As children, are we supposed to recognize and come to an understanding at some point about the fleeting nature of youth, and how we DON’T want to rush into adulthood? Or are we doomed to recognize the importance of wallowing in youth only after the moment has irretrievably passed? Not to start too heavy, but I do remember wanting to obtain some sort of elusive freedom that comes with being an adult in my early years, a trait shared by Cory Matthews. He wanted to be older, if for no other reason than because he “wants to be able to afford stuff” (which his wise father observes in response, “So do I!”). But it’s a fool’s errand in hindsight, that sprint towards responsibility we don’t understand or truly want.
A couple things stuck out as I watched “On the Fence,” the second ever episode of Boy Meets World. The first was that Cory had the absolute BEST father. It’s incredible how thoughtful, patient, and caring Alan Matthews is with his children, to the degree that I’m almost jealous (and I had a relatively good childhood and father!). When Cory concludes that his “dad is Superman” (fulfilling the dream of a cold open discussion with Shawn and another friend (?) about which superhero they’d want for a father), it feels wholly earned. Seriously, the guy works at least 60 hour weeks then comes home to willingly and happily finishing his “kidiot” son’s mess among other household chores/repairs? He knew what he was talking about when he told Cory: “you’re young; enjoy it, it doesn’t last long.”
Also: SUPER SOAKERS!!! The consensus from my research, as a childless adult, on whether these amazing, high-powered water guns from my youth still exist was not really. Which is a shame, despite the potential messy ethical implications of kids running around shooting at each other in today’s society (and the resulting overreaction, whether justified or not). It didn’t matter that we were oblivious to the water waste of blasting everyone with water after you pump and pump and pump the gun; super soakers were awesome. I can’t recall them being anything other than fun toys we used to cool off and be assholes to each other with during the summer, and certainly don’t remember anything resembling the “water war” that Cory, Shawn, and Minkus (!) anticipate throughout most of the episode.
While we never see the water war, it forms the basis of the episode. Cory is literally the only kid in school who doesn’t own a super soaker or bring it every day (seriously, EVERY other student apparently does), and needs to purchase one to avoid being a social pariah. The youngster tries hustling his entire family (when his mother is rightly shocked by the ”$50” price tag, he retorts, “only 49.95!…plus tax”) for help purchasing his luxury toy, only to be rebuffed. He tries to sweet talk his brother into “an investment opportunity” (“call my broker,” Eric replies), before demanding a job at the market his father manages.
It’s amazing how hard Cory’s dad leans on him to enjoy his time as a carefree young buck. He implores him, over and over, to savor his childhood, and is unswayed by Cory’s pleas for a position. Cory scoffs at the idea he shouldn’t worry about a job or money, largely because doesn’t “want to be a kid.” His father is steadfast, knowing the burdens and responsibilities that lie with adulthood, despite the lesson flying over his head.
With all in house options exhausted, Cory naturally turns to Mr. Feeny. He tries obtaining pre-payment for winter shoveling, which includes a discussion about the previous week’s assignment on The Raven (Cory remarks, “that Ed Poe must have been one major freakoid”). They finally negotiate for him to paint Mr. Feeny’s shutters, and arrive at $5 a shutter (2 shutters on 8 windows), eventually settling on a price:
Cory: 5 x 2 x 8…what’s that, like, 58 bucks?
Mr. Feeny (smirking): 58 dollars it is! You are worth every inch of that C+ I gave you in math.
Cory believes he’s beaten the system, spray painting Mr. Feeny’s windows in no time, and purchases the 3000 gun. He brags to his father that “this work stuff is a piece of cake,” pondering the fuss around it, before the air is let out. He painted the windows leaning against his fence, without a tarp or cover, and green paint ruins his family’s plain white picket design. Cory pleads it wasn’t his fault because “no one told (him) the paint would go through the shutters.” His mother reminds him what happens to light when he opens the shutters in his bedroom, and he’s stuck: “you got me, I’m an idiot.”
The next day, Cory sees a chance to pawn off his fence painting responsibility after his friends show up for the water war (including Minkus, for some reason). He’s able to pull a modified Tom Sawyer to get help and lighten his workload, though his friends exhort him for more money and “lunch.” They help for a while, but depart when they request ice cream and feel he “cops an attitude” (with Cory scooping dirt onto a bar after Minkus expresses a preference for heath bar crunch). He expresses the proper dismay for an 11-year old, particularly when Mr. Feeny threatens him with MORE work as “an acrylic dribble” gets on the wrong side: collapse to the ground in an overly dramatic heap. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the over the top reactions from children in emotionally stressful situations.
His father, of course, saves him from presumed doom by allowing him to skip out on the remainder of his fence painting responsibilities, after Cory explains how he now owes money despite starting out with $58 (“welcome to adulthood,” Alan tells him). Questioning why his father isn’t forcing him to finish his task, the lesson of the episode is driven home once more: “Your first responsibility is to stay 11 years old for as long as you can.”
If BMW had an idea of when you’re supposed to recognize the imperative of embracing childhood, it evidently believed it was at 11-years old. Cory trades in his 3000 gun for two 1500s, igniting a mini water war in the kitchen by giving his Dad one of the two guns. He shows he’s as good a son to Alan as he is a father, giving an incredibly sweet speech about how he knows his dad can’t be a kid again, but “maybe (he) can come back to visit.” Like the “Pilot,” it’s a neat bow taped onto a 22-minute package, but it feels a bit more genuine this time. Cory loved his father, and his father loved him. And beyond that generic relationship dynamic, this episode makes clear that there were some real, legitimate reasons for that bond.
Up Next on Monday 7/9: “Father Knows Less”