“Rad, Dad, that’s bad!” my 10-year-old grandson exclaimed. Those are the opening words to 1996’s HOW TO BE A WAY COOL GRANDFATHER. Verne Steen had handed a homemade toy to his grandson, a child unable to tell the difference between his father and grandfather and screaming stilted slang from the wrong decade. They are the words that inspired Verne to think, “I will publish a book to teach other grandparents to be this way cool.” It’s a stupid tale made mostly of holes which, as you’ll see, makes it the book’s perfect origin story.
First off, Verne wants to make sure you know what this book is not. It will not teach you how to MTV rock ‘n’ roll or Internet fad or ass eating, whatever those things are. It is a nothing-fancy collection of crafting projects for boys, that’s fucking it, and Verne spends 24 pages apologizing for it in his introduction. He has a section called “My Chauvinism” about how pissed you must be if you’re a grandma reader and how you can cure it by fucking yourself. He mentions many, many times how nothing about any of this is “cool,” it’s just a dumb name and you should maybe just move on from the title he chose, okay? Whatever this book is, Verne needs us to know it’s absolutely not going to be cool. Here’s the tail end of it if you want your expectations properly lowered:
So now that you understand this is pretty male-oriented and honestly not super cool, let’s get started!
Verne did as much as he could to keep us from expecting “way cool,” but this is an elderly man carving homemade kazoos out of drinking straws and calling them “tooters.” He’s just making garbage more noisy. If making garbage more noisy was cool, Creed would have a gong player and he would fuck.
I have no notes on this one. Making a gun out of a clothespin is something way cool MacGyver would do to foil a K-Mart robbery, which is also a way cool point of reference a grandfather might have.
A slingshot is a nice upgrade to what you’ve already armed the children with, but I’m starting to wonder what activities require this many projectile weapons. Is Verne tricking his grandkids into guarding his bird feeder from squirrels? Is he secretly preparing them to defend points of entry against an FBI raid? I just think it’s suspicious that two of grandpa’s first three ideas are weapons and the one that isn’t fucking sucks. Let’s see what his next “cool” project is…
Of course. Verne only owns three mugs. One says “Ask Me About My Grandkids!” The other says, “Ask Me About My Grandkids’ Missing Eyes!” And the last one says, “If You Can Read This You’re Being Hunted by My One-Eyed Grandkids!” The moment you lose sight of Verne’s grandchildren in a JoAnn’s Fabric, you can be sure they’re behind you loading a knitting needle into an improvised harpoon gun.
Verne, they’re playing in the backyard, not escaping a POW camp. They don’t need a seventeenth primitive hunting tool. I’m sure you and 1996 didn’t agree a lot on child safety regulations, but you can’t just carve everything in a kid’s life into a murder weapon and call it a book. This is getting crazy. Is he trying to thin these kids out so it’s easier to remember all their names? They fucking have enough weapons, Verne!
Okay, good. HOW TO BE A WAY COOL GRANDFATHER isn’t entirely dedicated to helping children shoot each other. This is a sonic weapon instead of a projectile one. Why would a kid need a noisy whistle used to frighten your enemies before you kill them? Well, for one, it opens up a dialog between you and your grandchildren about the power of intimidation in a land war. I don’t know exactly how old Verne is, but if you asked an australopithecus to write a how-to book, it would look identical to this.
At a certain point in your toy-making process, one of your grandchildren is going to ask you to stop and look down at the lawn full of deadly weapons you’ve made and say, “Grandpa, I think a big part of you is still back in Vietnam.”
Jesus Christ, Verne. This one isn’t even pretending to be a toy. What are we fucking doing here? Whatever you’re arming these children for, they’re ready!
V-Verne? What the fuck am I looking at here? Toothpick Springer? So it shoots toothpicks… wait, burning toothpicks? You’re just making Blair Witch shit that explodes into fiery splinters for your 6-year-old grandchildren? This is crazy, but I have to say, it’s also cool as shit.
You might be wondering why a child soldier book so plainly written by a traumatized survivor of a man-hunting safari would include a Safety Concerns section with each project. Wouldn’t anyone with even a passing interest in safety write a book on literally anything else? Look, I can’t decipher the full mystery of Cool Grandpa Verne. But I can let you know that most of the Safety Concerns sections look like this:
In conclusion, teach your children to turn trash into weapons; it should be fine. And upon reflection, this book was written 24 years ago… a lot of Verne’s grandkids had to have killed sixty or seventy men by now. Okay, bye!