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Selected Publications of Robert Doggett:

Elvis Slept Here

Among The Hang Gliders

Mean Kids

The Headmaster

Writ In Water


Mean Kids
This essay appeared in a slightly different form in The Seattle Weekly:

Mean Kids

I was up on my roof last Sunday afternoon smearing a black, tar-like substance around in preparation for the rainy season. My two boys, ages four and six, were out playing in front of the house. Their usual game is a
combination of G.I. Joe and Star Trek that would make any Trekkie cringe in embarrassment. The oldest, Tom, was stalking Klingons with a curved stick meant to resemble a phaser weapon set to stun, not kill. He is at the age where his parents buy his shoes absurdly oversized in anticipation of the next year's growth, and he had on a new pair, red canvas adorned with ridiculous caricatures from Tim Burton's Dick Tracy. He'd picked them out the day before in the half-off sale at a local department store. Andrew followed his older brother in dread anticipation of the conflict to come. "Let's pwetend the fowce feowd isn't woking," he said.

"No," came the reply, "they have us trapped and we can only escape by taking them prisoner." They had marked off a small rectangle of dandelions in Mr. Fenn Youngblood's side yard. Our neighbor is eighty years old and doesn't seem to mind these battles as long as they take place outside the fence. Andrew much prefers G.I Joe to Star Trek, so his clothes seemed to favor camouflage over pastels.

Just then Ned, the neighborhood third-grader, came zooming around the corner followed by his younger brother and two friends. They sported day-glo helmets and their bikes were fast, with high-rise handlebars and
oversized tires. They raced up the street, pausing to skid on gravel here and there, almost losing control, then came back. They repeated this several times, occasionally raising their front wheels into the air as they went by, then threw on their brakes at the last second and came to rest in a row just a few feet ouside of Tom and Andrew's imaginary enclosure.

"Hey, that looks pretty queer," said Ned, pointing at the sticks.

"This is my flame thwowo," said Andrew.

"I bet," said one of the others. Surely they didn’t know I was there. I was just a few feet aloft, but may as well have been a million miles away in the world of roof repair, the world of parents. All day I had been thinking of
other things beside roofs. The Saturday paper had reported four separate incidents of violence around or near Seattle high schools that Friday. My children were years away from that, I supposed, but with the oldest
having just started first grade the month before, and his spending over two hours each day on the bus or waiting to get on the bus or walking home from his drop-off point, my cares seemed heavy indeed. Is there any reason to think the world will be a better place when he is sixteen than when he is six?

As I watched, an expression on Tom's face caught my eye. He seemed to look at the bike gladiators in wonder, eyes large, yet curiously unafraid. "These are my new shoes," he said. They were enormous. He
looked more like Emmett Kelly than Captain Kirk.

"What's that on them, anyway?" rejoined Ned. "Dinosaurs?" The others wearing helmets laughed.

This had come to be more than the four-year old could handle. He started to back away. Tom looked at his vanishing brother and said, "What's the matter. You scared?" As Andrew turned to run back home, the four sat astride their bikes, staring at the one left. His face reddened. Then, just as suddenly, they were gone. For me there would be no interfering in this play, with its shadowy violence and intimation of the loss of innocence.

I thought of a friend, a fellow teacher, whose child had been mocked because he brought a Go-Bot lunchpail to show and tell. He was right on the verge of calling the teacher, but never did, knowing as he did that usually parents have no business interfering in those battles. And I thought of all sorts of things to tell my children, things an adult might say when he desired to turn humiliation back on its source: "Next time ask Ned why, if
he's so smart, he had to stay back a grade. Was second grade science so much fun that he enjoyed taking it twice?" Hurting others may come even more easily in the world of grownups.

The last word surely belongs to Andrew, who speculated with Wordworthian innocence that those boys had been mean because they were jealous and wished they had parents as good as we were. Even though he phrased it differently and without the r’s, the statement was as convincing an explanation of the origin of evil as I’ve been able to come up with lately, and definitely worth staying up on the roof for.

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