Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Joys of Scouting

Roon crossed over into scouting recently and I became a leader in the scout troop: I am the senior patrol advisor for the Funky Ninjas. This means I'm responsible for standing around drinking coffee and yelling such precious nuggets of wisdom as Who left their plastic spoon on the table? If you don't keep your plastic spoon then you'll be eating your ice cream with your fingers tonight, freaking spaz!; the incessant plea of put that knife away; this sage advice: peeing in the woods means BEING IN THE WOODS not standing five feet from your tent under a streetlight while half the troops in the council are pulling in to set up camp, spaz! and the classic WHAT. THE. HELL. ARE. YOU. DOING?!!
Our troop attended the annual Lincoln Pilgrimage, camping at New Salem, a living rendition of Abe's hometown and birthplace. We camped in a slough by the parking lot after snaking our way through the maze of campsites in the dark watching people put up tents in the glare of halogens and hearing snatches of conversation like "Well it's gonna be a long weekend if you two are fighting all the time" and "Stakes? Tents have stakes?" Grinned like a stuck pig the whole time because our troop is old school. We don't use inflatable tent furniture, pop-up dome tents, and portable gas grills. We sleep on the ground in Vietnam War era canvas a-frame tents, make the boys do all the work, and we cook over an open fire. Our camp looks like a set piece from "Follow Me Boys."

Cub Scouts always felt like an obligation to me. It was alright but for the most part, the boys were snarky and high on sugar all the time, could barely tie their shoes, much less get a project done, and didn't listen to me if their life depended on it. Which is fine. We had a great time anyway but the adults involved do get the feeling, eventually, that they're a breed of specialized volunteer babysitters. Scouts is different.

First of all, all the scouts refer to each other as Mr. So one scout will call out to another who has, for instance, gone off toward the latrine in a hurry and say "Mr. Skidz, I hope everything comes out alright!" I hardly ever heard them call each other by their first names. Oddly, this eliminates nicknames which I kind of miss as I was prepared for a slew of monikers. I even tried to label a couple of kids, like my favorite Ninja, a 5th grader whose hormones are biding their time, a kid as small as a second grader. I love this kid cause he's always smiling, always throwing himself into the crowd, and kills himself to keep up on hikes even though he's literally walking twice as fast and twice as far as everyone else because he's half their size. He never shuts up, seems to bilocate all over the campsite, and has a voice like a cartoon squirrel. I think he eats sugar coated helium pops for breakfast every morning. I tried calling him squeaker and thinmint but the scouts wouldn't have it: as much as they tossed him around and made polite fun of his helium voice, the boys in the troop fully adopted this boy, never made him feel bad about lagging behind because of his size. At the end of the hike, this kid was beat. He really had walked twice as far as anyone else. His feet were killing him and he was exhausted. But, as always, he was all smiles. Even when he told me he was dead on his feet, he smiled.

And here's the astonishing, amazing thing about scouting. One of the other boys, a ear or two ahead of Squeaker, took a hard fall early in the day. Our first aid scout patched him up but you could see in his eyes that it hurt pretty bad. Then we hiked five hundred thousand miles and he never complained. At the end of the day, this scout, injured and tired, heard Squeaker complaining and without even thinking about it, hauled him up for a piggy back to the campsite.

There was an article in the Trib today about how Scouting is working hard to make itself relevant. As Scouting nears it's 100 year anniversary (2010) it faces dwindling numbers and criticism for some of the principles by which the organization is run.

The biggie: Boy Scouts excludes openly gay men from becoming scoutmasters or leaders in a troop. Although I'm not going to be carrying a sign anytime soon, I don't agree with this policy. I think the times are generally past the days when homosexuality is considered uncommon. It's becoming part of mainstream culture, losing it's taboo, except in certain highly fraternal cultures--like Scouts. I've had some gay friends, work friends. One of them was so flamboyant he made Rip Torn look like an Amish preacher. I didn't know the other guy was gay until he mentioned it one day. In both cases, I loved these guys like all my friends. They worked hard, treated people fairly, and stood by their principles. In both cases, these guys were legendary managers and everyone who worked for them became their friend. They would have been great leaders in any organization and would have done a great job as scout leaders.

The thing is, we don't sit around talking about sex in scouts. And a Scoutmaster is so busy ordering people around and cooking dinner and organizing a campout, they don't have a lot of time to exhibit their nascent sexuality. This weekend, even when the boys were finally asleep and in their tents and the men sat around the fire to bullshit with each other, even then we didn't talk about sex. This may come as a big surprise, but men, generally, don't sit around talking about their sexuality. We talked about leadership, cigars, writing, gear, our own legendary car wrecks, old jobs, and the efficacy of spaghetti dinners over golf tourneys for raising money. We didn't talk politics, religion, or our respective tendencies when getting it on. It just doesn't come up.

Of the 14 boys I hiked with this weekend, I couldn't tell you if any of them are gay, if they're Mennonite, or if they believe in God and I just don't care. When you see them working together, teaching each other, helping each other; when you see one of them cheerfully binding some other kid's wound--with great skill; when you sit around the fire and listen to them tell stories, bust each other's chops, and talk about what they learned on their hike, you realize that the program is great. That these kids will do well. That they will easily and happily join in, help out, organize.

What really struck me was how the new guys took to it. My son, who's future appears to involve a lot of lounging, some flopping, and a propensity for couches, worked his butt off. I can barely get this kid to take out the trash without having to pay him off but when he was made the bungie carrier while the troop assembled their enormous tarp, he was into it. Through out the weekend, he pitched his tent, unpitched his tent, gathered firewood, cleaned the campsite, loaded and unloaded the troop trailer, and various other jobs. He pitched in, without me screaming at him. He took responsibility and he acted independently on it. At the same time, I saw the other scouts just assuming positions of leadership. I mean, they jumped in and took control. They were quickly able to take on a task, grab some other scouts, organize the thing, and follow through to getting it done and done right. These guys, as much as they desperately want to push their online kill ratio in Halo 3, are also becoming leaders. It's obvious when you're with them. And the merit badges they earn are all lessons in living in the real world, they're all about civic duty, character, honor.

I'll happily defend a program that makes that happen. I look forward to when the organization finds its way to 21st century policies like any other but their arcane policies are minor when compared to the good they do. Find me another organization that's generated these kinds of principled graduates.

Please save me: my children are trying to kill me.

Death By Children Rescues a Man from the Brink of Certain Demise!

I received this email this morning and it really brought home to me the importance of being an accident prone articulate smartass:

bloodyowl has left a new comment on your post "The Water Pik Netti Pot Listerine Don't Try This A... ":

AHH! I reached this mess by Googling "netti pot listerine" to see if I could! I saw Water Pik, and said in my congested head, "Yessss, I totally have one of those!"So, thankfully, my ADD held off long enough for me to read the outcome of your fiasco... otherwise, I would have whitewashed the oldest and deepest parts of my brain with straight Listerine.Thank you for saving my life, and doing it hilariously.But I'm curious: are you still stuffed up?
Please save me: my children are trying to kill me.

Friday, April 25, 2008

TAG! I'm it.

I HAVE BEEN "tagged" by Femminismo, and since I'm now "it" this is what happens:
1. Once you are tagged, link back to the person who tagged you.
2. Post THE RULES on your blog.
3. Post 7 weird or random facts about yourself on your blog.
4. Tag 7 people and link to them.
5. Comment on their blog to let them know they have been tagged.
Here are seven random facts about me:
1. I hate it when I get tagged by other bloggers because I'm essentially lazy and anti-social which bodes poorly for social marketing and it makes me feel guilty when I don't do it. Plus, it's kind of like a 21st century chain letter.
2. I talk to myself when I drive. I used to devise insanely complicated schemes to mask this behavior but since cell phones and Bluetooth I don't care anymore and flagrantly chatter away behind the wheel having imaginary conversations with Mark Twain and Faulkner which ought to remain inside my skull. Gives ex-temporaneous a whole new meaning.
3. I always do the math of people's names in my head to figure out if there's some kind of hidden meaning that might explain why they're so weird. I also check the gematria of every character in every story I write--fiction and none--for the same reason and if the math adds up to traits not viable with their story, I change their name.
4. I am a fantastic and highly prized procrastinator having devote my ENTIRE life in pursuit of . . .
5. I try to write about three things in fiction: 1) what I'm most scared of; 2) the balance of stock characters and situations against their direct opposite; 3) the South.
6. I belong to a secret society called the [DELETED--FBI].
7. I remain deeply angry with my younger self for foregoing college with such capricious disregard yet NOT getting stoned in Nepal.
I am tagging these seven lucky people:




This guy

My Favorite Waiter

A Freelance Writer Who is Good

League of Reluctant Adults

Please save me: my children are trying to kill me.

Monday, April 21, 2008

My Son Has an Outstanding Online Kill Ratio

I was at a little league game one time and my spawn was playing right field, the place where they put blind kids and quadriplegics, and the first base superstar, a kid with reflexes slightly higher than a coked out ninja astronaut, misses a grounder. It bounces out through the grass into the glove of the spawn of my loins
who was probably about to scoop up an interesting rock. He stood up in total shock, threw the ball to second base and got a guy out. After spending most of the season saying, well baseball isn't that important, and you should see the kid golf, I screamed so loud I spit my left lung into the dugout.

I don't pay much attention to sports. I just can't get into it. Guys will start talking to me about sports and I just blank out. Sounds like gibberish to me. Like cheerleaders talking about purses. Like old ladies talking about the neighbors. So the poor kid, he doesn't have much of a sports dad to teach him the ropes. That might not matter much since he is to sports what a fish is to the hot desert sands. He plays golf and volley balls. Excels in one, keeps up in the other. That's just fine with me and definitely fine with him because he's not a playa. He's a killer.

I never got to scream that's my boy after a three run RBI but I am proud to say he's an unsympathetic, merciless, unstoppable, death machine when he's playing Halo 3 on Xbox live.

Yesterday, he was playing some guy from Australia who was a Brigadier level player (which means he hasn't slept in eight weeks) who had the temerity to kill my son who was on his own team, a move the game announces by saying you were betrayed. Connor's inner sense of justice was so fouled, he followed the guy through the rest of the game and punked him at every opportunity. Scored the highest kills in the game, left a pile of bodies behind a Warthog. The guy couldn't even get in the game. At one point, his virtual highly armored self actually shrugged its virtual shoulders and virtually stood there, virtually crying. I was so proud.

Please save me: my children are trying to kill me.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Reward for Most Boring Post Ever Award Goes To ...

Ok, I agree. The most recent post was weird, out of character, and didn't belong here. But it's a great example of what writers do when they're stuck. I wanted to write something for my blog and, truth be told., my kids aren't very interesting lately. The boy hasn't blown himself up and seems to be leaning away from such dangerous proclivities , and the girl is being entirely well behaved. The future of this blog is in serious question if they don't start going crazy again soon.

So I'm siting there realizing I have to my Manday post, knowing I don't really care that baseball season just started (though I'm excited about upcoming grill sales . . . ), I had nothing Manly to talk about so I tried to tie together the beginning of movies, the dictionary, and the dust bowl.

In the hands of a capable speculative essayist this might've turned out either a) spectacular or b) hilarious but in the hands of a desperate bloggist, it turned to be a) what the hell? ad b) huh?

So I swear to you, my capable readers, I'll stick to the subject in the future.

Please save me: my children are trying to kill me.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Manday is Happy First Movie Day

Today in history there were several important firsts:

Noah Webster published the first dictionary of the American language, beginning the slow death of American dialects and verbal orthography. Today America has less dialects than any other country in history.

Thomas Edison made the first movie on his kinetiscope. Not long after he gave us the Great Train Robbery, the movie which arguably started the cinema industry and helped, I am certain, Webster's cause to homogenize language by perpetuating a kind of cinematic dialect as the one true trope.

Finally, in 1935,
a dark cloud appeared on the horizon in the western midwest. Not locusts or carrier pigeons or crow, but dirt. Plain old soil, lifted into the air with such alacrity and authority by the wind that it blocked out the sun and caused people standing thirty feet from their back door to get lost in the sudden darkness.

It may be hard for us to imagine the disparity between people prior to the conformity brought on by the 20th century. People living only a few towns away from each other in America may have developed accents and dialects so distinct they could not easily converse though they both spoke English.

But the dictionary and the movie theater made these things different. For one, a theater might be the first place people congregated in enforced silence other than church. Imagine even today seeing a new movie and how wonderful it can be, how thoroughly we leap into the movie, becoming entirely vested in the story even though we have grown up in a culture of cinema. Imagine now being there when "The Great Train Robbery" first appeared and everyone in some town hall somewhere, some converted storefront, was together, hushed, engaged. Where other than Church had anyone experienced that?

Dictionary's certainly existed before the version by Webster (Caudrey's lexicon from 1604, for instance) none had tackled the American version of English. Mark Twain used rural orthography to his advantage when Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer were talking but all other words, all other essays, employ the King's English (if driven through the pen of a 19th century man of American letters), as did all other popular writers of the time. They all had a similar, if not identical, grammar and vocabulary and their books and plays were popular. But their effect on the language overall was not as strong as that of movies.

Twain and Page and Howells celebrated regional dialect. It's easy to read Huck Finn's twang as a diminutive but Twain was recording this voice as it was. He was celebrating that specific American tongue. Which is a good thing because pretty soon, that tongue disappeared.

There may be some twang left in deep pockets of American regional and rural living--Alabama and Mississippi come to mind--but mass communication leveled most of it. And movies started the whole thing and dictionaries put it down in writing.

Of course, I love dictionaries (I own an ungodly number) and I love movies. But I can't help but wonder what kind of world it would be if they hadn't happened, if there wasn't some way that language and ideas were so seamlessly transferred. Movies happened right as a major agriculture disaster, a major economic disaster, and world war were all occurring (not simultaneously, but over nearly contiguous years and that matters). After all the grief and terror, here's this magical thing to take our mind off of the crap. People flocked to the theaters because they needed to be entertained, to be distracted, to get a breather.The identity of neighborhoods and regions remains strong. You can hear a difference from Kentucky to Indiana. The twang is more open, softer, in Kentucky. But they're both still talking about what a dick Simon Cowell is.

Please save me: my children are trying to kill me.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Homework Tornado Strikes Chicago Living Room. Dog Scared.

 y daughter turns fifteen in a few days and I am compelled to make a few observations. I am finally getting to the point where her boobs don't scare me, where her astonishing compilation of sexual inuendi doesn't surprise me; and where her frank independence no longer challenges my authority and I am damn proud of myself.

But there is a trait that seems to have grown deep roots in the fecund habituae my daughter possesses and that trait is abject, terrifying, horrible absence of kempt. The girl's a slob. She exudes disarray, disorder, and disarrangement. She isn't, how do you say, sheveled.

She comes by it honestly--I am a reverse neatfreak. I'm obsessive-repulsive, I throw stuff everywhere. Well, ok, that's not entirely true. I love order. I relish organization. I get a contact high at the container store. If a house is organized and perfectly arranged I'm capable of pretty much keeping it that way. It's the putting it that way that I'm not up to and never have been. There's so much unfinished laundry in my basement that it's more like excavation than housework. I can pull it apart and read the history of our family as easily as a paleontologist reading lithics: the German Porn Bin-olithic era, the Pink and Purple pajama pant-o-zenic stage, the Osh Kosh B'Gosh-a-zoic. One day I'll break through the onesie-stratum and reach the floor.

But the girl child has taken it to a new height. Her habits aren't human, they're gull-like. She doesn't have a room. She lives in an impenetrable nest of unmatched bikini tops, iPod earbud wires, pantyhose, Pirates of the Caribbean pajamas, and yarn. Lots of yarn. I reached down to yank a lose strand of yarn out of the way yesterday and slung a hamster corpse across the room. This wattle is adorned like a crow's nest with spent Vitamin Water bottles, old glasses of orange juice, chip bags and Popsicle sticks.

This isn't so bad. I venture into her room trembling with fear, wary of boobytraps and micro-carnivores, stuff her underwear into her drawer and back out carefully. I keep the door closed. And just like the mom in Poltergeist, I will occasionally open it for curious strangers who will stare in wonder and fear then marvel at my indifference (not recognizing it as abject terror). As long as it's contained, I feel safe.

But last night, the unclean-teen's poltergeic puerility escaped and wreaked havoc on my living room.

As I have mentioned (bragged) in the past (five minutes) my daughter (monkey) attends Superhero High School, oft mentioned in a national magazine I'm too humble to name (Time) several (5) times. Her workload is college level and she often has homework questions I can't answer. Thank God her mom (rumored to be My Attorney [true]) is a superkillerfreakyEinstein genius with dominate genes or she'd be eating paste every day. Instead she's writing essays about Buddhism and Teen Pregnancy (that was a fun trip to the Library) and working calculus. This last weekend she crammed for her very first final exams ever. Her focus was like a powerful searchlight. You could see her thinking. It was like watching Jackie Chan outtakes, only for math. She studied for 17 hours straight and aced her exams. She earned a perfect score.
However, proud as I am, some reject teacher assigned a scrapbook project on the Greek Gods--all of them--showing the God, the origin of their name, and a well known product or object named after them. Two days before finals. That #@%@!

So I go to sleep and she's perched on the edge of the couch with scrapbook materials and her laptop, prim as a pea. I woke up to this:

Please save me: my children are trying to kill me.