In my Thursday night class I happen to have two teenagers -- which is odd for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that they seem exceptionally intelligent and engaging, if not prone to saying "like" more than the other folks -- and this evening we critiqued the younger of the two students, who happens to be a 16 year old young woman. "Do you know what I was doing when I was 16?" I asked her after we finished up with her pages.
"No, what we're you doing?"
"Nothing," I said. "Not a damn thing." I thought then about what, exactly, I was doing when I was 16 and while nothing wasn't totally accurate, it was pretty close. "I told a lot of Helen Keller jokes, I know that." The class stared back at me with blank faces. "Do kids today know about Keller?" Both of the teenagers said that yes, they were aware of the woman. "Did you make jokes about her?" No, they said, because it wasn't politically correct.
I was astounded. What child grows up without making several hundred Helen Keller jokes? I then remembered several other staples of my childhood that simply aren't mentioned anymore: Ink poisoning (which stopped me from writing on myself with ball point pens and magic markers), lead poisoning (which stopped me from, presumably, eating my pencil, or shanking punks in the chow line with my #2 unless I wanted to go down on a murder beef), Indian burns (the terribly painful twisting of skin that somehow was assigned a Native American designation), scantrons & bluebooks (the teenagers had never heard of a blue book...and yet, I dream of them about once a month, the setting usually a classroom in Sierra South at Cal State Northridge, the topic to be discussed: Ode on A Grecian Urn), Houdini (I had a lot of conversations about Houdini when I was a kid with other kids. Of course, I thought Tony Curtis was Houdini, but never mind that), scamming (As in, "I heard Dan Brear was scamming on Holly Coe," or the past tense, "Jim fully scammed on Carey."), and, well, even more Helen Keller jokes.
Of course, I also remember a series of jokes starring a boy named Johnny Fuckerfaster (the punch line was always something like, "I'm trying! I'm trying!") that simply paralyzed me with hysterics at the time but that I've not heard kids repeating, which makes me think that, well, maybe kids today simply have a better sense of what is funny. But still: Can we get the kids back on the Helen Keller wagon before our next generation loses her forever? And get a blue book in their hands before the horror of in-class essays is forever relegated to laptops!