You Don’t Have to Kiss Me Back

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Hail Goofus!

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I recently went to a new doctor. As usual, I arrived early (Gallant). I made several jokes to the Receptionist about the current state of medical care in America (Goofus).

I sat down in the waiting room and saw an issue of Highlights Magazine on the table in front of me. If you have ever been to a doctor or dentist in the past 72 years, you’ve probably seen a copy. If not, it is a magazine geared toward children with the subtitle, “Fun with a purpose”. Of course, I spent my formative years scanning the magazine for the porpoise.

Highlights

I don’t know of anyone who personally subscribed, but it seems to be in every medical office in the country. I picked it up to see how much it had changed since my own childhood, some fifty years back. Old people do this so they can complain about it to other old people later. I was shocked to find that it hadn’t changed much at all.

The Timbertoes were still there. This was a monthly story extolling family values about a nuclear family of people that for no apparent reason are made of wood. In this episode, Mom and Dad were teaching their son and daughter how to bake cookies. I felt that teaching wooden children to stay away from the stove would be a more appropriate lesson.

Hidden Pictures was also still a staple of the magazine. It consists of a line drawing picture containing a dozen or so smaller pictures hidden in the design. Typical items to find are linear items like a spoon, fork, or knife, or an umbrella or pencil. Fish and pizza slices are also popular. I always seemed to be missing one item when called in to see the doctor. “Your boy seems tense”, he would tell my mother.

My favorite feature of Highlights was also still there. It was “Goofus and Gallant”. According to Wikipedia…Goofus and Gallant is an American children’s comic strip appearing monthly in Highlights for Children. The comic contrasts the actions of the titular characters, presenting Gallant’s actions as right and good and Goofus’s as bad and wrong.

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Goofus and Gallant were depicted as two Caucasian boys whose age was depicted anywhere between five and twelve, but typically seemed to me to be about nine. I assume that the point of the comic was to depict children handling the same situation in bot a positive and negative light to show the contrast and to hopefully make it obvious that kids should choose the positive lifestyle.

Graphically, Gallant always dressed a bit better, was neater, smiled a lot, and kept his hair neat. Conversely, Goofus was a brooding, unkempt, and slovenly brat. The problem was, that as a boy, I tended to identify with Goofus. I think that part of the problem was that I have a brother who is a year older than I, and he seemed at the time to be the same type of shameless suck-up as Gallant.

I recently mentioned this to my daughter, who has a PhD in Sociology. She was surprised that I had always assumed the Goofus and Gallant were brothers. She never saw it that way. When I mentioned that the artwork depicted their parents as appearing the same, she figured it was a way to level the playing field and that it was more like alternate universes. That seemed to suggest that the real educational value would be for adults to try a find out what caused Goofus’ screwed up behavior. Keep in mind that the comic strip pre-dates Ritalin.

Even in my sibling version, I never found Goofus to be all that bad. He didn’t commit arson or anything. And Gallant, while being polite, came across as kind of a tool. I always felt that staying down the middle was sufficient for me. I recall a particular episode where Goofus throws rocks at birds, white Gallant feeds the birds.

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As an adult, I would never throw rocks at birds, but as a nine-year-old? Don’t all kids do that? I once hit a neighborhood chicken in the head with a rock (cockfighting…don’t ask) and knocked it out cold.  I was quite relieved when it came to and staggered away. I was considered one of the good kids. I witnessed one of the local nut-jobs drop a cinder block on a box turtle, smashing its shell.

Maybe Gallant was in clueless denial about his father’s alcoholism and tried to be extra good to gain his approval or to avoid beatings. And maybe Goofus’ anger stemmed from the fact that he witnessed his mother’s torrid affair with the pool boy and was venting anger of his own. In any case, it made me wonder where they would be today…(cue dream sequence music)…

It’s an unusually cold January and Gallant is happy to be seated in front of a hot bowl of soup. Always the optimist, he has come to find joy and comfort in small pleasures. Life has not been kind. Gallant excelled in High School and was able to use his contacts gained through volunteer work to get the best references. While he was accepted to three Ivy League schools, he decided to serve his country opting instead for West Point.

Goofus is looking over his speech for one last time. He’d just as soon get this over with as it is an unusually cold January. Goofus barely graduated high school and was trying to decide which community college would allow him the best opportunity to maximize profits from his small weed business. His draft number came up, but before he went to the Induction Center, he bribed a customer who also happened to be a podiatrist to document a severe case of heel spurs. It was enough to keep him out of the service.

Gallant graduated with honors and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He was sent to Viet Nam and was put in command of a platoon of very young men not unlike Goofus. During his two-and-a-half years in country, he heroically survived several fire fights and not so heroically, a half dozen fragging attempts by his men. He returned to a crowd of angry hippies who spit at him and called him “baby burner”.

Goofus used his brother’s transcripts to gain entry into Dartmouth and got a free ride by declaring himself as Hispanic. His drug empire flourished with the privileged clientele and he breezed through in two-and-a-half years never writing a paper or taking a single exam. Apparently, his choice of classes with young, left-wing professors worked out well for him. While his brother was in a foxhole in the jungle in Cambodia, Goofus got power-of-attorney for his parents and inherited their entire estate upon their death. The estate included several run-down apartment buildings.

After his discharge, Gallant uses his GI Bill benefits to get his bachelor’s degree at a low-end State College. He gets his teaching certificate so he can give back to the community. He marries a fellow teacher and has two kids. Money is tight with constant cuts to education. He and his wife go several years with no raises. They buy a small house.

Goofus uses strongarm tactics to force elderly tenants out of rent controlled apartments and converts the building into high-priced yuppie condos. He is asked to be on the board of a local bank, coincidentally, the same bank that just bought Gallant’s high-interest mortgage.

Gallant is fired when a disgruntled student falsely accuses him of inappropriate touching.

Goofus forecloses on Gallant’s house.

Gallant’s wife divorces him and uses the false student charm to deny him parental visitation. Gallant is now living in his car.

Goofus has Gallant’s car repossessed.

Gallant reflects on the past as he enjoys his meal at the homeless shelter. As bad has things have gone for him, he has no regrets regarding his attempts to be a good person. He looks up at the old television shared by everyone at the shelter. He watches Goofus walk toward the podium

Goofus glares condescendingly at his predecessor and his wife. He shakes hands with the Chief Justice and takes the Oath of Office to become the President of the United States.