Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Contradictions and Revolution

Don’t judge me, but I decided the Goofs don’t do Halloween.  I decided it was a pagan holiday and that while we would participate appropriately in Christian holidays (say by going to Christmas parties when invited) we would not be Trick or Treating.  Besides, Jews already have a holiday for dressing up in costumes and eating candy, it’s called Purim.  It is utterly un-supernatural, no visions no thing – just a plan to mass murder the Jewish people and hence more terrifying then any stupid ghost yelling “Boo!”

I know that lots of Jews (including most of the little Goofs’ friends) do Halloween but we don’t.  Not that I am some fire and brimstone type, I made watching the It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown a tradition so that the little Goofs would have a working knowledge of the culture in which they live.

But this year we had a big change.  We decided to hand out candy.  I hated being one of the mean “dark” houses – especially when someone would make a mistake and knock.  Then we’d end up sending some little kid in a dinosaur costume wandering off, forlorn into the night.  So we handed out candy, there were exactly three bands of children who came by.  On the plus side, this means lots of leftover candy.

But it was also a little sad. I remember streets full of kids in costumes when I was growing up – now it is mere handfuls.

Maybe some of this was demographics, there are just less kids.  But there is also fear.  In the fall of 1982 some lunatic put cyanide in Tylenol bottles, killing seven people.  Something in our communal trust broke and Trick-or-Treating (and lots of other stuff) just wasn’t the same.  MamaGoof, who grew up in LA remembers even before that the stories of needles and razors planted in candy.  We “reminisced” about this over dinner.  GoofGirl just didn’t get it, “Why would someone do that?”

We reassured her that packaging has changed so this won’t happen and she shouldn’t worry (although she probably will anyway!)  But that didn’t answer her question, “Why? Why would anyone want to hurt children?”

“Remember the bullies in Stand by Me?  Well it’s the same thing.  Maybe people were always mean to them so they are mean to the world.  Maybe there is something very wrong in their mind.  Maybe they are just bad people.” I explained, because really it is unfathomable.

Maybe there is something to Halloween.  Supernatural terror, the ghouls and ghosts don’t need any explanation they just are – best of all they aren’t real.  A relief from the real horrors maybe they should be savored.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Stand By Me: A Movie from another Era

The other day, the little Goofs and I sat down and watched the classic coming of age movie, Stand By Me.  It kind of blew their minds.  Kids that were GoofBoy’s age were smoking, drinking beer, and had obtained a gun.  They were wandering off across the countryside without any adult supervision and the object of their quest was to see a dead body.  Plus the bullies were terrifying.  They threatened to burn a kid’s eye with a cigarette, played mailbox baseball, and put homemade tattoos on each other.

GoofGirl was horrified at pretty much everything she saw:

All they are going to eat are sandwiches and Coke, that’s not healthy?

Don’t they know smoking is bad for them?

Why is that guy going to hurt them, why is he like that?

Why do they keep talking about their fathers?

GoofBoy was struck by the freedom these boys had to go off, on an overnight, with no supervision.  But both kids were shocked by the casual meanness of others in the movie.  Their school is a bully-free zone (they all are now) and actual physical violence or even threats of it are extremely rare.  Worse then the bullies, in the movie the adults are at best ambivalent about and often perpetrators of cruelty.  One character had had his ear burned when his father held it against a stove while another father simply didn’t pay attention to his son.  When a kid steals money and attempts to return it the teacher pockets it and buys herself something, and the boy is labeled a thief for life.

The little Goofs live in a wonderful world full of kind, caring adults who carefully monitor the interactions of the kids.  This isn’t to say that there aren’t difficulties and tensions, but overall the relationships between the kids are congenial.  The little Goofs ask me about being bullied (and I was) and they are fascinated by this exotic experience.  They always ask me about “the bad kids” of my youth, like the fifth grader who got up on the roof of the school (this was the epitome of roguery to a second grader) or the kids who went into the woods to start fires.  At one point I mentioned the bad kids who would poop in the sink in the school lavatory.  GoofBoy said, “Oh yeah, some kids pooped in the urinals, but what can you expect, I mean they were only seven they probably thought they were special little toilets.”

I worry about this a little.  Bullies exist in the world, people can be vicious or, at the very least, not kind.  Maybe the little Goofs won’t be threatened physically, but there will be workplace scoundrels and they will need to know how to stand up for themselves.  I can’t say I benefited from being pushed around as a kid, but maybe it is like a virus where one needs an early exposure to develop a life-long resistance.  I worry about over-protecting the little Goofs, because they do need to become independent and capable of facing life’s challenges (otherwise they might not move out of my house).  A friend is experimenting with wrapping her kids in bubble-wrap (go to the link, there a pictures!) and of course some is needed – but have we gone too far and made the wrapping too thick?

I put the question to GoofBoy, would he want to live with that freedom but also the danger.  He did want the freedom, but he didn't want the danger.  I guess this will have to sort itself out.

But I was really struck by GoofGirl’s question: Why are they always talking about their fathers?

I started to tell her about Jung and the quest for meaning, but the little Goofs just roll their eyes at me when I start talking like that.  I told her how the characters were boys growing up and they wanted to know what it would mean to be grown men.  They wished their fathers would show them and help them and tell them they were doing well.  But their dads weren't very good.  The character who had his ear burned by his dad told everyone, "My Dad was at Normandy!"

He loved the man who had hurt him so much.  The main character had a father uninterested in his son and particularly his son's talent for storytelling.  These men were mysteries to their sons and these boys needed a sense of what they were doing.

On this one, I can say with absolute the kids are alright.  They don't get the time they want from me (because on this children are fundamentally unappeasable in terms of attention) but they do get a lot of it and they are not wanting for my love - nor are any of the kids I know.  The quest for father may be a universal archetype - but life is hard enough, let Dads be a beacon rather then a frightening chasm.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Incredible Hulk - An App for Anger

A typical Sunday morning, I'm standing around a discount store while GoofGirl and 3C examine every single item and discuss their merits and drawbacks as potential birthday presents for a party that starts in less then 45 minutes.  They will also identify several items that they need - and because this is a discount store it easier to agree with them.

(I don't care about currency manipulation - but forcing us to absorb vast quantities of cheap crap seems a perfectly valid reason for some sort of action against China.  Of course from the Chinese perspective this is probably just a legitimate response to our exports of noxious entertainment that is corrupting their national soul.)

While waiting, I wander over to the cheap cellphone cases.  Most are in hideous patterns featuring purple hearts and pink stars that leave little wonder as to why they found their way to this commercial trash bin.  I didn't really expect to get something totally cool, but at least I hoped to find something interesting.

Then I saw a selection of Avenger cases.  But which one to get?  I always thought Captain America was kind of a boring Dudley DoRight (I was going to write Boy Scout, but I don't want to make fun of Boy Scouts).  Iron Man is Tony Stark, a charismatic billionaire - not someone I can relate to.  Thor is right out since I'm not a pagan.  Besides it's just a smartphone, not mighty mjolnir (is there an app for that?)  

Then I saw it, the Incredible Hulk, and it all came flooding back (plus my old clear case was starting to get slimy).

As a kid I watched the Incredible Hulk, starring Bill Bixby.  TV shows in the 1970s were like Victorian novels, bloated with vast amounts of exposition.  I'd watch the plot slowly creep along, while waiting for David Banner to get ticked off and finally become the Hulk and start breaking things.

Anyway, my mom wandered into the den during an episode in which they were burying David Banner alive (because he looked like a local gangster - apparently a member of one of those WASP gangs, the Squires or their blood enemy the Equerries.)  Anyway, my mom pronounced this as "disgusting," declared the show inappropriate, and turned off the TV. This was just before Banner was going to get mad transform and bust up a cement mixer - hulcus interruptus.

But for me the show was about more then watching construction equipment being rapidly disassembled. The Hulk was a lonely, friendless guy, living in the shadows, and terrified of his own emotions.  That's a super-hero I could relate too when I was young.  I needed the Hulk and he was cruelly taken away.  But, now he is back and I need him more then ever.