Column | And in this Corner: Little Rascal

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If I were Catholic, this would be kind of a confession.

So, Alissa and I recently watched the Mr. Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? It was so sweet, and it triggered great memories like my mom wrapping me in a security blanket in our family room to watch his show. Mr. Rogers represented goodness, kindness and such a positive influence for kids. His calm voice and his friends in the neighborhood were comforting and modeled civility and the good things in society.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor movie poster

I soaked up his life lessons about acceptance and positivity. I got all the “do unto others” and other examples to contribute to the community as a good citizen. On top of all that, my mom always told us “concentrate on making your little universe as nice as possible.”

I got the full dose.

Well, watching the movie, I started to giggle as my mind drifted off thinking about all the naughty things I did growing up–– all innocent and without malice of course, but I was quite a rascal. I was always respectful to my parents and grandparents, always got good grades and I clearly knew where the line was for being good and being disobedient. The issue was, I liked to do things my way and do what I wanted to do. I also learned at an early age that I had a problem with authority. I figured out how to dodge the raindrops and get away with things. Maybe it was because I was the baby of the family. Maybe it was the influence of the older kids on the block. Maybe it was because it was the 1970s.

My trickery started early, so Mr. Rogers, plug your ears if you don’t want to hear this.

In kindergarten, I brought matches to school. I thought they were cool since they had the Queen Mary on them. Plus, my dad smoked pipes and cigars, so I didn’t connect the “matches-are-dangerous” issue with showing off for my friends.

In first grade, I got my name written on the board for cussing. Geoff ratted me out for saying the “F” word on the playground. Yep, it was the big F-word. I never forgave him. I probably had to stay after school for it. I can thank all those other guys from the neighborhood for teaching me that one.

Second grade was bad when I flushed a kid’s lunch down the toilet. The lunch bags were left outside the classroom door and we picked one and ran into the boys’ bathroom. We ate the cookies first, but then down the rest went. Turned out it belonged to our teacher’s son. The teacher sent a detailed letter home and I faced the harsh consequences— I got a spanking from my father. (Only the second one in my life that I can remember.) I also got called into the principal’s office that year for being in The Dragons Gang. Ryan showed up with a hand-drawn dragon on his shirt that his sister made and a group of us walked around the playground in a swarm. The principal said, “There are no gangs here.” That broke us up after just two days.

In third grade I was a “late bird” and had a system to ditch off campus, sprint across Studebaker and run to Billy’s house where we would feast on cold pizza and chocolate donuts. We’d make it back in time to get to class without anyone noticing. We also used to sneak the answer sheets from the Silent-Reading Assignment and would advance faster than others did. One time, we tricked the substitute teacher to walk down the hall to ask another teacher something random. When she came back in the whole class yelled “Burned!”

Mob rules.

If there ever was any threat from any teacher about calling my parents at night, I would go home from school and knock the phone off the hook we had in the back of the house. No one was getting through to my parents that night.

In fourth grade I joined the KISS Army because I wanted to be Gene Simmons. I would slide a red Magic Marker down my tongue to make it look like blood. At lunch, my friends and I would sneak into the auditorium to run and slide down the aisles. We also flew gliders at recess and lunch, and on weekends, we would use chalk to write song lyrics on the playground.

Fifth grade was big for social clubs. Three of us created “B.E.R.I.T.b.” (Break Every Rule In The book) and spent lots of time in the principal’s office. On Saturdays we used to walk down the alleys and I called myself Tramp pretending to be a Charlie Chaplin-Meets-Little Rascals character–– torn sweatshirt and all. We would come back to the classroom after school to steal the notes from the girls’ desks to see who and what they were talking about.

Sixth grade brought more ditching off campus for lunch at Jack in the Box, climbing on the school rooftops, and passing lots of coded notes in class. At winter camp, my bunkmate and I volunteered to leave the crowded boy cabin and sleep in the room behind the dining hall. They didn’t know what they had done. We slept in, read magazines and showed up only for meals and the late-night hike in the snow.

I was more than ready to move on to junior high.

It was just about this time when I was knocked off my high-horse and my cool-guy-no-consequences pedestal. I learned some cause and effect from the universe.

I had gone to New Orleans with my grandmother over the holiday break and enjoyed the 1979-1980 new year’s celebration with our cousins. It was a fun trip, and my dad met us at the gate to bring us home. As my 80-year-old grandma stepped off the escalator she fell back and hurt herself. My dad rushed over to help, freeing her jacket from the escalator teeth, and get her back on her feet. But she hurt herself.

I froze in my tracks. I was mortified. And at that very instant, I was immediately humbled and felt horrible. I shrank, and any smirk of cockiness and pride of being a secret troublemaker for years evaporated. I thought it was all karma for all the sneaky things I had done. My grandma paid the price. That particular moment in time will be forever burned into my memory.

I took it as a sign or a warning. From then on, I made a more conscious effort to channel my rebellious efforts elsewhere and not throw so much bad energy out in the universe, so no one else I cared about would get hurt. Maybe I wouldn’t ditch or steal or climb on roofs moving forward.

Now, I can’t say that there weren’t more antics as I got a little older (enter my punk-rock phase—dying my hair, staying out late at shows) but I finally took some time to stop and think about what would happen if I did this or that. Most antics were just silly things with friends, but I had learned that there may be consequences to my actions. I proceeded with more caution and actually thought first before acting, and I probably dodged a lot of potential trouble.

I remind myself of the incident with my grandma and use it as a catalyst to pay it forward, do unto others, to do for the greater good. I still channel my rebellious nature into different mechanisms, like fun marketing schemes. Now that I am older, I can truly appreciate, and miss, Mr. Rogers so much more. Watching the downer news every day, the power and infiltration of social media, cyber bullying and the general mayhem out there makes me want to counter it all with the positives— Being polite.

Following through. Keeping my word. Not littering. Dedicating over a decade to improve one small part of the city where I live. Sound corny? It’s really not.

Okay, so I admit to laughing with (not at) Marley when she tries to be sneaky with licorice or a cookie, because it’s harmless (until she enters her own punk-rock phase). I want her to understand the importance of being kind to her neighbors and friends.

I think we need Mr. Rogers now more than ever, especially for the young rascals like me.