I recently worked on an ad campaign with that tagline. It seemed smart and funny, and entirely too close to home. Our kid laughs at his farts; is obsessed with motorcycles, knives, blowtorches and apparently race cars. After bath this evening he stole my beer and drank some before throwing the can on the ground and crawling off cackling. Next week he'll be one year old.
I love the gleam in his eye and his burgeoning pranksterism because I see them for what they are: an effort to connect with a part of himself that’s creative and self-determining. He is discovering his power. And that’s what scares me a little. Not everybody likes a kid that’s in touch with his power.
About a quarter of a century ago (!) mischief was my thing. I was mischievous in the way lots of kids are, I guess. In seventh grade I stole a motorcycle with friends and rode it all over Chapel Hill in the middle of the night until it threw its chain and we walked the three miles back home. At 15, I got busted with a fake ID trying to buy my girlfriend beer at a bar.
In 1990, at a little boarding school in the Virginia mountains, I orchestrated a simple, clever senior prank: a few minutes after the faculty sat down for their weekly meeting in the lecture hall, which had only two doors, a group of friends and I locked those two doors shut with Kryptonite locks.
It was astonishingly easy. I still remember the look in my friend Neal’s eyes when we clicked the locks. Triumphant. Amazed. Empowered. I felt it too. For a minute we were the entrepreneurs and business owners we would become. Of course the faculty didn’t see it that way. The business we created that day was basically a riot: teachers’ cars picked up and carried into front yards. Girls running amok on the boys’ dorms. The campus trashed, toilet-papered. A school van destroyed.
The teachers friggin’ hated us after that. Hated us for "disobeying." But really what they hated was that we humiliated them. We won a little battle. And probably in doing so, revealed that they couldn’t control us. We showed a little power, and it threatened the hell out of all those teachers. All except one.
I’ll never forget when Jim Hopkins walked in, late as usual, and saw what was happening: Neal and I standing by the locked doors, stupefied by our own success. The rest of the student body basically a circus in the halls. Jim was an old hippie with a masters degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa. A big helmet of graying hair, a cartoonish nose, coffee breath and a Shakespearean voice, Jim was “Babes” to his students because he called everyone "Baby." Always in an oxford baritone. “Baby, you can’t go straight from lunchies into the night,” he once told me, correcting a temporal error in a story I’d written.
Babes assessed the scene. He walked past Neal and me, and peered through the little wire-reinforced windows in the lecture hall doors. There were his fellow teachers, helpless in their chairs. “Amazing,” he said. He looked at Neal, then at me, and whispered, “gas the fuckers.” Then he went home. At graduation he gave me the school English award with a subtle acknowledgement of my anti-authoritarian streak. I loved him for that.
I hope Woods hangs onto his mischief, and finds his power, But just as much, I hope that as he outgrows the sanctuary of Damnation Ranch he finds someone like Babes who isn’t afraid of it and who can help him channel it into creative things.