The following was originally published (The Boise Weekly) November 27, 1997.
Put That Weirdness Down, Pumpkin …
You Don’t Know Where It’s Been
In my heart, I knew the day would come. I’ve dreaded its arrival since my daughter was born. I’ve done everything in my power to discourage it, to delay it, to avoid it entirely if that’s possible in such a world. But here it is. Lord help me, she just came home from school singing “Great Big Gobs of Greasy, Grimy, Gopher Guts.” Over and over and over.
Damn it! I was 11—at least 10—before I found out about “Great Big Gobs of Greasy, Grimy Gopher Guts.” Now they’re teaching it to eight-year olds!
* * *
Looking back, I’m pretty sure it started a couple of years ago or so. I remember driving along with her telling me about the evening before, which she’d spent with her grandmother. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I probably should have, but you know how it is with kids. They do rattle on, don’t they? Sometimes they do it with words, sometimes they do it with various body parts. Look at the new noise I can make, Dad. And all I need is some mayonnaise and my armpit!
When that happens, I have a tendency to drift off and think about other things, like maybe how much money I’m making, or maybe how much money I’m not making, but I gradually realized she’d slipped into a discussion of intestinal gas. My attention span did a couple of quick laps around the pool to perk up.
“It was this big,” she was saying. Her hands were spread out like she was trying to choke a soccer ball.
“What in the world … ” I asked, ” … are you talking about?”
“The burp I did last night at Gramma’s. I’m not kidding, Dad. It was … ooooh, I’d say a ten-inch burp! At least! Ask Gramma. She heard it.”
That should have told me something right then and there. When your child starts measuring belches in inches, a proper parent should know something foul is afoot.
* * *
A few months later, a first-grade classmate taught her some alternative lyrics to Barney’s song. You know about Barney, I’m sure. He’s a purple dinosaur about the size of Hulk Hogan and has a line of lunch pails of his own. He teaches kids things like how to tell time, how to share, and above all, how to be really, really nice. Dare I say, abnormally nice? Barney’s teevee show is sooooo sweet, diabetics can’t watch it.
Little kids love him, though. Among that crowd who’s still not sure if toilets are such a swell idea, Barney rules. From the time my kid was old enough to hold her head in one place, she’s loved Barney, and the first song she ever memorized was Barney’s song.
And a great song it is. Barney stole the melody from “This Old Man”—otherwise known as the “knick-knack, paddy-whack … give your dog a bone” song—but the lyrics are his. Straightforward, sincere, simple. Ira Gershwin couldn’t have said it better.
“I love you, you love me
We’re a hap-py fam-i-ly
With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you
Won’t you say you love me too.”
Tell me that ain’t sweet.
Then my girl comes home all excited about how her friend, Alicia (or Alysha … Allichau …Ahlejá … or whatever other mutant spelling a ’90’s parent can dream up) taught her a new set of words to Barney’s song. “I’m not kidding, Dad. It’s reeeeeeeeel funny. Listen …
‘I HATE YOU, YOU HATE ME
WE CHASED BARNEY UP A TREE
WITH A GREAT BIG GUN WE SHOT HIM IN THE HEAD
AREN’T YOU GLAD THAT BARNEY’S DEAD?’ Cool, huh?”
I should have yanked her little butt out of public school that very day.
* * *
And now, she’s dragging home “Great Big Gobs Of Greasy, Grimy Gopher Guts.” Jeez Louise, my kid is on the fast-track to selling tee-shirts at Marilyn Manson concerts.
I ask you, one parent to another, why are kids so attracted to morbid, sicko, yucky stuff? Why is it, given the choice between something wholesome and healthy (Bill Bennett’s Book of Virtues, let’s say) and something twisted and strange (R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books, let’s say) they’ll go with Mondo Bizarro every time? The uglier the underbelly gets, the more they seem to want to rub it.
Okay. I admit when I was a kid, for a while my favorite song was “The Worms Roll In, The Worms Roll Out, The Worms Play Pinochle On Your Snout.” And I whenever I came by enough refundable pop-bottle money to buy a comic book, I was 400 times more apt to get a Tales From The Crypt than an Archie. And I’d have rather watched a wolfman movie with the sound off than Father Knows Best in 3-D Smell-a-Vision. And if I had spent as much time earning merit badges as I did discussing the Loch Ness Monster and Sasquatch with my friends, I’d be President of the United States as we speak.
But I knew where to draw the line, didn’t I? When I was a kid, we knew the difference between what was acceptable weirdness and what was unacceptable weirdness. Yeah, we knew about vampires. Might have even put on some wax fangs and said “I vahnt to sahck your blahd” now and then. But we didn’t go out and start a damn vampire cult, for God’s sakes. Hell, no. We joined marching band, instead.
* * *
So what changed?
Not long ago, a father testified before Congress that his 14-year old son was so influenced by a band of skinny musicians, he took a gun and shot himself dead. This time, the skinny musicians in question were … who else? Marilyn Manson. But before Marilyn Manson, it was some rap performer stirring up controversy. Ice Pick, Iced Tea, Ice Spy … I can’t remember . He sang (if that is the proper description of what rap performers do) a song about killing policemen.
Before that, it was Kiss, doing their extraordinarily long tongue thing.
Before that, it was Little Richard, behaving like a lunatic on stage.
Before that, it was Louie Armstrong, not behaving like a white man on stage.
Before that, it was Scott Joplin, trying his best to behave like a white man on stage.
Before that, it was someone else.
There has never been a shortage of oddball musicians or actors or painters or thinkers who just can’t seem to get through life without jerking our chain, huh? Revolutionaries, malcontents, cynics, weirdos, ethnics … wouldn’t it be grand if culture could get by without ’em?
And we mature folks could get by without them, I’m sure. We mature folks have been through it. We’ve seen it all. Can’t surprise us mature folks. And if we’ve learned anything while getting mature and wise, it’s that art doesn’t have to shock to be good. Agreed?
Hell, art doesn’t even have to be noticed to be good.
Unfortunately, it seems to be the young who are by nature most attracted to the fringy pimples on society’s ass. We mature folks can pop ’em as soon as we see ’em, but our darn kids always seem to be one pimple ahead of us, isn’t that the truth? By the time Kipper Gore gets around to putting warning labels on one eruption, the darn kids are suckling from a brand new sour teat.
What’s a dad to do?
* * *
I have no answers. If I can’t keep my kid away from “Greasy, Grimy Gopher Guts,” who am I to offer advice? I am coming to believe we mature folks are up against something bigger than maturity. I am coming to believe that those darn kids share awareness in ways we’ll never understand, let alone stop.
Don’t ask me how it works, but if even one kid, anywhere, has been to see a Power Rangers movie, somehow or another all kids everywhere will instantly know what it’s about.
Beany Babies, there’s another example. Did you tell your kid about Beany Babies? And don’t look at me. I didn’t tell your kids about Beany Babies, either. But they know, don’t they? They just know.
You can observe something akin to it in the wild kingdom. If an anthill comes under attack, all the other ants, no matter how far from the hill they are, know of the attack and come running. A flock of pigeons zooming through the city will all simultaneously change directions. Is it extra-sensory perception? Is it the universal subconscious? Is it something electronic implanted in their heads in the post-natal ward?
Or this kung-fu karate Chuck Norris business: why is that every kid on the planet dreams of being a master at the ancient art of dislodging other human beings’ teeth? For example, about the time my daughter took up competitive burping, she also took to sneaking up on me from behind and assuming a Bruce Lee fists-of-death pose. Then she screams something—”HIEEE-YAHEEEE-AHSHOOOO! if I’m actually hearing what I think I’m hearing—and attacks.
Can you believe it? My own daughter—as sweet as flesh can get when she’s singing Barney’s lyrics—tries to kung-fu kick the crap out of me when I’m least expecting it!
It doesn’t hurt, but that’s only because she’s no good at it. It looks like her legs have the hiccups when she does it, and she always executes the actual kick about ten feet short.
But what if she gets good at it? And where’d she learn this stuff in the first place? Not from her mom or me. Hell, I have trouble getting my foot high enough to flush the urinals in public bathrooms, let alone kick someone in the chops.
And what makes her think flatulence is so damn funny? We didn’t teach her that, either.
It’s spooky, but I don’t think there’s anything we parents can do to stop it. Go spy on the most anti-pop culture, mega-paranoid, home-schooling clan you can find—one of those families that won’t have their children’s cavities filled for fear the metal might pick up a Madonna song—and if you watch long enough until the control-freak father leaves to see if the compound gates are locked and the mother goes to draw up tomorrow’s lesson plan from the Book of Revelations … if the kids are left by themselves long enough, you will hear them whispering the kid-cabal chant … “great big gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts … “
Eerie, ain’t it?
November 27, 1997