Voyage to the Bottom of the Curb

In the summer of 1966, a new storm drain system was being installed in my neighborhood. Rows of three-foot wide concrete pipes were laid end-to-end on the boulevard in our front yards. It was as if a new playground of connecting tunnels had been delivered to us. Some of the pipes had additional openings. The pipe with the biggest additional opening was in front of Greg’s house.

This pipe was a “T” and it had an extension that protruded straight up like the conning tower of a submarine. However, this was not just any submarine; this was the Seaview, the submarine in the television show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. We cut up an appliance cardboard box quickly sealed off both ends of the pipe  to make our submarine water tight. We sliced four windows in the front just like the Seaview. Additional cardboard was used to create interior control panels. We sailed on dangerous missions, shot torpedos and climbed in-and-out of the Seaview through the only available door; the conning tower.

The “T” connection was a smaller opening. It was a tight fit for most of us, but that was half the fun. We climbed in, sealed the hatch with another piece of cardboard and dove to the depths of the ocean. Resurfacing, we would emerge one-by-one and walk on the deck of our sub. We stayed off the lawn because the grass was the ocean. (Are you tracking with me?)

Anyway, our submarine was attracting the attention of some kids from the next block. They wanted to play too and we were so proud of our submarine that we agreed. It never occurred to us that one of the kids, Kevin, a.k.a. “Heavy Kevvy,” was much larger than the rest of us. We climbed back inside the Seaview and the new kids followed us. Kevin was the last one to climb in. His feet appeared and started to descend into the pipe—and then he just stopped. His feet dangled in midair. He was taking forever to get in. (Didn’t he know we were going to dive underwater any second?) The kids yelled at him to hurry up. His feet searched for leverage or footing, but there was none. His feet thrashed about. His torso twisted in the opening. Perhaps he was trying to screw himself into the opening or back out. Who knows?

That’s when panic set in.

“Mommmm! Mommmm,” he screamed.

We all exited from the front of Seaview to see what was going on. Kevin was crying. His face was flush red and wet from tears and sweat. His stomach was stuck in the middle of the conning tower. He had already removed his shirt and the skin around his belly was turning puffy and redder by the second. He attempted to push himself up and out, but he screamed even louder. He was stuck solid.

Kids are cruel.

We were no exception. We started laughing at his predicament.

We taunted “Dive! Dive! Oooga! Oooga!” and “Heavy Kevvy! Heavy Kevvy!”

Kevin screamed even louder for his mother. At a certain decibel level, parents respond—any parent. Kevin’s scream hit that level because all of a sudden there were moms everywhere.

Greg’s mom brought out a yellow bottle of Joy dish soap and tried to slip him out to no avail. Vaseline and cold water from a garden hose was tried as well. After many failed attempts, somebody called the fire department.

How cool!

Kevin had been stuck in the pipe about a half hour by the time the fire truck showed up. He was only sobbing by now, but the sight of the fireman brought a fresh round of tears. I think the firemen actually enjoyed this assignment because they were chuckling among themselves. One of the firemen produced a can of automotive grease. He coated his finger with the blue-green gel and inserted his finger between Kevin’s stomach and the pipe opening. He continued to do this all the way around Kevin’s stomach. Two fireman got on either side of Kevin and lifted him straight out of the pipe—screaming all the way. We all cheered and clapped.

Before they left, the firemen told us not to play in the pipes anymore. Yeah, right. Are you kidding me? After the firemen left and the parents went back inside, we resealed the Seaview and continued our deep-sea adventures.

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