THINGS I THOUGHT WERE TRUE IN YOUTH THAT IT TURNS OUT AREN’T OR PROBABLY AREN’T
I gave a great deal of thought to things when I was a little kid, much moreso than I do now. These days I can barely be called upon to concentrate on pouring myself a bowl of cereal, but as a child I was privy to a special combination of free time, solitude, and total lack of knowledge about basically everything that lent itself well to deep and fanciful (though only in hindsight, as at the time I was more than willing to accept my own thoughts as gospel; why would my own brain lie to me?) speculation. Though I suspect my impending child will be as unwilling to share his innermost thoughts as I was in youth, I look forward to hearing or observing or severely invading his privacy to find out what he thinks about the objects and people surrounding him. What their deal is, what they do and why they do it. Because I can’t think of anything better to write about and I don’t feel like doing the laundry or washing dishes or preparing food, here are some things I once thought were the case that time and other people who claim to know better (or, as I like to call them, “life ruiners”) have since proven otherwise.
– There are four parts to a day: morning, afternoon, safternoon, and night. My mom is one of those people who really emphasizes the letter “s” when she talks, so whenever she said “this afternoon”, I heard it as “the safternoon”, which I took to mean the part of the day that lasts from approximately 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM. If she said “in the afternoon”, I felt that was in reference to 2:30-5. Then the final “Sesame Street” broadcast of the day came on, which heralded the official beginning of night. I think I was aware that there was no Santa Claus before I knew that “safternoon” was not a real time anywhere except in my brain.
– Basements are called “cellahs” and I have an Auntie Lawna. Once again, my family’s folksy speech impediment – or accent, if you like – had led me astray. Now I knew that a car was not really a “cah” and a “hoss” was in fact a “horse”, thanks entirely to public television, but no one on “Sesame Street” ever had occasion, at least on the episodes that I’d seen, to discuss cellars or my Auntie Lorna, so up until the fifth or sixth grade, I played action figures in the cellah and thanked my Auntie Lawna for my birthday present. Hell, I still call her Auntie Lawna. It’s too late to change it now. She looks more like a Lawna anyway.
– Sitcoms are entirely improvised by the cast; Gary Coleman is a GENIUS. One time me, my brother Justin, and my cousin Mandy decided to play “Diff’rent Strokes” and attempted to bring an episode of the then-popular program to life, thankfully not in front of an audience of any kind. The kids on “Diff’rent Strokes” were able to toss off one-liners left and right, to the immediate and dependable approval of the studio audience. How hard could it be? I got to be Arnold (Coleman); Mandy, evidently not a Dana Plato fan, chose to be Arnold’s wheelchair-bound friend, Kathy; I don’t remember exactly what role we gave Justin, maybe the annoying redheaded kid? I have a hard time time believing we would have thought it sensible to saddle him with the role of Willis, to say nothing of Conrad Bain. Whatever the case, this well-meaning exercise in futility really revealed to us the sheer breadth of the wit and talent of these esteemed performers, because the jokes I was coming up with were absolute shit. Bad enough to be embarassing even to the none-too-sophisticated comic sensibilities of your average second grader. Just complete and total garbage. The one “joke” I remember: I guess we decided that the plot of this thing would be that Arnold wasn’t doing so well in his science class, where they were learning about the solar system, and Kathy was going to try to tutor him, with ostensibly riotous results, leading to this classic exchange:
KATHY: Arnold, what is the Milky Way?
ARNOLD: That’s when I pour milk on the ground on the way to school!
Although, to be fair, I went back and tried to watch “Diff’rent Strokes” a couple years ago on Nick at Nite, and to my surprise my material really didn’t suffer all that much by comparison.
– Boy Scouts end their meetings by hiking together and singing about the sunset. I had a passing interest in the Boy Scouts in youth, but only from an observational standpoint. Though like any rurally-raised boy I daydreamt of such rugged pursuits as hewing saplings with hatchets and hauling a shiny brook trout out of the fishin’ hole at Robert’s Rock to the raucous approval of less-successful onlookers, the reality of activities such as tying “bowline” knots and “going outside” simply overwhelmed me, though inwardly I lamented my lack of savvy and drive in this area; the Junior Woodchucks always looked like they were having a good time, and their woodland smarts seemed to get them out of a good number of scrapes. I even had a subscription to “Boys’ Life” magazine, and I read and reread each issue cover to cover, particularly “Scouts in Action”, a grim, fact-based illustrated account of a Scout thinking quickly in a dangerous situation, usually something terrible like a house fire or a car crash. It looked like a neat way to be. I just wasn’t it.
As it happened, there was a big, official-looking Scout campground/convention area just a few miles from where we lived, which makes enough sense given that where we lived was the woods, and more than once while driving by we would see a Scout leader tromping along the ditch, walking stick in hand, leading an orderly line of hale and hearty lads down the road, as ideal and Norman Rockwellian of a Scouting sight as you’d ever want to behold. It always seemed to be nearing the end of the day when we’d see the line of hiking Scouts, and though they were probably all just yammering amongst themselves, it appeared to me as though the Scouts were singing. It came to me that they were probably singing a song called “Look at the Sunset”, which was particularly noteworthy that evening. At that very moment, my dad, who was driving, actually said “Look at the sunset”, which confirmed my theory. It was then settled in my brain that every night, the scouts sang a song that went “Look at the sunset/look at the sunset/look at the sunset/Sun sun sun suuuuuuuuun”. On those evenings when the sunset wasn’t so impressive, it then followed that they would amend the lyrics accordingly to “There is no sunset/there is no sunset/there is no sunset/Wah wah wah waaaaaaaah”. This gets stuck in my head ALL the time.
– Gelflings are real, and they are extremely loyal friends. Like any kid, I had several pop culture related obsessions growing up, and foremost among them was “The Dark Crystal”. I still love it to pieces. Whenever a new film medium is introduced (e.g. Blu-ray, most recently), “The Dark Crystal” is usually the first movie I buy, to ensure that I own it in the form of the most pristine footage possible. When I’m driving to work and I’ve forgotten my sunglasses, I rarely fail to crack myself up by shielding my eyes and cursing The Great Conjunction. My best friend circa 1982, Brian, shared my nerdy entertainment interests. Anything involving “Star Wars” or Muppets was already held in our highest esteem, thus inserting Muppets into a squalid sci-fi universe couldn’t help but blow our minds in every way imaginable, which is why “Return of the Jedi” remains my favorite of the Star Wars trilogy. I will not tolerate arguments that Ewoks ruined ROTJ, because they are cute, nor that there are actually six movies in the Star Wars series, because you’re totally making that up. Anyway, somewhere in the world there’s an audio cassette of Brian and I earnestly discussing the possibility – nay, probability – that gelflings, the elfin species that protagonists Jen and Kira (whom I wanted to have sex with but didn’t know it at the time) belong to, were real beings that wanted desperately to befriend us but didn’t know where we lived.
I remember coming up with a scenario in the course of recording this tape where I encountered Jen, and offered him a “Meat Treat”, which was a silver packet of dehydrated meat snacks that I thought sounded tasty and was something that should exist in real life, but when Jen took one of the treats and put it in his mouth, it turned out it was a bouillon cube, and he made a face and said “Bleah!” I remember thinking this was hilarious. How a boullion cube found its way into the nonexistent packet of dehydrated meat snacks that I offered to a gelfling in the midst of a fictional anecdote, I may never know.
– Another term for “penis” is “rubber”.
On the playground in fifth grade, talking about penises was nothing new, but now kids were mentioning something called “rubbers” (heretofore nothing more than an antiquated synonym for boots in my innocent Christian mind) in tandem with their usual dick discussions. Knowing of no good reason why anyone would need to put anything on their schlong, I assumed “rubber” was just one of the many new and exciting terms for “penis”. So lunchtime rolls around, and wanting both to get a laugh and showcase my newfound savvy in the crass vocab department, I proudly proclaimed to Brian and anyone else fortunate enough to overhear my hilariousness: “This lasagna tastes like castrated rubber!” Brian gave me a sidelong glance somewhere between pity and concern and whispered something to whoever else was sitting with us, then calmly and patiently explained to me that a rubber and a penis are not one and the same. He went on to define the object of a rubber in what I assume was accurate detail, although I don’t remember a word of it because frankly what he was describing was so foreign and unlikely that I simply tuned it out and made a mental note that in the future, to prevent further confusion and humiliation, I would simply state that the lasagna tastes like castrated penis and leave it at that.
– My mother’s best friend is a missionary named Elsa Pelsa Bumblebee. Growing up, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned numerous times, my family was quite religious, or tried their best to be. Our church as a rule was very supportive of missionaries, holding weeklong events where missionaries were invited to speak and present slideshows of their endeavors. I have very positive memories of these events. The missionaries were unfailingly kind and interesting to listen to (plus I’m a sucker for a good slideshow, and theirs were always top-notch), and they always brought interesting artifacts and sometimes even exotic foods for us to try. While there were most assuredly times that I approached church with an often deadening sense of dread and obligation, and though it hasn’t been something I’ve returned to as I’ve aged, there were many aspects of the tradition that provided me with comfort and fun, and the missionary conferences are something I look back on with hazy fondness.
So with missionaries being as prevalent as they were in our churchgoing experience, and with prayer being a old habit by now, it followed that we would be expected to pray for the missionaries. I liked this notion, both because of the idea that my prayers could help the missionaries, and because it was a lot easier to rattle off a list of predetermined names that it was to come up with fresh nightly material to present to the giant man who lived in the sky and decided our fates. I adjusted my prayers accordingly.
Right around this time, my mother had the opportunity to reconnect with an old school chum named Elsa. I still don’t know her last name, but an offhand comment made by either Mum or Elsa herself led me to believe that her full given name was “Elsa Pelsa Bumblebee”, which I blandly accepted as fact, no questions asked. What made me think she was a missionary remains unclear, to myself or anyone involved, but for no earthly reason I can presently conjure, I dutifully added her to my roster of missionaries to pray for every night: “Please bless the Bracketts, the Broughs, the Bumblebees, the Duffields…” I’d worked it out so that it was alphabetical – easier to remember. It wasn’t till much later that Mum deigned to inform me that not only were the Bumblebees not missionaries, they were not even Bumblebees. I remember finding it a bit irresponsible of her to allow me to waste my valuable prayer time on people that weren’t even missionaries, to say nothing of the fact that I’d been blithely imploring God to “bless the Bumblebees”, a phrase that in the end meant virtually nothing to anyone. Sure, he’s God and he knew what was going on the whole time, and I’d like to think he had a sense of humor about it, but jeez. Way to embarrass me in front of God, Mum.
– Redd Foxx said the dirtiest things that anyone has ever heard. It’s entirely within the realm of possibility that this one might be true. But I wouldn’t know, because I have still never seen “Dirty Dirty Jokes”.
My Uncle Rick, who owned two VCRs and was therefore the most amazing person I had ever known, was a voracious movie renter/watcher/dubber. He had a vast collection of illegally duplicated videocassettes, 3 to a tape on 6-hr SLP speed, that he kept in a tailor-made bookcase at the camp he rented every summer in Surry, Maine, on one of my favorite bodies of water, Toddy Pond. He labeled and numbered all of his tapes, and affixed manila sleeves with library-style “date due” index cards in them onto every one, allowing him to keep track whenever fellow camp renters and friends wanted to borrow them. He took it all very seriously, and I found this to be very good thinking on his part. There was nothing more important or worthy of praise than an extensively catalogued and handsomely presented collection of pirated videocassettes. When visiting the camp, in lieu of swimming, which I didn’t know how to do anyway, or fishing, which was boring and gross, I would often wander into the living room and just stare in awe at this beautiful display of filmic possibility and attractive organization, venturing to take a single volume at a time down from its shelf and wondering at the titles: “The Gauntlet/Sophie’s Choice/Volunteers”, perhaps, or “Commando/Haunted Honeymoon/Old Yeller”. There was never any attempt to follow a theme on these tapes. It all depended on whatever three movies happened to look good to Uncle Rick at whatever Mom n Pop joint or gas station he elected to rent them at.
When it came to movies, Uncle Rick was gloriously cavalier as to what he allowed us to watch. At our house circa 1988, anything rated R was strictly forbidden. My parents didn’t even allow themselves to watch R movies at the time. But at Uncle Rick’s, we got to see great stuff like the aforementioned “Commando” and the “Alien” movies, and it being vacation and all (and because they probably wanted to see some of these movies too) my parents relaxed and let us get away with a sin-ridden flick or two. I even got to learn about the concept of rape from Uncle Rick’s movie library – thanks, “Rolling Vengeance”! But when it came to “Dirty Dirty Jokes”, even Uncle Rick had to draw the line. “You guys ain’t watchin’ this one,” he said.
My mind reeled at the concept of a movie so dirty (“dirty” – right there in the title!) that it gave even storied vulgarian Eric Stover pause. To even hold the tape itself felt like a defiance against God. Redd Foxx hosted it. I’d heard of him and knew him to be dirty. And Andrew “Dice” Clay was also in it, according to Uncle Rick. This only boosted my already excruiciating curiosity. My friend Clint, an avid sinner and owner of many dirty comedy tapes, spoke highly of him.
WHAT WAS ON THIS TAPE? What dirty stuff did they talk about? What hellish-afterlife-guaranteeing jokes were foisted on the unsuspecting audience by these devils of comedy? I never did get to see it – a “no” from Uncle Rick was understood to be binding – but lying on my cot that night, while Uncle Rick watched “Dirty Dirty Jokes” and thereby booked himself a future lifetime appointment with The Worm That Dieth Not, I tried to come up with the dirtiest thing imaginable, an act so vile that asking Jesus to come into your heart a million times wouldn’t wash away its damage. Jesus would actually vacate your heart upon its realization. He would have no choice.
To my mind, the only thing dirty enough for Uncle Rick to forbid its viewing by minors that Redd Foxx and Andrew “Dice” Clay could do would be to introduce the program by putting their arms around each other and spiritedly singing a song with the following lyrics: “Well, we’re a-pissin’ and a-fartin’ and a-fuckin’ and a-shittin’ and we’re lovin’ every minute!” I could think of nothing in the world that could possibly be dirtier than to welcome viewers to a comedy show by singing that unspeakably vile song. I remember actually trying to convince my brother that this was what they did on “Dirty Dirty Jokes” and this was the thing that made it so dirty, emphasizing that “the really dirty part” was that they were “lovin’ every minute”, because while none of us are without sin, to find joy in such actions is an abomination. Anyway, that song has an actual tune to it, and it’s super catchy. I sing it in the shower a lot. It’s right up there with another song I invented to dissuade my brother from purchasing a Van Halen tape because it was way too dirty, as evidenced by one of their more profane hits, “I Take a Shit in the Potty and I Pee With My Dink”.
That story probably would have been more exciting if it had ended with me embarking on a covert ops mission to sneak into Uncle Rick’s screening of “Dirty Dirty Jokes” and either have my mind blown or walk away bitterly disappointed and jaded. Unfortunately I was a very obedient child.
That’s all of ’em. I was pretty much right on about everything else.