We spent recess climbing on steel jungle gyms with rusted bolts, sliding down rusty metal slides, and throwing basketballs through netless hoops attached to near-collapsing rusted-to-the-skeleton backboards. The stuff must have been at my school for half a century. There were two standalone walls made from the giant yellow bricks left over from when the school was built. This is what the other boys pinned you to when they were about to peg your ass for dropping a bounce in wallball. Behind the walls we set fire to WD-40 and white-out while the cool kids smoked. Sometimes we had cherry bombs or other low-yield explosives.

We climbed batting cages. We played two-hand-touch nerf football in our school's playground, which was really nothing more than a giant parking lot for the nearby church. We played soccer, and dirtily. We slid on the small stones, cigarette butts, and broken glass. We tripped over pieces of beer bottles. We giggled when we found used condoms. We got cut, scraped, bruised, stung, and punched. We launched tennis balls, racquetballs, nerf footballs, kickballs, and shoes onto roofs and over fences. We balanced on bikeless, rusted bicycle racks. We broke arms, got the wind knocked out of us, and had asthma attacks.

The world of my childhood was brown and red and right and wrong, and life was short and brutal. Boredom filled the spaces between the glory and tragedy. I'd come home dirty, tired, and sometimes injured or crying. The boy that was created had a mind of hard, logical steel, a memory of slowly crumbling rust, and the emotional makeup of a scraped knee. True: some of the others didn't make it, but -- call me crazy -- I can't imagine wanting to grow up any other way.