davidd (davidd) wrote,

Seems an appropriate time to finally address pastilla's queries:

Re: Shallow, surfacy comment
:: clumsily pretends to interpret comment as a request for questions ::

How long have breakfast cereals inspired awe in you?

For as long as I can remember, breakfast cereals and breakfast cereal advertising have inspired... yes, "awe" is an accurate term. In my earliest youth, arguably the "Golden Age" of Saturday Morning cartoons (and after-school live-host cartoon programs), there was little to differentiate between some of the programs and their advertising. A program called Linus the Lion Hearted ("Linus, the King! Linus, the Star! Linus, the Lion-Hearted!") comes to mind: did Linus feature the characters from Crispy Critters cereal, or did the cereal feature the characters from the TV show? The continuing adventures of Cap'n Crunch and the crew of the Guppy were a "cereal serial." Would the Barefoot Pirate capture a hold full, or even a bowl full, of cereal in this 60-second installment? Would Sonny (who had no name in the early years... I believe they held a mail-in contest to pick the name) score a bowl of Cocoa Puffs? Why wouldn't those mean little kids share? I recall having this discussion with pre-school-age friends: none of us understood why the Cuckoo Bird couldn't have Cocoa Puffs, or the Leprechaun couldn't have any Lucky Charms.

Too, the cereal prizes further blurred the line between entertainment and advertising. Who could resist Wacky Races and Vulture Squadron and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang toys in "specially marked boxes"? What was up with The Archies: they were a cartoon, but they had a real hit song on the radio ("Sugar! Oh, Honey Honey!"), and you could get a real Archies record on the back of a cereal box.

I have no doubt that my reading skills were honed on cereal boxes. Cereal boxes used to feature text, lots of text. And I read 'em. Cereal boxes today are all graphics and color and occasional mind-numbingly lame mazes and jokes. They don't have words. Cereal boxes should have words on them: history, science, technology, stories, and jokes.

I have to say, then, some of my earliest memories are cereal related; and when you're four years old, you take the sea-faring adventures of The Cap'n pretty seriously. Awesomely so.

What was the first time in your childhood that you remember experiencing a true sense of awe (cereal or otherwise)?

As a very small child, it seemed somehow staggeringly impressive that my dad knew the guy on the Wheaties commercials on TV. Perhaps earlier than that: the burning map on Gunsmoke. I also remember the first time I saw Star Trek. I would have been 4 years old, I believe. Certain images from that episode linger in my mind today. And Jonny Quest. Jonny Quest inspired awe at an early age. It seemed so real, it didn't occur to my naive young mind to doubt for an instant any aspect of the program. I mean, the episode about the old German WWI flying ace living in a secluded castle in the mountains: unforgettable!

Is it pathetic that my earliest memories of something awe-inspiring are from television? Hey, when you're 4 years old, it's not like you get out a lot.

Clean sweat vs. 70's aftershave?

The former, I guess. Altho' if Hai Karate really worked like they said, I wouldn't mind trying some. In fact, next Wal-Mart trip, maybe I'll go for some Axe.

What did you think about the Thurston High School shootings?

I had just landed in Boston, Mass, and walking through the airport I heard something about a school shooting in Springfield. Being in Massachusetts, I assumed they were talking about Springfield, Massachusetts, and didn't pay much attention. Later in the evening, sitting at a relative's home, the story came on the television again: it was Springfield, Oregon, and Thurston High School, the school from which I'd graduated. And the student involved was named Kinkel. At the time, only the shootings at the school were being mentioned.

When I was a student at Thurston, I had a teacher named Mr. Kinkel. He was the Spanish teacher, but one year the school had no German teacher so Señor Kinkel filled in as Herr Kinkel for the year. I had Herr Kinkel's German class. My friend Craig had him for Spanish. Often times we, being quiet loner types, would hang out in Mr. Kinkel's classroom during lunch and recess periods, either chatting with the teacher or drawing on the chalkboard. He was cool with it, since we were quiet, well-behaved, and reasonably high-performing students. Some rock-n-roll types also hung out in there, on the opposite side of the room. We must have followed this pattern almost daily for an entire year.

Mr. Kinkel seemed a little on the oldish side even then. Meaning, I dunno, late-40-ish maybe? He'd been at the school since it opened, or shortly thereafter. When I heard the news story, I thought, "oh no, I bet this kid is related to Mr. Kinkel. Must be a grandson or nephew or something. The kid's too young to be his kid."

A while later my mother telephoned me in Boston to tell me: "did you hear the news? Do you know who got killed?"

"Yeah, I heard. Some kid named Kinkel. I wonder if he's related to Mr. Kinkel who taught Spanish."

"It was his son!" my mother breathlessly informed me, as relatives are wont to do when there's harrowing news to report. "And he killed both his parents too!"

The details gradually unfolded. I felt stunned and sickened at first. I felt angry when I saw the photos in the newspaper, angry and so sad that the tears would come. This was when I saw the photos of the kids who were killed. They were just random kids. Some kid whose mom packed a lunch for him and sent him off to school and never saw him again.

It was the randomness that made me angry. If a shooter goes in with a target, whether misguided or not, at least I can understand it. High school kids are mean. They're cruel. We've all been there. And unless you're a saint, you've at least momentarily wished very bad things on people in junior high and high school. So, yeah, I can understand if some kid goes nuts and takes out people for a reason.

But randomly gunning down complete strangers without reason bothers me. So I kinda cried when I saw the picture of that chubby little kid who was killed by Kip Kinkel.

I became increasingly annoyed as more news came out. Mom was "teacher of the year." Not a soul had a single negative thing to say about anyone in the household. Teacher of the year, but your own kid is building bombs in the garage and you don't know about it? Dad buys the kid a gun thinking it will help him work through his emotional problems?

There was no sign of Mr. Kinkel being a whack-job nutcase when I was in school. He was extremely polite, multi-lingual, highly intelligent, and well-liked among the students. I never heard him raise his voice, because he never had to. Students behaved because his classes were interesting and pleasant.

I never saw him after I graduated. His son was born after I left the high school. The son who killed him wasn't even alive when I knew the guy. Did something change? Was the kid just a "bad seed"? Did having an "old" dad and a mom who was more interested in other people's kids than in her own and an attention-grabbing cheerleader big sister tip the kid over the edge? I don't know. Something weird was going on there.

Author Ken Kesey wrote a piece for Rolling Stone magazine about the Thurston shooting. My understanding is that the piece was not well-received in Springfield. It made it seem like a secretive place with skeletons in the closet. Most of Springfield probably isn't like that. It's just a regular, boring, not-so-small-anymore town trying to lure industry to replace the sawmills as they close. But the area where the Kinkel's lived, the upper Mohawk Valley... it's weird up there. Closed-minded. Drugs and abuse among the poorer classes. Stand-offishness among the middle- and upper-economic groups. Not-so-infrequent murders on the back roads around Shotgun Creek Recreation Area. I never liked that area, even as a kid. I was always glad we didn't live up there, and it always gave me the creeps when people talked about going "up Shotgun" for the weekend. When I read Kesey's article, I thought the tone of the story effectively conveyed the "vibe" I had always picked up from that area. I think that's why people didn't like the story: it was accurate.

Several years later, when I was working at the post office, one of the postal workers' kids was involved in a double-murder on the road into Shotgun Creek.

I'm not expressing clearly what I think about the Thurston High School Shootings, am I? I don't really "think" anything specific; rather, it's a series of inter-related thoughts and feelings. One example of a "thought:" when I was a student at Thurston, we had a "closed campus." Seniors could have "half-day" classes, but once they left, they couldn't come back that day. The VP was strict, and he was on top of things. If anyone walked onto that campus, he knew about it, and escorted them into the office to sign in. After I left and different administrators came in, they eliminated the "closed campus" policy. I don't think the shooting could have happened when I was in school. They would have had that kid before he reached the building.

Beyond that, I don't know what happened with Mr. Kinkel and his family between the time I knew him and the time of the shooting. I remember hearing that Kinkel was one of the first people in Springfield to buy a diesel VW Rabbit, during the first "gas crisis."

One of my friends reminded me shortly after the shooting of this: in our first year at the school, we used to sit at a particular table near the front of the cafeteria in the morning before school started. One day we started "joking" about what would happen if somebody with an Uzi walked in and opened fire. Sitting near the front with our backs to the door, we'd be the first to go down. We laughed about it. And we moved to a different table, near the back, far from the doors, where we could see the whole room; that was our cafeteria spot for the rest of our time there. Strange, in retrospect. Strange, too: this same friend, three or four years ago now, purchased a home three houses down the road from "the Kinkel house."

Still above the collar?

Nope. Time for a trim, gettin' kinda shaggy, actually.

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