Old School

The winner of Harvard University’s 2006 Ig Nobel Prize was Howard Stapleton, who won for his Electronic Teenager Repellant. The Ig Nobel awards are given yearly to science achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. Mr. Stapleton’s winning invention produced an irritating noise only teenagers could hear (oh, if only rap held equal properties).

Apparently, my parents were Ig Nobel material. Dad had his own teenager repellent. Whenever he wanted a teenager-free day, he’d park the lawnmower on the front yard, and I’d disappear faster than my allowance. I’d wander the lonely streets of Goleta looking for images of Bob Dylan in oil slicks before I’d go home to mow the lawn. Mom employed the same genius with my sister. If she wanted peace and quiet, she’d pull out the vacuum cleaner (putting Burl Ives on the hi-fi helped too). And they could kill two kids...I mean birds, with one stone by telling us that Aunt Blanch was visiting. Indeed, they could enjoy a second honeymoon complete with ice cream if they’d let slip that Aunt Blanch might stay the weekend.

I read recently that many school systems are experiencing attendance problems. This doesn’t surprise me. When today’s kids stay home from school with their runny pierced noses or tattoo infections, they have computers, iPods and Sony PlayStations for entertainment. We had Monte Hall and Etch-a-Sketch. Even the food’s better today. While we had Campbell’s soup and olive loaf for lunch on sick days, kids today enjoy Hot Pockets and Dove bars. Just thinking about this makes me want to play hooky from work, only I don’t have a Sony PlayStation, and Lora would let a serial killer into our house before she’d allow in a Hot Pocket.

I never stayed home sick from school for two reasons – cod liver oil and rectal thermometers. As a young boy, I’d rather suffer silently through appendicitis than endure the embarrassment of the rectal thermometer, which with my overactive pubescent imagination seemed the size of a railroad spike.

Mom was big on cod liver oil. A sneeze – cod liver oil. A fever – cod liver oil. A ‘C’ in English – cod liver oil. If stricken with strep throat, I’d sooner swallow a shovel of gravel marinated in Tabasco than a teaspoon of cod liver oil.

There’s much talk today of video games and TV violence influencing our youth. Around the age of 8 all my neighborhood friends got BB guns. Shooting cans and our sisters’ backsides lost its luster quickly, but shooting each other...

We’d choose teams and march into the woods. Sometimes we’d play army, but mostly we’d play Cowboys and Indians. I always wanted to be an Indian because Indians got to go shirtless and barefoot, which was my preferred attire (this was before I knew of Hawaiian shirts). Someone would “borrow” lipstick from his mother for war paint and we’d whoop it up like Mel Gibson on firewater. I lobbied for the Indian name, Little Hawk, but they usually called me Burps Cod Liver Oil or Wipes With Poison Sumac. We made a rule that there’d be no shooting above the shoulders, but if a headshot was all you had, you took it. After all, this was a war to save sacred tribal land (and future site of a casino), and if an eye got put out occasionally, was not the cause worthy?

These BB-wars taught me two valuable lessons. The first was that with equal numbers and equally armed, the native Indians could’ve kicked some European interloper butt. Second, even though popular thinking might have us believe this kind of “fun” would turn impressionable boys into war mongers, it actually had the opposite effect on me. When I turned 18 and had the “opportunity” to go to Vietnam, I knew better. If an 8-year-old in the woods could shoot me with a BB gun, a Viet Cong guerrilla could sure as heck make Swiss cheese out of me with an AK-47.

This doesn’t mean that I think today’s parents should buy their kids BB guns and send them into the woods. It’s a different world after all (there are no woods left). However, I highly recommend parents give their children chores so they can enjoy their own teenager repellent occasionally. Furthermore, if only for the sake of full classrooms, throw away the cherry-flavored Robitussin and replace it with cod liver oil. And when your child complains of a fever on test day, break out a railroad spi...err, rectal thermometer.