Monthly Archives: November 2005


For years now I have kept a picture in my kitchen cabinet; it is a self-portrait of my friend Todd trying to decide what to have for dinner. In front of him lie three choices: Kraft macaroni and cheese, Top Ramen, and a loaded gun. (The fact that he was still alive to give me the picture tells me he must have chosen one of the first two).

I keep this picture for two reasons: one, it’s funny, and two, it is a reminder to me that I am now far beyond my ramen years, far beyond the days when I purchased food based on how many units of it I could get for a dollar. Gone are the lean college and post-college years when “fine dining” meant using real butter on your mac-n-cheese, and “splurging’ meant using two flavor packets on your ramen noodles. Now I am not only an adult, but an adult with an actual job that pays actual money, enabling me to therefore stock my kitchen cabinets with all kinds of actual food. Which makes it even harder to explain why, when I opened up my cabinet this morning I was confronted with box after box of macaroni and cheese.

It is the same with every parent I know. No matter how health-conscious, kosher, vegan or South Beach the parent happens to be, dig hard enough in their cabinet and you will find some version of macaroni and cheese. It is the food you reach for when all other food offerings have failed: when the sushi has elicited howls of despair, the pasta puttanesco has produced lip-curling sneers, and the meatloaf has generated newfound vegetarian conversions. It is, in the world of kid cuisine–where every attempt to introduce variety and/or flavor is inevitably met with the sort of disdain usually reserved for balding middle-aged men trying to pick up college girls–the equivalent of that same balding, middle-aged man just giving up and calling an escort service. In other words, it is a sure thing.

This is, unless of course, you happen to be one of those people who writes the books and magazine articles about how “easy” it is to get children to try new foods; for these child-feeding “experts” all you need to do is offer a variety of healthful, nutritious foods presented in a variety of “fun” options and children will instantly transform themselves into miniature gourmands. If only, they chastise, you would take the time to dress up their open-faced spelt bagel and hummus sandwiches with broccoli “hair”, red pepper smiles and olive eyes, then your child, too, would be joyfully gobbling down their healthful snack, instead of hanging off the refrigerator door like the world’s noisiest magnet screaming “Popsicle! Popsicle!” After all, that’s what worked for their little Jacob or Brianna, so why wouldn’t it work for you?

In rhetoric terms, this is what is known as a logical fallacy. Saying that my child will eat fresh vegetables because your little Jacob did is the same as saying the sun goes down because it is scared of the dark. Let’s face it: Jacob ate his fresh vegetables because he is a little freak. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that: lots of people are freaks, myself included. It’s only when freaky Jacob’s freaky mother writes a book about how the rest of us could get our children to eat fresh vegetables too if only we really tried that I start to have a problem with it.

In fact, the only thing that keeps my resentment at the thought of them enjoying their family dinners of eggplant, pad thai, and even such exotic dishes as rice in check is that same picture of Todd. That picture always reminds me that one day the Wheel of Fortune will swing even these children into their poverty-stricken early twenties, where they, too, will learn to make friends with the blue box. Let’s see their nutritionist mothers write a book about that.

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Crayon Maker

The other day, while poking around a friend’s toy room, I made a gristly discovery: Deep within the bowels of this toy room, hidden behind all the boxes of Magz-X construction toys, vintage Lincoln logs, and enough Thomas the Tank Engine train track to deforest the entire island of Sodor, there lurked… a crayon making machine. I was aghast: What kind of person makes their own crayons?

In my house, not only do I not make crayons, I usually refuse to buy them as well. In fact, any stray crayon that does manage to find its way through my doors can expect to receive the same kind of treatment that a stray gazelle might receive from a lioness on the prowl; only the crayon, instead of ending up as a pile of horns and hooves on the savannah, will most likely end up as a bright speck of citron yellow at the bottom of the trash can. But this, apparently, was not the case in this house; in this Bizarro World they not only fully supported the rights of all crayons to exist, they actively participated in the process of making them as well. It was enough to make me wonder what other horrors I would find in this house: Bathtubs full of homemade gin? Basement rooms full of crystal meth? Maybe even a puppy mill in the backyard?

My first instinct, of course, was to deliver a sharply worded lecture on the inadvisability of bringing more crayons into a world full of white walls with eggshell finish, but, for once, I bit my tongue. After all, maybe there was a reasonable explanation as to why two seemingly normal individuals would want to make their own crayons. (Even though, the last time I checked crayons were something like ten packs for a dollar at the local drugstore.) Maybe, though, there was something going on that I didn’t know about, like back in the 1970s when I continued to indulge in Nestle’s chocolate products, blissfully unaware of the international boycott. Could this be the same thing all over again? Had I, with my occasional purchase of store-bought crayons, inadvertently led to the continuation of intolerable working conditions in the crayon mines? Were the big crayon makers, even now, depleting the ozone layer with their foul bursts of burnt sienna and ochre? Or, worse yet, was the international trade in crayons merely a front for terrorist cells the world over? Every time my son, Clyde, colored on the walls, was he really coloring with Osama? (That I could believe).

Or maybe it was just a personal choice on their part. Maybe they were getting ready for the big move off the grid. Maybe the crayon maker was just the first step in their struggle towards self-sufficiency, and even now they were also making plans to grind their own flour and sew their own clothes. If I looked hard enough, would I also find the place where they were saving their used cooking oil and fireplace ashes in preparation for making their own soap?

Finally, when none of these theories proved satisfying I did what most people would probably have done in the first place: I asked. Unfortunately, the answer I received was less than edifying. “The crayon maker?” they gushed, “It’s great. You take all the little bits of broken crayons, put them in here, and then you get a great big colorful new crayon.”


Clearly, I had been correct in my first theory: I had inadvertently entered the Bizarro World, where parents not only bought toys for their children, but allowed them to play with them as well. (The toy room should have been my first clue). It was, of course, slightly disappointing to find out how baseless all of my other theories were, but at the same time it did give me one thing to look forward to: At least now I know where to go the next time I want to pick up a few bottles of really cheap gin, some meth, and a new puppy.

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Sell Sell Sell

There are many careers I feel I could have excelled at: surgeon (except for the part about having to touch someone’s insides–yuck); test pilot (except that I hate to go fast); even model (at least from the ankles down–I have lovely feet). In fact, I can honestly say that I have never lost my childhood belief that I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up. Or, at least, almost anything: from an early age, I always knew I could never do retail.

I’m terrible at selling: I don’t even like to get a receipt when I drop off stuff at Goodwill, because it feels too much like I’m engaging in some sort of a “transaction”. In fact, probably the only person in the whole world who is worse at selling than I am is my friend Tom, who is such an inept salesman that he couldn’t even hold a job at the local theater’s concession stand, a place that comes with a built-in client base. (It seems that every time some poor kid would try to buy a box of overpriced candy, Tom would lean back, shake his head mournfully and say, “You don’t really want to buy that do you? It’s terrible.” Before you start to make assumptions about Tom’s noble quest to save the youth of America from dangerous chemicals and preservatives, you must know this: in college he also used to hand out unfiltered Camel cigarettes at Halloween.)

Some people just aren’t cut out for sales, and I count myself to be among them. But that’s ok: everyone has their limits, and I know this is one of mine. (For the record, Tom is not now involved in either sales or public health education). How is it then, that even with knowing this about myself; even after spending years avoiding the high school salesgirl job at The Gap, the college salesgirl job pushing magazine subscriptions door-to-door, and the twentysomething salesgirl job working at the local call center, I now find myself up to my neck in the retail biz? Two words: school fundraiser.

I know: it’s supposed to be the child who is selling the products, but let’s get real–how many 9-year-olds do you know who can count amongst their inner circle the type of person who wants a talking “Battlefields of the Civil War” picture frame or a tin of carob-covered Hanukkah pretzels? Realistically, it is the parents who end up schlepping these catalogs around to playdates, offices and book clubs, always on the lookout for someone gullible enough to believe that there actually exists a wrapping paper that is worth $12 a sheet.

And therein lies the real rub: it is not so much that our children’s schools are “encouraging” us to sell-sell-sell, it’s that what they’re “encouraging” us to sell-sell-sell is such crap-crap-crap. After all, I don’t mind helping Clementine with her yearly Girl Scout cookie sales: with those babies you are not so much a salesman as a dealer (the problem isn’t getting people to buy them, it’s getting people to stop coming over to your house at midnight trying to get their thin mint fix). As far as the school catalog products are concerned, though–well, let’s just say I would have better luck (and feel less guilt) if I was trying to convince people to help me collect my Nigerian lottery winnings than I do trying to convince them to buy something called a bucket o’pizza. (In my experience, unless the third word is beer, bucket o’ has never helped to sell anything).

Actually, though, judging by Tom’s popularity with the neighborhood children (if not their parents), maybe a bucket o’ciggies wouldn’t be such a bad fundraiser–they might even give the Girl Scouts a run for their money. Maybe I’ll suggest it at the next PTA meeting–if nothing else, I’m sure it will get me out of being asked to sell anything ever again.

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As a parent, I have noticed many contradictions between life as I perceived it to be when I was a child, and life as I now know it to be as an adult. For one, there is the little matter of, despite our catty slighting of her as a “dumb blonde” back when we were children, judging her now by her elegant clothes, fancy cars, extensive stable of Thoroughbreds and vast collection of “dream homes”it is painfully obvious that Barbie was always much cleverer than we gave her credit for–much cleverer, in fact, than we were ourselves. Looking at the evidence, it becomes clear that at least she had enough sense to buy Flagstaff real estate back in the early nineties, when the rest of us were still waiting for the bubble to burst.

Then, of course, there’s the food issue, and the fact that the food we wished most desperately to eat back when we were children–sugar right out of the bowl, McDonald’s three times a day–is now, ironically, the food that would actually be the easiest and cheapest to procure, while the food that we wouldn’t have touched with a ten-foot tongue back in our youths–lobster, brie, chanterelles–is now the food that we most desperately wish to be importuned to take “just one bite” of. And don’t even get me started on the fact that now, when we really need it, hardly anyone ever tells us it is time to take a nap.

I think that the biggest contradiction in a parent’s life by far though must be the one surrounding the whole issue of drugs. Why is it that when expectant mothers first arrive at the hospital, when the baby is not even actually present, but, like the forthcoming bill still in some rosy-hued hypothetical state, there are drugs a-plenty: pills, injections, creams–even general anesthesia? In fact, the number of drugs people are not only willing to let you take, but will even go and get for you seems to be endless. What’s more, it’s like the birthing room is a party co-hosted by Kate Moss and Robert Downey, Jr.: after a while you don’t even have to keep asking for more; the good stuff just keeps showing up.

Fast forward a few years, though, when the birthing room seems even more like some delirious Moss/Downey, Jr. party (vaguely remembered and frightfully expensive), and when the baby itself is no longer merely a hypothesis, but a real, live three-year-old capable of opening doors, disabling child-proof locks, and “misunderstanding” the word “no” to mean “not while I’m looking”, and suddenly there are no drugs to be found.

And of course, that’s when you need the drugs: during those dreadfully stark hours between the end of the morning cartoons and the beginning of the afternoon ones (the space between Teletubbies and George Shrinks–the long, dark Charlie Rose Hour of the soul); that’s when you need to open your front door and miraculously find a sympathetic nurse with a tray full of lovely painkillers. Even the sight of an epidural needle would be welcome, as long as it not only numbed your extremities but all ability to hear anything in the whiniest upper registers of the hearing spectrum.

Alas, it will never happen: drugs, like youth, sleeping, and the ability to eat whatever you like and not gain an ounce, are wasted on the young. Barbie obviously knows this, which must be why she has chosen to stay so young despite her forty-odd years of existence. If only I hadn’t been so busy mocking her in my own youth, I might have picked up on this sooner. Who knows? Maybe she would have even let me in on some of her real estate secrets, as well.

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My friend Way doesn’t like music. It’s not just that he doesn’t like my music (I’m used to that), or that he doesn’t like “those crazy kids’ music” ( that too), but he doesn’t like any music at all. I know, because in the course of our friendship I have played him nearly every one of the CD’s in my very eclectic CD collection–everything from Desi Arnez to the Butthole Surfers–and, while some of my CD’s have managed to somewhat moderate the pained expression his face assumes every time I hit the “play” button, as long as music of some form is still playing, the look is still there.

In fact, noticing the frequency with which the look appeared was one of the things that made me realize how often it is that I surround myself with music; unfortunately, the other thing that made me realize this was when Clementine started to sing along from the back seat.

To fully comprehend how problematic this is for me you have to understand what kind of music I play when I am in my car; while I am sure that for some people a collection of Beethoven’s sonatas are the perfect accompaniment to a long drive, for me the only thing a driving tape needs to be is fast, and loud. When Clementine was a baby this was not a problem, since the car, to her, was like a giant martini on wheels: a couple of laps around the block and she was out like a light, leaving me free to listen to everything from late ‘70’s punk to an unabridged reading of the Kama Sutra. Now, however, she is nine years old, and has begun to show what seems to me to be a much too keen interest in the songs I am playing, as well as a much too able memory. This was brought home to me only too well when, after only briefly listening to a funky hip-hop style dance mix a friend of mine had brought back for me from Columbia, Clementine turned to me and asked, “Mom, what does ‘don’t need no short-dicked man’ mean?”

I got out of that one by explaining that I didn’t speak Spanish. But the whole incident made me feel as if I had been put on notice: suddenly I realized that nearly every tape I owned had something questionable in it, whether it was the Violent Femmes singing “why can’t I get just one f**k” or Mudhoney singing “touch me I’m sick”. Even a group as innocuous as the Dixie Chicks still sing about murder and adultery.

So what am I to do? I guess I could always listen to the radio, but there are two problems with this: the first is that the caged squirrels that power my car don’t always get around to sending power over to the radio; and the second is that the only station I can stand, The Eagle, (while helpfully obscuring the naughty words; sometimes to the point where a song by a group such as Nine Inch Nails becomes almost unintelligible) has the distressing habit of playing that annoying Flagstaff Insurance jingle, a tune which always makes me want to climb to the top of the nearest tower and start shooting people.

This leaves me with only one hope: that whatever virus or mishap caused Way to dislike music will somehow afflict Clementine, leaving her so disgusted at the mere thought of music that she puts her hands over her ears and hums whenever we get into the car. It could happen: because he is also color-blind, I am thinking that perhaps he was dropped on his head as a child; this means that all I have to do is surreptitiously search his head for the exact location of the flat spot, and then–well, let’s just say I’m only one playground “accident” away from musical freedom.

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