Trout Fisting In America #30 – Butts

My kid likes to ask questions. And lately he’s become fascinated by cigarettes & litter and the reasons for their existence. I brush off the questions as best I can, not wanting to get drawn into the real reasons—reasons that I understand all too well. So I tell him I don’t know. Or I tell him that maybe the person doesn’t know it’s bad to do that stuff. But it’s like my dad used to say: ‘Never bullshit a bullshitter,’ and while kids tend to keep it 100% real for the most part—their likes & dislikes, opinions, feelings, etc.—they’re also well-known liars, able to fabricate stories out of thin air that are as incredibly creative as they are impossible to believe. And so my kid, an expert in withholding information himself, can tell when I’m not telling him the whole truth.

‘But why, daddy?’

So the other day I told him, ‘Look, the actual reasons are pretty dark. There’s some serious darkness in this world, and you’re a kid, and you should kind of get to enjoy being innocent & joyful for as long as you can. Just trust me on this.’

‘But I really want to know.’

I should mention that my son just turned 3yrs old.

And maybe it was the lack of sleep, maybe I was tired of being asked endless questions, getting besieged by endless requests, maybe I just couldn’t think of anything better to say, but I decided to just give it to him straight.

‘Okay, here’s the deal. A lot of people feel so beaten down by life, with no options, no hope of a better future, that it makes them feel nihilistic to the point where they think if their time on this planet is going to just be one long slow humiliating death where everything is out of their control, then why not smoke cigarettes and at least have some agency in that long slow death. Does that make sense?’

He nodded, and then he asked me what about litter.

‘It’s a way to break the law without going to jail. Also, I think it was Dostoevsky who said a man never feels more free, more alive, than when he is doing something that goes against his best interests. There’s a kick to self-sabotage. It makes you feel like you aren’t a robot, like you aren’t just a machine. So when you people smoking, or you see litter on the ground somewhere, you’re looking at a the inevitable result of society that makes people feel unfree, restrained, and out of control—all of which is true. Were you able to follow all that?’

He told me he followed, but 3yr olds are known for their ability to lie, or at least misunderstand the truth.

So they’re building a Hardee’s near our house, in the Wal-Mart shopping center (or centre, as they so classily spell it), and b/c the day-in/day-out parenting life allows way more opportunities for eating than exercise, and b/c the kid’s going through a fascination w/construction machines right now, I like to put him in his bike trailer and ride him out to the Hardee’s site. Over the past 3mos, we’ve seen it go from a flat patch of dirt to just about ready to open, and during that time I’ve had a lot of time to think. Today, we were watching them lay the asphalt in the parking lot and I thought about the summer I spent laying asphalt, and the year I spent as a machine press operator working in a fluorescent light factory, and I thought about how I enjoyed the work because I was young and it made me feel strong, made me feel capable, and how I’d been raised to value manual labor over sitting at a desk, blue collar over white collar. I was raised to believe that it was more noble to be the offensive lineman than the quarterback; to set the screen, or make the pass, than to make the shot. And I thought about how even though my dad was, at his worst, a part-time sadist unable to shake off the effects of the cruelty he experienced as a child, I still internalized those values and still to a large part believe in them today. And I worried, like I believe every father worries, about whether I was raising my son too softly, with too much value placed on his emotions & feelings, a value that the rest of the world will never come close to reciprocating. And I thought about the inevitable hazing that comes with jobs like that—the new guy always gets stuck with the shittiest job, and how you respond to it will determine how you get treated for the rest of the time you work there. I thought about how saying someone hurt your feelings is the worst thing you can do in that situation and yet here we are teaching our son to talk about his feelings. Maybe in school he’ll learn that the best thing to do is laugh it off. Make a joke about being the rookie, shrug your shoulders, and do the shit job. Maybe the situation is actually hostile, and the time might come when you have to make a stand or else be bullied forever, but you have to at least first give people the benefit of the doubt. And anyway, it’s best not to take yourself too seriously. If you show you’re able to take it, people will handle it better when it comes time to dish it out. These are the things I think about as we stand there watching them lay the asphalt in the parking lot.

We rode across the street to the convenience store/gas station to get some peanut butter crackers and have a picnic right there on the sidewalk outside the store. And when we finished our crackers, I got up to throw the wrapper away, to set a good example. And as I threw it away I wondered if I was sending him the right message, wondered if I was really preparing him for life in the USA.

Like wouldn’t it be a better lesson to just crumple up the wrapper and throw it into the parking lot? Fuck it, man. Someone else will pick it up. Or maybe they won’t, who gives a fuck? Not my problem. Seems like that lesson might save him some time, instead of teaching him to share, to be thoughtful and considerate—which is going to do what, exactly? Give him false ideas about a goodness in society that doesn’t exist. Create a optimism in him that will be defeated & crushed. The other day we were at the park and he saw a kid around his age wearing a shirt with a fire truck on it. He is also very interested in fire trucks and so he go excited when he saw the kid’s shirt. I told him he should go over and tell the kid he likes the fire engine on his shirt. So he climbed the stairs to one of the playground structures that has all the slides while I eavesdropped from below.

‘Hey kid, I like the fire engine on your shirt,’ said my son, making me proud.

‘I’m going down first!’ shouted the kid, elbowing his way past my son and going down the slide.

To his credit, my son didn’t cry. He just looked perplexed. I told him I was proud of him, and he needed to understand that all human interaction is kind of unpredictable & chaotic, and that’s what makes it so special & exciting when you meet someone you get along with, but I’m not sure he was able to follow that idea either.

We enrolled him in preschool last week. It’s only two mornings a week, but we feel it’ll be a good thing for him socially. It’s obvious I know nothing about how to make friends with 3-year-olds. And there are lessons he needs to learn, lessons about interacting with others, that I am plainly not capable of teaching.

Trout Fisting In America appears here every Tuesday (sometimes even more frequently!). We’re going to keep going until we reach #50, or until the Trout begs for mercy. You can check out previous installments HERE.

About ScottCreney

Scott Creney lives in Athens, Georgia. He is the author of "Dear Al-Qaeda: Letters to the World’s Most Notorious Terror Organiztion".
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