Monthly Archives: July 2015

Dear Children,

Dear Children (both my own and those who might as well be my own based on the deep and abiding spiritual bond you seemed to have formed with my couch),

I’m not entirely sure how the phrase “please clean up the living room” came to be translated into “please pick up two of the ten glasses covering the coffee table and call it good.” Maybe it was my accent. Or maybe it was just a really bad application of Google Translate. In any event, do you really think that the intent of my request was for you to sift through the layers of crap covering my coffee table (and all flat or semi-flat surfaces near it) and only grab those items that could, guaranteed, be associated with your epic Skyrim sojourn in my living room? Or do you maybe think that the intent of my request was to actually get the living room clean. Hmm? I ask merely for information and edification, the same way I might ask a man who collects vintage shoelaces to explain to me what, exactly, his motivation is.

Another question: at what point did clearing off a table require DNA testing? Seriously: I really don’t care whose pizza crust it is that is wedged between the box and the floor, and I have less than zero interest at all in the various ways you can prove to me that it doesn’t belong to you, but rather to your brother. Enough with the timelines and witness statements. People have been convicted of murder with less evidence than you are presenting. Not to mention the fact that in the time it has taken you to explain to me how this pizza crust is yours, while that pizza crust is theirs all the pizza crusts in the known universe could have been picked up and put in the trash. (I know this to be true because I’m pretty sure that at least half the pizza crusts in the known universe are currently within a five foot radius of our PS3 controllers.)

This summer I have come to the conclusion that asking a group of teenagers to clean up the mess they created together is like trying to split a restaurant bill with a group of cheap friends. The arguments and negotiations over who had the nachos vs. who had the calamari at Chili’s have got nothing on the bickering about who, exactly, dropped the cookies on the floor and left them there vs. who subsequently stepped on them and ground them into the carpet. And, unfortunately, both scenarios seem to turn out remarkably the same: in the case of the bill, one person usually ends up putting in far more than their share, and in the case of the living room, one person usually ends up cleaning far more than they should. In both cases, the one person is usually me.

Of course, maybe I should be grateful that you’re trying to get out of cleaning up your mess by blaming it in someone else. At least that tells me that you are aware that there is, in fact, a mess to be dealt with. This is in stark contrast to the way you react when I ask you to clean up your room, which is more along the lines of “What seems to be the problem, Officer?” than “I was just holding that for a friend.” Maybe, though, that’s just because there is someone else available to blame. When it’s your dresser that is covered in spilled blue slushy it’s “not a big deal.” When it’s the coffee table, however, it was your brother that did it, and therefore, a travesty.

At least until he can produce the security footage showing that, in fact, the Exxon Slushy was all on you.

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Lettuce Box Slackers

A few weeks ago I mentioned in this column that my daughter, Clementine, had gotten her first job. (There may have been some vague threats about tearing her first paycheck into tiny little pieces in front of her and then stomping on them as some kind of cosmic revenge. My lawyers have asked me not to comment on whether or not that actually happened.) Since then she has learned many valuable lessons about life in the working world. She has learned that school actually starts later than most jobs. She has leaned that the worst part of customer service is, in fact, the customers. And she has learned that some people are just one apocalypse away from turning into cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers.

It all comes down to the lettuce. Or rather, the lettuce box. The empty one sitting on the shelf in the walk-in. The one that is empty because the last person who went in to grab some lettuce took the last head out of the box and then left the empty box on the shelf for “somebody else” to deal with.

Or maybe you don’t work in a restaurant. Maybe you work in an office and have come in to an empty copier time and time again. Or maybe you work in landscaping, or construction, and can never find the tool you need because the person before you neglected to put it back where it belonged. Regardless of where you work, it is your first job that makes you first realize that there really are some people out there who possess the sort of moral turpitude you previously only thought existed in comic books and children’s literature.

Too much, you say? Am I really comparing the guy who didn’t take out the empty lettuce box with Magneto and Voldemort? Actually, yeah, I am. I am saying that the only thing stopping the lettuce box slacker from attempting world domination is the fact that they lack any useful superpowers, and if one day, through chance, they happen to acquire some super powers, it will spell doom and destruction for all mankind. In other words: Peter Parker would have broken down that lettuce box.
Broken it down, carried it to the recycling bin, and then gotten the new box of lettuce down from the top shelf so that it was easier for the next person to use.

It has been said that it is the things you do when no one is watching that proves the kind of person you really are, and nowhere does that statement hold more true than in the workplace. And the worst part of it is that I’m not sure that being a lettuce box slacker is the kind of moral fault that can even be fixed. How do you teach an adult human being to be a good person? It’s like, theres a window of opportunity to learn these things, and past a certain point that window just closes. Past that point all you can do is teach them how to fake it better. Again, though, maybe I am being too cynical.

All I know is that one day I may get the chance to see Clementine accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. One day I may see her being sworn in as President as the United States. And one day I may see her on an afternoon talk show describing her latest tell-all book entitled Growing Up with a Really Terrible Mother. But none of those events will make me happier than her answer when I asked her, after she told me about the empty lettuce box scenario at work, what she did about the box after she found it.

“I broke it down, of course.”

Well, then, I thought, my work here is done.

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In a few months, my daughter, Clementine, will be leaving for college. And when I say “leaving,” I mean really leaving: she is going to school over 1700 miles away. (Apparently she is under the impression that I will no longer be able to write columns about her if she moves that far away, which is ridiculous: I wrote about her when she was doing a study abroad her junior year of high school, and she was on an entirely different continent at the time.)

Many people have given me all sorts of advice about how to deal with the fact that one of my children is leaving the nest. Some of the advice has been directed towards the apparently inevitable depression that follows, but by far the most advice has been how to deal with the stress that occurs when she (also apparently inevitably) moves back in. In other words, I have had plenty of people warn me that I should be prepared for Clementine to “bounce back” home. (This phrase has always seemed rather foreboding to me, since logically the only way something can “bounce back” to you is if you threw it away in the first place with significant force—something I don’t think anyone really recommends you do with your children.)

In any event, people have been helpfully telling me all summer that I should hold off on turning her room into a sewing room (as if), or a den (do people still even have those anymore?), grow room (way too ambitious) or even a guest room. I should instead just “wait and see.” To them I reply that there is no need to set up a contingency plan: I have everything under control. I am absolutely positive that after this summer, Clementine will never want to spend a significant amount of time in this house again. How, they ask, can you be so sure? It’s actually very simple.

I bought her little brother a banjo. One that he really likes to play.

Did I mention that their bedrooms share a common wall?

This may seem, at first blush, to be unnecessarily cruel. It may seem to be complete overkill, just as it was when the little old lady swallowed the horse to get rid of the fly. And, I will admit that this may be true; after all, no one has ever accused me of “too much subtlety.” It also, however, is completely necessary.

It’s not that I am so against the idea of Clementine moving back home that I am willing to do anything to keep her away (I didn’t buy him bagpipes, after all). It’s just that I think moving back home should always be your last option, and I’m more than willing to help make that be the case. Can’t stand your new roommate? Your little brother plays the banjo. Cafeteria food is disgusting? Your little brother plays the banjo. Someone took your clothes out of the dryer before they were done? Your little brother—you get the idea.

Look, all I’m saying is that, even with the constant threat of me writing about her toilet paper buying habits hanging over her head, it still takes a lot to to trump the free laundry, internet, and fully stocked pantry that comes with living with your parents. And a banjo-playing little brother might be just the edge I need to tip the scales from “barely tolerable” to “completely intolerable.” It might be just the catalyst that she needs to help her not only leave the nest, but actually fly.

And if it’s not, then there is always Plan B. After all, I’m sure it can’t be that hard to get Mumford and Sons to play a house party at your house.

Every night.

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