April 6, 2012

The Neighborhood Network

A common, American phenomenon disappeared sometime in the 1990’s. I blame it on cell phones. When I was a kid in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, I’d hop on my bicycle on a Saturday or during summer, and ride off to my friend’s house for the day. The only admonishment I’d receive from my mother was to be home by dinner time. I was no different than any of my friends. We all had an internal clock which ticked louder and louder as suppertime loomed. Our ears were trained to listen for a distinct signal which meant it was time to go home; our parents calling out our names from the front lawn.

It didn’t matter what I was doing or where I was, I could hear my dad’s booming voice from blocks away. My friends immediately understood they were next and their mothers or fathers would signal them soon. Before there were 4G networks and text messages, there existed the “neighborhood network.” Often, the message would be passed along by adult neighbors or other kids, who would relay the dispatch to me. “Michael, your father is calling you.” Sometimes, I’d be too involved in a game of basketball, or watching television in a friend’s living room and I would miss the call. If one of my siblings came looking for me, or if my father had to get in the car and drive through the neighborhood, I knew I was in trouble. 

Doing this today with my children would be odd and unnecessary. They both have cell phones. My twelve year old son, Jeffrey, has one so he can text us from his friends’ homes or from school if he needs a ride. My seventeen year old daughter, Juliana, has one for those reasons and to maintain contact with her intricate network of friends. My wife, Nina, and I would be considered bad parents if we deprived our kids of these devices. During my teenage years, I couldn’t imagine digging into my pocket to answer a call from my mother in the middle of a baseball game with my buddies. Today, my children expect me to text them.

Just once I’d like to stand on my front porch and shout my son’s name at dinner time. He’d be at his friend’s house down the block. I imagine him in the driveway, riding a skateboard with his pal, and he’d stop the moment he heard my voice. He’d look up, I’d wave and be transported back to a time in my life when simplicity and necessity merged together and created a charming and unique tradition. Moments later, I’d reach into my pocket and read a text message from my son asking, “Why are you yelling at me?”

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