As a New Year's public service, and for the edification of ex-boy scouts and other nature lovers among our readers, we pass along the following letter, which we received the other day from Jean Shepherd, winner of our 1965 award for humor and satire (see this month's Playbill):
"As an ex-junior patrol leader, Troop 41, B. S.A. (retired with the rank of second-class scout), I feel impelled to report on a disquieting development in the boy-scouting world: urbanization. It was inevitable, of course; even in my day with the moose patrol there were already signs of the brave new world to come. I well recall one stormy Saturday when my intrepid patrol, ponchoed to the gills, followed a difficult trail that had been blazed by Mr. Gordon, our scout-master, the night before - through the wilds of downtown Hammond, Indiana. He had painted moss on the north side of fire hydrants and telephone poles for miles through the junk-yard section of town, and after many a false detour we finally arrived at our goal: a weenie roast and marshmallow bake behind the Sherwin-Williams paint sign in a vacant lot near the Linde Air Corporation, makers of air compressors and heavy machinery. We were perhaps among the first of the urban boy scouts - but God knows, not the last; just the vanguard of a gray-flannel-suited image-conscious, hard-driving, upward-mobile horde to follow.
"I have before me a communique from national scout headquarters outlining the requirements for a new merit badge. You remember merit badges-those small round medallions of embroidered cloth that were awarded for achievements in various elements of scouting lore. As outlined in the 1966 Boy Scouts' Requirements booklet, the new merit badge is awarded for conspicuous achievement in the field of 'Communications.' In your day and mine, this meant wigwag signaling, Indian smoke puffs, Morse code and hollering to one another in a high, thin, cracking voice. No longer is this true. To earn this badge, the new scout - son of a nervous account exec, dyspeptic PR man or promotion writer for some giant corporation - must:
" '1. Show how to crop a picture.' I can see how this might come in handy. It is wise for the young scout to learn how to crop out useless or embarrassing com-panions who from time to time tend to creep into camera range.
" '2. Make a layout of a printed page that will deliver an idea to the reader. For example, an item for sale.' I suspect that this requirement may come into direct conflict with at least one part of the boy-scout oath, which you may remember with some uneasiness to this day. Hucksters have never been particularly noted for being honest, let alone cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean or reverent.
"At this point you possibly will not credit your senses, but here it is in cold print for all to see:
" '3. Write and narrate a one-minute commercial describing an imaginary product.' In my mind's eye I see a hundred thousand snowy-toothed urchins practicing Bert Parks smiles, holding at the correct angle in their right hand, so that the camera can pick up the label, The Product; leering into bathroom mirrors, their rich, trained voices opening with The Pitch: 'Friends, have you ever been troubled by iron-deficiency anemia?'
" '4. Make a Story Board and show how it can be used to get across an idea. Make and demonstrate Flip Charts and Flash Cards for the same purpose.' Anyone who has sat through a sales presentation conducted by a bright-eyed junior executive from merchandising knows only too well the slight buzzing in the cerebrum that accompanies a truly artful display of flip charts, story boards and flash cards. It's an invaluable talent; but training should begin early.
" '5. Plan an activity involving at least ten people. Write a memorandum to each, explaining his part in a smooth-running activity. Make a carbon copy of each memorandum.' Scouting dads everywhere know the sinking feeling that accompanies the arrival of a memo typed on baleful pink paper from the front office, with copies to nine other victims. It is significant to note that no- where in the requirements for a communications merit badge is there even the slightest mention of receiving a memo. The new scouts to a man are memo senders. Communication to the new boy scouts, as to their parents, seems to be conducted on a one-way basis.
"There are other equally challenging prerequisites for the communications merit badge, such as 'Making a Phone Call,' 'Introducing a Guest Speaker,' et cetera, all of which add up to an inspiring composite picture of the dynamic new scout. I have not seen a boy-scout uniform recently, but I suspect the old khaki and forest green is gone, replaced by a tasteful oxford gray or possibly a muted glen-plaid flannel with cuffed sleeves, narrow lapels and paisley lining. The traditional boy-scout cap, I'm sure, has also long since faded into oblivion, supplanted by a snap-brim, official boy-scout Adams fedora with regimental rep band and jaunty mallard feather. The boy-scout knife, of course, has been replaced by the swizzle stick. And neckerchiefs are equally outre; the well-turned-out scout of today wears an ascot of watered Italian silk.
"No doubt plans are also well under way for future merit badges in: 'Business Lunch,' a badge awarded for exceptional achievement in lunchmanship, requirements for which include whom to invite and not to invite, proper handling of headwaiters, how to hog the conversation, how to stretch the meal into a three-hour lunch break and how to pad the bill on your expense account; and 'Making Out,' a badge awarded for proficiency, as demonstrated in lab work and on field trips, in the art of making the scene, requirements for which include tracking quarry, baiting the trap, starting the fire (by rubbing two ten-dollar bills together) and making the kill.
"What do you say we run these brain storms up the flag pole-and see who gives the boy-scout salute?
Bravely, cleanly and reverently yours,
(Second-Class Scout, Ret., B. S. A.)