My favorite scene in this summer's hit movie, Grown Ups was when star Adam Sandler ordered a bunch of video game and texting obsessed kids to go play outside. The limp-lidded lads took one look at the great outdoors, complete with a lake, and snarked, "What are we supposed to do?"
Everyone over age 40 probably felt that punch line all too well.
As summer draws to a close, I mourn for my 12-year-old son, my 15-year-old niece and all American tweens and teens who have blown yet another precious sunny season with their heads buried in video games that rob them of exercise and vital social interaction with peers. Poor saps don't focus on each other -- they instead zero in on the virtual realities (they're not even real, mind you) and those who join them in this escapade are mere accomplices, not traditional friends like I had growing up.
In the 1970s, we played games that required physical movement, communication and interaction. We talked to each other (!), passed balls to one another, joined opposite ends of jump ropes and counted our fancy footsteps during double-dutch matches. Our games weren't sophisticated, but they were fun and memorable. We had pals with colorful nicknames like Pookey, K-K, Puddin' and Gweek Gweek. They're all adults now and they know who they are.
Perhaps the most memorable game was a childhood game called "Hot Peas and Butter" and it is truly legendary among New York City kids. If you ever played it, you never forgot that you did. It involved a long leather belt with a sharp edge. As kids gathered on the stoop or base, one person was selected from the group to hide the belt in our community's parking lot. The belt was usually tucked away in a car bumper or under a loose hubcap or something.
After hiding it, the child returned to base and said, "Hot peas and butter, come and get your supper!" With that call, dozens of eager children ventured out to find the belt. The person who hid it constantly screamed who's "hot" or near the belt and who's "cold" or far away from it. This could go on for 15 even 20 minutes, and then the climax! The person who located the belt got to whip and thrash every child until they ran hurriedly back to base. In the summertime, if you were wearing shorts, you really felt the sting.
Such a game now seems preposterous to the savvy gamer and iPod generation, but for summers on end we played this game with great joy and anticipation. And the kids in my Queens neighborhood were obviously not alone. When I Googled, "Hot Peas and Butter," I found it everywhere. The Urban Dictionary describes it as a "fun-a** game in which one person hides the belt and asks a group of people to find it and you get to beat the s*** out of your family and friends."
There's a woman online named Kelli who sells "Hot Peas and Butter appealing gifts." On her website she wrote, "I chose the name Hot Peas and Butter because it was one of my favorite childhood games growing up in Brooklyn."
There's even a children's musical group called Hot Peas and Butter that has a Wikipedia entry. It may seem silly or sick even--but, trust me, you haven't lived on the edge as a kid unless you've played Hot Peas and Butter. You really earn your stripes.
This summer I took my niece and her best friend Sydney with me to Manhattan. The two 15-year-olds were so excited. They sat next to each other starting the ride into the city and giggled about the nonstop excitement in the Big Apple. But within a minute and a half, I watched in amazement as they plugged iconic white headphones into tender ears, glided their thumbs over their iPod's click wheel and quite literally turned their backs to each other and listened to music for the hour-long trip. They said not a word to each other for the rest of the ride. They're the best of friends. This is what they call a good time.
Heaven help them.
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