Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Olden Days

Boy, the way Glenn Miller played. Songs that made the hit parade. Guys like us, we had it made. Those were the days. And you knew who you were then, girls were girls and men were men.

- from "Those Were The Days", theme song of "All In The Family"

Yes, yes, I admit it. I am Edith Bunker in disguise.

It ain't easy being 40 years older than you appear to be. A friend with whom I used to work in radio, a friend old enough to be my father, used to call me 'grandpa' because of my penchant for telling "in my day" stories. "In my day, musicians didn't wear all this black eye shadow, and black lipstick, singing about suicide all the time. The guys wore women's makeup and teased their hair five feet in the air, and they liked it. They LOVED it!" I didn't mind being called grandpa by a guy who actually was a grandpa. But having your kid point out your age is something completely different.

We are fortunate in that our first-grader not only loves to read, but also that she reads on a fifth-grade level. I am fortunate in that one of her favorite authors is Dan Gutman. Mr. Gutman is near and dear to my heart for a book he wrote prior to his sterling career as a children's book author, a baseball book called "It Ain't Cheatin' If You Don't Get Caught." The book came in handy during another time in my life, as it gave detailed instructions on the "gamesmanship" aspects of our national pastime. I learned the proper way to throw a spitball, which substances work best (K-Y, well, it worked best for me), the proper technique for a "scuff" ball, and if I ever got to play in a wood-bat league, I would have been able to cork with the best of them. Of course, nowadays I would never advocate cheating in baseball. Never. If I were you, I wouldn't let myself within a mile of your kid's Little League team.

Mr. Gutman later moved away from cheaters and into kid's literature, and his "Weird School" series is hilarious. The books are supposed to be funny to me because they are written for boys, yet my little girl loves them, which is both fun and disturbing. The "Weird School" books depict second-grade boys as, well, second-grade boys. They are usually mean to the girls in the class, they burp the alphabet, they refer to the school's cafeteria as the "vomitorium", and they say the word "butt" as many times as possible because it is the funniest word in their vocabulary. When you think about it, they aren't all that different from fifth-grade or 10th-grade or 38-year-old boys. Naturally, this means the first-grader would not exactly be a hit at an old-Savannah proper ladies' tea. "What would you like in your tea, my dear?" "Your butt!"

This week, we did not have a "Weird School" book to read at night before bedtime, as the first-grader had already read all of those available at our local library. Thinking she might be up for something different, I checked out what I thought was a very nice book about Harriet Quimby, the first woman ever to acquire a pilot's license and the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel. We had read it once already, but when I suggested it again to my little girl, I was rebuffed. Okay, I said, how about this book from the "American Girl" historical fiction series that my wife had picked out as a Christmas gift in an attempt to interest the first-grader in something other than bodily functions. "I don't like it," I was told. "It's too real." When I asked her what she meant, she told me, "I don't like books about the olden days. The olden days are....boring!"

Ouch. For someone whose idea of a good time is to listen to scratchy 1920's jazz records..errr, mp3's or to watch a Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire movie for the 174th time, that was like getting belted by Bluto before being able to pull the can of spinach out of my shirt. Knowing that my little girl loved to watch the dance scenes from those movies, I reminded her that Gene and Fred were from the 'olden days.' She smartly replied, "yeah, but I only like the dancing. When they just talk, it's.....boring." I sarcastically suggested that I guessed everything was boring unless it included 'chicken butt' jokes, people shaking their butts, and everyone referring to each other as "dumbhead." Her eyes lit up, a smile slowly formed, followed by a simple but effervescent "yeahhhhhh." I should have known that sarcasm and Asperger's mix about as well as Tiger Woods and monogamy.

Perhaps one day, my little girl will appreciate the olden days. Then again, perhaps she will offer her own unique take on history, writing reports on the American revolution that feature George Washington accepting the surrender of Lord Cornwallis by exclaiming, "nah nah nah nah boo boo on you", and Benjamin Franklin shaking his butt at King George (which quite possibly could have happened). Perhaps her project on the first moon landing will include Neil Armstrong's historic words "Houston, guess what? Chicken butt!" Perhaps I will be able to talk her teachers out of flunking her, pointing out her wondrous creativity and that, in a hypothetical bizarro world, her take on the olden days could have happened. But it won't be easy.

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