So much got past me. In fifth grade, amid the darkly-colored Harry Potter organizers that were stuffed in her backpack, I saw a kid-friendly cartoon-covered folder with a character that, at first glance, resembled a carrot-topped Tony the Tiger. The resemblance was not coincidental.
Daren The Lion succeeded Yogi Bear as the spokesbeast for D.A.R.E. – Drug Abuse Resistance Education – and, in a press release, the organization tried to downplay rumors that The Bear was dismissed as the furry face of drug resistance because of reports of ongoing kleptomania and related gang activity involving the distribution of stolen goods with his alleged partner, the viscous cub, Boo Boo. Following the so-called Jellystone Incident, D.A.R.E. immediately hired the public relations giant McCabe/Appleton to repair its image and minimize the damage caused by The Bear’s pilferous paws. The P.R. firm launched a much-publicized, nation-wide search for D.A.R.E.’s next spokes-being. “We searched everywhere, looking for someone who was brave, courageous, kind and not afraid to take a stand against drugs and violence.” What they settled for was Daren The Lion, a pale imitation of Tony The Tiger (who, let’s face it, folks, is “Grrrr-eat!”).
Seriously, Daren The Lion did replace Yogi Bear as D.A.R.E.’s anthropomorphic propagandist in the 1990s, and the lion became the face of all the false claims about marijuana that D.A.R.E. has shamelessly promoted as truth for several generations. I discovered the lying lion as he lay crouching in her knapsack and caught him before he lobbed one last ball of shit in my daughter’s direction…
“What is that?
“That’s my D.A.R.E. packet.” She said blithely as if it were a pair of socks.
“What!… Wha…” I began to sputter.
“It’s an old packet. I already took the class. It’s over.”
Noting the shriek, she looked up from her laptop and mildly said, “It’s no big deal.”
“No big deal!” I could only repeat the words. I was flummoxed. She had been exposed, possibly infected! What nonsense, what confusion, what bullshit had been placed in my little girl’s pliable skull?!!
“Are you all right,” I asked.
“Yeah,” she snarked, visibly annoyed.
Damn, those bastards! What have they done to my daughter?
“What did they say?!” I demanded.
Turning back to her laptop she sidecracked,
“Drugs are bad. Blah, blah, blah…”
“No. no, no,” I blurted, “That’s not i!. C’mere, m’dear. Let’s talk.”
What followed was a lecture from Dad that I’m sure D.A.R.E. would never dream of telling. I said, “Dylan, If you do drugs – real drugs, hard drugs, powders and pills – well, you might end up dead. And I know that’s true because I have a list of friends who are dead.”
I told her ‘If you choose to drink alcohol you have to be extra careful because drinking almost killed me when I was a young, and I had to stop. It’s a genetic disease and it can pass from parent to child. It’s in my genes, and when you get older you have to be very careful with alcohol, kid, because you have my genes.
“And If you smoke cigarettes, well, I kill you myself just for being that stupid,” I smiled and she laughed because she knew how I felt about smoking cigarettes from many previous conversations.
“So, basically, what I’m telling you is that there’s DEATH! surrounding all this stuff. All the drugs and drink? Circling like vultures,” I said, swirling my hands for effect. Got it?”
“Good. Seriously, Dyl, those things can kill you. I have a list.”
Then I told her I felt differently about marijuana which I’m sure came as no surprise. She knew how I felt about that too.
“I don’t put pot is the same category as those other things. It’s something totally different, and actually it’s something very unique. But – look at me, Dylan – I mean this: It’s not for kids.
I found myself saying, “One day someone – and it’ll probably be a boy – is going to try and get you to smoke pot. That’s what kids do these days. And I won’t be there when that happens. So. When it does…” I said slowly and clearly, “I want you to say no.”
Thinking to myself: I can’t believe I’m saying this!
“‘He’s going to say, ‘Why not?’ and I want you to say, ‘Because my Dad told me not to.’
“‘And then he’s going to say, ‘Everyone’s dad tells ’em not to. C’mon… take a hit.’
“And then I want you to say, ‘Yes, but my Dad is the associate publisher of High Times magazine, and he says you’re full of shit!’
She squealed in delight at the very idea.
“By the way,” I added, “Darren’s full of shit too.”