Tag Archives: parenting

I Was Lying About Monsters

The sound of an airplane overhead drew me outside – there were no airplanes in the sky over America that afternoon, not anywhere in the country. You could go out in your yard and hear the silence, a sound unto itself, like when an air conditioner kicks off in the middle of the night.

So I was standing there in the driveway watching the sky, hearing its hidden vacuum cleaner sounds, looking for vapor trails.

It was Air Force One, I found out when I went inside. The President of the United States, escorted by a squad of fighters, on his way to do whatever it was he needed to do that day.

No one knew if this was the beginning of the attacks or the end. It seemed like mushroom clouds could bloom on the horizon any second, and I found myself thinking about military targets in central Ohio – what was here that might be attacked?

DCSC, I thought – a defense contractor or military base or something, I didn’t know exactly what it was. But it was right there on the east side of Columbus, and we had a Federal Building downtown. And an international airport, too.

Ellen was three and a half years old. I picked her up at preschool and found a sign on the wall which asked us not to discuss the attacks with our children, since they’d only spend the next few days freaking each other out.

I remember not liking it, not liking the idea that anyone might instruct me on how to talk to my daughter about this – or how not to talk to her. And anyway, it wasn’t an option for me. Ellen is a little Deanna Troi from Star Trek, an empath, and she always has been. She can’t quite read your mind, but she can feel your emotions about as clearly as you can.

Try lying to her about being terrified – go ahead. You might as well try and convince her it’s winter on the Fourth of July.

Big Uncle Shawn had come over. His mother was in Cincinnati with her husband, and he was as convinced she was safe as one could be, and so he came to our house. If society collapsed and we had to make a break for western Canada, well let’s just say that was something we were prepared to do.

We had only recently brought a television back into the house – we hadn’t had one for years – and we moved it downstairs into the den so we could watch the news without filling the whole house with it. Ellen didn’t care if we wanted her to see it or not; she already knew something was horribly wrong, and a round of Polly Pockets was pretty much off the table.

She crept in quietly while we watched the cavalcade of non-Hollywood explosions, filthy and gray and quick, devouring New Yorkers like a freakish sandstorm. Human beings were jumping out of windows a half a mile in the sky, to escape the heat.

Ellen was simply standing there all of the sudden, next to us. She said, “Why are they jumping, Daddy?”

Shawn was accustomed to Ellen’s little girl ways, but by no means was he prepared to answer that one. I shrugged and told her the truth. “Some people crashed some airplanes into these really tall buildings in New York, and knocked them down. It’s a big deal. A lot of people died, Ellen.”

“On purpose?”

“Yes, on purpose.”

She chewed on it with her brain and then asked, “Did they die, too?”

That took me a second to figure out. She wanted to know if the guys who flew the planes into buildings on purpose had died. I hadn’t really thought of it that way – at least there was that.

“Yes, they died, too.”

Still too young to really get a grasp on death, it troubled her. With no religion to simplify it for her, we’d been forced to be as honest with her about death as I was being about the attacks – we don’t know what happens when you die, that’s all there is to it.

She said, “Why would they do that?”

More people on the television fleeing down the street as another rumbling cloud of debris overtook them, and then the camera itself. Shawn turned it off.

I said, “There are people in the world, Ellen, who are just monsters. I don’t know how else to put it. They were monsters and they did something terrible.”

She had climbed onto my lap as I answered, and now she looked up at me, her eyebrows furrowed in a level of concentration usually reserved for chess players. She said, “You told me there was no such thing as monsters, Daddy.”

That’s exactly what she said.

And I’ll never forget the look Shawn and I exchanged as that little piece of her innocence fell away, the chilling realization that these people, these monsters, these terrorists, whatever you wanted to call them – they’d done exactly what they’d meant to do.

I told her, “I’m sorry, Ellen.” And I was.

Because there wasn’t anything else to say.


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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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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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The I’m-Rich-And-You’re-Not Argument

It’s not really an argument, it’s just a blustering, bullying response that you hear whenever you suggest (or demand) that the tax burden – especially here in the middle of this historic, nationwide financial crisis – ought to be carried by the wealthy. 

I mean, you hear it all the time.  “Oh, so you want ME to pay for it.”

Or, “Ah, so you want to penalize people for being successful.”

The idea is, the rest of us are dipshit kids with our hands out, and the rich are like the grownups.  They roll their eyes as they reach for their wallets – What is it now, Billy?

Even though frequently, I sat there and watched these guys get handed everything in their lives by their moms and dads, from kindergarten right through college, and on into the business world, where their daddies use their connections and resources to get them started.  Then suddenly years later, their business up and running, they delude themselves into believing that they did it all their own selves, those Big Boys, and so the rest of us should, too.

Currently I’m hearing it when we’re talking about teachers.  When I point out, for instance, that we just extended tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, then immediately we added, hey you teachers and cops and firefighters, you need to tighten your belts. 

Usually with a condescending shrug and palms held out wide.  “There’s no money!”

But there’s money.  Sure there is.  That’s the definition of wealthy, and no, I don’t want to penalize you.  Why is it that when we tax you, it’s penalizing you, but when we go after teachers’ benefits, it’s just telling them to tighten their belts?

We’re always worried about financially de-incentivising doctors or giant corporations.  That’s what was so awful about health care, yes?  Nobody will want to be a doctor if their six-digit salaries get too small?

And that’s why we had to cut taxes for the wealthy, yes?  We wouldn’t want them to pay taxes with the money instead of hire people, would we? 

But then when it comes to teachers – oh, screw them, right?  I mean, let’s focus on the ONE financial aspect of being a teacher that is awesome – the benefits – and then let’s pretend that is Teaching In A Nutshell.

Why should they get health care and retirement?!  The unions are spoiling them?

A really backward argument, don’t you think?  We used to ALL get health care and retirement and then slowly over the years, those benefits eroded until suddenly we all think of that as being spoiled. 

“Why don’t I get those benefits?”  That’s what people seem to want to know, and I’ll tell you.  Because you weren’t in a union.

People look at the insurance and retirement and benefits of the average union worker, and they compare them to their own and say “Hey, that’s not fair!”

And they’re right – it’s not fair.  But it doesn’t mean those things should be taken away from anyone.  It means that we should all get those things.  That used to be what America was all about.  Being an American worker used to be something to be proud of, something people around the world envied.  Sure, they still envy us in the Third World – is that the yardstick now?

Suddenly the norm from thirty years ago is characterized as a cushy, undeserved perk.

And the people at the top get the real perks.  If you’re making two hundred fifty grand a year, and you’re comparing your benefits to a teacher’s, and then you’re concluding, “That teacher’s benefits are way better than mine and she needs to tighten her belt!”

Then aren’t you ignoring the salary?  Teachers, it’s no secret, are not paid well.  The benefits are what offset the mediocre pay.  Also, they do get guaranteed raises, but again if you make eighty grand a year and you’re mad at a teacher who gets to look forward to rocking over the forty thousand a year mark, long about Year Ten, then again – apples to apples, please.

And if you’re not making 250K a year, then please stop telling me that I want you to pay for it, because I’m not talking about you.  You’re pretending I’m talking about you.  You’re aspiring to condescension.

You can say, I don’t want you raising taxes on the people whose boots I lick all day, but you don’t get to act like you’re going to be paying for anything I’m talking about, because you’re not.

Equal Representation Regardless Of Wealth

I can’t stress this enough:  You paying more taxes than Bob does not mean that you get more of a say in what is done with the tax revenue than Bob.  That’s not how America works.

Bums and millionaires get the same vote, one apiece.  If you are bringing up your income or financial status in a political debate about this, then all you are trying to do is bully and/or shame the person you are talking to into closing his or her mouth.

And it works for a lot of people.  Being broke, living hand-to-mouth – it’s a bad, shameful feeling.  A favorite, modern rhetorical strategy is to posture as one of the wealthy who’s being taxed – again, whether it’s true or not – and to then apply pressure to that exact feeling of shame and inadequacy, in the person you’re arguing against.

It’s not logical, it’s bullying.  But a lot of people are too passive to respond to it, so it’s an effective argument-ender, minus the logic.  Simply act like the person you’re arguing with wants you to personally pay for their stuff because of their sneakiness and laziness and innate inferiority, and if you can spread out your colorful economic peacock feathers while you’re at it, all the better.

It’s bullshit.  You pay your taxes, and the money stops being yours.  It’s the government’s now – you don’t get to micromanage your share any more than anyone else does.  Where on Earth did you get the idea that you did?

We don’t live in a flat tax society – the wealthy have always paid higher taxes in recognition of the fact that it’s so much easier to make money when you already have a giant stack of it

That’s the basis for taxing the wealthy.  You are at a level where in our system, you can keep on cranking in the money.  You’re doing so in a system occupied and maintained by your fellow taxpayers, many of whom are for instance teachers, who will never reach the level of income you are at, where one can really start slicing through the waves.

So it’s just a question of how much more you’re going to pay.  The Bush tax cuts for example were a 3% slide, but all you hear is how outrageous that would be, penalizing their success by ending that 3% tax cut. 

I guess the Outrageous line is right in there in the middle of that 3%, yes? 

Listen: if the People decide you’re paying more taxes, then you are paying more taxes.  Sit there in your eight-bedroom house bitching about it all you want, the simple fact is, this is what happens when there are more of us than there are of you in a representative democracy.

At least, it’s what happens when corporations do not own the elected officials.

Here’s Why The Rich Don’t Care

Take the most affluent neighborhoods in your city and notice that since schools are funded by local property taxes, those neighborhoods already have the highest paid teachers.  They can already afford it.  I know, they’ll tell you it’s because they earned it – again, they’re rich and we’re not.  But they’ll still have superior schools.  What they won’t have is a monopoly on effective teachers.

And that right there is why it’s so essential to keep the unions.  The affluent neighborhoods will be largely unaffected by this – they can afford to pay teachers more, so they’ll help themselves to the best ones.  The middle class and inner city schools get the leftovers, whoever is willing to teach for mediocre pay and deteriorating benefits.

If you are so interested in people helping themselves and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, then education is the most important ingredient.

And If the current attack on the public workers’ benefits is successful, then there’s no reason to believe that additional attacks won’t follow.  Soon, there will be very little reason to be a teacher or a cop or a firefighter, anywhere except where the wealthy live.

A great deal for the wealthy, if they’re shortsighted enough to believe that millions of people will sink into poverty, right down the road from them, and that they’ll never rise up and take back their dignity, whether it’s with words or votes or fire bombs.

For my part, my wife will be a teacher next year.  We’re not going to fight anybody, plain and simple.  It’s a big world, and if our own country adopts this disgusting and shameful attitude toward educators, then we will leave, and educate people elsewhere.  And we are not alone.

Why would teachers remain in a place where the people don’t respect them?  Why would firemen and cops risk their lives in a culture where insurance salesmen are valued more than they are?  Why should doctors drive Hummers and teachers ride bikes?

It’s a widespread lack of education funding that has led to this situation, an entire population that is so easily swayed by corporate propaganda and upper class avarice.  It sure looks to me like they’re doing this on purpose, so we won’t know what to do about it when they decide to do more.

And you know what?  If we let them then we’ll get exactly what we deserve.




Earlier:  How About A Nice Tall Glass Of Socialism?

And:  Maxwell Harrington: The Best At Being Born


Posted by on March 1, 2011 in News/Commentary


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The Weird Situation In My Friend’s Fridge

I have a Facebook friend named Jessica, and I’m not going to tell you her last name because it would violate Standard Blogging Security Protocol, but I’m going to feel free to rip her photograph off of Facebook and then blog the hell out of it, because that’s what I do.  It’s my sacred duty.

And she’s right.  There is a baffling situation going on in her fridge.  Observe:

She posted this photograph with a plea for help from any of her male Facebook friends.  I just want to understand, she said.  Please, I must understand. 

Well I thought to myself, I’m male.  I’m her Facebook friend.  Maybe I should look into this and provide her with an analysis of the photograph from a male perspective – that’s really what blogging’s all about, right?  People helping people?

1.     You Are Out Of Beer.  So right off the bat, from a male perspective, the first thing my analysis revealed is that Jessica is out of beer.  It’s Saturday afternoon, and you, ma’am, are out of beer.  No wonder your man is acting funny and doing disturbing things with tea bottles.  Pull your head out of your butt, sister – this is a very serious matter.

2.  It’s Not Just The Tea.  In fact, Jessica – you are on the verge of being out of practically everything.  I’ll bet you have one of those people in your house who freaks out whenever someone finishes off the milk or the juice, or possibly the tea.  In my house, I am that person.  I suspect that in your house, it’s you.

The photograph really smacks of terror, doesn’t it?  I think someone is frightening the tea-drinker(s).  At this point, the rest of the people in your house are probably literally unable to finish off any refrigerated products without screaming and curling up into a ball on the floor. 

Much like Greg Brady is terrified of whatever Alice is suggesting there.  I am going to choose to believe that she is angry at him for finishing off the tea and not leaving her a single drink.  You can believe whatever you like.

Now I’ll just give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you aren’t really terrorizing your family into the salvaging two-ounce portions of tea, but my friend – every container in that fridge has two ounces left in it.  Time to look in the mirror, maybe.  Seems like somebody’s really on edge over there.  What’s going to happen the next time?

What if they only drink an ounce out of each one?  What will you do then?

3.  What Is Up With Your Squeaky Clean Fridge?   Might I say, that is a remarkably clean refrigerator you have there.  Mine looks like there was a live monkey trapped in there all night, which then exploded at dawn.  I was of the understanding you have kids running around over there.  Why is your fridge so clean if you have all those kids?

Don’t worry about the monkey.  It was the crazy, bloodthirsty kind of lunatic man-eating monkey – why do you think we locked it in the fridge?  Are you calling us crazy?  You better stop calling us crazy, Jessica.

4.  Cooties.  Old-fashioned cooties.  You see, each bottle belonged to an individual person, and therefore each bottle has been contaminated with a different strain of cooties.  As you know, males often find that it is less time-consuming to argue about things, so many of our children’s beliefs become our own out of sheer laziness.

For example, when someone farts, you have to put your thumb in your mouth and then on your forehead, because the last person to do that just ate the fart. 

And sure, you can roll your eyes and refuse to “play that game” but that just means you’re always the one who eats the farts.  Fart-eater.

Anyway, it is very likely the tea has been kept separate so that no one gets anyone else’s cooties.  And probably, everybody wanted exactly two swallows of tea later, and as you know, all of God’s creatures are immune to their own cooties.  Duh – how do you think we survived this long?

5.  That’s Not Tea.     It’s very possible somebody male was mixing up some shots last night.  For example do you know what’s in Minnesota Bottle Shot?  It’s tea and whiskey and jello.  Not really, who knows what’s in it – but don’t give that to any kids until you know what it is.  When a man is at the point where he’s mixing up tea shots and chilling them in the fridge, he is on the verge of passing out.

The Solution:   The question isn’t really what’s going on, the question is what are you going to do with this seething ball of rage you’ve got swirling around at the center of your soul right now, and I think the obvious answer is, something passive-aggressive.  I would either hide the tea and see if anyone has the nerve to ask where their two ounces of liquid went, or I would add a heaping table-spoon of salt to each one, shake it firmly, and then crack a book at the kitchen table and play a waiting game.

Might want to go get some beer first, to pass the time.


Posted by on February 19, 2011 in Uncategorized


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