On Solomon's block, Our Gang violence is the work of Little Rascals

These kids remind me of the simpler times.

WHEN THE KIDS on my block decided to play roller derby on my newly planted grass, I reached up to rip my hair from my head.

When their basketball left a man-size dent on the driver's side of my car, I almost pulled a Rambo with a Nerf gun.

When the girls played Justin Bieber until blood poured out from my ears, I gritted my teeth and smiled.

When the boys beat the heck out of each other while playing football on the grass, I snarled and said, "We used to play on asphalt."

In the 10 years I've lived on a block that's a Philly-centric version of Sesame Street, I've grown from Mr. Rogers, complete with the "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" song, to Mr. Wilson, complete with a "Don't You Be My Neighbor" attitude.

But like Mr. Wilson, the famous, balding butt of every "Dennis the Menace" joke, I am not as mean as I look. In fact, just as Mr. Wilson loved Dennis in his own twisted way, I love every kid on my street.

If I didn't, I'd wait until the first snowfall and run through the snow with my son's Nerf sword, screaming, "Heeere's Johnny!" like a black Jack Nicholson.

If I didn't, I'd make good on my threat to throw dirty bathwater out the window as they wrestle on my lawn.

If I didn't, I wouldn't invite them inside to play video games while I try to write.

Alas, I am a father at heart. That's why the frayed nerves, the damaged lawn and the dented car have done little to dampen my enthusiasm for the kids on my block. In fact, the various injustices they've visited upon me have forced me to look inward, and to ask myself why their behavior is so disturbingly familiar.

The other day it hit me like a ton of bricks. The kids on my block are a reminder of a simpler time, a time before the Internet, cellphones, cable TV or video games; a time when everything was black and white, when every problem could be resolved with a song and when kids worked together to solve the world's problems with a show.

That's right, dear reader. The kids on my block are the Little Rascals.

I didn't realize it at first. Perhaps I was blinded by their iPhones, their Nintendo DS games and their ability to surf the Internet. Maybe I was put off by their talk of phone apps and websites and selfies. But the more I looked at them, the more I realized that they were, in fact, the modern incarnation of Our Gang.

The boy across the street is Spanky, the mastermind of every money scheme from selling rainbow loom bracelets to mowing grass. He has managed to cut a deal with the ice-cream man in exchange for buying in bulk. He even has a dog that looks like Petey, with the ring surgically removed from his eye.

My daughter, Eve, is Darla, the girl who longs to be the star of the show. Like Darla, Eve is always singing, dancing and secretly hoping for the big break that will catapult her to stardom. The boys who secretly like her are the obstacles who stand in her way. But when the kids run low on the sunflower seeds they are obligated to spit on my sidewalk, it is Eve who stages the benefit concert while Spanky stands back and counts the money.

Little Solomon is a modern-day Alfalfa. But instead of trying to sing and dance to win Darla's heart, he tries to make action-packed films to win YouTube ranking.

I've seen the boy paint Nerf guns black in an attempt to make his films realistic. I've seen him provide direction to Spanky to film battle scenes that run camera batteries to zero. I've seen him say he wanted to play five instruments and change his mind the minute we bought them.

That's why Alfalfa's films will never be musicals. Then again, Alfalfa singing a capella is part of the charm. Especially since he does a spot-on Louis Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World."

So, next time they Rollerblade on my lawn, or use a basketball to play patty-cake with my car, or spit used sunflower seeds on my sidewalk, I'll take a deep breath, paste on a smile, and remember it's part of the show.

After all, when the Little Rascals live on your block, the show must definitely go on.


Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books, including his latest novel, The Dead Man's Wife (Minotaur Books), and the humor collection Daddy's Home: A Memoir of Fatherhood and Laughter. The married father of three has been featured on NPR and CNN, and has written on parenting for Essence and other publications. He created the literacy program Words on the Street. His column appears Tuesdays. More at Solomonjones.com.