I caught Jake whistling this riff “Every-body-was-Kung-Fu Fighting…” What chopsocky disco-virus has polluted my son’s brain? Yes, my twelve year-old knows every note to the 1974 Carl Douglas hit. How is this possible? We have a dedicated sonic soundtrack piped in daily from KEXP. The radio station hums 24-7 inside our home. The station is our northwest arbiter of musical taste. If you walk by our house on any given day you will inevitably hear the distant interior echo of alt-country or Moroccan rap or urban Rockabilly music. ‘70’s disco, is rarely heard. I am puzzled.
I’ve started to realize that a parent’s media and art choices can define a kid. Jake was in Spanish class and there was an active discussion about the word “concesión” or in English, “grant”. Some kids were trying to get a handle on the usage of the word as a noun or a verb. Jake piped up from the back to remind everyone that the word can also be someone’s name. “Like Cary Grant, you know, the movie star that starred in ‘Philadelphia Story’ with Katherine Hepburn.” Later Jake told me exasperated “Dad, I couldn’t believe it. All the kids in the class had blank faces. I was like, come on, how do you not know who Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn are???”
When kids are toddlers, parents are told to encourage their child to move to the beat of music and dance with them. My wife was dedicated to a Mommy’s Group that taught pre-verbal munchkins simple children’s songs such as “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” How the hell did Jake pick up Thelonius Monk? I nearly swerved of the road one Saturday afternoon when a mixed playlist I had made shuttled to “Round Midnight.” “Hey Dad, is that Thelonius Monk?” How did you know that? I asked. “I don’t know, NPR?” Amazing. Our kid’s brains are like a vast memory chip that is always on. Our parental squawk box is etching permanently into our kid’s brains. Sort of scary and wonderful if you think about it.
Then it dawns on me that it all makes sense. Jake has his mother’s knack for Instant-Recall. My wife can hear 3 bars of a song and tell you who is singing, what song it is, when it was first recorded and possibly the name of the producer and the label. As a dyslexic, I’m happy when I can remember my name. When Jake was four we stood in line near the register at Starbucks and a track play lightly in the background. “Daddy, that sounds like Lucinda Williams.” “No honey, I don’t think so.” When I turned to order from the lip-pierced barista’s mouth was agape – “Sir, whoa, that is Lucinda.” I guess Jake has my wife’s genes.
As I write this, I hear my son getting ready for school. It is the same morning fire drill, every day: lunches struggle to be made and homework is soon to be not forgotten. Jake goes into the bathroom to brush his hair. The door slowly drifts closed and I hear … “Don’t stop believin’ — Hold on to that feelin’.” I stop. Journey? Really? Journey.
Jake stands twenty feet away from the Sonic Boom Records counter. He has his zine “Worldopolis” in one hand. He and one of his best friends created the 30 page comic by hand. I nudge him to go for it. He approaches the sweet twenty-year-old hipster behind the counter. She is just finishing with another customer. “Hi, my name is Jake and I created this zine, (nervously stammering) would you, could I, sell my zine in your store?” “Let me take a look.” She leafs through the pages of twelve year boy humor complete with celebrity caricatures, intestine sized mazes and, of course, the cornerstone of the Zine: a retelling of the world’s destruction in 2012.
Wow, this is great. How much were you wanting to sell it for? “$3, it takes $2.60 to make it at Kinko’s and we want to make a little bit of a profit.” “We sell our zines for $4.99 , is that price good for you? We take a $1 on every copy, you keep the rest. I will take five copies.” “That’s great.” Jake’s face lights up. He looks like he just got shot out of a roman candle. An entrepreneur is born.
It started with doodles. When the distinctive artwork got shared, Jake and his friend comfortably made suggestions to one another about things that could be improved. They enjoy working together. They quickly realized that they were on to something. They put together an approach. 2012, the end of the Mayan calendar and the destruction of the world would be their MAD magazine banner. One of the other kids suggested that they should ink-in the pencil drawings. He became the inker. Another kid had some ideas about how the issue could get laid out and prepped for printing at Kinko’s. Jake made him the Managing Editor. The first issue came out with limited parental interference. The boys are now running an operation that is in it’s third issue.
The apocalyptic theme of “Worldopolis” interests me greatly. For a twelve-year-old, the world they hear about comes from the random dispatches on NPR or scant threads of political conversations their parents have on their phones or around the dinner table. It is a world fraught with tsunamis, earthquakes, terrorist agendas and political hate speak. I ask Jake why they chose that theme. “Dad, the Mayan’s believe that 2012 will be the end of the world. We thought we could make fun of that fear.” Do you worry about your future? “I don’t want to grow up. It’s too scary out there. I want to stay a kid a while. The zine helps us poke fun at all that responsibility. We know we have to face it when we grow up. It is fun to do and it makes us laugh.”
When kids are young we try to keep them from media. When Jake was three he mistakenly heard the news account of a couple holding hands as they stepped out of the 105th floor of the World Trade Center to their deaths on 9-11. My wife still recounts how she heard his little voice from the backseat of the car – “Mommy why did those people have to jump out of the building? The driver of that plane needs to say he’s sorry”
As adults we constantly push our children to stand up straight and listen. We want them to be responsible. We fill their heads with a playbook of the life that we think they should hear. Our fear is that they will repeat our mistakes. Contained in our cautionary speak is an inner dialogue about the parallel road they should avoid and ways we think they should behave. Our world is so damn complex – even for an adult. I’ve pulled back from putting so much on Jake’s shoulders. All things, in due time. I’ve learned to listen and watch closely to what my son says or draws. I’m astounded by the wisdom contained in a simple zine.