Monthly Archives: January 2008

Bored Games

Not long before Christmas last year someone told me about the new, locally-invented “Grand Canyon” board game; they said it was “the perfect Christmas present.” I checked it out, and it was pretty cool; unfortunately, it still had no chance of ever becoming a Christmas present in my house, since an embargo forbidding the importation of new board games has been in place since late 2005. That’s when I first realized that, in place of the heretofore orderly pile of games my husband and I had accumulated together and separately during our childless years, what we now had instead was a few broken boxes, some miscellaneous game bits, and one single die.

Of course, this same fate had not befallen the “children’s” games; on the contrary, like the unkillable horror that it is, Candyland remained almost virtually intact. The same was true of that most obnoxious of games, Mousetrap–this despite it being one of those games that becomes practically unplayable the first time a single piece goes missing.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the other, more adult games. You name it: Clue, Scrabble, Sorry, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly–even the backgammon set had been pillaged. I would say that the games had been “decimated,” but for the fact that that would imply that a mere ten percent of the pieces had gone missing; judging from the few ones and fives that were left in the Monopoly game, it was clear that a more likely estimation was half. (Perhaps we should say that the games were “half-inated.”)

As I mentioned before, it was the discovery of this carnage back in 2005 that caused me to issue said ultimatum: either start taking care of these games or they will be the last ones you ever see coming into this house. Of course, as with most ultimatums, this one, too, was a great big flop. Not only did they not start taking better care of the games, the destruction actually picked up in pace: whereas before I might have found one or two wayward Trivial Pursuit wedges (usually as I walked barefoot to the bathroom in the middle of the night), now I started finding entire Trivial Pursuit pies scattered about. What was worse was my kids’ reaction: instead of feeling deprived by being forced to play with ever more incomplete sets, they instead seemed to thrive on the challenge–the more pieces they lost, the more determined they became to keep on playing.

And so we started having scenarios where, prior to starting a game, everyone had to agree on how many pieces of cat food it took before you could put a toothpaste cap on your property, or what to do when the dead bug you were using for a Sorry piece turned out to be not-so-dead after all. In fact, they actually seemed to enjoy the games better this way; they certainly played them more. It’s was if all they had ever needed was a little bit of an extra challenge, as if they were saying: anyone can play Scrabble, but how many people can play scrabble when there are only four vowels in the entire game–two of them the letter “u”?

The game situation has made me think that perhaps I should reconsider my entire parenting philosophy. Maybe, instead of buying them all those nice, shiny new school supplies I should just give them some dried up felt pens and a few pieces of scratch paper; imagine what homework effort that might inspire. And instead of giving them toy chests and bookshelves with which to keep their rooms neat, maybe they would do better with a few milk crates and some empty bread bags.

And, maybe, I’ll even start buying board games again. I think I’ll start with that Grand Canyon one–providing, of course, that they agree to sell me half.

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I have been to Great Britain two times in the last two decades; during both of these visits the American dollar was at an all time low against the British pound–less than one pound for every two dollars. (Not that I’m taking it too personally; I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both times there was also someone named George Bush in the White House.)

To say that my first visit was financially “challenging” would be an understatement: the poor exchange rate combined with the fact that I was only making $4.25 an hour back then meant that my daily budget was limited to $20 a day. (This in a country where a bed in a youth hostel cost $16. And yes, I know that there is a book out there called Europe on $5 a Day–unfortunately, my trip did not take place back in 1949,when it was published.) With my current income being now (slightly) higher, I had hopes that this trip was going to be more financially successful than the previous one (success being measured by a reduction in the number of times I cried when presented with the bill). Unfortunately, however, I failed to take into account one very crucial difference between my George H.W. Bush era trip and my trip during the reign of Bush the Lesser: whereas before I had been traveling with an equally budget-minded companion, this time I was traveling with the last of the big time spenders: my daughter, Clementine.

Let me qualify that last statement. When I say “big time spender” I mean “big time spender of other people’s money”–when it comes to her own she’s tighter than the pants on a retiree at a Laughlin breakfast buffet. And while this trait is barely tolerable at the best of times, when we’re staying some place where every visit to the cash point (that’s ATM to us yanks) ends with half of my money vanishing into thin air–or, more precisely, into the pocket of some unknown sub-prime mortgage broker–it becomes downright terrible.

Of course, it didn’t help matters that, try as I might, I could not get Clementine to understand what it meant that the exchange rate was so low; to her my reluctance to break out my wallet at every souvenir stand was simply another sign of my distressing provincialism.
“Can I get this (cheap, plastic, made in China) pencil sharpener/coin purse/fridge magnet?” she’d ask. (Emphasis mine). “It’s only 4 ‘ells’.”

Pointing to the pound sign on the price tag (the £), I’d snatch it out of her hand and hiss, “That’s four pounds! That’s like nine dollars!” At which point she’d look at me sadly, shake her head at my quaint, pre-global village ways, and say, “Mom: you’ve got to learn to embrace the currency.” And then we’d be off to lunch, where she would take three bites of a $17 bowl of spaghetti before declaring, “I’m stuffed–let’s go.”

That’s when I realized that meals were another point upon which an 11-year-old and a 40-year old can never see eye to eye; whereas my last partner had recognized the logic behind saving the bulk of our funds for the bare necessities (like beer), and had therefore been content to live on kipper and mustard sandwiches, an 11-year-old will not only insist on three squares a day, but will actually stop eating when they are full or the food is just plain nasty.

Which meant that, in my effort the embrace the few bits of currency remaining in my pocket for a little while longer, several of my meals consisted entirely of the inedible bits of hers. It didn’t matter if it was an unidentifiable green blob; by my calculations, it was a five dollar unidentifiable green blob, which, to me, translated as edible.

Or, at the very least, embraceable.

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The border incursions begin at dawn and continue unabated throughout the day. First an advance scout is sent, followed by a larger advance party; if these troops are successful the entire force will proceed, although seldom does it ever get that far. Usually the other side–alerted, no doubt, by the sounds of demonic giggling–strikes back at the very first sign of a border breach. Sometimes they even strike before. That’s where I come in.

“Aiii!,” comes the blood-curdling scream, followed shortly thereafter by a sobbing Clyde. “Clementine kicked (hit/pushed/bit/punched/impaled/eviscerated) me.” Right on cue Clementine comes sliding into the kitchen, as indignant as an NBA player who has just been called for blocking.

“He was in my room!”

“I was not. I was next to it.”

I don’t have to be Columbo to figure this one out: it’s obvious that Clyde was playing one of his favorite (and most dangerous) games–sister-baiting–and that, like the matador who was a little too slow with the cape, he got gored. From the way he is favoring his right foot it is also obvious that he was playing the Hokey-Pokey version of this game, also known as “you put your right foot in (your sister’s room)/you take your right foot out/you put your right foot in/ Aiii!”

What’s not so obvious is at what point the retaliatory kick took place, because while repelling invaders is acceptable, chasing them back across the border into their own lands to administer justice is not. Unfortunately, the UN observers I had on hand to monitor occurrences such as these were called back to duty in the Kashmir (“call us when one of them gets some nukes,” they said as they left), and so it is up to me to assign guilt in this particular skirmish. (Or, since neither party really qualifies as “innocent,” to assign percentages of guilt. Sort of like the way an insurance company determines the percentage of fault in a car accident.)

It would seem logical at first to assign the majority of the blame to Clyde; after all, it was his original transgression that started the whole incident. There are, however, two problems with this division. The first is that, in many ways, living in a room next door to Clementine is a lot like living next to the devil: it would take a bigger man than Clyde to resist the taunting that comes floating down through his transom like a voice in the wilderness, “You’re stupid…you’re stupid…you’re stuuuupid.” And the second is that the whole reason it is possible for Clyde to stick so much as one toe into Clementine’s room is that her door no longer shuts properly–a direct result of several years of vigorous slamming on her part.

Still, somehow the punishment must be divvied up and assigned, otherwise the fighting will continue to escalate until something (most likely belonging to me) gets broken. The problem, however, still lies with my not being able to determine whether this was a peremptory strike on Clementine’s part, or a simple case of deportation. (If defenestrate means “to throw someone out of a window” then obviously deportate must mean “to throw someone out of a door.”)

At times like these I can see the advantage of having a CCTV system in place–sort of a tattlecam, as it were. With these marvels of modern technology at my fingertips I could securely record every single transgression, and administer justice accordingly. Of course, that would also mean that I would have to respond to every single transgression, and–given the current level of hostilities–this could easily create a backlog of unheard cases stacking up for decades. Which leaves me with the same old punishment routine that parents have been using for centuries: everybody goes to their rooms. Including, sometimes, the parents. Works for me.

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Travelin’ Pants

We meet furtively in the predawn darkness.

“Did you get it?” I ask.

“Yeah,” my co-conspirator answers, cautiously passing over a bundle that, judging from the hesitant way he is handling it, might as well contain a leaky test tube full of military grade anthrax.. The truth, however, is much worse: my co-conspirator is my husband, and the bundle is none other than Clementine’s dirty pants.

Note that I didn’t say Clementine’s dirty blue pants, or even Clementine’s dirtiest pants–to say either would imply that the pants under discussion are, in fact, one of a set; that somewhere in the Universe there is, perhaps, another pair of Clementine’s pants–maybe even three, or four. No, unfortunately, when I say that these are Clementine’s dirty pants I mean it in the same way I might say that I looked up at the Sun–the one, the only, the Sun. In fact, this pair of pants is so very singular that I am surprised they aren’t instead known as pant.

Thus the skulduggery of our predawn pants raid–since the pants are literally one of a kind, it is only by sneaking into Clementine’s room under the cover of darkness and “sniffing them out” (no bloodhound required) that we are able to not only retrieve the pants, but whisk them away to their long anticipated appointment with the washer. (Although, by the time we do manage a retrieval mission–she often sleeps with them, as befits their rarified status–the pants are usually so hopelessly crusty that I am always a little surprised that they haven’t simply gotten up and climbed into the washing machine on their own; or at least started doing other semi-evolved things like discovering fire, using tools, and declaring their candidacy for the 2008 presidential elections.)

Now, before anyone decides to start a campaign collecting spare pants for “poor, pants-less Clementine,” please know this: when I say that these are Clementine’s only pair of pants, what I mean is that they are the only pair of pants that she will wear. She owns plenty of pants–enough, I am fairly sure (no, make that absolutely sure) to carpet a small room three times over– but, by virtue of all the others being “too tight, too loose, too short, too stiff, too soft,” and even “too chalky” (I have yet to figure that one out), they have all been declared, at one time or another, unfit to wear. In other words, they are all pantsona non grata.

And before you say, “well then, she is obviously a girl of fine and discerning taste–why not just let her pick out her own pants from now on,” please also understand that the above cited list of trouser rejects are her own picks: they are all pants that she herself declared “perfect” in the dressing room, but, for varied and mysterious reasons (see above), all somehow failed to make the cut once they arrived back home from the mall (and after, of course, all the tags were removed). And yes: I know about growth spurts, but growth spurts aren’t the issue here; some of these pants don’t even hold their exalted status long enough for her to put on a post-mall living room fashion show. In fact, I suspect that if it were possible for her to try them on again immediately after buying them–if every cash register came equipped with its own dressing room–then they would not even make it that far.

I’m sure that if I really tried I could figure out what it is that makes one particular pair of pants “the chosen ones” at one particular point in time; something to do with the Aztec calendar and solar flares, no doubt. But, for now, its all I can do to know that there can be only one (pair)–and how best to get that one into the wash.

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Happy New Year

First, let me issue, as they say on the Harry Potter fan sites, a spoiler alert: this column is not funny. Not in the least. It may not even be well written, seeing as it is Friday morning, and the column I was going to send in today–the one I had been working on all week–I am now going to lay aside in favor of this one, which, as I said before, is not funny. But it is about my children, so I think that it will still count.

Last night we were robbed. Sometime between eleven and two, while we were sleeping, someone came into our house, into my bedroom, went through my coat pockets and took the keys to my car. They then went into my office–the one I am sitting in right now–opened up my desk drawer and stole all the money my children had received for Christmas. They then left through the front door (we know this because it was standing wide open), passing–and here my heart nearly stops–passing Clementine where she had fallen asleep watching tv on the living room couch (it is still a holiday, after all).

No, our doors weren’t locked, which, really, is what this column is about. Our doors weren’t locked not because we were home that night, but because this is Flagstaff–or, at least, it used to be. My husband, who works all over the city, has been trying to tell me that for years. “Flagstaff is gone,” he says. “You don’t know, you never get out there, but it’s not the same. It’s changed.” And he’s right: I never do get out there. My Flagstaff–the Flagstaff of Pay’n’Take, Martannes, Bashas’ on the hill–the places where, really, “everybody knows your name”–these places have either stayed the same or gotten better. But those other Flagstaffs–the ones where people don’t let you make a left turn into Barnes and Noble, the ones with gates and guard houses, the ones where peoples’ cars are (bizarrely) worth more money than the gear on top of them–the ones where they walk into your house and steal your children’s Christmas money–are getting closer all the time.

I first had a foreboding of what was to come when Flagstaff police officer, Jeffrey Moritz, was murdered. I remember thinking, “What is happening to our little town?” That unease was dispelled, though, the day I stood on Humphrey’s street to watch his coffin pass: I was overwhelmed at the numbers of my fellow citizens that were standing with me. The line we formed went all the way to the top of the hill and beyond, and I couldn’t help but notice how we all must have looked like we were in some sort of a bucket brigade, but one that– instead of passing along buckets of water– passed along handfuls of hope.

I could use some of that hope right about now, when it feels like Flagstaff–the town I have lived in for 23 years, the town that I have always sworn I would never leave–has left me.

Still, there is always solace in words. Matthew Henry, a 17th century minister, once wrote the following lines on the occasion of his own brush with theft: “I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.”

Maybe that’s my clue as to where to find my hope–and my Flagstaff–once again. A town can only be as good as the people in it, and the only person I can really change is myself. Because, to quote another great soul (Anne Frank): “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

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