Category Archives: Critique and Commentary


Here’s the thing. My husband, God bless him and his whole family, is an Eagle Scout, an all around wonderful, upstanding Catholic man with a wonderful mix of grounded, traditional views and progressive, liberal ideals and a super head of hair.  When he tells me that his experience with the Boy Scouts involved little to no strange erotic encounters or pedophile-ish camp weekends a la “Canteen Boy“, it’s my job as a wife and a woman of trust to believe him.

But then, when he found out that I was a lover of the retro handbook/textbook/guide, he generously allowed me to abscond with is stack of old Cub, Wolf, Boy and  Eagle Scout guides, as well as the guides of his father, I was troubled.

Not for nothin', but he's a great guy, never steered me wrong.

It bothers me how desperately they had to build this guy up as a Patriot and lover of the town, then just casually throw in the ol’ “he’s….different, Roy.  His  brain doesn’t work the way ours does….He’s….interested in boys.” Accompanied, I can only assume by the limp wrist swish motion that all real manly men seem to know by instinct and assign to all homosexuals from all walks of life.

Fine, just one little slip up there, and just some immature chuckling on my part, like laughing at the words “anal retentive” or “colon”. But as I continued flipping through I encountered the “fun games to play with your troop” section. A lot of…boys laying on the floor with limbs intertwined or attempts to bring a young man to the floor and pin him down. Look, we’ve all roughhoused while a fifty year old guy in shorts and a cravat videotaped our youthful exuberance, why we may have even played “TIGHTROPE WALKER”!

We have to use this wig for SOMETHING Billy! Make Timmy wear it, he plays the cello!

Sure! Oh wait…what? For the benefit of those with bifocals – DRESS ONE BOY IN A FANCY DRESS AND WIG OR A STRONG MAN’S OUTFIT. Then you can pretend the rope is a tightrope and not a second before.

“You go first Sam, and we’ll judge you from our seats over here. YES you have to wear the dress, never mind why.  OK OK, then wear the strong man’s outfit complete with barbed wire bicep tattoo, six pack abs and oiled head.  In fact, wear that one instead, let me get the camera.”

I’m never going to get over this photo, nothing in the Boy Scout manuals will top it, I’m sure.

You were five minutes late John, put the bag on your head and let us beat you with sticks.

Oh. I see.  Which Scoutmaster, unaware of the term “liability”, came up with the concept of putting a bag on your head and beating each other up with sticks? Is this “Fight Club” for the shy or introverted?  Don’t worry about it, let’s just do the CHINESE PULL.  If your butts touch, there’s extra points in it for you.  I was about to edit out the text above the photo when I saw “join left hands, join both hands or kneel for variation”.  Because let me tell you, the one handed Chinese Pull can get so boring after a while.

Not for nothin’ with these scouts, but when are they going to start tying knots and stacking stones in a pile to mark a trail, making baked beans in a hole in the ground and all that crap?

I think I got the wrong book.


Young Eddie Smith – Catholic, Tween, Muse.

None of your business, tall stranger with questionable motives

Eddie Smith gets the third degree from some nosey Catholic.

My love of vintage illustration, retro signage and early 20th century textbooks is decades long, starting back in high school when I discovered a treasure trove of old bus posters from the fifties, warning people to cover their mouth when they cough.  Who thought we’d be making the SAME DARN POSTERS FIFTY YEARS LATER because human beings still refuse to cover their fleshy germ cannons? These posters coupled with my love of old school Archie Comics and Bil Keane illustrated Erma Bombeck books made me nostalgic for a time I never lived in, romanticizing it to the point of believing that the kids of  Riverdale really were an accurate portrayal of 60’s teens, hanging out at the maltshop, discussing how best to please their parents while still achieving a 4.0 GPA.

As my tastes and grasp of reality grew and developed, I became a crafter, a collector, a nostalgimaniac and  I began seeking out retro magazines, books and advertisements that so wonderfully illustrated the simplicity of life in the fifties, when whole chapters of health books were devoted to acne rather than how to properly dispose of the foil you smoked your crystal on last night.*

And so now I have a whole bookshelf…a RETRO BOOK SHELF if you will, packed with lessons on health and social interaction, how to be a teenager, how to be a woman with poise, how long it takes to form a good bowel movement (WITH ILLUSTRATIONS FEATURING POOP AS A SORT OF NONDESCRIPT PENCIL SMUDGE IN THE COLON) and my favorite: how to keep in lockstep with God’s rulebook.

Don't pull down your kneeler without it.

I offer THE NEW BALTIMORE  CATECHISM, published in 1964 and since revised a couple of times, hopefully to amend the idea that disliking broccoli is a sin.

The Lord suggests steaming vegetables with a bit of chicken broth to help with flavor.

I understand as a Christian woman, that we are to honor our father and mother, and I’ll even buy that this illustration plays into the ol’ Body Is A Temple stuff, but really?  REALLY? Was life so idyllic for children back then that simply eating mushy lima beans was a SACRIFICE? This was a sin so rampant and troubling that it called for a graphic in the catechism?  I just can’t work up the empathy.  I mean, no offense Gene but Christ sacrificed his LIFE.  Maybe you can clam up and shovel down a few more peas without the Defcon 1 Scowl.

But there ARE other sins, some too ghastly to imagine.  Sins like…TELEVISION:

"too hard" It's not long division son, you're saying thank you for dinner.

Here’s where I pull up alongside the Catechism and say yes, this kid needs a ruler upside the face.  TOO HARD TO PRAY?  First of all, if we’re going to get right down to it, the Lord quite literally taught us all the words to a pretty standard, all encompassing prayer that is acceptable for all occasions.  But the shadowy underbelly of this picture could be this young man’s conscience.  Is it too hard to pray because you kicked a prostitute in the face on the way to school and you can’t bear to own up to it in the face of God, much less your parents who warned you previously about kicking and the grounding that would come with it?  Could this child be thinking about t.v. simply as a means to block out the horrors of his own sociopathic behavior?  Or is Hulaballoo THAT engrossing?

At some point the book just lays it on the line, letting us know that basically everything a curious youth attempts to do is a one way ticket to Hell

If you ever see an ominous cloud spelling the words "BAD COMPANIONS" turn and walk away.

Like, for example, the first panel in which we see a young boy asking another young boy to…uh…go…shoot hoops?  What’s the problem here…OH, never mind, I didn’t see the heavy shame cloud reading BAD COMPANIONS.  But what IS “bad”?  I mean, I consider people who wear too much perfume to be bad companions, or people who say “warsh” or “aigs”, but I’m not sure it condemns them to the lake of fire.  In my opinion, the last panel is the real “retro spotlight”. Young Tommy has found his father’s cigarettes.  He wants to try one but smoking is wrong…oh I’m sorry,  HE’S TOO YOUNG.  It’s a sin to give yourself emphysema at age 11, say three Our Fathers and wait until your 15 to start on the Swisher Sweets.

I hope you’ve all learned something here today, how to be a better Eddie Smith, a better Catholic, a better child of the 60s.  Stay tuned to RETROBOOKSHELF for more reviews of the texts of school years past.

*it’s possible I’m exaggerating the loss of innocence of today’s youth.