Monthly Archives: February 2014

First Exploiters

My daughter, Clementine, has recently been very hard at work coming up with new flavors of potato chips. No, this is not her job: this is a hobby. That’s right: she names fried foodstuffs for fun. Hey, it’s not quite as weird as it sounds—lots of kids are doing it. You just go to the Lay’s website and enter in your idea for a new potato chip. ANY kind of new potato chip. Then once your flavor is entered they pit it against flavors other people have submitted and determine the winner through online voting. This means that Clementine gets to see her creations, such as “Teletubby Slash Fanfic,” go head to head against creations such as “Cruel Intentions” and “That Worrisome Itch.” Okay, scratch what I said earlier: this is just as weird as it sounds. And did I say that lots of kids are doing this? What I meant to say was that lots of teenagers are doing it. And by lots, I mean “almost everyone on the website.” Which is why you can’t find one single “normal” potato chip flavor on the entire page.

I’m not sure if it makes it better or worse that there are teenagers in bedrooms all over America subverting the dominant snack foods paradigm, but there it is none the less. And it just goes to show that there is literally nothing that you can invent that a teenager can’t ruin.

Remember Chat Roulette? It was such a nice idea, a way for lonely people who were interested in chatting with other lonely people to connect online, and then, within days it was all hello penises! Same with the new SnapChat, an instant photo messaging system that seems like it was designed solely for people who needed a *safer* way to text pictures of their genitalia to their friends. And then, of course there’s instant messaging, the best friend of teenage bullies everywhere.

Still, to be honest, I’m not really sure that you can say teenagers ruined any of those things. More like exploited their weaknesses. Which, no, isn’t the same thing at all. Think about it: the term they use for the people who are the most willing to try new technology is first adaptors. These are the people who, willingly or not, help find out the flaws in new systems, and, as such, are very useful to the industry. However, I think that what is probably more useful then finding a flaw is finding a weakness, and that is why teenagers are even better.

Think of them as first exploiters.

After all, only a teenager could tell you how vulnerable your great new internet app is to perversion by other teens. And this could be vital information: the lack of embarrassing press conferences in your future could depend upon it. I mean, I’m sure that the makers of Chat Roulette and Snap Chat could probably see their troubles coming, but I’m willing to bet that Lay’s was completely blind-sided. (Although, with a name like “Lay’s” you’d think they would already be a little more vigilant).

Actually, this may be an opportunity for unemployed teenagers everywhere. Maybe industries the world over should start having at least one teenager on staff to run ideas by, so that they can save themselves the embarrassment of having to explain to a confused public why “4-20 4-Ever” was the overall winner of their potato chip competition.

Or who knows? Maybe Lay’s did receive some kind of expert teenage advising already. After all, they didn’t allow people to submit photos with their flavors, did they?

Ugh. Thank God for small mercies. Having already seen the things that teenagers love to photograph so much, I’m not sure if I ever would have been able to eat another potato chip again.

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Crazy Is As Crazy Does

I once had a roommate who refused to do his dishes. Ever. He’s leave them to fester in the sink, and when he needed a plate or a fork or a frying pan he would simply pull whatever he needed out of the cold, greenish water, give it a cursory scrub, and then use it. He said it worked for him, and I’m sure it did.

It did not, however, work for me. It didn’t matter that we each had our own dishes. (This was his argument). It didn’t matter that, technically, he was only using half of the sink, and that, theoretically, half that sink belonged to him. (Another argument). It didn’t matter that he had grown up with a strict, over-bearing mother, and that leaving dishes in the sink was his way of reclaiming his own sense of self (the weakest argument by far). None of that mattered, because his leaving dishes in the sink for days upon weeks drove me crazy, and that was a place he probably should have encouraged me to stay far, far away from. Because every time I go crazy I remember how much I really like it there.

I remembered as I stood in the front yard flinging his dirty dishes out into the night. I remembered as I stripped the sheets off of his bed, poured in the fuzzy silverware and remade the bed as I had found it. And I remembered as I took every one of my clean dishes into my room and hid them like Bluebeard hiding his dead wives, chortling maniacally to myself as I stashed them under the bed and in my sock drawer.

My roommate started doing his dishes after that. And looking for a new place to live, which was fine with me; I got a new roommate, one who also drove me crazy, but in different, less psychotic ways. But still, I learned a very important lesson with that first roommate: no matter what, always be the craziest person in the room.

This is a lesson that has served me especially well when it comes to raising children. I don’t care what discipline method you swear by, nothing, and I mean nothing can trump crazy. You think hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? Try hell hath no fury like a mother who has to leave the house in the middle of the Downton Abbey finale. Jesus and the moneylenders in the temple didn’t have anything on Mom and the beer bong at the kegger. Yeah, never underestimate the power of crazy to clear out a room. And even if, by some chance, crazy doesn’t work, well then, it’s still just incredibly freeing to be able to let go of the pretense of not being crazy for five minutes. Because it’s not like I go into those situations and turn the crazy on; on the contrary, I go into them and turn the sane off.

Of course, it’s hard to keep being the craziest person in the room when one of the people who is constantly in the room with you is a teenage girl—in other words, a smarter, stronger, crazier version of yourself. But it can be done. After all: it still takes years of practice for the student to best their master. Plus, middle-aged women have one distinct advantage over teenage girls when it comes to the crazy: we don’t worry about “everyone looking at us.” In fact, we’re just starting to get to that age when it is becoming clearer and clearer that less people are looking at us every day, and are also quickly realizing that the day will one day come when no one will look at us at all.

Unless you can get some seriously good distance with those first few dishes, that is.

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The other day I took a six-year-old to a movie.

It’s been a long time since I took a six-year-old to a movie. Since my youngest child is now twelve, I’m guessing that’s it’s been at least six years. Which means that there were things I had clearly forgotten about. For one, I had forgotten that when you take a six-year-old to a movie you are essentially hand-cuffed to that six-year-old. They need to pee, you get up to go to the bathroom. They drop their straw and need another one, you both get up and go back to concessions. They get restless and fidgety, you get restless and fidgety trying to calm them down.

And then there’s the narration. Six-year-olds should come with *SPOILER ALERT* stamped on their foreheads, because if they know what is going to happen, then soon you (and everyone around you) will know it, too. This isn’t really a problem for the surrounding adults; after all, if you have reached the age of majority and still can be surprised by the plot twists in a Disney film then you probably are dealing with bigger issues than spoilers. Issues like wondering how long until that Nigerian prince gets back to you with your seven million dollars.

It is, however, a problem for other six-year-olds, and that’s why I attempted to keep all impromptu reveals from my accompanying six-year-old as sotto voco as possible. Which means there was a lot of shushing on my part.

Unfortunately, there was also a lot of shushing on the part of the also accompanying seventeen-year-old, which meant that our corner of the theater soon began to sound like it was filled with pit vipers. The only thing is that the seventeen-year-old wasn’t shushing the six-year-old—she was shushing me. Which was ridiculous, because I wasn’t the one narrating the film. I was just commenting on it. There’s a difference. At least, I think there is.

It all started with the opening cartoon, a “retro” short that combined stalking, abduction and psychological torture with a little impaling, crushing and garroting. Basically, it was an animated snuff film. And yeah, I know that it was no different than the Tom and Jerry or Roadrunner cartoons of my youth, but there was something about it that bothered my adult sensibilities in a way those cartoons never did before. And so I leaned over the six-year-old to say as much to the seventeen-year-old (who just happened to be my) daughter, Clementine.

“Geez, it’s like the Disney version of Saw,” I said. “It’s freaking torture porn.”

“Mom! Shhhh! What is wrong with you?”

“What? I’m just saying.”

That’s when the six-year-old spoke up. Loudly. “It’s okay. They’re not really hurt.”

“Shh!” I said. “And are you crazy? He was just stabbed with a pitchfork. Twice.”

“Shh!” Clementine said.

“What? They’ve done everything but waterboard that poor cat.”

“I like water,” said the six-year-old. “All the water freezes in the movie.”

“Shh!” hissed both the seventeen-year-old and I at the same time.

Like I said, it’s been a long time since I took a six-year-old to a movie. And it will probably be another long time until I do it again. But it might be an even longer time until the seventeen-year-old goes back to a movie with either one of us.

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