I believe I have previously made my feelings on the matter of children quite clear. Seen and not heard, I say, and that from preferably a good distance, through binoculars from the deck of an oceangoing yacht as they de-barnacle pilings or otherwise engage in character-building labor, say. Procreate if you must — I suppose the species must be replenished somehow, and until that hoped-for parthenogenetic future of institutionally gestated custom offspring we'll muddle through in the ancient slipshod manner — just please ask the little dickenses to respect my Zone of Acceptable Proximity (ZAP), which for children is set to 30 meters. Any rugrats coming within range will be tasered, which means a ZAP violation will garner you a ZAP.
My problem is not with children per se; it's not as if they can spring from the womb fully grown, sentient, and ready to punch in. That would play hell on the feminine plumbing and that point of egress has to do double duty. I recognize that there must be an intermediate stage betwixt zygote and college freshman; I just wish it could be done in a quieter and more orderly fashion. Their grammar is atrocious, their manners deplorable, and their hygiene nonexistent. I've said it before and I'll say it again, raising children on the Dickensian model results in a fitter, more enterprising adult (presuming it attains its majority). Fill 'em with Facts, keep them occupied with meaningful work, and give them just enough gruel to sustain life. If the government wants to step in and institutionalize the entire process they'll get no argument from me.
On occasion, some young hopeful will penetrate my defenses and charm me in spite of myself. I'll admit that when not soiling themselves or pitching fits, they can be slightly endearing, like a cartoon seal.
A lad of my acquaintance called, inexplicably like most boys these days, Jaden, belonging to a friend of mine and being somewhere around the age of six the last time we spoke, is one of those rare and exceptional nippers. Unlike most tots his age, whose wit and intelligence compare roughly with that of a spat (immature oyster), Jaden shows signs of a burgeoning consciousness and is therefore tolerable in brief, measured doses. He lives mostly in Point Arena with his mother but spent weekends in Fort Bragg with his father, a friend of mine called Brad, in an apartment above a store on Franklin St.
One Sunday I sat in the living room of that apartment with Jaden as his father gathered his belongings in the other room preparatory to returning him to P.A. I was to accompany them, having some business of my own to conclude in that seaside hamlet. Jaden was on the floor playing with some incomprehensible toy of brightly colored jointed plastic links and I was doing an admirable job making sure he didn't take poison or climb out the window, a job that went well with drinking beer.
"Do you like ernches?" Jaden asked me, quite out of the blue.
"Well, I don't know. What the hell's an ernch?" I replied.
"An ernch. Like you eat. You peel it, and it's ernch."
"Oh, oh-rinj. Or, alternatively, ah-rinj, if you want to sound sophisticated, though I wouldn't recommend it in these environs. You might be burned for a witch. Yes, I do. Why do you ask?"
"I don't like them. They're hard to peel and they make my fingers sting. Then they're messy and sticky."
"You know, for most kids your age, sticky is a default condition and quite desirable. Are you sure you're not a robot?"
"You're funny," said Jaden, deadpan.
"Really? Why aren't you laughing?" I asked, sensibly.
"Not funny like that."
"What, you mean I'm weird?"
"You said, it, not me. Do you like ponnagrammits?"
"Pomegranates. Yup. You know, it is theorized that the pomegranate was the actual fruit of knowledge on the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, which would make that fruit responsible for today's thriving porn industry, not to mention fashion and psychoanalysis. Though I just did. Mention them.”
"I don't know what you're talking about," Jaden said.
"I'd be surprised if you did. What's your feeling about pomegranates?"
"I don't like them because they look like a beehive inside."
"Okay, no ponnagrammits nor ernches for the J-bird. What fruits do you like?"
"Plums, and kiwis, and neck-tarines."
"Excellent choices. Good, solid fruits. Did you know there's a fruit called an Ugli? You wouldn't like it though, it's in the ernch family."
"Is it ugly?"
"Not as ugly as your dad," I said.
"Dad! Flynn said you're ugly," Jaden called out.
"Tell him his mom finds me very attractive," came from the other room.
"I got it. You're a cold piece of work, Jay," I said. "Remind me never to plan any crimes within your hearing."
"Never plan any crimes within my hearing," Jaden parroted dutifully.
"Duly noted. Thanks for the heads up."
"Flynn, did you know that Point Arena was named by Spanish explorers?"
"Was it now?" I said.
"Yes. They called it Punta Arenas," he said with admirable pronunciation, "and that means ‘the end of the sands'."
"That's pretty good for someone who can't say 'orange'." "How did Fort Bragg get its name?"
Well. I'd done the region a considerable disservice in dwelling here for seven years and not researching at least enough local history to answer that question, which is not like me at all. Usually when I live or even visit somewhere I find that sort of thing out immediately. I figured I had two choices: admit my ignorance to a 6-year-old or brazen it out with a made-up tale he would surely repeat as fact if I made it believable.
Better to keep it in the realm of the fantastic so I could claim to be entertaining rather than misleading the boy.
"A long time ago, before this region was settled by the white devils, there was a dinosaur hunter who lived in New York," I began. "The last dinosaurs went extinct 60 million years ago," said Jaden.
Shit! I forgot about kids and dinosaurs. Your average toddler who can't distinguish left from right will happily tell you the batting order and leisure time activities of the entire slate of Cretaceous reptiles.
"Yes, but they didn't know that at the time. He had reports from those same Spaniards of yours who sailed to Point Arena of monstrous reptiles in the area. His name was Aloysius Garbanzo McBragg and he petitioned the King of New York, Luigi The First, to fund an expedition to the opposite coast."
"Like Columbus did with Ferdinand and Isabella," Jaden chimed in.
"Right, only Luigi was not nearly so accommodating and told Aloysius to go pound sand, which means not just no, but hell no. So, Commander McBragg raffled off the naming rights to the first dinosaur he found and raised enough to outfit a small caravel with a crew of 12. They sailed off one fine morning in July, rounded the Cape at Christmastime, and on the following Halloween put in at Noyo Harbor.
"They slept on the boat that first night, and around midnight a giant marauding octopus slithered on board and strangled four of the intrepid adventurers, seemingly for sheer spite — he didn't even eat them.
"Making landfall the next morning, the remaining nine were greeted by a band of friendly natives. Through a combination of sign language and drawing, McBragg was able to communicate the particulars of their quest, and the locals responded in kind, telling them they had no knowledge of any giant reptiles in the area. 'But hey,' the chief said, 'if you guys like to party, we're having a little fiesta tonight on the beach. Clams, beer, dancing, no big whoop.’
“ ‘Thanks, but we've got to get to work,’ said McBragg."
"The dinosaur hunters walked a couple of miles inland and set up camp. The first night they were attacked by mountain lions and lost a couple more of their band. The second night it was bears; on the third, wolves, and by day four only Aloysius and his first mate Rolf remained alive. ‘Rolf, my friend, we shall have to remain vigilant if we're going to survive’ — and just then an enormous condor swooped down, snatched up poor Rolf, and carried him off to his hilltop aerie."
"What's an aerie?" asked Jaden.
"It's a word you only need to know if you do crossword puzzles. I presume it's his lair. Now focus. Alone in a cruel and unforgiving land, suspicious of the natives and without the resources to survive, Aloysius cut down several stout redwood trees and built himself an enclosure, walling himself firmly inside and leaving only a small embrasure or slit at eye level to see what ravening beasts would next come to finish the job of rendering his party extinct. Too late, he realized he'd neglected to provision himself and sat down to die. By and by the natives came over to check up on him. 'Hey, you okay in there?' the chief asked. 'You hungry?'
“'I could eat,' returned McBragg.
“So, they passed him some smoked fish and wild onions through the slit, and when he refused to leave his shelter, made a daily habit of it. For 20 years they fed that man and when he finally died they say his beard was 13 feet long. Years later, when the gold-seekers came, they asked the natives what that odd structure was. 'Oh, that's old McBragg's fort,' they said.
“'Hm. McBragg's Fort. Fort McBragg. What do you think, Smithers? Good name for this place?'
“'I'd take off the “Mc” so as not to encourage any Irish, but yeah, sounds cool,' Smithers said.
“'Okay. I hereby name and claim this entire region in the name of me and my people.'
“'Hey, wait a minute,' said the native chief.
"So, Fort Bragg it was, is, and shall ever be. Any more questions, youngster?" I said.
"That story sounds crazy," Jaden said.
"Really? Crazier than Ponce de Leon seeking the fountain of youth or Cortez, El Dorado? Ask your dad."
"Dad, how did Fort Bragg get its name?" Jaden asked as Brad came in the room.
"Hell if I know. Ask Uncle Flynn, he's smart."
"Neener neener neener," I said.
"Let's roll," said Brad.
I have no doubt that whatever charm Jaden once possessed has been by now negated by impending adolescence and he is probably packing a gun, listening to electronic dance music, and establishing his brand online, but at least we had a moment wherein I was able to enlighten and edify the lad, albeit speciously but surely influencing his ultimate worldview positively. Time will tell as to what sort of human Jaden will make. For the nonce, he occupies the sub-human limbo of adolescence and is not fit company for anyone, including himself. Kids! What are you gonna do? Can't live with 'em, can't mulch 'em.