The Middle-Aged Cub Scout
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Recently, my niece Lindsey “jumped the broom” and joined the ranks of the happily married. The celebration of her nuptials meant one thing to me: black dress shoes. Worn only when someone gets hitched or put in a ditch, (that’s a funeral for those who have the decency to keep death reverent) I had to exhume the shoes from a pile in the closet. Always one to have a brilliant sheen to my foot apparel, I found a good spit-shine was in order. Deep in the bowels of the utility room closet, behind seven or eight broken mops, I discovered my old shoe-shine kit. Made from my own two hands, this kit not only held thirty or so unused tins of Kiwi Shoe polish but many memories from my days as a burgeoning Cub Scout. I started to dwell on the concept of the scout merit badges and how perhaps that notion should be continued throughout a person’s existence.

I came up with sort of a mental list of traits and abilities which I regret not possessing as of yet:

The Fingers in the Mouth Whistle: My Uncle Buddy could summon his kids home from great distances by poking his head out the screen door and blasting off a series of whistles simply by blowing sharply with his thumb and index finger placed in the corners of his mouth. Whenever I try this maneuver, I induce a natural gag reflex upon myself, drool all over my fingers and during the whistle attempt undoubtedly spray spittle on anyone within a five-foot radius.

Hot-Wire a Car: All the really cool guys in movies know exactly how to hot wire a car. I fear someday soon a crime is going to break out in front of me and I’ll be called upon to commandeer the nearest vehicle. Without the skills of knowing which wires to split and rub together, I’m afraid would-be criminals will make their escape and I’ll electrocute myself with the car battery, burning my finger tips and suffering the ridicule of onlookers while I lay unconscious on the sidewalk.

“Jumping” a Car Battery: Although I have done this in the past, it was accomplished mostly out of pure luck. Never sure of exactly which clamp goes to which lead, I blindly hook things up and then quickly scamper to the safety of the car to rev the engine. I do this fearing my faulty hook-up will cause the car battery to explode, releasing a mist of flesh-eating battery acid on the face of the stranded motorist.

Work a Butterfly Knife: Any half-wit can operate a standard knife. I want to be able to do that whole series of quick hand flips and jerks that releases the blade, like movie street punks do when they’re about to rumble. My mom bought me a mini Swiss Army knife a few years ago, on her trip to Europe. I hate to boast but if there’s a nail to be filed or someone is in dire need of a toothpick, I can whip that knife out with pretty impressive speed. Unfortunately for my Uncle Norbert, I tried that whole cool hand motion thing when pulling out the Swiss Army knife and it flew out my grip, impaling him in the neck with the mini scissors.

Equally, women perform some tasks which deserve a merit badge of some sort:

Installing and Removing the Bra: I have always marveled at how women can actually dislocate their shoulders, contort their arms completely behind their backs and manage to blindly hook/latch/Velcro together a bra strap.

Equally as impressive is watching a woman free herself from her bra without removing her shirt. A snap here, a wriggle there, a quick tug and presto, with all the skill and fanfare of Houdini escaping a straight jacket, the bra is off. Carrying a 20-Pound Baby in One Arm for Hours: usually done while shopping, cleaning or working at the office. I’m three times the size of my wife and I couldn’t hold my daughter for ten minutes without my biceps burning from over-use.

Pick Crud from the Family Pet’s Eyes: my wife won’t touch a worm, a bug or my feet but if there’s a dog or cat with a build-up of dried eye mucus, she’s right there, fingernail at the ready, to dislodge sight impeding crusties. I always figured you left the goo alone and eventually, when the animal went blind from the excessive eye jam, you brought it in for a dirt nap and picked up another one rather than touch that stuff.

Picking Kid’s Boogers: disgusting yes, but I have seen women do this, primarily to their own children, of course. My thought on this is to once again, leave it alone! Believe me, the child will figure out what to do eventually and no doubt wipe the boogers on something of mine.

Let’s see, what other cherished manly qualifications do I find myself lacking at?

Playing an Instrument: Really “hep” dudes can play an instrument. I’ve always longed to play the harmonica or the bassoon. Seeing as the bassoon is a cumbersome piece of equipment to carry around on a daily basis, I would like to give the harmonica a shot. One never knows when a spontaneous clambake will break out and during an uncomfortable lull, someone will have to step up to entertain the group around the fire. I want to be that guy. Sure, I could impress with my ability to sing all the words to Kumbaya or Michael Row the Boat Ashore but playing the harmonica...that’s what the chick’s dig.

Anything Rolling Stones: I really need to learn some Rolling Stones songs and the names of their corresponding albums. Many a time I’ve silently stood in the back of a group as they discussed at length, the history of rock’s greatest band and which song came from which album. Strangely, music conversations never seem to gravitate toward my area of expertise...the merits of European super-group “ABBA” or “The Alan Parsons Project.”

Liquor: I want to be able to drink a “scotch on the rocks” without choking and dry-heaving. This is not the sophisticated look I’m going for.

Someday, I also desire to own two crystal decanters housing some kind of brown liquor, like scotch or better yet, bourbon. Additionally, I’d like a job that stressed me out enough, so at the end of the day I come home, loosen my tie and pour myself a big glass of booze from the aforementioned decanters, like the suave guys on T.V. I’d like to chug it straight down to calm my nerves and then complain about how the boss is busting my hump.

Money Denominations: I need a chart explaining the vernacular of the following amounts of money. two-bits, finsky, sawbuck, yard and a dime. Old men use these terms a lot and I’m nothing if not someone who looks to bridge the generation gap.

Nice Catch: Lastly, I yearn to hear the phrase “nice catch, Foley” from my superiors at work, preferably in front of my co-workers, to make them jealous. My brother-in-law, Pete, had that said to him once and he’s incessantly rambled on and on about it for years. I’d really like to be the one who saves the company from some financial mistake or discovers some gross oversight nobody else caught. Usually, any verbal acknowledgement from my boss has sounded something like, “Foley, you still work here?” or “Foley, the donuts are for clients!” or my personal favorite, “Quit putting your naked butt on the copier, Foley!”

The merit badge system would work well in today’s society as it would clearly define, through physical patch-proof, your ranking in the realm of manly abilities. Besides, I think the bright yellow neck kerchief is making a long-overdue fashion comeback and I for one will be first in line to be considered finally as one of the “cool guys” when I bring this look back.

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