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Archive for February, 2013

Burning Man and a Flask

19 Feb

I did some of my best work in the “garten” -as I like to call it. That’s kindergarten. But before I could get in there, I went through all the rigorous testing of the “pre-garten” during kindergarten registration.

I was at that stage of my life in 1969. This was the time of school psychologists’ ideas becoming – how should I say this – more 1970s. Our school psychologist was just out of college. In 1969 being just out of college and studying psychology meant there was a 62% chance, if a man, he would have longish hair. If longish hair was in place, there would then be a 90% chance that he would have a beard. Our school psychologist checked both boxes with a thick number 2 pencil. He seemed thoughtful like an adult, yet skinny and awkward like a kid. At some point he reviewed our work. Sifting through 5 year olds’ art work like tea leaves. He had been professionally trained and equipped with all of the most modern thoughts and systems. Some of his peers would continue their educations and end up teaching the age old science of psychology to up and coming soothsayers at a college level. Meanwhile, our school psychologist focused on our drawings.

After my basic testing, my mom and I had a meeting with the school psychologist. He quizzed me on my drawing. The drawing was of my family – My mom and dad and siblings. My dad was wearing some regular clothes – pants and a short sleeve shirt. What distressed the professional was that I had colored my dad’s face red. His arms were red and the exposed, badly drawn neck of his open shirt was also colored red. I was very quiet. Some might say a sensitive lad. I watched as the beard talked to my mom. The shagginess of the beard prevented a view of the lips and mouth. There was only a hair hole with sounds emanating and an occasional word with a P that would create a small breeze and sway the follicles nearest the source. I became mesmerized by this natural phenomenon.

I seemed to catch the gist of the one-sided conversation as he spoke in confident low tones of a college educated young guy who probably had tried his hand at a pipe and tobacco until it made him nauseous. It seemed that he believed that I was afraid of my dad. My fear had manifested itself in me coloring my dad’s flesh red. By the way, red is the color of the devil and generally thought by many cartoonists to be the color of anger. Other scientific proof that the color red is aligned with anger is the fact that Caucasian’s skin may become flushed when angry. I was settling in to agree with the professional, because I had seen my fair share of cartoons. Then it hit me. This guy didn’t know what he was talking about.

My dad didn’t scare me. My dad was a farmer and because of this particular occupation he spent a lot of time outside where things are commonly grown. My dad had a permanent farmer’s tan, and in the summer his shirt sleeves were rolled up exposing his arms to the sun. His face and neck were also turned dark brown or reddish – depending upon the week. At this point my coloring skills were very limited and the crayons provided back in 1969 didn’t contain sunburn red or burnt farmer, so I improvised and used red. My mom looked confused by what the beard was saying. I finally chimed in with my explanation about my sun mad dad. The hair hole fell silent. The follicles stood defeated and still. He quickly finished the checklist, ending with letting my mom know that I had successfully walked on the balance beam. I’ve always felt strongly about balancing.

As we walked to the door, the psychologist, looking for his personal Sybil, once again talked in low tones to my mom. I was only five and my ears were still very good for hearing. I heard him make a passive aggressive psychological pitch to my mom that I might be quiet and shy around men because of some kind of strained relationship with my dad. My mom listened to this young Rasputin and said, “Oh,” all the while thinking someone should shave this boy-man’s face. We left the room and I felt as if we had just skirted something dangerous and confusing. I don’t think I understood it was funny in the way I do now. But there was something deep down in me that got that ticklish feeling that I would grow to embrace.

My dad had waited in the car. When we got in the car my mom explained the whole scene to my dad – the bearded, long haired psychologist, the red faced drawing and my normal quietness. She explained how the psychologist had thought I was afraid of my dad and colored his skin red. Before my mom could tell my dad the real reason for the red face, my dad broke in.

“Well, of course he’s afraid, but it’s not me. He’s just never seen a goddamn hippie up close. I oughta go in there and punch that damn long hair, unshaven hippie in the goddamn mouth!”

There was a pause. My first thought was he wouldn’t be able to find his mouth. Then my mom and dad broke into laughter. Oh, I got it. Good times in the Spafford household.

The following fall I went to kindergarten – the place so concerned that my dad was angry was the same place that employed a teacher in her late fifties with a drinking problem. I’ll change her name to Mrs. Miller. I found out later that Mrs. Miller had a drinking problem. And when I say drinking problem, I mean I think she didn’t drink during the day, and that was a problem – for her.

On birthdays we all sat in a circle and the birthday child got to hand out candy to everyone. One particular day the birthday girl was moving too slow so Mrs. Miller took over, the birthday girl freaked out, Mrs. Miller grabbed her with long talon like fingers and dragged her to the bathroom and locked her away – all the while said girl was screaming, “Get your witch hands off me.” Mrs. Miller went to the cloak room (I think the dagger room was off to the right) and drank from a silver container. All the stunned children sat quietly in the birthday circle. Where’s a child psychologist when you need one. He must have been chasing down a poorly colored dad or hunting a hastily illustrated mom. Or maybe he just had gone back to school to get better at his craft.

Jason Spafford