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Grip on Sports: Fourth is about independence

Sun., July 6, 2014

Friday: The Fourth of July is full of memories for me. You, too, I bet. I’m not sure there is a kid in America who didn’t do something athletic on the Fourth at least once in his life. Heck, climbing on the roof to watch fireworks might even qualify.

The little town I grew up in, Sierra Madre, California, never allowed fireworks. Never.

It was all about location. See, Sierra Madre is tucked up against the mountains in the Los Angeles basin, so the entire north end of town was a fire trap by the time July Fourth rolled around. Hence, the fireworks ban.

As far as I can recall, we were allowed to use sparklers and snakes, though that might just have been my dad’s “I’ll show the damn government” streak.

Anyhow, when my high school friends would talk about shooting off their Piccolo Pete’s or Roman candles, I would just nod my head and stare off into space.

You would think, being a male and full of stupidity, at some point I would have rebelled against such restraint and attempt to see what the fuss was about. You would be wrong. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the experience.

Being up against the mountains, with the entire Los Angeles metroplex arrayed below, the show on the Fourth could be spectacular – if you could rise above the trees and houses. Which led to one of my more impressive athletic feats.

The summer after I graduated high school, my parents felt I was mature enough to be left alone, in charge of the family business and the homestead.

Boy, were they wrong.

As soon as they left, my buddies and I cleared all the food out of the refrigerator and filled it with little cans of something I was way too young to buy – or ingest.

And the parties, wow. A couple of nights could have been featured in a Seth Rogen movie. But the Fourth was reserved for the Beach Boys, what we sort of called the posse I was running with that summer. We spent the evening barbecuing and consuming cold beverages that made my legs weak.

Then someone got the exceedingly dumb idea – I blame Pat – to climb on to the roof to watch the fireworks. Now you have to understand, my dad had a cedar shake roof on our house, one that he meticulously maintained, mainly because it would have been expensive as hell to replace.

When a ball was caught up there in my youth, it stayed there until it rotted. No one was ever going to step on that roof if my dad could help it. But here we were, six young pups deciding it would be the best place to watch the fireworks.

If only we could get there. A search for a ladder came up empty. Darn, I said, wiping my brow as I began to see how stupid an idea this was. We can’t do it. But no. The imaginative power of 18-year-old boys, when told no, is incredible.

There happened to be a wall on the west side of the house, a concrete-block one that was nearly unclimbable except in a couple of spots where there were decorative blocks. That might work.

So the six of us, carrying full aluminum cans featuring a picture of a Minnesota bear, crawled our way up that wall, teetered at the top and attempted the 3-foot jump to the roof.

The cracking of the eaves was audible three blocks away. But we made it, even the guy who ended up playing tackle at Stanford.

The roofline beckoned. We responded. And for the next hour or so we set across the top of the roof, sang Beach Boy songs – hence the nickname – and looking south toward the city as pyromaniacs set off flowers made of flame.

It was glorious.

Somehow, this far removed I can’t explain how, we made it down safely. Nothing was broken, not on us and not on the roof. And that may have been the most athletic thing I ever accomplished on a Fourth of July.

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