Man, talk about an unexpected turn of events. Last week I stumbled onto the most surprising and astonishing discoveries to date in The Dangerous Quest:
Competitive belching. Pull My Finger. Indian rope burn. Ringing the doorbell of someone’s house and running away, aka Ring and Run or Knockout Junior. Rubberband fights. Spitballs. Prank calls. Secretly placing Saran wrap across a toilet bowl so that when someone goes to the bathroom … aw, you get the picture. Dog poop in a flaming bag (on someone’s doorstep). Lighting a match with your teeth or pants zipper. Riding strips of cardboard not just down a grassy hill, but also down the stairs of your house. Tossing firecrackers into the sewer to wake up the neighbors. Egging houses. Toilet papering a house (a common suggestion). Filling someone’s bathtub with instant mashed potatoes. Letting frogs loose in the community pool. Wet towel snapping in a locker room on someone’s bare bum. And on and on and on.
I plan to talk about all these activities, in all their glorious and inappropriate detail, but first let me explain how I came to hear about such things, and how innocently it started. The other night after dinner Gabe, Hank and Jennifer were playing Fish, and I sat down for a hand. After a few minutes Jennifer asked if we were going to teach her how to play Texas Hold ‘Em because she had missed out on our games a few weeks ago when I had shown the boys how to play poker. (See Playing Poker—And Dress-Up.) I brought out a jar of pennies for gambling, and each boy dealt and shuffled a couple of hands. I drew a terrific hand—a two-to-six straight—and raked in the last pot.
After we were done, just as a lark, I asked Gabe and Hank, “Wanna play 52-Card Pickup?” Both eagerly nodded their young, angelic faces. I had them cold. Two easy marks, aged eight and ten respectively, and they had no idea what I was about to do.
I held the deck in my right hand, bending it slightly, thumb on the bottom, middle finger on top, index finger pressing gently against the back with the top card facing out. Then I let ‘er rip, spraying the cards across the kitchen floor. The joke is, of course, that whoever agrees to play has to pick up the cards. The boys were absolutely delighted, laughing hysterically while Gabe ran around picking up the cards so he could do it too.
I was equally delighted-but also slightly aghast. “Haven’t you ever played 52 Card Pickup before?” I asked. Both boys shook their heads. “Don’t you have any bad influences down on the street corner teaching you these things?” I continued. “No,” they repeated. “Oh well,” I said with a laugh. “I guess that’s my job.”
If I wanted to go all sociological on you, I could talk about the deterioration of our neighborhood social structure and how young boys and girls today don’t play outside as much anymore because of the lure of electronic games and computers and because their parents are afraid to let them out of their sight because they might get snatched by a kidnapper. The idea of “free play”—kids just going outside to play with other kids in the neighborhood—has been largely replaced by “play dates” scheduled and organized in advance and usually being held inside the safety of the home or in the fenced-in backyard. But even if kids did want to play outside, where are they supposed to go? Here in suburban northern California where I live, there are precious few empty lots or open spaces left anymore, because real estate is so expensive and everything has been or is being developed. Even the parks, lovely and welcome as they are, represent another form of land development.
So kids in the neighborhood don’t play with other kids on the streets as much as they used to, and maybe that’s a good thing in some ways because cars and giant SUVs are whizzing by all the time and there truly are poisonous people out there, pushing drugs and destroying innocent hearts. But, on the other hand, when boys in the neighborhood aren’t playing outside with other boys, especially the older ones who teach some bad things but also many good things, how are the younger boys ever going to learn such inappropriate activities as arm farting?
I actually showed Gabe how to arm fart a few months ago, not as part of The Dangerous Quest but as part of the normal teaching that fathers do with their sons to prepare them for adulthood. I guess the experience was touching for me on some level because I wrote about it in a notebook. This is what I said:
“11/14. I showed Gabe how to do an arm fart this morning. Maybe there’s a more delicate way to say that: simulate a gaseous explosion by the use of the arms. Nah, that’s not right. An arm fart. Gabe started it by saying that Hank knows how to make farting sounds with his arm. Always the adult, I said, ‘So do I,’ and proceeded to do it. He wanted to know how, and this is what I told him: You stick your left hand under your right arm and make a sort of cup with your left hand to form an air pocket. Then you flap like a bird with your right arm and this blows air out of both sides of the cup that you’ve formed, producing the simulated gaseous eruption. Actually, there’s nothing gaseous about what you do; it just sounds like a fart. But Gabe couldn’t quite get it. He started out by placing his left hand flat on his armpit, which of course didn’t work. Then I took my shirt off to show him exactly how I did it. Then he took his shirt off too. I showed him how to cup his hand over the armpit, which actually is a natural indentation and thus the site of a perfect air pocket. Gabe did it once or twice but mostly struggled with the concept. He’s young. He’s got a bright future ahead of him. We’ll keep trying. I’m sure he’ll get it.”
Reading this now, I realize that I have not practiced arm farts with Gabe for months and have no idea what degree of competency he has achieved since our first lesson. We may need to work on that. Nevertheless, it did occur to me that there might be other inappropriate things that boys do that I might not know about, and so I decided to ask some of my friends for their suggestions. And, at that moment, things got wild.