David Joins the Cubs
Scouting is part of a typical Canadian boyhood. It’s so fucking wholesome. You make crafts, you romp around in the woods, you make friends, and learn valuable lessons from emotionally available (but not too available) male role models.
My family has a negative history with the Scouting movement, so I’m not sure why my parents thought signing me up for Beavers was a good idea.
But hey, arts and crafts and outdoorsy shit! Why not! So not only did I sign up, but my dad signed up as a leader, too.
Beavers- which is for boys who are between five to seven- was pretty low-key. My dad and the other leaders were all pretty much on the same page, laid-back and improvisational. I honestly don’t remember much about Beavers. We went camping out in Camp Samac, which was an enormous wooded area with a salmon pond and hiking trails and numerous old log cabins. We made crafts, and mine were always the shittiest. We went on field trips to places like McDonalds, Toys R Us, or the local car museum (because Oshawa is simply the worst).
I didn’t have any problems with any of the kids, though I didn’t make any new friendships either. I have no memory of any of the other kids. Which is kind of weird, now that I think about it. I remember what my uniform looked like, I remember the exact layout of the church gymnasium where we met, and the layout of the two cabins we camped at. But none of the other kids stick in my mind.
It reminds me of a scene from the TV show Community, in which Abed- who has Asperger’s- is having lunch with his neurotypical friend Annie. Annie has arranged peas on her plate to look like a happy face. She shows Abed, and he says, “Oh cool, Stonehenge.”
I remember some of the leaders clearly- two in particular. All of the leaders had assigned nicknames, so I have no idea what any of them were called in civilian life. My dad’s name was Hawkeye. Another guy’s name was, for some fucking reason, Tic Tak. Tic Tak was a stocky, middle-aged man whose kid was also in my Beavers unit. I never liked Tic Tak. He came across as abrupt and unpredictable. I mean, I had a hard time relating to any grown men when I was a kid, so it wasn’t surprising that I couldn’t connect with him. I found out years later that my dad also had reservations about Tic Tak.
During our final meeting of the year, Tic Tak went apeshit on his kid, screaming at him in front of everyone. The kid tried to hide under a table, and Tic Tak cuffed him on the back of the head. I have no memory of this, but my dad mentioned it years later, describing it rather understatedly as “something none of us really needed to see”.
The other leader I remember was the only female leader. Her nickname was Rainbow, and I adored her. I’m not sure if her kid was part of the unit or not, but she was a quintessential mom. When I was a kid, I glommed onto maternal women just as much as I failed to relate to almost every adult with a penis. Rainbow was an early example of that. I remember once doing something that pissed off another kid, and he said he was going to tell on me. I said, “Fine, but whatever you do, please don’t tell Rainbow about this.” because Rainbow was the only one I could stand disciplining me. It worked.
Then there was Cubs. My dad once again signed up as leader, but unlike Beavers, the other leaders were all seasoned veterans who were set in their ways.
Ostensibly the leader was a guy nicknamed Akela. As a kid, he struck me as disingenuous- though I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe that feeling. He was friendly in a hollow, blank way, and gave me the creeps. When I was older, I told my dad that Akela struck me as the kind of person who secretly has a woman locked up in his basement. My dad laughed, and said that in his civilian life Akela was friends with two of my aunts, and was the most normal person in the world.
The real leader of the pack was a grandfatherly man nicknamed Baloo. At first, I adored him. He was steady, warm, and good-humoured. He seemed safe. Baloo had been in the Scouting movement forever, and my pack more or less orbited around him.
The only other leader I remember was nicknamed Bagheera. He was a stern, cold, bearded man. I had nothing to do with him.
My memories of Cubs are mostly unconnected flashes of various catastrophes:
-At first I didn’t understand how to earn merit badges, and thought that they were being freely given out to everyone except me.
-At camp, the other Cubs made fun of me for bringing along the Cubs Handbook, and
-Also stole each other’s underwear on a regular basis, and
-Told scary stories about ghosts, arsons, and murders taking place in the vicinity, all of which terrified me, and
-Dunked my hand into warm water while I was sleeping. On three occasions.
-And then made fun of me for being a bedwetter.
-I was pretty bad at the arts and crafts stuff in Beavers, and in Cubs the projects were much more complicated. I was immediately over my head.
-I managed to build the slowest wooden race car at a local derby attended by at least a hundred other kids.
-The stuff that I was capable of doing- like drawing the Canadian flag, or completing a research project on David Suzuki- was intensely boring.
There was a sick, toxic social dynamic among the Cubs, which none of the leaders seemed to understand. It was Lord of the Flies, and I was Simon.
My affection for Baloo diminished over the months. He’d seemed like such a nice guy at first, but why couldn’t he see all the borderline sociopathic behaviour which was happening right in front of him?
Well, probably because he had a few screws loose himself. It turned out that Baloo had an explosive, hair-trigger temper which we got to see more than once.
Kids can be little shits, and it’s pretty natural for adults to get irritated at them sometimes, but usually there’s a build-up, and usually adults can find a constructive way to express their irritation. With Baloo, things typically progressed from, “Hahaha, oh you guys.” to “SHUT UP AND SIT DOWN IMMEDIATELY OR ELSE!” in the time it took you to read that. He was an enormous man who turned an alarming shade of red when he was angry. Every time this happened- at least once a month- I felt betrayed.
My disillusionment with Cubs continued to grow over time. I’m not sure how long I lasted before I decided to quit. When I told my parents I was quitting, they were supportive. My dad offered to talk to Baloo for me, because by that point I wanted nothing to do with him.
The next week, Baloo called me over into a vestibule at the side of the meeting hall. It was a quiet, dark space which we never used.
“So your dad tells me you’re thinking about leaving,” said Baloo.
“Well, I think that’s a shame. Your dad goes to all the trouble to sign you up for Cubs, and drives you here every week, and you want to quit?”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to this.
“Don’t you think you’d be letting him down if you leave?” asked Baloo. “And what about your friends here? Don’t you think you’d be letting them down, too?”
“I dunno,” I said.
“Well, I hope you change your mind.”
We walked out of the vestibule back into the brightly lit gymnasium.
It was the first time I was aware that an adult was trying to manipulate me. I stuck to my decision and never went back again.