24
Jan
06

Climbing Boy

Scaffolding is as ubiquitous in New York as it is mysterious. Usually it serves no discernable purpose. It merely is. Like parasitic architectural lampreys, these collections of metal and particle board cling to their host buildings, waiting … for something.

They spring up out of nowhere, as if thrown together by teams of industrious elves overnight. On a routine walk somewhere or other, one might stare at a freshly ensconsed building and think, “Hunh… What’s different?” Then over time it becomes part of the building, the texture of the neighborhood. Tress are rerouted and split. Birds and small mammals make their homes. Then just as suddenly, months later, it disappears. And like a brainless goldfish that forgets its surroundings the moment it swims onward, you stand in the same spot thinking: “Hunh… What’s different?”

I can completely understand how a young boy would look at one and see nothing of its supposed true purpose or benefit — but instead see … a king-size jungle gym. How many video game-inspired Kung-Fu dreams could be fulfilled with a posse of scrappy friends and a Saturday afternoon on one of those things? Oh, consider the possibilities. The ultimate graduation in the School of Found Toys: The refrigerator box is left far behind in our erstwhile childhood, giving way to the glorious Scaffolding.

Today I saw a boy climbing on a scaffolding outside of a deli near where I work. The woman who was minding him said firmly but encouragingly, “You be careful. That thing’ll fall down right on top of you. Get down, now.”

The kid replied, “Aw… Why? What’s gonna happen?” He stopped climbing, but sort of lingered, a leg wrapped around a post out of reluctance and defiance, marking his territory.

“What you climbing that for?” she asked.

“What’s gonna hap—”

“I never touch those things, and you’re climbing all over it.”

“What —” he began, but she interrupted again with a string of admonitions. Repeatedly, he could say no more than “What &#8212?” before she interrupted again. “What —? What —? What —?” he said

“What what what!” she mocked. “Do you understand English?”

Then slowly she repeated: “Why. Are. You. Cli. Ming. On. That?”

What started out as mere concern for his safety quickly and weirdly escalated to a personal grudge about syntax. Her mood had completly changed in an instant. The original question had been rhetorical. “What you climbing that for?” If he had just stepped away and not answered, she would not be challenging the poor kid’s linguistic affinity. But because he annoyed her, the question became something that demanded an answer — long after he had stopped climbing and stepped away.

Ironically, it was she who misunderstood him. He had already asked her “What could happen?” as in “Get a grip, lady. This thing ain’t gonna fall. What do I have to worry about?” True, it’s little more than simple, boyish bravado that probably should be corrected. But he is a boy. Talk to the kid about what’s dangerous. Don’t stand 10 feet away barking at him.

She had a greater chance of breaking her nose on the door of the deli in front of her than he had of being crushed under a ton of aluminum pipes. But she is the Adult, and therefore has the apparent moral authority to not only ignore his curiosity but also to insult him. I understand the concept of enforcement through fear: Look both ways before crossing the street, and all that. But a scaffolding is not a house of cards. It seems to me there are limits to the amounts of disbelief a kid is willing to suspend after a certain age, and one needs something better than unrealistic fears of death and dismemberment to get his attention.

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