School is out. What the hell are we going to do with these kids? Camps cost a fortune. Sports leagues are a pain in the ass. And who wants to stare at another listless, self-aware gorilla at the zoo? What a downer!
If you’re looking for some free, outside-the-box activities to occupy your weekends, look no further: Each of these ideas has been field tested, by my father, on me and my siblings. All quotations are attributed to him, as filtered through my memory banks.
5. Go Into the Office
Be sure to tell your kids it’ll be “for just a little while, to do some paperwork.” This is a lie, and you know it, but they won’t whine too much if they think you’re just making a detour on the way to Dairy Queen.
Then, spend the whole day at the office.
Show them the industrial-sized copier. Show them the giant hole-punchers and staplers. Save the huge guillotine paper-cutter for last. If you have boys, they’re going to go apeshit. They’ll try to slice up every damn thing in sight. Paper clips, Sharpies, shirt sleeves, hair, fingernails. Everything. They’ll love it! Make sure you know where the company first-aid kit is stored.
Then, retire to your office, put your feet up and just … zone out for a long while. Be sure to spread some paper around your desk, in case one of those little shits barges in on you. Then you can give him the what-the-hell-do-you-want staredown until he backs out silently.
If they really get rowdy, order a pizza. Chuckle to yourself at the nervous delivery guy, wondering if he’s about to be organ-harvested, driving up to a deserted office park in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday. Order enough pizza that the kids pig out. This will make them groggy and slow. Hopefully, they’ll fall asleep on the floor and you can watch YouTube videos until nightfall. (I have no idea what my dad was doing back then.)
4. Visit a Junkyard
The ideal place is going to be at least 45 minutes from your house, so the round trip will kill an hour and a half right off the top. If your kids ask why you can’t go someplace closer to home, just start ranting about how “those bastards are a bunch of cheats and thieves!” The kids will be too scared to question anything else about the trip.
It would be good if you actually need a part from the junkyard. Say, an air conditioner condenser for your rickety old hatchback. In that case, be sure to dick around the house all morning. Wait until the sun is high and the day is hot. On the drive, the kids will have to roll down the windows to keep from baking, and all the wind noise will drown out any complaints.
The junkyard office should be a rusty metal shed or a cinder-block bunker decorated with NFL cheerleader calendars and tire-company scratch pads. Everything should be covered in a thin coating of engine grease. There should be a couple of guys just standing around, looking like mobbed-up construction workers. Ask the guy behind the counter about the air conditioner condenser. See if he’ll “come down on the price.” Get a little huffy when he won’t. Ask about other parts. How much for a distributor cap? How about a starter? Water pump? Johnson rod?
Your knowledge of automobiles is entirely irrelevant. You’re going to wander out into the lot with your kids, pretending to look for the cars that contain the parts you say you need. Along the way, you’re going to stop and look at every other rusted-out junker that grabs your fancy. “Look, kids, my uncle had a Studebaker just like this. They only made it for one year!” If you’ve arrived at the right time of day, it’ll be about 93 degrees outside, and the sun’s rays will bounce off all that scrap steel like one of those mirror arrays they use to collect solar power. Your kids will be so defeated they’ll just stumble along behind you, hoping for death, or at least a shadow to crawl into.
If you ever find the car you’re supposed to be looking for, make a big show of trying to remove the part you need. Eventually, declare that “the damn thing is rusted anyway” and storm off. Before you leave, stop back into the office and ask if they have any “clean bodies that only need an engine.”
3. Attend a Livestock Auction
You’re bound to have one of these someplace near you. Drive out of the city, and when the tallest building in sight is a barn, you’re not far away.
Before you go in, make sure you tell the kids not to make any sudden movements or talk too loudly, otherwise they might end up buying a hog. Not a fun, cuddly pig like Babe or Wilbur, but a damned half-ton hog. Make sure they understand that they’d have to pay for the hog out of their own allowances, because things are a little tight for Daddy right now. He’s not getting enough paperwork done at the office. Might have to look for another job (or car) soon.
Right when you walk in, you’re going to get slapped in the face with the pungent stank of manure and unwashed farm animals. Tell your kids, “That’s the smell of real work!” Try to get a little growl in your voice, like a Dodge Ram commercial. Point out the well-worn boots and the sweaty hats of the honest-to-God cowboys.
When the whole thing starts and the auctioneer begins hollering like a human banjo, give your kids a little eyebrow wiggle. Pretty neat, huh! Describe the difference between a bull and a steer, explicitly. Especially if you have boys. Once you’ve seen a few sales happen, go on at length about why one bull went for so much more money than another. You don’t need to know a damn thing about livestock, because your kids don’t either. Just squint and talk emphatically, and wipe the back of your neck with a handkerchief every so often. It’ll be convincing.
On the way back to the car, stop at the snack stand to get some homemade rhubarb ice cream. While your kids half-heartedly lick at it, talk about how much it reminds you of the kind your mother’s second cousin used to make. So much better than Dairy Queen!
2. Drive Around Looking for “Good Trash”
You’ll want to do this early in the day, before all the good trash is gone. Get the kids into the car right after breakfast. Don’t mention what you’re doing until everyone’s belted in and you’re moving. If you take too long to find some good trash, you run the real risk of one or more of your children bailing as you roll through a stop sign. But once you spot some leavings and pull over to the curb, you’re safe. Those damn kids are going to shrink down into their seats and stay perfectly quiet, terrified that someone they know will see them.
Here’s what you’re looking for: tables with three legs, recliners with cigarette burns that have been sitting in the rain for a few days, huge wooden televisions with broken screens, ceiling fans missing two or more blades, and/or stained mattresses and bookshelves with holes punched through the back.
Everything you put into the car should be old, but nothing should be antique. Decrepit, not valuable. If something looks too good, dismiss it out of hand, with an arbitrary comment of your own invention. A good stand-by is bring up the inferior materials that had to be used because of rationing during The War.
You get bonus points if you find a piece of furniture that is both old and requires a Grandpa Simpson story to explain its use. Something like a sewing table or a spinning wheel or a typewriter stand. Stare in wonder at the object and shake your head. “Huh. Never thought I’d see one of these again.”
1. Stay Home
Seems too easy, right? But here’s the key: Declare a full-scale, all-hands-on-deck day of yard work. Get yourself hyped up like Patton addressing the infantry. You need a grand project to preach about. Something like plowing the backyard into a cornfield. You’ll say, “We can set up a roadside stand. We’ll make a fortune!” Don’t worry if you’ve never planted anything in your life. Bolster your kids’ enthusiasm by making up stories about all the farm work you did when you were younger, long before they were even a twinkle in your eye.
The key is to dream up a project that is both overly ambitious and easily derailed by the absence of one key tool or piece of equipment. Can’t do anything until we find the hoe! Start looking, kids! The longer the search goes on, the angrier you should get. Bonus points if you repeat a curse in a signature cadence often enough that your children can still hear it in their heads three decades later. GOTdamn sonofaBITCH!
Eventually, someone will find the hoe, rusty and forgotten in the weeds growing around the rotting camping trailer. Spend another couple hours showing the kids how to clean rust off a hoe with a gnarled old wire-bristle brush and an ancient, almost-smooth file.
Once the sun sinks toward the horizon, throw in the towel, cook canned corn for supper, and stare regretfully out the back window. Go to Dairy Queen for dessert.
Geoffrey Redick is a freelance writer and radio producer. He lives in Memphis. He’s on Twitter.
Illustration by Sam Woolley.
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