Small Boys: Reading, Writing — And Yucky

7-year-old-boy sticking out his tongue. Photo by BF Newhall.

My son Peter tuning up for schoolyard raunch. Photo by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall, September 13, 1987, The Oakland Tribune

Little Max is off to kindergarten for his first taste of the real world. What will he learn?

Dr. Seuss? Two plus two? Maybe.

“Jingle bells, Batman smells,

Robin laid an egg . . .”


“I was born in the U.S.S.R.

To blow up Mr. Reagan’s car.”

Yes. But if not that, then certainly:

“Robin’s in the kitchen.

Batman’s in the hall.

Joker’s in the bathroom.

Peeing on the wall.

Grossed out yet?

Max won’t be.

Two mischievous boys in an oak tree. Photo by BF Newhall.

Peter getting lessons in mischief from his cousin Derek. Photo by BF Newhall

Out on the schoolyard, young Max will finally get to indulge his taste for raunchy – and there isn’t much his parents can do about it.

Maybe they shouldn’t.

It was 7-year-old Derek who picked up those three ditties – during lunch hour at a public school comfortably nestled on a hillside of split-level redwood houses starting at $300,000.

When Derek started school he found his mentor in things gross in Randy, who is 9.

Randy’s parents also are college educated and spent their own pretty penny buying into this exclusive hideaway in the hills.

Let’s face it. Kids, some kids, naturally love raunchy jokes and songs.

If we want to hang tough, we can keep them from bringing the Mad Balls into the house. We can insist they not spend their allowances on Garbage Pail Kids cards. We can refuse to buy the slime pits, the gummy worms, the plastic barf and the plastic poop.

We can decline to send the birthday party guests home with miniature trash cans stuffed with – edible – dead fish, hot dogs and zap guns.

We can lay down the law at the tiny toy washing machine full of – edible again – dirty sox and Jockey shorts.

Those items are simply the commercial expression – some would say the commercial exploitation – of the juvenile mind’s affinity for the naughty.

What we can’t control is what gets discussed on the playground.

Geoff Dettlinger used to steal the pencils off my desk and break them with a single irreverent crash of the hand. That was in seventh grade back in Birmingham, Mich., at a time when $30,000 for a split level was considered a pretty penny.

Geoff, who now lives in Alamo and sells tractors at Western Traction Co. in Union City, used to read Mad Magazine during recess.

He adored the Mad spoofs of contemporary society. I thought Geoff and his raunchy magazine were sick.

Geoff, who wouldn’t be caught dead using a term like contemporary society, laughed at the ’50s era cartoon Cadillac wearing a Maidenform bra over its big, pointy bumpers.

He was amused by things like the championship diver landing with a flourish in the empty swimming pool, or Pronto burning the Lone Stranger at the stake.

“Yes, I still have a sick sense of humor,” Geoff assured me over the telephone, in a voice that no longer cracked when he laughed.

Seven-year-old boy-who-looks-like-alfred-e-newman. Photo 1988 by BF Newhall

I dunno. Sometimes Peter looks like Alfred E. Newman to me. Photo by BF Newhall.

We talked of his futile efforts to turn me into a Mad comics reader. “You thought it was wrong to laugh at that sort of thing,” he noted.

It’s true. I did then and still do deadpan at raunchy humor. I fail to see the humor in passed gas, noisy belches and flying lemon cream pies.

Andrew Sarris, film critic of the Village Voice, sheds some light on my knee-jerk distaste for slapstick humor. He offered it during a course in screenwriting I once took from him.

Women, he suggested, find little humor in the pie-in-your-face joke because, when all the yuks are yukked, it is they – the females of the race – who are expected to clean up the mess.

He’s right. What’s so funny, I ask you, about spending the next 20 minutes of your life on your knees with a washbucket?

Same thing with the passed gas, the noisy burp and the spoofs of such social niceties as eating one’s salad with a fork.

As mothers, it is up to us to civilize the adorable barbarians who are born to us.

They come out looking like frogs. As newborns, they behave more like banana slugs than members of species claiming to reflect God’s image. They eat, sleep, excrete and that’s it.

We do this, we women. We inflict polite ways and sanitary habits upon our beloved frogs and banana slugs because, without them, our children will not survive in society. Nor would society last long without a few key conventions.

Still, it’s tough being a banana slug in the process of becoming human. A little playground comic relief is to be expected.

So, when a certain kindergartener of my acquaintance – he requested anonymity – recited the following, I did not disapprove.

“Batman and Robin are flying in the air.

“Batman lost his underwear.”

Followed by:

“Mommy’s in the kitchen, burning the rice.

Papa’s on the corner, turning the dice . . . “

I managed a laugh.

“Welcome to the real world,” said Geoff.

Published with permission the Oakland Tribune

Andrew Sarris left the Village Voice long ago; the $300,000 split levels in Silicon Valley are going for more like $1.3 million these days ($3 million?), and the Garbage Patch Kids have surely given way to another clever, bestselling toy.

But some things never change. Mad Magzine lives on; I’m pretty sure I could still get my hands on some plastic poop or plastic barf if necessary, and Geoff Dettlinger is still a comedian — he emails me jokes from the Internet these days, some of them actually funny.

Meanwhile, here’s another story about “Max:” “When a Six-Year-Old Flies Solo.”


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