Monday, November 19, 2007

Lazy Good-For-Nothings Should be Walking to School

I’ve never believed all the hysterical predictions by fanatics who are constantly in our faces shrieking that the nation is a step away from permanent ruin.

I’ve rolled my eyes at the smug environmentalists who claim we’ll turn into a giant sludge pit if we cut down one more tree, bulldoze one more road through a national forest or eat one more plate of some tiny fish or bird on the endangered species list.

Same thing with the bug-eyed lefties who warn that we’ll be a nation of 300 million poor, homeless, uneducated, uninsured, disease-ridden bums unless the government confiscates all of our money and puts it into trillion-dollar programs to keep us from becoming poor, homeless, uneducated, uninsured, disease-ridden bums.

Never had any patience with religious zealots who somberly proclaim that we’ll become a giant mob of panting porno addicts and adulterers unless public school kids have the right to pray and public sporting events and ask God to help them humiliate their opponents and win football games and bowling tournaments.

I’ve never believed them because, despite their babbling and yelping, we’ve remained a great and mighty country. No other country has put a man on the moon, expanded as many sports leagues or produced as many individually wrapped slices of American cheese as we have.

Now, however, I’m starting to think that all those seething, finger-wagging pessimists are right. We are headed toward collapse. In a few years we’ll be a 3,000-mile-wide swath of ambitionless slugs that lack the will to confront our enemies, defend freedom and order useless junk from TV shopping channels. The collapse will be so total that rats will lose their will to eat garbage, New Mexico politicians will stop pocketing bribes, and every lawyer will flee the nation because there won’t be anyone left here worth suing.

There are hundreds of theories about why we’re going to hell. Here’s mine.

It’s called National Walk to School Day, and it’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard of. It was held in October and was put on by a bunch of smiling do-gooders who believe it’s good for kids to walk to school. They think that walking gets kids exercise they desperately need to keep them from turning into blobs, helps them make friends, makes neighborhoods safer and fosters a sense of community.

They’re right. What’s depressing is that we now need a national effort to get kids to do what they’ve done for thousands of years, which is walk to school.

Go to any city, suburb or small town in America and you’ll see fleets of yellow school buses cruising neighborhoods, picking up kids and blocking traffic every time they stop to haul in another group of tykes with perfectly good legs. They’re picking up kids who live just two and three blocks from school.

School administrators, parents and politicians with relatives and clients in the school bus business tell us that kids have to be driven to school so they aren’t preyed on by fiends, snatched by crazy ex-spouses and so they don’t fall into uncovered sewers on the way to and from school. Those are lies. Those buses reveal the ugly truth of just how weak, soft, unimaginative, lazy and detached from reality we’ve become. We’re a people who can’t get up off the couch to change TV channels, need electricity to open a can of beans, believe that no one dies in war and that kids are too fragile to walk a few blocks to school.

When I was a kid only farmers and rich kids got rides to school. Farmers took school buses, and the rich kids had their mommies or daddies drive them in Cadillacs. The rest of us walked.

And it was a blast.

If you left home early enough in the winter you could spend 10 or 15 minutes making snowballs and ambushing friends as they trudged through snow drifts. In the spring and fall you could detour anywhere, climb trees, race each other, sit down on a curb and copy homework from a pal, taunt kids you didn’t like, get into fights, dump on the parents, walk, laugh and talk with each other and have a few minutes of pure fun before you had to deal with the agony of school and the depression of homework.

Those walks often turned into adventures. There were lots of cranky old people in the neighborhood who couldn’t stand noise. We’d stand in front of their houses and shout and scream and laugh until they came out and chased us on their wobbly legs.

Every day for nine years—yes, even in kindergarten—we passed the home of Harry Scary, an old guy we thought was a murderer who ate children. We figured Harry was evil simply because he was, well, old. Nothing will make a track star out of a kid—even a fat one—like being scared enough to race past a crazed murderer’s house and to keep on sprinting for the next block or two until well out of the crazy’s range.

Those walks unleashed our young imaginations. It was during a lazy walk home from school on a Friday afternoon in the fourth grade that Jim Masciola and I hatched a plan to kidnap a classmate and neighbor kid we didn’t like and crucify him. We collected wood and nails and pounded together a perfect sized cross, but we never did nail the kid to it. Someone snitched us off, and our victim refused to leave the house when we rang his doorbell and asked him to come out and “play.”

There was no greater thrill than sprinting all the way home from school on Halloween afternoon, jumping into your costume and racing out the door to meet your pals to go trick-or-treating. Actually, there was. It was running home after a half day on the final day of school in the summer, changing into play clothes and seeing who could be the first one to the park to start three glorious months of goofing off.

In eighth grade, Jim and I walked through the alleys back to school during the lunch hour and practiced the art of smoking cigarettes. Try doing that on a school bus.

Truth is, we pitied anyone who was driven to school because we knew they were missing out on great fun.

Parents were different then, too. If I had ever once asked my ma for a ride to school she would have shot me a look of pity that said, “Poor thing. I know you’re quite a bit off upstairs, but you’ll have to get over it because we don’t have the money to put you into a nuthouse.”

On mornings when we were late getting up for school, my ma would peek her head into our bedroom and bark, “Get up you good-for-nothings. You stink from being lazy.”

All those school buses, SUVs and cars in school parking lots these days are a symbol of America’s impending collapse. So for every parent who puts their kid on a bus or drives them to school, and for every kid who accepts a ride to school, I say this:

You stink from being lazy.

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