Sunday, August 22, 2010

Walk Like A Man

Every young boy aims at manhood. Each goes through certain rights of passage whether or not they are defined by the culture he lives in. In some countries of the world boys are stretched out on a table and slowly tattooed in a painful process that covers most of their bodies. In other countries, like America for instance, there is no predefined ritual. You go from boy to man on a single day. The reward is registering with selective service and the ability to vote and the right to hold a full time job. Plus you are allowed to buy cigarettes because of all the stress you're under due to the life changes you've had in the last twenty-four hours. They still don't allow you to drink because the changes have been so sudden that it would make too many alcoholics.

The lack of a set ritual causes boys to make up their own. It also creates a situation where boys have to defend their macho image at all costs. Once your manhood has been challenged you have to do whatever it takes to defend it. That is what these stories are about. They deal with gauntlets that were thrown down and how they were picked up.

Mainly these tales are centered around Chris Tuttle. He, as I have mentioned before, was an instigator. He loved to shake things up and then watch them slowly settle so he could shake them up again. He truly loved the snow globe of life. This first brief tale open with he and my cousin Louis having a discussion.

“You think you could swallow a sand spur?” Louis asked as he held a stock covered with them in between his fingers looking at it.

For those of you who don't know what a sand spur is it's one of the curses of the South. (They may be all over the country, but I live down here, so I wouldn't know.) They are a type of grass that house their seeds in spiked shells. The spikes are horrid and if you ever step on one you will never forget what they are. Each seed pod looks like the end of a medieval mace that has been warped by a nightmare. It was one of these that Louis was contemplating.

“I'm sure I could if I wanted too.” Chris replied dryly.

“You sure you wouldn't be afraid of choking?”

“I'm not afraid of much.”

“Well... Why don't you swallow one then?”

“That sounds like a good idea, actually. I'm sure you'll join me.”

“Of course.”

Chris picked his own head of sand spurs and pulled one off. He stood there considering it for a moment and Louis decided to encourage him.

“We don't have to if you're scared.”

“No, no. I was taking my time to enjoy the moment.”

“Well, after you.” Louis said with a smile.

Chris put it in his mouth and made a series of outlandish faces as he slowly worked it down his throat.

“Excellent. Now it's your turn.”

“Of course.”

Louis put one in his mouth and somehow choked it down.

“That was good.” said Chris beaming.

“Yes, it was. We'll have to do it again sometime.”

“Yes, we will.”

Needless to say they never did. Chris later claimed that it must have jammed right in the bottom of his throat and that he could feel it for days afterwards. Chris and Louis were constantly questioning each other's manhood in the most outlandish ways and these challenges were always answered.

I remember ending up somewhere with them when they had a bag of boiled peanuts. I asked if I could have one and they told me to help myself. So I grabbed one, shelled it and ate it. Now, under most circumstances that action wouldn't merit comment. However, when Chris and Louis were around one could never tell.

“Look at the way he eats them.” Chris said chuckling at me.

“What?” I asked.

“Well, you took the shell off.”


“That's what children do. Men eat them shell and all. Isn't that right Louis.”

“Oh yes, they're much better for you that way.” He replied.

“They taste better too.” Chris added.

“Absolutely.” Louis agreed.

Many young boys might have just grabbed one up and eaten it shell and all to prove he was a man. I didn't. I knew Chris and Louis far too well to trust them. So I continued the discussion.

“So, you like them shells and all?”

“We do.” They agreed.

“Show me.” I said innocently.

Without a moment's hesitation show me they did. Each grabbed a few and threw them in their mouth and ate them. The entire time they were commenting to each other about how good they were with the shells on. This was enough to persuade me to try it. I did. My recommendation to you is simply this: Don't try it. It wasn't like eating a lemon peel or anything, but it was a lot like eating a piece of hemp rope. As I pulled it out of my mouth I expected them to laugh at me. It seemed obvious that all this had been the build up for a joke. However, no laughter, only comment.

“Can't eat them, eh? Well, you're still young.” Chris said encouragingly.

“Yea, you're tastes will change in time, no doubt.” Louis added.

You see, I thought the joke had been on me, but I was wrong. The peanut shells were another gauntlet of manhood. Chris had thrown it down to Louis, not to me. Once the challenge was accepted there was no going back. Between the two of them they finished the entire bag, shells and all. This is a good example of why our culture needs some definite right of passage for manhood. If Chris and Louis hadn't grown up fast enough it might have resulted in things like “A real man can drink twenty cups of coffee in thirty minutes” or “What makes a man a man is the ability to get hit in the head with a croquet mallet and walk it off”. The fact that the in-between period didn't last long is probably the only thing that saved their lives.

That's not to say that these challenges stop once a man is grown. No, in some areas the battle still rages and the gauntlet can still be thrown down. No man wants to be regarded as the weak one. So when a challenge comes calling most men try to meet it.

Five of us had to head down to Summerville to rent tuxedos for my wedding. Chris was driving. Jonathan was riding shotgun. Joshua, Brandyn, and I were riding in the back seat. It was February and a little cold, but we were all well prepared. In fact after we we done at the tailor's we all climbed in the car wearing heavy winter coats. Chris turned the heat on full blast and we started the two hour ride home.

We had been riding along for a few minutes with the car getting hotter and hotter and I realized that Chris was distracted and hadn't turned the heat down. Just as I was about to ask him to turn it down he spoke.

“You guys aren't getting hot are you? If you can't take it I can turn it down.” He said smiling at us in the rear view mirror.

I realized immediately that the heat was a challenge. He wasn't going to turn it off until one of us asked for it.

“I'm good.” I said.

“I as well.” Josh chimed in.

“Brandyn?” Chris asked.

“I'm just a little cold.” He replied as he bundled up in his coat. (Of all of us he was dressed most warmly.”

“Jonathan?” Chris continued.

“No, no, I'm fine.” Was his firm response.

So we continued along. Mile after mile, minute after minute, as the car got hotter and hotter. No one dared to take off their coats or complain about the heat. I remember sitting there covered in sweat feeling sorry for Brandyn in his thick Starter jacket. Chris seemed to think Brandyn would be the first to crack.

“You alright Brandyn?” He asked a few minutes later.

“Can you turn the heat up?” He responded.

“No, it's as high as it will go.”

“It's all right. I can take the cold.”

So on we continued, avoiding the subject of the growing heat. The minutes seemed to begin to stretch out. It didn't take long for the thirst to set in. The amount of water we were loosing through sweat was considerable. One couldn't help but begin to envy the people who were outside on that cool February day. Each of us knew that all he had to do was say “I'm hot” and the heat would be turned down and everyone would be glad. None of us would though. None of us were willing to be the one to fail the challenge.

At last we pulled up to Chris's house. As soon as the car stopped the doors flew open and we poured out like water. Each of us threw his coat off and started taking as deep a breaths as he could. We all confessed that we probably couldn't have gone another fifty feet while we were standing out there in the yard. I've never again had cold feel as good as it did that evening.

You may be thinking that we did a foolish thing by getting out of a hot car and breathing ice cold air as deeply as we could. However, you have to remember that cold doesn't make people sick, germs do. Of course, Brandyn did get a cold and Chris and Josh got the flu, but Jonathan and I were alright, so it's probably just a coincidence.

The moral of all this is simply that a man will do a lot to keep his masculine image. It's very important to him. No matter what the experts may believe it's just part of man's nature. In places where there is a defined right of passage boys go through whatever it is to become men. Where there are no defined rules each boy makes up his own measure for himself. I can't help but wonder what my boys will do when it's their turn to become men. Whatever it is, it will probably be worth laughing at.

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