My son’s tree house is in reality a large play set with an extra few steps up to a higher platform, with safety rails and a tarped roof. It is huge and awesome and cost the price of a crappy used car. And because of our down-sloping back yard, I had to build a level retaining wall out of a couple dozen railroad ties, a few tons of gravel, a month of spine bending weekends, and the cost of a crappier used car.
We positioned the play set within a tuft of trees, and the desired ‘tree house’ effect was achieved. And it has the added awesomeness of a 14-foot slide off the downhill slope, right off the retaining wall, that sends my son and his friends rocketing into the neighbor’s yard at a speed that gives me palpitations to witness.
Sitting up on the top level of the tree house is an idyllic experience that begs for make-believe play of every sort, from Army Sniper picking off enemy forces at will, to Dinosaur Hunters picking off massive monsters at will, to Swiss Family Robinson Tree Home Army Sniper picking off enemy forces at will. For, however innocently the fun begins, violence and death are where the fun inevitably arrives.
And so it was on one particular occasion. My son and I, sitting at the child-sized plastic table on the high level of the tree house, enjoying an afternoon as wilderness explorers, when he climbs down to the lawn and runs inside to pick up a few toy rifles so the games can begin in earnest.
A minute passes. Two. Five. My neighbor, let’s call him ‘Bob’ because his name is in fact Bob, happens by, mowing his impeccable lawn – his lawn that makes our living room carpet look unkempt, which it totally is. He passes a few times. We give each other the cursory ‘I couldn’t hear you anyway’ wave over the scream of the mower. Then he shuts the mower off to fiddle with what must be a sprinkler head.
We begin a quiet conversation. Nice weather. Those sprinkler heads can be fussy. We sure could use a bit of rain. He is a grown man tending to his lawn. I am a grown man sitting on a small plastic chair in a tree house. By myself. Bob arrived on the scene only after my son had gone inside to fetch his requisite arsenal, now fifteen minutes ago, and as far as Bob knows, I have been enjoying a quiet afternoon up there all alone. I’ve got a nice warm coat on. I’ve got snacks. I’ve got a compass that points north if I turn it that way, and plastic binoculars that, when I look through them, I see only what I think might be peanut butter.
Bob wraps up his sprinkler fussings, stands to pull his mower again to life, and before he rips the cord, he says “have fun.” I close my eyes and nod. Yup. I built the damn wall. I paid for the damn fort. Why couldn’t I just enjoy some nice alone time out there by myself, with my snacks and nice warm coat, whiling away the afternoon within my own quiet imaginings?
Finally, I squeeze out from under the safety rail and step down the ladder. The slide is much faster but would rocket me straight into a body cast. I reach the ground and mosey inside, as if my dignity is very much intact. My son is watching TV, some toy guns on his lap.
“I thought you were coming back outside.”
“I got hungry”
“We had snacks out there.”
“How about a heads-up next time, okay, buddy?”