. This was a multi-purpose word, I learned. I decided this when I saw that the teenager my friend’s sister was referring to did not actually wear a purple fur coat or fishnet stockings like the whores on Barney Miller.
Walking home from school was the best chance to refine our new language. Often, my classmates Doug and J.J. would walk behind me and my friend Cindy. All along the way we’d exchange a heavy barrage of verbal fireballs. One day, J.J. said if we didn’t shut up Doug would hump us. A new word! Later when we got to my house, we sent out my Cabbage Patch Kid to assist in the rebuttal. “Keep Out Or I’ll Hump You,” Tilda Bambi bravely proclaimed on the paper sign taped to her head. When my brother used the same word to refer to my dog having his way with my stuffed bear, I decided this, too, was a multi-purpose word.
With today’s parents and their over-indulging and over-protecting, Latchkey Kids are less and less common and more and more synonymous with Wards of the State. That’s just plain tragic. Way more tragic than an 8-year-old fry cook barking orders to her whore-humping dickweed kitchen crew.
I’m sure my mom would whole-heartedly agree with this assessment and that I have uncovered a sad truth here. In fact, if my mom reads this post, she may even start weeping like a baby. Or perhaps she’ll wet herself in terror and confuse it with hot tears washing over her.