I was reminded of 4H last month when my daughter was trying to get her TSA (Technology Student Association) project done in time for state competition. Her project was a children’s book about science. She only had the entire school year to get her book and the accompanying paperwork complete. But for some reason we were at school Saturday evening trying to get everything copied and digitized and saved and ready to go before leaving for state conference the next morning. She kept waiting for me, I think, to get angry. And of course I was becoming more and more annoyed as she discovered more requirements that she had overlooked in getting her project ready. But I kept remembering working on my 4H record book, filling out the last of the boring paperwork required for each project before its entry in the fair. “This has to be done today!” my parents repeated. “Projects go in tomorrow!” I swore loudly to my parents that each year would be my last. I also remembered my mother at my dad’s office, typing my essay on one of the typewriters as I decoded my handwriting for her; we were there until one o’clock in the morning sometimes. These 4H projects and school assignments could have easily been done before the last minute. It’s really only at this point in my life, 30 years after I closed my last 4H record book, that I actually try and generally succeed at getting things done before the last minute. So while I was as annoyed as all get out at my girl child, I kept remembering my own last-minute experiences and my patient mother typing away at dad’s office, and I managed to keep my cool.
My love of Run DMC started with Rapper’s Delight. I think it was high school friend Marshall that introduced the awesome foursome (me and my three friends, not J.J. Evans and his) to rap via the Sugerhill Gang via the classic 20 minute song. We soon had it memorized, and it wasn’t uncommon to find us at some kind of school or church event standing in a circle rapping away. As far as the ladies were concerned, we could have been discussing slide rules and magnets, but we were having a blast. “Clearly these four white rappers had an influence on the likes of Vanilla Ice, The Beastie Boys, and Eminem that cannot be undervalued.” — Rapper’s Digest
Check it out, I’m the C-A-S-A, the N-O-V-A,
And the rest is F-L-Y,
You see I go by the code of the doctor of the mix,
And these reasons I’ll tell you why.
You see, I’m six foot one, and I’m tons of fun
When I dress to a T,
You see, I got more clothes than Muhammad Ali
and I dress so viciously.
I got bodyguards, I got two big cars
That definitely ain’t the wack,
I got a Lincoln Continental and a sunfoofed Cadillac.
I’m not sure why the tree is growing out of the chemistry flask. Is this an early pro gmo button? It seemed like when I was in elementary school that the ecology movement was a new thing. I know that when one is in elementary school everything seems like a new thing, chasing girls, learning bad words, scary big kids. But I think I’m right on this one. Seems like the first earth day was in the early 1970s. Our playground had three different pieces of equipment made out of recycled tires. And they were fun. Two were really high climbing things, probably pretty dangerous. And I remember a film they showed us–Me-cology, and the catchy little tune–That’s ecology and me, that’s mecology. The film told us not to trash up,the earth.
Oh, and it was a big deal when they put a log on our playground. It was a big log, laid down in the far corner of the playground. They told us that we would be able to study all sorts of wildlife that might make this log their home. We were told to leave it alone and let nature take it’s course. Well, it became the recess hangout for many of the boys. We weren’t supposed to be on it, but since it was so far from the school, none of our old teachers wanted to walk all the way out to it to shoo us off. In the first year it had been stripped of its bark. It became the meeting place for fights–“After school, at the log!” As far as a home for wildlife, a few insects made their way to the log. Those found were, to be fair, studied briefly, then played with, and finally, of course, squished. If that’s not an ecological lesson, I don’t know what is.
When I first read this button, I read it “Quit Your Hiding.” So the story below, the one originally published about a year ago is about hiding. Then someone posted saying, “Doesn’t that say Kidding.” Yeah, reading and spelling never were my strong suits.
This is another of those buttons from the 40s. This one seems like a kind of creepy, stalkery. The one time I remember hiding, when I really didn’t want to be found, was on a Fourth of July. For reasons of lack of rain, or jumping on the safety bandwagon, or some kind of general unamericanism, our little town had put a ban on the use of fireworks. Well, that got me and my three main buds pretty fired up, partly on principal, partly because at least one of us had invested in a paper bag full of fire crackers and bottle rockets. When night fell we put our foolproof plan into action. These fireworks would get shot off, oh they would get shot off.
We drove out to the fairgrounds, and two of us at one end of the street, and two of us at the other, we took turns launching bottle rockets at each other. When those were gone we started in on the firecrackers. At one point head lights appeared and we fled, every man for himself. Mike ran into a sale barn. He didn’t see the chain that had been pulled across the entrance. It caught him about hip-high and flipped him over onto his face. Good times, good times.
Once the danger was gone and we’d regrouped, we found we still had a few fire crackers left. We drove to the Skid’s house which was just across the street from the high school. High on patriotism and adrenalin from the recent chase, we stood in front of the school, lighting one Black Cat after another and gaily tossing them into the air to explode over our heads. That’s when the spotlight hit us. First we froze. Then we bolted the opposite direction of the patrol car that was headed our way. We turned the corner, sprinted a few steps down the one way street, and dove into the bushes. It was just Mike Skid and me. I don’t know what happen to the other two. We knelt in the bushes, head down, an appropriate pose for the situation, trying to make ourselves as small as possible. As the cop car easssssssed by, the spotlight swinging back and forth over our position, I whispered to Mike without moving my mouth, “We’re dead.” He responded in his own motionless whisper, “Shut up.” When the car had passed we didn’t hesitate. We burst from the bushes and sprinted back to Mike’s house in record time. The other two were already there. We collapsed onto the couch, happy for our freedom. It had been a successful Independence Day. God bless America.
When I was a kid I never started anything. Maybe with my folks sometimes. But as far as other authority figures went, I knew my place. I wasn’t beyond sneaking around behind their backs. When our fourth grade teacher stopped reading out loud How to Eat Fried Worms and declared, “I am not going to read that word!” and of course wouldn’t tell us what the word was, I was the one who peeked into the book on her desk while she was preoccupied to see what the word was. But to openly defy authority, that wasn’t me. It even made me nervous to see it. I knew something was wrong with the picture when this same teacher, an old white-haired woman had to chase Jimmy around the room, feigning one way and the dashing the other way around a group of desks to try to get her hands on this spirited boy.
But there was once in middle school that I sort of swore at the principal. We had, back then, this system of buying a lunch where early in the day a teacher would collect little yellow tickets that sold for 50 or 75 cents. Students put their name on their tickets. These were then delivered to the lunch room, and come lunch time, if your name was on the list, if you had turned in a lunch ticket, you could eat. If not, no food for you. Come back, one day! Well one day I hadn’t, for whatever reason, turned in a ticket. But in my head, I knew I had. I always turned in my ticket. Why wouldn’t I this day? This was nonsense! I left the front of the lunch line embarrassed and without a tray. And angry at the system that had screwed me out of my lunch. At the lunch table with my friends I railed at the stupidity and injustice of it all. Brett pointed to something on his tray and said I could eat that, so I began to dig in. That’s when I felt the principal’s hand on my shoulder.
“You’ll need to come with me.” What?!?! Our school had very strict rules about taking food from someone else. Bullies and jerks did that sometimes, grabbed your food or just stuck their fingers in it. But that wasn’t what was happening here. Brett was correcting an injustice. I wasn’t a bully. I was the one who had been wronged! “You can’t eat someone else’s food. You’ll need to come to the office,” he repeated.
“What!?” I said, this time out loud, too loud, standing to face the principal. “He said I could have it!”
“That doesn’t matter.” I think the principal could see that I was losing it. He tried to calm me. “Where is your lunch?”
“Back there!” I shouted, pointing and waving toward the kitchen, “with all that other . . .” It was too late now; I’d come this far. I said it. “Crap!”
I don’t remember much after that. The principal walked me away from the lunch table, for the safety of my friends I’m sure. He checked the lunch list for me, but I knew it was a lost cause. I hadn’t turned in my ticket, and for whatever reason, low blood sugar maybe, I had gone off on the man. Later that day a girl said to me, “Oh I heard about you today.” Oh brother.
Oh, and the word from the book in fourth grade was bastard.
You know the birthday. The big one. The one everyone looks forward to and then, in one way or another, regrets. I don’t want to go into details, partly because I can’t. So let me try to construct a sort of word collage. A couple of beers with friends. A boss who wishes me happy birthday and gives me the night off. Assurances from my friends, just a couple more and then home for t.v. Me blowing out a burning drink, downing it, grabbing another burning drink from the person next to me, blowing it out, and downing it. A spinning sleeping dorm. An aborted attempt to go to class. An afternoon visit from a friend with a beer for each or us, hair of the dog he said. No thanks I said. More spinning. A last attempt to rise, clean up and dinner with a friend. Two bites of Showbiz pizza. Home again. To bed again. Older. Wiser.
My first real knowledge of the Vietnam war was from the movies. As I was a child, I wasn’t allowed to see The Deer Hunter and some of the more serious films to come out in the 70s. But by the 1980s, when America was making the lets-go-back-and-finish-ou
So when I was in Vietnam to get my daughter, and I was looking for something to bring back to my yearbook kids who were carrying on without me, the gaudy, campy shirts featuring a giant face of Ho Chi Minh seemed perfect. My students got the joke. But you know who didn’t? Vietnam vets. More than one of these kids later shared stories of being backed into a corner and sternly lectured about the fact that Ho Chi Minh was responsible for the loss of a lot good men, and his image wasn’t a joke to them. Sorry about that kids. We learn things everyday.
The kids didn’t have to worry about wearing the shirts much anyway. Upon being washed once, the big colorful political leader’s face ran off the tee-shirt and onto the rest of their laundry. There’s another lesson there somewhere.
Dad said later that it didn’t really look I wanted to catch that pig. Yeah. I didn’t want to catch that pig any more than the man in the moon. There I was backstage at the Abilene Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo, with a bunch of other 10-year-olds. We were being ushered past shoots and gates and into the arena along with a shoot full of greased pigs. How did I get here? I don’t remember how exactly, but as I’ve analyzed my life over the years, I see that with few important exceptions, I have followed the path of least resistance. So I imagine a conversation something like this between me and my parents. Them: You want to chase greased pigs at the rodeo? Me: I don’t know. Them: Sure you do! Me: Ok.
So there we were, being introduced. And there go the pigs, squealing madly, slicked down with lard, a herd of kids running after them. It took me no time at all to figure out that if I caught one of these things, I would have to grab and subdue the filthy thing and haul it to the pickup truck in the middle of the arena. Uh, no thanks.
I ran with a group of kids toward the pickup truck. Some of the pigs had run under the truck to hide. A couple kids had got a hold of a couple different pigs, one on one side of the truck, one on the other. The pigs were squealing like pigs do, sounding like their insides were being ripped out. I wanted none of this. I moved from one side of the truck to the other, acting like I was trying to reach a pig, but not quite able to do it. Darn it.
Finally one of the country kids, in his bright blue wranglers, white button up shirt and straw cowboy hat, dragged a screaming pig to base, winning the glory, and putting an end to the contest for the rest of us. Thank god.
For the last few years (not counting last year) I’ve been responsible for the middle school vbs at church. What we’ve done is serve the community in a number of ways. I think for the most part middle school kids know the basic bible themes that the little kids learn throughout the week–god loves you, etc; and they know the main bible stories that have been covered for years. And in my experience, they’re not up for more of that if it doesn’t mean anything in real life. Plus they can barely sit still for a bible story anyway. So in the past few years I’ve kept mine short–Jesus told us we were to feed the poor, so that’s what we’re going to do today. There might have been a bit more than that, but not much. In the past few years we’ve helped sort donations for the Joplin tornado, made and served meals for senior housing, collected cans for the food pantry, constructed and erected a peace poll, picked up trash at the park, made toys for shelter dogs, written letters to sick kids and soldiers. Maybe that’s it, or maybe that’s all I can remember. But it’s been good, and the kids have been great.
It’s interesting how all this political drama can be going on all around you, and you have no idea what’s happening, just because you happen to be in the first grade. I was 9 when the U.S. fled Vietnam, the war that was famously brought into our living rooms. And I have no memory of it at all. And as far as Nixon goes, and all the hoopla, no memory.
I do remember ordering a poster of President Ford from a scholastic book order in second grade. Yeah, I was that kid. And I remember having a brief discussion about the Ford-Carter election with my babysitter. My well reasoned point–I don’t know why they don’t just stay with the president we’ve already got. My baby sitter agreed.
My first Nixon memories are of Saturday Night Live skits that I didn’t really get. Dan Aykroyd’s Nixon pretending the whole coverup was just he and Halderman playing a joke for the microphones. And was there a weird one where Nixon ended up on his knees with one of is aides praying for help while the painting of Eisenhower gave him the stink eye? Did I just make that up? (Maybe the Eisenhower painting part came from Porky’s.)
[After some research, it was a portrait of Lincoln (“You’re lucky; they just shot you.”), and it was Kissinger forced to his knees to pray with Nixon. — Rolling Stone’s 50 greatest SNL sketches of all time.]