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Opinion

Thoughts from Dr. Joe: The mischievous streets of La Cañada

Plastic wrap around rolls of toilet paper and paper towels
La Cañada is experiencing a surge of toilet-papered (TP’ing) houses as the new school year gets underway, columnist Joe Puglia notes. “One never knows whose house is next.”
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

If you thought Boo Radley was scary, you never met Mr. Getz. He was a mean old man, a soldier of World War I who fought for the Germans. Mr. Getz was the caretaker of Woodlawn Cemetery, one of the largest in New York City and the final resting place for many American elites.

Weekly, a bunch of us Bronx boys would climb the cemetery’s 10-foot fence and prosecute a two-fold mission: find Babe Ruth’s grave and elude the evil Mr. Getz. Mind you, we had to do this at midnight.

That was 50 years ago, and I can still see those euphoric moments in color. We were navigating the rite of passage, hurling ourselves into the next stage of life. There comes a time when children are no longer content to read the adventures of others; they want their own.

There’s a spark of mischief in the eyes of children; they’re all happy-go-lucky scamps. Thank God they’ve not yet been consumed by the adult world of obedience, responsibility, rules and safety. There are times when children need mischief. That in its self is a risk, which is worth it.

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Word of mouth has it that La Cañada is experiencing a surge of toilet-papered houses. TP’ing children have brought a sinister aura to the streets of the city, and one never knows whose house is next.

I’ve had some conversations with other adults about the recent epidemic. Some are intrigued by the frivolity and hysterics of children as they TP a house. Some aren’t. Some believe that it’s a badge of honor to have one’s home TP’ed.

I’m in the latter group. I recall when our girls were cheerleaders and flaggies at La Cañada High. As part of a well-established tradition, our house was TP’ed. I could have danced all night.

Could that be the best part of childhood, doing something just for the sake of fun? The children of La Cañada deal with considerable pressure: grades, college admissions and not to mention the state of affairs of the world. The adult world could learn much by observing.

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Children gravitate toward that which gives them an experience. What they encounter on a purely physical plain resonates within their innermost being, so they actually feel the rapture of being alive. There’s a genetic predisposition for intrigue and mischief. The remnants of our human heritage line the walls of our inner system of belief and understanding. This genetic linkage manifests itself as a simple prank like TP’ing a house.

But I have to tell you, life’s a lot like blowing out candles on a birthday cake. Don’t overthink it. As our kids scream with delight throughout the night, keep in mind that children are full of promise, dirt and mischief. Eventually, life will take its pound of flesh.

In the coliseum in ancient Rome, before the gladiators engaged in combat, they would salute the emperor and proclaim “Vivere periciloso samente” — to live dangerously!

Back to my story of Babe Ruth, Woodlawn and Mr. Getz: One evening we continued searching the more than 250,000 graves and again couldn’t find the Yankee legend. We were heading for the fence to make our exit when Mr. Getz popped from behind a tombstone and chased us with a shotgun. As we vaulted the fence, we were laughing hysterically. He then fired a load of rock salt, which peppered our butts. Although Mr. Getz got his pound of flesh and we didn’t find the grave, we were euphoric in the experience of being a child.

Ten years later, I was standing watch at Phu Bai Combat Base in Vietnam and reading about the Yankee sports legends. My eyes almost fell out of my head when I read that Babe Ruth was not buried in Woodlawn Cemetery after all, but at Gate of Heaven in Hawthorn, New York.

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