Posts Tagged ‘Childhood

02
Aug
10

The Redcoats are Coming!

With My Rifle by My Side

Are those ducks or geese? Or terrorists?

Do your kids have enough firepower at their fingertips?

Just out this summer is a children’s book about the 2nd Amendment: With My Rifle By My Side (via joemygod). The title reminds me of similar stories about teddy bears and dolls. With their best buddies, real or imaginary, at their sides, there is no adventure they can’t meet, no task they can’t accomplish.

These days, apparently, teddy bears and dolls are just a distraction from what our children are truly called to do. Kids, we are told, need to be taught to defend their country.

The book is about “A boy’s initiation into rifle safety and hunting; and his awakening to the solemn necessity of firearms for preserving personal and national liberty. The young protagonist observes of the Founding Fathers: ‘With their rifles by their sides, they protected their right to be free. They defended their land, neighbors, towns, and families.’
Continue reading ‘The Redcoats are Coming!’

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26
Aug
08

Thanks for the Memories — I Think.

    Hand holding.
If only I actually had this much hair on my arms.

You never know who will track you down on Facebook. An old “girlfriend,” we’ll call her “Judy,” just found me today. “I’m pretty sure we had an official thing going on for at least a week in junior high,” she said. “Do I have the right Eric? Ah the memories of junior high!”

Lord, why did that memory have to be the one to bridge these (oh my god) 18 years? I much prefer to think about my abysmal performance as Freddy Eynsford-Hill in a production of My Fair Lady she staged with another girl in our 7th grade English class. It was a painful (but important) lesson in the need to project on stage. Sing out, Louise!

(Judy has video evidence of this staging — that none of you will ever see.)

“Official.” Heh. I “broke up” with her (oh god, I actually remember this) in biology class. It was eighth grade. My friend Paul talked me into it. She and I had never once done anything boyfriendy or girlfriendy, and it was kind of a joke for anyone to consider us to be “going out.” So I walked up to her during a break in class and told her “I don’t think either of us is taking this very seriously. So, why don’t we just stop it?”

She agreed, somewhat puzzled, “Um, OK,” and I spun on my heels and bee-lined back to my lab table.

It’s embarrassing to think of what passed for relationships in the eighth grade. At that age, I had a few very short-term girlfriends. My parents never knew, because they never lasted long enough to result in a chaperoned movie date or an invitation to a dance. I always went to dances with just friends. No need to kiss anyone or make out in the car afterward. Safe!

My record for shortest coupling is one day. It wasn’t even one day. It was barely overnight. I got a call one night from a group of friends (all girls). These things are always done in teams, aren’t they — one hand cupped over the receiver while nearly audible whispers are shared on the other end of the line. They told me roughly this: “So-and-so likes you. Do you want to go out with her?”

I stammered for a bit, and my back began to sweat. At first I didn’t believe them. This was a joke, I thought. But they assured me it was very real.

I had never considered going out with the girl. (We’ll call her “Sara.”) But there was nothing technically wrong with her. She was sort of unusual. She had unstylish, sort of frizzy hair. She made her own clothes (which I secretly and fiercely admired). But she was smart, and she was popular in my circle of friends. And I had no problem with her. Plus, I was flattered to think that she was even interested.

Well, I thought… why not?

When these arrangements are brokered through a third party, it’s always tricky to know how to behave the next day. A kiss? No, that would be absurd. Holding hands? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. So I played it cool, shyly saying hi to the girl I was supposedly “going out” with and hurriedly passing by.

Sara approached me a little later that morning in orchestra class, a little bravely, I thought. She set her violin down. I looked around me, not knowing what to expect, what do to. “Um, I’m not exactly sure what so-and-so said to you last night, but, just for the record, I didn’t ask them to ask you out for me.”

“Oh,” I said. “So…”

So, we’re not really going out then.”

“Oh, yeah. Sure,” I said.

“So, uh. No hard feelings, right? I hope you’re not embarrassed.”

It was sweet of her to say, because I could tell that she was embarrassed — not about turning me down but rather, it seemed, about having to say anything in the first place. The whole episode must have seemed absurd to her, and I was mortified for having made myself a part of it.

“That’s OK,” I said. “I, er… I guess I didn’t want to either.”

And the truth is I didn’t. But I felt like I was supposed to. And now I wasn’t sure if I was being rejected, or it hadn’t ever really gotten far enough for anything to be rejected. We hadn’t signed anything. She wasn’t exactly reneging. And yet, something was over.

My feelings weren’t hurt. In fact, I kind of felt as if I’d just made a narrow escape. A free man, I found myself back on the 8th-grade market, and I ventured meekly back into the fray. (Which is to say, as a teenage boy, I did nothing.)

When Judy Facebooked me today, she said she wasn’t sure if I’d remember her. The truth is, I do remember a great deal of people. Clearly. Her included. Mostly because I spent so much of middle school observing and not participating. I never carried much teen angst with me. But I do think I channeled what might have been outrage and arrogance and stubbornness into an even stronger sense of fear. Fear of embarrassment, mainly. Fear of failure. Mustn’t draw attention to myself. I felt so invisible in school that I was shocked when I won two of the mock elections in my high school senior year book. (“Teacher’s Pet” and “Most Dependable.”)

Judy and I were never close. (Despite our torrid affair, of course.) How close was I to any one of those middle school kids? How close were any of us? I kinda hated those two years. It was like a cruel social experiment. What a ridiculous proposition to take elementary school kids, shuffle them like playing cards into packs of other kids, some to one new school, some to another, and then two years later, to do it all over again for high school.

Things only got better from there. (What alternative was there?) And now life is pretty good.

16
Aug
08

Lessons in Mortality, with Pizza

    A little airy-fairy.
A little airy-fairy.

This cute musical duo called MGMT has a new video for “Electric Feel,” the second single off their debut album, that I am obsessed with a little bit.

I’m always a sucker for thin, cute, scruffy boys. And these guys seem to perpetually have their shirts off. They’re a little airy-fairy for my taste. They’re, like, all mystic pagan and stuff. Which I’m sure is, like, really cool and stuff. But I’m willing to go along with them, up to a point.

    Kittens!
Kittens!

They dance in the woods with their cute human and animal friends. They pull the moon down and cut it open like a boiled egg and spread moon juice on each other. Then they put the moon back in the sky. What could be more adorable — and responsible — right?

The creepiest part of the video is about a minute and a half into the clip, when we get a glimpse of something that brings me back to an uncomfortable childhood memory. We see a hillbilly bear strumming a rough-hewn banjo, a space dog on drums, a disco gorilla on keyboards, and who knows what else, acting as their band. They are the animatronic characters from Showbiz Pizza Place (called the Rock-afire Explosion, I have recently learned), and they terrified me as a little kid.

Rock-afire Explosion
Yikes! Who can keep down their dinner with this staring out at them?

Showbiz Pizza and Chuck E. Cheese’s and establishments of that ilk were fun for two reasons: mass quantities of pizza, and video games.

But they’d also stage these little rock shows where the robotic house band would perform some reworked pop songs and tell jokes and banter with each other. I sort of looked forward to it, they way you look forward to the money shot in a slasher movie. But, like those movies, when the money shot came, I found I could not look any more.

Whenever a character spoke, a spotlight would shine on it, revealing an eerily glowing plastic and fur behemoth with a curve to the mouth and a roundness of the eye that was meant to suggest friendliness but always came off as much more sinister. Their eyes and mouths snapped open and shut. Their movements appeared jerky and repetitive. Stand close enough and you could hear the mechanical skeletons clicking and clacking. The mouse cheerleader was the worst! And when the whole mess of them was moving at the same time, it felt like at any moment they might leap off the stage and carry me off to their evil robot lair where they would tear me to pieces and use me for spare parts.

They’re all over YouTube now in videos where they have been programmed with songs hilariously inappropriate for their pre-pubescent audience. It is brilliant, and it underscores their unavoidable creepiness.

See what I mean? “Electric Feel” by MGMT

Yikes.

03
Apr
08

Kids Are Dumb and Therefore Funny

Babies are dumb. Little kids aren’t much better. And what are adults at the end of the day but tall kids with bumps and more hair. But as we grow and learn and try to make sense of things, we can come up with some bloody funny things.

Intelligent Design, for example.

Or The Bush Doctrine.

I was reminded of this when someone told me a story about his introduction, at the age of about 10 or 11, to a woman named Naomi.

“Hi, I’m Naomi,” she said.

“Naom-you?” he responded. He thought that when she said her name to someone it was Nao-me, and when someone else said her name to her it was Naom-you.

I myself am guilty of such leaps in logic. In kindergarten, I loved to bring in record albums (those were the days) for Show-and-Tell. It made me popular for a day if I chose the right record. There was the Grease soundtrack on one hand, and a reading of “The Three Little Pigs” on the other. Guess which one won me respect and admiration among my peers. Lord knows I can’t remember.

I forget which one it was — probably Grease — but a substitute teacher once forced me to hand over my record. My favorite song at the time was “Greased Lightning,” which contained a sexual reference or two in its lyrics that my young ears were too green to comprehend. I imagine she was trying to save me from myself, or to have a word with my mom or some such thing.

She was on a relatively long assignment, filling in for our regular teacher. Those were the days of Miss Nelson is Missing!. We did not like teachers, but a sub was the Devil incarnate. So naturally, I thought she was using her bully powers of adulthood (Oh, I couldn’t wait to grow up!) to steal it from me forever.

As I recall, I got it back by pouting at the end of class. Whether she had intended to give it back then or not I can’t say. I hated her and feared her. But I had no idea what would soon happen to the poor woman.

One day she wasn’t in class and we had a different sub. I asked what happened to Miss What’s-her-name, and someone (a student? my memory!) told me breezily that she had been fired.

I’d never heard of such a thing, and naturally I was horrified. They burned her to death? Just for taking my Grease album? Word got around, I guess. Maybe she had been mean to other kids at other schools. I felt vaguely responsible. I didn’t hate her that much. But also I felt vindicated, like a reign of terror had ended.

19
Dec
07

Song Poison: Pee-Wee’s Playhouse

11
Apr
07

“Is my 13-year-old son gay?”

The April 10 edition of Cary Tennis’ Salon.com advice column, “Since You Asked,” features a remarkable response to a parent’s concern that his son is looking at gay porn online. I found this on OMG blog. I have never read “Since You Asked” before. I know nothing about Cary Tennis. But I think this is a really helpful way to think about the homo/hetero divide and, as Frank points out, a good way to think about anyone who is not like oneself.

21
Mar
07

Don’t Judge Judy

    <a href="http://www.parks.cityoflansingmi.com/tdodge/New.html
” target=”_blank”>Cyndi Lauper
Sit down and shut up!
[<a href="http://www.parks.cityoflansingmi.com/tdodge/New.html
” target=”_blank”>parks.cityoflansingmi.com]

This gem from the New York Daily News about bad bus drivers reminds me of my youth spent in school bus humiliation. It was a dog’s life on those buses. If you could survive the embittered old drivers, you had to then deal with the assholes who sat in the back. Only a total suck-up would be nice to a bus driver. One dared not sit near the front of the bus for fear of association with him or her. The back was invariably reserved for the ones with the trendy haircuts and nice clothes. The ones who never seemed to carry a book or have homework. The ones who set fire to things with a lighter and an aerosol hairspray can.

Facing the crowded middle of the bus, I was many times forced to hunch down next to one of the lower-el kids, even my safely ensconced friends unable to offer me much more confort than a shrug of the shoulders and a weak grin.

I felt I understood even then why the drivers were so mean. (I came out of my retirement for this?) Every single one of them was humorless and wholely unpleasant, ready to strike unmitigated terror into us with a well-aimed glare or a brief tirade shouted down the aisle. Sometimes I felt I was truly in mortal peril for not sitting down and facing forward. They probably wouldn’t threaten to ram the bus into a wall to kill everyone, but … well, you never know.

Out of a string of drivers from age 6 through 15, I don’t remember faces, just attitudes. Except for one driver. Judy.

She was a manish woman with short, tightly curled hair and large, solid features. Her brow heavy and hard, her voice sharp and piercing. She was a highly aggressive driver. She was tough as nails, that woman. And I kind of loved her.

She was the “activity bus” driver. A few hours after the school day’s official end, she’d pick up me and my nerd compatriots, who stayed after school for the school newspaper and Students Against Driving Drunk and Spirit Committee and possibly the least active chapter of the National Honor Society in the history of public schools, and deliver us to within blocks of our warm, well-lit houses.

She didn’t much like it, I could tell. The kids were ungrateful and often late to the bus, holding everyone up. Sometimes it was just a few of us. It hardly seemed worth her time some nights. With my nascent sense of class, I picked up on some differences between her and most of the kids she transported. I don’t think she had much reason to pass down the same streets in her car that she did in a bus every day.

Being an unabashed kiss-ass, I and my friend Kiran befriended her. She didn’t trust us right away, and was rather tight-lipped at first. But we’d sit in the front-most seat every time, and eventually she’d ask us what we had been up to after school. She’d tell us about her family. I couldn’t imagine her having a husband. Kids. Kids much older than us. She’d tell us stories of misbehaving kids from earlier in the day. She’d openly complain about her job, which was shocking and fascinating to me at the same time, like we were being let in on a great adult secret.

There were times when she’d had a bad day, and we knew enough to stay. The hell. Away. But usually she was quite pleasant to us. I began to look forward to our brief rides. To be friendly with a bus driver seemed to cinched some sort of outsider cachet.

One year, we gave her Christmas presents. My gift was a set of kitchen hand towels my grandmother had crocheted. It seemed like we were breaking down an invisible wall. In my experience, bus drivers just did not get gifts from kids very often. She gave us a couple of those super-fat candy canes that last all winter if you wrap them every time.

When I turned 16, I started driving to school. I never saw Judy again.




the untallied hours

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