Our grandson visited last weekend. We sang and danced along with "Come Together" - Tom had printed out the words. A fourth-grader has no trouble at all with nonsense. We sang all the way through "Hey Jude," passing the microphone back and forth so people could sing or howl during that almost endless ending. That was in Tom's computer room downstairs, which can pass for an electronics studio. It was exhilarating. I never could dance, but I don't care anymore. Fruit of practice.
Upstairs, Otto showed us a YouTube video, an audition for American Idol in which General Larry Platt raps on the gangbanger's uniform - a great teaching for black kids, I thought. The man is a Buddha. As of today this particular video has had 2,359,493 views. I would never have heard of it if not for Otto. What tickles him so about it, that he couldn't wait to show us? I don't know. He's in fourth grade.
We played Uno, of course. I actually won a few points this time, and Otto won more, gaining on Tom, figuring out how to be a little strategic. We don't try to expose Otto to our idea of culture. But I do like that he likes to play board games and cards, old-fashioned entertainments that go back to our childhood.
In the van, on the way to take him back to his folks, Otto and I sat in the back while Tom drove. There is an intimacy in a car. Otto made a casual comment about how Sometimes kids say somebody's weird, and my ears went up.
"Some kids are uncomfortable when people aren't all alike," I said. "But what would the world be like if we were all the same?"
The diet of remastered Beatles and American Idol had loosened us up, I guess. We started shooting ideas back and forth like writers do, about writing a book, call it The Day No Kids Were Wierd. What if everyone was exactly alike? The cafeteria would go crazy because everyone wanted pizza for lunch and nobody wanted hot dogs, so they would run out of pizza. Then everyone wanted grape juice, nobody wanted orange. . . . We worked on the idea, me making notes on the index cards I carry, I just do that hoping to someday snare a golden idea.
Social animals are relentless about conditioning one another to conform. I read of a study recently which showed that every corporation has a network of unwritten rules that everyone knows, though nobody says. Kids are like that, and maybe ruder about it, meaner than adults. I didn't expound on that to Otto. I didn't try to delve into what had happened in his world. Something had. I remember that kind of teasing being terribly hurtful when I was little.
We discussed whether it should be a chapter book, or a picture book, how many pages it should have. Otto thought the main character should be a bully who makes some little kid feel bad for being weird. Then that bully will have a dream, and a ghost will visit him and take him into a world where everyone is exactly the same. In other words, the bully will get what he deserves - ah yes, this is why we read fiction, for the pleasures of living a while in a world that makes a certain kind of sense. By the end, the bully will be a former bully. Like Scrooge, he will have learned a lesson, and be happy to return to the real world. A world where everybody's different, only now that same boy will find himself sticking up for the little kids instead of tormenting them. Yes. An enlightenment story.