I Arched Before Arching Was Cool

Sorry, Katniss Everdeen. Sorry, Merida Whatever-your-last-name-was.

You may be role models for today’s girls who, it is said, are taking up archery in record numbers.(1) But I was there first.

It all started in a 5,000-watt radio station in Fresno, California…. No wait, it didn’t. That was Ted Baxter.(2) Rewind. Push play.

It all started down the street from our house, where one of our neighbors set up an archery target by his garage, stood at the end of his driveway, and practiced his Errol Flynn Zen.

All the neighbor kids gathered round. After all, it was way more interesting than watching the other neighborhood dads mow their lawns or build concrete birdbaths.

When I showed interested, my father, who approved of all things martial (if not artsy), bought me a kid’s bow.

And what a bow it was! What’s called a traditional longbow (though a very, very short one). It was made of pink and white fiberglass, swirled in a candy mint pattern, with a red grip and arrow rest. It was a girlie bow, but it was a real, honest-to-goodness functioning one.

I spent many happy hours taking potshots at a gun target(3) taped to he side of the garage(4). And walking back and forth to collect the arrows. This is what passed for exercise in my youth, and is more than I get these days.

Dad got me accessories too, like the arm guard and the shooting glove. The arm guard is an absolute necessity. Just whang the inside of your left arm with the bowstring once because you weren’t holding the bow properly, and you’ll know what I mean. At least six inches of burning, stinging scrape-bruise. If you don’t have an arm guard, keep lots of ice packs handy.

I .

Fast forward a decade or so, and there I was at college, in the field for my second time through a class in Intermediate Archery. (There was no Advanced Archery, so I had to keep cycling through Intermediate to make my required number of gym credits.(5))

“Who has never shot a bow before?” the instructor shouted.

I raised my hand. She rolled her eyes.

There had been a fair amount of eye-rolling on her part. One day I showed up for class wearing a forest green wool cape and a matching Robin Hood hat.(6) I did not bring the pink bow, as it would have clashed hideously. (I would still have my candy-ass pink bow today, except that over the years, the fiberglass shredded.) The school had better bows, in sensible colors.

On rainy days we stayed inside and learned to fletch. (Fletching means putting the feathers on the arrow’s rear end (the non-pointy end, right in front of the nock, which is the little notch that the bowstring fits into). (Isn’t vocabulary fun!)

We even learned to make “frou-frou” arrows(7), which a 1958 Boy’s Life magazine says have “air brakes.” What they really had were big, fluffy, silly-looking feathers. The advantage of frou-frou arrows was that they would fly a certain distance, then stop abruptly, point directly down, and impale themselves in the ground. The perpendicular shaft and fancy feathers made the arrows easy to find when you missed the target. Which we did. Often. We didn’t have those fancy modern bows with bowsights and scopes and assorted sniper-rifle attachments in those days. Which is definitely a good thing, or I might have become an arrow-sniper instead of a writer/editor.

And if that didn’t work out for some reason, at least I could always survive in a post-apocalyptic dystopia or cartoon Scotland. Who else do you know that can say that?

(1) Record numbers are not necessarily big numbers, you understand.
(2) Bonus points for identifying this reference. Double points if you don’t have to Google.
(3) We could have bought archery targets, but honestly, there were a lot of gun targets lying around our garage, just waiting for holes to be made in them.
(4) Later in life, my husband practiced with shuriken by sailing them at the side of our garage. He broke a window.
(5) In those days, universities could still force you to take gym. We had to take at least four semesters, and by the end of it, you had better know how to swim, unless you already knew how to swim and tested out of it. This was actually a reasonable requirement, since sliding downhill on cafeteria trays was a popular recreational activity, and at the bottom of the hill was a large lake.
(6) My mother made them for me. She had a definite whimsical side. Once she made me a camouflage flannel nightgown (neck-to-toes style). I wore it to the office Halloween party and claimed I was dressed as “Granny Rambo.”
(7) I am not making this up. There really are such things and they really are, or at least were, called that. Modern archers may have decided to butch up the name.

Advertisements

The Worst Sex-Ed Book. Ever.

Dr. Seuss is my all-time favorite author of children’s rhyming books. He did not write a sex education book.(1)

Shel Silverstein took over from Seuss as my favorite children’s poet. He did not write a sex-ed book either.(2)

IMHO, no one has equaled those two in writing rhyming books for children, though many have tried. Lord, how they’ve tried. And for the most part, failed miserably.

I once edited a magazine called Early Childhood News, which was intended for an audience of child care center owners, directors, and possibly staff. It was occasionally entertaining.(3) I got a lot of children’s books to review.(4)

Which is where the sex-ed and the poetry come in.(5)

One day an amazing book came across my desk. It was titled How Dad and Mother Made Your Brother, which should have been my first clue.

The book was obviously self-published. To say that it lacked the services of a professional editor and a professional illustrator would be a charming understatement.

The text was written (and illustrated) by a real medical doctor, so I guess that was one up on Dr. Seuss, but it didn’t help. The main characters were – I’m not kidding – Stanley Sperm and Essie Egg.

One memorable illustration(6) showed Stanley and Essie sitting on a bench, courting, I suppose. As I recall Essie had long eyelashes and Stanley had either a top hat or a bow tie. Maybe both. Behind them was the gate to a park, with a sign identifying the location as “Cervix.”

You can probably tell from the bow tie and the park bench that scientific accuracy was not the author’s primary concern. Also, Essie and Stanley were the same size.(7)

And now we get to the poetry. Here’s a sample. The author was attempting to tell where Stanley Sperm had lived, before he met the coy and comely Miss Essie. Somewhat confusingly, it seemed that Stanley had come from one or the other of two towns:

The towns are both named “Testicle”
and they look like two round eggs.
They’re not located on a map,
but between your Daddy’s legs.(8)

Do I have to say I did not review the book? (I thought not.)

I kept it for a time, though, to show disbelieving friends. And possibly as the basis for a party game, with each person reading aloud from it until exploding with laughter, when it would be passed on to the next reader.(9)

Of course, given the sex-ed books currently used in schools, there may be other texts out there that are just as bad, or at least as inaccurate. But for sheer unintentional awfulness, How Dad and Mother Made Your Brother has won its place in the annals of scary books that will make kids never want to have sex. Ever. That being the point of most sex education in schools anyway, as far as I can tell.

(1) That we know of. He did write advertising, so who really knows where he drew the line?
(2) Though he certainly could have. He’s the author/artist of Different Dances and the songwriter of “Don’t Give a Dose to the One You Love Most.”
(3) The ad sales department once insisted I add a column about food, as they desperately wanted to attract Lunchables as a client. Yeah, right. Lunchables. For child care centers. I had no choice in the matter, except for the title of the column, which I made as repulsive as possible – “Food Digest.” Well, it amused me, anyway, even if no one else noticed.
(4) Also, sometimes companies sent me samples of toys they hoped I would promote in the magazine. Not sex toys, though. I also received, for some reason, an anti-circumcision newsletter. I used to count the number of times the word “foreskin” appeared in it, just to look busy.
(5) You were starting to wonder, weren’t you? Go on, admit it.
(6) I’ve been told that only shock treatment will erase it from my memory.
(7) Reminder: The author went to medical school and, presumably, graduated.
(8) I hope that’s enough of a sample, since it is the only verse I memorized. I do recall that the conception scene would have been a real production number, had the book ever made the transition to film.
(9) With bonus points awarded for imitating the voice of Bullwinkle the Moose or possibly Daffy Duck.

The Day I Brought Bullets to School

I grew up in a house surrounded by guns and bullets.1 After we moved to Ohio, squirrels were no longer on the menu, but in my youth, my Kentucky uncles would shoot squirrels and rabbits and the occasional woodchuck. So I had tasted all of those, usually fried in lard by my maiden aunt, who was for some reason called “Pete,” rather than “Edna Mae,” which was her real name.2

So steeped in gun culture was my family that my father gave my mother a single-shot rifle, which was nicknamed “Grandma,” for their first anniversary. Both of them later became certified rifle and pistol instructors. At age 12 my sister and I both received .22 rifles. We were a well-regulated little militia – three generations worth, if you count “Grandma.”

As if guns weren’t enough of a hobby, Dad also had a thing for bullets. And when I say “thing,” I mean a reloading tool. He would collect spent .38 cartridges (known as “brass”) from the rifle range. He would then put them on a machine operated by a lever that would, depending on the setting, straighten out the cartridges, seat a primer in the bottom, add the appropriate amount of gunpowder, and grease and seat a bullet,3 which was then ready to repeat its journey and reincarnate as empty brass. It was an early form of recycling that for some reason environmentalists never talked about.

Dad also had a hand tool that would reload a single bullet. It looked something like a Bedazzler, only more butch and greasier.

As I entered my teen years, I became more reluctant to spend my Saturdays on the father-daughter bonding experience of going to the rifle range. The smell of cordite in the morning was no longer so alluring. Guns were his hobby, and I was finding my own. Admittedly, crossword puzzles and Star Trek reruns would be less useful than target shooting after the zombie apocalypse, but the prematurely resurrected were not yet on the horizon.

When I was solidly ensconced in my teens and encountered high school, one of the educational exercises they inflicted on us was doing demonstration or “how-to” speeches in front of our English classes. It was a more sophisticated version of show-and-tell, with fewer goldfish. I don’t remember any of the other demonstrations, but mine was reloading bullets. It did nothing to lessen my reputation for oddity.

I took the hand reloading hand tool, an empty cartridge, a spent primer, and powder. I Bedazzled my way through all the steps, happy in the knowledge that, though I gave an entirely valid how-to demonstration, it would be utterly useless to the class.4

It’s worthwhile noting that I did not bring actual gunpowder to school. Instead I substituted iced tea powder.5

It got me an A. These days it would get me handcuffed and tasered.

1. The house was not surrounded by commandos with guns and ammo. The guns and bullets were in the house.
2. She got riled up if anyone called her Edna Mae. Admittedly, that still doesn’t explain the Pete. It caused some confusion when a neighborhood friend went visiting with us and in telling her mother about it, casually mentioned, “I slept with Pete.” She then had to explain (and quickly), “Oh, mother, Pete’s a girl!”
3. He made the bullets himself, too. He had a big chunk of lead, and he would melt it down and pour it into molds. (My mother made him do this outside, which was a Good Thing, because of the fumes and our tender, growing brains.) For those bullet-techies out there, what my Dad made were “wad-cutters,” a flat-nosed bullet used for target shooting. He sometimes substituted wax for lead and made lighter loads for starter pistols.
4. Maybe some of them are Doomsday Preppers now and wish they’d paid attention.
5. Which is ironic, considering how much I loathe the Tea Party and open-carry enthusiasts.

Moonshine Fantasy

Watching Chopped on Food Network, I noticed that all the baskets contained some kind of moonshine and that the guest judge was from Outback Steakhouse.

Math may not have been my best subject, but I can put one and one together and usually come within spitting distance of two or thereabouts. I said to myself, “Self, I bet Outback is having some kind of moonshine promotion.”

I was right. Within a couple of days I began seeing the commercials. I have also seen “moonshine” for sale in the liquor stores. This is just wrong. The wrongness of it rattled around in my brain and caused this vision.

Me [in Outback Steakhouse]: Any specials today?

Server [perkily]: Why, yes! We’re featuring our new Moonshine Entrees!

Me: Tell me about them.

Server [still perky]: Each of our superb meats has been infused with the authentic flavor of moonshine!

Me: You mean it tastes like airplane glue and smells like kerosene?

Server [puzzled]: Why, no! It’s a sweet rich flavor that enhances all our dishes.

Me: So where do you get your moonshine?

Server [resuming perkiness]: It comes from our warehouse on the weekly truck so you now that every batch is fresh!

Me: Yeah, that’s about how long my uncle used to age his. But he kept it under the corn crib instead of in a warehouse.

Server [still trying]: We make sure the quality is consistent and always imparts that special moonshine kick!

Me [impressed]: So you know that it always causes the jake-leg wobbles and the blind staggers?

Server [beginning to fold]: Really, I don’t think…

Me: Yeah, that’s the other good thing about moonshine. After your kidneys shut down, it goes to your head and you can’t think.

Server [losing it]: Perhaps you should see the manager.

Me: If I can still see her, it ain’t the best moonshine.

Server [nearing tears]: It’s really nothing like that!

Me: Then you’re obviously not using my uncle’s recipe. It was a big hit at all the family reunions. He’d get plumb crazy and start firing off his single-shot rifle. Gives a person a sporting chance. Not like those AR-15s everyone has nowadays. Tell me, is this an open carry state?

Server flees, returning with the manager, who gives me a coupon for a free dinner. At the Olive Garden.

Of course, I wouldn’t really do any such thing. For one thing, it would be mean, and for another I can’t really afford to eat at Outback. And of course the dialogue probably wouldn’t go as I imagined. And I’d be thrown out on one of my ears.

But still…

Time Flies Like an Arrow

…and fruit flies like a banana.

But right now I have a different kind of arrows on my mind – the kind you shoot from a bow.

Thanks to Brave and The Hunger Games, archery is gaining a reputation as an acceptable pursuit for young women. And I say yay to that!

(Let’s be clear here. I’m talking about shooting arrows at non-living targets. Ted Nugent can have the bow-hunting, as far as I’m concerned.)

It would be wrong to say that archery is my favorite sport. It is, in fact, if not the only sport I like, pretty close to it.

I was introduced to archery pretty early. A man who lived down the street set up a target in front of his garage and shot at it from the end of his driveway. The neighborhood kids, including me, gathered to watch. It was way more interesting than watching someone’s dad practicing putting.

My father, being a proponent of target shooting (with firearms in his case), approved and supported my interest. In fact, he bought me a bow and some arrows.

It was a child’s bow. In point of fact, a girl-child’s bow. Pink-swirled fiberglass like a candy cane, with a red handle. And though pink was never my favorite color, I loved it.

I practiced with it and actually improved. I acquired accessories: a shooting glove and an arm guard. (The arm guard is to keep you from whanging your delicate inner arm with the bowstring. Doing this will result in intense pain, bright redness, and ice packs. And then you get an arm guard and make sure your arm is bent just a little at the elbow.)

My mother, who was given to sewing and whimsy, made me (at my request) a forest green wool cape and jaunty matching hat. No, no pictures exist.

When I got to college, I discovered that students were required to take four semesters of gym. One of them had to be swimming, which I faked my way through, but among the other offerings was Intermediate Archery. There was also Beginning, but no Advanced. So I took Intermediate. Twice.

It was lots of fun. On rainy days we stayed inside and learned to make arrows – one, a fancy kind that would fly a certain distance then suddenly turn straight down with its point embedded in the ground so you could find it easily by the colored streamer-like fletching (feathers).

If you know me, you know what came next. I had my mother send me the cape and the hat, and wore them to class. The teacher, who after two semesters was used to me, just rolled her eyes and said not a word.

But for one brief hour, I was Robin Hood.

I Hate Party Games!

I hate sales “parties” – those occasions when friends and acquaintances invite you over and try to sell you candles or kitchen supplies or lingerie. They shouldn’t be called parties at all. It offends my sense of proper definitions.

(I dodge these on principle anyway. At one place I worked, there was a lot of “You went to Norma’s make-up party but you didn’t come to my bath products party.” If I didn’t go to any of them, everybody could get pissed off at me equally.)

I hate shower “parties” too – weddings, impending parenthood and the like. They cause me massive anxiety, especially when they involve gift giving.

I did go to one wedding shower that I enjoyed. It consisted of cake, drinks, presents, and conversation. We had fun instead of being forced to simulate fun.

Most all, I hate party games. They are boring. They are dopey. Often they are embarrassing. Once I started refusing to play the games, people stopped inviting me to those sorts of parties, which was fine with me.

It’s impossible to escape party games entirely, of course, if you work for a company that goes in for mandatory collegial jollity. I work freelance at home now. I have my own little parties for me, my husband, and the cats.

One party game I encountered at an unavoidable party simply astonished me. The hostess had hidden toothpicks around the house in various unobtrusive locations – lurking on window ledges, nestled in lamp bases, perched on baseboards – and the guests were challenged to find all of them in a certain amount of time.

She is the only person I know who ever had guests play that particular game. She’s the only person I know who would even think of playing that game. The mind boggles.

Even if I gave parties, I would never have stupid games. Even if I did have games, I would never have the toothpick game.That game will never be played in my house. (I bet you can guess why.)

P.S. I also hate that thing they do at business meetings where everyone has to introduce themselves and say some personally significant tidbit such as what they like about themselves. I always swear the next time that happens, I’m going to say, “I really love my peaches and I’m capable of shaking my own tree.” Just to listen to the resounding silence afterward.