Scat Mask Replica VI


Turtle and Tiger

My son has a very healthy imagination, and I encourage it in every opportunity I can. We play all sorts of imaginary games, some involving his stuffed animals. We put these animals through various life scenarios. I am in charge of developing these stories, but he will often spider web these stories into other side stories. In one of these sessions, he gave his stuffed turtle an unusual name. Playing the role of the tiger in this production, I asked the turtle if his parents were weird. “If they gave you such an unusual name,” Tiger said, “your parents must be weird people.” I was not testing my son, or playing any type of psychological game. The reader might flirt with such notions, because it was an odd thing for a dad to say to his six-year-old son. My only defense is that we play so many of these games that he wears me out.

Tiger pressed turtle for an answer on this question, and the turtle refused to denounce his parents in anyway, saying, “No, I have great parents who love me and don’t let me get hurt.” That was all turtle said, and we moved into other areas of the turtle’s life story. Months prior, someone suggested that my son’s lack of displays of affection could suggest that he might be on the spectrum. Boulderdash, I say. I say his lack of displays of affection means that his parents are doing one hell of a bang up job. I’ve seen my son’s six-year-old friends worry when they can’t see their parents at the park. ‘Shouldn’t that be the other way around?’ I wonder. I know my son doesn’t worry about such things. I know he considers every minute we can’t see him a momentary minute of freedom. I’ve witnessed other boys appreciate their parents. I’ve seen other kids his age, kiss their parents without them having to ask for one, and my reaction is 180 degrees different from envy. I think if a six-year-old voluntarily displays affection for their parents, it suggests there might be some deficiency in their home. It’s a guess, and it’s probably wrong. Some six-year-old boys are just more affectionate than others are, but that just seems so unnatural to me. If my six-year-old boy says, “Leave me alone”, and he hates hugs and kisses, it means he takes me for granted. He takes it for granted that I’ll always going to be there for him, and he knows that I will always “protect him from getting hurt”. As a person who has never had a parenting job before, it strikes me that if you’re doing your job, your child should be surprised to learn that other kids like you and think you’re fun to be around you, because he thinks you’re one of the most boring people on earth. Then, if you’re doing one hell of a bang up job, you might eventually reach a point when you’ll hear how much he appreciates what you do from his turtle.

The Death of a Gregory

A forty-something man on our block died recently. It’s a sad thing when any person dies that young, but I didn’t know this guy as a man. I knew him as a rival when we were in our early teens. One could go so far as to say we “hated” each other in the harmless way young, testosterone-driven teenage males hate each other. We did whatever mean, harmless territorial peeing things that two teenage boys do to each other. I tee peed his house, he egged mine, I threw an M-80 in his yard, and he shot a bottle rocket under our car. I sidewalk chalked something awful about him on his driveway, and he lit firework snakes on the sidewalk leading up to our house (some of those stains are still there some 35 years later). I spotted him on our old block some 35-years later, and I waved at him. He did not wave back. He apparently believed that our teenage rivalry should extend into our forties, and I found this out soon after I waved at him. I was driving into our old neighborhood, and he was driving out when I stuck that hand up. He gave me the nastiest look he could. That look said, “I don’t like you, and I never will!” That’s fine, I guess, but how about I wasn’t asking if I could come over for dinner, or if I could play with his Star Wars figurines. I was putting my hand up in the air to him as nothing more than a momentary, symbolic greeting. It’s your job, sir, to put your hand up in the air back at me! You don’t have to smile when you put your hand in the air, and a wave is not a promissory note on future conversations. You just wave back, and everyone moves on with their lives. It’s what we adult humans do when we somewhat, sort of recognize each other. If you can’t forget the things I did to you at 13, well, that’s kind of on you. If he was still alive, I’m sure he could give you a laundry list of things I did to him, but I don’t remember them, and none of them would post date 1983. If anyone suspects that I bullied him, and it affected his personality in such a way that he could never forgive me, I can only say this in my defense, this kid gave as well as he got. When my family would drive onto our block, he would have a special twinkle in his eye when he spotted me, knowing that we would be spotting his latest bit of carnage. When I saw how much he enjoyed this, I realized what I was up against, and I stopped. He didn’t, and he apparently didn’t want to let it go 35 years later.  

He Stuck a Foot Out!

Sports announcing is a cut-throat business. The candidates for the top jobs in sports announcing must be knowledgeable, but they must also have an extraordinary way to display excitement to win the job. I know that’s not an earth-shattering revelation, but when I hear a hockey announcer almost lose his lunch when a goalie sticks their foot out, I see the profession for what it is.

“HE STUCK A FOOT OUT! HE STUCK A FOOT OUT!” the announcer screams.

As we watch the replay about seven times, the color analyst speaks about the command the human being playing goalie has of his body, as if it’s something he’s never seen it before. “I hope the viewers at home recognize how brilliant this save was,” the analyst says with reverence as we watch it. “To have the wherewithal to know not only how, but when, to stick that foot out, you just can’t teach that. The goalie is in the zone, and he’s just playing on another level.”

As one who has never played hockey, I have to imagine that sticking a foot out is the very thing they teach goalies that when that goalie see a puck nearing the goal line. It is not our intent to diminish the athleticism it takes to play goalie in this piece. When a puck is traveling at a high rate of speed and the goalie has a center in front of him, trying to block his view, and that goalie gloves the puck, it’s impressive. Those of us at home know we probably couldn’t do that on a regular basis. When a wing flicks a puck to the goal and a goalie sticks his foot out to stop its progression, however, that’s just what we call sports.

The key to most sports (spoiler alert!) is to cross lines. The other people on defense don’t want the offense to do that, so they will use the parts of their body to try to prevent that from happening. The idea that a person puts a hand out to block a pass, and another puts a hand out to catch that pass can be brilliant at times, but most of the time it’s just a guy doing what he’s practiced for years. If an announcer can convince a viewing audience that it’s a brilliant display of athleticism, they will win the job.

Creativity in Tight Spaces

Some of my favorite moments of inspiration arrived in tight spaces. My manager put me on suspension. “Get your numbers up, in 90 days, or you’re gone!” he said. With my little world crashing down around me, inconvenient flashes of inspiration bombarded me. Some were so good that I felt required to write them down. A guy interrupted me with a question, and I thought his mannerisms were perfect character-driven piece. The inspiration for another piece arrived when another fella said goodbye to me. My mind was on fire when I heard a set of lyrics from a Sufjan Steven’s song, and those lyrics inspired a novel I would spend the next two years writing. These were all inconvenient interruptions that took time away from the moments I should’ve spent trying to get my numbers up, but I couldn’t stop them from pounding into my brain.

It wasn’t a great novel, it turned out, but the inspiration for it struck me during a very inopportune moment of my life. I’ve had these moments before, I think we all have. They’re the “You’re not supposed to think about that now” moments when creativity seems to flourish. I had an “in-class” friend one time. We engaged in “what you’re not supposed to do” fun in class, when the teacher wasn’t looking. We developed a temporary, very real bond misbehaving, but when we ran into each other in the hallway, we had nothing to say to one another, other than a conspiratorial “there he is” point. I used to love to make my brother laugh in church, with stupid, little in-jokes that would not have been funny anywhere else. We were having naughty, “You’re not supposed to do that here” fun that required subtlety and a deft hand to avoid getting caught. Was that what my brain wanted, with my job on the line and my boss watching every move I made? Regardless, my mind was on fire with naughty, “You’re not supposed to be thinking that now” thoughts that I would spend the next two years completing.  

I did manage to quiet the inspirations long enough to survive the suspension, and I spent the next five years juggling my need to be creative and the need to be productive for the company. I wouldn’t say that these tight spaces always resulted in creative inspiration, but I was never come that close to losing my job again, and I would never have that much inspiration flooding my brain either. 

Tennis Shoe Thomas


“They’re nice, don’t get me wrong,” a kid named Thomas said of the shoes I wore, “but why do you insist on wearing tennis shoes?”

Thomas was the only son of my dad’s friend, and his question came so soon in our introduction that it was almost a part of his greeting. He said the word tennis shoes with such disgust that I felt like a second-class citizen in them, before I knew what a second-class citizen was.  His question was framed in a manner that suggested he had known me for years, but this was the first time we met. His question also laid a depth charge that would detonate throughout the course of this evening in the form of a theme: There was something I had missed out in this whole definition of the pre-teen years, and in the preparation for the life beyond.

imagesThis kid’s confidence was difficult to mirror, and I didn’t.  I was caught off guard.  Had I been better prepared for his assessments, I would’ve mentioned the fact that I had no say in the matter.  I didn’t pick these shoes out, and I’d never given much consideration to preferences. I was a kid, my parents bought me tennis shoes, and I wore them. Second, I didn’t place much focus on what other kids wore, and I didn’t think anyone else our age did either.  That would’ve been wrong, of course, for there was always a “cool factor” to the shoes one wore.  The idea that tennis shoes were now deemed uncool as to be a tired element of the kid ensemble, however, had never occurred to me, or anyone else I knew for that matter.

It wouldn’t be the first time that my identity would be challenged, nor would it be the last, but this kid did a masterful job of placing me in a state of flux.  As soon as I formulated some half-hearted answer to one of these questions I had never been asked before, he was onto something else.  The purport of our conversation was that he had little time for me, because I was a kid, and even though I was only one year younger than him he preferred speaking to adults.

I took it as a personal insult that he preferred to speak to my parents, and that he gave the impression that my parents were more his speed, until my parents asked him how he was doing. I can’t remember the exact question my parents asked him, but it did not divert much from the typical “How do you like school?”  “Do you have a girlfriend?” questions adults ask pre-teen kids.  The typical response to such a question, we learn from our cool contemporaries, is to be polite but dismissive, with a heavy dose of the latter.

Not only was this kid respectful, he appeared to prefer the company of my parents before knowing anything about them. He also appeared to want to have them approve of him. It was so out of the realm of my experience that I was fascinated, after I determined that this kid was in full control of his facilities. His answer to my parents’ typical question consisted of a verbal flowchart of his path for life, built on various contingencies that he could not foresee at that point. It was impressive in a cute kind of way that suggested that his whole life had been geared toward getting his father to muss up his hair with pride. The tennis shoe question became clearer in that light. I thought he was trying to impress my parents to impress his all the more. Until, that is, he commented on my hairdo.

“That bangs thang isn’t working for you anymore,” he said after his mother all but shoved him out of the room. There were no adults around when he said that. He was the first boy I recalled meeting that had a hairdo. As I said, he was one year older than me, and I wondered if this kid was emblematic of what I’d be facing in a year.  He also had a girlfriend.

The girlfriend thang damaged the whole profile I had been building on him. I had been planning to tell all my friends about him, so we could laugh at this kid, and they could help me believe that he was the aberration that I thought he was. I knew the girlfriend thang would damage that presentation, for in the pre-teen world, having a girlfriend nullifies all prior deficits of character, unless he cherishes her.

If a kid our age was lucky enough to have a girlfriend, he was to be dismissive of her.  She was to be a fait accompli.  No one wanted to hear about the process you had to go through to get her, and those revelations often did more harm than good.  Her role in a young boy’s life, was one of adornment.  She should be nothing more than a badge of prestige that that boy wore on his sleeve.  Saying one had a girlfriend was more important than actually having one, in other words.  This Thomas kid loved having one.  He cherished her, a fact made evident by the fact that he enshrined her love letters in a central location, on a dresser, in his impeccably clean bedroom.

“She must really have it bad for you,” I said, looking at the size of that stack of letters.

A dismissive “yeah” may have been called for at this point to keep it cool between the fellas, but this Thomas kid didn’t say anything of the sort.  He said those letters were mostly responses to his love letters, and his plans with her. He informed me that the two of them were in love. He said he thought about her all the time, and he had a smile on his face when he said that, that my Great Aunt Mary Louise would’ve considered sweet.  He talked about the fact that he wanted her to be his wife one day.  He said that most of his letters detailed those long-term goals, and her letters were a positive response to that.  If that day never happened, he said in response to whatever doubts he perceived from me, he informed me that he would be just as happy with one kiss from her.

He had a deeper voice that he reserved for conversations with adults, a voice I presumed was an affectation he had developed to garner more respect from them.

“I prefer Thomas,” he said when I asked him if he went by Tom or Tommy. “My birth certificate says Thomas,” he said when I asked him what the fellas at school called him. “So, I prefer Thomas.

After his mother had all but physically pushed him out of the living room “So, the adults could talk”, and he was forced to play with me, he informed me that he did not want to play with his Atari 2600.  He then shot me a glance that suggested that I shouldn’t be so reliant on it for my entertainment purposes.

Thomas was such a violation of everything I held dear that I couldn’t tell if he had something I had missed out on, or if he was stuck in the same quadrant of self-defined cool that all the nerds in my class were.  This Thomas kid’s violations of everything I held dear went deeper than the nerdiest nerd in my class however.  He basically stated that he thought it sucked to be a kid.

Kids I knew hated being subjected to authority, going to school, eating vegetables, and some semblance of the idea that we weren’t older, but this kid hated everything about being a kid, even the good stuff.  This kid envied maturity, and the greater responsibilities that come from being older, and the whole idea of being older.  In me, I thought he saw all the trappings of being a kid, trappings that consisted of wanting to play, laugh and have fun.

I never saw Thomas after that day, so I have no idea if one of the paths on his flowchart panned out, but we spent most of that evening discussing how much Thomas had going on, and how much I’d missed out on by being such a kid.  My guess, now that I’m old enough to reflect on the people that shaped my life, both large and small, is that Thomas suffered from a debilitating case of only child syndrome.  My guess is that the reason the two of us focused on how much I missed out on was, in part, a defense mechanism he had developed to prevent us from focusing on how much he had missed out on.  My guess is that he didn’t suffer fools gladly, when fools, like me, may have been able to teach him how fun it was to be foolish at times, in these ever dwindling years in which it’s acceptable to be foolish. My guess is that he got so wrapped up in his solitude that he forced others out before they could approach his door.  My guess is that I was the reason that our family was invited over to their house, based on the need Thomas’ parents thought Thomas had for another kid to teach him there was another way of conducting one’s self as a child, a way other than the one his parents had taught him.  My guess, not knowing how Thomas’ life panned out, is that soon after one of the paths on his flowchart panned out, and he addressed all of the variables that he couldn’t foresee as a kid, he began wearing tennis shoes, playing Atari 2600, or whatever game system he had, to the point of immaturity, and that he began chasing all the youth he missed out on in his pursuit of responsibility, maturity, and greater impressions.