Monthly Archives: June 2011

No Quota on Yo Oder

The sensation was unmistakable and familiar: my eyes were stinging, my throat was closing, and it felt like all of the hairs in my nostrils had spontaneously combusted at once. Yes, there was no doubt in my mind: I had been Axe murdered. In other words, I had inadvertently wandered through the mist of a recent Axe-ing, the same way in the movies the hero always wanders through the giant spider web whenever they’re exploring a cave. In the movies, though, the spider-webbing is invariably followed by the appearance of a huge, vicious spider. In my case, the Axe-ing is always followed by the appearance of a huge teenage boy. A friendly one. Or, at least, one who is planning on making friends with someone soon.

I have to hand it to the marketers of Axe body spray: they obviously did their homework when it came to researching their demographic. Who else knew there was an entire generation of teenage boys out there who were just waiting to be told that all of their problems could be solved by the push of a finger? And then another push. And another. Oh, go on, push it one more time—what can it hurt? After all, if a little bit is good, a lot must be even better, right?

The great poet William Blake once said, “How can I know what enough is until I have had too much?” Of course, even with this motto he was rather infamous for not being a very good judge of his own limits; in other words, he usually didn’t know what too much was until somebody else (like his wife) told him. Unfortunately (in this case only), teenage boys don’t have wives—they have mothers. And so it is left to the mothers to tell their sons that they smell like the results of a cheese truck driving into a brothel in the middle of August.

Because that’s the worst thing about Axe and all of its imitators: some boys—in a misguided (and lazy) attempt to try and cover up that distinctive teenage boy funk—use them not in addition to showering, but instead of. Which is just wrong: as another great poet also famously once said, “Before you even put on your silk shirt and fat gold rope, please take your big ass to the bathroom and please use (a little bit of soap).”

Of course, telling their sons they reek like a cathouse is difficult for mothers on many different levels. One, it comes dangerously close to addressing the reason boys are dousing themselves with cologne in the first case: to pick up girls. (For many mothers, the thought of their sons being interested in girls makes them want to stick their hands in their ears and go lalalala). Two, in many instances these are the same mothers who have been following their sons around the house with a stick of deodorant since the boys were nine; it goes against the grain to now start telling them to stop with it. And three, many of the mothers of teenage boys today came of age themselves in the era of “feminine deodorant spray,” and so understand all too well the irrational urge to cover up any lingering human smells with the push of a button. (Tellingly, these products were always advertised as guaranteed to take care of those special “feminine” odors that may occur on days when you are not feeling so “fresh” down “there.” And, yeah, the ads were that vague.)

Of course, despite the ad campaigns, most of us learned moderation when it came to pushing that button, and I have no doubt that the teenage boy contingent will one day learn this, too. I only hope that I still have nose hairs left by then, though.

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Tiger, Tiger

Personally, I blame coffee table bumpers. You know, those curved pieces of foam you’re supposed to wrap around the edges of your coffee table as soon as your baby starts to walk, so that when they fall down they don’t gash their little heads open on the sharp edges? Yeah, those things. An entire generation has been raised with coffee table bumpers, which means that an entire generation has gone through their toddling years almost completely free from blunt force head trauma.

On the surface, of course, this sounds like a good thing. But then again, human history is rife with ideas that sounded good at the time, only to turn out, in the end, to be not quite so brilliant after all. Take dynamite, for example. Or kudzu. Or the Jonas Brothers.

Coffee table bumpers, I believe, fall into the same category. Why? Because somehow, by preventing that first blow to the forehead, they also prevent the necessary formation of common sense. How does this work? I have no idea: maybe the on/off switch for common sense is located in the frontal lobe. In any case, I’ve thought long and hard about possible explanations for the lack of common sense in the current generation of children, and that’s the best I’ve been able to come up with so far.

Coffee table bumpers.

I know, I know: it isn’t like me to make sweeping generalizations about this or any other generation; my usual take is that people—and children—have been the same since the dawn of time. Cave mothers were probably complaining about having to pick saber-tooth tiger skins up from off of the cave floor, and Roman Centurion fathers were probably coming home from a long campaign of decimating the Visigoths, only to freak out when they see what the kids have started wearing back home. And don’t forget about the shock and disgust that went through the 19th century Viennese community when kids started doing that crazy immoral dance called the waltz.

But I don’t know. I think there really might be something to my suspicion that the current generation is seriously lacking in the “common sense” department. I mean, I know a boy who is within 18 months of having the right to vote, yet who still firmly believes that he will be the proud owner of a tiger someday. A tiger. (And no—he doesn’t plan on joining the circus. Or Siegfried and Roy).

He can’t be reasoned out of this belief, either. When you point out to him the cost, the inconvenience, and the danger, he ignores you. Even when you point out that this arrangement would, in all likelihood, not be enjoyable for the tiger, he hears nothing. All he says is that it’s his dream, and he plans on pursuing his dream. “Aim for the moon,” he says. “At least then, when you miss, you’re still in the stars.”

I want to point out that, technically, if you aim for the moon and miss you’re left floating in the vacuum of space. And also that it would take you hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years to float on over to the nearest star, unless you floated over to our star, the Sun, in which case you would die a fiery painful death. And then I’d like to point out that even if you did manage to land on the moon, there’s be no oxygen to breathe, so you and your tiger would last about two minutes (maybe longer for the tiger, actually).

I want to to point all of this out to him, but then again, I don’t want to hurt his feelings. I know I’m not doing him any favors, but for some reason I just can’t set him straight.

Sigh. Stupid coffee table bumpers.

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Miserly Me

The torrent of water sounded like the Army Corps of Engineers had just opened a levy in my bathroom. After listening to it flow for almost ten minutes, I finally poked my head around the corner to see who was using the shower, only to find . . . no one. No one at all. Just a shower running all on its lonesome, steam billowing over the curtain, water uninterrupted on its flow from the shower head to the floor of the tub, in much the same way I envisioned money flowing uninterrupted from my wallet to the bank account of the city water department.

Looking around for the culprit, I only saw one lone teenager calmly eating a bowl of cereal—from the size of the bowl, and the remnants of cereal in the bowl, it looked like he had been there for quite some time.

“Do you know who’s taking a shower?” I asked, thinking he might have seen the culprit leaving the bathroom.

“Yeah,” he answered between leisurely mouthfuls. “Me.”

“You’re taking a shower?” I restated, confused. “But you’re right here. Eating a bowl of cereal.”

He looked at me like I was a little slow, and I wondered if I was about to hear some new theory of relativity, one that finally explained how it might be possible for one person to be in two different places at the same time. What I got, though, was not nearly so illuminating. “Yeah. I’m eating this, and then I’m taking a shower. I’m waiting for the water to heat up.”

I looked at the steam that was now billowing out of the bathroom and into the living room, and suddenly I had a vision of dollar bills not just climbing out of my wallet and singing and dancing on their way to the water department, but to the gas company as well. “It’s hot,” I said.

“’kay.” Another slow bite of cereal. Careful chewing. Swallowing. The spoon dipped down again and finally I could take it no longer.

“Either get in the shower or turn off the !@#$ water!” I shouted.

With a look that spoke volumes about the unreasonableness of adults, he put down his spoon and sidled into the bathroom, his whole demeanor clearly conveying his disgust at my effrontery. All of a sudden I experienced a flash of deja vu, followed by the urge to call my mother and ask her how it is that every time she comes to visit me she doesn’t run around my house gleefully turning on all of the faucets in revenge.

I’m not sure exactly when I changed—maybe it’s just the natural result of having to pay for things myself—but lately it seems like everything has a price tag attached to it. It’s like once I became an adult I was issued special glasses that turned the whole world into a gigantic “Price Is Right” soundstage. Left the milk out on the counter? $2.79. Ran the whole dishwasher to clean one plate? $1.50 It’s not that I want to see the world this way—it’s that I can’t not see it that way anymore.

While they just can’t.

I’d like to think that in the future, when they are the ones paying for things, I’ll be as forgiving as my own mother, and just let bygones be bygones. And I will—to a degree. For instance, when one day I have the opportunity to take a shower in their houses, I’ll try not to be too wasteful. In fact, I plan on bringing my own cereal. And the biggest bowl I own.

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Day Camp

Well, here it is: once again, summer vacation is almost upon us. How do I know this? I don’t know: maybe it’s because every other school day involves some sort of a field trip, concert or class party. Or maybe it’s because on those rare days when my kids actually have to do some kind of schoolwork they complain about it like French civil servants who have just been told they’re losing one of their seventy-three paid holidays. Or maybe it’s simply because everywhere I go I see ads for “summer day camps.” Everyone has their banners up: gyms, daycares, schools, churches—I’m surprised that bars and restaurants aren’t getting into the game as well and advertising some day camps of their own. (Actually, I think they are; it’s just that they put their ads in the help wanted sections, under “dishwasher needed.”)

And then, of course, there’s always the sleep-away camps: hockey camp, soccer camp, band camp, chess camp, fat camp (er, I mean fit camp), bible camp—the list is endless. In fact, it’s almost enough to make me feel guilty that the only thing my kids are going to be doing all summer long is sitting around the house, playing video games, watching inappropriate cartoons on Netflix instant queue, and eating their own weight in Fruity Pebbles.


The one thing that’s stopping me from feeling guilty is the fact that that was the exact same way my sister and I used to spend our summers, and we turned out okay. Mostly. Okay, sure: our summers weren’t exactly the same. The only video game we had was “Pong,” and instead of Netflix instant queue we had a choice of four channels filled with daytime shows like “Oil Painting For Beginners,” “Sit and Be Fit,” and “Pets on Parade” And, yeah, my mom wouldn’t buy us Fruity Pebbles, so we had to make our own by dumping unsweetened Kool-Aid and a cup of sugar on top of a bowl of generic rice crispies. (We also made our own Oreo filling by mixing together crisco and sugar. Yum-O!) But still, even with the homemade junk food and semi-educational TV, we turned out okay.


The thing is, the only time I do remember going to a day camp was the one summer I whined too much about not having anything to do, and in retaliation my mom sent me to a day camp run by the school district. What this meant was that everyday I had to go back to the very same school I had just escaped from, and then spend all day long doing the same “fun” outdoor activities I had worked so hard to avoid in gym class. Things like archery, and kickball, and lanyard weaving. (Yeah, I know that making lanyard keychains isn’t really an “outdoor” activity—unfortunately, the people running the camp didn’t. Or maybe it was just that everything at this camp was an “outdoor activity”—only the counselors were allowed to go inside the buildings. Which was awful, because every time they came back out they would be holding some sort of icy cold drink, which us “campers”—limited to one small dixie cup of warm water every hour—would stare at with unrequited longing. Did I mention that this camp was in Phoenix? In July?)

It was torture. It was hell. But I guess, in the end, it was educational, because I learned the most valuable lesson a child can learn. And one that, it seems, my children have managed to learn as well (perhaps by osmosis), which must be why they have never once complained about their own summer arrangements.

The lesson? That no matter what, never, ever, tell your mother that you’re bored. Trust me; your future as a lanyard artist may depend on it.

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Did you ever have one of those days when the first thing you thought when you walked into your house is, “Time to look for an exorcist”? Me, too. For me, it was all because of a smell. It wasn’t a terrible smell, exactly; in fact, in smaller concentrations, the smell might almost have been categorized as pleasant. The problem with this smell, however, was neither its type or its strength; no, the frightening thing about this smell was that it had no visible source, and, as everyone knows, unexplained smells are one of the first signs of a poltergeist.

Of course, I knew that it had been bound to happen sooner or later—after all, I do live in a house with one teenager of my own, as well as several rentals, and, as everyone also knows, teenagers are the number one cause of poltergeists. Still—I had hoped that the visitations would at least wait until my daughter, Clementine, was in her later teens. Apparently, though, this was not to be—and so, wanting to know the full extent of what I was in for, I turned to that most unimpeachable of sources: the internet.

Just as I had suspected, the mysterious odor was an early sign of possession. “Stage One,” my source said, consists of unexplained smells (check), strange noises in the middle of the night (very much check), and mysterious cold spots in certain rooms. I was sure on everything except that last one, until I remembered that Clementine’s room had been absolutely freezing all winter long—she had complained about it incessantly. True, she kept leaving her window open, but still. I read further.

“In Stage Two the strange noises become whispers and giggles” Hmm. Actually, the strange noises always were whispers and giggles. It went on to say that strange writing would begin to appear on doors and walls. Yikes—maybe Clementine really didn’t scratch that anarchy symbol into her bedroom wall after all.

“In Stage Three, electrical appliances will turn on and off on their own.” Well, I thought, that certainly explains the blackened piece of bread in the toaster oven that no one would admit to putting there. It also explains how no matter what time of day or night I come into the house, every single light is on and the electric meter outside is spinning like a top.

I read on, horrified at how far along this possession had already progressed. “Stage Four consists of scary voices shouting out obscenities and ordering the living to leave.” OMG: that was exactly what had happened to me the last time I walked into Clementine’s room without knocking first. The site went on to add that stage four is when household objects start to become “mysteriously” broken—just like my favorite teapot that I had found broken in Clementine’s room during that same visit; the one she denied ever touching!.

My dread growing by the minute, I looked up the final stage. “Stage Five,” it said, “is marked by the poltergeist attacking the residents of the house, and may include biting, scratching and kicking.” I began to think of the marks I saw on Clyde after he had burst into Clementine’s room without knocking, and had just about resigned myself to the prospect of finding an exorcist immediately when the bathroom door opened and the same powerful smell that had first alerted me to the presence of a poltergeist hit me full in the face.

Heart in my throat, I looked up just in time to see . . . to see . . .

A teenage boy holding an industrial-sized can of Axe Body Spray; suddenly all of the other “symptoms” started to make sense: I just had a bad case of “teenagers.” Still—it probably wouldn’t hurt to call an exorcist—just in case.

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