- Ward Cleaver's Prozac Fever

wild, wild webelos

For us dads, there is only

one thing more frightening than

anesthesia-free vasectomy ---

more bone-chilling than changing

a diaper prodigiously loaded with

number two --- more horrifying

than hongry lawn grubs shackin' up

in the ol' Kentucky Blue.

That, dear dads, is the

time-honored terror of Scouting.

Scouting is an esteemed, and for

impressionable boys, even awe-inspiring

tradition steeped in honor,

service and duty. And yet, for eons,

Boy Scouting has littered the

parental landscape with dads frazzed

and laid to waste, who in their

knot-tying, racer-building fugues

wind up reduced to sniveling, puling,

protoplasmic blobules.

Its insidious beginnings always

seem innocuous enough.

The demon invitation flyer comes home,

like critically important math papers,

bally and crumply and smeary in your

kid's Eastpak. He's out of breath

with the promise of the sheer excitement

of the Scouting Experience.

There is a peculiar Komsomol light in his eyes.

Even the smartest dads detect these

tell-tale warning signs only in hindsight.

The prospect of honest-to-gosh

Wally & the Beav quality time with

junior, and the eminently bankable

brownie points you'll score

with the missus are the siren songs of

Scouting sign-up.

You blink three times and suddenly find

yourself writing a check in an ancient

fallout-shelter-green gymnasium that

smells suspiciously like tinkle,

as the Cubs, Bears and Webelos run wild

with the newbies amongst the gutter regatta

demos and award-winning

igneous rock collections.

I had been deprived of the experience as

a child. Back in my pre-pubescence,

when dinosaurs roamed the earth,

moms had to do the den mother thing,

taking turns hosting the feral Scouting

horde, sating them with Fresca or "Little Tom's"

and plenty of it, all waiting, hoping,

praying for the blessed scientific discovery

of Ritalin. As such, there was no way it

was gonna happen in my house. So instead,

your favorite pre-dad would glom onto the

local Cubbie pack as a guest here and there,

hiking along weed-choked "Stand By Me"

train trestles in my civvies with the

uniformed mob, eating frozen Oscar Mayer

weenies with our hands and joking collegially

about pooping and the yuckiness of girls

and the like.

It was heaven.

But you had to be fully-fledged to do

the coveted overnighters, so all this pre-dad

could do was yearn silently and

camp out in the backyard with my noodnik

friends in a sad approximation of

The Scouting Experience.

Not that this was completely without merit.

The crotchety geez in the next yard

who'd keep our errant baseballs and

basketballs would always get his just

desserts on these faux-Scouting forays.

We'd drink up copious amounts of Yoo-Hoo

and Pepsi and poison his prized

Better Boy tomato plants with our super-

ammoniated pee under the summer stars as

he slumbered. Or we'd pinch a coupla

half-smoked cigs from household ashtrays

to make delay fuses for M-80s, which we

would set to ignite just inside the

all-night laundry, where the ancient widowers

would congregate for late-night commiseration

of their many miseries, trade laundering

tips, and foul themselves mightily when

the M-80 finally blew as we chortled

and snorted uncontrollably across the street.

But it just wasn't Scouting.

Not the way we idealized it --- the way

it was in the Flintstones episode where

Fred and Barney take Wilma and Betty camping

in a secluded park only to wake up the next

morning in the middle of an international

Boy Scout Jamboree. You know, the one where

at the end, the whole Jamboree visits Fred

and Wilma back in Bedrock and Fred gets on

his roof like the Beatles did in "Let it Be"

and he does a sing-a-long thing.

Now, a full thirty years later, I had my

chance, albeit a vicarious one.

Here comes my kid with some

popsicle stick, bead-n-feather thing

from his den meeting with another flyer (yipe)

announcing an overnight camp-out on

nothing less than the U.S.S. Little Rock,

a gen-yoo-ine World War II battleship

now permanently berthed along with a

decrepit submarine and some other floating

war-thing in the Buffalo Naval & Servicemen's Park.

Fifty bucks each.

Meal included.

How can you miss?

So my kid and I pack up and shuffle off

(you KNEW that one was coming, I'd guess).

Manly sleeping bags stowed in the trunk,

the bare necessities of toiletry all

in our traveling luggage (matching blue

recyclable convenient store bags), we

pick up a pint-sized pal and his dad

and set off in our environmentally-conscious

carpool on the Big Bear Trail to Buffalo,

four hours distant, for my son's

outdoor achievement credit and my own

long-awaited Official Overnight

Scouting Experience.

First off, I don't know the guy I'm driving

with from Adam, except that he's a

joke-crackin' good-old-boy-kinda cop

from my 'burb. As the kids' Game Gear

beeps and bleats in the back seat, I get

to make four hours worth of small talk

with a guy who's never said much more

to me than "I'll pick my kid up at five"

out the window of his V-ger mini-van.

So we talk about all of the captivating

stuff dads talk to each other about:

"Nice car."


"Get good mileage?"


"Runs good?"


Three hours, fifty-nine minutes,

fifty seconds to go, which I reckon to

be around 5-thousand bottles of beer

on the wall.

We finally do get to Buffalo, of course,

and by the time we pull in to the Naval Park,

dads being the social beings we are, we are

fast friends, conversing with ease on a broad

range of topics:

"Made good time."


"Get good mileage?"


The U.S.S. Little Rock may've won the battle,

but after fifty years it has clearly lost

the war. Its shabby, rusted hulk towers above

us in the cold October drizzle. Some guys in

uniform-store clothes, not quite

military and not quite rent-a-cop, wave our

car into a parking area secured by a 16-foot

galvanized fence topped with

roll upon roll of barbed wire.

"Lock yer car,'s kinda a

bad part a' town over here."

It didn't go down this way in Bedrock.

The guy I carpool with opens the trunk,

takes his kid Ian's sleeping bag out,

and starts rifling feverishly through my car.

"Ian, where'd you pack MY sleeping bag?"

The bag, naturally, never made it out of

Ian's foyer back home. I was able to offer

my new pal the skungey sheet I stow in my

trunk that I parade out when my kids eat

ice cream in the back seat. He took it

gratefully, brown spots and all.


"Uh-huh," I answered, glad to help, and

up the gangplank we went.

Inside the esteemed fighting vessel,

the visible air was acrid with the rank

sweat of hundreds of little banshee scouts

from the U.S. and their beret-wearing

brethren from the Great White North, superimposed

on the half-century stink lingering from the

ghosts of navy men who hot-racked in the

triple-decker bunks to make more space for

Nazi-blasting ammo. The Canadian Scouts wore

neatly pressed uniforms. The American Scouts

sported any old slob thing with the requisite

light-up-at-the-sole, state-of-the-art foot

gear. But they all screamed together in a

grating 150db din.

The scouts get to help cook of course,

and tonight's specialty was salmonella chicken

with the skin still attached, to keep the

bacteria from cooking out, I guessed.

There was an abundance of flaccid yellowy

peas from cans original to the Little Rock,

and Elmer's gluey-mashed potatoes.

The chocolate milk flowed freely.

The fetid trash cans steeped nearby,

overflowing with effluvia.

I could feel the Scouting Magic doing its stuff.

We were herded through the drizzle into a

souvenir shop where you could buy

wildly overpriced commemorative patches for

Scouting uniforms and other marked-up

cheap-a-zoid bric-a-brac.

Mourning the "no-alcohol"

rule imposed on the accompanying dads,

I bought a hopeful looking shot glass

bearing a handsome color rendering of the

Little Rock for ten or twelve dollars.

I waited and waited for the wallet-making

session or for the Little Rock's

Captain Binghamton to tour us around that

austere and rusting monument to valor, but

in the end it was a show of Scout hands deciding,

in the democratic Scouting tradition we have all

come to revere, whether to watch "The Land Before

Time" or "Iron Eagle."

The mercenary little men,

as you may have deduced, chose the latter.

With oozy caramelizing pizza at only 4 or 5 bucks

a slice and a VCR, the floating Jamboree

crammed into the darkened mess hall to get

their ninja-kicking ya-ya's out.

When the last screen credit and the

final tracking noise line rolled by on the video,

when the last bit of mozzarella pizza-goo

dropped, congealing to the floor,

when the last dad had drunk the last bit

of the janitor-in-a-drum-strength

Joe, it was lights-out on the Little Rock.

The Experience was only beginning.

The three-tiered bunks were constructed

of steel impervious to Axis attack.

Top-rack clearance from "bed" to ceiling

was 18 inches and wasn't much

better between the lower two bunks.

Those dads addled with beer bellies

need not apply. The sailors of old musta

had their growth stunted by the

high seas, or diet over the intervening

years changed boomer DNA,

as at only 6'2", I found my

legs hanging out of the steely bunk

almost up to my calves. The cold from

the unheated windowless space in

the Buffalo night superchilled the metal

of the bunks and permeated every

square centimeter of my

K-Mart $19.97 sleeping bag.

Kids Darth Vader-dueled with flashlight beams,

bunk-jumping and yowling in a

sustained, shrilly clamor. Some wept.

One sliced a digit whittling soap

with a Scout knife sending a dad off

into the cold, drizzly night in search of

a doc-in-the-box. Other dads,

(you know the kind), were already zee'd out,

including my cop friend, who was

wrapped tight on his steel slab in my

rocky-road-stained trunk sheet, snoring

and emitting propellant flatulent

blasts into the stagnant air.

By 4 or 5 in the morning, the din had

calmed to a fairly rhythmic buzzing of

snores in every timbre, punctuated only

by my own tossing and turning

and ceaseless repositioning.

As blessed sleep finally began to

take me from that pernicious place,

I shot bolt upright with the alarming

shriek of a Scout three bunks away.

A flashlight clicked on, and I could

make out a dad drop from his rack,

trying to comfort his kid, whose mournful

wails not only persisted, but spiraled

into a frightful crescendo whose climax came

five minutes later with the all-too

familiar sound of Mr. Upchuck.

Calling Ralph and Earl.

Driving the Porcelain Bus.

Psychedelic Yawn.


Call it whatever your will,

but in that already-reeking room in

the U.S.S. Little Rock with not one window

hatch, two or three tons of pepperoni

pizza made a rather unwelcome reappearance

along with assorted mutinous stomach acids.

The crackly room speaker began to blurt a

warbly recording of "Reveille."

I got good mileage on the way home

the next day. My son got his Bear

Trail credit. A number of months passed

before either of us could even

consider ordering a slice at the food court.

As a result of that spray and

spew, it seemed that on some level of

mutual repulsion, father and son had

bonded, dear friends.

And isn't that really

what Scouting is all about?

Last "dads"
Past "dads"

2003 Arhythmiacs
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