Aug 23, 2010

Whatever happened to quicksand?

Daniel Engber:
If you're a 9- or 10-year-old at the P.S. 29 elementary school in Brooklyn, N.Y., you've got more pressing concerns: Dragons. Monsters. Big waves at the beach that might separate a girl from her mother. Thirty years ago, quicksand might have sprung up at recess, in pools of discolored asphalt or the dusty corners of the sandbox—step in the wrong place, and you'd die. But not anymore, a boy named Zayd tells me. "I think people used to be afraid of it," he says. His classmates nod. "It was before we were born," explains Owen. "Maybe it will come back one day."

Hmmm. I remember being afraid of quicksand. Also, improbably, tsetse flies, thanks to a neighbor kid's mother who assured us that there had been an influx of the creatures one summer. She warned us not to go to sleep if we got bitten, or we'd never wake up. I spent many a long night that summer trying to stay awake, afraid that one of the mosquito bites on my legs was really the work of a tsetse fly.

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