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Full text of "Through darkest adolescence: with tongue in cheek and pen in checkbook"

UNIVERSITY 
OF FLORIDA 
LIBRARIES 




Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2010 with funding from 

Lyrasis IVIembers and Sloan Foundation 



http://www.archive.org/details/throughdarkestadOOarmo 



THROUGH DARKEST ADOLESCENCE 



THROUGH DARKESII 



WITH TONGUE IN GHEE 




NEW YORK TORONTO LONDO: 



ADOLESCENCE 



ND PEN IN CHECKBOOK 



»* Richard Armour 



ith heart-rending illustrations by Susan Perl 



icGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. 



Copyright @ 1963 by Richard Armour. All Rights Reserved. 
Copyright © 1955, 1957, 1959 by The Curtis Publishing Company. Copy- 
right, 1949, 1951, 1953, by The Curtis Publishing Company. All Rights 
Reserved. Printed in the United States of America. This book, or parts 
thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission of 
the publishers. 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 63-20188 

First Printing, September, 1963, 15,236 copies 
Second Printing, December, 1963, 2,522 copies 
Third Printing, January, 1964, 2,500 copies 
Fourth Printing, April, 1964 



02255 



1 3(^.1 55 i 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 

I should like to thank the editors and publishers for permis- 
sion to include verses which first appeared in The American 
Legion Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, The Chris- 
tian Science Monitor, Collier's, Family Weekly, Good House- 
keeping, Look, McCall's, The Saturday Evening Post, To- 
gether, The Wall Street Journal, and Westways. I am also 
grateful for permission to use portions of my article, "How 
to Talk to Teen-Agers," which appeared in American 
Youth. 



Contents 



Prologue: 


My qualifications 
as an authority 


9 


I: 


Remember, they are 


sick 19 


II: 


The bathroom 


30 


III: 


Clothes 


41 


IV: 


Around the house 


54 


V: 


School 


65 


VI: 


Parties 


82 


VII: 


Cars 


94 


VIII: 


Conversation 


108 


IX: 


Hair and teeth 


122 


X: 


Smoking 


135 


XI: 


Drinking 


146 


XII: 
Epilogue 


Sex 


156 

174 



Prologue: 
My qualifications as an authority 



Most of those who have written about teen-agers have 
been psychologists, criminologists, dermatologists, 
men of the cloth, or singers. Being none of these, I 
would seem out of my depth, if not out of my head, 
in approaching such a complex and baffling subject. 

But I have several rather remarkable qualifica- 
tions with which I wish to impress the reader at the 
outset. Having gained the respect due me, I shall 
then be able to proceed without having my state- 
ments questioned. 

In the first place, I was once a teen-ager myself. I 
hate to admit this, and until now have told only a 
few close friends. But someone (I suspect my mother) 
must have talked, and I have the uncomfortable 
feeling that my secret is out. 



lo • Through Darkest Adolescence 

"Wouldn't you like to look at some pictures?" I 
can imagine my mother asking people with whom, at 
some cost, I have built up a reputation for respect- 
ability and adulthood. 

"Yes indeed," these people reply, because they 
cannot very well say anything else, my mother al- 
ready having opened the large photograph album 
and thrust it under their noses. 

The picture o£ myself at six months, stark naked 
on the sofa, with a piece of oilcloth under me that 
was more practical than aesthetic, embarrassed the 
devil out of me when I was in eighth grade. But the 
picture of me in eighth grade is the one that makes 
me slightly ill now. In this (unless, as I have always 
hoped, the negatives got mixed up and it's really a 
photo of someone else), I am thin, pimply, stooped, 
with a silly expression that bespeaks a vacant mind 
or no mind at all. 

All right, then, I was a teen-ager once — but only 
once. When, at last, I became an adult, I remained 
an adult. There may have been a few backslidings, 
but they were brief and harmless, and I prefer not to 
discuss them. 

At any rate, my experience as a teen-ager is some- 
thing which, once I overcome my reluctance, I can 
draw upon. Of course, my own adolescence was so 
long ago that it might be thought to have no per- 
tinence today. It has, I confess, very little, but there 
is a generic resemblance. Like the modern teen-ager, 



Prologue: My Qualifications • 1 1 

I, too, was troubled by the first stirrings of sex, 
though not until I was about fourteen. Up to that 
time I thought there was no difference between boys 
and girls except that boys could run faster and throw 
a ball farther. Also, girls were always putting their 
hands up in class, and not just when they wanted to 
leave the room. Nowadays boys begin getting ideas 
about girls when they are ten or eleven, and by the 
age I was starting to catch on they are already going 
steady. 

Then there was acne. It started with me just at 
the close of World War I. When others were cele- 
brating the Armistice, I was just beginning my own 
seven-year war with my epidermis. About the time 
the Germans laid down their guns, I picked up a 
small device for squeezing blackheads which was sel- 
dom out of my hands until the final months of the 
Coolidge administration. Today, when I see an ado- 
lescent with a bad case of acne, my heart goes out to 
him. I want to say, consolingly, "You won't believe 
this, son, but I once looked just as repulsive as you. 
In four or five years you'll be over it." However, I 
restrain myself, prompted not only by my natural 
reticence but by the likelihood of his making some 
such hostile remark as "Whacha starin' at. Bud?" 

I had only a light case. A light case of acne is like 
a light case of the plague. It doesn't kill you, but it 
worries you plenty, and it gives you a slight idea of 
what those go through who have the real thing. 




I remember a period of several months when I 
didn't want anyone to see me, and I stayed in my 
room as much as possible or went to the movies, 
where it was too dark for even the person sitting next 
to me to notice my spots and bumps. At the movies, 
too, I forgot my troubles, becoming intensely inter- 
ested in the passionate love scenes of the hero and 
heroine, neither of whom had acne. 

I tried everything, including mud packs. Nothing 
did much good, though the time I answered the door- 
bell, forgetting I had my mud on, took me several 
months to live down. My Aunt Emma, who had a 
remedy for everything, said the trouble was my diet. 

"The worst things for your complexion," she said, 
"are nuts and chocolate." It was almost as if she knew 
that my favorite food was, and still is, chocolate- 
covered nuts. Her telling me they were harmful 
made me like them all the more, and what had been 
a pleasant desire became a passionate craving, to 
which I yielded several times a day. 



Prologue: My Qualifications • 13 

It was this same Aunt Emma who advocated scrub- 
bing with soap and water. "Cleanliness is next to 
godliness," she used to say, though for several years 
I misinterpreted this expression, and with good rea- 
son. You see, the time there was the most insistence 
that I scrub my neck and clean my fingernails was 
on Sunday, before going to church. 

Gradually I came to take the condition of my skin 
for granted, helped a good deal by the fact that most 
of my companions looked as bad as I did and several 
looked worse. As the years passed, so did my acne, 
and the time at last came when I could look back on 
the whole business as nothing more than a night- 
mare. 

Another thing about my experience as a teen-ager. 
Before I reached adolescence I went through a pe- 
riod when I was sure my parents were not my par- 
ents. I was certain I had been adopted, after having 
been left on their doorstep or acquired by this kindly 
couple from an orphanage the way a mongrel is 
rescued from the pound. By the time I was convinced 
that these strangers were really my parents, a time 
which coincided roughly with arriving at my teens, 
I had a rather low opinion of them, and it was with 
a feeling of dismay, followed by stunned resignation, 
that I accepted the blood relationship. Such was my 
sense of shame at about age thirteen, that I would 
probably have concurred in some lines I wrote many 
years later: 



14 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

Sons and daughters in their teens 
Think their parents don't know beans. 
This is bad enough, akhough, 
Even worse, it's often so. 

All this — the discovery of sex, the battling with 
acne, the downgrading of parents — is, I am told, 
normal. In a way I am sorry, because I hate to think 
that what I endured during adolescence is the ex- 
perience of millions of young persons who, in each in- 
stance, think their misfortune peculiar to themselves. 
On the other hand I am also glad, for purposes of 
this book. My subject, which at first I had merely 
thought nauseating, apparently involves the element 
of universality, something found in all great litera- 
ture. Oedipus, I might remind you, had trouble with 
his father, and Hamlet had trouble with his step- 
father, while Romeo and Juliet, a pair of really 
unbalanced teen-agers, had trouble with everybody. 

At the risk of losing literary status, and perhaps 
failing to get onto the required reading list, I am 
going to be more restrained than Sophocles and 
Shakespeare. The teen-agers I write about will not 
entertain the reader by killing their fathers, marry- 
ing their mothers, stabbing everybody in sight, or 
tearing their eyes out of their sockets in moments 
of pique. This may keep me from becoming a Great 
Author, but I simply haven't the stomach for writ- 




ing about such far-out types. The close-in ones are 
enough for me. 

Many who have written about teen-agers have 
been M.D.s, or at least Ed.D.s. At first blush — and I 
confess to having blushed about this more than once 
— my own graduate work in English Philology 
would appear inadequate and inappropriate for the 
present task. Yet I have found it extremely useful. 
Without my study of Anglo-Saxon, Middle English 
dialects, Gothic, Old Norse, and the Indo-European 



i6 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

vowel system, I would be far more baffled than I am 
by the primitive means of communication which 
passes for language among present-day teen-agers. 
What to the untrained ear is nothing more than a 
series of meaningless grunts, with a barely detectable 
pattern of gutturals and sibilants, is to the expert 
philologist (which I am not) a fascinating reversion 
to prerecorded speech, slightly flavored by pig Latin. 

"Pormesum war," my son says to my daughter, 
across the dinner table. 

"Goan geddid. Yucan geddid swellas icansilly," 
my daughter replies, and I set to work at once trans- 
lating this tantalizing bit of repartee. 

In a matter of minutes, after thumbing — and fore- 
fingering — my book of Teenese Words and Phrases, 
I come up with a rough but adequate translation. 
"Pour me some water" is English for what my son 
said. And "Go on, get it. You can get it as well as I 
can, silly" is a free rendering of my daughter's re- 
sponse. 

"Noneeduv beanrudaboudid," I put in, which is 
Teenese for "No need of being rude about it." 
I know only a few phrases, and my pronunciation 
is none too good, but my youngsters are impressed. 
If they want to cut me out of the conversation com- 
pletely, they will have to speak more rapidly, as they 
can easily do. 

So I was once a teen-ager, and I have some knowl- 
edge of philology. But my most valuable qualifica- 



Prologue: My Qualifications • 17 

tion I have saved for the last. I am nearing the end 
of two terms, fortunately served almost concurrently, 
as the parent of teen-agers. What I mean by this is 
that my son and daughter, slightly less than two years 
apart in age, either have reached or are within a 
year of reaching the chronological end of teen age. 
How many more years it will be until they are adults 
actually as well as chronologically is anyone's guess. 
Some of my own guesses might sound a little ex- 
treme, so I shall not mention them. 
Actually, it's all a deception: 

You parents who think that your children will grow 

More easy to handle some day, 
More earnest and willing, the more things they know. 

Are wrong, I am sorry to say. 

As children grow older, the change is inclined. 

As it happens, to be the reverse: 
When they're old enough to know better, you'll find 

They're old enough to know worse. 

The past several years I have studied my two 
teen-agers — and their incredible friends — as dispas- 
sionately and scientifically as possible, allowing for a 
tendency to headaches and an occasional blind rage. 
If I have said "my" teen-agers when I should have 
said "our," I know my wife will forgive me, because 
I am concerned chiefly with their objectionable qual- 
ities, and these, my wife is quick to admit, were in- 
herited from my side of the family. 



i8 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

These, then, are my qualifications. I would dis- 
play not only my credentials but my scars, were not 
these mostly on my psyche, which it would be hard 
for anyone to get a good look at, even if I took off 
my shirt. 

Come to think of it, my shirt is already off. My 
son borrowed it and left me his — the one with the 
hole burnt in the shirttail. How it got there, since 
my son stopped playing with matches several years 
ago, I can't figure out. He tells me it was caused 
when someone at school tried to give him a hotfoot 
and, apparently, missed by about a yard. This is as 
plausible as most of his explanations, so I am in- 
clined to believe him. 

Now, holding onto your hat — and your shirt — 
press forward with me, with gun and camera, into 
Darkest Adolescence. 




I: Remember^ they are sick 



Adolescence is a disease. It may not be listed in the 
medical books as such, but that is only because 
doctors are embarrassed to be reminded o£ some- 
thing in the presence o£ which they are so helpless. 
Like the common cold, there is no cure for it. Un- 
like the common cold, nothing can be prescribed, 
such as aspirin, which will give the patient tem- 
porary relief. The most that can be done is to give 
aspirin, along with a shot of whiskey, to those who 
are unlucky enough to have come in contact with 
the victim. 



19 




"Doctor," a distraught parent shouts into the 
phone, "Tommy has it bad," 

"Has what?" the doctor asks, momentarily forget- 
ting that he is the one who gets paid for a diagnosis. 

"I don't know, but he's never been like this be- 
fore. You'd better come right over." 

The doctor comes as quickly as he can. Since he 
lives only a few blocks away, he is there, with his 
little black bag, within a couple of hours. 

"Let me see your tongue," he tells the poor boy, 
though as soon as he glimpses that mottled face and 
encounters that vacant stare, he knows what the 
trouble is. Having asked to see his tongue, he has to 
go through with it and give the thing a professional 
look. Thanks to his medical training and clinical 
experience, the sight makes him only slightly queasy. 

"Take two of these at bedtime," he says, tapping 
some white pills into a small envelope on which he 



Remember^ They Are Sick • 21 

writes the directions. "No, these aren't for Tommy, 
they're for you. They'll help you sleep. You're going 
to need all your strength, because what Tommy's got 
will probably last five or six years." 

And then the doctor is gone, leaving behind a 
couple of used tongue depressors and the faint odor 
of formaldehyde. 

Happily, the disease is not contagious. Adolescents 
do not give adolescence to their parents, even when 
they drink from the same glass or cough right into 
their faces. No doubt the reason for this is that 
adolescence, like chickenpox and mumps, is a disease 
that you get only once, after which you build up 
an immunity. It is also like chickenpox and mumps 
in that you usually get it early in life, and it goes 
harder with you if you come down with it after you 
are forty or so. 

This rarely happens, but now and then one comes 
upon a case of adolescence in middle age. Such an 
unfortunate occurrence is usually explained by the 
patient's having had an extremely mild case in child- 
hood, which failed to develop the necessary im- 
munity. Or it may be a case that never completely 
ran its course but lay dormant, like diabetes or 
tuberculosis, ready to reappear whenever resistance 
was low. 

Most middle-aged adolescents, however, are those 
who initially were struck so hard that they never 
recovered. They went on living, because adolescence 



22 ' Through Darkest Adolescence 

is seldom fatal, but they were unable to throw off 
the disease, which lasted thirty, forty, or fifty years. 
I know a man forty-three years old who since he was 
thirteen has never been free of the disease one day 
in his life. He wears bright-colored vests and drives 
a hot rod and yells himself hoarse at the high school 
football games and drinks too much and dances 
the teen-age dances and uses the current teen-age 
slang. His few remaining friends have considerately 
stopped asking, "Aren't you ever going to grow up?" 
Anyhow, they know he never will. 

But normally the first stages of adolescence set in 
at about twelve or thirteen, and the terms "adoles- 
cent" and "teen-ager" are therefore interchangeable. 
Often, however, adolescence begins to show itself at 
ten or eleven, especially in that peculiarly obnoxious 
creature, the precocious child {dementia praecox, or 
precocious little demon). By beginning adolescence 
two or three years earlier, such a child goes through 
just that many more years of it, meanwhile brazenly 
pretending to have skipped adolescence entirely. 

It does no good whatsoever to discover the disease 
early, except to ease your mind about its being what 
it is. At the same time it may depress you to realize 
that your child has something that will drag on for 
years and years and not be over in a few weeks, like 
scarlet fever or pneumonia. 

As for how it is detected, you might look for one 
or more of the following symptoms: 



Remember, They Are Sick • 23 

1. A sudden listlessness and lack of ambition, in 
some instances accompanied by complete inability 
to perform such everyday tasks as getting out of bed 
in the morning. 

2. In sharp contrast, and the sort of thing that 
makes diagnosis difficult, the male may have a sud- 
den desire to lift heavy objects, such as bar bells, so 
long as the lifting serves no useful purpose to society. 

3. Periods of forgetfulness and mental lapse bor- 
dering on amnesia, especially regarding anything 
important to another member of the family, for 
instance the fact that an urgent telephone call was 
to be returned as soon as possible. It might be ex- 
pressed this way: 

A mind? Yes, he 
Has one of those. 
It comes, however, 
And it goes. 

And if, when it 
Is called upon. 
It mostly happens 
To be gone, 

Don't fret, don't shout, 
Don't curse the lack. 
Just wait a while — 
It will be back. 



24 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

Informal diagnosis by a member of the family, 
without benefit of X rays or laboratory tests, is usu- 
ally adequate. A thermometer thrust into the mouth 
will probably come out registering 98.6°, and all 
that may be achieved is the discovery that there are 
nicotine stains on the lower teeth and that there is 
a remarkable depression in the roof of the mouth 
where a wad of gum may be stored without inter- 
fering with speech. 

A friend of mine, not knowing the above, took 
his young son to the doctor. Confident that there 
was something seriously wrong, he requested a com- 
plete physical and mental examination. Everything 
went easily enough, and the doctor thought he had 
a routine case, until he placed his stethoscope to the 
boy's lungs and started to listen. There was an odd 
humming noise. 

"Strange," the doctor said, not believing his 
ears, in which he had previously trusted implicitly. 
"Breathe deeply. Sonny," he directed his patient, 
and listened intently again, a puzzled look on his 
face. 

The doctor was a thorough, scientific sort of fel- 
low, and he eventually noticed that the humming 
noise was made only when the boy was exhaling. 
Now he was on the right track, and soon he was 
convinced that the humming noise was — a humming 
noise. Afflicted with nothing more than a severe 
case of adolescence, it turned out that the boy was 



Remember, They Are Sick • 25 

merely humming a popular tune. This humming 
is a fairly common symptom of advanced adoles- 
cence, when a craving for music makes it necessary 
to hum a tune during the short periods when sepa- 
rated from a radio or record player. Otherwise, there 
is that dreadful quiet which a teen-ager can endure 
only about as long as he can hold his breath. 

As for treatment of the disease, it would be a 
mistake to put the adolescent in bed, having had 




26 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

such a time getting him out of it. He might stay 
there indefinitely, getting up only when necessary 
to go to the bathroom or to the refrigerator. Nor is 
there any use dosing him with sulfa, penicillin, 
aureomycin, or cortisone. 

Once it is certain a child has adolescence, should 
you tell him? Or, if you lack the courage, should you 
ask the doctor to do so? No. Not knowing the serious- 
ness of his illness, not knowing all that lies ahead of 
him, he will think you unduly alarmed. 

"Get hold of yourself," he will say, as you brush 
away the tears and try to keep your lower lip from 
trembling too noticeably. "Ill live through it." 

Maybe he will, you think to yourself. But will 
wef 

The wise parent will fight back the impulse to tell 
the teen-ager what is the matter with him. Not only 
will adolescents never admit they are adolescents 
(in this respect, as in so many others, resembling 
mental patients), but they resent having the term 
applied to them. Call them "stupid fool" or "nitwit" 
or "nincompoop" (which they probably wouldn't 
understand, anyhow, and would be too lazy to look 
up), but never, especially in a scornful tone of voice, 
"adolescent." An adolescent too often called an ado- 
lescent may do something drastic, such as run away 
from home. So you should be careful with the word, 
unless you have been looking for a way to get the 
child to move out. 




In short, adolescents, however badly stricken, are 
not only beyond help but do not wish help, espe- 
cially from their parents. Parents of their friends are 
something else again, 

"Jeanne's mother and father understand me," my 
teen-age daughter is always saying, "even if you 
don't." 

The interesting thing is that Jeanne's mother and 
father, who do indeed understand my daughter, 
don't understand Jeanne. We do. So when my 
daughter is un-understood by us, she goes to Jeanne's 
house, and when Jeanne is un-understood by her 
parents, she comes to ours. It is a fine system, a kind 
of two-way Lend-Lease. Sometimes our daughter and 
theirs, each headed for the other's house, pass a few 
blocks away, at mid-point. The only trouble is that 
the teen-age girl in our house a large part of the time 
is not our daughter but Jeanne, and the one who 



28 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

seems to be a regular member of the other household 
is not Jeanne but our daughter. Guests are under- 
standably bewildered, and we grow tired of explain- 
ing. The fact that the two girls wear identical clothes 
and hairdos adds to the confusion. Sometimes we 
are not sure ourselves. 

But I have been using my daughter as an example 
too much. There is also my son, about whom it 
might be said: 

Our son does little, now, but grow. 

And that he does a lot. 
He's "shooting up," we say, and so 

No wonder we are shot. 

Yes, adolescents are sick, and not to be held ac- 
countable for their actions. Despite what some old- 
fashioned penologists say, it would be unfair to put 
them away for a few years in a maximum-security 
prison. It would not only be unfair but, what is 
more important, it would be illegal, and you could 
wind up in prison yourself. You might enjoy the 
peace and quiet, at that. 

"There ought to be a law," I have heard some 
parents mutter, but it was only wishful thinking. If 
such a law were passed, it would promptly be de- 
clared unconstitutional by some soft-hearted judge, 
in all likelihood a bachelor. 

As of now, there is nothing to do about adoles- 
cence but let it run its course, wear itself out. There 



Remember^ They Are Sick • 29 

are those who optimistically take hope in the ad- 
vance of science in the parallel fields of poliomyelitis, 
diabetes, and schizophrenia. Indeed, there may in 
time be not only tuberculosis stamps but adolescence 
stamps, and the Cancer Fund may be matched by the 
Adolescence Fund, aimed at supplying adequate re- 
sources for research that may lead to a scientific 
breakthrough. Should such a fund drive get under- 
way, hundreds of thousands of volunteer workers 
stand ready to canvass every home in the land, taking 
with them stickers bearing such forthright, crusad- 
ing slogans as "Stamp Out Adolescence" and "We 
Gave." 

Some day a Dr. Salk will probably come along 
with a vaccine for adolescence. If so, the only ques- 
tion will be which Nobel Prize he should get — the 
one for medicine or the one for peace. 

But until then, my advice to parents of teen-agers 
is to remember that these young people are sick. 
Be kind. Visit them only during visiting hours and 
only when bearing gifts of candy, clothing, electronic 
gadgets, and money — especially money. 

As for corporal punishment, you wouldn't hit an 
invalid, would you? 




II: The bathroom 



When one of my teen-agers is around the house 
somewhere, but not in sight, I always try the bath- 
room. If the door is locked, I know I am on the right 
track. 

"Are you in there?" I cry. Or, this being pretty 
obvious, "When are you coming out?" 

If there is no response, I rattle the doorknob and 
pound with my fist. If I achieve nothing else, by 
banging the door hard enough and long enough I 
may toughen the skin on my knuckles. Parents who 
are skilled in the Japanese art of karate can, I sup- 
pose, drive their fist through the ordinary door with 
one determined blow, and this must be pretty im- 
pressive. 



30 



The Bathroom ■ 31 

Occasionally when I ask, "Are you in there?" I get 
some such informative reply as "No." The answer 
to "When are you coming out?" is usually "Just a 
minute," which is meant to be encouraging. How- 
ever, I happen to know that the teen-ager's minute 
has little relationship to sixty seconds, and that such 
a unit of time is better checked with a calendar than 
with a watch. 

In short, when an adolescent goes into the bath- 
room he goes there to stay. It does no good to raise 
your voice, to plead, or to threaten. Even the note of 
urgency in such a heartrending appeal as "I've got 
to get in there right away!" will have no effect. The 
adolescent is not heartless. He knows that, in event of 
an emergency, there is always the next-door neigh- 
bor's bathroom. Or the public lavatory downtown. 

Parents have been known to become frantic about 
the long sojourn, bordering upon permanent resi- 
dence, of a teen-ager in the bathroom. With no re- 
sponse to questions, and no sound detectable to an 
ear placed like a stethoscope against the door, they 
have concluded that the youngster has fallen from 
the window and have rushed outside, carrying a 
sheet to throw over the crumpled body. 

I remember the time my wife and I stood close 
to our bathroom door, fairly certain that our son 
was inside but hearing no sound. 

"Do you suppose he scalded himself to death in 
the shower?" my wife wondered aloud. She has a 



32 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

lively imagination and could picture his prostrate 
form behind the shower curtain. 

"I doubt it," I said. "The water would still be 
running, unless he was able to turn the knob before 
he passed out." 

"Then maybe he drowned in the tub," my wife 
said. 

"Or electrocuted himself," I put in helpfully, "try- 
ing to listen to the radio in the bathtub." 

But our son eventually emerged — alive, unhurt, 
and without explanation. The only casualty was a 
little skin off my knuckles from all that knocking, 
and a slight hoarseness. 

At an earlier age our son, like any red-blooded 
youngster, would not have been in the bathroom, 
despite the locked door. He would have climbed 
out the window and shinnied up the drainpipe to 
the roof, imagining himself a mountain climber ven- 
turing up the last perilous escarpment to the top of 
Everest. But now he is too old for this sort of ad- 
venturing. He lacks both the imagination and the 
energy, especially the energy. 

What, you might ask — and I don't blame you — 
does an adolescent do, hour after hour, in the bath- 
room? 

I can only guess, because I have never stooped, 
physically or morally, to peek through the keyhole. 
(Besides, I know I would see nothing, with the key 
in it.) My guess is that the time-consuming activity 



The Bathroom • 33 

in some way has to do with preoccupation with self, 
and the chances are that the focus of this activity is 
the mirror on the medicine chest. 

In this connection, let me get off my own chest 
the following heartfelt lines: 

My teen-age son and daughter 

Are thoughtful little elves. 
They think and think and think and think 

And think about themselves. 

A mirror in any part of the house has a magnetic 
quality that powerfully attracts and holds the adoles- 
cent, whether male or female. If the teen-ager does 
little deep thinking, in front of a mirror he at least 
reflects. 

Various mirrors have various appeals. For in- 
stance, the full-length mirror in the bedroom or 
hall is especially useful when action and movement 
are involved: twirling a full skirt, dancing with an 
invisible partner — who always follows beautifully — 
practicing serves and overhead smashes, or bulging 
the biceps. If two or three mirrors can be so ar- 
ranged that there is simultaneous viewing of the 
front, side, and rear, there can be careful analysis 
of the triply reflected posture, which may encourage 
flexing of pectoral muscles or insertion of additional 
foam rubber in the small-size bra. Boys and girls 
seem almost equally interested in chest expansion. 

Of all the mirrors in the house, the one in the 




bathroom has the most magnetism. It will pull an 
adolescent from the basement, the garage, or even 
the dining room, and hold him, nose almost against 
the glass, for an incredible period. Though I have 
not myself beheld the mysterious rites, I have heard a 
number of almost unbelievable tales from parents 
who either have peeked or possess an inventive im- 
agination. 

One of the things mirror-watchers do, I am told, is 
to jab repeatedly at the eyes with a pointed steel 
instrument, as if intent on blindness self-inflicted. 




Actually the point of impact is just above the eyes, 
and what the adolescent is doing is plucking eye- 
brows — not being content to look like an aborigine 
with one solid line of scraggly black hair from temple 
to temple. 

Plucking eyebrows, you will protest, is something 
done only by girls. But if you think this, you are un- 
familiar with the male ego. The only difference be- 
tween boys and girls in this regard is that boys are 
more careful not to let it appear that there has been 
any tampering with nature. 



36 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

But o£ course girls are the chief pluckers and 
primpers, and my own daughter is no exception: 

Peering above, 
Probing beneath, 
Curling her lashes. 
Brushing her teeth. 

Daubing her face 
With every new mixture. 
My teen-age daughter's 
A bathroom fixture. 

I don't know whether this is general or not, but 
my daughter has a horror of having anyone else use 
her towel. 

"Oh, look what you've done!" she said to me once, 
as she came into the bathroom just as I was leaving. 
Dismay and disgust were written all over her face, in 
capital letters. 

"Have I done something wrong?" I asked in all 
innocence, 

"You used my towel," she said, and I thought she 
was going to cry. 

"I only touched the corner of it," I said. "I thought 
it was mine. And my hands were clean. I had just 
washed them." 

"You're disgusting," she said, and she plucked the 
towel from the rack, holding it cautiously by the 
corner — the corner I had not used — and dropped it 



The Bathroom • 37 

into the hamper. A shudder went through her, as if 
she had been handling a snake. 

"I'm sorry," I said, though I really wasn't. 

"Don't you ever do that again," she said, and I 
never did — not when my own towel was handy and 
I could remember which one it was. 

Teen-agers can be awfully fastidious about some 
things, and considering how sloppy they are gen- 
erally, I should be glad, even when I am treated like 
a leper. 

But let us return to our consideration of what 
they do, all that time, in the bathroom. Besides 
tweezer work, another thing that occupies them, I 
am told, is looking at the back of the head and the 
profile, with the help of a hand mirror. This does 
not take in all of the areas included in a full-length 
mirror, but it accommodates the part most often 
seen by the public. Moreover, it permits pinpoint 
specialization — one square inch at a time, even pore 
by pore. 

They also make sundry grimaces for the purpose 
of demonstrating facial mobility, deepening dimples, 
and creating faint resemblances to stars of stage and 
screen. These facial contortions include pressing the 
nose up, down, and sideways, to see how much better 
it would look if it were bobbed or uptilted. After one 
of these sessions, it is frequently decided to put aside 
a certain portion of the weekly allowance for plastic 
surgery. Interestingly, I have it from a usually re- 



38 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

liable source that the adolescent of today no longer 
practices wiggling his ears in front of the mirror, 
this entrancing exercise of my own youth now being 
considered old hat, or old ears. 

Our bathroom mirror has a bubble in it, about 
nose high. I can imagine the happy hours my son 
and daughter spend in front of it, moving slightly 
up and down and right and left, and smearing the 
nose all over the face. The reason I can imagine this 
is that I get such a kick out of doing it myself. Some- 
times I do it while shaving — and get so fascinated 
that I cut a hunk out of my chin. 

But an adolescent needs no defect in the glass 
to hold him transfixed, staring into the mirror. 
It may be self-hypnosis, or it may be more akin to 
self-adoration. One is reminded of the Greek myth of 
Narcissus, who fell in love with his reflection in a 
pool, never having seen anything so beautiful. After 
admiring himself for a few years, he fell into the pool 
and became a flower. This much is sure about Nar- 
cissus: he was an adolescent. 

For some odd reason, adults fail to comprehend 
what is so attractive to an adolescent about his face. 
How could he possibly stand there looking at it hour 
after hour? Face-watching seems to be his chief oc- 
cupation and, if this continues, will be his life work. 
Not until he starts going steady will there be another 
face at which he can gaze for so long and with such 
rapture. 



40 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

It is best, if you have the will power — and other 
bathroom facilities — to leave the adolescent undis- 
turbed and, when he at last emerges, make no sarcas- 
tic remarks. For emerge he will, having temporarily 
had enough of his face or having begun to suffer hun- 
ger pangs. Instead of wondering what he has been 
doing all this time, show him how glad you are to 
have him back, and no questions asked. See as much 
of him as you can, and get reacquainted. 

For it will not be long until he is back in the bath- 
room, at the same old stand. 

Before leaving, with some reluctance, the subject 
of this chapter, let me describe one noteworthy fea- 
ture of the bathroom in our house, something that 
binds our family together, adults and adolescents: 

We have a bathroom door that sticks. 
It will not yield to tugs or kicks. 
Once tightly closed, it will withstand 
The strength of any unskilled hand. 

It takes a certain pull and lift. 

Which some say is an art, a gift. 

The wrist must twist, the shoulder heave. 

You have to see it to believe. 

And though we have the skill, the knack, 
This isn't true of guests, alack. 
Who can't get in or (worse, no doubt) 
Get in, then think they can't get out. 




Ill: Clothes 



"Have you seen my tan gabardine slacks?" I asked 
my son, opening the door to his room slightly and 
poking my head in. I didn't go all the way in, because 
he was cleaning a shotgun and the muzzle was point- 
ing directly at me. 

"I think they're around here somewhere," he said, 
and as soon as he finished cleaning the gun he help- 
fully started rummaging through his closet. 

"Maybe they're in one of your dresser drawers," 
I suggested when he seemed to be having no luck. 

"No, I remember now," he said, "I have them 



on. 



41 



42 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

The reason I didn't recognize them, although they 
were my favorite slacks, was that my son had cut 
them off at the knees and made walking shorts of 
them. 

"I thought you didn't want them any more," he 
said, when he saw my face turn ashen, as it always 
does when I am slightly annoyed about something. 
"Anyhow," he added brightly, "I saved you the 
twelve-fifty it would have cost for a pair of gabardine 
walking shorts." 

"Thanks," I said, mentally subtracting twelve-fifty 
from twenty-five dollars, the cost of a new pair of 
slacks, and doubting I could ever find another pair 
as good as my old ones. 

"You're welcome," he said, more polite than usual, 
and relieved because the color was coming back 
into my face. 

"I appreciate your good intentions," I said, sur- 
prised at my self-control. "But I really would prefer 
them as slacks again. Maybe I can get your mother 
to sew them back together." Then I asked, looking 
around, "Where are the lower parts, from the knee 
down?" 

Before he told me, I found out for myself. One 
trouser leg was lying on the floor, in good shape. The 
other, however, had been cut into inch-wide strips. 
Apparently there's nothing quite so good as tan gab- 
ardine for cleaning the barrel of a shotgun. 

I shut the door quietly and tiptoed away. For- 



Clothes • 43 

tunately, I am too much of a coward for either mur- 
der or suicide. 

My son not only fools around with guns, which it 
is hard for me to believe, despite his assurances, are 
unloaded, but he lifts weights. Ever since there has 
been even the slightest development of his biceps, he 
has taken to wearing only a T shirt around the 
house, even in the dead of winter. 

"Aren't you cold?" I ask him. It gives me goose 
pimples just to watch him parade around in that 
skin-tight T shirt when I am wearing a sweater and 
jacket and have just turned up the furnace. 

"No," he says, hunching his shoulders to make his 
neck seem shorter and thicker. "Hit me in the 
stomach. Go on, hit me hard." 

He stiffens his muscles and I give him a fairly 
sharp blow to the midsection. I hope I haven't hurt 
him, and I haven't, but I have sprained my right 
index finger and spend the evening soaking it in hot 
water and Epsom salts. 

What bothers my wife about his wearing a T shirt 
all the time isn't the possibility of his catching cold. 
It's his wearing a T shirt to dinner. 

"Won't you please put on a shirt and coat, or a 
shirt anyhow?" she begs him. "It just doesn't look 
right at the dinner table." 

What worries her is what the neighbors will think. 
We have a large picture window, and our neighbors 
are always out walking their dog, whatever the hour 



44 * Through Darkest Adolescence 

or the weather. The dog doesn't need all that ex- 
ercise. In fact the worn-down little dachshund could 
use some rest. But these people want to know what's 
going on. We could draw the curtains, but that gives 
my son claustrophobia. 

At least that's what he says. Actually, he sits at the 
dinner table facing the window, which at night re- 
flects almost as well as a mirror. In that T shirt, with 
his shoulders hunched, he is quite a physical speci- 
men, he thinks. And our neighbors, I fear, consider 
us pretty low class. 

While my son is content to go around in the same 
style of T shirt, as long as there is nothing over it to 




Clothes • 45 

obscure his muscles, my daughter insists upon vari- 
ety. To be reduced to wearing a party dress that she 
wore once before, and only three months ago, would 
be to reach the depths of social degradation, as it 
would for any sensitive (normal) teen-age girl. Hester 
Prynne was unusual, keeping her chin up while going 
around, day after day, wearing the same old blouse, 
with a scarlet "A" embroidered on it. No wonder 
the other girls stared at her and whispered things like 
"She's in a rut" and "Doesn't she know blouses 
like that went out a couple of years ago?" and "Looks 
homemade to me." The only time a teen-age girl will 
be seen in the same outfit for weeks and months, and 
with a great big scarlet "A" to boot, is when she's 
wearing her boy friend's Auburn High football 
sweater. 

It is of little consequence to our daughter whether 
her clothes indicate good taste in color or pattern. 
Or even whether they fit. (While her own boy friend's 
football sweater has a "C" on it, for Claremont High, 
instead of an "A," he is a i8o-pound lineman, and on 
my daughter this garment looks like a knitted over- 
coat, which is the way it's supposed to look.) The 
chief requisite is that clothes be this year's style — 
or, better, this month's. Asked to wear an out- 
of-style coat because it is still nice looking and warm 
and has been worn only a few times, my daughter has 
been heard (by me) to say, "I'd rather die." She 
would, too. 



4-6 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

As if there were not enough trouble caused by 
change of style, there is also change of mind: 

One day a child will tease for clothing 
That's viewed next day with look of loathing. 
The coat, the shirt, whatever article, 
Although it hasn't changed a particle, 
Will be considered quite unbearable. 
Unsuitable, and thus unwearable. 
And all that parents know, I find. 
About this sudden change of mind 
Is that it fills the shelves and hooks 
And helps to empty pocketbooks. 

This does not mean that a teen-ager wants to be 
just like everybody else. He or she wants to be more 
like everybody else than anybody else. It is impera- 
tive that adults grasp this concept if they are to know 
what makes a teen-ager tick, and what to do if the 
ticking becomes ominous. The ideal of the teen-ager, 
with regard to clothes, is to be neither conspicuous, 
in the sense of being different, nor inconspicuous, 
in the sense of being unimaginatively like everyone 
else and therefore not noticed. 

This may seem trivial to an adult, but it can be 
crucial to a teen-ager. There have been instances 
when a pair of standard yet artistically soiled cor- 
duroy trousers have been decisive in winning elec- 
tion to a student body office. My own daughter failed 
to become a cheer leader in high school because her 



Clothes • 4.'j 

tennis shoes lacked the mud and grass stains and the 
delicate patina o£ mold which graced the shoes of the 
girl who nosed her out in the balloting. Afterward, 
she went into seclusion for a week, claiming she had 
a cold but actually working on her tennis shoes with 
dirt, grass, and an abrasive instrument. Obviously, 
her political career was not ended, and she hoped to 
run again — in her improved tennis shoes. 

Not that my daughter wears only tennis shoes, 
though she does most of the time. She has footwear of 
every conceivable type, and yet around the house she 
goes barefoot. Her first act, on entering the front 
door, is to take off her shoes, which she drops right 
there unless she knows of another place where they 
look worse. Let me put it this way: 



We've only a teen-age daughter, 
A two-legged creature indeed, 
And yet from the shoes 
She incessantly strews. 
You'd think we've a centipede. 





48 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

The parent who appreciates the teen-ager's desire 
to dress like all the others and yet more so will avoid 
such a tragic mistake as my wife once made. This 
well-meaning but ignorant woman sent our son's 
sweat shirt to the laundry for what seemed to her two 
excellent reasons: (1) it had a catsup stain down the 
front and (2) it smelled, as she said in her quaint | 
way, "to high heaven." 

How was she to know that it was an antique and 
beautifully placed catsup stain that gave the sweat 
shirt exactly the desired air of casualness, and that 
the peculiar fragrance enabled our son to identify 
his sweat shirt in the school locker room even before 
he got inside? 

Usually there is no objection to the purchase of 
new clothes. But the need for new clothes bears no 
relationship to the supply of old clothes in perfectly 
good condition. 

"I've just got to have a wool skirt," our daughter 
said one day, a note of desperation in her voice. 

"But you have a wool skirt, haven't you?" I asked. 
Her mother and I had checked her closet only the 
day before and had discovered that, by actual count, 
she had fourteen wool skirts — pleated, unpleated, 
pleated in front only, pleated in back only, heavy, 
lightweight, plaid, plain, belted, unbelted, etc. 

"Yes, but I haven't a skirt to go with my green 
blouse," she said. It occurred to me to ask why in 
heck she hadn't bought a blouse to go with one of 



Clothes ' 49 

her fourteen skirts, instead of buying the green one. 
However, I checked myself from saying something 
that would not only upset my daughter but be con- 
sidered by my wife an attack upon herself. The two 
of them frequently give me the impression that they 
have signed a mutual aid treaty. 

Buying one article of clothing in order to require 
another article of clothing is a gambit passed along, 
mother to daughter, generation to generation — a bit 
of cunning against which a man has no defense. 

So, in this instance, I had the sense to keep quiet. 
The only possible indication that I questioned my 
daughter's logic was the trickle of blood from my 
mouth caused by biting my lips. 

Of course we bought her another wool skirt. My 
wife went with her to the store, to help pick it out, 
and in the process found a wool skirt for herself as 
well as a blouse and sweater to "go with" the skirt. In 
restaurants I have found that anything that "goes 
with" the table d'hote dinner is included in the 
price, but clothes, alas, are a la carte. 

A teen-ager has another reason for making pur- 
chases which is considered a clincher. "Jane (or 
John) has one," the youngster shrewdly says. Or, 
spoken in a tone of mingled irritation and conde- 
scension calculated to reduce a parent to quivering 
helplessness, "Everybody has one!" This may refer, 
of course, not merely to an article of clothing but to 
a motor scooter or a portable TV. 



50 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

Once I thought I had an answer to this inane 
claim — a way to put down, or at least put off, my 
son: 

When "all my friends" have this or that 

That's wanted by my son. 
To silence him, day after day, 
I've found I merely have to say, 

"Name one." 

This worked for a while, but eventually it failed 
me. The time came when I said, brusquely, "Name 
one," and he did. As it happened, in this instance 
the item was a Thunderbird. You can never be sure 
when the John your son is palling around with is 
John D. Rockefeller IV. 

But I am not one to give up without a fight. To 
wriggle out of such an embarrassing and potentially 
expensive situation as this, I have discovered a few 
sly maneuvers which I pass along to perplexed par- 
ents: 

Explain at length, preferably at a blackboard, 

the superior economic status of Jane's (or John's) 
father. If this elicits such questions as "Then why 
don't you earn more? Aren't you as smart as he is?" 
employ diversionary tactics, perhaps tossing in a 
statement like "What you need is to learn the value 
of a dollar." (You will be lucky if you are not asked 
what the value of a dollar is. When you last checked, 
it was around thirty-nine cents.) 



Clothes • 51 

Suggest buying something cheaper which 

everyone else also has, such as a pair of shoestrings 
with luminous ends, to facilitate putting on shoes in 
the dark. This will almost certainly be rejected, but 
it will gain a little time to think, and there is al- 
ways the chance that the doorbell will ring or some- 
one will telephone and the whole thing will be for- 
gotten, though not for long. 

Call up Jane's father and John's father — ^yes, 

call up everybody's father — and check on the ac- 
curacy of the statement. If you find even one house- 
hold which does not possess the article in question, 
confront your teen-ager with the results of your poll. 
"See, you were wrong," you can say, pointing to the 
list of names and notations. "George Gunderson 
doesn't have a tennis court, and that makes two of 
you." Your teen-ager will probably then say, "Well, 
I meant almost everybody. And besides, you don't 
want people to think you're as stingy as old Mr. 
Gunderson, do you?" If you hold your ground, you 
might start a trend, and fathers everywhere will bless 
you. But you probably won't. 

Call a meeting of all the parents in the neigh- 
borhood and form an association. Name it something 
unusual, like P.T.A. (Parents of Teen-Agers), and 
elect a President, several Vice-Presidents, a Secretary, 
and a Treasurer. Have the members swear a solemn 
oath, to be repeated as a pledge of allegiance at each 
meeting: "I solemnly swear not to be pushed into 



52 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

buying any article" (not even something as common- 
place as a pair of rhinoceros-hide shoes with minia- 
ture tusks on the toe) "on the grounds that 'every- 
body has one,' without permission from the Execu- 
tive Committee, so help me God." Any parent who 
makes an unauthorized purchase will, in addition to 
the regular dues, pay a fine equal to the cost of the 
item. Money collected from dues and fines will be 
used for a worthwhile neighborhood project, such 
as a sound-proof bomb shelter, where parents can 
seek refuge when the record player is going full 
blast. 

One final suggestion: give in, and buy such 

clothing as your teen-ager demands. Think how 
happy this will make not only your youngster but 
the local merchants, and how this will stimulate the 
economy and lead to a reduction in the national debt, 
even as your own increases. You may, indeed, be 
named Parent of the Year by the Chamber of Com- 
merce, and presented with a monogrammed leather 
case in which to carry your checkbook. 

Or maybe you would prefer an extra-large, Easy- 
Open billfold, from which currency can be extracted 
in a jiffy. Its usefulness will be indicated by the fol- 
lowing: 

My teen-age son is in a dash, 

He hits me up, and quick, for cash. 

He asks, he's off, he's never slow. 

With him it's always touch and go. 



Clothes ' 53 

True, you can always wear the faddish clothes of 
which your teen-ager has tired. You will not only 
save money but gain an enviable reputation for wear- 
ing jaunty, youthful outfits — slash pockets, skin- 
tight trousers — and will stand out in any group of 
middle-aged persons. You may not only stand out 
but, in those tight trousers, bulge out. 

Naturally, if you are going to wear discards, you 
must keep yourself the same weight and height as 
your teen-ager, who has a tendency to grow taller as 
you grow broader. How you are to manage this is 
your problem, not mine. 





rnfJWcfrK 





^^^4^^<^t^|^^^ 



/F: Around the house 



Sunday morning, the only morning when I might 
stay in bed after 7:00 a.m., is also my only time to do 
the yard work and wash the car. Perhaps I shouldn't 
be so selfish, but I find it a little hard to pull weeds 
and rake the leaves out of a rocky flower bed, know- 
ing that my muscular son is lifting weights in the 
room above. I hope I am not being ill-tempered 
when I rattle the stones unnecessarily and now and 
then toss one at the window screen. 

My feelings on the subject are so strong that on 
occasion I have waxed lyrical. One fine summer day 
I took my pen in my calloused hand and expressed 
myself thusly: 



54 



Around the House • 55 

Through years of waiting, long and tough, 

I've watched the growing brawn. 
At last the lad is strong enough 

To mow and edge the lawn. 

I've dreamed of lying in the shade 

With not the slightest stirring, 
While he (as I sip lemonade) 

Would keep the mower whirring. 

Well, here I lie, stretched out full length. 

Beside my faithful pup, yet. 
I've mowed, and now I'm gaining strength — 

My son? He isn't up yet. 



But I must not be too hard on the boy. When it 
comes to washing the car, one of the jobs I dislike 
most, he is a real help. 

You see, I hate to work alone, without anyone to 
sympathize with me or urge me on. And when I wash 
the car, my son is touchingly faithful about keeping 
me company and giving me helpful hints. 

"You missed a spot on the hood," he says, and I 
discover the place and rub it extra hard. 

"How does it look now?" I ask, hopeful of coming 
up to his exacting standards. 

"Pretty good. Dad," he says, "but you're going to 
use some chrome polish on the bumpers, aren't you?" 



56 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

As a matter o£ fact I wasn't, because I had polished 
the bumpers the Sunday before, and I thought they 
could go for another week. 

"Of course," I say, not wishing him to think me 
slapdash or lazy. For a moment I consider asking 
him to go into the house and get me the can of polish 
and a fresh rag, but he looks so comfortable, sitting 
in that contour chair I helped him carry out to the 
front lawn, that I decide not to disturb him. Besides, 
he might go for the polish and rag and not come 
back. And, as I have said, I like company while I 
work. 

So I polish the bumpers and go over the windows 
once more, to catch a few streaks I had missed. I 
finish none too soon. When I look up, I see my son 
sitting at the wheel, his hand on the ignition key. 

"That's good enough. Dad," he says, starting the 
motor. "I've got to go see John." John is his best 
friend, and he hasn't seen him for a period of sev- 
eral hours. 

As he drives off, carefully hitting a mud puddle, I 
roll up the hose and pick up the sponge, rags, bucket, 
broom, and other impedimenta of car washing. The 
contour chair is too heavy for me to carry into the 
house by myself, but my wife will help me. 

It would add to my pleasure as a car washer if my 
daughter were also in the gallery, lending her pres- 
ence and her advice. But if this is the usual Sunday 



Around the House • 57 

morning, I must get along without her. She is enjoy- 
ing a well-deserved late-morning sleep, worn out by 
a Saturday afternoon and evening which included 
waving a pompon incessantly throughout The Big 
Game, simultaneously screaming, biting her finger- 
nails, patting her hair back into place, and freshen- 
ing her lipstick — all this followed by The Big Dance. 
While she rests, her mother picks up coats, sweaters, 
a megaphone, a program, candy wrappers, popcorn, 
and bobby pins, so that she can make her way into 
the kitchen to prepare dinner. 

As a matter of fact, my daughter has ways of wear- 
ing herself out without going to a football game or 
even going outdoors. Her specialty is this amazing 
performance, to be observed daily: 

My teen-age daughter flops and falls 

And flips and slips and slumps and sprawls 

And twists and twines and coils and loops 

And writhes and jerks and drapes and droops. 

Is this a workout in the gym? 

Does she have fits? Is it a whim? 

No, don't be frightened, please don't stare. 

She's merely "sitting" in a chair. 

Farmers, I know, get a full day's work out of their 
children, even when they are teen-agers. In fact, I am 
told that farmers have large families in order to get 



Around the House • 59 

free labor. What other reason could there possibly 
be? But most of us are city dwellers, and household 
chores in a city or suburb somehow lack the chal- 
lenge of fetching eggs from the hen house and pour- 
ing slops into the pig trough. 

The only livestock in our house is a dog, a cat, and 
a canary. Washing a dog is fun only the first time — 
and not even then for the dog — while cleaning up 
after a sick cat or changing the paper in the canary's 
cage just doesn't make a teen-ager feel he is doing 
something creative, or essential to the nation's 
economy. 

However, it would seem possible to send a youth to 
the supermarket for ready-cut, ready-wrapped bacon, 
inasmuch as he has been spared the rigors of pig- 
slopping, especially on a sloppy day. 

"Run up to the store and get two pounds of 
bacon," my wife told our son the other day. "And 
be sure to get the kind that's on sale." She pressed a 
ten-dollar bill into his sweaty hand and reminded 
him to bring back the change. 

It is three blocks to the neighborhood store, and 
you would think the lad could get there and back in 
a few minutes. In this instance, which was about 
average, our son sauntered into the kitchen an hour 
later with: (1) one pound of bacon instead of two, 
and not the kind on sale, and (2) a paperback edition 
of Shakespeare, apparently as a result of a train of 



6o • Through Darkest Adolescence 

thought started by the word bacon. My wife was so 
upset about his getting the regular bacon instead of 
the kind on sale, a difference of four cents a pound, 
that she forgot to ask him for the change. When she 
remembered, the next day, it was too late. 

"Oh, that ten dollars," he shrugged. 

"Yes, that ten dollars," my wife said. There was a 
spark of hope in her voice, because this time, for a 
wonder, he wasn't insisting it was only a dollar bill. 

"I remember now," he said. "I got the change, all 
right, and I know exactly where I put it." 

"Well, go get it," my wife said. 

"I put it on a pile of magazines while I was look- 
ing at the paperbacks," he said, "and it probably 
isn't there now." 

It wasn't. 

Discouraging as all this appears, there is a large 
amount of energy in that ungainly body, and a trace 
of intelligence behind that vacant stare. Harnessing 
these, without actually using reins and a bit, is the 
problem. I have a few ideas which, since they have 
done me no good, I pass along. 

A suggestion for city dwellers is to develop more 
interesting chores, taking a fly-specked leaf out of 
the farm family's book. If zoning laws and city ordi- 
nances permit, chickens, cows, and pigs might be 
established in the back yard, and the front lawn 
might be sown in wheat. A red-blooded young man 



Around the House • 61 

who scorns a lawn mower might delight in cutting a 
swath through a wheat field with a medium-size 
combine. Nor would he find it too taxing, since two 
or three swaths would do the job. 

I can imagine my son coming in after cutting the 
front forty (feet). He would splash water over his 
head at the pump, which we had installed in place of 
the electric washer on the back porch, and clump 
into the kitchen, snapping his galluses the way they 
do on Wagon Train. 

"Looks like a mighty fine crop, Paw," he would 
say, "if'n we kin git it in 'fore it rains." 

But in some of the snootier residential sections a 
neighbor might not take kindly to the smell of the 
pigs and the noise of the thresher. This could lead 
to litigation, a spite fence, even a rock through the 
window. 

Also, if chores became too fascinating it might be 
hard to get a youngster to leave them and come to 
dinner. Just try to drag a boy into the house when he 
is out in the garage, tinkering with the tractor. Not 
that it is easy to get his attention under any circum- 
stances: 

A patient parent, I don't mean 

To speak too sternly, heatedly. 
My children come when they are called. 
Provided only that they're called 
Repeatedly. 



62 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

Should you be compelled to assign the same old 
monotonous and unexciting tasks — dusting, dish- 
washing, floor waxing, car polishing — there is al- 
ways the possibility of making the work more attrac- 
tive by paying for it. 

"My son makes me pay through the nose," a friend 
told me, and I shuddered at the condition of his nasal 
passages and was grateful that my son made no such 
unnatural demands. 

Most teen-agers will wash the dishes with a fair 
amount of gusto (a new kind of detergent) for as 
little as a dollar a dish, seventy-five cents each for 
knives, forks, and spoons. I have found that my son, 
who has not learned the value of a dollar, will do a 
very respectable job of waxing the floor of one room 
for a thousand pennies. He may or may not realize 




Around the House ■ 63 

that this is only ten dollars. The way he looks at it, he 
can weigh himself on the scales downtown, in front of 
the drug store, every day for three years. 

The money, after all, stays in the family. It's just 
taking it out of one pocket and putting it into an- 
other. Or like robbing Peter to pay Paul. The only 
thing is — well, I'd like to be Paul just once. 

Be glad they have not yet formed a Teensters' 
Union. How would you like to be picketed by your 
own son and daughter, bearing signs reading "Un- 
fair to Their Own Flesh and Blood," "My Father Is 
a Miser," and "Don't Enter Unless You Are De- 
livering a Bill"? Or think of a lockout, when you 
can't get into your own house — and not just because 
someone has hidden the key in a different place — or 
a slowdown, when your children work slower than 
usual, though this may be hard to imagine. 

Another suggestion is this: Get your teen-ager a 
job with a neighbor. Teen-agers who object to sweep- 
ing the back porch for their parents, no matter at 
what excessive wage, will sweep the whole house and 
beat the rugs for someone else for a pittance. Merely 
crossing the property line between your house and 
the house next door somehow works a miracle. 
Whereas you cannot utter a word of criticism about 
a job poorly done, your neighbor can give your teen- 
ager a tongue lashing for having left a small spot on 
a window, and your wide-eyed offspring will come 
home, having had to work an extra half-hour for 



64 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

nothing, with the news that "Mr. Willoughby is a 
great guy. He used to be a sergeant in the Army." 

Of course, if Mr. Willoughby employs your son, 
you in all fairness must employ his — and there is a 
good chance that yours is a strapping fellow, capable 
of lifting one end of a piano, while Mr. Willoughby's 
is a puny kid whom you would be ashamed to ask to 
lift an empty wastebasket. 

There are some parents, I understand, who expect 
no help from their teen-agers. They have one impor- 
tant advantage over the others: they are never disap- 
pointed. 



V: School 



One of the best places to study teen-agers, I have 
found, is at the local high school. Occasionally I drop 
by at the noon hour, when the inmates emerge, and 
take an incredulous look. I go there partly to study 
the species and partly because I feel so good when I 
leave. 

High schools are much bigger than when I was a 
boy, and high school boys are much bigger, too. The 
few times I have been inside a high school building 
I have felt small and frightened as I tiptoed down 
the long high school corridors, amidst the long high 
school boys. It made me understand how Gulliver 

65 



66 ■ Through Darkest Adolescence 

felt in Brobdingnag, the land of the giants, except 
that the Brobdingnagians were more friendly. 

On one of my visits I was heartened to see a dwarf 
about my size. He could not have been more than 
five feet ten. A warmth of fellow-feeling swept over 
me, and I went up to him and stuck out my hand. I 
wanted to throw my arms around him, but he might 
have thought me emotional. 

"How do you do," I said, smiling attractively. 

Only then did I notice he had a knife in his hand. 
As I spoke to him he dropped to his knees, with the 
knife outthrust, the blade gleaming under the cor- 
ridor lights. 

It was a tense moment, and I thought of throwing 
myself at the mercy of the nearest giant, who at least 
seemed to be unarmed, until I saw this dwarf start to 
scrape a spot on the floor with his knife. My fright 
left me and my feeling of comradeship returned, for 
I now noticed the man's mop and pail against the 
wall. He was the janitor (pardon me, the custodian), 
and he was scraping a wad of gum from the floor. 

I wanted to drop to my knees beside him, but I 
had no knife. Also, I feared being trampled by the 
towering youths as they hastened down the hallway. 
Or a book might be dropped on me by a passing 
seven-footer. For they all carried books — hard, shiny 
volumes that looked as though they had never been 
opened. I edged my way toward the wall, out of the 




traffic flow, and inched onward to the front door and 
outside. It was a narrow escape. 

I am full of admiration for high school teachers, 
who bravely enter these labyrinthine buildings and 
mingle with the creatures inside. There must be an 
easier way of making a living, such as poking at 
lions with a kitchen chair or being shot out of a 



cannon. 



68 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

Teen-agers are sentenced to high school by their 
parents. High school, you see, takes hours and hours 
out of the time that might otherwise, and far more 
profitably, be spent at the beach or at a bowling alley 
or listening to records in a record shop or watching a 
drag race or sitting in a car, talking. 

And what talking. They say the art of conversation 
is dead, and it may be, among adults. But once I 
edged up close enough to two teen-age boys, slumped 
over in the front seat of a car (at first I thought they 
had been in an accident, and were unconscious), to 
hear this lively interchange: 

"Hey." 

"Huh?" 

"Whaddaya wanta do?" 

"I dunno. Whaddaya wanta do?" 

"I dunno." 

(Silence of several minutes.) 

"Hey." 

"Huh?" 

"Whaddayasay we go to Rusty's?" 

"Unh unh." 

"Whaddaya say we go to Dave's?" 

"Unh unh." 

(Silence of several minutes.) 

"Whaddaya wanta do?" 

"I dunno. Whaddaya wanta do?" 

"Whaddayasay we go to Al's?" 

"What for?" 



School ' 69 

"Mary might be there." 

"Think so?" 

"Yeah." 

"Whydaya think so?" 

"She kinda likes Al." 

"Think so?" 

"Yeah." 

(Silence of several minutes.) 

"Lesgo to Al's." 

High school interrupts good, man-to-man talk 
like this and uses up valuable time that might be 
spent at Al's house, watching TV and watching Al 
watch Mary. The only teen-agers who escape high 
school are the few lucky ones who have understand- 
ing parents who let them get married or go to work 
or join the Navy. 

But high school is not a total loss to young people. 
They get a few things out of it. One, if they are 
lucky, is election to an important office, such as as- 
sistant song leader. If not elected, they may be nomi- 
nated for such an office, get honorable mention, or be 
considered good material for another year. This feeds 
the ego, and the ego of a teen-ager is always hun- 
gry. 

Another thing they salvage from those high school 
years is memorabilia, some of which is rather mem- 
orabilious, such as class sweaters that quickly sag to 
the knees, class rings that are the wrong size and 
either cut off the circulation or are held on with 



70 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

adhesive tape, and yearbooks with clever comments 
penned under pictures, such as "Nice knowing you," 
"Have fun," and "Hi!" 

A few other benefits of a high school education are 
a steady boy friend — or girl friend — and several un- 
steady ones, a bill for laboratory breakage, and a 
stubborn case of athlete's foot. 

At high schools there is always a Mr. Holsingbeck, 
the Principal, who is to be kept away from. Little do 
terrified students realize how Mr. Holsingbeck stam- 
mers and shakes in the presence of Mr. Dillsworth, 
the Superintendent, who in turn stands with bowed 
head in the presence of the Board of Education. A 
student, if he is fortunate, sees the Principal only at 
the opening ceremonies and graduation, when he 
can be heard over all the others in the "Star-Spangled 
Banner" and the Flag Salute, not because he is the 
most patriotic, but because he is closest to the micro- 
phone. 

Another important personage is Miss Rumple- 
meyer, the Counselor of Students, who is hard out- 
side but soft inside, like an uncooked egg. She gets 
tears in her eyes and blows her nose on an under- 
sized, inadequate handkerchief when she has to tell 
a teen-ager that he or she is in trouble, which is 
something the teen-ager already knows. 

Miss Rumplemeyer is rumored to have come close 
to marrying. According to one story, she could have 
married Clark Gable, who was mad about her, but she 



School ■ 71 

turned him down. According to another, she was en- 
gaged to a dashing young officer in some war or other 
(World War I or the Boer War or the Spanish- 
American War), who was reported missing in action 
but may still be alive, and she keeps a light on all 
night on her front porch, just in case. There are 
many other stories about Miss Rumplemeyer's pas- 
sionate past, all o£ which the students believe. Some 
adults, who have seen Miss Rumplemeyer, are 
skeptical. 

And then there is the Coach, "Beefy" Boyd, who is 
carried on the shoulders of the students in a victory 
parade or hanged in effigy, depending on how the 
game with Southside High comes out. The Coach 
looms much more important than either the Prin- 
cipal or the Counselor of Students, and it comes as 
something of a shock to a teen-ager when good old 
"Beefy," after five successful seasons, including win- 
ning the All-Conference and the Inter-Sectional, 
leaves his wife and three children and runs off with 
the new gym teacher, the one with the tiny waist 
who wears a tight sweater and no bra, as you can tell 
when she jumps up and down, leading calisthenics. 
Such things are remembered much longer than the 
date of the Boston Tea Party or who was Vice-Pres- 
ident under William Henry Harrison. 

My own son and daughter seem to have got the 
most, during their high school years, from the School 
Cafeteria, where they could choose their food, as they 



72 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

could not at home, where we do not publish our 
menu the day before. 

"Did you have a good lunch?" my wife asked our 
son one evening, when he left his salad and pot roast 
and mashed potatoes and string beans virtually un- 
touched, merely messing them up sufficiently to dis- 
qualify them for leftovers. 

"Yeah, great," he said, pushing aside the distaste- 
ful fare we had served him and smiling nostalgically 
as he thought back to noon. 

"What did you have?" 

"Three hot dogs, an ice cream cone, a couple of 
candy bars, and a Coke. Really filled me up," he said. 

Lunch in the School Cafeteria is excellent for de- 
veloping cavities and then, if there is a bit of horse- 
play, such as a game of catch with the mustard bottle. 




School • 73 

for knocking out the teeth that would otherwise have 
to be filled. 

Another interesting feature of high school is Study 
Hall, where students and faculty are brought to- 
gether in the same room for regular periods. Anyone 
who has seen what goes on in Study Hall will ap- 
preciate the truth of the old saying, "You can lead a 
teen-ager to books, but you can't make him study." 
Or the other one, attributed to Benjamin Franklin, 
"A teen-ager and his books are soon parted." At the 
end of an hour of staring into space a few inches 
above an open volume, a teen-ager gathers up such 
necessary aids to concentration as a nail file, a bottle 
of nail polish, a package of Life Savers, a box of 
raisins, a pair of tweezers, and a mirror, and leaves 
the room mentally exhausted. 




74 ' Through Darkest Adolescence 

Assignments not completed in Study Hall can, of 
course, be finished at home. Working conditions are 
better here than in Study Hall, because the record 
player can be turned up loud enough to drown the 
sound of a pen scratching paper or the turning of 
pages. And the strain of intense cerebration can be 
relieved by stopping work, every few minutes, to 
watch television for half an hour. 

There is also the availability of supplies, not so 
handy in Study Hall, without which my daughter 
would be unable to do any profound thinking: 

Peanut butter thickly spread 
On crispy crackers and on bread. 
Potato chips and chunks of cheese. 
Chocolates and cake — it's these 
With which my teen-age daughter crams 
For exams. 

Some consider it dishonest for parents to help too 
much with their teen-ager's homework, and not 
really educational in the long run. Indeed, this is 
sometimes the line taken by parents themselves after 
the math assignments get too advanced for them. Or 
after the history paper which was ghosted, or guest- 
edited, comes back with a C — and the smart-aleck 
comment: "Unoriginal, superficial. Expression im- 
mature." 

On the other hand, it is a splendid way for parents 
to learn something. I myself profited immensely 



School • 75 

from working on a paper on "Games and Pastimes 
in Puritan New England." And I learned a great deal 
from a paper for Senior English entitled "Chivalric 
Ideals in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe," a paper that 
was causing me no end of trouble until I ran across 
a very helpful book from which it could be lifted al- 
most verbatim. Why the paper, which was beauti- 
fully typed and enclosed in a cardboard cover on 
which I drew, with color crayons, a picture of a 
medieval knight on horseback, got a D, I shall never 
know. Some high school teachers simply lack critical 
judgment, while others read too much and recognize 
sources. 

But however bitter your feelings about the igno- 
rance and unfairness of your child's teacher, you 
should control the impulse to march right up to that 
feather-brained pedagogue and "tell him a few 
things," or go over his head to the Principal. 

Once I went to my daughter's French teacher, 
thinking to ask nothing more than that the poor 
girl's grade be raised a couple of notches, and I have 
never been so humiliated in my life. Wishing to 
make a good impression, and emboldened by the 
fact that the young woman's name was Smith, I 
started right off speaking French to her, rattling off 
long, complicated sentences like "Comment allez- 
vousf" and "Ouvrez la jenetre." Unhappily she took 
the linguistic ball away from me, speaking French so 
rapidly and with such an odd accent that I could 



76 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

catch only an occasional word. My daughter had 
failed to tell me that Mrs. Smith's maiden name was 
Jeanne-Fran^oise Noilly, and that she was born and 
educated in Paris and held the Diplome d'Etudes 
Superieures from the Sorbonne. 

Then there was the time I called on the Principal 
merely to request that he make my son's English 
teacher cut down the reading assignments, which 
were getting too long for me. Here I was still in the 
middle of Silas Marner, a book with a very long 
middle, and the teacher had assigned The Return of 
the Native for next week, along with a written re- 
port on the characters, setting, and plot. What had 
brought me to the breaking point was that I misun- 
derstood my son, thinking he said Silas Lapham, not 
Silas Marner, and was on the last chapter of The Rise 
of Silas Lapham before I discovered my error. This 
lost me at least three days and had me reading furi- 
ously to catch up. 

The Principal listened sympathetically, when I 
told him politely but forcefully that the English 
teacher was sadistic and the assignments were alto- 
gether too long. I didn't mean to threaten him, but 
just for good measure I dropped the hint that one 
of my closest friends was a member of the School 
Board, which was partially true. 

"I'll speak to Miss Wetherby," he reassured me. 

"Thank you, sir," I said. "It's not just my son I'm 
thinking about, it's all the others." I, of course, was 



School • 77 

one of the others, but he could hardly have sus- 
pected. 

He spoke to the English teacher, all right, and I 
have often wondered what he said. Anyhow, the as- 
signments suddenly became twice as long, and the 
books twice as hard. From The Return of the Native 
we went to War and Peace and The Decline and Fall 
of the Roman Empire, which took Gibbon twenty- 
four years to write, and no wonder. Before, I had 
only stayed up a couple of hours later, to get the 
reading done, but now I also gave up watching 
Gunsmoke and the Late Show. I could have killed 
Miss Wetherby, and one of my pleasantest dreams — 
from which I awakened smiling — was doing so. 

This is not to say that my teen-age son is not a 
reader, and a fast one, no matter how I myself plod 
along, framing the words on my lips. We spent a 
hundred dollars on a special after-hours course that 
did wonders for him: 

Our son has been given a speed-reading course. 
Causing rate and retention to soar. 

Now he's able to read twice as fast twice as much 
Of the trash he was reading before. 

If you don't think my son is a reader, you ought to 
see the eagerness with which he grabs up the paper 
on Sunday morning, now that he has grown large 
enough to lift it all by himself. Often he snatches it 
out of sister's hands, or mine, in his impatience to 




get the latest news of the world — the world, that is, 
of Li'l Abner and Dick Tracy. Or he goes directly 
for the classified ads, hoping someone is selling a 
second-hand carburetor that will function on his 
third-hand car. If he read the Great Books with the 
avidity he reads the comics and the classified ads, he 
would be another Clifton Fadiman or Mortimer 
Adler, with a bright future as a member of the ad- 
visory committee of the Book-of-the-Month Club. 
I have said something about my abortive efforts to 
influence high school teachers. Parents can prob- 
ably accomplish more if, instead of going it alone, 
they join a pressure group, such as the PTA. The 
only trouble about such a group is that the pressure, 
I have found, is on the members. I went to a meeting 



School • 79 

once, when I took part for three hours in a spirited 
discussion of a proposed change in the by-laws which 
would, if enacted, have raised the dues from two dol- 
lars a year to two dollars and twenty-five cents. The 
proposal was voted down by a narrow margin. I 
argued so persuasively against the increase in dues, 
hoping thereby to save twenty-five cents, that at the 
close of the meeting I was elected Treasurer, for a 
three-year term, and charged with finding ways of 
making up the rather alarming deficit. 

It was this experience that led me to write these 
heartfelt lines: 

Get in and study. Junior, please, 

Do all that you can do. 
Though I'm not fond of prodigies, 

I cherish your IQ. 

Obey the teacher, break no rule. 

And speed the blessed day 
When you will graduate from school 

And I from PTA. 

High School Commencement comes at last. It was 
worth all the effort, some parents are able to say with 
a straight face. The Valedictorian and Salutatorian 
(somebody else's children, and how such dull peo- 
ple could have such bright offspring you will never 
understand) make speeches, and so do the Principal 
and the Superintendent and the President of the 
Board of Education. 



8o • Through Darkest Adolescence 

"As this graduating class goes forth to meet the 
challenge of life," says the Superintendent, "facing 
the future, burdening our shoulders — I mean shoul- 
dering our burdens. . . ." At this point he is handed 
a small piece of paper by the President of the Board 
of Education, assumed by the audience to be an im- 
portant announcement he is supposed to make, per- 
haps that there is a fire in the dressing room directly 
behind the stage and no one should panic if he sees 
smoke and flames. Actually it says: "You had five 
minutes and you've gone fifteen. For God's sake, cut 
it off!" 

Then the glee club sings (your child had a hacking 
cough the night of the try outs), the orchestra plays 
(you were never very musical either), and the 368 
graduates file across the stage, in alphabetical order. 

The night my son graduated, only one student in 
that long line stumbled. Fortunately, he has quick re- 
flexes, inherited from my wife's side of the family, 
and he almost saved himself by grabbing at the flag 
before he fell off the stage into the bass drum. It was 
a patriotic gesture that was wildly applauded. 

After Commencement there is an all-night Beach 
Party which blows, in a few carefree hours, the forty- 
five hundred dollars accumulated by the Parents' 
Committee after years of cake baking and benefits 
and bazaars and white elephant sales. The party it- 
self turns out to be a white elephant, the Name Band 
having gone to the wrong city and so having arrived 



School ' 81 

only in time to play "Auld Lang Syne," one of the 
buses — the one containing the chaperones — break- 
ing down on the way home, and the Senior Most 
Likely to Succeed, a nonswimmer, falling off the pier 
with his graduation suit on and having his title 
changed to the Senior Most Likely to Drown. 

The next day your teen-ager, now a high-school 
graduate, embarks on a new phase in his career by 
sleeping twelve hours straight (and no telling how 
many hours crooked), getting up for dinner, and 
then going back to bed again. 

You might try to get a nap yourself, if you can. 



VL Parties 



When our children were small, a party might be 
messy but it was relatively inexpensive and not likely 
to provoke the neighbors into calling the police. 
Birthday parties were a success i£ there were a few 
simple games and plenty of ice cream, cake, and 
lemonade. At worst, some little fellow would throw 
up, after overindulging, and it would be a long time 
until the spot finally faded out of the living-room 
rug. 

In those early years, however, we learned one 
simple technique about parties which proved in- 
valuable when our children became teen-agers and 
we moved into big-league entertaining. The tech- 

82 



Parties • 83 

nique is to say to another parent, before this person 
with less experience or slower reflexes manages to 
blurt it out: "Let's have the party at your house. 
We'll furnish the dessert." 

When two parents simultaneously make the same 
suggestion, there is likely to be an embarrassing 
pause. Someone's next line should then be, "Your 
house is so much nicer for entertaining." This may 
be hard to say, when you think the other house is a 
hovel, but with the issue a matter of such conse- 
quence, you should try to force out the words and 
even, if possible, look sincere. 

Having the party at someone else's house is half 
the battle. At least it means that your house will not 
depreciate a couple of years in a single evening, un- 
dergoing the kind of aging that is sometimes seen, 
with a sense of shock, in a good friend after a severe 
illness. A house, however, doesn't recuperate after a 
party, unless it is nursed along by sundry painters, 
carpenters, glaziers, and rug menders — none of them 
paid for by Blue Cross. 

I know of one house where, after a particularly 
vigorous party, they had to reset the foundation. It is 
true that, in this instance, teen-age guests were not 
wholly responsible, the structure having been weak- 
ened by termites. But, come to think of it, there 
probably are houses that have been weakened by 
teen-agers and finished off by termites. In either or- 
der, the combination is plenty destructive. 




One of the best ways to keep from having a teen- 
age party at your house, aside from not having teen- 
agers, is not having a house. It may seem a lot of 
trouble to pitch a tent at the edge of town, and take it 
down every morning and hide it away, lest other 
parents get the idea that a tent party would be fun. 
Or to live in a trailer and be always on the move. But 
considering the alternative, no sacrifice is too great. 

Another way to escape is to live in a house that is 
too small — maybe a tiny place over someone's ga- 
rage. However, some parent is sure to say, after you 
have been first with the "Let's have it at your 
house" gambit, "But your house is so much cozier. 
And young people like to be crowded!" 

Skillful as my wife and I are, we have sometimes 




been boxed into having a party at our house. Either 
we were a little slow with our reactions or we tossed 
a coin for it, and it was their coin and the coin was 
obviously loaded. 

I remember, for instance, the first time my daugh- 
ter had a slumber party. We had never had a slumber 
party for our son, who is two years older, because 
boys just don't go in for such things, I hope. So it 
was a new and upsetting experience from which I 
have not yet fully recovered. 

That night, six of my daughter's friends arrived, 
each with a sleeping bag, an overnight case, and her 
hair up in curlers. 

"Going camping?" I asked cheerily when I let 
them in the front door. 



86 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

They brushed past me without comment, prob- 
ably thinking me the butler or, considering the hour, 
the night watchman, and trooped on upstairs to my 
daughter's room. After all, my question was pretty 
silly, when our guests were carrying no tents and 
only one of them had what looked like a portable 
stove. (As I found out later, it was a portable stove.) 

The bathroom was in use for the next two hours, 
though I managed to slither in once, when they 
foolishly left the place unoccupied for a few seconds, 
to brush my teeth. No sooner had I got in, though, 
than someone was rattling the doorknob, so I just 
made a few passes at my molars and got out, trying to 
look nonchalant as I sauntered past the line of young 
women in my shorts. (Don't mistake me: I was in 
my shorts; they weren't.) 

As I hightailed it to bed, I passed my daughter's 
room or, as she prefers to call it, pad. The door was 
slightly ajar, and I managed to get a quick look. It 
was the first time I had ever seen wall-to-wall sleep- 
ing bags. I would have seen a lot more, but someone 
slammed the door in my face, which, fortunately, I 
got out of the way of in time to receive nothing more 
than a slight bruise over the right cheekbone. 

As the night wore on, it was clear that there were 
more sleeping bags than sleeping girls. Or sleeping 
anybody. It was a hard night. 

The next morning I summed it up this way: 



Parties • 87 

Last night my teen-age daughter had 
A slumber party. May I add 
I got no slumber, thanks to squealing, 
Hi-fi, and such. And now I'm stealing 
Away to work, warned by my mate: 
"Be quiet, dear. They're sleeping late." 

One thing I'll say for slumber parties — they're the 
cheapest kind. Other parties finally let you get to 
sleep, about two a.m., but they cost like the devil. 

Take music. In our town we have what is known 
as the Dads' Band. This is a fine little group, play- 
ing piano, saxophone, bass fiddle, and banjo. The 
men in the band are all parents of teen-agers, 
and they are glad to play for nothing, or next to 
nothing. They specialize in the hit tunes of the 
Twenties and Thirties, the ones you can really dance 
to, like "The Sheik of Araby," "On the Sunny Side 
of the Street," and "Just a Gigolo," and every now 
and then there is a waltz, slow and dreamy. 

"Remember that one?" my wife is likely to ask me, 
her eyes fogging over. 

"Sure do," I say. "The big hit of 1933. Brings 
back all sorts of memories — the banks closed, 3.2 
beer. ..." I may become so emboldened as to say, 
"Let's try this one. I think it's slow enough." 

But the teen-agers absolutely refuse to have the 
Dads' Band any more. 



88 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

"Oh, I know they're all friends of yours," my 
daughter said once, when she was planning a dance 
and I suggested — little old economical me — that the 
Dads' Band would be just the ticket. "But they play 
those awful oldies and they're just amateurs. Unless 
we can have something better, we'll give up the 
dance and go bowling. Why can't we have a name 
band?" 

"Well, they have a name, haven't they? They're 
the Dads' Band," I said. 

"Oh, come oflE it," she said. "I mean somebody 
who really is somebody and has made records and 
been on TV and everything." 

"Like Lawrence Welk?" I asked sarcastically. 
"With Perry Como for a soloist?" 



.ir/ 




Parties • 89 

"Yes," she said in all seriousness, "or Glenn Miller 
or Guy Lombardo." 

I didn't bother to ask her if she had any idea what 
that would cost, or whether she would like to have 
Judy Garland and Bing Crosby thrown in to sing 
along with Perry. She had enough big ideas without 
my giving her any more. 

Another thing about the music at teen-age parties, 
which makes me, frankly, a little envious of persons 
who are hard of hearing: 

There's this about 

The teen-age crowd: 
They like their music 

Good and loud. 

And I'm not hep, 

I lack the knack. 
It sends me, but 

I don't come back. 

Of course I know the music has to be loud. Other- 
wise you might be able to hear what the other person 
was saying and be tempted to strike up an intelligent 
conversation, which would be out of place. 

Let's go on to refreshments. Only "refreshments" 
is the wrong word for what you have to serve at a 
teen-age party these days. "Buffet supper" is more 
like it, and your one chance of getting by without 
champagne and caviar is to cite the state liquor law 



go • Through Darkest Adolescence 

and to explain that the only good caviar comes from 
Russia, and you refuse to have any truck with those 
Communist fish. 

But there is no excuse for not having prime ribs 
and cold roast turkey and everything pertaining 
thereto, such as a couple of men in white jackets and 
tall chefs' hats (tall hats for short chefs) to do the 
carving. And be sure they are professionals, or at 
least strangers — there's no use trying to put Uncle 
Ned and Cousin George into white jackets. The kids 
just won't accept substitutes. 

And a man in a red jacket, looking as if he has just 
come in from a fox hunt, to ladle out the punch. 

And a couple of girls with white uniforms and 
French accents, to pour the coffee and bring in the 
dessert and clear off the tables. (Here, with a bow to 
automation, I must admit that nowadays you can get 
by with a Coke machine, which, though fairly ex- 
pensive to install, gives you a percentage of the take.) 

And a man with a flashlight to park cars, and to 
flash his flashlight into parked cars. 

Such parties, I probably need not reiterate, are 
expensive. In time, though, with the government 
helping everyone else, it may be possible to apply for 
federal aid. Or, if the party was held at your house, 
you may be able to have the place declared a disaster 
area, and get a low-interest loan until you are on 
your feet again. 



Parties ■ 91 

One thing that costs no money at a teen-age party 
is chaperones. In general there are two types: 

1. Those who take the assignment seriously and 
act like house detectives or members of the FBI, 
beating the bushes (literally) for couples who need 
to be uncoupled, and peering suspiciously under 
tables. They may overlook cheek-to-cheek dancing 
but not mouth-to-mouth, even though purportedly 
for purposes of resuscitation. 

2. Those who see no evil, speak only when spoken 
to, and are hard to find in case of an emergency. What 
kind of an emergency? Well, a bunch of party-crash- 
ing boys who ought to be thrown out but are not be- 
cause they are bigger and more numerous than the 
boys at the party. Or a boy and girl who are suddenly 
discovered to be missing and everybody looks all 
over for them and the tension mounts almost to 
hysteria until someone remembers that they never 
came. Or a greedy youth who gets his hand caught in 
the Coke machine, and it serves him right, trying to 
extract two bottles at once and save a dime. Or a 
girl who had something to drink that wasn't officially 
served at the party and she passes out cold and 
somebody has to phone her parents and tell them to 
come and get her because she is — uh — sick. 

Of the two types, the detectives and the defectives, 
the first is a great favorite of parents, except the par- 
ents of youngsters . who get into trouble because of 



Parties • 93 

the nosiness and prejudice of the chaperone. The 
second is a great favorite of teen-agers, without ex- 
ception. 

The canny host has one of the first type and one of 
the second. The two tend to cancel each other out, 
which is just like having no chaperone at all, but 
looks better. 

The word "chaperone," I recently discovered, 
comes from the French chape ^ "a hood." 

Whoever dreamed up the word was probably con- 
fused, or had never been a chaperone. There are 
usually a few hoods at a teen-age dance, but they are 
not chaperones. 

To sum up: 

Chaperoning a party? 
I'm sorry it's true. 
But here, very briefly. 
Is what you must do: 

Provide transportation. 
No matter from where, 
And lend your best records 
And seem not to care. 

Help hang decorations. 
Assist with the cooking. 
And keep your eyes open 
Without ever looking. 



VII: Cars 



I find it hard to imagine what it was like before the 
automobile. Did the children fight over who could 
have the family horse and buggy? Were mother and 
father left at home, peering at a stereopticon view 
of the Grand Canyon for the hundredth time, while 
Junior harnessed up the mare and went trotting off 
to a husking bee or a square dance? 

Did the children insist on having a horse and 
buggy of their own? And did they no sooner get what 
they wanted than they started taking it apart — re- 
moving the mudguards, fastening a chrome disk over 
the wooden spokes, putting smaller wheels in the 

94 



Cars ' 95 

front, and making such alterations in the horse as 
were not fatal? 

I have a feeling that pre-automobile parents had 
an easier time of it than we do today. A father, who 
in those days knew as much as anyone in the family 
about the care and feeding of a horse, was not put in 
the humiliating position of standing by helplessly 
while his son traced the motor failure to a loose wire 
in the distributor. Parents had less concern for the 
safety of their teen-agers in a one-horsepower vehicle 
on a country lane than in a three-hundred-horse- 
power vehicle on a crowded freeway. And who will 
deny that drunken drivers are more dangerous — 
and more numerous — than drunken horses? 

But there is no use looking back, wistfully. The 
automobile is here to stay, at least until it is super- 
seded by the family rocket ship, in which teen-agers 
will park on the dark side of the moon: 

When skies are full of small jet planes 
That clutter up the airy lanes. 
When lady pilots zoom around 
At speeds exceeding that of sound. 
When Junior, still a trifle wet 
Behind the ears, takes out the jet 
And strips it down to very socket 
To race a space ship or a rocket. 
When airway cops, with sirens loud. 
Come darting from behind a cloud. 




When conversation can't be heard 
And scenery is faint and blurred, 
When shopping place or picnic spot 
A hundred miles is overshot. 
And airports landed after dark on 
Have not a single place to park on — 
When this occurs, some distant year, 
I'll not regret that I'm not here. 

I remember with what pride and relief I received 
the news that my son had passed the driving test and 
obtained his license. No longer would I have to drive 
him on a date, sitting behind the wheel like a chauf- 
feur, when I took him and some giggly girl to a 
movie. 

"What time will the second feature be over?" I 
asked the girl in the ticket booth. 



Cars • 97 

"Exactly 11:22," she said. 

Then, after I synchronized my watch with the 
clock on the wall behind her, I drove home and spent 
the evening until I had to drive back to the theater 
and pick up my passengers. I preferred this to park- 
ing in front of the theater with all the other fathers, 
each of us like a cab driver waiting for a fare. Usually, 
during the four hours or so I had at home, I watched 
television, but sometimes I went to bed, setting the 
alarm clock for, say, 11:10. From much practice, I 
got so I could cut it pretty fine, setting the alarm for 
as late as 11:16. This meant leaping out of bed while 
still not quite awake, running through the house, 
jumping into the car, driving at precisely the maxi- 
mum speed limit, and arriving in front of the movie 
theater just as my son and his girl friend emerged, 
smelling of popcorn. Despite the gasoline that would 
be consumed in four hours, I was often tempted to 
leave the engine running — to get another thirty sec- 
onds of shut-eye. 

No longer either, now that my son had his driver's 
license, would I suffer the embarrassment I endured 
after he got his learner's permit. Then, though he 
could drive, I had to go along, sitting next to him, 
where I could grab the wheel or slam my foot on the 
brake. Nights when he drove up to the top of Mount 
Lookout with his girl for an hour of smooching, I 
got into the back seat, after we parked, and read a 
magazine by flashlight or walked down the road a 



gS • Through Darkest Adolescence 

piece. There were nights when I thought I would 
freeze to death. 

And then there were those double dates, when 
neither boy had more than a learner's permit (to 
drive, that is), and I sat in one corner of the back seat 
all evening and tried to be inconspicuous or, ideally, 
invisible. 

Now, though, he could drive the car all by him- 
self, and pick up the cleaning and get the groceries 
and do a dozen other useful chores. My wife and I 
blessed the Department of Motor Vehicles that is- 
sued him his license, and we thought of all the things 
we could do in the time saved from running a taxi 
service or co-piloting. 

But our rejoicing was cut short when we learned 
that the cost of accident and public liability insur- 
ance on our car nearly doubled the moment we men- 
tioned to our agent, whom we had considered a 
friend, that the car was now and then driven by a 
male under twenty-five years of age. 

And though he said, "Yeah, sure," when we told 
our son to pick up the cleaning or get the groceries, 
he seldom remembered to do so, with more impor- 
tant things — such as basketball and girls — on his 
mind. So we got the groceries and the cleaning our- 
selves, as before, only now our son was away some- 
where with the car and we had to walk. Fortunately, 
we live close in, and the grocery store and the cleaner 



Cars ' 99 

are only a half mile and a mile away, respectively — 
in opposite directions. 

Two years after our son obtained his driver's 
license, our daughter got hers. As for me, I bought a 
bicycle. My wife, who has trouble with her arches, 
bought some British walkers. 

Then a series of events led me to think that the 
transportation situation in our household needed re- 
vamping. 

First, my bicycle was stolen. 

Second, my wife's chiropodist raised his fee from 
$5.00 to $8.00 a visit, and the visits were getting 
more frequent. (I hate to confess this, but I began to 
think my wife had fallen in love with her chiropo- 
dist, she went to him so often, and I sat at home im- 
agining all sorts of things about his fondling her 
feet.) 

Third, one day I needed to know the make of our 
car, while filling out a questionnaire, and I couldn't 
remember. 

Decisions have always been hard for me, and I 
couldn't bear to go on, day after day, deciding who — 
my son or my daughter — would get the car. Usually 
I said, "Well, ask your mother." But this was weak of 
me, and I hated myself for it. 

So we bought a second car. 

"What kind shall we get?" I asked one night at 
dinner. This was a mistake. I should have asked no 



loo • Through Darkest Adolescence 

one, but simply gone out and bought something 
cheap and simple and conservative and with a good 
trade-in value. 

"I know," my son said. "I know just the car." 

And that is how we came to buy something ex- 
pensive and complicated and flashy and hard to trade 
in. It was a foreign car, with a right-hand drive that 
was intended, apparently, for left-handed people. It 
was also a convertible, with a canvas top that went up 
hard but came down easily, especially in a high wind. 
One windy day it blew off completely and we could 
never get it back on and the car ceased to be a con- 
vertible. The first time we had to have something re- 
paired, which was after we had driven about two 
hundred miles, we discovered that certain spare 
parts, such as the one we needed, had to be ordered 
from the factory, in Trieste. 

I know about the poor trade-in value, because we 
kept the car only three months, and got about half 
what we paid for it. We would have got rid of it 
sooner, but there was no use trying to sell it when it 
wouldn't run, and we were waiting for that spare 
part. 

"I still think it's a good car," my son said. "We 
just happened to get a lemon." 

He must have been right, because it left a sour 
taste in my mouth for a long time. 

The second second car was a great success, popular 
with everyone. It was not only expensive but, I am 



Cars • loi 

glad to say, looked it. My wife liked it because of the 
gold threads in the imported upholstery — imported, 
I think, from Fort Knox. My daughter liked it be- 
cause of the radio, which would run even when the 
ignition was not on and was unusually loud. My son 
liked it because of the way it would "corner," that 
is, go around a sharp corner at high speed without 
turning over — in fact doing nothing more than 
frightening the occupants and burning the tread off 
the tires. 

"The torque is great. Dad," my son said as we sat 
in this new car in front of the house. 

"I'm glad to hear it," I said, not having the slight- 
est idea of what torque is but not wishing to appear 
any more ignorant than necessary. 

"Both the pull-in torque and the pull-out torque," 
he added, obviously well-satisfied. 

"Splendid," I said, happy to learn that torque 
comes in two varieties and we had both of them, ap- 
parently as standard equipment. 

"Keep your eyes on the tachometer," he said, 
"while I rev her up." 

"It doesn't seem to be doing anything," I said, 
after he had raced the motor for several seconds. 

"Sure it is," he said. "Boy, look at those rpm's!" 
Then, noticing that I was peering intently at a little 
dial on which the hand had not moved a particle, 
"That's not the tachometer. Dad, that's the altim- 
eter." He turned off the motor and sat for a moment 



102 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

with a look of disgust on his face. Then he got out, 
slamming the door harder than necessary. 

I have told why my wife and daughter and son 
liked the new second car. I, too, liked it, and had my 
own reason. I liked it because, unlike the foreign car 
it replaced, it ran most of the time. 

And when I say it ran most of the time, I mean it. 
Somebody was always driving this new second car. 
Nobody wanted to drive the old family car any more, 
so my wife and I could have it — except for those 
times, which became more and more frequent, when 
my son had to have a car and my daughter had to 
have a car and my wife and I had to have a car. 

So we bought a third car. 

This third car was secondhand. We cut out the 
dealer and bought it from a friend, which meant that 
we paid more than it was worth, not wishing to hag- 
gle over a few hundred dollars. It was a 1952 model, 
that year, according to the teen-age set, having been 
a good year for this make of car. Teen-agers know 
cars the way some people know wines, and this was 
apparently a vintage year. We could have bought a 
1954 model, in obviously better condition, for less, 
but my son had to have a 1952, this being the last 
year they had that particular insignia on the radiator 
and a light inside the glove compartment. Besides, 
this ten-year-old car had only 24,000 miles on it, and 
since we were dealing with a friend we could hardly 
ask whether the speedometer had been turned back. 




At any rate, we made this third car our son's very 
own. After all, he put ten dollars of his own money 
into it. My wife and I were not sure we had done the 
right thing: 

Our teen-age son has recently won 

A battle he's waged for years. 
Now he owns a car and, frankly, we are 

Full of terrible, gnawing fears. 

Will he drive too fast? Will he try to go past 
On a road that is narrow and winding? 

Will he fail to stop when he's hailed by a cop, 
Despite all our constant reminding? 



104 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

Will he race a train? Will a trace remain 

Of our son if it ends in a tie? 
What will happen if he should park on a cliff 

And leave the car running in high? 

So his mother is blue, and I am too, 

As we dream of catastrophe. 
And we worry and fret and somehow forget 

How much better he drives than we. 

Shortly afterward, not wishing to show favoritism, 
we let our daughter have a car of her own. To do 
this, we traded in our new second car, which was 
barely broken in, for a car that was better for my 
daughter. That is, it has a mirror in the dashboard 
that is a great convenience when she needs to apply 
lipstick, and the hub caps are simply darling. Because 
the car we traded in was larger and more expensive 
and less than a year old, we managed to get this small 
new car for our daughter for only twelve hundred 
dollars extra. 

The chief problem now is the garage. What do you 
do when you have three cars and a two-car garage? 
Worse than that, when half the garage is filled with 
garden tools and trash barrels and excess furniture 
and suitcases, as well as old clothes and bundles of 
newspapers that the Salvation Army would have col- 
lected if we had remembered to tell them what day 
we would be home. This accumulation of impedi- 



Cars • 105 

menta reduces our two-car garage to what is, in effect, 
a one-car garage. 

The simple solution would seem to be to put the 
newest car, my daughter's, inside, it being the one 
most worth protecting. But one of the others, the 
family car, has a leak around the windows that lets 
the rain in. So why not put my daughter's car inside 
in good weather and the family car when it rains? 

I'll tell you why. My son's car is in there all the 
time, dismantled and impossible to move, with parts 
lying all around: 

He's working on his car. That is, 

With zeal and no restraint 
He's taken off the grille in front, 

The bumper guards, the paint. 

He's taken off the maker's mark 

Wherever it appeared. 
He's taken off the fenders, though 

We almost interfered. 

He's taken off the hub caps and 

The chrome along the side. 
The handles from the doors, as well. . . , 

Yes, he has scraped and pried 

And worked with hammers, pliers, wrench. 

And fingers strong and deft 
Until what he has taken off 

Is more than what is left. 




What I foresee is a second garage. Or, since there 
isn't room on our lot for another garage, another 
house. 

At last we have enough cars that we no longer 
need to figure out ways of getting a ride with friends, 
or having them pick up our children to take them to 
Pilgrim Fellowship or to dancing class. Now they 
are doing this to us, and I am getting mighty tired 
of it. 

But if the gas and oil and tires and repairs and in- 
surance and licenses and depreciation total several 
thousand dollars a year, there is a bright side to it 
all. As my wife said one day at the service station, 
while we were watching the little meter whiz around, 
"Don't forget. They give Green Stamps." 



Cars • 107 

There are those who feel sorry for me, when they 
see me pumping uphill on my bicycle, with a wire 
basket loaded with groceries, while my wife and son 
and daughter are off somewhere with the three cars. 
But I have read several authoritative articles on the 
importance of regular exercise to middle-aged men, 
and how good cycling is for the heart. The members 
of my family, always unselfish and considerate, have 
done me a great service. I may live ten years longer, 
as a result, and go on earning the money for which 
they have so many uses. 

I have also read several articles, which I recom- 
mend to fellow fathers, about how bad it is for the 
heart to give way to a fit of anger, kicking the door 
of an empty garage. 

What should you do when you feel your self-con- 
trol slipping? Just hop onto your bicycle and pedal 
off, very fast. 



VIII: Conversation 



Conversation with a teen-ager is almost impossible, I 
have discovered, unless by chance you also are a teen- 
ager. In that case it is ridiculously easy or, when 
overheard by an adult, easily ridiculous. 

It does no good for an adult to pretend to be a 
teen-ager for the sake of sliding into a conversation. 
Teen-agers have ways of detecting that you are an 
adult, even if you have a flattop haircut and wear a 
shirt with an unfunctional button on the back of 
the collar. I know a man who had removable braces 
that he could pop into his mouth, and a make-up 
pencil for stippling his face with realistic pimples, 
but they saw through his disguise. 

108 



Conversation • 109 

The worst thing you can do in an effort to in- 
gratiate yourself is to use teen-age slang. That gives 
you away at once, because the expression you picked 
up a month ago is probably now out of date, or 
means just the opposite of what it did then. 

Take the word "tough." I had gone along for years 
thinking the word meant difficult, as in a "tough as- 
signment," or unfortunate, as in a "tough break," or 
sturdy, as in a "tough physique," or hardened in 
vice, as in a "tough customer." My mental image of 
a "tough" was a slouching fellow in a turtleneck 
sweater, with a cigarette hanging out of the comer of 
his mouth and a blackjack or a switchblade knife 
in his pocket. I have always been afraid of toughs 
and have tried to keep out of their way, because I 
myself am what might be called, if anyone had 
thought of it (and I am glad no one has), a "tender." 

With this concept of "tough" in mind, I was 
startled, a couple of years ago, when my daughter 
used the word in connection with a friend of hers 
whom I had thought a sweet, well-mannered girl. 

"Linda is tough," I clearly heard her say, or as 
clearly as I hear anything she says. 

"Surely you don't mean Linda Waterman," I said. 

"Yes, I do," my daughter said firmly. "She's the 
toughest girl in my class, and maybe in the whole 
school." 

I was shocked. Apparently I was no judge of char- 
acter, especially in teen-agers. I wondered whether 



110 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

Linda was pulling the wool over the eyes of other 
adults also. Or was I, a poor judge of character, the 
only one who was taken in? 

"Do her parents know?" I asked. 

"Know what?" 

"Do they know she has the reputation around 
school of being tough?" 

"I don't dig you," my daughter said in a tone that 
was a blend of incredulity and disgust. 

"I just can't believe Linda is tough," I said. 

"Well, she is," my daughter maintained stoutly. 
"She's smart and good-looking and has a keen person- 
ality and has lots of clothes and goes with the neatest 
boy in the class and drives a Porsche. So if she isn't 
tough, I don't know who is." 

About this time I woke up to the semantic change 
that had taken place in the word "tough" in teen-age 
usage, though not as yet recorded in the dictionary. 
Linda wasn't a tough, or at least not my kind of 
tough. My daughter had not demeaned her but had 
bestowed upon her the highest accolade, for to be 
tough, in her set, was to be what in my boyhood was 
the ultimate in all that is admirable and enviable. 
"Tough" must be derived from "tough competi- 
tion," though I am only guessing. 

"I see," I said, visibly relieved to learn that I had 
not misjudged Linda, after all. "She's the cat's 
whiskers." 

"Just what do you mean by that?" my daughter 



Conversation • 1 1 1 

asked, thinking I was maligning her friend, perhaps 
suggesting that she needed a depilatory. 

"The cat's whiskers is about the same as the cat's 
meow," I explained, "and when I was young we ap- 
plied it to a girl who was a lollapalooza." 

"You and your crazy words," my daughter said. 
"Well, I can't stick around gassing any longer. 
Jeanne wants me to come over to her pad and spin 
a few platters. Beseenya." 

I went through much the same sequence of puz- 
zlement and enlightenment when I discovered that 
a square is no longer a parallelogram having four 
equal sides and four right angles, but a person re- 
jected by the gang. To teen-agers, almost all adults 
are squares. That is to say, they are misfits, square 
pegs in the round holes of society, creatures to be 
ridiculed, pitied, or — the best solution, if it can be 
arranged — avo ided . 

Of course if you talk to teen-agers as if you are an 
adult talking to adults, for a few wonderful minutes 
they will be flattered to death, and you may be able 
to convey an idea or two. You will have to work fast, 
however, before their eyes begin to get that glassy, 
uninterested look or they turn up the record player 
to drown you out. By such signs you will know that 
they have made the transition from being flattered 
to death to being bored to death. 

But you should never be long-winded, anyhow. 
You may be wanting to kill time, but teen-agers have 



Conversation ■ 113 

to make every minute count. They have important 
things to do, such as going to a drive-in for a ham- 
burger right after dinner, or seeing a movie they 
have seen only once before. You can't expect them to 
stand around listening to you shoot the breeze, un- 
less you are a basketball hero or someone who really 
has something to say, such as a TV comic. 

While I am at it, let me suggest that you not talk 
down to teen-agers. This may seem unnecessary 
advice, since the teen-ager is probably six or eight 
inches taller than you are, and you have to keep 
jumping up, as if you were shooting a basket, to get 
within speaking distance of his ear. It's even worse 
if you remain sitting while the teen-ager politely 
stands by your chair, shuffling uneasily. 

And another thing. Speak distinctly. Don't think 
you can mumble the way they do when they speak 
to each other. They are not really mumbling; they 
are speaking Teenese, a dialect akin to Cantonese. 

"Putona nother thasstoo sloforme/' one of them 
says to another. 

"Herza beatchul gofor," the other responds.^ 

By the way, when you speak to teen-agers, don't 
mistake attention for interest. A clever young person 
can listen to you with spellbound look for all of ten 
minutes, while you hold forth on the world situation 
or your vacation trip to Maine. Yet that flighty little 

1 Or, in Adult English: "Put on another. That's too slow for 
me." And the response: "Here's a beat you'll go for." 



114 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

mind is miles away, at a bowling alley or in a parked 
car. 

I had an experience with a teen-age friend of my 
son's that cooled me off considerably. 

"I have had quite a bit of military service," I said, 
with my customary modesty. 

"Oh, you have?" he said. 

He should never have asked this searching ques- 
tion, betraying his intense interest in national de- 
fense and the not inconsiderable part I played 
therein. 

"Yes, I served in the antiaircraft artillery in two 
wars," I said. Then I added, because I saw his gaze 
turning to my shelf of Civil War books, "World 
War II and the Korean War." 

"Hunh," he said, obviously wishing to hear more. 

Since I had not had an interested audience for 
some time, I went into all the details, making my 
exploits as spine-tingling as possible, considering 
that in neither war had I been closer to enemy action 
than Washington, D.C., where I sustained a bad 
bruise when I caught my hand in a mimeograph 
machine. 

"Just a minute," I said, at the height of my narra- 
tive. "I want to show you some souvenirs of the 
fighting in New Guinea. I'll get them from my 
room." They were genuine articles, all right — 
Japanese rifles and bayonets and grenades — and if 
I did not explain that they were brought back to me 



Conversation • 115 

by a cousin who had been out there in the Quarter- 
master Corps, it was because I had to omit a few 
nonessentials for the sake of dramatic unity. I left 
him on the edge of his chair. 

When I got back with my armload of Japanese 
weapons, he was gone, and I saw a car pulling out of 
our driveway at high speed. He had, as I said, been 
on the edge of his chair, and he may also have been 
wearing track shoes. 

Ever since, I have confined the tale of my military 
activities to adult audiences, mostly people who came 
to our house for dinner and were too polite to leave 
right after eating. 

My mention of dinner reminds me that my wife 
has always cherished the hope that we would get 
around to some uplifting, or at least educational, 
conversation at the dinner table with our children. 

"We shouldn't just sit there and munch and 
gulp," she said. "We should talk about things." 

"Like what?" I asked. 

"Current events and philosophical problems and 
literature," she said. "The children might learn 
something. It would stimulate their thinking." Then, 
as a practical afterthought, "And they might not 
eat so fast." 

As I recall, we tried it three times. The first time, I 
brought a volume of Plato to the table and after I 
had eaten a few bites started reading one of the 
Dialogues, thinking to stir up a discussion on the 




concept of virtue. I hadn't read it for some time 
(twenty-five years, to be exact), and I had forgotten 
how hard it was to understand. It was with some re- 
lief to me that my son had to leave to go to a basket- 
ball game and my daughter was called to the phone 
— and never came back — before I finished the Dia- 
logue and was ready for discussion. I resolved to 
bone up before my next presentation. For some rea- 
son, we never got around to Plato again. 

The second time, I launched into a discussion of 
the drain on our gold reserves and the stability of 
our currency and the functioning of the World Bank. 
This time I had prepared thoroughly, having read 
one entire article in The Reader's Digest, which I 
had underlined and brought to the table. I held 
forth eloquently, was really quite pleased with my- 




self, and didn't mind too much that my food was 
stone cold when I finally got around to eating it. 

"What do you think?" I asked my son, wishing to 
draw him into the discussion. "Do you think we're 
facing an era of inflation?" 

"Inflation's already here, Dad," he said. "That's 
why I've been telling you I need five bucks a week 
more on my allowance." 

The discussion, I could see, was taking an un- 
wholesome turn, and I excused myself from the table, 
feeling a sharp pain in the region of my wallet. 

The third time, my wife made a valiant try. She 
had prepared an excellent quiz on current events in 
Africa, and passed around the questions just after 
she passed around the gravy. It was a good idea, ex- 
cept that my daughter, reaching for a sheet of ques- 



ii8 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

tions, struck the edge of the gravy bowl, and by the 
time we had finished mopping up the table and try- 
ing to get the spot out of the rug, and my daughtei 
had changed her dress, no one was in any mood for 
questions on Mboya, Uganda, Lumumba, Bandundo, 
and Bwanamkubwa. 

It was our last attempt at intellectual conversation 
at the dinner table. Now we just eat, the silence 
broken only when someone chews a piece of celery 
or has a coughing fit or mumbles, "Pass me the salt." 
You shouldn't talk with your mouth full, anyhow. 

This is not to say that there is no conversation in 
homes where there are teen-agers. But it is likely to 
be a conversation of which you hear only one end. 
I refer, of course, to what goes on around and 
through the telephone. 

With us, our daughter is the one who is on the 
phone the most. Or perhaps I should put it another 
way: 

I said, "My daughter's on the phone," 
But I was wrong. I should have known. 
Considering the way she falls 
From chair to floor, and twists and sprawls 
And lies there, phoning, on her back 
For hours of unimportant yak. 
She isn't on the phone — no, sir — 
The phone's on her. 



Conversation • 119 

When you are trying to telephone home during 
the hours your teen-ager is there, and you get the 
busy signal, you can be sure of one thing: the line 
will stay busy for a long time. You can, of course, in- 
terrupt whatever essential work you are engaged in 
and try again every two or three minutes, on the 
chance that you will hit the split-second period after 
one conversation ends and before the next begins. 
This is possible, but the law of averages is against 
you. 

So you can telephone a neighbor and ask her to 
relay your message. 

Or you can send a telegram. 

Or you can write your message on a small piece of 
paper, insert it in a capsule, and dispatch it by car- 
rier pigeon. 

Or you can say to hell with it and change your 
plans, whatever they were. 

Or, if freedom of communication means more to 
you than money, you can put in a separate line for 
your teen-ager and have your own phone, under 
lock and key, and an unlisted number. 

It does no good to get mad, and it also does no 
good for me to tell you this. I get mad myself, just 
thinking about it. 

One thing about telephone calls when you are at 
home. If the phone rings and you answer it, it's not 
for you. If the phone rings and you don't answer it, 



120 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

it is. There is something awfully spooky about this. 

Come to think of it, you may derive a certain satis- 
faction, or catharsis, out of getting mad. Yanking 
out the telephone wires and stamping on the tele- 
phone until it is a mass of switches, gears, and bits of 
plastic is one way of getting relief, if you really want 
to let yourself go. But this is expensive, as you will 
discover when the repairman comes. And he may 
say something that will make you angry all over 
again — such as "Naughty, naughty!" 

My own way to let off steam is to stick pins into a 
small, bearded figure I have carved out of a cake of 
soap. It isn't much of a likeness, because I'm not 
much of a sculptor, but it's supposed to be Alexander 
Graham Bell. 



IX: Hair and teeth 



As my own hair grows sparser, I am increasingly 
envious of teen-age youths who have such an abun- 
dance. Often I find myself coveting the hair of some 
callow lad whose hairline starts only an inch or so 
above his eyebrows and sweeps down over the back 
of his collar. If only, I find myself musing, a surgeon 
could remove a few patches of this luxuriant growth, 
follicles and all, and replant it on my head like a 
piece of sod. The youngster wouldn't miss it — in fact 
it would make him appear a little less Neanderthal 
— and I would be helped mightily. You can get a 
blood transfusion. Why not a hair transfusion? 

122 



Hair and Teeth - 123 

I can imagine myself going not to a barber but to 
a doctor, a hirsutologist. 

Instead of saying, "Shall I take a little off the top" 
he would say, holding a scalpel in one hand and a 
thick mat of hair, from a hair bank, in the other, 
"Shall I put a little on the top?" 

"Yes," I would say, peering at myself in the mir- 
ror and pointing to the place in the crown of my 
head where I look like a freshly shorn monk, "and 
about a two-inch strip along the top of my forehead, 
if you don't mind." 

Matching my envy is my fascination with what 
teen-agers do with what they have. Were they to put 
half as much inventiveness and painstaking effort 
into other activities, they would not only make im- 
portant breakthroughs in science but achieve the 
three-minute mile and the eighteen-foot pole vault. 
As I see it, with the jaundiced eye of one whose 
scalp is showing: 

Teen-age boys have zany haircuts. 
Absurd, exotic, really rare cuts: 
The duck tail, and the suavely sheikish. 
The cheek-long sideburns, slightly freakish, 
The butch, the flattop, and the crew cut, 
Whatever is the fad, the new cut. 
Although inside the teen-age skull 
There oftentimes may be a lull, 
To compensate for such passivity 
Outside the skull there's great activity. 



Hair and Teeth ■ 125 

My wife believes there would be an end to juvenile 
delinquency if teen-age bads (a word I recently 
picked up from my son) were required to keep 
their hair short. Her theory is that dandified (at 
first I thought the word was dandruffied) long hair 
leads to a kind of bravado that, in turn, leads to reck- 
less driving, petty thievery, and glue-sniffing. So she 
proposes a ten-dollar fine for any teen-ager who lets 
his hair grow longer than half an inch. To enforce 
the law, she would have policemen equipped with 
night sticks calibrated, for measuring, along the side. 

My own suggestion is to let teen-agers wear their 
hair as long as they wish, but prohibit their carrying 
pocket combs. This would soon reduce their hair 
to such a hopeless tangle that they would beg for a 
crew cut. 

If my wife has been unable to put her theory into 
general practice, she has at least done something 
about it in our own home. Two unhappy develop- 
ments, occurring at approximately the same time, 
stung her into action: (1) our son took to wearing his 
hair so long that we expected him any day to appear 
in a leather jacket with the insignia of a teen-age 
gang specializing in mugging, and (2) haircuts went 
up to two dollars. 

Actually, what she took into her own hands was a 
pair of Handy Home Hair Klippers, purchased on 
sale for $6.98. She talked over her plans with me. 

"I'll practice on you first," she said. "Your hair 
is easy." 



126 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

"No thanks," I protested. I had visions of tonsorial 
mayhem, forcing me to keep my hat on indoors and 
pretending I was a detective or a newspaper reporter 
like Walter Winchell. 

"Come on," she said in a tone half coaxing and 
half (or two-thirds) threatening. "All you need is a 
little off around the edges, and that isn't worth any 
two dollars. Besides, think of the time you'll save, 
not having to wait your turn in the barber shop." 

"But I don't mind waiting," I said. "I relax, and 
I visit with people." And where else was I going to 
read Playboy and Adam} "Try it on Happy first," I 
said. Happy is our dog and has a lot more hair than 
I have. 

"Don't be a coward," she said. "I'll be very care- 
ful." 

In the end she had her way, as always. She sat me 
on a stool in the kitchen, with a towel around my 
neck, plugged in the clippers, and went to work. 
When she was through, I hurried to a mirror, expect- 
ing to look like Yul Brynner but less evenly. 

However, it wasn't a bad job at all. A little high 
in back, perhaps, and a gouged spot over my left 
ear, but not so bad. In a month or so — after about 
three more tries on me — my wife was ready to tackle 
our son. 

The first time she broached the subject, thought- 
lessly holding the clippers in her hand, he took one 
quick look at the instrument and ran from the house. 



Hair and Teeth • 127 

In fact he stayed overnight with a friend, and I 
feared was gone for good. 

"Next time," I told my wife, "be more subtle. 
Don't brandish those clippers under his nose." 

He came back, all right, though for a while he 
held one hand on his head, shielding his hair, even 
at the dinner table. 

My wife is a stubborn woman, and the longer our 
teen-age son's hair grew, the more determined she 
was to cut it short. What finally got him into the 
barber's chair in the kitchen, with a towel around his 
neck, I don't know. It may have been the five dollars 
my wife offered him. It may have been her promise 
to take off only a teeny-weeny little bit, a promise 
she wrote in red ink, to make it look like blood. It 
may have been that we were going on a month's 
camping trip into the Canadian Rockies, where he 
would see very few people and where it would not be 
thought peculiar to wear a stocking cap night and 
day. 

I'll never forget that first homemade haircut. Ex- 
pecting trouble, I had thoughtfully given the boy a 
tranquilizer, telling him it was a vitamin pill. Even 
then, it was a traumatic experience. You would 
have thought my wife, with those electric clippers 
in her hand, was a dentist with a drill, or a doctor 
about to perform an appendectomy without an 
anesthetic. 

"Look out!" my son screamed, while the clippers 



128 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

were still six inches from his hair. "You're getting it 
too short." 

"Take it easy," I said, tightening my half nelson 
and sidestepping the kick that would otherwise have 
caught me just below the knee. "She hasn't even 
started yet." 

"I want to watch in the mirror," my son said in 
the tone of a condemned man making a last request. 

So I got him a hand mirror, into which he peered 
suspiciously. And, on his further demand, I held a 
second mirror behind him so that he could see what 
was going on in crucial areas of the neck and back 
of the head. From time to time he cringed, ducked, 
or uttered the heart-rending cries of a victim of 
forcible rape. 

When it was all over, our son was not so much de- 
flowered as deforested. The floor was covered with 
hair, seemingly enough to stuff a mattress. My wife 
collapsed on the kitchen stool, still holding the elec- 
tric clippers, which continued to whir away until she 
remembered to turn them off. It was nothing more 
than a case of nervous exhaustion, and after a few 
hours she was able to walk around without help and 
keep down broth and crackers. I myself suffered 
only a temporary numbness in my right arm from 
holding the rearview mirror in place during the 
lengthy operation. Brisk rubbing restored circula- 
tion. 

Our son, though, was hard hit. The way he raced 




to the bathroom, I thought he was going to throw 
up, and I followed as far as the bathroom door, hop- 
ing to be of any possible assistance, such as holding 
his head. But he simply wished to look at himself in 
the medicine chest mirror, under a strong light. 

"I'm ruined," he moaned, after gazing intently 
at his reflection, "absolutely ruined." He sounded 
for all the world like a man in a Victorian novel 
who had just lost his life's savings. 



130 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

"It's only a little hair," I consoled him. "It'll grow 
back in a couple o£ weeks." 

He left the mirror long enough to slam the door 
in my face and lock himself into the bathroom. 
After listening to make certain that he was not 
planning to drown himself in the bathtub, I tiptoed 
away, heavy-hearted at having been particeps crimi- 
nis in the dastardly enterprise. We might well have 
inflicted permanent damage on the lad's psyche, 
making him henceforth withdrawn and antisocial. 

Though my son would never again permit his 
mother to cut his hair, he became fascinated with the 
electric clippers and, after tentative and exceedingly 
cautious experiments with his sideburns and the area 
directly above his ears, began to cut his own hair. 
How he does this, with the clippers in one hand, a 
mirror in the other, and two other mirrors wedged 
into his collar, has to be seen to be believed. My 
only part in this is sweeping up the hair and putting 
away the clippers, mirrors, scissors, comb, tweezers, 
and other items which our do-it-yourself barber 
leaves strewn about, his mother refusing to be of the 
slightest assistance now that her tonsorial skill has 
been questioned. 

Oh yes, I also pay my son a dollar and seventy-five 
cents — saving a quarter on what he would otherwise 
spend at the barbershop — every time he cuts his hair. 
After a couple of weeks during which I almost went 



Hair and Teeth • 131 

bankrupt, we came to a belated understanding about 
this: he could cut his hair every day, i£ he wished, 
but I would pay him for only one haircut a week. 

My son has a pretty good business head, on which, 
I am happy to say, the hair is now kept to a reason- 
able length, and his mother no longer needs to worry 
about his being on the downhill road to delinquency. 
As for me, since she keeps my thinning hair cut close 
to the skull, she has no worry about my going astray. 
If I did, I would soon be rounded up, easily identi- 
fied as an escaped convict. 

But enough about my son's hair. Let me tell you 
about my daughter's teeth, another story with tragic 
aspects and economic overtones. 

When my daughter was about thirteen, she had to 
have her teeth straightened. This was not made 
necessary, I hasten to say, by anything we had done 
to her. My wife and I have been tempted, but we 
are people of remarkable self-restraint. 

No, her teeth just grew that way. And as soon as 
she learned a little about heredity and genes and that 
sort of thing, she was pretty resentful toward us. 
Not that they were really so bad — the front uppers 
simply looked like a small cowcatcher or, when oper- 
ating on corn on the cob, like a bulldozer. In my own 
youth, before the development of orthodontia, they 
would have been left as they were, and no one would 
have given them a thought, except maybe an occa- 




sional sentimentalist, who would have murmured, 
"poor child," or some coward who was fearful of 
being bitten, 

I thought a little matter of teeth-straightening 
wouldn't amount to much. But that was before I 
went to the dentist, who after a professional inspec- 
tion of my daughter's teeth and a few thoughts about 
the new home he was building looked me straight 
in the eye and said his bill would be nine hundred 
dollars. Of course I could pay on the easy, lay-away 
plan — five dollars a month, sixty dollars a year — 
and in the brief span of fifteen years I wouldn't owe 
him a penny. 

Subsequently I met a woman who was having 
much the same work done on her daughter, and she 
said she was paying a thousand dollars. At first I 
congratulated myself on having saved a hundred 



Hair and Teeth • 133 

dollars, but later I began to worry that I was getting 
too cheap a job, and after a while — boing! they 
would spring back into their old rabbity position. 

The whole dismal experience led me to write a 
poem which, I am happy to say, I sold to a magazine 
for enough to cover my obligation to the dentist un- 
til I could take on a second job. These sad but lucra- 
tive lines were: 

My daughter has an orthodontist 
Around whom I appear my gauntest 
And wear my suit that's worn and seedy. 
In hope he'll class me with the needy. 

Yet months from now, I have no doubt, 
When bands are off and she goes out 
With straightened teeth and gleaming glances, 
I'll be in straitened circumstances. 

By moonlighting, I am able to keep up payments 
not only on my daughter's teeth but on my son's 
after-school coaching in math, neither of which I 
should like repossessed by the finance company. 

As I look back on it, I find the most dispiriting 
phase of all to have been the long months when 
those horrible braces made my daughter's mouth 
look as if it was fastened with zippers. Every time 
she opened her mouth I was surprised she didn't 
first pull a slide fastener from left to right. And I 
expected her some day to mumble, with an agonized 
look on her face, "My zipper's stuck!" 



134 ■ Through Darkest Adolescence 

In all seriousness, the teeth-straightening has been 
a good investment, and I recommend it to any parent 
with a snaggle-toothed child, especially a girl. Getting 
those teeth back inside her mouth made such an im- 
provement in my daughter's looks that now I think 
there is a chance she will get married, after all. 

If it does indeed turn out that we got too cheap a 
job, and the poor girl's teeth return to their original 
contour, I hope by then she will have grabbed a man, 
and one capable of keeping her teeth in the condi- 
tion to which she has become accustomed. The next 
nine hundred dollars will be on him. 




X: Smoking 



Smoking, as I keep telling my son and daughter, is a 
stupid habit. It is dirty, unhealthful, inconsiderate, 
expensive, and dangerous. Every morning, as soon as 
I have read the headlines about plane crashes, earth- 
quakes, strikes, and revolutions, I search through the 
paper for new proof that smoking is linked to lung 
cancer, and for gruesome items about people falling 
asleep while smoking in bed. These I read aloud at 
breakfast in my somberest tones. 

"Go on and smoke," I say to my children, after 
reading the final paragraph, about the sorrowing 
survivors. "At least you'll escape lung cancer if you 
burn yourself up first." I can be mighty sarcastic. 

135 



136 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

"The Yankees won another game," my son an- 
nounces, turning the pages of the sports section. At 
least his fingers haven't turned yellow with nicotine 
yet, though he may keep them bleached out with 
some new preparation, such as Nicotoff. 

"Pass the toast," my daughter says, failing as usual 
to add "please." My warnings about the bad effects 
of smoking don't apply to her, she thinks I think. 
Actually, 

I know she smokes. I've seen my pet 

Light up and draw and blow. 
But innocence remains. As yet 

She doesn't know I know. 

Probably I should be proud that my teen-agers 
are not easily frightened by my horror stories. I'm 
the coward in the family, carrying a small atomizer 
with which I nervously spray my throat after inhal- 
ing air contaminated by smokers. 

"After all, it's my life," my son says, and I am 
forced to agree with him. I just hate to be in the posi- 
tion of an accomplice when I furnish him the money 
to buy the seeds, or leaves, of his destruction. The 
time I cut him off for a while, it did no good, because 
he simply borrowed from his friends, and his friends 
mostly smoked a brand of cigarettes which, accord- 
ing to the surveys, contained 30 per cent more nico- 
tine and tars than the brand he had been buying for 
himself. 



Smoking • 137 

What added to my embarrassment about my son's 
borrowing was that my daughter, who keeps our hall 
closet full of other people's notebooks and mega- 
phones and car coats, was already known throughout 
high school as "Mooch." 

But back to my efforts to frighten my offspring 
out of the cigarette habit. I do not give up easily. 
Having failed with terror tactics, I try ridicule. 

"Imagine," I say, "what creatures from another 
planet would think if they were to visit the earth and 
see people burning little fires under their noses and 
sucking in the smoke and then blowing it in other 
people's faces." Then, leaving space fiction and tak- 
ing a sociological tack, I go on to expound my theory 
that it is not the smoke of factories or the exhaust 
from automobiles that causes smog in the modern 
metropolis. Smog is cigarette smoke, I am convinced. 
What is needed is a filter that will prevent the smoker 
from exhaling. This, I am certain, would cut down 
air pollution, though it might take some of the pleas- 
ure out of smoking. 

I have developed all this into a pretty good story, 
with a nice bit of pantomime, and it invariably gets 
a laugh out of my children. 

"Come on. Dad. Give us that smoking routine," 
they beg, when a bunch of their friends are over at 
the house. Tired of listening to records, and finding 
nothing but educational programs on TV, they are 
desperate for entertainment. Lighting up, they clus- 




ter around me expectantly, as if in a night club. My 
son tells me that I am their favorite local sick come- 
dian, the poor man's Mort Sahl. 

"Not right now," I say. "I'm not in the mood for 
it." The truth is that I'm like a politician being 
drafted for President. I like to be begged a little. It 
gives me the feeling of being wanted, if not indis- 
pensable. 

Usually I oblige, after the proper amount of coax- 
ing, since the evangelist in me hopes that at least 
one poor soul may get the message and go straight. 
Occasionally a confirmed smoker has seemed to 




hesitate, or look a little uneasy, before lighting up 
and taking a deep drag, then exhaling slowly through 
the nostrils, with a satisfied look on his face that, 
frankly, makes me a little envious. 

The reason I am so bitter, I guess, is that smoking 
is just about the only bad habit I have been able 
to avoid, and therefore the only one I can self- 
righteously preach against. Drinking, in an unspec- 
tacular way, I have succumbed to. And leering at 
women. And cracking my knuckles. But not smok- 
ing. When you have only one small virtue, you have 
to make the most of it: 



140 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

I do not smoke. That may be why 
I mutter slightly when I buy 
The cigarettes for those who do 
And empty out their ash trays, too. 

When I was a boy, I tried all the wicked things 
because they were wicked, and that included smok- 
ing. Along with my daring contemporaries, I made 
cigarettes out of corn silk, rolled up in strips of news- 
paper. Later I dissected cigarette butts and shook 
out the tobacco for a homemade smoke. After that, 
I got hold of Cubebs and other ready-made but in- 
nocuous cigarettes, the smoking equivalent of 3.2 
beer. But I never worked up to honest-to-goodness 
adult brands. After a few devilish orgies in the neigh- 
borhood hideaway, I had finished my experimenta- 
tion with this particular sin and moved on to others, 
which held my interest longer. 

Teen-agers today skip right over the corn-silk-and- 
newspaper stage and the dissected-cigarette-butts 
stage. It is taken for granted that they have to smoke; 
the only question is which brand. In fact, according 
to the TV commercials if teen-agers don't smoke 
they don't think for themselves, aren't living modern, 
and don't go where the action is. Moreover, those 
chain-smoking athletes in the ads make it pretty 
plain that unless you smoke you will have no muscles, 
no endurance, and no girl friends. 

"Smoke good, like a teen-ager should," I said one 



Smoking ■ 141 

day to my daughter, when she came in, reeking of 
cigarette smoke, while I was watching a TV cigarette 
commercial with my customary fascination. 

"That's not very funny," she said, walking up to 
the TV set and switching to the program of her 
choice. Sometimes I think she is no more perceptive 
about humor than she is about grammar, having been 
schooled in the one by television comics and in the 
other by television announcers. 

Probably the greatest thing about smoking, to a 
teen-ager, is that it is a sign of maturity. As such, it 
is almost as effective as a beard, which is a sign of 
maturity that is very difficult for some teen-agers to 
achieve, especially girls. 

Then too, smoking gives teen-agers something to 
do with their hands. Otherwise they might nervously 
unravel a sweater or break the neck off a Coke bottle 
or strangle a friend. 

Once I read an article that explained the desire to 
smoke as a reversion to infancy, sucking on a cigarette 
being an unconscious imitation of nursing. I told 
my daughter about this, thinking it would shame her 
out of the habit. But all I got from her was, "Don't 
be disgusting!" Whereupon she lit up another ciga- 
rette and blew the smoke in my face. She always 
has the last word in an argument, especially when I 
find it difficult to breathe. 

In the old days, the approved method of killing 
off a youngster's desire to smoke was to give him a 




big fat cigar when he showed the first signs of in- 
terest in the evil weed, and encourage him, or even 
force him, to smoke it down to the last soggy inch. 
The youthful smoker was supposed to turn green, 
become violently ill, and thereafter have a violent 
antipathy toward tobacco. 

Like so many fathers before me, I gave it a try. 

"Have a stogie?" I said casually to my son, one day 
when I thought I detected the odor of tobacco smoke 
on him. He was then nine years old, and I wanted to 
be sure to catch him before the habit had him in a 
firm grip. 

"Sure," he said. "Got a match?" He bit off the 
end, as he had seen strong, silent men do in the 
movies, and expectantly held the long black five-cent 
cigar clenched in his teeth until I struck a match and 
lifted the flame into position. My hand trembled 
just a little. It was a dirty trick to play on a little boy. 



Smoking • 143 

Meanwhile I was nervously calculating his distance 
from the bathroom. 

But, as you probably have guessed if you have had 
any experience with the present generation — a 
tougher breed than its predecessors — he smoked the 
cigar down until I had to grab the butt away from 
him, fearful lest he burn his fingers. 

"Got another?" he asked. 

I did not try the cigar routine on my daughter. 
Perhaps I should have. It might have had the desired 
effect. On the other hand, it might have whetted her 
appetite at an early age, and today she would be 
smoking White Owl panatelas instead of mentho- 
lated filter tips. 

There are, however, a few other carefully tested 
methods of discouraging a teen-ager from smoking, 
and I pass these along to parents who think enough 
of their children to make a serious effort. Those who 
think their children aren't worth it might at least 
consider the financial savings involved — as much as 
twenty-five or fifty cents (for two-pack smokers) a 
day. 

One way is to set a good example and not smoke — 
even if you have hitherto been a chain smoker and 
it almost kills you to stop. Regardless of whether 
this has the desired effect on your teen-ager, it will 
make you feel like a martyr, which is worth a great 
deal if you happen to like the feeling. 

Another way is to set a bad example by smoking 



144 ■ Through Darkest Adolescence 

furiously and incessantly, even if you have never 
smoked before and hate every minute of it. At every 
opportunity, shove your face close to his (or hers) 
and empty your smoke-filled lungs, meanwhile 
coughing like a consumptive. When your eyes glaze 
over and your tongue becomes thick and your hands 
tremble so that you can't pick up a glass of water, 
the repulsiveness of the habit may dawn on your 
teen-ager. 

"I'll do anything, if only you'll quit!" he will cry, 
dropping to his knees in a touching gesture of filial 
love and devotion. On the other hand, he may simply 
leave home and go to live with a relative who smokes 
with moderation. Whatever he does, you yourself 
may become an inveterate smoker and find you have 
been missing something and wish you had started 
sooner. 

Still another way is to promise your child a thou- 
sand dollars if he will not smoke until he is twenty- 
one. You may have to do a little bargaining, perhaps 
winding up with an offer of ten thousand if he holds 
off until he is eighteen (he is now seventeen). Once 
the bargain is sealed, unless you are more trusting 
than most parents you will have to check on him 
night and day, snooping and sniffing. This will take 
a good deal of your time, but when it is all over you 
may be able to earn back the ten thousand, over a 
period of years, by working nights as a private 
detective. 



Smoking ■ 145 

There are other ways, but these are as good as 
any. As for which is best, I can truthfully say, after 
having tried each of them, that they will all have 
just about the same effect. They will do no good 
whatsoever. 



XI: Drinking 



I remember the first time I had a beer with my 
father. I was twenty-seven years old. 

"Well, son," my father said, lifting his glass, "here's 
how." 

"Here's how," I repeated, trying to sound like a 
man. My hand trembled a little, shaking up the beer 
and sending a trickle of suds down over my wrist. 

Not until I had taken my first sip was I able to look 
up from my glass and face my father, man (at last) 
to man. When I did, I noticed that his hand had 
been shaking too, and he was wiping the foam off his 
shirt cuff. It had been a tense moment for both of us. 

146 



Drinking • 147 

"Have another?" my father asked. He tried to 
sound nonchalant. Now he knew I drank, but he did 
not know how much. 

"No thanks," I said, though it was a hot day and 
it was draft beer and I could have used another. 
"One's plenty." 

My father was obviously relieved. His son was a 
man, but not a drunk. It was a great day in the 
family. 

It didn't happen like this with my son and me. In 
the first place, he wasn't twenty-seven. He was maybe 
seventeen. I was sitting in the kitchen, drinking beer 
from a can, when my son came in, opened the re- 
frigerator, took out a can of beer, punched two holes 
in the top, and sat down at the table opposite me. 
Lifting the can and tilting back his head, he took a 
long drink. 

"Ahh-h," he sighed with satisfaction, wiping the 
corners of his mouth with the back of his hand. 
"Really hits the spot." 

Not knowing quite what to say, I just sat there, un- 
comfortably, while he polished off his beer in a 
couple of long, gurgling swigs and then got up. 

"Gotta be going," he said as he walked out the 
back door, leaving his beer can on the table for me 
to dispose of. 

I had looked forward to the day my son and I 
would have our first beer together, but I had thought 
it would be a little more of a ceremony, or occasion. 




than this. Anyhow, now I knew my son drank, and I 
also knew why the several six-packs of beer I stored 
in the refrigerator lasted such a short time. I had 
been blaming the cleaning woman. 

In general, there are two ways with which parents 
may approach the problem of teen-age drinking. In 
our family my wife believes in one of these ways and 
I believe in the other, which is not unusual. 

My wife would keep all alcoholic beverages out of 
the house, thus removing temptation from the 
younger members of the family. This is easier for 
some parents than for others, especially for tee- 



Drinking • 149 

totalers. My wife is what might be called a semi- 
teetotaler. 

"I don't object to drinking," she says, "it's the 
people who drink. They depress me. Especially the 
ones who drink too much." 

Too much, to her, is more than one glass. When 
we entertain, she keeps the drinking down by bus- 
tling up to a guest who is expectantly holding out an 
empty glass, taking it from him, and before he can 
say, "I'm drinking Scotch and soda" or "Yes, I'd like 
another," engaging him in a lively conversation that 
lasts until dinner is on the table. Or, if he won't 
talk, she takes his order, saunters off with his glass, 
and fails to come back. A variation on this is to re- 
turn to the thirsty guest, but with bourbon instead 
of Scotch, or with a tray of hors d'oeuvres. Strongly 
as she feels about too much drinking, she has no 
objection to overeating. 

One way to keep liquor handy, but out of sight, 
is to stash it in a secret place in the basement or 
garage. Another is to store it, with seals and identify- 
ing tags, at the home of a neighbor who either has no 
teen-agers or doesn't care. Since we have no such 
neighbors, our preacher living on one side of us and 
a member of Alcoholics Anonymous on the other, 
we have to keep our liquor in our own house. After 
having failed dismally in our efforts to keep the hid- 
ing place a secret (though the cache in the false bot- 
tom of the dishwasher was undiscovered for several 



150 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

months), we were forced to use a locked cabinet with 
heavy, pry-proof doors. This brought up the prob- 
lem of where to hide the key. 

"Under the rug," my wife suggested. 

"Too easy," I said. "How about inside the flush 
tank of the bathroom toilet?" 

"No," my wife said, "I'm not going to reach down 
in that cold water every time I want the key." 

"Inside the fireplace, then, between a couple of 
bricks in the back of the chimney, up just out of 
sight," I proposed, having read a good deal of Poe 
and Dumas and Robert Louis Stevenson in my 
youth. 

That was the first place we hid the key, but after a 
few times of scraping my clean shirt cuffs against the 
sooty bricks, I agreed with my wife that some other 
place might be more practical. So we shifted to an- 
other spot, and then another, and I became a bit 
confused. I recall the time, about a year ago, only an 
hour before some of our hardest-drinking friends 
were arriving for cocktails and dinner, when I for- 
got where I had hidden the key (in my stud box, 
actually), and had to make a fast trip to the liquor 
store for emergency supplies. That is why we shifted 
to a wall safe, though now I am fearful of talking in 
my sleep and giving away the combination. 

"If they don't see it, they won't think of it," my 
wife says. This is the heart of the no-temptation 
theory, which for a while caused us to prohibit comic 



Drinking • 151 

books and to refuse to buy a TV set. The theory 
would probably work i£ applied unanimously 
throughout the world — like universal disarmament. 
But when we discovered that our children read comic 
books and watched TV elsewhere, we finally broke 
down and admitted these instruments of the Devil 
into our home. Now we all watch TV together, as 
long as my wife and I are willing to watch Captain 
Kangaroo and Lassie. In time I may learn to read a 
comic book and watch TV simultaneously, as my 
children do. After all, I was the oldest person in our 
town to master a hula hoop. 

Along with the no-temptation method goes, in- 
evitably, the no-example bit, since the idea is not 
only to keep teen-agers from knowing about liquor 
but, above all, to keep them from seeing their parents 
enjoying it. This will explain to my friends why I 
sometimes furtively left a party, even at our own 
house, and took my drink into a clothes closet, 
shutting the door after me. Drinking in such cramped 
quarters, with wire coat hangers jabbing at my neck 
and with the reek of mothballs in my nostrils, some- 
how dulled my enthusiasm for even the best-mixed 
martini. 

The opposite of no-example is, of course, good- 
example. On the good-example kick, I have eaten 
vegetables until I was green in the face, gone to bed 
early when I was just beginning to enjoy myself, 
taken a bath when I really didn't need one, gone 



152 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

through a rigorous routine of calisthenics when it 
was none too good for my heart, and put money into 
a savings account when I should have bought some- 
thing that would not have been whittled away by 
inflation, such as diamond cuff links or a trip to 
Tahiti. But most painful of all, I have had to pass up 
a shot of whiskey when I felt pneumonia coming on, 
meanwhile giving a lecture on the value of vitamin 
C in the prevention of colds. 

So much for the methods favored by my wife, 
which were the first ones we tried and the first we 
gave up. 

The approach to teen-age drinking which I ad- 
vocated was to have liquor openly around the house 
all the time and get the children accustomed to it as 
something normal and natural, thus denying them 
the pleasure of being sneaky about it. 

"Liquor of all kinds," I told my wife, "should be 
right out where they can see it. We should have cock- 
tails every day, and wine with dinner. And we should 
teach our children how to mix and serve drinks." 

"All you care about," my wife said, picking up 
this last point, "is saving the cost of a bartender 
when we throw a big party." 

"That's not so," I protested. "Knowing how to 
mix drinks is part of a young person's education." 

"My mother and father never taught me, and I 
was not irreparably damaged," she said. 

"I beg to differ," I said. "It may not have hurt 



Drinking • 153 

you, but it embarrassed me plenty when you said to 
Ralph Johnson, in front of everybody, that you 
thought the best part of a martini was the cherry. It's 
a Manhattan that has a cherry in it. A martini has 
an olive or an onion. Will you ever get them 
straight?" 

I shouldn't have brought this up, and I apologized 
a couple of days later, as soon as she started speaking 
to me again. 

As a first step in trying my own plan, I brought our 
liquor stock out of hiding and put it in plain sight. 
Not only did I place bottles of Scotch and bourbon, 
along with mixers, jiggers, swizzle sticks, and glasses, 
on the dining room buffet, but I interspersed bottles 
of gin and vodka among the volumes on the book- 
shelves in the living room, and set up a row of li- 
queurs — creme de menthe, apricot brandy, black- 
berry cordial, Curasao, and sundry exotic imports — 
on top of the piano. As I added to the array, warm- 
ing to my task, the house began to look like a bar, 
and I heightened the illusion by keeping the lights 
turned so low you had to grope your way around. 

My son rather liked the way things looked. 

"It's real neat," he said. "I want the guys to see 
this." 

I was considering adding a juke box and maybe a 
slot machine, when my daughter, to my surprise, 
said she was embarrassed. 

"My friends are nice girls. They come from good 



154 * Through Darkest Adolescence 

homes," she said. "I'll not have them thinking my 
parents are a couple o£ lushes." 

Despite this unexpected development, I moved on 
to the next phase. I persuaded my wife that we 
should let our daughter learn her capacity. Other- 
wise she might drink too much, some night when she 
was out on a date, and her escort might take ad- 
vantage of her. 

"Lips that touch liquor," I said, growing poetic, 
"touch others' quicker. And once they get started — " 

"Oh, no!" my wife exclaimed. "She would never 
do anything like that," But her imagination is lively, 
and scenes of drunken debauchery rose to haunt her. 
By the time she had thought it over for a while, she 
was convinced that it might already have happened, 
and worried only lest we were too late with our 
teaching. 

So it was that I tested my daughter's capacity, start- 
ing with beer and progressing through sherry and 
up to whiskey and gin. 

That, I should say, was my intention. We got 
through the beer all right, stopping after three cans 
when she agreed she had had enough. The sherry 
test seemed an easy one, but I regret to say that I 
still do not know my daughter's limit, and trust she 
does not either, with this mild drink. 

You see, somewhere along the line I conked out. 
I vaguely remember being dragged to bed by my 
wife, feeling pretty awful. 



Drinking • 155 

My daughter tells me she finished up the last of 
the glass of sherry I had barely begun. She is a thrifty 
girl, taking after her mother, and hates to waste any- 
thing inexpensive. Though I don't know my daugh- 
ter's capacity for sherry, she knows mine. Conse- 
quently, I have given up sherry drinking entirely. I 
never liked the stuff anyhow. 

So there you have two approaches to the problem 
of teen-age drinking, my wife's and mine, and I 
commend them both to you. You will be amazed at 
what you will learn about your offspring and about 
yourself if you try either of them. 




XII: Sex 



"I think it's time for you to tell him," my wife said 
to me one day. 

"Tell him what?" I asked. 

"You know," she said. 

"No, I don't," I said, though by this time I did and 
just wanted to hear what she would say. 

"About s-e-x," my wife said. She's a very good 
speller. 

"All right," I said. "I will." 

I didn't say when, however, and several years 
passed before I got around to it, and my son by then 
was sixteen. It took that long for me to discuss the 

156 



158 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

matter with psychologist, biologist, and physician 
friends, send off for the books and pamphlets they 
recommended, and prepare my speech. It was also 
necessary to find the right moment, when my son 
and I were alone and in a friendly mood. 

The hour at last was at hand. I hoped I could re- 
member all the points I planned to make without 
referring to my notes. 

"Son," I began, "I want to talk to you about some- 
thing." 

"O.K.," he said. "Let's have it. What have I done 
now?" 

"It's not about anything you've done," I said, and 
I hoped this was true. "It's about sex." 

"Oh, that," he said, obviously relieved. "What 
about it?" 

Somehow I couldn't recall the rather clever open- 
ing remark I had planned, calculated to set my son 
at ease. Anyhow, he seemed at ease already. What I 
needed was something to set me at ease. I decided to 
take another tack. 

"Have you any questions?" I asked. This was what 
I had intended for the conclusion of my prepared 
talk. It was IX. B. 4. of my outline. 

"Like what?" he asked. 

"Just anything," I said. I thought of asking a prob- 
ing question myself, such as "Are you for or against 
it?" but I didn't. "Well," I asked again, "any ques- 
tions?" 



Sex • 159 

"No," he said. 

There was a long silence. Having given the end of 
my speech, I found it hard to go back to the be- 
ginning and take up Point One. Also it seemed 
awkward to reach into my coat pocket for my notes, 
the more so because they were in the pocket of a 
coat that was upstairs in my closet. 

"Anything else?" my son asked. "I've got a date 
tonight." 

"With whom?" I asked. 

"Leonora," he said. 

"Leonora," I repeated thoughtfully, letting the 
name glide sensuously over my tongue. I could see 
her in my mind's eye, where, as a matter of fact, she 
kept turning up frequently, ever since I saw her at 
the school dance in that tight-fitting dress with the 
interesting neckline. I remember asking one of the 
boys who she was. I was a chaperone, and it was not 
only my right but my duty to know. 

"Leonora," the boy said, and rolled his eyes and 
rubbed his palms. "You sure can pick 'em. Pops." 

Extricating myself, reluctantly, from my thoughts, 
I returned to the matter at hand. "I guess that's all," 
I said. I had a feeling that my son knew the basic 
facts of life. Anything more advanced, he could find 
out better from Leonora than from me. After all, 
didn't this Modern Education emphasize on-the-job 
training, learning by doing, and all that sort of 
thing? 




So I resolved, forthwith, to worry no more about 
my son — neither where he went nor whom he went 
with. It took a great load off my mind: 

No longer do I sit up till 

My teen-age son comes in. 
And stay awake with rod-like will 

Though drooping eyes and chin. 

At last, as I have proudly said, 

I've gained some trust and sense. 

I nonchalantly go to bed — 
And lie there taut and tense. 




When I was young, my father never talked to me 
about sex, though I am sure he must have known 
about it. As for my mother, she avoided the subject 
after one unsuccessful attempt to inform me in the 
way she had been informed by her mother. 

"What do you know about the birds and the bees?" 
she asked me, when I was about ten. 

"Quite a bit," I said proudly, because I happened 
at that time to belong to the Audubon Society and 
to have a friend whose father kept honey bees. 

So I gave her quite a lecture about the snowy egret 
and the yellow-throated warbler and the belted king- 



i62 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

fisher and the crested screamer, and I explained how 
bees obtain nectar from flowers and turn it into 
honey and how beekeepers keep from getting stung 
by blowing smoke into hives with bee smokers and 
wearing bee veils over their heads. 

I didn't get around to where the birds come from 
and where the bees come from, because I wasn't any 
too clear about this, and my mother never brought 
up the subject again. Even if I had known, I would 
have seen no similarity between, say, larvae and 
babies. How ridiculous can you get? 

My knowledge about sex came finally, and tardily, 
from a little book, written in simple, restrained lan- 
guage and containing a few sketchy drawings. The 
title, as I recall, was How Babies Are Born. It was 
a real shocker, and I was so afraid it would be dis- 
covered by my parents, and confiscated and burned, 
that I didn't dare bring it into the house. I wrapped 
it in an old newspaper and hid it under some bushes 
in the city park, and when I went there to read it I 
felt thoroughly wicked. After a heavy rain it got all 
soggy and came to pieces in my hands. Unable to 
secure another copy, I was left to go it alone, doubt- 
ful that I could remember all those incredible things 
without looking them up occasionally. 

But times have changed, even if sex hasn't. Now 
the only way a boy of ten can escape a thorough sex 
education is by never going to a movie or watching 
TV or reading about love nests and rape cases on the 



Sex • 163 

front page of the home-delivered local paper. A book 
such as I hid in the bushes could not possibly com- 
pete with the paperbacks available at any super- 
market or drugstore. 

When I was in high school, and even in college, 
the only term I ever heard for fooling around with 
girls was "necking." The word probably derived 
from the fact that such activity was limited to the 
anatomical area from the Adam's apple up.^ But 
now there is a carefully defined series of terms, start- 
ing with "necking" and "making out" and progress- 
ing to "petting" and "going all the way." Once a girl 
steps into a car with a boy, especially when they are 
beginning to get serious about each other — say on 
their second date — the only question is when the 
wrestling will begin: 

A girl in a car 

With a boy knows this much: 
His foot's on the brake. 

But his mind's on the clutch. 

Oh yes, they had cars when I was a boy, but they 
didn't have drive-in movies. And did you ever try 
asking a boy and a girl what the movies were about, 
when they have come back from a drive-in after a 
double feature that lasted four hours? 

"One of them was a Western, I think," the boy 

may say. 

1 In view of all the goings-on in the Garden of Eden, "Adam's 
appling" might be a better word than "necking." 



164 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

"And Debbie Reynolds was in the other one," the 
girl may manage, since she got a few glimpses out of 
the corner of her eye. 

One thing girls were good at in my day, and are 
still plenty skillful about when they want to be, 
is the technique of distracting boys, at the right time 
or sooner, with diversionary tactics. 

I don't know how it's done, because I am not and 
never have been a girl, but I know it is done. The 
nearest parallel I can think of is a bullfighter and 
how he draws off a rampaging bull with a flick of his 
cape. The similarity between a bull and a charging, 
predatory teen-age boy is pretty close, too. 

My wife or some knowledgeable friend has, I am 
sure, given our daughter some coaching about the 




Sex • 165 

timely coughing fit, the accidental leaning on the 
car horn, and the frightened whisper, effected with 
histrionics worthy of Eleanora Duse or Sarah Bern- 
hardt. "Did you hear someone calling?" she asks, 
or "Don't look now, but — " For my part, I have 
given our son a few helpful hints also: 

My father's father told my father 

The proper things to do. 
My father told them then to me; 

I tell them now to you. 

My father's father, father, I, 

Now you, know right from wrong. 

We may not always do it, but 
We pass the word along. 

If there is one thing that worries parents more 
than anything else, a kind of superworry, it is the 
crazy business of going steady, especially when the 
youngster is only a sophomore or junior in high 
school, and the Big Love is a featherbrained girl or 
an unpromising lout of a boy. When two sixteen- 
year-olds start acting like man and wife, it's pretty 
frightening. 

And parents are helpless. The more they talk 
against it, and threaten disinheriting, disinfecting, 
or whatever, the more they drive the two soulmates 
together. Moving to another country is rather diffi- 
cult, since it means cleaning out the garage, selling 
your home and business, learning a strange Ian- 



i66 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

guage, and starting a new career in middle age. It 
might be worth it, however, except for the likelihood 
that your child will find another Big Love, and a 
more impossible one, maybe with a mustache, in an- 
other country. 

Going steady is, of course, only the beginning of 
the end: 

When boys and girls start going steady, 

Their parents' look is drawn. 
They know that it's a case of going. 

Going, going, gone. 

One of my friends, poor fellow, has three daugh- 
ters, aged sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen. Usually 
two of them, and sometimes all three, are going 
steady, and with boys who turn his stomach when 
he so much as hears their names. But he and his wife 
have managed to break off each new romance after 
a few months, while it was still breakable, and with- 
out antagonizing their daughters. 

"How do you do it?" I asked him admiringly. 

"Simple," he said. "By overexposure." 

"What do you mean?" I asked, hoping his method 
was not as bad as it sounded. 

"Well, we have a beach house," he said. "When 
one of the girls gets to going steady with some ob- 
noxious pipsqueak, we invite him to spend a long 
week end with us — and I'm telling you it's long. It 
seems like years." 



Sex ' 167 

"Then what?" 

"We keep the boy and our daughter together every 
possible hour, morning till night. Not all night — 
we have to draw the line somewhere — but all the 
rest of the time. We get them up early and hustle 
them to breakfast together, and give him the sports 
section to read while they eat. We send them on 
long walks down the beach. And we keep them up 
late, insisting that they play game after game of 
parcheesi. We do our best to help him win every 
time, and maybe give just the slightest impression 
of cheating. As I say, it's a long week end, but it 
works." 

"How does it work?" I asked. 

"She gets tired of him. Or he gets tired of her. Or 
they get tired of each other at about the same time. 
My wife and I get tired of the whole thing after the 
first couple of hours, but we are desperate people 
and we stick with it. The main thing is that when we 
go back to town she's through going steady, at least 
with that one. It may be a lost week end, but it's 
also a lost boy friend." 

I am glad I had this little talk with my friend, be- 
cause otherwise we might never have bought a house 
at the beach. I had wanted a beach house for years, 
but my wife stubbornly said we couldn't afford it, 
and she was right. However, when I told her of the 
dramatic successes achieved by my friend's overex- 
posure technique, she gave in. Anything to get rid 




of the current callow youth to whom our daughter 
clings but whom we wouldn't touch with gloves on: 

She holds his hand, she looks adoring. 
His platitudes are never boring. 
No doubt some boys are greener, sappier — 
Tell me of one, and I'll be happier. 

So we bought the beach house. And the very first 
week end we went there, we took our daughter's boy 
friend along. We could hardly wait to get started on 
The Cure. 



Sex • 169 

"Do you think we can stay with it from Friday 
afternoon to Sunday evening?" I asked my wife, 
doubtfully. 

"Chin up," she said. "People have gone without 
food and water longer than that." 

She is a resolute woman, of pioneer stock. And she 
will do almost anything to insure a successful mar- 
riage for her daughter, a successful marriage being 
one which brings us a son-in-law with brains, looks, 
and — I always put in when she overlooks it — money 
or the prospect of earning it. 

I remember the week end well. It was the latter 
part of June, and our daughter's boy friend had just 
graduated from high school, without, however, 
learning anything about English grammar or good 
manners. He was a boy with an unusual face — the 
kind you are not likely to forget, no matter how hard 
you try — his head coming to such a sharp point that 
it would have punched a hole in a cap, and his chin 
curling forward and upward in such a way that it im- 
periled his nose when he shut his mouth, which he 
did all too seldom. The most remarkable thing about 
him was probably his forehead — he didn't have any, 
just a series of creases between his eyebrows and his 
hairline. 

My daughter thought he looked so much like 
Gregory Peck it was astonishing, and I thought it was 
astonishing she thought so. I spent forty-five dollars 
on an oculist before I discovered this was nothing 



170 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

glasses would help and I should have been spending 
my money on a psychiatrist. 

That first Friday afternoon at the beach I tried to 
get acquainted with the boy, hoping to learn what 
it was my daughter saw in him, since it couldn't pos- 
sibly be his looks. 

"What college are you going to?" I asked, just to 
make conversation. 

"I'm not going to college," he said. "It don't help 
to study any more when you've been to a real fine 
school like Central High. What would I learn?" 

"Nothing, I guess," I said, and I meant it. 

We got through the week end all right. Well, not 
all right but reasonably intact, except for a nervous 
tic I developed in my right eyelid. 

The main thing is that the romance was shattered. 
It would never be the same again. I mean the ro- 
mance between my wife and me. You see, she actually 
began to like the boy, or at least to defend him, and 
to be annoyed with me for failing to see his good 
qualities. 

"He's really very sweet," she said. 

"So is honey," I said, "but that's no reason for my 
daughter to marry a drone." 

"He'll earn a good living," she said. 

"Doing what?" I asked. "Sweeping streets, maybe, 
if he ever figures out which end of a broom is the 
handle." 

"There you go again," she said, "always the snob. 



Sex • 171 

As a matter of fact he already has a job for the rest 
of the summer." 

"I must admit I'm surprised and encouraged," I 
said. "Where is he working and how soon does he 
start?" 

"He's working for us, starting Monday," she said. 
"I've told him he could stay in the beach house all 
summer and look after it, and we'll pay for his food 
and give him a little spending money." 

I was so mad I couldn't even ride back from the 
beach in the same car with my wife. I rode the bus, a 
four-hour trip with two changes. 

Now we have a beach house on our hands that it 
will take twenty years to pay for and that I swear I'll 
never go into again. 

And my daughter's steady, who looks more and 
more like my future son-in-law, has at last found 
himself professionally. He has become a first-rate 
beachcomber. I never thought he would work as hard 
as he does, picking up candy wrappers and beer cans, 
most of which he has tossed onto the beach himself. 
Now and then, I am told, he finds an unusual shell 
oir a curiously shaped piece of driftwood, which he 
brings into the house and places on display in the 
bookshelves. Where the books have gone, no one 
seems to know. 

From reports I get, the boy takes quite an interest, 
a proprietary interest, in the place. He gives people 
the impression he owns it; and the way things are 



172 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

going, in a few years he will. Though I have not seen 
the house for several months, I understand from the 
grocery bills that there is a gay, hospitable air about 
it. Apparently it is always full of people — his friends. 
My wife and daughter continue to go down on week 
ends. When there is no room for them, they stay 
at a nearby motel, which is quite comfortable. 

The odd thing about it is that this brassy youth, 
this pin-headed, illiterate Gregory Peck, thinks I 
like him. "Dear Pop," he writes me, "We all miss 
you. Hear are this months grocary bills. Love." If I 
were to tell him what I really think of him, I would 
lose my wife completely. So I get what satisfaction I 
can out of writing him vicious letters which, once 
they are carefully written and placed in a stamped 
envelope, I tear up. I have learned to put the stamp 
on lightly, so that I am able to remove it and use it 
again. 

I have to save every penny for the payments on that 
beach house, for those grocery bills, and for the 
wedding that I fear is not far off. 

Looking ahead, I can imagine my wife smilingly 
saying to friends and well-wishers at the wedding 
reception, "No, we haven't lost a daughter, we've 
gained a son." She is a courageous woman, in public, 
as well as a user of cliches. But once the newly weds 
have driven off (in our car) and the last guest has 
gone, she will break down and let the tears come. 

And when I think of the son I have gained, so 
will I. 





1 



Epilogue 



Several years have passed since I began this treatise 
on teen-agers. The world is about the same as ever, 
or a little worse, and adolescence, which I have al- 
ready described as a disease, has broken out every- 
where in an especially virulent form. It has, indeed, 
reached epidemic proportions. Almost everyone be- 
tween twelve and twenty has it bad. Despite spec- 
tacular successes in other areas, medical science 
continues to be helpless. 

To quote one baffled M.D., looking up wearily 
from his microscope, "We are helpless." 

But time heals all wounds. We have taken down 
the Health Department sign, warning: this house- 
hold IS AFFLICTED WITH ADOLESCENCE, which for SO 



174 



Epilogue • 175 

many years greeted guests and tradesmen as they 
stepped up to ring our front doorbell. We have 
opened the windows wide and given the house a 
good airing, having been assured that fumigation 
was unnecessary. 

You see, our young people, now not quite so 
young, have both left home. Our son went into the 
Army, and at last is getting all he can eat. He is also, 
I am told, keeping his room straightened up. And 
he comes when he is called. This proves either that 
he is no longer a teen-ager or that he should have 
been drafted when he was thirteen. 

As for our daughter, she is married and living in 
a home of her own, or one that will be her own in 
fifteen years if we continue keeping up our share 
of the monthly payments. Despite all my fears, she 
did not marry the goon to whom she was overex- 
posed at the beach house. He disappeared one day, 
I think carried out by the tide. We notified the 
police, but if they ever found him, they were nice 
enough not to tell me. 

The most astonishing thing is not that our two 
teen-agers have ceased being teen-agers, or that they 
have left home, but that we miss them. 

Now I have only my wife to disagree with, and this 
has become monogamous. Lacking my teen-agers to 
irritate me, I irritate myself, which is unwholesome 
and unnatural. I've never been the do-it-yourself 
type. 



176 • Through Darkest Adolescence 

The phone seldom rings, and this gives the house 
an eerie stillness and makes us feel cut off from the 
world. Also, the phone is always available. For a 
while I kept phoning everyone I could think of, 
luxuriating in this freedom of communication. But, 
except for a few interesting wrong numbers, the 
novelty soon wore off. And there were subtle indica- 
tions, such as the click of the receiver after my cheery 
"Hello, Bob" or "Guess who this is," that my friends 
were getting less and less of a thrill out of hearing 
from me. 

The bathroom, too, is always unoccupied, and I 
can go in and shave any old time. This was fine for 
a while, but I developed a painful skin rash from rak- 
ing my cheeks six or seven times a day. I began to 
pull the door shut when I went out and pretend 
someone was in there. Just for old times' sake, I 
would even beat on the door and rattle the doorknob 
and yell, "Aren't you ever coming out?" But it was 
a hollow performance of which I soon tired, espe- 
cially when I had just shaved. Other people can fool 
me easily, but I have a hard time fooling myself. 

Also, when I am at a dinner party, I am beginning 
to lose the self-discipline built up over years of not 
having ready access to the bathroom. I refer to the 
discipline that enabled me to smile, in a superior 
way, and shake my head, when my hostess asked me, 
as the evening wore on, "Wouldn't you like to 
freshen up a bit? It's the second door on the left." 



Epilogue • 177 

But one of the strangest things I have noticed is 
how the closets suddenly and miraculously have 
grown larger. There is room to hang all my clothes, 
and space left over. I mentioned this curious phe- 
nomenon to my wife. 

"Yes," she said. "In fact the whole house is larger, 
and kind of empty. We'll have to buy some more 
furniture." 

"No, not that," I put in hastily. "It would be 
cheaper to close off a few rooms. Save on heat, too." 

As for cars, our daughter took hers with her, but 
that leaves us two. Now there is no need for me to go 
shopping on my bicycle, pedaling back up the hill 
with the wire basket full of groceries. In an amazingly 
short time I have gained fifteen pounds, all in the 
same area. 

Of course, I had a little trouble with the car at 
first. It had been so long since I was at the wheel that 
I had to get used to some of the newer developments, 
such as the push-button radio. 

"Look at this," I said to my wife, when I pulled on 
a knob on the dashboard, out of curiosity. "A ciga- 
rette lighter! What will they think of next?" 

Somehow, the fun has gone out of mowing the 
lawn, without my muscular son watching me and 
urging me on. And now that I can listen to my fa- 
vorite news commentator on television at 6:00 p.m., 
I rather miss the program running from 5:00 to 7:00 
that held my daughter enthralled — the movies star- 



Epilogue • 179 

ring Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard and Lionel 
Barrymore that I always came in at the middle of 
and could only vaguely recall having seen thirty 
years ago. 

And now that my children's friends no longer drop 
in at unexpected hours, I have no reason for keeping 
more or less properly dressed so that my son and 
daughter will not feel ashamed of me when I an- 
swer the doorbell in the ragged sweater and paint- 
spattered pants I like to lounge around in. The 
challenge of icy appraisal by a carload of girls, come 
to pick my daughter up to go to a party, is gone, and 
I fear I shall soon look threadbare and be unable, 
from lack of trying, to pull my stomach in. 

In short, I feel like a prizefighter, toughened by 
ten years of wins, losses, and draws, who has suddenly 
run out of opponents. At last he has bought the little 
farm he has dreamed about and saved for, but he isn't 
as happy as he had anticipated. 

My wife and I do a good deal of reminiscing, some- 
times becoming pretty sentimental. 

"Here is Jeff," my wife said one day as we were 
looking through a photograph album, "with his first 
traffic citation." 

"And here is Karin," I said, "with what's-his- 
name, the sailor in Hawaii. You know, the one we 
had to tell not to come around any more." 

"Oh, that one," my wife said, and a shudder ran 
through her. 



i8o • Through Darkest Adolescence 

"And here are Jeff and Karin together," I said. "I 
never could get a good picture of the two of them at 
once. Usually one looks good and the other doesn't. 
This time they both look terrible." 

"My, what memories these pictures bring back," 
my wife said, her eyes misting slightly. "Don't you 
wish the children were young again, just beginning 
their teens, and we could go through those years all 
over?" 

Her question touched me deeply. I patted her 
tenderly and consolingly on the shoulder. Then I 
thought back over the years, and a host of incidents 
crowded my mind. A lump formed in my throat. 

Finally I answered her question. 

"No," I said. 



f^^»^ 



About the Author 



Richard Armour, despite the contrary evidence in his writ- 
ings, is a docile husband and a soft-hearted parent. He met 
his wife-to-be in grammar school, but did not marry her 
until many years later, after they had both graduated from 
Pomona College and he had taken a Ph.D. at Harvard. By 
the time of their marriage he had, in fact, become a full 
professor. ("I fill very easily," he says.) He named his son 
Geoffrey, after Geoffrey Chaucer, whose poetry he has taught 
in numerous colleges and universities. Geoffrey, or Jeff, has 
never liked the name, though now that he is old enough to 
change it legally, he will probably just let it ride. He named 
his daughter Karin as a conversation piece, liking to explain 
that "Ka" is for Kathleen (his wife's name), "ri" for Richard 
(his own), and "n" for nothing. 

In addition to teaching Chaucer and the Romantic Poets 
at such institutions as the University of Texas, Northwestern 
University, Wells College, the University of Freiburg, the 
University of Hawaii, the Claremont Graduate School, and 
Scripps College, in California, where he is currently a mem- 
ber of the faculty, he has served in both World War II and 
the Korean War, been a member of the editorial staff of 
several magazines, contributed some five thousand pieces of 
prose and verse to more than one hundred magazines in the 
United States and England, and written both scholarly and 
unscholarly books. The present book, of the latter type, is 
his twenty-fourth. Others include such playful satires as 
It All Started with Columbus, It All Started with Eve, 
Twisted Tales from Shakespeare, The Classics Reclassified, 
Golf Is a Four-Letter Word, Armour's Almanac, Light 
Armour, and The Medical Muse. More books are on the 
way. 



About the Artist 



Susan Perl came to the United States from Vienna in 1939. 
She had been working since the age of twelve, free-lancing 
for a children's newspaper in Vienna, For the past ten 
years she has worked for the Sunday section of The New 
York Times. 

Miss Perl has done illustrations for a number of chil- 
dren's books as well as such publications as Ingenue, Seven- 
teen, and Vogue. She worked in Hollywood doing publicity 
pictures for Columbia Studios and has done illustrations 
for the Metropolitan Opera Guild's Opera News. 



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