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Paul Coates -- Confidential File, March 10, 1959

March 10, 2009 |  2:00 pm


Some Sons Fail to Take After Father

Paul_coatesThere is, within the tight little confines of my ancestral Burbank home, a full-fledged Boy Scout of America.

And frankly, the kid bugs me.

At the outset, let me go on record that I'm not opposed to the idea and the ideals of scouting. In fact, even though I don't look the type today, I used to be a Boy Scout back in the dim, dead past when it was still vogue for us to wear campaign hats and steer unwilling old ladies across streets.

Like every other kid on my block, I joined promptly when I turned 12. But, unlike the rest, I never got past being a Tenderfoot.

By the time I could master the devilish intricacies of the square knot and was ready for promotion, I was approaching 16, considering my first shave, dating a sophisticated girl three years my senior, and absolutely unable to fit into my khaki scouting knickers.

1959_0310_red_streak So I quit and joined with a group of neighborhood ruffians who got their kicks throwing rocks at windows, pushing over garbage cans and heisting mother-of-pearl combs from the Five & Ten.

It was, therefore, with some relief that I saw my son not following in his father's footsteps.

Kevin breezed through Tenderfoot knotsmanship faster than you could say Robert Baden-Powell. The boy was a whiz at woodsmanship and a veritable Arrowsmith in first aidsmanship, tying tourniquets on the veins of my forearm, which more often than not made me feel I was going to spin into a faint.

But I didn't object. It was worth it if -- as the Scout manual so aptly puts the phrase -- I was helping build a sound mind in a sound body.

My son is developing into a striking specimen of physical and mental agility. I, however, am cracking up.

Last week he came home rather late. "Where've you been?" I demanded.

"Over at the fire house," he replied.

"Why you hanging out at the fire house?" I shouted. "Civilians who hang out at fire houses grow up to be nothing but pinochle players."

"I was there," he said primly, "because I'm trying to get my merit badge in preventive firemanship. We're studying household fire hazards."

That was the start of a reign of terror from which I still haven't recovered.

1959_0310_runoverIt seems like just yesterday (actually, it was just the day before yesterday) that Kevin was igniting whole packages of matches and tossing them as incendiary bombs at imaginary Russians encamped on my patio.

But the course in preventive firemanship changed all that.

Now he has the same contempt for flame that a reformed drunk has for a shot-glass of bourbon. He sees a potential holocaust every time we light the stove for dinner. He watches us with unnerving suspicion when we put a match to a cigarette.

The other day I was entertaining Mortimer Hall, who is the proprietor of Radio Station KLAC and of a very pretty wife named Diana Lynn. I wanted to make a decent impression on him because, as he says, "Radio is the coming thing." And you never know when I may need him.

We were all nibbling a few fairly expensive hors d'oeuvres and making clever talk when Kevin walked into the living room and announced:

"Our garage is a mess."

I smiled uneasily at my guests, who live in Beverly Hills and don't understand about such things.

Rags, Clothes, Cans

"Oily rags," he went on. "Boxes of old clothes, stacks of newspapers, open cans of paint thinner."

He stormed out of the room. I tried to pick up the conversation again, but it wasn't easy. Mrs. Hall kept glancing furtively in the direction of our garage.

Suddenly, Kevin came back. He was hunched over and sniffing dramatically. We all watched as he smelled his way to the gas heater. Then he got down on all fours and inspected it.

"You know what I think," he said frankly, looking at us. "We've got a leaky gas pipe. The whole place could blow up."

1959_0310_abby Mrs. Hall put down the fairly expensive hors d'oeuvre she was nibbling and looked at Mr. Hall.

"It's getting," she said, "rather late. We should be going."

"Ummm," he agreed. They left.

In the silence of my lonely room, I lit a cigarette. The heir to the mortgage on my spontaneously combustible house watched me closely.

"Why don't you be more careful," he warned, "that you really put that match out?"

"Why don't you," I warned him back, "go out and throw rocks at people's windows?"