Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Boys in Groups

Most boys in the 60's were shunted to some kind of youth group or another. Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Explorers, Indian Guides, Summer Camp, Bible studies, whatever. I was no different. Being at the total direction of peer and societal pressure as well as parental orders what would be would be.
My own first brush with organized groups of young boys was in Woodbury, NJ when I was in Kindergarten. This was my fathers weird attempt to bond with me and other boys and young fathers. God knows what popped into his brain to hatch this scheme. My father may be the least outdoorsy type on the planet. While he is athletic and loves sports he has no clue what to do in the wild. Camping is not something he would do unless all the houses and motels in the world burned down. But being a dutiful 50's father he dragged me to one or two groups of kids and dads where he participated in some oddball Indian like rituals and made crafty things. Then, much like his association with Catholicism, he stopped at the first chance he got.
Which brings me to Wenonah in 4th and 5th and 6th grades. I was a Cub Scout. Wolf Pack. God knows what group of Cub Scouts, it was a long time ago but I had a little blue and yellow uniform and a whittling knife and I went once a week with several other assorted losers to meet and whittle and learn woodcraft and dream of being Boy Scouts and living life in the woods. Cub Scouts is kind of strange because you don't ever camp out or cook over a fire or any of that shit. Instead you make stuff out of wood and leather and recite oaths and generally act like probably the biggest geeks on the face of the earth. I'll throw up a picture of me and my Pack for your perusal. You'll see what I mean.
The biggest nightmare for me in Cub Scouts was the Soap Box Derby. For this little exercise in humiliation you were given a balsa wood body of a racing car, two spindly metal axles, four tires and a couple decals and told to craft a racing car that would carry you and your Pack to glory in the Soap Box Derby. Let me be clear. This involved several skills at which I did not excel. Whittling or rather slicing off your fingers, painting (refer to the post on models), and design. I'm an artist not an engineer. This meant that even in the world of geeks I was a bigger geek.
My mis-applied decals, smeared paint job, hacked up hunk of wood would invariable finish last. Thank God. Till next year. The only time Cub Scouts got interesting was in Webelos. Webelos. What kind of nincompoop name is that for an organization? Fake Indian, like Wenonah, but rich in recently manufactured tradition. But at least in Webelos we learned actual shit you could do. Like tie knots or make a fire or cook food.
All of this would prepare me for the humiliation of Boy Scouting. Did I mention I wet the bed? Oops! Big problem on camping trips. After years of preparation, purchase of a nice green uniform, and cool induction into the local Boy Scout Troop, Troop 50 it would all go to shit because of one minor problem. That's right, I washed out on my first overnighter to Elk's Neck Campground in Maryland. Pissed my sleeping bag and out of humiliation, quit. I re-upped when I was 16 but that's for later on.
In the meantime there were of course many other boys organizations you could join that didn't require adult consent. "The He Man Woman Haters Club" for instance. Terry, Chris, and Gary started this one up. The high point of the club, after the scary oath was melting wax on your skin.
Years later in New Brunswick I had a roommate who did this for sexual pleasure. We did it because you could drip fire on your arm and it didn't set you on fire. It was just a little warm. So you looked brave but with little or no actual danger. Aside from setting the house on fire because in general we held our ceremonies in crawl spaces with poor ventilation and old dry wood just ripe for burning.
The nicest thing about all these groups was no matter who you were you always felt like you didn't belong. Cool. None of us felt like we belonged. I was wetting the bed and wheezing, Mick was struggling in school, Sam Stewart was fat, Tommy Wood was everything wrong. We were all broken and all trying to get in some group that would accept us. And they all did! Problem was we all still felt like geeks and losers. Thank God we've grown up. That's sarcasm. Or irony. I forget which.

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