Tag Archives: school

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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Future Tom Blog Force: The Riddle Of The Whiny Students

It was a pretty big deal, and it had happened in the blogosphere – that was why they’d called us.  Spang and I were tough-as-nails blog detectives, heartless and uncaring in our relentless pursuit of the truth.  We didn’t care who we had to hurt as long as we cracked the case, and no one understood us but our women.  And they were all like, whatever, dorks.

So when Pennsylvania teacher Natalie Munroe was suspended from her position for her blog posts about “whiny” students, we started drinking whiskey and shooting pool right away.  Then we took cabs, went to our respective homes and woke up our wives at one-thirty in the morning by noisily making hand-cut French Fries in our kitchens. We hadn’t even called each other or mentioned French Fries at all the whole night – isn’t that crazy?

I caught fire to my kitchen, but Steve’s kitchen was fine, and 66% of my daughters are Red Cross Certified Babysitters, so I guess they must have put it out.  Then we forgot about it for a day although we did exchange unrelated texts.  Then I’m afraid we hit the bottle again, and woke up the following afternoon on a boxcar to Philly with that Golden Voice guy, except he wasn’t singing anything because Spang had broken his jaw with a length of two-by-four, in one of those Kirk Vs. Picard arguments. 

And so anyway, we figured, hell, while we’re here, why don’t we look into that Class Three Blog Crime we read about?

And it turned out we didn’t need to go to Pennsylvania to do that.  Some of the story is at this link – Teacher Natalie Munroe Defends Blog Comments About ‘Whiny’ Students and if you’d prefer not to have CNN give you the gist of it, you can go to Natalie Monroe herself at Bloggate Day 1: The Scandal Begins.

For our part, we got into a high stakes card game and ended up eleven hundred dollars in the hole, and Spang almost lost a toe and there was a trip to the Western Union and a lot of people yelling over telephones, and then finally we got back to our investigation.  Using the Internet, which is really where most Blog Detective Work takes place anyway.

Spang said, “I like how she got fired for blogging and the first thing she did is go home and blog about it.”

“Absolutely,” I agreed.  “And her blog is called Where Are We Going And Why Are We In This Handbasket.  I’m pretty much ready to call this one in her favor right now.”

I looked at the camera.  “Hey you stupid parents of whiny kids – don’t read her blog if you don’t like her blog.  And furthermore, please reflect on the irony of whining about your kids being called ‘whiny.’  Gee, I wonder if they’re really whiny and where on Earth they might have picked up that trait?”

But Steve cleared his throat and moved around a little in his hammock.  I forgot to tell you he has a hammock set up in our office, and he likes to get up in there wearing one of those fuzzy zip-up one piece pajama things that you usually see on toddlers.

Hey I don’t tell you how to work so don’t get all over Spang for whatever he needs to do to get in his groove.  In this case, I knew he was right.  He said, “That would not be a very thorough analysis, though, Tom.”

Sigh.  “All right.  I guess we can walk through it.  What exactly are we arguing about here?  Did she mention these kids by name or what?”

Spang consulted his laptop and said, “No.  She did not.  She doesn’t even call herself by her name, just by the not-very-clever Natalie M.”

“Yeah, that’s not very anonymous.  But it’s not like it’s called Ms. Munroe’s Dipshit Student Round-Up or anything.”

“Before she made the national news, you had to go looking for her and then surmise that she was who you were thinking of, and then she also didn’t say anyone’s name.  So it wasn’t like she was saying, ‘Tom’s daughter is whiny.'”

“Well, right.  But the thing is, every single one of my daughters is whiny, sometimes.  You might even say, depending on what part of their lives we’re talking about, that they are whiny often or frequently.”

“If you say so,” Spang said.  “That is certainly right in line with my limited experiences with children.  I know that when I was a child, and I wanted something I didn’t have, I would frequently try whining about it.”

“You stick with what works.”

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”


I had my feet up on my desk, eating a turkey leg in my bathrobe, while Spang creaked back and forth above me, popping Pez in his mouth from a Mr. T Pez dispenser.  We chewed and looked at the ceiling and thought and chewed some more.

Finally I said, “Are these parents suggesting that their children are never whiny?  Or is it that teachers are supposed to pretend like they’re not whiny, on their blogs?”

“I’m sure I have no idea.”

“Hold on a second.  Computer!”

Everything was quiet for a few seconds and then Spang said, “We’ve never had a computer like that, TC.  One named Computer, that you could talk to.  I don’t know why you keep doing that and it’s freaking me out a little bit.”

So I had to use my mouse to click back to the article and see if CNN bothered telling me what the specific problem was with saying something so obviously true on your blog.  “Holy shit, it doesn’t tell us what’s wrong with it.  It just says that she said a lot of her students were lazy and whiny and out of control-”

Spang squinted, considering the words.  “All of those terms seem like they would very likely fit the average high school student.  That seems like a good description of me or you as a teenager.  That seems true of a lot of modern teenagers I’ve met in my – again, somewhat limited – experiences with them.”

“-and then we’re left to simply assume that teachers are not allowed to say such things on their blogs.”

“That would be troubling,” Spang said.  “If being a teacher meant that you forfeited your freedom of speech and self-expression.”

“Troubling indeed.  Why would we want to limit the minds of the people forming our young minds?”

“I mean, if she was calling them that in class, or by name, that’d be one thing.  And I guess you could argue that since she was identifiable – I mean, obviously, right? – she might have actually been talking to some specific students.  She took the relevant posts down-”

“And I don’t blame her,” I said.

“-but that being the case, we can’t really read them and find out if she was being petulant on her blog.  You know like how you can be a petulant little bitch with your blog, Tommy C?”

“Yes, I know.”

“Like when sometimes you sound like a thirteen year-old girl who didn’t make the cheerleading squad, you know what I mean?”

“I do.  Thank you.”

“I mean I know you got a lot of girls over there but do you even wear boy’s underwear anymore or what?  Half the time you sound like Jan Brady when Marsha’s getting too much attention.”

“All right, Spang.  Let’s move on.”

“Well, I think it’s possible that she could have been pulling a Tommy C. on her post, and that’s what drew attention to her blog.”

“See, I just – I’m going to need you to quit calling it that.”

“I’ll bet she got that Blogtastic God Complex you get, where you just sort of drag a soap box right out into the middle of the Internet and start ranting like a preacher at the park.”

“Yes, that’s possible.  But we can’t assume that.  All we can go by is what she says now.”

So we went on back and read her most recent post, in which she says no she wasn’t doing that, but again, of course she’d say that.   “Well, someone must have figured out who she was talking about, or we wouldn’t be reading about it in the news.”

“Let’s assume she did,” I said.  “That’s the safest thing to do.  Let’s assume she got a little too specific in that last post – that’d be the worst case scenario, right”

“Well I think a name would be-”

“But if she’d said a name, they’d be saying SHE SAID A NAME!  They’re not.  So at worst, she implied it, which means she isn’t a very experienced blogger, but I’m not sure it means she’s a bad teacher, and I’m not sure it means she needs fired.”

Spang snapped at me and pointed and kept doing that until I saw the Pez on the desk and tossed him a new clip.  He said, “You show me a high school teacher who doesn’t think a good chunk of high school students are lazy, rude, or whatever else she said, and I’ll show you a high school teacher who’s abusing some kind of prescription medication.”

“That’s what I’m saying.  Why can’t she vent?  Anyone else want to spend a freaking week in her shoes and then watch your mouth every day when you get off work?”

“Well, anyway, it does appear that she detailed some stuff about ‘canned comments’ on report cards, which maybe she shouldn’t have gone into,” Spang said.

“That’s correct.  She’s talking I imagine about how tedious it is to come up with comments, and how they are encouraged to use the general ones that you find all the time.  The same ones you remember from when you were a kid.”

Spang snapped his fingers.  “Ah. Like ‘works well with others.’ or ‘a pleasure to have in class.'”

“Yes.  Apparently it outraged parents to hear that these were canned comments, and not personal messages for their own special snowflakes.”

“I am losing patience with parents and their special little snowflakes.  You guys all know, nobody’s going to teach school at all if the rule is you have t 24/7 shut your word hole and pretend everybody’s kid is special little snowflake.”

“Agreed.  And you know what else, writing is – blogging is – separate from life.  For example, have you ever noticed how much I appear to be hammered on my blog?  But I think it’s obvious that as a father of three, that’s all an act.  It’s tongue-in-cheek.”

“You think that’s obvious, do you?”

“I think we’ve arrived at the bottom of this case, Spang.  It’s like this – did she call your specific kid whiny?”

“If not don’t worry about it.”

“Right.  And if she implied your kid was whiny, then axe yourself – Is my kid whiny?  Ever?”

“And if you’re saying no, then blast your head against the wall as hard as you can, because you’re a filthy liar.”

“Correct.  And if you’re saying yes, then again – don’t worry about it, except to the extent that your whiny kid reflects poorly on you.  Get to work butching your kid up a little bit, so he or she doesn’t start getting regular beatings.  Also – is this woman a good teacher?”

“That does seem to be a relevant question, and not surprisingly, it does not appear to be addressed in CNN’s crappy tabloid paint job.  You know, I’m starting to hate those guys?”

“Yes.  I know.  I am, too, Spang.  The fact is that if they had a single shred of evidence that Natalie Munroe was a bad teacher, off of her blog that is, and in the actual classroom, then it would be on the front page of CNN with that one loud-mouthed hairdresser girl who always sounds like she’s in a bar stool next to you at Rooster’s circa 1am, bitching at the television -”

“Nancy Grace.”

“-Nancy Grace, yes. Nancy Grace would be plastering a Natalie Munroe parking ticket on the screen right now if she could squeeze one out of her.  And if there’s no evidence that Munroe’s a bad teacher, I mean not a single shred-”

“Then maybe leave her the hell alone.  We’re short on teachers, yes, especially good ones?”

“Yes,” I tell him firmly, and it’s true.  “And you know what else?  Remember that teacher in Ohio who burned a freaking cross into a kid’s arm and got fired for it?  Well, he sued them and won – got $800,000.  So I have to imagine Natalie will do the same, and so is that going to be a big victory, Parents of Whiny Kids?  You’re going to pay her for not teaching the next twenty years?”

“So then everybody just stay off her blog if you don’t like her blog.  I’m pretty sure she’s going to extra super watch herself from now on.”

“Another case cracked, Spang.  That was a tough one.”

“Not really, TC.  A lot of your fellow parents are simply morons with staggering entitlement issues and delusional attitudes about their whiny-ass kids.  I wonder if these parents realize for even a second how fortunate they are to have been born in a country where they have teachers at all, even if they are the kind who accurately diagnose whininess sometimes.”

“Aw, that’s mean.  You’re mean, Spang.”

“But I’m allowed to be.”

“Thank God,” I tell him.  “That’s what freedom of speech is all about, right?”




Earlier:  Future Tom Blog Force: Crisis On The Internet

And:  Onward, Christian Science Teacher


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Jason Statham As Alpha Dad

Hello, back there Sir, in your white SUV.  Yes, I can see you, and you look kind of comically upset with me.  As is often the case, you are probably finding that the steering wheel and pedals in your vehicle are not controlling mine.  If you’ll think about it for a second, you’ll most likely conclude that’s probably a good idea, in general.

And it’s funny because up until thirty seconds ago, it seemed that the two of us had quite a bit in common – we were both bringing our kids to school and dropping them off in an orderly fashion, with dozens of other parents out front.

Of course I had no idea what a terrible rush you were in.   I don’t usually plan my trip to drop off my daughter at school in that manner, not right down to the second – I guess I am not as serious or important or sophisticated as you.  It seems such a burden for you to carry under your troubled parental brow, being the sort of parent whose seconds are so valuable.

Are a stock broker or a surgeon?  Come on, just tell me – it makes me feel giddy and flushed just having my car near a true alpha dog dad like you.

Are you a Transporter, like Jason Statham?  You’re dropping your kids off as part of a big bank heist, aren’t you?  Seconds count!

But me – I will humbly admit I am just a regular dad who likes to watch his daughter walk all the way to the door until she disappears inside her school for the day.  She knows it, too – she looks back every single time and smiles and waves. 

Sometimes there is a forest of kids out here hanging around, and there was a time when she was nervous walking through them.

So I told her, no one’s going to mess with you because I’m sitting right here and if anyone does, I will get out and throw them against that brick wall if I have to, hard enough to stick.  Yes ma’am, I certainly will.  So hold your head up high and be confident, sweetheart, because I’m the nicest person who will ever come to your aid.  After me, it’s your mom with fire coming out of her eyes, and then a series of uncles until we finally have to unleash Big Uncle Shawn, like the mighty Kraken.

You’re fine, little sister.  I’m watching you and there is an army behind you.  And I don’t care what this joker behind me thinks, not even a little bit.  If he wants his ten seconds back, he can go around me.  Unless he has not-too-cleverly parked himself just an inch away from my rear bumper.

In which case he can sit there.  Don’t worry, dude – it won’t be long, and perhaps your kids will look back and not notice that you are swearing at me through your windshield and making hilarious, agitated arm gestures.  Perhaps they will not notice how very badly you want to get out of their sight and get on with your pointy-eyebrowed day. 

Perhaps they will mistake you for a parent who wants to take ten seconds to show your kids that you really care about them and watch over them, instead of saving yourself ten seconds, and strongly suggesting that you don’t.

Here, let me roll down the window, in case Alpha Dad wants to talk about it.  A smile and a wave – Hi, Jason Statham! 

Why isn’t he waving?  We’re both in the Brotherhood of Dads, aren’t we?

Really, Alpha Dad, if you had my phone number, you’d barely have time to break me off a text, that’s how long you’re having to sit there.  And I truly wish I had video of how visibly flabbergasted you are by a man who will drink in ten seconds of his daughter walking into school, like a soothing elixer, because that’s what it is to me.  That ten second walk is an outstanding reminder of why I am doing everything else that I’m going to do today.

You can spend it freaking out if you want, that’s on you.  But you should take a look at my daughter walking into the building over there, and understand that I would burn every city on Earth right to the ground for her if I felt like I had to, and that then I’d try to hook her up with some ice cream or popcorn or something, out of the rubble.  That’s who she is, to me, compared to practically everybody else.  Certainly compared to you. 

Given that mindset, it shouldn’t surprise you that I’m not sorry about helping myself to ten of your seconds.  You’re the one who stapled them to my back bumper in the first place.

But didn’t you think it was weird when you whipped around me, and then honked at two more school children who were crossing the parking lot in front of you in a crosswalk, and then whipped around them too, and then we wound up at the same intersection a minute later, with me giving you a curious stare from my lane while you tightened your jaw and stared straight ahead in yours – didn’t you think it was weird that I turned right and left you there?

That I was suddenly, perplexingly ahead of you, despite those ten seconds?  That it turned out, those ten seconds wouldn’t have helped you at all? 

It really seemed to me like you were right where you would have been, if you’d chilled out and waited for your kid to walk into the building, like I did.  But you still seemed angry.  I wonder if you’re just angry all the time, you poor thing.

Well there’s no way to know.  You’re way back there talking to someone else’s rear view mirror, through your windshield, with a little vein pulsing in your forehead and injustice rising off of you like stink lines in a Peanuts cartoon. 

How’s that working out for you by the way?




Earlier:  Dear Sir, Regarding Physics


Posted by on February 16, 2011 in Parenting/Family, Spawn of Future Tom


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Olentangy Parents And Their Enormous Boulders

Well you probably think it’s easy being a parent in one of the most affluent school districts in central Ohio, but really, they have their own enormous boulders to push around through their lives.  For example, do you know how far these embattled folks have to drive in their Lexus Highlanders with heated seats and multiple DVD players, in order to get to the nearest Pottery Barn?

Minutes, I’m telling you.  Minutes which could have been spent shopping at Polaris or getting a pedicure or maybe just swirling the ice cubes in their drinks as they look out the window plotting something evil.  Minutes which can never be recovered – minutes lost in time.

So when I found out that only 70 percent of Olentangy parents had been notified about the two-hour school delay Monday morning, I about hit the roof.  I said, damn it!  The wealthiest parents in the state – you know, those with the most tools and resources – they don’t have time to watch the news or log on to websites like the rest of us.

It really hits close to home because I graduated from Olentangy Schools, although for most of the time that I was attending kindergarten through twelfth grade in the same building (except third grade, which was literally held in a pair of double wides in the parking lot), it was not very affluent at all.  These days, for example, that single building (minus the double wides) is one of maybe seventeen district schools.

I think we had about twenty affluent families, and the rest of us were a bunch of grinning hillbillies with straw in our hair, running around barefoot, shooting each other in the ass with BB guns.  The first step toward the district’s current mind-blowing affluence was probably kicking the rest of us the hell out.

But you know, someone had to lay the foundation for the Utopian school district that exists today – someone had to dump truckloads of gravel and carry pizzas and get arrested and pay fines, before the millionaire lawyers and tech dudes with their scary hot wives all slapped down a bunch of mansions where our corn fields used to be.  Dropping a brave, new, affluent district on top of the ruins of our old, backward-ass drunk factory was probably a lot like conquering the Aztecs – logistically pretty simple, but exhausting.

Nobody ever gives the Conquistadors credit for how tired all that genocide must have made them, you know?  It’s always like, focus on the evil, focus on the evil.

Anyway, between banning perfectly good books from their schools, like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (the autistic kid says “shit” a few times) and supporting the struggling local spa/salon industry, Olentangy Parents are already stretched pretty thin.  That’s why, according to the article, the district subcontracted a separate company to call every single parent in the district to personally let them know whenever school is cancelled or delayed.

And the company, this time, dropped the ball!  Only about thirty percent of parents received a phone call – just ask Erika, a concerned parent who according to the article knows that she hasn’t been getting the alerts because her phone “didn’t ring.”

Of course her husband did in fact get a call, and you might be thinking, say pal – how ’bout breaking off a text to your wife, give her the old heads up, you know?  I mean, is she right across the room from you or what?

But that’s not his job!  It’s the job of a specially subcontracted company to call everyone and repeat the television or read the 10tv website to them.  Why should Erika’s husband have to screw around with something this company should have been doing all along?!  Where’s his bailout?!

Don’t worry – the article assures concerned Olentangy Parents that the subcontracted phone call company is SO fired, and nothing makes affluent parents feel better than hearing about people being financially punished right before Christmas.  And now you might be wondering – what are parents going to do in the time it takes to find a new company to call them and read websites to them?

Well, that’s my favorite part of the article:

“During the transition the district will not be using the automated phone system for any delay or closure notifications. 

The district will continue to use e-mail, its Web site and its Twitter account (@OlentangySD) as well as television and radio stations to alert parents of school delays or cancelations.”

So yeah, they’re going to go ahead and go from thirty percent getting phone calls to zero percent getting phone calls – that’s how important the phone calls are, see.

I mean, on the surface, it does seems like a pretty good fix.  The district is going to continue using five efficient and time-tested methods of letting people know when school is cancelled, but you know, what are you supposed to do if you’re in the middle of your pilates class and you left your iPhone in your locker, and the television is on Robin Meade, and I don’t know, you didn’t feel like listening to your radio on the way to the gym because you’re hungover or something?  And for some reason, your kids weren’t all over this question from the second they woke up?

This is 2010.  You can’t just expect parents to access some kind of magic, constantly-updated database of digital information for real-time school closing announcements.  You need to ring their phones, so they know something’s going on.  Either that or we have to start sending massage therapists out to everyone’s house to tell them personally and them give them a nice, stress-relieving massage with some whale song and candles. 

The madness has to stop.  These folks are way better on every level than say, me for example.  Or single moms in the inner city.  Or anyone else in America who has to spend thirty seconds in the morning pulling up a website to find out if school is closed or not. 

I mean, sure, I have three kids and never once in my life have I ever received an actual phone call letting me know school was cancelled, and sure, if I got one, I’d give the phone a pretty weird look, since I’d already know it because my kids are clever and proactive, and I listen to them. 

But that’s because I’m a regular, ordinary parent, not an Olentangy Parent – of course I operate like a caveman. 

That’s why I’m proposing that we all light a candle every morning and remember the inconvenience that was caused on Monday, when…

Yeah, I think you get me.  I’m joking, in case that was too subtle, and I think I’ve pretty much beaten the joke to death.  It’s not likely to get any funnier, so let’s just be blunt. 

Dear Olentangy parents – if you are upset about not getting a phone call from your own personal district butler, then you are spoiled and lazy to a sickening, jaw-dropping degree.  And you’re kind of embarassing yourselves, and you are dooming your children to a really unpleasant hybrid demeanor of helplessness and entitlement.  Bow your salon-sculpted heads in shame.


Posted by on December 14, 2010 in Future Tom Grab Bag, Parenting/Family


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