Posts Tagged ‘Childhood


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!’


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.


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.


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



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.


Song Poison: Pee-Wee’s Playhouse


“Is my 13-year-old son gay?”

The April 10 edition of Cary Tennis’ 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.


Don’t Judge Judy

    <a href="
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Sit down and shut up!
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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.


Bridge to Paradoxia

Some time ago, I heard that there was a new film adaptation of Bridge to Terabithia being made, but I didn’t pay much attention. I remembered the book … mostly. Jeff got me to read it once. I read so few kids’ books as a kid, opting instead for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and other Douglas Adams treats and (nerd alert! nerd alert!) Choose Your Own Adventure. I think he thinks I missed out on something vital. So, as an adult, I’ve read several Newbery Award winners and liked it. He made me a Little House on the Prairie lover (but he won’t read Harry Potter!). Ah, such is life.

I was alarmed to see Walden Media, producer of the Narnia movie(s), and Disney named in the full-page, full-color Bridge to Terabithia ad in last week’s Arts & Leisure section. I thought it would be a special effects-ridden disaster — like maybe it would literalize Terabithia and trap the poor children playing the two main characters in an emotionless, Lucasian, green-screen hell. The ad featured a giant troll, insect-like soldiers, fantastical humanoids I presumed to be Terabithians, a castle on a hilltop, somone riding an ostrich, and an overgrown beaver with a colander on its head — which I was sure would talk! And the way the children were rendered, it looked like the whole thing was CGI.

But I knew Jeff and I would have to see it anyway.

I am pleased to report that there are no talking beavers. Jess and Leslie are played by real humans. Special effects, at worst mildly intrusive, were kept to a minimum, and the emotional value of the story rings true and clear. There is a central plot turn toward the end that made several people in the audience gasp audibly, but we, knowing how it ended, were getting weepy long before anything bad happened. So, I guess the film succeeds on that front.

The movie, as well as the book, is about being a free thinker, having your head in the clouds while keeping your feet planted on hard ground. It’s about making your environment rather than simply reacting to it. It’s about seeing the world around you in a new way, imagining something bigger and more real in many ways.

So, upon leaving the theater, I couldn’t help but think: Doesn’t the very act of making this movie, “revealing” a Terabithia to us that may not be anything like ours, fly in the face of the whole point of the book?


Toilet Humor

He’s a real stand-up guy! [www.bippity

A friend of mine once confessed that he uses odd words intentionally in emails so he can see what keyword-triggered ads Google calls up in the Gmail sidebar. I don’t know what words I was using earlier today, but I couldn’t escape noticing the words “Peter Potty” and a link to this site.

Apparently this is truly a remarkable device. The Web site declares that Peter Potty is “the world’s only flushable urinal.” I don’t know about that, but it does provide some excellent bonding opportunities, I suppose. “Little girls need to sit, but with the Peter Potty, little boys can stand like daddy,” boasts the site. Look at this kid. He sure is happy to pee standing up. He’s nearly hugging that thing.

I guess I’d be excited too. I do remember thinkning about this sitting/standing dichotomy when I was little.

Amused, I typed up an email to send the link to some friends of mine. And as I was doing so, I noticed another hilarious site, P-mate, advertised with something like: “Ladies, pee standing up!”

“Why ‘hold it in’ until you get home?” the site asks.

Visitors are invited to “discreetly enjoy hygienic freedom” by using the P-Mate™ “portable urinating device.” Finally women are allowed to “urinate standing up wherever and whenever they need to, without losing their dignity or risking unhygienic and unpleasant public restrooms.”

A professor in college once told my class a story about the surprise and intense pride he felt for his daughter when she won a pissing contest against a bunch of boys. She was four, five, something like that. And these little boys were all taking turns peeing to see who could shoot furthest. The little girl, not to be outdone, did something with her index and middle fingers, forming a sort of curved V and holding it against her vagina — the professor demonstrated the gesture for us — which apparently allowed her to shape the organ into a something that squirted outward. We are told she also had considerable control of the direction of the stream, too. She beat the boys soundly. You go, gurl! (You go standing up, girl!)

She’s much older now. I wonder if she wins bets at bars with that trick.

I can see a need for something like the P-Mate. A guy can whip it out and pee nearly anywhere. For a woman, things are slightly more difficult. Unless you’re my professor’s daughter. I’m not sure how exactly a pissed-upon plastic chute can be used to promote good hygiene, but I’m comfortable with that level of ignorance.

You want to see something funny, look at the pictures on the P-Mate site. (You have to. How does one use this thing?) It looks like the perfect size for a Christmas stocking. I think I know what I’m getting my sister now!


Who Would Jesus Bribe?

I work on the third floor of a little historic building on the Lower East Side. It’s technically a 19th century Federal style row house. What this means is there is no elevator and the building has a lot of character and charm. What this means is it looks like it’s falling apart in some places. But at least I have a nice little office with a door that locks and a front-facing window. What this means is that I can see a parking lot and a tree or two and some old projects.

I’m usually thankful that I have a window in the front of the building. I get good light. I get a good breeze. In summer I get the music of the ice cream truck, which is cute for about a minute. I also get the floor-rattling hip-hop bass of passing car stereo systems — and the car alarms that the vibrations set off. So it’s good, but it’s not always good.

Lately, on Thursday afternoons, I’ve been hearing a new and wholly more disturbing sound through that window.

In the minutes leading up to 5:30, when the neighborhood children are walking home from their after-school programs, someone gets on a microphone with a squeaky sound system and calls out to them to gather round. She lures them with a treat. The first time I started paying attention, it was pudding.

“Every kid who comes gets two cups of pudding. This is not one cup, but two big cups of delicious chocolate pudding. Go home and bring your friends back. Tell them they get free pudding. Two cups of pudding for every kid. We’re going to start in a little while. Just hang tight.”

She said “pudding” so many times, the word began to sound weird and slightly embarrassing to me.

It seemed odd, but I was working late. I assumed it was a legitimate after-school thing. And it was too warm indoors to close the window, so I tried to ignore it.

Five minutes later, the voice returned. First the pudding call. Then: “We have prizes, too. Fill out these pieces of paper here, and if we draw yours, you’ll win a Yankees backpack.”

This was back when the Yankees had a chance.

“We’re starting in about 10 minutes,” she continued. “So go get your friends and bring them back here for the show.”

And, of course, free pudding.

Then 5:30 hit. They started a countdown: “Five! … Four! … Three! … Two! … One!”

The next week it was pumpkins (with two cans of soda, “for you and a friend!”). The week after that, it was a “candy grab” — apparently, as much candy as the kids could stuff into their arms. Then blow pops. Then another candy grab. Every week, it’s another treat.

After the countdown, a male voice and a female shout and yell in a vaguely celebratory way for a bit — “Hey! Yeah! Who wants to play a game! You want to play a game?” — before they separate the boys from the girls.

Eventually, I was curious enough to stick my head out the window to see what was going on. I saw a man and two young women bouncing around near the side of the truck facing the building. The side of the van had been folded down to create a sort of stage or platform.

Earlier that day I had seen that truck parked in front of the building. It was painted an optimistic shade of yellow with an airbrushed picture of three cartoonish bears in street clothes — they refer to their show as “Yogi Bear” — with the words “Metro Ministries” in bright, cheerful red letters.

Ministries. They’re preaching to these kids. With candy. Is it just me, or is this a very cynical approach? Doesn’t the word of God stand on its own?

As far as recruitment schemes go, it’s a far cry from “Hell House.” They tell stories about vegetables at the supermarket that are mean to other vegetables. They sing songs, badly, with karaoke tracks to popular songs in various styles — rock ‘n’ roll, hip hop, even army style — about about praising Jesus and worshipping God. “We want to live in you. We want to please you!”

They tell them, “If you don’t live for God, if you live the way you want to live, you will not get to heaven. Don’t look at your friend. Your friend won’t save you. Only God will save you.”

They collect the kids’ names and addresses before every show. If they don’t or they don’t get the treat. And they are made to wait til the end to get the treat. They’re like taskmasters — “You won’t get your lollipop until the end!”

They’ve been doing it for a few weeks now, and I can tell they recognize most of the kids. They’re familiar enough with them that they jump right into a barrage of Hallelujahs and Amens right at 5:30. They start their shows, they shout (and I mean shout) “I love Jesus! Do you love Jesus? Who here loves Jesus? Hallelujah!

And I can’t help but wonder a few things. Do these kids’ parents know what they’re doing on the way home? Did anyone ever tell them how to deal with strangers who offer them candy out of the side of a parked truck? Does anyone have permission to proselytize to these kids? Do the kids ever care waht they’re being told, or are they just in it for the free stuff?

the untallied hours