It was first thing in the morning. Lynette Wagenstern parked just down the street from the Siegler home and sat for a moment to review the instruction manual. It was Scout’s sixteenth birthday and she was going to help Marie reprogram the V-chip that provided parental control of the cable TV, internet and game console.
Before she could get very far Scout came out on the porch and bounded down the front stairs announcing to the neighborhood, “Today I’m gonna drive the car to school and you can’t stop me.” He was in his pajamas and barefoot in the gravel driveway. He climbed up on the hood of the car and announced, “Hey Ma, look at me, I’m on top of the world.”
Lynette closed the booklet and shook her head. “The age of unreasonableness,” she sighed to herself, thankful that her own two boys were both grown, out of the house and off to college.
Marie stuck her head out the front door and tried to coax her son back into the house, “Scout Siegler, you get back in here right now and finish your hash browns.”
“You say potayto and I say potahtoe,” Scout sang out loud as he was led back inside by the ear and returned to the breakfast table. He then picked up a piece of sausage with his fingers, held it as high as he could above his head and dropped it into his mouth. “It’s my big day, my big day,” Scout insisted. “There’s no time to eat. Besides who needs food?”
“You need to refuel or you’ll crash,” Marie insisted. There was a knock at the door.
“She’s here, she’s here,” Scout was ecstatic as he answered the door. “Come right in. Come right in Mrs. Wagenstern. I’ve been expecting you.” Marie welcomed Lynette into the house.
“So how’s the birthday boy?” Lynette asked Marie.
“Yeah, that’s me, that be me,” Scout jumped up and down. “I’m the one with the birthday.”
“He’s been waiting for this day for a long time” Marie sighed. “Almost the entire last year.”
Lynette exchanged a glance with Marie. “Well happy birthday Scout. How’s it going at school?”
“Couldn’t be better,” Scout smiled. “And today I’m going to drive to school. Everybody’s gonna see me behind the wheel. It’ll be great.”
“I’m sure it will,” Lynette nodded. “Sorry I don’t have a present for you.”
“But you do have a present for me,” Scout took Lynette by the hand and accompanied her into the living room where he sat her down in front of the video screen. “You’re going to make this my very special day. I can’t wait. I can’t wait.” Scout handed Lynette the television remote and a computer keyboard. “This should be all you need.” Lynette spread the instruction manual on the coffee table. “Oh, you don’t need that,” Scout picked it up and closed the cover. “I know how to change the settings.”
“He means that in the past he figured out my password and reset the devices himself,” Marie explained. “I’ve had to be more careful. Create a better password and then hide it in a safe place.”
“Yeah,” Scout smiled. “Like someplace other than your underwear drawer.”
“I think it’s time for you to go to school young man,” Marie took the instruction manual out of Scout’s hands. “Finish you breakfast and go get dressed. It’s best if Lynette and I change the settings without you around.”
Scout held the remote in his trembling hand and pointed it towards the television, frantically switching from one channel to the next, jumping up and down. “This is the best birthday ever.”
“Hand the remote back to Mrs. Wagenstern,” Marie insisted. “And finish your hash browns.”
“Aw Mom, but it’s my birthday. It’s my birthday. I can eat breakfast any time.”
“And then you’ve got to get ready for school. Where’s your homework?”
“Homework? I don’t have any homework. It’s my birthday. I can do anything I want. I’m gonna drive to school. And then when I get home I’m gonna watch television, lots of television. Give me the keys. I’m outta here. Besides, it’ll only take a minute to reprogram everything. I can help. Here, just let me show you.”
“It’s not really that simple,” Lynette replied.
“Yeah it is, just turn on the switch and I can do anything, play all the games, watch all the shows, surf the web all the way around the world.”
“Maybe you don’t understand,” Lynette continued. “They’ve expanded the V-chip technology. Originally it was just a simple seven level system. Once you got to the Mature Adult level you could watch anything. Now the cable is linked to games and the internet with a new scale Clear Channel Standardized Weighbridge.”
“You need to listen to Mrs. Wagenstern,” Marie chimed in, taking another sip of coffee. “She went through this with both of her boys. ”
“OK, OK,” Scout backed off, resigning himself to the process. “Just do what you have to do.” He handed Lynette the remote, walked over to the breakfast table and gulped down his breakfast. While Marie made a pot of coffee, Scout went upstairs and changed his clothes. When he returned to the living room he demanded “Now I’m gonna drive to school, just like you promised.”
“Here you go my darling,” Marie dropped the keys into his hand. “Now you drive carefully, just like you always do with your father.”
“Yes Mother,” Scout obediently responded.
“He passed his driving test without any problem. And always drives like a gentleman. Don’t you dear?”
“And you come straight home too,” Marie added. “No fooling around with your friends. Driving a car is a privilege not a right. We’ll have the reprograming done by then.”
“Yes Mother.” Without another word Scout was out the door. Marie held her breath as the car left the driveway with wheels spraying gravel onto the lawn.
“You have a very special son,” Lynette offered.
“Yes, I know,” Marie smiled. “So, now let’s get down to business. It’s all so complicated.”
“That’s a good thing, and a bad thing,” Lynette spread the instruction manual open to a centerfold that contained a vast decision tree. “We can either just approve the new material by category or go through each contingency and element, each channel or even each individual program. For instance, first there is a pornography scale and a violence indicator.” Lynette turned on the television with the remote and selected “menu” and then “set up”. “Let’s start with violence. That’s what the V originally stood for. You can see here there are several categories like blood and gore. That kind of thing.”
“What about rape?” Marie asked.
“Sure, should be here somewhere,” Lynette fiddled with the remote without finding the category. “But I know for certain it’s listed under pornography.
“Seems like rape should be under violence.”
“You’d think so,” Lynette pushed some buttons and worked her way down the menu. “Well, anyway, how about this one under athletics: professional and college sports. Anytime there’s a fight during a game you can have the screen switch to an advertisement or a public service announcement.”
“Let’s go Yes on that one.”
“And we can make similar settings on his games and use of the internet.”
“But I especially want to shield him from pornography. He’s already too interested in those girls at school. I expect him to ask for the car this next weekend so he can take little Sally Lou out on a date. Probably use the back seat as a bed on wheels.”
“Aren’t you worried that he might crash the car?”
“Oh, that thing? His father takes the good car to work. Scout’s driving the beater, we call it the jalopy. Another dent isn’t going to hurt. Besides we’ve got good insurance.”
“OK, next. Here’s a global control for guns. You can choose pistols, rifles, shotguns, semi-automatic. Or you can specify use.”
“You know, self-defense, murder, hunting, police, criminals, military combat , that kind of thing. What do you want?”
Casey Bush is a longtime Portland poet whose most recent collection Student of the Hippocampus was published in 2017 by Last Word Press (Olympia, Washington). He is a senior editor of The Bear Deluxe Magazine which explores environmental issues through the literary and graphic arts.