The Boy Scout and The Bull
The Boy Scout and The Bull
How I Fill My Weekly Quota of Irrational Swearing
by Mark Driver
Lots of times when I’m urinating on the sidewalk in front of a church, people walk up to me and say, “Mark Driver sir, may I ask you a question?”
And then I, tucking a delicate brown lock behind my left ear and giggling like a Gila monster with a mouthful of kangaroo rat, say “But of course little one. Ask. Ask away.”
“Mr. Driver sir, how is it that you learned to write?”
I give a little condescending laugh and ruffle the hair of my little inquisitor. “I’m not a writer, I am a soccer player. I learned to play soccer on the streets of Paraguay as an orphaned sea urchin. And then the Red Cross sent me to Duke Soccer Camp where I was assured my skills were below average, but was also told by a brother to an Olympic runner-up that I had a good mind for the game. You have seen me play, of course?”
“Yes, yes we have seen you scoring goal after goal for the Men’s Division IV Danny Nutters soccer team.”
“Aha! I haven’t scored a goal yet! I’m a defender! You lie! You don’t come to my games! You’ve never even been to Shoreline!”
And I pull out my retractable Winchester metal baton and start beating myself in the kidneys until people move on from sheer disgust.
But then I start to thinking, which is something I enjoy greatly from time to time. And I think about the question, “how did I learn to write?” Ha. I never learned to write. My punctuations’ wrong: Ann eye thank god four spell cheque. The more appropriate question, as often was rephrased by Foucault on the Dick Cavett Show with Noam Chomsky in a chef’s hat practicing with ninja stars in the background, is “why did I learn to write?” Or more accurately, what made me think there was some need to document the detritus sloshing from side to side between my ears? And what makes me think that I can get away with writing sentences that are so fucking long, wrong, strapped on like a dong, used on King Kong, dismissed with a yawn for being as awkward as a fawn?
It’s because I don’t listen to anyone, sometimes not even myself.
“But Mr. Mark Driver sir, are you really so full of yourself that you think that people want to know about your writing? That you can get away with spending pages on how you spend pages?”
“I’m sorry,” I say, wandering away quickly, “I’m in a terrible hurry. Here, have the rest of this RC. It was making me sick anyway.”
There is talk of those having inner demons. Serpents coiled around the ears whispering evil deeds to be done by unwilling hands in a moment of weakness. Country stars seem to have these a lot. Good old Hank Williams on a cowboy hat full of Bennies and thirteen gallons of generic whiskey in his shredded guts, strangling his seventeenth wife with a microphone cord while hooting like a bionic owl, screaming “take her Satan, don’t take me, take her instead!” Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings in an amphetamine driven muscle truck shooting blunderbusses out the windows at passing war widows while George Jones water-skis behind on a couple of slimy staves from a decimated barrel of whiskey while crooning about his lost bottle of Jack Daniels. I don’t have these inner demons. I don’t have inner country stars either.
My life is a battle between the Boy Scout and the Bull.
The Boy Scout usually tells me what to do. I smile at strangers, hold open doors for old ladies, pay my bills on time, tip 25% for good service, wave to cops (at least I did before they teargassed my neighborhood during the WTO protests), eat meals rich in whole grains and vitamins, keep the drinking to a couple of beers after work, get seven hours of sleep, keep a clean house, go kick the soccer ball for a few hours, play with my cats, spend meaningful time with my girlfriend, and call my mom once a week.
The Boy Scout can be a little Mussolini at times. A nagging dictator constantly repeating through a superior smile, “I only have your best interest at heart” while jamming a rifle butt in my ribs, but it’s true. When Boy Scout wins, Mark Driver’s life is very comfortable. I get work done. I feel good. But he can only last out so long before the Bull staggers by and starts sniffing at my crotch.
The Bull is just that. Big, stubborn, ugly. Full of shit, spit, lies, flies, always charging forward, clumsily, blindly. The Bull doesn’t care about anything, certainly not me. It wants to drink. And fight. It wants to get high and trample someone. “It’s a big dumb fucked-up world and you’re going to die. Now let’s go get ’em, you pussy motherfucker.” It is release. It is running full speed into a police line. It’s smashing a window for no reason. It’s throwing bowling balls off overpasses, trying to tongue kiss strangers, snorting whatever anyone puts on the table, and falling asleep on the sidewalk and waking up with a missing wallet. It is an affirmation that for all the pressed pants and button down shirts a human wears, that underneath pulses a shitty, selfish animal that wants to gorge on the meat of another living thing and fall asleep in the sun.
It’s not self destruction, it’s liberation. Freedom of action. Freedom of thought. It’s the only sane reaction to a commercialized, saturated, prefabricated, cultureless “everybody put on Dockers and smile for the camera” group hug bullshit that denies us our ugly sides. Many people let their ugliness out in little blasts all day long and dress it up as assertiveness. They use approved channels of anger management, like horn honking, rude comments, yelling at their kids, making the lives of the people they have control over living hell. I don’t think many are capable of understanding how deep those feelings run, and I doubt most are willing to confront this aggression within themselves. I will. I do. I’ll roll around in it and come up stinking. I’ll make monkey noises and poop in your mailbox. You can lump your Bible, your laws of civil conduct, your code of ethics, and all of your piss poor bubblegum rules. I’m a fucking animal when I’ve got the Bull in me.
And when 4:30 hits and I stop my working day, it’s a battle for my soul. The Bull reminds me of all the cheap happy hours near my house ($1 pints at the Convention Center from 4-6!) and the Boy Scout reminds me that it’s been two days since I worked on my book. The Bull wants me to hit KFC for a bucket of dinner. The Boy Scout pulls that bag of brown rice out of the cupboard. The Boy Scout wants to stay home and play Scrabble, the Bull has me scanning the paper for a show with a pit to go knock people around. The Bull wants me to stay out all night, the Boy Scout reminds me of work the next day. The Bull thinks it’s a good idea to open a bottle of wine at 3 am, the Boy Scout reminds me what happened the last time I did that. As I get older, the Boy Scout’s arguments are generally winning out (I don’t even remember him coming around until I hit 25), but the Bull certainly has his hairy way at least a few times a week. And so it goes …
Writing, however, seemed to be a great place for The Boy Scout and The Bull to hang out together. The Boy Scout likes accomplishing things, and The Bull likes to tell loud stories. The Boy Scout enjoys making people laugh and The Bull likes making fun of people. The Boy Scout hopes to impart knowledge that could go on to improve the life of another, The Bull just likes fucking with people. The Boy Scout knows that if he can get me to get these thoughts out of my head and onto paper, The Bull may not charge as hard the next time it came around. The Bull likes the idea of forcing The Boy Scout to look at and confront the sad parts, the unsunny parts, the unfunny parts of my life. But most importantly, when I write, they get to run around together for a while and forget that they’re supposed to be enemies, and I finally get some fucking work done.
“So that’s why I write. As far as how I learned?” By this time, anyone who had been listening got scared when I used “blunderbusses” and “war widows” in the same sentence, and I’m talking to myself, cherishing the sound of my own, deep, broken voice echoing in the convenient bathroom of the First National Bank as it triumphantly, if inadvertently answers the question “why can’t I ever get someone to hang out with me twice?”
I said before that I never learned to write, and that’s pretty much true. But people sure tried to teach me. It was pain from the beginning. It was like performing a bedtime ritual with your mom looking over your shoulder, or surviving a service at your girlfriend’s church, or folding the flag into triangles at the death of a veteran you never met. Uncomfortable, unnatural, stress carried in the jaw, difficult swallows, terroristic spasms running through your chest. Like eating soup with pantyhose over your head.
It was the way they taught you that hurt, that made you want to die. That made you want to give up communication altogether and subsist on a series of grunts and chirps. But they had you right between the ears, and not performing was not an option. They required absolute conformity, and they got it or you suffered.
Every essay was comprised of five paragraphs. Each of these five paragraphs was comprised of five sentences. The first sentence was an introductory sentence, where you blandly stated what you were going to be talking about. The next three sentences were supporting evidence for your first sentence. And, because the weight of the proceeding information had your reader spinning in revelation and frantically achieving orgiastic bliss, the last sentence was dedicated to restating what you had just finished talking about.
The essay as a whole was organized in the same style as the paragraph. The first paragraph introduced the topic. The second paragraph corresponded to the second sentence of the first paragraph. The third paragraph corresponded to the third sentence of the first paragraph. The fourth paragraph corresponded to the fourth sentence of the first paragraph. And the fifth paragraph was the closing paragraph that summed up all of the previous paragraphs and restated the conclusion.
This was how you wrote.
And although it was a very structured way of getting your ideas down, it felt unnatural, clumsy. What if you had four great points to make? What if you only had one bit of supporting evidence, but it was amazing? It didn’t matter. You had to cut off heads, add flippers, shave lips, sever feet, paint the whole thing orange and turn it upside down to fit your ideas into that cold, rigid form, because anything outside of that little cube would be decimated once the ride started and would count against you out on that field of battle.
A mediocre paper that followed the rules would achieve more scholastic achievement than a brilliant thesis with an extra sentence in paragraph three. I don’t care how many sources you cited, you didn’t completely introduce idea two in the first sentence of paragraph three. I realize that you successfully tied Freud’s observations on “death” tendencies with Marx’s criticism of consumer culture, and that you’re only in fourth grade, but look at Timmy’s paper here about why he likes swimming. Note how he followed instructions perfectly. You could learn something from Timmy.
Because the Form was all that was important. The Form allowed comparison and the standardized grading scheme was easier on the teachers. The message was immaterial, filler, pale meaningless flesh on the bones of the Form. It was like one of those coloring contests where everyone got the same picture, the same thick black lines stared the whole class in the face. The Form is there everyone, feel free to express yourself, except, um, Lisa, the President of the United States does not have a purple head. And Richard, the Bald Eagle does not shoot lasers out of his eyes. Now, now, Paul does the first lady really have a tail? Think hard …..
If anyone besides a teacher was reading what you wrote, they’d assume you were retarded. “Aww, look at this poor kid trying to write. He keeps repeating himself.” But that was outside of class. Inside those white painted cinderblocks it was all that was real, clutched to like a crucifix in the face of a vampire, or, more accurately, a Bible in the hand of a conqueror. You were taught the Form in Period 1, and expected to use it in all other periods, from your gym essay “Pull-Ups: My Show of Patriotism” to your science paper “How Mutilating a Frog Made Me a Better Person”, the five-pointed pentagram of the Form was worshipped. They should’ve hung it next to the flag, and every morning, after pledging allegiance to a republic with liberty and justice for all, there should’ve been the line “the Form is more important than the message, and my ideas can only be expressed through a format approved by the State (Board of Education).”
You think I’m over dramatizing this, but remember what it was like? Follow the rules specified at the top of the paper or, regardless of your content, you will fail. Name neatly printed in the top right hand corner of your paper. And you cant write:
E N D
at the end of it.
I think many teachers thought that this lesson would be the beginning. That this is how we would learn to organize our thoughts and get them down on paper. That after learning the basics, we could go on to master advanced writing techniques such as, say, a six paragraph essay, or introducing a topic in three sentences.
The only thing is, that lesson never seemed to come up. Even through High School, the rigidity was enforced. Here we were, describing and discussing beautiful works of art like Slaughterhouse Five and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and still, whatever this writing inspired in us had to be painted white and hammered into an acceptable shape – and by the time we were done, well, it was just another assignment. At first, reading great books made me a little kid again, inspired me to the point of lunacy, I was frantically trying to express these colors in my head before I forgot them forever, running in circles, spewing gibberish – and an adult’s rigid hand would come down on my shoulder, a booming voice would come from the wings, “Sit down and fill out this 40 page Form to analyze what you feel. Check ‘A’ if you’re happy, ‘B’ if you’re sad”.
“What if it makes me nervous and makes me want to buy a sailboat?”
“Check ‘A’ if it makes you happy, check ‘B’ if it makes you sad.”
“I’m going to write ‘want to buy a sailboat’ in the margin here.”
“The machine will score it as ‘unanswered’.”
And Mark Driver failed yet another class.
That’s how I learned to write. Actually, where I learned to survive. That’s where I learned that systems and procedures rule everything that has been set in your path. Much has gone before you and left meaningless structure strewn like animal droppings on your sidewalk. That caring more about something than the person next to you is nothing more than an eternal sentence of frustration. That taking your right as a living being and living your life as you see fit regardless of the consequences, traipsing across these crepe-paper barriers we’ve strewn all over our yards, collecting them all and throwing them in the ocean, doing everything wrong, backwards, and against the grain of everything they’ve tried to teach you – this is the path to prison, an insanity ward, or death. Now get back to work!
Because the world as it exists this very afternoon is nothing more than a series of Forms that were schemed and cast in stone before you without your approval or permission. They don’t necessarily make sense, and they aren’t necessarily the best way, but you must submit to their procedure. What stands is what the majority of people have settled for, or at least haven’t violently rejected in large enough numbers to cause substantial damage. Arbitrary rituals of commerce and interaction that seem to give you a sense of reality, at least enough an approximation of reality to keep your actions within certain acceptable bounds that reinforce the survival of The Form.
Everything has its Form, from the procedure of becoming a legal driver (privilege not a right my ass, motherfuckers use my damn money to build the damn roads) to even going to a punk show. It’s all hierarchies and rules and uniforms – even in supposedly radical places. It’s all we know. We need concrete. We need girders. We need big, thick, black lines to guide our coloring.
The Form exists because it provides a basic living for those who learn it and are willing to conform themselves to it. The really rich ones are those who convince everyone around them to conform to the Form while they tweak it in just the right places to profit handsomely. These are the philosophers of the Form who demand that everyone submit, even while they themselves float freely above it, like the Army General who confiscates a Playboy from a Private, sends him off to the front, and then gets fellaciated by a pack of Catholic school girls while dumping barrels of champagne down the front of his many-medalled uniform. This is beyond hypocrisy. It is violence.
Nothing outside the Form is encouraged, because the Form wants its cars washed, its windows cleaned, its shirts sewn, its stomachs fed, its running shoes made, its tomatoes grown, its sewers maintained, its Internet community pages administered, its diapers changed. You are given a list of roles you can perform, roles that the Form knows how to deal with. You don’t have to be good. You can be bad too. There’s plenty of people who profit when you’re bad. Go ahead. This is your freedom. Just keep it in bounds, ok?
The Form, in its finite wisdom, also wants all of you entertained. It’s ridiculous really. A system that creates a nation of people who hate their working days and need to spend their nights forgetting about their days by losing themselves in the lives of others created by entertainers whose days are spent to help people lose themselves, and get paid twenty times more than the people they’re paid to lie to. Beyond that, they’re worshipped by the people they lie to because they begin to seem more familiar than the actual flesh people on the couch next to them and the more they see fake worlds on the other side of the glass, the more they hate their own worlds, and the more they hate their days. Not the entertainers, though. It’s great gig if you can entertain …………..
For some, the Form is a godsend. They don’t have much to say in the first place and certainly don’t know what to do with themselves. With this Form, however, they can run it themselves through a machine, which picks an arbitrary lifestyle, and the person emerges on the other side as ‘normal’. This is normal. Letting someone else design your life is normal. These people will defend the Form to the death. They will enforce it. They will march into foreign lands and kill people of other Forms. Any attack on the Form is a direct attack on them, even if they don’t particularly profit from it. Even if their life basically sucks, because then, that Form is all they have. It is them. A monkey born in a cage doesn’t like to leave it. It’ll starve to death sooner, its bones going on to create future Forms.
Structure. Organization. Rules. Procedure. Government. These, not some half-baked idea of human freedom, keep society working. And working. And working. The Form asks narrow questions, provides all the answers, and gets you in bed by time, by golly. Ask a few questions, man, you’re ungrateful, un-American, lazy. Get in step! Substance, ideas, truth? Sure, they have their place, as long as they’re run through the machine first – detoothed, declawed, shaved, painted, stuffed, marketed, and sold. Then, these things are perfectly fine.
It’s party line. “Work hard and anything is possible.” Who knows, 30 years at the grindstone and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be Blue Group’s Vice President of Acquisitions. A man can dream can’t he? And on your way to these lofty peaks, watch lots of television, buy lots of crap, go to a bunch of baseball games, worship a god from a pre-selected pool of 5, form a sexual union with governmental approval, have some kids, put them through the same “education centers” that shaved off your edges, and go to the grave writing letters to the networks about smut on television. This is life. Love it and leave it.
In school, you learned to mutilate your ideas to fit them into a gradable mode. In the working world, they can expect you to mutilate yourself to fit into a profitable mode. Change this, cut off that, an addition here, a subtraction here. Everyone functions as machines in jobs they didn’t even know existed before they got hired, and spend glorious years of twisting themselves into purple horseshoes and blue diamonds, jumping through arbitrary hoops, while a pair of shaking jowls howl with laughter somewhere in the shadows, clouds of cigar smoke mixing with a faint smell of shit. The concept of individual identity is stripped of marketable parts and turned upside down, leaving you that wreckage in the mirror, a fucking stranger with an ear on your head, someone else’s mouth on your face, a fake breast hanging off your cheek thinking “this isn’t it. This isn’t what I meant at all.”
And that if you’re not willing to mutilate yourself to fit into someone else’s box, you better be damn good at what you do. A pro at suffering. Your own cop, priest, and gym coach. Have thick skin. Believe yourself correct in spite of an opposing majority. These are also traits of psychopaths, who obviously know something that we don’t.
So what form are you bending yourself to these days? What has you crooked and sick, hunched and playing politician to a room who couldn’t care less? Nervous laughter. Everyone knows how stupid and humiliating every nook of this world has become. That anything cool is co-opted and profited from. What used to sprout and flower over the course of years now explodes in seeds and needles two seconds after leaving the earth and everyone’s too busy running with their shirts stretched out, looking for their piece to notice how deep in their own shit and dying of starvation they are. Nothing is real. Images kill. Substance has no impact. What’s for dinner, pa? Sugar glass and magic bullets! Mmm, better pour me a glass of lies to wash it down!
We all know that even if we are living comfortably, we are missing something, something that can’t be bought or stolen. But like on the Family Feud, when that third cousin offers the world’s turdiest answer, holds stupidity by the throat and raises it up, feet dangling, for the entire studio audience to see, the rest of the family claps and smiles and says “Good answer! Good answer!” The camera’s fucking rolling, keep smiling. Good answer! Good answer! And instead of acting on proper revulsion, cutting off stupidity’s head and stringing the body up on the edge of town as a warning to others, we all stretch to get a good spot in that humiliation, to sit on a part of the branch that doesn’t hurt that much and pay for Pepto and corks to keep that shit inside you when it’s kicking, killing, BURNING HOLES IN YOU to get out. So it’s yes sir, no ma’am, thank you sir, you willingly play nightmare parts in the dreams of others and explain all of your wasted hours away with a fatalistic brush of the hand and an extra helping of Budweiser. Have you willingly become a monster? Of course you have.
Is there an escape? Of course there is. And battered and indoctrinated as you are, you look at that door every day and you fucking know it. But then you have a few too many beers after work, and there’s something good on cable so blanket pulled up to your chin, you sink into the darkness of the couch and get another day older. Tomorrow, you think, drifting off, tomorrow.
I think I hear that Bull calling. La la.
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