Monthly Archives: November 2009

At the Beep

Okay, here’s how old I am: I can still remember when the first answering machines came out. Everyone thought that they were so cool, especially those first few lucky families that could actually afford one. I remember one family in particular that spent hours arguing over the outgoing message—the kids thought that it should start with a Who song (“Who are you? Who-who-who-who?”), while the parents preferred the theme from The Twilight Zone. Absolutely no one spoke in favor of brevity—back then answering machines were still so new that we hadn’t yet figured out how really, really annoying long outgoing messages were.

Of course, some people still haven’t figured this out: I have a friend who as recently as last year still had a recording of his then two and four year-old daughters—both of whom are now in high school—singing “Jingle Bells” in its entirety as his outgoing message. And, to a toddler, “Jingle Bells in its entirety” means “just the chorus, over and over again.” Although, now that I think about it, his message is so long, and so annoying, that most people (myself included), end up doing just about anything to avoid calling him, even going so far as solving our own problems. My god—the man is a genius.

Anyway, the point is, I can still remember when the only one way to leave a message for someone was to hang a note on their door. And I can also still remember when everything changed, and there were suddenly dozens of ways to leave messages: pagers (a rather bizarre idea, in retrospect: somebody calls and leaves you their number, making it your responsibility to hunt down a phone and call them back), car phones, cell phones, Blackberries, Bluetooths, etc., etc. I’m sure the chip implanted directly into the brain can’t be far away. But until that day comes, the modern reality is that there are now scores of ways to leave a message for someone. Which means that there are now scores of ways for that message to get lost in translation through your local teenager.

No matter what technology you are using to get a message to me, if it has to pass through the filter of my teenage daughter, Clementine, it is doomed. I’m not saying I won’t get the message—I will (eventually)—I’m just saying that by the time I get it, it might be unrecognizable.

There are several different ways for her to destroy my messages, and since I never know which method she will be using, I can’t know what, exactly, I need to do figure the message out. Was it a “sin of omission” message, where I’m only getting every fourth or fifth word? (“Kim called. Concert. Maybe. She said ‘sorry.’”) Was it a message mangle, where the entire message was turned around? (“Regina said not to come over for dinner tonight at six. Yes, I’m sure she said don’t come.” Or was it an abbreviated message. (“Bob called. He said to tell you to bring some ham tonight.” Actual request: bring hamburger buns.)

The thing is: we have voice mail. All she really has to do is nothing (and, as a teenager, she already excels at that), and I’ll get the message. But no, she has to answer it, take a message (or pretend to), and then give me some bastardized version of it.

It’s almost as if destroying the message is her goal.

Maybe it is—after all, everyone knows that all of the best parts of Shakespeare’s comedies arise from miscommunications. Maybe she’s just trying to bring a little Shakespearean excitement into our lives. Or maybe, just like with my friend and his annoying lisping toddler message, she’s just trying to get people so frustrated with me that they’ll never call again.

My god—the girl is a genius.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Articles Archive

Under Where?

This is an open letter to every person who has ever had to deal with my son, Clyde, in any way whatsoever. Please know these two things: one, he does own underwear. And two: I’m really, really sorry.


But back to the first thing: I know that it may be hard for you to believe, but Clyde actually does owns lots and lots of underwear. What’s more, most of it is still in pristine condition, because—as you no doubt know all too well—he doesn’t ever wear any of it.

Now, I know that there are lots of people out there who like to “go commando.” Britney Spears comes, rather infamously, to mind, as do a host of other soon-to-be-famous-for-all-the-wrong-reasons celubutantes. In fact, I could easily believe that absolutely no one wears underwear anymore—that, in fact, underwear has gone the way of the bustle and the farthingale. That is, I could believe that, if it wasn’t for the fact that every time I go to a department store I seem to be confronted by enormous, shimmery pyramids of underwear. (This is in the women’s department, mind you—in the men’s department all of the underwear seems content to keep to itself, not only maintaining a very proper, respectful distance from the socks, but even going so far as to have each piece remain chastely inside of its own bag.)

So yeah, obviously somebody, somewhere, is buying underwear. Of course, whether or not they are actually wearing any of it still remains to be seen. (Or rather, more saliently, remains not to be seen.) Either way, it’s a mystery—as it should be.

With Clyde, however, it is never a mystery. On the contrary, it is often as plain as the nose on his face, or rather, the—well, I’m sure you don’t need me to draw you a picture (and in fact would probably prefer that I didn’t).

In Clyde’s defense, it is possible that he is simply confused about when it is and isn’t appropriate to “let it all hang out.” Perhaps he just needs a clear explanation of the rules, something along the lines of the Idiot’s Guide to Underclothing—hopefully one that comes complete with pictures, flow charts, and real life examples.

For example, the book might list a scenario such as this: if you are involved in any sort of rough physical play where there is a very real chance that your pants might become ripped well past the Incredible Hulk stage, then you should wear underwear. Or: if your waist is so small, and your hips and buttocks so non-existent that pipe cleaners and broom sticks gaze upon you with envy, then you should wear underwear. And finally: if, like with tying your shoes, zipping up and/or buttoning your pants is a skill that still eludes you, you should definitely wear underwear. (You’ll notice I said nothing about being one of those guys who likes to wear their pants halfway to their ankles—those guys always wear underwear. Unfortunately, they also always seem to wear underwear that is of the gray, holey variety. Guys, guys, trust me on this: when you’re on a date and suddenly need to pick something up from off the ground, you don’t want your date’s thoughts to be trending in the direction of “Does this guy even know what a washing machine is?”)

For years, before I had kids, I always said that I didn’t want my kids growing up to be ashamed of their bodies. But then I had Clyde, and my opinion has undergone a radical change. In fact, lately I’ve even started to think that maybe a little shame is a good thing—if, by “shame,” you mean underwear. And believe me: I do.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Articles Archive


In 1988, Pat Robertson stopped by Flagstaff to give a speech as part of his presidential campaign tour. There are two things that I remember about that speech: one, that people wearing white plastic cowboy hats look just about as stupid as you’d think they would, and two, that wearing a Jesse Jackson Rainbow Coalition t-shirt to a Pat Robertson rally really is no way to make friends.

I know the first because for some reason Robertson’s advance guard distributed a ton of the white plastic monstrosities (what was their selling point? “Looks good on absolutely no one”?) before his visit, and I know the second because that’s what a friend of mine chose to wear as she stood six inches away from Robertson’s podium and heckled him. I was standing at her side at the time. (Why? Because she had said, “Hey, I’m going downtown—want to come?” Always, always get specifics.) As we endured a near constant stream of the most non-profane vitriol I have ever heard (Robertson supporters would never curse; it was kind of like being chewed out by your grandmother—the one who doesn’t live in the trailer park), I remember thinking that at least it would now never be possible for me to be any less popular than I was at that particular moment in time. That, barring an unforeseen appearance on the Jerry Springer Show, that particular moment, at that particular Pat Robertson rally, would always mark the absolute low point of my unpopularity.

And then I went and had children. Worse yet, I had children who are allowed outside of their plastic bubbles during the flu season.

You’d think, from the reactions I get, that we’re living during plague times, and that my kids are not only walking around covered in plague boils, but also carrying a rat in each pocket. “Is he sick?” the cashier will ask me sharply when my son, Clyde, gives a little sniff. “If he’s sick then he should stay home.”

“No,” I’ll protest, “he’s not sick. He’s just a sniffler. He’s always been a sniffler. Nothing to worry about.”

“Hmm,” she’ll reply, clearly thinking that I am lying, and that, in fact, I have just recklessly sliced open the seal on my quarantined front door so that I can blithely run amuck, wantonly spreading germs in my wake. And then she’ll reach for the Purell. Of course, she won’t have to reach far—it’s impossible to walk ten feet anymore without seeing a Purell dispenser. Hand sanitizer has become the good luck talisman of the 21st century—whereas our ancestors used to carry blue beads to ward off the Evil Eye, we carry little blue and white bottles to ward off the Evil Bacteria. Personally, I’d rather have the blue bead—less chance of it spilling in my purse.

Really, though, it’s enough to make me wonder: what kind of pioneer stock are we descended from that we now are not only incapable of hunting and gathering our own food, but won’t even use a grocery cart unless the handle has been sanitized first? Because, you know, it might have been touched. By a child. Who sniffles.

Here’s a little secret about the flu: you’re going to get it. Or you’re not. That’s it. Unless you’re planning on rolling around town in a giant hamster ball, it doesn’t matter how many times a day you wash your hands; you’re still going to get sick.

Or you’re not. Just quit obsessing about it, okay? Stop reaching for the Purell every time one of my kids gets within fifty feet of you. And while you’re at it, take off that white plastic cowboy hat. It really does look stupid.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Articles Archive


I have always believed in the concept of gender neutrality. I never bought into any of the “baby dolls for girls and monster truck toys for boys,” let alone the whole pink vs. blue debate. That part especially has always seemed rather silly to me, since up until about the 1930s it was blue for girls and pink for boys (because red and all of its derivatives were considered to be too “manly” for girls and women).

Of course, even if I had had these notions, they would have been dashed soon after my first child, Clementine, was born. From an early age she loathed pink (and all of the girly-girl dresses that came with it), and as for the baby dolls—well, remember the mutilated baby doll from Toy Story? That one looked downright cuddly when compared to what Clementine did to her baby doll. Around the neighborhood it was known as “Frankenbaby,” and it probably did more to destroy Clementine’s future career in baby-sitting than a Marilyn Manson tattoo and needle marks would have.

When my son Clyde was born I thought it was going to be the same deal, and for a while it seemed like I was right. After all, he didn’t have a problem with wearing pink, or dressing like Dora the Explorer for Halloween. And as for dolls—well, since everything he touched seemed to take on a little personality of its own, it was kind of like everything was a doll to him. What I failed to take into account, though, was that all of his “dolls” were little psychopaths.

While you may have always suspected that a “behind the scenes” look into the world of My Little Pony would be more America’s Next Top Model than Brady Bunch, it was confirmed the moment Clyde first got his hands on a set of them. “No, no, don’t hurt me!” screamed Sparkleface Moonbeam, as Gingerpants Lollipop pummelled her over and over again with her overnight bag. “Hurt you? I’m going to kill you!” replied G.L., as Clyde had the one tackle the other in a move more suited to a cage match than the soft fluffy place the ponies normally inhabit.

Of course, at first glance, it just seems as if his play is rather exuberant. Which is what, I am sure, the student teacher thought the other day when she handed out a basket full of scarves to a roomful of children that contained not only Clyde, but several other boys remarkably like Clyde. True, most of the kids—the girls—were fine with the scarves: when the teacher told them to pretend that they were autumn leaves drifting down from the trees, fully 90% of the kids in the room did just that. The other 10%, however, didn’t.

“Help me! Help me! I’m going down!” Clyde’s leaf/scarf cried (which, for all we know, could be the genuine attitude of an autumn leaf), before it abruptly transformed into a fighter leaf, and strafed the other leaves all around it. “Tak-a-tak-a-tak-a!” it shot out, before it collided cataclysmically with the nearest leaf, which, showing a surprising amount of spunk for a piece of decaying plant matter, turned around and fought back. And then it was on. What had started as a gentle exercise to the soothing strains of “Fűr Elise” was now an episode of When Scarves Attack.

“Oh, no, not like that,” the teacher cooed softly as she gently tried to dissuade Clyde and another boy from knotting their scarves into ropes and strangling each other with them.

It was almost enough to make me question my belief in gender neutrality—or, at least it would have been, except for the child whose ninja warrior scarf was finally able to put Clyde’s Shaolin death scarf out of commission.

Her name was Maggie.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Articles Archive