Shut Up, Maloney
Derek Maloney loved being a boy scout, after lobbying for months to be allowed to join. He’d had to earn the money for the uniform, and all of the accompanying embellishments. He’d wanted to get the merit badge sash right away, because he knew that earning merit badges was going to be a priority. He did not wish to remain a tenderfoot for long.
Even though he could buy the whole shooting match for slightly under thirty bucks, back in 1965, at one dollar an hour, it was still going to take a lot of after school days, mowing the neighborhood lawns, for him to amass that much loot. Luckily, he was up for the task, because he was very motivated to join the scouts. He had several friends who were already a part of it all, and they had been telling him about the meetings and the weekend excursions, involving camping out at one of the countless SoCal venues.
Derek’s family also loved to go camping. He came from a large clan of hardy outdoorsmen, and what he was hearing appealed to him. He was kind of a squirrelly sort of kid, being twelve, and liked being outside. He was accustomed to being in the middle of things, so he could be a pest, always looking for attention, not all of it positive. Being in the scouts would give him the opportunity to participate in something that was different from the rest of his siblings.
Some things tended to stay the same, though. Just as he got into hot water at home, by being a nuisance, so it went at school. He just did not seem to be able to learn that flapping his jaws unnecessarily, led to the others noticing him more than what he had in mind. Some of those kids at school were the main reason why he was in the scouts. But when he was at his most obnoxious, even his friends got tired of the act, and they found clever techniques to let Derek know that he was being problematic.
Things came to a pinnacle one fine late April Friday at school, when Derek and several of the other boys in his seventh grade class were heading out after school to Crystal Springs Lake. The site was in the San Gabriel Mountains, ringing the Los Angeles Basin, and a spot where Derek had camped before, with all of the basic amenities that the SoCal camping experience was able to provide. There was a fair amount of excitement in the air, and it swirled and surged throughout the day, affecting Derek and making him more talkative than usual, when not under the watchful eye of Sister Invencion.
So it was that he managed to incur the wrath of his fellow students/scouts, who finally adapted one of those clever techniques I was mentioning and chose to employ it this particular Friday, more out of self-defense, than out of a sense of meanness. It was diabolically simple. Whenever Derek would open his mouth, someone would automatically parrot back at him, “Shut up, Maloney.”
Hey, if someone tells you to shut up, and he’s a friend of yours, how much attention do you pay to him? Not much, they all said. But if everyone parrots back to you, “Shut up, Maloney,” every time you try to even make the most innocuous of comments, it gets old fast, and you want them to stop. So what happens when you try to convey that sentiment? Correct. “Shut up, Maloney.” There was only one way to silence the refrain, and that was to silence Derek.
Derek was no dummy; he knew why they were doing it. But that didn’t help his frame of mind. In the excitement of convening after school and getting gear packed, and making the hour-long drive to Crystal Springs, the kids forgot about their strategy to stifle Derek, and he forgot about it too. But Saturday included an invigorating hike, of the six-mile variety, with the obligatory pause on the far side for those to work on various endeavors, which involved merit badges, and collecting key components required for various endeavors.
During the actual walking portion of the hike, the kids kept up a running dialogue, and it was not long before Derek started doing the jaw-flapping routine, and all of the sudden, order was restored, and “Shut up, Maloney,” became not only the order of the day, it was on special. It was a very effective tool for what it was intended to do: shut Derek up.
Derek trudged along, sinking lower and lower in spirit, as he could neither talk, nor not talk. And every time he made the most innocent comment, “Shut up, Maloney,” rang out. It continued through dinner that night and all the way through the dishes-washing experience, of which he was a part, having earned the honor by dint of a drawing one of the half-dozen short straws, that Mr. Camarillo held out to them, in his huge paw.
They were bunking down in big bays, that were designed to hold the entire troop of scouts, with Derek’s patrol down on one end of the building. Each had snagged a bunk, and spread out his sleeping bag before it got dark, so all was organized before lights out. It had been pitch black for more than five minutes, with only the occasional snicker or whisper to be heard, when out of nowhere came, one last “Shut up Maloney.”
As he lay there in the darkness, Derek knew that he had no one to thank but himself, for the whole mess. Yes, the kids were being mean, but it was his own inability to control his mouth that brought on the unhappiness. Was he supposed to just not talk at all? Evidently, the answer was yes. He wished he could invent some sort of cloak of invisibility to put over himself, so no one could see him. Unfortunately, he reminded himself, they would still be able to hear him.
Derek slept like a rock, but woke before everyone else, and lay there in the darkness, dreading the start of another day, of being told to shut up, every time he tried to say anything. As he lay there, he became aware of a rapidly growing hubbub, on the far end of the building, and suddenly the lights were on and the place was jumping. Out of the commotion emerged the realization that overnight, over the San Gabriel Mountains, a spring storm had slipped in unnoticed and dumped about eight inches of dry powdery snow over the entire mountain range.
In an instant, all was forgotten, all was forgiven, in the frenzy of ensuing excitement and fun, exchanging snowballs with another troop, and frolicking in the white goodness, until it was time to depart, shortly before noon. Derek was thrilled and had as much fun as the others, never once hearing the dreaded admonition that he shut up. And when he got into the car, he hunkered down in the warmth of the car heater, and closed his eyes, pretending to sleep, until he actually did.
It was a start.