The Cooler

While the snow was falling on Saturday night, Craig, Jake, and I took in the classic movie The Great Escape. I had programmed it into our Tivo simply to bank up some watchable quality programs for the blizzard, but I soon realized that, considering our snowbound conditions, the movie’s emphasis on digging and tunneling was quite apropos.

If you haven’t seen it, The Great Escape is based on the true story of a group of Allied soldiers as they plan and execute their escape from a Nazi prison camp. With escape organizer “Big X” (a pre-Jurassic Park Richard Attenborough) in charge, the group worked tirelessly to tunnel under the camp compound, with hopes of escaping into the trees and disappearing altogether, fulfilling what I suspect to be every boy’s dream (except maybe without the Nazi element, that is).

The hunky hook of the group is Captain Hilts, played by Steve McQueen, who, within 20 minutes of his arrival at the camp, ends up in “the cooler” for, well, tossing his baseball where it doesn’t belong. The cooler, made possibly even more famous to my generation by Colonel Hogan, Colonel Klink, and the rest of the wacky (and strangely inappropriate, I think) prisoner of war peanut gallery, probably looked better in the movie than it did in real life, though I suspect it was as realistic as handing gardening tools to a couple hundred escape artist prisoners.

Again, though, I find myself gleaning real life application from cinematic story-telling. Just this morning, as my children broke into a chorus of “Give it back!” immediately after their father exited the front door, I invited them upstairs and meted out their punishment: 10 minutes in the cooler. That would be 10 minutes in solitary confinement in their rooms…which, I know, are equipped with iPods, reading and writing material, and, indeed, plenty of carving equipment. But it’s the thought that counts.

I’m not sure of the origins of the name, but for me the cooler (the room, the step, whatever) is a place to separate oneself from whatever “the problem” is in order to settle down, cool off, and get oneself back into a socially/morally/emotionally acceptable framework. For us, this morning, it worked. For Steve McQueen in the movie, not so much.

Then again, with a guy whose white slacks, leather jacket, and blue sweatshirt had little more than a few barbed wire holes by the end of the war, all I can say is this: the rules sure didn’t apply to him.

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