I recognize the title is odd, but I assure you the story I am about to tell involves both a honeydew melon and terrorism. Last week I saw an article about the Ozark Mountains Turkey Trot Festival.
This reminded me of (and was no doubt the inspiration for) the very best episode of a 1970s-1980s TV sitcom called WKRP in Cincinnati. The episode to which I refer, originally aired on October 30 (my brother Doug’s birthday) 1978. IMDB.com describes the episode as:
Feeling left out by all the recent changes, Mr. Carlson decides to launch his own Thanksgiving promotion. With the aid of Herb and Les, the Big Guy turns a routine turkey give-away into a comic catastrophe.
What ends up happening is this. In an attempt to make an annual turkey giveaway more exciting, the station owner arranges to drop turkeys from a helicopter flying 2,000 feet above a shopping mall. If you’re not familiar with the show or the episode, the clip is just below.
The lesson here is simple… ignorance (of even the smallest detail) can lead to unintended consequences.
It is with this in mind I bring you today’s story.
Let’s get the definition out of the way. According to Dictionary.com:
terrorism [ter-uh-riz-uh m] noun
1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.
I will let you determine the guilt or innocence of the parties involved. I think we all know what a honeydew melon is.
When I was three years old, I attended the Penfield Village Nursery School. I was a student there for the two years preceding my entry into Kindergarten. Fast forward three decades. Our first child was born in June 2000, so when 2003 arrived we enrolled her in PVNS as well.
As is normal for a preschool, PVNS is run by a loving staff, supported by substantial parental involvement. From the moment you sign your child up, you are enthusiastically encouraged to “get involved.”
I have spent the majority of my career in marketing and business, so I did eventually join the PVNS board of directors, serving as chairman for the last of a three-year term. However, as new parents to the school, they were interested in more “boots on the ground” parental involvement.
My wife Emily is an Intensive Care Pediatrician, so the teacher suggested she could come in one day and talk to the little three-year-olds about the importance of wearing a bike helmet.
Having seen first hand what can happen when a child does not wear a helmet, she agreed this would be a good idea and signed up to make the presentation.
Of course a medical degree does not a presenter make, so as the day of her preschool debut drew closer, she involved me in the composition of the program.
As my readers know, I like to tell stories, but I also like physical demonstrations, especially when the audience has a hard time focusing. I dare say you’d be hard pressed to find a less focused audience than a group of twenty three-year-olds.
My idea was simple. We would take two honeydew melons. On one, we would draw the face of a happy child and on the other the face of a slightly mean looking kid. The happy kid melon would be strapped into a child-sized bike helmet, while the other melon would be (let’s just say) unprotected.
Emily was to go to the class, talk a little bit about how important it is to protect your body from things that can hurt you. She would use examples like using a potholder to remove a hot pan from the oven, or sunglasses to protect your eyes. Eventually she would arrive at the subject of protecting your head.
The plan was to show the friendly kid in the helmet and then drop it from three feet to show how the helmet protected the head (err melon). The helmet would bounce off the floor, the smiling honeydew would be removed and the point would be made.
This is exactly where the demonstration and lesson should have ended, especially given the age of the audience.
All parents (especially new ones) regularly do things to make them believe they are the worst parents in the world. This mostly comes from having to make things up as you go along. Keanu Reeves said it best (no joke) in the 1989 movie Parenthood:
“You need a license to buy a dog, or drive a car, hell you need a license to catch a fish… but they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.”
That day at PVNS, I became the guy Keanu described when I sent my wife in to the school with part two of the demonstration. Once she successfully demonstrated how the helmet would protect a melon, she was to drop the unprotected, not so friendly looking melon, from the same three-foot height.
As the architect of this exhibition, I was worried that if the second melon bounced seemingly undamaged, the effect on the students would be the opposite of our intent. They might conclude the helmet really made no difference. So, in preparing the two melons, I made certain the melon number two would sustain some damage on impact.
The plan was for the un-helmeted melon to crack, and show a subtle but meaningful injury.
As I said, I was concerned, so the morning of the big event, I took our sharpest kitchen knife and “compromised” the integrity of melon number two. I kissed my wife and children goodbye, wished her luck and went to work.
The first half of the presentation went exactly as planned, and the kids squealed with delight when the helmeted melon was dropped, and then unstrapped to show no damage at all. Then Emily said, “Okay, now let’s talk about what would happen if the melon didn’t wear a helmet.”
She raised the second melon three feet off the floor, and much like WKRP’s turkeys, she let it fly.
Since I was not in the room at the time, I can only go by the stories I have been told, but in an attempt to illustrate the complete awfulness of what happened next, I reenacted the second melon drop, in 240 frames per second super slow-mo:
Several of the students shrieked in horror, while others looked away. A few of the more sensitive kids simply wept silently for the violent loss of the “melon.” The teacher jumped right in and changed the subject. My wife was politely thanked for her time. She was never asked back to discuss the importance of bike helmets, or any other safety topics.
Perhaps I should not have personified the melons by drawing faces on them? I definitely over-engineered the second half of the presentation, which I now know was completely unnecessary.
Were we terrorists?
- Our intent was to coerce the children into wearing bike helmets
- We used violence (albeit fruit-based) to achieve our goal
I’m no UN analyst, but I’m pretty sure the definition fits.
There was never any formal fallout from this incident, but I’m willing to bet there are now twenty sixteen-year-olds in the vicinity of Penfield, NY who never ride without a helmet… if they ride a bike at all.
Parenting is never perfect, but without trying there can be no learning. I have tried to learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before me, but at the same time I have managed to come up with my own new, and unique set of missteps. Maybe I should just wear a helmet all the time. I bet it would have helped those turkeys.
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.