Category Archives: Parenting/Family

The Sad State of Adults

Want to meet a few adults who you’re going to want to slap nice and briskly a few times? Great – just check out this article from Dr. Peggy Drexler entitled Are You Older Than Your Parents’ Dates?

If I am not mistaken, I took a Psychology class at OSU taught by Dr. Peggy Drexler, by the way. Needless to say, she’s very smart. Also, I am somewhat familiar with the topic because in my twenties, my dad’s dates were frequently about my age, although my dad was at the time known among the bikers as Captain Scum, and I’m not sure “date” is the correct nomenclature.

FotomatThe way it worked with Captain Scum was, he had an 8×10 frame on his coffee table, and whoever his new girlfriend was, he put her picture in the frame. This strikes me now as quite a bit of effort back in the eighties and nineties; I assume he had to roll by Fotomat in the K-Mart parking lot to get the ladies’ pictures blown up to frame size, then it probably took several minutes to dismantle the frame and put the new photograph in it. Trust me, if my old man was spending several minutes on you, then you were something special indeed.

Comically, when there was no specific girlfriend, he removed the picture and reverted it back to an autographed photo of Steve Martin wearing a white suit with a trout sticking out of the inside pocket. Steve Martin had signed the photograph “To Dave, Best Fishes, Steve Martin.” It was my dad’s pre-Internet Facebook Relationship Status, and no, I’m afraid it wasn’t very complicated.

See how I’m amused by that and not bitching about it? That’s because in the end, what my dad did and what he does is none of my business. I’m an adult. Just listen to the way the grown up people in this article automatically assume that the dating habits of their parents are some of their business:

First, we meet Mallory, who was “nearing 30 when her 60-something father divorced her mother and started dating younger women.” Personally, I was nearing 5 when my father divorced my mother and started dating younger women, but Mallory was having a hard time of it. Why?

“First of all, he’d be a hung over mess every Sunday,” says Mallory. “It was impossible to get him on the phone, never mind keep our regular Sunday breakfast date. And he started to think he was cooler than me, or something. Like, he’d tell me about new bands, or clubs or restaurants I ‘really should try.’ He’d make fun of me for staying in on a Saturday night.”

Couple of things, Mallory. First off, he does sound cooler than you. Second, a regular Father-Daughter breakfast date every Sunday sounds lovely, until it’s freaking mandatory. I wonder why he’d rather go out with attractive women on Saturday night instead of keeping fresh for his trip to Bob Evans on Sunday. Doesn’t he know he’s old and that his life outside his identity as your father is over? If only he’d fall down the stairs and break a hip, you could be happy.

Then there’s Jamie:

“Jamie’s mom started dating one of Jamie’s co-workers, a guy Jamie had a secret crush on. ‘So there was that,’ says Jamie. ‘The fact that she was literally helping to shrink my dating prospects. But then thinking of them together forced me to see her as a sexual person. And I don’t want to think about my mom having sex,’ she says”

Again, Jamie. I know that you don’t want to think about your mom having sex, but I can guarantee you that your mom wants to think about having some sex. If your mom is stealing your dates then your mom’s not the one with the problem. And that’s the problem with secret crushes, by nature they leave your quarry available for anyone to snap up, including your clearly hot mom. That’s why most grownup boys and girls stop employing the Secret Crush Technique circa 8th grade.

“28-year-old Cara says she felt conflicted about her mother’s two-year relationship with a 26-year-old artist. ‘In one sense, I thought it was great she could attract a young, good-looking guy,’ says Cara. ‘At the same time, I couldn’t help but think she was being immature and a total hypocrite. She was always very strict while I was growing up, and there she was running around with someone who was barely out of his teens.’ More than once, Cara threatened not to talk to her mom anymore unless she started dating men her own age.

See, Cara starts out strong. She thinks it’s great her mom can get a young, good-looking guy – me too. Good for you, Cara’s Mom!

But then Cara yanks off her Reasonable Mask and decides that her mom is a hypocrite because she was always so strict about who Cara dated as a teenager. And that would be a great point if this were Freaky Friday and Cara’s Mom was now a teenager and Cara was now Cara’s Mom’s Mom. But no, as you may have guessed, nobody swapped bodies, and Cara’s Mom, after giving Cara life and caring for her for two decades, is now simply Getting Her Groove Back, Stella-Style.

I like how Cara threatened not to talk to her mom anymore unless she dated the type of guy Cara wanted her to. Several times, because if people don’t take your threats seriously, it’s more likely that they’ll start to once you do nothing and repeat the same threat. As soon as I’m thirty, I’m SO out of here!

You know, I don’t really care who dates who, or why, but something really bothered me about this article, and it’s not the old people or their younger dates.

funeral crasherIt’s the weirdly entitled adult children of the old people, and their firm conviction that it’s time to tell their folks what to do. And these aren’t helpless old people who need fed and diapered. They’re healthy people who sound like they’re kicking some Old People Ass.

This must be part of the weird trend we’re seeing with this generation, the tendency of certain twentysomethings to be perfectly content living unabashedly with their folks. I love my mom, for sure – but I pulled a truck up to the house and moved the hell out two months after high school on my own steam, because to do anything otherwise was to stay a kid.

The general problem here is full-grown adults assuming that forever they should be mommy or daddy’s special snowflake, the humming crystal core at the center of all their decisions.

I know, that was nice when we were children. Now you’re an adult so how about looking in the mirror, and worrying about that.


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Beware The Vicious New Albany Marijuana Cartels

Holy Crap, lock up your daughters and hide your jewelry – there is a ruthless drug cartel operating in the upscale Columbus suburb of New Albany, and by all indications, no one is safe from their sociopathic drive for money and power.  Just look at this horrifying article entitled Toddler Finds Marijuana At New Albany Park.

Well, all right.  Clicking links can be exhausting so I’ll just toss up the first hilarious paragraph right here for your information and enjoyment:

“Police said on Thursday that a bag of marijuana found at a park was probably left as part of a drug deal.”

And I’m afraid I’ll have to stop you right there, New Albany Police, because I know I’m not a trained law enforcement officer, etc, etc, etc.  But listen to me – even according to my limited understanding of drug deals, that doesn’t seem to me to be how it works.

A drug deal, you see, is similar to any other type of deal.  The buyer brings money to the deal, and then the seller brings the drugs.  After agreeing upon a price, the buyer then gives the money to the seller – and right here is the crucial part of what I’m saying – the seller then gives the drugs to the buyer, who takes them away with him. 

Or her, sure.  But a far less common way to handle a drug deal is to leave the drugs on the ground, or in a playground, or – as the article very weirdly suggests later – at a “pond.”

Now fortunately I do have an alternative theory, one far less alarming than Suburban Playground Crips or whatever.  It’s kind of out there, so bear with me.

Perhaps – just perhaps – one or more stoners, possibly of the teenage variety, since they seem comfortable on playgrounds, visited the area the night before.  And then he or she or they became stoned, because that’s what stoners do.  And then because they were stoned, they left their little bag of weed wherever they were sitting.

Accidentally, you know?  Perhaps distracted by the need for some Taco Bell or Pizza Rolls.

This case, I’ll tell you it’s like an onion – layer after layer after layer.

Obviously the mom was freaked out.  She said, man, if my toddler had put that in his mouth, I would have flipped.  Because yes, that will get you high as shit, sucking on a bag of marijuana and then spitting it out because it tastes like a handful of dirt.

Anyway, sure the mom was freaked.  Drugs equals scary and kids shouldn’t have them and all that.  I mean, I’m sure not suggesting that she should have pocketed the drugs and then gone home and smoked them while she watched Sponge Bob Squarepants with her toddler, because I’m a moral agent in the universe and I know what’s right and wrong. 

And it gets worse, I’m afraid.  There’s a pattern emerging:

“Police said that a similar incident recently occurred at a nearby park in the Windsor neighborhood.  Another young child picked up a bag of marijuana there, Barry reported.

According to investigators, criminals are finding specific distribution points in unlikely places, including nearby ponds.”

So I’m following the law enforcement logic here, and what I’m learning is that criminals are dropping off forty dollar bags of drugs right out in the open where children can find them, because that’s a safe and clever and effective way of distributing them, as opposed to I don’t know, handing them to each other.  In maybe a house or apartment with the door closed. 

And ponds?  Okay, sure.  Everybody knows if you’re looking to score a bag of “reefer” then you get on Facebook, click like on “drugs” then head to the nearest pond with one of those reggae hats on.  Play a waiting game.

And just in case you don’t think the mom is grasping the seriousness of the situation:

“”I just think that it’s very incredibly selfish for someone to smoke it in the park or leave it in a park,” the mother said.”

I don’t know, Momma Bear.  It seems to me like the selfish thing to do would be to keep the drugs.  Leaving it in the park for moms and kids to enjoy – that’s downright altruistic.  I mean if you’re a stoner who values drugs, not if you’re me or you or anybody who respects the law and their bodies, etc, etc. etc.

By now you’re probably wondering, Future Tom, what can I do to keep my head from getting cut off by a horrifying New Albany Drug Cartel, and having it stuck on a turtle and walked around Easton?  Well don’t worry, cause the New Albany cops got you covered:

“Police said that all parents should remain vigilant and never take their eyes off their children.  Anyone who sees anything suspicious should call authorities.”

Never.  Take.  Your Eyes.  Off.  Your Children.  Strong language, yes?  That means this crappy mom should have followed her kid into the little fort where he found the drugs, because then none of this would have happened.

And report ANYTHING suspicious to the authorities, who will no doubt spring into action like they do when your car has been broken into or when someone is peeing in your yard.  Just feel free to call them and tell them that you are at the park and you don’t like the looks of those teenagers.  SWAT guys are hot – you’ll get an eyefull at the very least, and they don’t mind suiting up every time someone sees a kid with a skull on his shirt. 

The best thing you can do is stay alert and informed and above all – follow the instructions of those who are trained to protect and serve, cause they’ve got their thumb on this thing.  They’re chasing down every lead, shaking the trees, beating the streets, and it’s only a matter of time before they take the bad guys down, with electric guitars playing.  Cause they’re crackin’ down.

And for God’s sake stay out of the New Albany playgrounds – they’re like South Campus or the west side at midnight.  Unless you have one of those concealed carry deals, which ought to clear everything up the way secret guns always do when you add them to drugs.

All right then, good talk, Blogosphere.  Keep watching the skies.


Posted by on September 24, 2011 in News/Commentary, Parenting/Family


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Night Side

You  were a lot like me, except smarter, and more confident.  The confidence was easy to see, easy to explain – your family had a lot of money, and that’s where confidence frequently comes from, for kids.  From never being told, when something occurred to you that you wanted, no we can’t afford that.  Other people can have it, but not you. 

No,  for you, it was the other way around.

As for intelligence, just about everyone who knows your story knows that, too.  You were smarter than basically anyone you knew, too smart for your own good, maybe. 

I met you in the fifth grade.  Some kids I knew dragged me over to you and said, you got to meet this guy, and there you were, your thumbs hooked in the pockets of your weird, designer jeans for boys, wire-rimmed glasses snapped onto your plump and healthy face as if it were designed for them, your brown hair curly and windblown, your stance like a superhero.  Who has summoned me before them today?

We had so much in common, the boundaries between us were blurred in just a few months.  Puberty was just barely on the way, and for the two of us, it intended to take it’s time.  For you, it would never finish its job, and for me it would take many, many years. 

The kids around us started popping out of their clothes and talking in deeper voices, while you and I kept right on running through the woods carrying plastic He-Man swords, fighting hobgoblins and beholders and malevolent, living trees.

We used to say that we lived on the Night Side.  Our marathon games of Dungeons and Dragons, with its crazy-shaped dice and sprawling maps and little pewter statues, would last well into the morning.   

As we grew older, we took to slipping out of the house around midnight, while your mom was asleep, wandering the dark country roads for hours, prowling, laughing, dodging headlights as they came into view.  We saw a shooting star one night, about four am, as we walked down the middle of Orange Road, miles from your house, and we made a wish on it.

I don’t remember mine, and neither, I’ll bet, do you.

The Night Side was for us, we said, because we were dark and magical.  Because we were true creatures of the night, like cats or Batman.  We abhorred the world of normality because we held ourselves above us, because it was in our freakish nature, we said, but it wasn’t true.

No, we lived our lives in the darkness because we were perversely afraid of the light.  Because when we tried to do what normal kids did – sports, Frisbee, parties at Wyandott Lake – everything weird about us was starkly obvious.  We couldn’t make our mouths shut up about the dorktacular thoughts in our brains, about the dragons and the invisible laser beams, about the many-sided dice.

It’s funny to watch Napoleon Dynamite, remember parts of ourselves in characters like that, but it wasn’t funny to live through.  Out in the light, we could see exactly what everyone else could see, that nothing about us fit in to the world everyone else was celebrating. 

At the beach once, we ran afoul of a bunch of bigger kids, and they dragged our rafts out to the pylons, and we couldn’t get away.  They’d dunk us under the water so that we thought we were drowning, and all we could do was cling to the raft. 

I remember your eyes, locking grimly onto mine, as they towed us further out, and we weren’t slaying dragons then, were we my friend?  We didn’t unsheath our swords and vanquish any evil, because we weren’t really heroes, and we couldn’t really fight, not if our lives depended on it.  Out there in the sunlight, we were a couple of scrawny little sissy kids, and there was no hiding it, no weeds to duck into as the normal folks drove by in cars.

The lifeguard blew his whistle that day, and that’s all that saved us.  The bigger kids had to stop, let us get to shore, and they laughed at us like a bunch of screeching howler monkeys, treading water, pointing, like we were the creatures in the clan with the wrong color spots, creatures who were different, creatures who had to go.

We lived on the Night Side because no one could find us there, and because wrapped in the darkness, we could be whoever we wanted to be, and we used our holographic imaginations to create vibrant worlds where we were strong and brave and godlike.   And we tried our damnedest to never leave.

But the months and years dragged by like massive ships passing beneath a bridge, ponderously slow, and the changes were easy to map.  Both of us were clever, and we learned to crack people up, to get them making their howler monkey sounds with us, instead of at us.  To distract them with patterns of words and funny faces, so that they wouldn’t notice our pale skin and shallow chests, our wrongness.  Our spots.

And the school wasn’t very big.  It seems now, maybe there wasn’t room for two jesters in that particular courtyard.  That competition between us was inevitable, especially when it came to girls, because not a lot of them were into us, were they?  If we came across one who found our awkward bodies and clever wit to be something they were drawn to, well then they’d have to pick between us, wouldn’t they?  Who was it going to be?

Never is it that simple, though.  It wasn’t just about girls.  To tell the truth, I can’t remember what shims and wedges were getting pounded between us, when the teen years approached.  Suddenly we were sitting around creating elaborate worlds without swords or dragons, just worlds where the girls that we liked somehow landed beside us, became girlfriends.  We could crack them up, sure, but that’s a long way from Hey, let’s go to the spring dance, baby.

And slowly we made our inroads into social circles above us, slowly we’d gain an ally here and there, popular kids who could afford to give us a second look, talk to us for a second, and then announce with confidence and authority, this guy’s all right.  He’s funny and he’s smart.

You were a writer, too – light years ahead of me or anyone I knew.  Your stories were intricately plotted, unbelievably well-paced.  The rest of us would basically take a Saturday morning cartoon or a Star Wars subplot, and we’d change the names, call it Gongwar The Conqueror.  You were writing about telepathic detectives on board the Titanic.

Our competitiveness was all the more sad, in retrospect, because I doubt anyone else noticed it at all, that we were vying for the position of Head Dork.  The girls we were competing for certainly had no idea.  We’d carry our secret crushes around for months, managing to blurt out a few words here and there at lunch, and then imagining ourselves running into them later, at the mall, and suddenly having the suave social skills of James Bond.

It’s funny what I don’t remember.  I don’t remember what set you off, for instance, not with any clarity, and what I do remember, I’ll keep to myself, out of respect for those you left behind. 

But I can tell you this, old buddy, I’ve got two daughters the same age you were, when you ate the barrel of your dad’s gun, and they’ve been through a hell of a lot worse than you ever got. 

They’re tougher than you, is my first instinct.  They can take it, and you couldn’t.  Does that mean I won?  Because it doesn’t feel like it.

But nothing’s that simple, is it?  I have no idea what your home life was like, because I was a kid, too, and I wasn’t paying attention.  I wouldn’t have known what to look for if I was. 

What I remember is my friend Kelly, knocking on my door, her mom still out there in the car, idling in the driveway, and she was crying as she told me what you had done.    And my stepdad awkwardly walked up on us, and I told him, too, in the bluntest of terms.   He didn’t know what to say.

So Kelly and her mom drove away, and I wandered up to my room, dazed, and I picked up the telephone and did what dozens of kids did that day, out of sheer denial.  I called your telephone number, and the person who answered told me, no, you weren’t there.  And there was death in his tone of voice, the first time I ever heard it that way, an eye-watering stench of a word, unspoken but clear.

But the competition wasn’t over yet, because you’d made elaborate plans, outsmarted the cops from beyond the grave, and made sure I’d carry that bullet wound around with me, that I’d bring it to you one day, when it comes time to settle up.

No, I never got your note, despite your well-laid plans.  I’ve had it summarized to me, in very general terms, but I’ve declined every offer to actually read it, in these twenty-four years.  One thing – about the whole thing – that I could control, so I kept it.

My understanding is, it’s really a series of notes, messages to everyone you knew.  In mine, you told everyone that you’d done it because of me, that it was my fault, and that you’d told me you were going to do it, that I’d ignored you.

To be fair, the word is you said some pretty nasty things about a lot of different people, in that note, but I’m not going to go into it.  It certainly wasn’t all about me.  But I was right there on the top of the stack, wasn’t I?

It’s hard not to be astonished, by the lengths you went to, trying to get us to read that note.  You were smart enough to know that the cops, the paramedics, the counselors – they’d never give it to me, or anyone else, not just because you asked them to.   But you knew they’d look for a note, and so you printed one out and you put it right there, on the desk.

Made a copy of it on a disk, though – a big floppy disk from the eighties, and you went out into the woods behind your house, where we used to fight monsters together, and you hid it under an overhang, in a ravine we used as a cave.  You put it in a bag, and put that bag in another bag, and you closed that up in a small, metal box, and you put it out there, for one of us to find.

I think you might have made another copy – there have been dozens of versions of that story, how your note made it back to the school, but that’s the one I believe.

But the note showed up and everyone got to read what you had to say about them, your final word, everyone but me.

You stayed home from school for a day and a half, working on the note, getting the copy in place, getting the decoy printed out and displayed.  You made the title page a cartoonish joke.  Another friend of yours – a neighbor – found you there, in your chair, the rifle in your lap, your hands clamped to the arms of the chair.  He’s the one who found the note, too, days later.

The counselors arrived, and God bless ‘em, I’m sure they meant well.  I learned what to say pretty quickly, how to run them off.  And that was right about when the mean stepdad started to lay off, and the big kids at the beach, I guess they figured I’d had enough.  A lot of my problems, well – they went away when you did.

You’re kind of mysterious and dark, when your friend dies – I wonder if you knew that?  If you knew you’d be bestowing upon me the very thing we tried to invent about ourselves?  That tragedy was depth, and that depth was the cure for being a dork, that it made you alternative.   Eccentric.  Interesting.

It would be great if it were really all that shallow, if my life just turned rosy once you were gone, and we could all appreciate the irony. 

But there was a lot wrong with me after that, because what I thought was that things were exactly as they appeared, exactly as they felt, exactly as you said in your parting manifesto – that your death really was my fault.  That I really had done something on par with killing you myself.  And that I had gotten away with it, too.

They say that we live on in the memories of those we leave behind, and you certainly lived on in mine.  I dreamed about you for years, dreamed that Hell was real, and that you’d be waiting for me on the day I walked in, your unread note in one hand, your rifle in the other.  You chased me through forests, and down Orange Road in the pitch black night, and through the hallways of our school, in unbelievably slow and lurid detail, through so many nightmares I grew to abhor sleep itself.

Other dreams you’d just show up, sometimes the same plump-faced fifth grader I met long ago, sometimes the haunted preteen, his face slick with blood, and you’d simply ruin a perfectly good dream, lurking in the background, watching me.  Sitting suddenly at the end of the table.  Snatching aside a curtain, in a dream about a castle or a mansion or an elaborate play.

Sometimes you’d tell me earnestly, there’s been an incredible mistake – you had to fake your own death because you work for the government, and the dream will seem so achingly real for so long.  In the dream, the neutron star of guilt is lifted with absolute clarity.  It’s a real memory, I think, of a time when your death wasn’t the dense alien metal that my skull is made of now.

Late night television and frozen pizzas, then south campus bars and pouring shots in restaurants, I stayed on the Night Side where you left me, my friend.  I skulked around campus wrapped in hair and trenchcoats and outlandish hats, sat on my porch until the sun came up, and only went to my dreams when it was absolutely necessary.

Even now, that’s what I’m doing, my garage door up, leaning back in a chair in the dead of night, this little computer on my lap, though there’s sleep in my future now, and your visits have grown infrequent, and my feelings toward you have changed.  Still I’m always on this side of things, watching quietly while cities sleep around me.

I used to think if Hell were real, I’d have to face you one day.  In the same way people dream about meeting their grandmas in the House of the Lord, I thought I’d have to deal with you, one way or the other, on the day I walked in there, shovel over my shoulder, guilty as Hell for what I had done to you. 

I didn’t know who would be in charge that day, which of the two of us would deserve to get punished more.  Or if we’d be there together, like old times – getting towed around by bigger kids at the beach, dunked under the water, completely helpless right there in front of each other.  Forced to see it reflected with stark clarity, in each other’s eyes.

These days, I don’t think of Hell as something real I’m likely to walk into, with a shovel.  But if I did, here’s the difference:  I think of kids your age as kids, not pals. 

If I saw you tomorrow and you were looking for a fight, you wouldn’t get one.  You’d get an arm around your shoulder, and an ear to talk into. 

I wish I could have given you that when you needed it, old friend.  I truly do.



(Note:  this was published last year and I must have taken it down when the book came out, though I’m not even sure it’s in the book now.  Anyway, someone asked about it, so here it is.)


Then later:  Bullying and the Suicide Fantasy


Posted by on April 6, 2011 in News/Commentary, Parenting/Family


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Let’s Play Barbies With Our Souls

Imagine a married couple with three kids.  Their names are Ken and Barbie, and they’re American workers in their thirties, previously employed in the real estate industry, and doing quite well until about 2007, when the real estate market crashes.

Suddenly, two people who had been raking in a solid upper class income were making a third what they used to – and the only thing either of them really qualified for was work in the real estate industry.

I think it would be fair to judge the couple for putting all of their professional eggs in one basket, but I don’t think we ought to judge them any more harshly than any of the other millions of Americans, who maybe knew the bubble was a bubble, but had no idea how small it would get when it popped.

Little by little, the economic foundations of the lives Ken and Barbie had hammered together fell away.  Like Jenga pieces being slid out beneath them, it was all doomed to come down.

Health insurance premiums tripled – snick!  Gas prices spiked – snick!  Property values fell, foreclosures rose, gargantuan banks rumbled to ominous, creaking halts – snick, snick, snick!

The two previously hard-working small-business owners who once worked a hundred hours a week between them were now down to thirty.  The bills fell behind, they had to move from their house, their savings dwindled until they were lurching along, living from hand-to-mouth every single week.

A check would come in, the checks would go out.  And how was the job market again?

Not too good.  Unemployment was hitting double digits.  Ken was able to keep an income going through the contacts he had, but for Barbie the market was dry.  She was going to have to find work.

She eventually tried temp jobs, and learned what minimum wage felt like.  Learned what it felt like to look the possibility of wearing a Walmart uniform-  for years, possibly – right in the eye.

And then on a whim she walked into a finacial aid office at a state university, and asked them – is it possible I could ever go back to school?  Anything to put a solution at the end of this slog through poverty, anything that even resembles hope?

Yes, they said.  No problem – you would easily qualify for student loans.

In other words, you could borrow money that you don’t have, and spend it, right here in the bleakest financial time of your life that you have ever known, and then you could spend it on education.  

Counter intuitive, yes?  That’s what we keep getting told as a country, right?  That we’re super broke, so everybody stop spending.  All of it.  We’re broke, so no more nothing.

And then let’s look where Ken and Barbie would be three or four years later in both scenarios.  

In the first scenario, Barbie works at Wal-Mart the whole time, making barely enough to scrape by, and nowhere in her future is there anything else.  She arrives at the end of the three or four years with nothing to show for her work, and she is no more equipped to pull herself to a higher economic position than she was in 2007, and she’s barely contributing to society as a whole.

Just grinding along as a cog in Walmart’s engine, growing sad and bitter and hopeless and tired. 

Then in the other scenario, which is truly a deficit spending scenario, she gets into school, applies herself with the same intelligence and energy and enthusiasm which made her successful in the real estate industry before it crashed, and instantly stands out academically.

She is a nonstandard student, so her maturity and her children combined with her high GPA qualify her for grants and expanded loans – more money which she wouldn’t have if she locked herself down financially and refused to spend a dime.  And it adds up to more than she would have made at Walmart, even after tuition.  It really does.

At the end of the three years, she has a degree, and graduate schools are courting her, and her family is proud of her, and her future is productive and modern.  And she never – NEVER – could have done it without deficit spending.  Without borrowing from the future – precisely to avoid a future she didn’t want.

This future was not just better for her, and for Ken, but also to society as a whole.  Do you think we’re better off with more career Walmart workers making minimum wage, or with educated professionals moving themselves and the rest of us forward?  Which one pays more taxes, if you’re feeling pragmatic?  Which one is more likely to need food stamps, do you think?

Multiply Ken and Barbie by tens of millions, and that’s the debate you’re watching in Washington right now.  Those are the two futures for working class families, currently being debated by millionaires, all of whom will be absolutely, perfectly fine either way. 

Which side are you on?


Posted by on March 15, 2011 in News/Commentary, Parenting/Family


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Mr. Peanut, A Little Girl Needs Your Help

Dear Mr. Peanut –

It is with a heavy heart that I write this blog post, for I fear I am the bearer of troubling news, and since we’ve been Facebook friends for months now, I feel that I know your character – and I’m sadly confident that you are not going to like what I must tell you.

As you know, a small percentage of the population has a severe allergic reaction to your absolutely delicious and healthy products, and of course it’s nothing that you or your fine company have done to cause this health hazard, but I’m sure you would agree that people who cannot eat your salty treats have enough problems.  There’s no reason for us to pile any more worries upon them – I frankly can’t imagine how they sleep at night.

Sometimes, when I’m drinking an icy cold beer – I truly believe that I would die without peanuts.  Yes, and sometimes I weep for my allergy-stricken brothers and sisters, who must struggle through this harsh and bitter world without them.

But Mr. Peanut.  Sir.  I beg you to turn your mighty peanut-shell head to the situation in Edgewater, Florida right now, at the Edgewater Elementary School, where a little girl is so allergic to peanuts that even sitting next to someone who is eating them could cause an allergic reaction.

Now, I’m concerned that the lunatic headline to the article I’m about to link is going to enrage you so much that your shell is going to crack open, clunking one of your tasty brains onto the keyboard in front of you – and I couldn’t have that on my conscious, sir.  You are too important at this point in our nation’s history.  So for the sake of us all – brace yourself. 

It’s called Parents Protest Over Girl’s Peanut Allergy, and yes, you read that correctly.  Other parents are banding together and waving signs, and it’s not over unions or the middle class or taxation or even whales.

No, they’re protesting because their kids are having to make allowances to keep from killing their classmate with peanut particles.   

That’s the sort of allergy that the little girl has, you see.  I’ll just quote her mom from the same article:

“We’re not talking about she will break out in a rash. We are talking about she will die, stop breathing.”

And while it is true that the allowances are quite severe – the students are having to rinse their mouths out before entering the girl’s classroom, they’re not allowed to bring peanut products to school at all, they have to wash their hands a lot – I think you and me and anyone except the Grinch and this one batch of serious, peanut-loving parents would agree that they are not nearly as severe as death.

Death, Mr. Peanut.  I’m talking about parents who know that peanut particles could kill this girl, and yet they’re protesting because – and damn it, I’m serious – their children are missing out on iconic American childhood memories.  Like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, and bringing in cookies with peanut products in them, on birthdays.

Also, the precautions are taking up valuable classtime.  Just ask one concerned parent, who reckoned that the students spend “probably a half an hour” washing hands and rinsing.  And so she thinks that rather than sharpening her own child’s clearly-not-very-impressive hand-washing skills, everybody ought to instead just lighten up about Possible Death.

I really hadn’t realized how integral peanut products were to elementary education until I saw the little throng of parents, confident and steadfast in their conviction that the little girl’s life was worth risking in the name of Not Washing Your Hands and Fond Peanut Memories For Everybody.

“I’m really sorry about the girl’s medical condition,” none of them were quoted as saying.  “But I don’t inconvenience myself or exercise compassion or consideration or even good manners.  Not toward you, not toward Mr. Peanut, and certainly not toward an innocent little girl who would like to go to school with the rest of the kids, pursuant to federal law and the Americans With Disablities Act.”

But I’m pretty sure that’s what they meant, aren’t you, Mr. Peanut?

Notice also that they are bringing in “peanut-sniffing dogs.”  Now I know that such a concept must alarm you sir, though I’ve seen you sword fight, and I am confident no dog on Earth is any match for you, but you and I must take a moment to reflect on what would make such a move necessary – and I think we can arrive at only one conclusion.

These nasty, awful, self-centered parents who have been politely informed (in this letter from last August) of the deadly risks, have been sending their kids to school with peanut products anyway.  So they’re having to bring in dogs to figure out who’s doing it.

Let’s teach that little girl a lesson, yes?  We’ll show her how we handle people with involuntary medical conditions!

Mr. Peanut – these people are so blinded by their love of peanuts, that I fear only you can reason with them.  Only you can convince them that as tasty and healthy as peanuts are to most of us, they are not worth the life of a beautiful little girl.

Perhaps a visit to her school would be in order.  Or on second thought, maybe a video conference would be a better idea, to lessen the confusion and again, you gotta figure, she’s allergic to you, too.  Probably your footprints and farts and the sounds you make when you tapdance – everything.  Let’s try and stay focused here.

Because the fact is, here are human beings who appear to respect peanuts more than their own little sister, and if anyone can help them find their own humanity again, it’s you.  An anthropomorphic peanut.  The pinnacle of evolution here on Earth.  You have to talk to them, Mr. Peanut.  And if talking doesn’t work, then you might have to get rough.

It’s your sacred duty.  It’s the Way of the Peanut.  This little girl matters, sir, or nothing matters.  She matters – or what’s the point of peanuts at all?

Let’s show them – you and I – that eating peanuts is about togetherness and protein and yumminess and sure, if you’re 21 and acting responsibly, icy cold beers.  But it’s not about stupefying, inconsiderate bullshit, and it’s not about killing innocent little girls or even making them feel like crap about themselves, for their allergies.

I guess some folks have never seen Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, and so they haven’t learned, like Spock did, that sometimes the good of the one outweighs the good of the many.

And Captain Kirk’s not here, Mr. Peanut.  So it’s up to you and me to teach them.  Let’s saddle up, my friend – there are old-fashioned bullies afoot.  Peanut bullies, and I don’t think we can turn a blind eye.


Future Tom


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Wrath Of Ellen

When long-term substitute Mr. Smith (not his real name even though he’s gone now) handed Ellen a detention for having the wrong kind of late pass, she knew that like any other student, there was nothing she could do about it.  Rules are rules, and just because he had informally relaxed them for the last sixty days straight, that didn’t mean he couldn’t suddenly start enforcing them to the letter.  Nobody’s above the law, Ellen realized.  Guess this is just the way it is.

Yeah.  Not so much.  A couple hours later she blasted open the door to the office, clicked her cheek and pointed at the receptionist as she rocked on by her, and darkened the Vice Principal’s doorway.  I’m pretty sure he sighed heavily before looking up and saying, “Yes, Ellen?”

Then she put on a little Power Point presentation about the various types of late passes, where and how they are issued, who is authorized to issue them, and to what degree the relevant rules on the subject had been enforced thus far. 

Somewhere unspoken in the air between them was her academic standing, something perhaps best described as “freakish.”  She doesn’t merely have all A’s, she has straight A+’s.  Hilarious three-digit numbers in some cases like 112%.

And in Math – which is the class with the long-term sub who hadn’t really stopped to consider exactly who the bleep he was writing a detention for – she has a solid 100%.  And that’s because there is no extra credit in that class.  Not a single extra point.

So let’s all stop in mid-blog here and reflect on that.  A 100% in a class with no extra credit means exactly what it sounds like it means.  The girl has not missed a single question the entire quarter, and yes, she’s a little cocky about it.

“You might describe a grade like that,” she points out.  “As perfect.  Mightn’t you?”

Yes.  And since she rarely requires any academic supervision at all – in fact she’s tutoring three other students, taking one of them from a solid F to an A in just a month – it’s really easy to just let her handle everything at school however she wants to handle it. 

In this case, she broke me off a text as she was leaving the office.  “He’s waiving the detention, but he says he needs something to put in the file.  Pretty much anything.  Can you write a note when I get home if I tell you what it needs to say?”

Absolutely.  Can it be around 800 words?

No, she says.  You’re just going to point out that being late is your fault.

Aha.  Gotcha.  No problem – what do I care?  Just tell me what you need the piece of paper to say, there, Ferris Buehler. 

So I write the note and it’s difficult, because what I want to say is, listen, I’ve been dropping my honor student off at the same time every single day.  I don’t know if Mr. Smith is upset about his long-term gig ending, or what, but this really is coming out of the clear blue sky.  If she’s late today, why wasn’t she late for the last three months?

You’re missing the point, she tells me.  It’s all over, detention waived.  The guy needs something to drop in a file, not a blog post.  Just settle down and tell him you’ll bring me to school earlier.

Fine.  Dear Sir.  I’ll bring my honor student to school earlier.  Love, Future Tom.

And that’s it.  I don’t think I ever got away with going over any teachers’ heads when I was in school, but this tiny little blonde-haired genius I’ve got here – I’m not surprised she gets straight A’s.  You give her anything else, and all that means is she’ll be haunting your desk all day battling over each individual point. 

You want to quit being so picky, or you want to stand around all day watching my daughter’s Power Point presentations?

All right then.  She brings home a report card – zero detentions, and nothing below a clearly marked A+.  There’s not much you can say to that except, “Damn.  I don’t really have any questions for you, little sister.”

So anyway, from then on, I start getting her to school earlier.  Say, Dad, can we roll through Starbucks for a Caramel Frappuccino with extra Caramel?  Yes, I think we can do that.   They know her name there – Whattup, Ellen?  And then they upsize her for free and give her a comical amount of caramel and sprinkles.  How is she a regular at the coffee shop?

Oh, well.  Could be worse, I’m sure. 

The day after the soon-to-be-expunged detention Ellen passes Mr. Smith on the way into school.  What’s up, Mr. Smith?  Then on into the office where she smacks down her letter and cracks a few jokes with the administrators, and then when Mr. Smith arrives in his own classroom, there’s Ellen.  The first one there, sitting in the darkened room.

Hello, Mr. Smith, she says flatly, like a secret agent waiting in your hotel room.  This early enough for you, Stretch?  You think you can live with this, or do you think the Three Digit Percentage Girl needs a detention for coming in too early?

Hello, Ellen, he says, and then one day later, he’s gone.

Makes you wonder if Ellen went down to the office and pulled some strings.  Flipped some paperwork around.  Oh, Mr. Smith got re-assigned all the way across town!  Bye, Mr. Smith!

Listen, folks, we’re trying to be as reasonable as we can be here, but Ellen’s getting straight A’s.  Like it or not, one way or the other, hard or easy.  Straight A’s, or you’re just going to make her angry.

Who knows what could happen then?  It’s a crazy, dangerous world out there.


Posted by on February 27, 2011 in Parenting/Family



The Shining Leprechaun Of Neighborly Spite

On a much lighter note (heh) meet Lauren Craig, my new hero and mystical spirit guide, a champion of year-round Christmas lights, and possibly the greatest American to walk the Earth since Wyatt Earp Himself.

As Fox News has no doubt made you aware by now, there is a War on Christmas in this country.  Every year, retailers and government offices and communist book clubs and pods of hissing, vampiric organic farmers fail to block off the entire month of December for a Christian-Only Don’t Mention Any Other Religion Cavalcade of Supreme Christmas Domination, and yes as you might have guessed, it really cracks me up.

But Lauren Craig trumps Fox News, by fighting the War For Christmas all the way into February and beyond.

Actually, she has nothing to do with Fox News, except both of them love Christmas and both of them do battle with Christmas Foes in all their slithering, blasphemous incarnations.  Is the enemy of Lauren’s enemy her friend?  Or her enemy?

That’s either from The Art of War by Sun Tzu or it’s what the mean hybrid vampire told Blade in Blade II, right before Blade kicked the shit out of him.  Whichever one it is, it’s clear that Christmas Warrior Lauren Craig is a student of both timeless works, because by her own testimony, she believes that when you mess with the bull, you get the horns.

She also believes, like me and NASA and Harvard University and probably the mighty Mr. T, that Christmas lights are so pretty, there’s really no point in ever taking them down.  So she didn’t take them down.  (There’s an article about her here, but this one’s better and longer and you’re already reading it, so what would be the point?)

She lives in Amhearst, Massachusetts, and I’ve seen nothing to indicate that she has a Homeowner’s Association, so unless there’s a local ordinance about when you’re allowed to clip lights to your house (seems unlikely) then she’s well within her rights.

But that didn’t stop one of her neighbors from anonymously posting a note on her door.  By the time that happened, it was late February, so naturally, Lauren had hilariously added a Leprechaun to the display.  I had the guys from Ghost Hunters roll by there with an Electromagnetic Comedy Detector and the thing went completely apeshit.  It practically exploded.

So you might not think it’s funny, but you’re arguing with science, my friend, and you’re kind of embarrassing yourself.

Her neighbor was doing both of those things, too.  I’m reading the scrawled note off the image from the article, and here’s what it says, with my comments in italicized bold lettering for your information and enjoyment:


“Dear (whatever house number),  I noticed that you still seem to have your Christmas lights up.  (Well done, Adrian Monk)  I am not sure you realize that Christmas is over. (Well then why would Lauren add the leprechaun?  Duh.)

Now let me ask (Okay, but if you want an answer, maybe knock on the door instead of posting anonymous letters and scuttling away) why you would have Christmas decorations up with a Leprechaun on your door? (Jeez, you already answered that yourself – because Christmas is over.  These are clearly St. Patrick’s Day decorations with reindeer in the yard, and she’s doing that because reindeer like to drink, too.)

In any case, the addition of the decorations is causing (And here I can’t read the handwriting, but I don’t think it’s joy) among your neighbors.  Something needs to be done! (Pumpkins?)

You have 3 days!! (Huh?)


It’s the last two sentences that really catch my eye.  Does that sound like a threat posted on someone’s door next to an Easter Leprechaun to you?  I’d know that sound anywhere – that’s sure what it sounds like to me.

That’s what it sounded like to Lauren Craig, too, but since she’d spent most of January reading Sun Tzo’s The Art of War and watching every Wesley Snipes movie she could get her hands on, she wasn’t particularly worried about it.  She said something along the lines of, howza about you come on over here and make me, Secret Bitchy Neighbor?  How’s that sound?

And then she blasted as many Christmas lights and Leprechauns all over her house and yard as she could possibly find.  According to my friend Charlie up in the International Space Station, it woke him up out of a dead, vodka-fueled sleep and just in time, too.  If not for Lauren Craig, the Space Station would have “almost certainly crashed into the Moon.”

Lauren didn’t know that, though, because she was busy calling CNN and planning a big late-February Christmas Bash, which I then caught on the news, where Lauren was certainly not quoted as saying “Anyone else comes around here posting a note on my door about Christmas decorations is going to find themselves wearing their asses for hats.”

But I’m pretty sure that’s what she meant.

This was followed by a fascinating new CNN “news technique” in which they basically read their Facebook page to you.  That’s just in case you haven’t had enough Facebook, see. 

Right there on national television, I got to hear from several people with varying takes on Christmas lights (which, again, that’s not even what they are anymore, people, they’re St. Patrick’s Day lights, and at the time they were President’s Day lights.)

So while the Middle East was exploding with historic riots and American citizens in Wisconsin and Ohio struggled to stop Darth Vader from completing the Death Star, I was sitting there watching a national newscaster tell me that Bill from Kentucky thought Christmas lights were cool, and screw that busybody.  And Busybody Glenda from Boston thought, Christmas lights are crass and what other people staple to their houses is naturally some of my business.

And then they took some callers – the news from all sides, yes? – and one showstopper said, Hey, my husband’s coming home from Afghanistan and hasn’t been home for Christmas in six years, so we’re not taking the lights down until he gets here, you got that? 

Oh, we got it, replied veteran reporter Chaz Dixon or whatever that zombified suit-wearing mannequin’s name was – he sure had shiny teeth.

To be clear, me and Chaz and Lauren and Mr. T and Wesley Snipes all agree, if you’ve been in Afghanistan for six years, your wife can pretty much do whatever she pleases and it’s okay with us.  Nobody wants any trouble, no sir.

Well, Lauren Craig might want a little trouble, if you’ve got some kind of a problem with her National Popcorn Week Lights, or whatever kind of lights they are now.  And if you’ve got a problem with Lauren Craig, my friends – you have a problem with Future Tom.

Lauren Craig – you and your family are truly, definitely, without any sarcasm at all, my heroes.  I have had countless neighbors like yours and one of my favorite things in the entire world is to moon them through my front window while they’re frowning at me.  You are an inspiration, a decorative Samurai warrior, and I’ll bet your kids spend every waking second happy and cracking up.

If you ever roll through Columbus, Ohio, you and your husband have an icy cold beer coming to you, and your kids have some Coldstone on deck, and if you have a dog I’ll make him a bacon cheeseburger.

You’ve all earned it, and so much more – it’s the very least I can do.  I am humbly at your service.


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