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Solomon Jones: Summer at the improv

SINCE WE expect the economy to be a little tight this summer, we're thinking of entertaining our kids the way our parents entertained us - on the cheap.

SINCE WE expect the economy to be a little tight this summer, we're thinking of entertaining our kids the way our parents entertained us - on the cheap.

My father used to wash the car and take us for rides through the park. My mother would buy tuna hoagies and split them with us. My grandmother would make us clean sidewalks during block parties and treat us to wholesale water ice.

LaVeta's dad took her and her sisters to play Frisbee in Philadelphia's famous Azalea Garden. Or he took them to their grandmother's house for all-expenses-paid trips to the corner store.

Having watched Little Solomon and Eve ignore expensive Christmas toys to slide across the carpet in a Huggies box, I know they'll react to cheap fun ideas the same way we did. Not that they'll have a choice. With gas at $4 a gallon and food prices climbing more than they have in almost 20 years,

they'll indulge in cheap fun - and they'll like it!

This summer, we'll start our frugal fun by modifying our normal trip to the chocolate capitol of the world - Hershey Park. With a little improvisation, the kids won't even know the difference.

"Come on kids!" LaVeta will say. "Put on your candy-bar shirts!

We're about to leave!"

"Yaaaay!" the kids will yell as they run down the stairs wearing amusement-park souvenirs from years gone by.

"Little Solomon, don't forget to use the potty before you go," I'll say with a grin. "Adrianne, keep an eye on Eve while LaVeta gets the funnel cake."

At that point, my wife will emerge from the kitchen with a stack of deep-fried creations made from no-frills pancake mix. They'll be sprinkled with powdered sugar from the dollar store.

"What are those things?" Adrianne will say, her 15-year-old senses offended by the knock-off funnel cakes.

LaVeta will paste on her June Cleaver smile. "They're continental funnel cakes. Just like the ones they sell at Euro Disney. They're not even made here in the U.S. yet."

"I don't think they . . ."

"She said they're continental!" I'll shout angrily. "Now get in the car!"

Eve and Little Solomon will be frightened. But I'll smooth things over with a simulated chocolate-factory tour.

"Here you go kids!" I'll say while breaking out a Hershey bar. "Everybody gets a piece."

They'll all look confused as I split it into five pieces.

"But this is too small

to . . ."

"You each got a piece! What more do you want?"

With tears in their eyes, they'll consume their mini candy bar samples. And they'll like them.

"You kids ready to ride the roller coaster?" LaVeta will say five minutes into the ride.

That's when Eve will pipe up, "But we won't be at Hershey Park for another hour and a half."

"She said - are you ready for the roller coaster?"

"I wanna go home," Eve will whine as we approach a street with a steep hill.

'OK, everybody, raise your arms!" I'll say, pausing slightly at the top of the hill.

"We're about to go down!"

Their screams will fill the car as we speed toward a major thoroughfare. When we hit the bottom, I'll turn around with a smile.

"OK, kids. Who wants to go again?"

At that point, my children will look at me as if I'm insane.

They'll no doubt have the same response when I turn on a sprinkler in the backyard and make wave noises while telling them

we're at the Jersey shore. They might think I'm a little touched when I throw sand on the lawn, bang on a steel trash can and tell them we're in Jamaica. They might not believe the sidewalk is an outdoor café.

But by the end of our summer of cheapness, my kids will get used to my imaginative vacation ideas. And guess what? They'll like it. *

Solomon Jones appears every Saturday. He can be reached at