Bribe Children and Call Them Stinky

“Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are serious.
    Everybody’s serious but me.” –Allen Ginsberg

I remember my father telling me a story about a criminal psychology course he took in college. Apparently the professor posed the question to the class: why do you think it is that children throw rocks through windows? And the class gave the expected responses, “Maybe they’re looking for attention,” or, “To work out anger and frustration.” And the professor responded, “No. I’ll tell you why: because it is fun.”

A researcher studying freedom and well-being in SDE communities recently spent time with my Flying Squad. One day our Squad and the researcher were walking down the sidewalk of Brooklyn together and one of our Squad came up to me and said, “Give me a dollar dare!” At that moment we were passing a hair salon called Heavenly Hair. And so I said, “Alright, I dare you to go into that hair salon and ask how much it costs to send your hair to heaven.” They did not take me up on the dare, but the researcher inquired what that was all about. I explained that I sometimes dare people in the Squad to take a risk in public for one dollar. The researcher joked, “So you bribe children? This will be interesting for my research! (smiling)”

Perhaps the most infamous dollar dare was the time I once dared, “Do you see that can of hairspray in the window of that pharmacy?” I pointed to a can of hairspray with the brand name Big Sexy Hair. “Take the can out of the display case, go up to the cashier with it, and ask them, ‘How much does it cost for Big Sexy Hair?’” Without breaking a smile, the cashier merely gave the price of the hairspray. The ever famous “speed bump” dare was another classic dollar dare (one I was wise enough to record), where I dared two Squaders to lay (safely) on a path in the park and declare that they were speed bumps for one whole minute. That happened right by The Marathon dollar dare (the only other ever recorded dollar dare and the only ever mega group dollar dare) where we all pretended a marathon was happening in the jogging lane of the park and cheered on an imaginary runner named “Sharen.” And the Squad reminded me to mention the one we did on Election Day, where they walked around with a clipboard and asked people to sign a petition to make Rip Van Winkle Governor of NY (they had to get (and amazingly did get) twenty signatures to get their dollar!)

Even more recently, a group of young people from our Squad spoke at the SDE weekend on the Flying Squads Youth Group Offering panel. They mentioned dollar dares during the panel and the conversation focused on examples of dollar dares and reasons for dollar dares. And many of the facilitators of other Flying Squads began asking me about them and implementing them with their Squads. At first I laughed, because I never intended dollar dares to be a methodology of SDE. I never even meant them to be a thing with our Squad. One day I just jokingly offered someone a dollar for a dare and they have been happening ever since (the first dollar dare was to walk up to someone in Prospect Park and ask where the roller coaster is located (there is no roller coaster in Prospect Park). When the people looked confused, the prankster leaned in and said “Whoooosh!” as they made a gesture with their arm).

Why exactly does our Squad love dollar dares so much? And now that others are excited about them too, it validates that there must be something about them. But what? And so, I casually asked a few people in our Squad yesterday. S. first misunderstood my question and responded, “Can’t you just let me get bribed into doing some dumb shit without turning it into something educational?” When I explained that I just wanted to know what it was behind them that makes them so appealing, he added, “In normal society you get rewarded for behaving. Dollar dares are doing something rebellious. People like doing rebellious things and then getting rewarded for it.” L. added, “It’s being able to do something that is incredibly bad… under peer pressure!” And I. added, “Kids are not allowed to get money. They have to do something nice and behaved to get money. Or get something as a present.” And one of my own kids who only ever took the dare to make a paper watch, look at it, and ask a stranger, “Excuse me, what year is it?” remarked, “Dollar dares are below my standards. I’m worth at least $5.”

A lot of the work I do with young people in SDE revolves around making space for them (and me) to be rebellious. I’ve got a t-shirt with the Stinney Distro phrase written on it, “All of my friends are bad kids.” And in fact, a lot of my transition from being a teacher in conventional schooling spaces to a youth rights advocate in an SDE space (or rather, in public, since that is where Flying Squads meet) revolved around my realization that I was always drawn to the “bad” kids in school. I used to sit quietly in the teacher’s lounges and listen to all of the teachers complain about the kids in their class that were just awful. I would think to myself, “That’s my favorite student!” If education is indeed a political act and SDE is promoting unconventional political methodologies, it is also therefore rebellious in nature, rocking the boat, going against the grain. Learning how to manipulate systems and work outside of them has always come naturally to me. And as I love to quote what someone once told me, “Pranks are just kids’ ways of practicing civil disobedience.” So, rock on, “bad” kids, go show the world you don’t need no education.

Oh, and the Stinky. Well, my older brother Greg used to always profess, “Everyone knows someone whose nickname as a kid was Stinky. And if you don’t, then you were the stinky!” And when I first began my Flying Squad, I casually declared, “The last one to Squad each day shall be the Stinky!” It was just another unserious moment that I never would have thought would stick. Four years later, people still sprint the last leg of the commute to Squad so they’re not the Stinky. I dare you to implement a Stinky process in your SDE space… I’ll bet you a dollar!