Monthly Archives: August 2010


Of all the annoying things that come with having children (and there are quite a few), perhaps the most annoying of all is the imbalance of power when it comes to communication: they have almost all of it, and we have none. Examples of this are numerous, but one that immediately jumps to mind is the way that no matter how loudly you speak, or how clearly you enunciate, they always respond by squinting up at you like a freshly unearthed mole and saying, “huh?” This means that you end up having to repeat everything you say again, and again, and again. (And again.)

At one time I believed that our children only did this to annoy us. Lately, however, I have come to the conclusion that it’s more complicated than that: our children are not making us repeat ourselves just because they are trying to annoy us, but rather because they are trying to ignore us.

I think that there are two reasons for this. One is that ignoring us makes it easier for them to maintain that squinty mole look, and the other is that they are under the impression that if they ignore us for long enough we will just go away. (In their defense, they’re usually right.) Sometimes, however, there are times when we can’t go away, and then their mole tactics come out in force. Here’s how it usually works (from their perspective, at least):

You: Blah blah blah.

Them: (squinting) Huh?

You: Did you give your teacher the field trip permission slip like I asked you to?

Them: Yah.

You: Blah blah?

Them: (squinting) Huh?

You: And the money?

Them: Yah.

This usually goes on for as long as you have the patience to continue, which they’re hoping won’t be very long. (In their defense, they’re usually right.)

Or at least, they used to be. Recently, however, I discovered something that I believe will revolutionize the parent/child communication imbalance forever, for once putting us in control. And the best part of it is that it doesn’t require any specialized tools or training, but rather utilizes something that many parents already have on hand—nay, something that many parents already have an excess of: the Annoying Little Brother, or ALB.

Think of the ALB as one of those radio repeaters that rebroadcasts a station’s signal over vast distances: just like a repeater lifts a station’s signal over mountains and down canyons, an ALB conveys your signal past earbuds and through bedroom doors. Better still, an ALB does this all for free, since by doing so they can become an even greater annoyance to their older sibling.

Here’s how it works: simply tell your ALB that every time his older sibling says “huh?” he is allowed to re-ask them the same question over and over again until they answer. That’s all. Soon you’ll find that your ALB won’t even wait to be asked: he’ll gladly start rebroadcasting on his own.

In fact, this might be the only real drawback to an ALB—sometimes they get so good at their jobs that they no longer wait for the need to repeat, but just do it automatically, so that every conversation starts to sound like a bad transatlantic phone call.

Still, that’s a small price to pay for the chance to gain the upper hand in the communication wars. (And, in our defense: they deserve it.)

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Seven Wonders

For years people have looked at places like the Great Wall of China, the pyramids of Egypt, and Machu Picchu and wondered: why? Why would someone go to all the trouble of building something that enormous and complicated, when, surely, something a little simpler would’ve sufficed?

And then, one day, the answer came to me, and I could not believe how obvious it was. Of course, I thought, as I surveyed the pile of pillows and couch cushions that had once been my living room, the builders of those wonders must have had children. And those children obviously had twelve weeks of summer vacation.

Think about it: the first few weeks of summer are great. You have activities lined up and camps scheduled, and everyone is just about as busy as they were doing the school year, but this time they are busy having fun, fun, fun. But then your energy ( and your wallet) starts to grow thin, and you start to cut back on things a little bit. And with nothing but their own imaginations to entertain them, your kids turn into excitement vampires, draining you of ideas as soon as you walk in the door.

“Can we go to a movie?”

“Can we go out for dinner?”

“Can you drive us to the mall?”

And, of course, endlessly, “I’m bored.”

Soon all of your rules about limiting TV, computer time and gaming fly out of the window, and you find yourself saying things like, “Isn’t there anything you want to watch on TV? I think Daddy ordered the Playboy channel last night,” and “Are you sure there aren’t a few more Nazi Zombies you can kill?” because every hour of boredom for them somehow manages to translate into two hours of tedium for you. (One popsicle stick fort equals forty popsicles left out to thaw. One “homemade ant farm” equals you having to scavenge the back yard for all of your errant tupperware. One “couch fort” equals six loads of laundry. And so on.)

Suddenly, you begin to understand the Great Wall of China.

Sure, they say were trying to keep out the Mongol hordes. But also, just maybe, Emperor Qing Shi Huang couldn’t afford to send his kids to summer camp that year. And maybe the Pharaoh would have been happy with cremation, but Mrs. Pharaoh decided that this was the summer she was going to try to get the kids to spend more quality time outside. And who knows? Maybe even the Incan Mom heard “Che utzca” (or however they say “I’m bored” in Incan) one too many times, and finally said, “I know: why don’t you all go outside and build a fort?”

I have a friend whose grandfather, when left in charge of a pack of her unruly teenage cousins one summer, made them dig a basement under his house—by hand. This, I think, was parenting (or rather, grand-parenting) of the first order: not only did he manage to come up with a really dreadful job to threaten his obnoxious grandchildren with, he also had the will to actually stick with it (no two and a half, two and three-quarters for him). And on top of that, he got a new basement out of the deal.

I imagine that it was just that kind of thinking that led to the Panama canal. After all, it was Teddy Roosevelt who famously once said: “Walk softly, carry a big stick, and, whenever possible, use that stick to drive the kids outside during summer break.”

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So far, the worst day of my summer has been the day the Eagle died, and by that I mean the day Sam in the Morning went off the air. Sam and the Eagle were great for two reasons: one was that the station played good music (it wasn’t college radio station awesome, but it was definitely soft rock free—it never once gave me a “peaceful, easy feeling”), and the other was that, with the exception of the “Flagstaff Insurance” jingle, nothing on it ever really annoyed me.

Sadly, however, that is something I can no longer say about the Flagstaff radio scene.

In fact, now I am annoyed almost hourly. Part of this is because the station that once was the Eagle has switched to an all talk (or rather, “all vent”) format. This means that when I want to hear music (which is almost every time I am in the car—I like “Car Talk” and “Fresh Air” as much as the next person, but when I’m driving I prefer something with a beat) I have to flip around from station to station to find something to listen to. And because I am not listening to just one station, but rather five or six, that means that I have to listen to the same annoying Pink song over and over again. I’m not sure if they all have it in constant rotation, or if I am just really unlucky, but I would estimate that in the last two weeks I have heard “Glitter in the Air” about five thousand times. Which, in my opinion, is about four thousand nine-hundred ninety-nine and a half times too many.

Hey, I like Pink. I like her look, her voice, the fact that she drinks red wine while riding her skateboard—I even like her professional dirt biker husband. I wasn’t rooting for her to fall off of her swing at the MTV movie awards, and I didn’t laugh (much) when her giant sling shot smacked her into the ground in Germany this summer. But, my god, that new song of hers.

First of all, the music is crap: it sounds like it should be on a “Love Metal” compilation along with the Scorpions’ “All My Love” and Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorns.” But, amazingly, even worse than the music itself, are the lyrics.

Have you ever tossed a fist full of glitter in the air? Are you crazy?

No, I have never tossed a fist full of glitter in the air, but I’ve lived with people who have, and let me tell you, it’s not pretty. It gets everywhere: inside the couch, on the walls, deep in the carpet, on the dog, the cat, the fish—everywhere. And then it comes back out, a little at a time, so that months after the glitter tossing incident has passed it will make an appearance on your clothes at the most inopportune of times, like a job interview, or at a DUI checkpoint. (Yeah, try explaining that you weren’t coming from a party when you have a hair full of glitter.) In fact, glitter is so insidious that I know of teachers who would like to install glitter detectors in the entrance of every school.

Have you ever thrown a fist full of glitter in the air? Have you ever been attacked by a roomful of angry mothers?

I can’t believe that stations can ban a song like Ice-T’s “Cop Killer” on the grounds that it encourages violence, but are completely willing to play a song like “Glitter in the Air” every five minutes—and during summer break, no less.

It’s incredible. It’s unconscionable. It’s immoral.

And I am sure that if Sam in the Morning were still on the air, it would most certainly not be happening.

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Single Speak

First off, let me just say that I understand the whole purpose of slang. I get that it exists not just to annoy me, but also to confuse me, because it is there not only to allow members of a group to feel included, but also so that people outside of the group—like me—feel excluded. It is a linguistic gateway, and whether or not you are able to pass through it often depends on whether or not you are hip, or hopelessly out of date. (Again, like me. Fo’ shizzle.)

So yeah, I get it. And I get that I am not supposed to understand what the words my children are using actually mean. But still, as a moderately intelligent, and at one time even slightly cool person, what I don’t get is why I am unable to figure out at least some of it. Or rather, I don’t get that while I am able to understand the words, the meaning eludes me. At least, I think it eludes me; again, even on this point I am unsure—that’s how out of the loop I am.

Let me give you an example: let’s say I ask one of my kids to stop stepping on my throw pillows with their muddy shoes. The answer I’ll get is “All right! (awl-RITE), which, judging from body language and tone, means “shut up.” Okay, that’s easy enough.

But then, let’s say I ask them not only to not step on my pillows, but also to pick them up from off of the floor. The response I’ll then get is “In a minute!” (inna-MEN-ut), which, again judging from posture and tone, is apparently slang for “shut up” as well.

To continue, let’s say I then go into the living room and point out that the pillows, which have now been trampled mercilessly for the preceding hour, are all ripped and losing their stuffing. The response then will be “It was an accident!” (et-wuz-an-AK-si-dent), which, bizarrely, also seems to be slang for “shut up.”

There are other examples as well. “I’m coming!” (ahm-KUM-ing), “Just a second!” (jest-a-SEK-ent), and “Okay!” (oh-KAY) also all seem to mean the exact same thing—you guessed it—“shut up.” (In an even odder twist—and contrary to all laws of slang—“shut up” also seems to mean “shut up,” although, being the one-way ticket to exile that it is, this phrase tends to be used much less frequently.)

Frankly, I’m not sure what this all means. On the one hand, it could signal, if not the death of slang, then at least the death of all slang dictionaries. (In the future, linguists will be able to keep track of all new words and phrases with a single three by five notebook card, upon the front of which is written “What is the meaning of ___,” and on the back, simply “shut up.”) On the other hand, though, it could mean that our language is entering a new and exciting phase, one where, like the Inuit who supposedly have over two-hundred words for “snow,” we start to develop lots and lots of new ways to say, “Stop talking to me now.”

Maybe that’s the secret to this new slang: all of the various and assorted “shut ups” are just like different types of snow, with “All right!” being the hard little stinging balls that hit you in the face, while “Fine!” is the big soft flakes that stick to your eyelashes.

No, scratch that: I’ve heard “Fine!” and it, too, is the hard stinging balls in your face. Come to think of it, I can’t imagine any way to be told to shut up that isn’t. But then again, like I said before, I don’t really understand this new slang at all.

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