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#METOO Take Two


When my children were little, one of the things I struggled to teach them was the idea of cause and effect. Specifically, the idea that when they were the agents of cause, there could be no one other then themselves to blame for the following effect. Leave your favorite toy outside when it rains? You have no one but yourself to blame when it gets wet. It doesn’t matter that you successfully left it outside a hundred times before without it getting rained upon; the lack of rain did not serve as some sort of nonverbal de facto contract between you and the sky whereupon the party of the first part (you) have the clear and inviolate agreement of the party of the second part (the sky) not to let water fall upon your favorite toy.

This also applies to the issue of pretending to “ clean” your room by shoving everything—dirty dishes, clean clothes, (presumably) dead hornets nests, permission slips, one shoe out of every pair of shoes you own—under the bed. Just because your dad never looked under the bed when checking your “work” doesn’t give you some sort of eminent domain over the space underneath the bed, making it a legally grey area where you can hide your assets as if in some sort of tax haven. When you have created a sufficient enough sized disaster in your room that even I notice it, you are the one who needs to clean it. Cause, and effect. In reality, unlike the law, there are no loopholes. The rain (or Mom) is not going to let you off on a technicality.

This notion, that “getting away” with something is the same as getting permission to do it, is, I think, at the very heart of the current backlash against the #metoo movement. As more and more unwelcome behavior is being called out, more and more of the people who previously were “getting away” with those behaviors are reacting with shock and dismay. (“What? It’s not okay to pressure a woman into having sex? Next thing you’ll tell me it’s not okay to hug women who don’t want to be hugged—what?”)

People who complain that “all of the rules are changing now” are ignoring the fact that the rules have not changed; it’s just that they were never playing by the rules in the first place. Rain falling out of the sky isn’t new—the fact that this is the first time it landed on your favorite toy is.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering: ignorance is not an acceptable excuse either. Even putting aside the legal fact that “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” the truth is that you were never ignorant in the first place. Are you really going to make “I didn’t realize there was such a thing as rain” the centerpiece of your argument? Or even, “I didn’t know you didn’t want me to put bowls of soup under my bed; you should have told me you didn’t like it.”

Look, no one likes to be called out on bad behavior: the first instinct for everyone, from toddlers all the way up to Presidents and Popes, is to deny, deflect, and defend. I have no idea what the evolutionary purpose behind that kind of reaction is, but nevertheless it seems to be hard wired into our DNA.

So we get it. You got called out for doing something wrong, and now you’d just like for the whole thing to go away. And you’d really like for the rest of us to stop talking about it. Well, we’d like that, too; however, we can’t stop talking about it until you understand that getting caught was never the problem: it was the doing all along. Tired of having your dirty laundry pulled out from under the bed (both literally and figuratively), and the subsequent lectures/tweetstorms that follow? You know the solution.

Stop the cause, and we’ll stop the effect.

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The Secret Dowry


The other day I was at the grocery store when I got a text from my husband asking me to pick up some fresh thyme for a new soup he was making. As per usual in my Flagstaff shopping experience, the store I was at had several fresh herbs on hand—none of which were thyme. I called my husband to ask if he wanted me to pick up a jar of dried thyme instead, and he said yes, because the stuff we had at home was “really, really old.” It was simple, really: an everyday problem and an everyday solution. Nothing especially frustrating about it. At least there wasn’t until I got home and tried to put the new jar of thyme away: where I wanted to put it there was already a jar of—apparently unusable—thyme in its place.

“What’s this doing here?” I asked.

“That’s the old thyme,” he replied.

“I can see that,” I continued. “But why is it here, and not in the trash?”

“Because it’s yours.”

After a few minutes of puzzled questioning on my part I found out that, apparently, since I was the one who had first brought jars of herbs and spices into our home almost a quarter of a century ago, all future heirs to those original jars now and forever more fall under my purview, to be purchased and disposed of as I see fit.

Unbeknownst to me, they were a part of my dowry. One I had never even realized I possessed.

Upon further reflection, however, the idea of me bringing a secret dowry (secret to me, that is) explained quite a lot about the dynamics in our house. Suddenly I understood that the reason certain household chores always seemed to fall to me and me alone wasn’t because, as I previously believed, my husband was incapable of performing them, but rather because he was just abiding by the terms of the contract. One I had never seen. Or agreed to. It was, essentially, the same deal as the one between the Queen of England and the swans of London: they all belong to her, whether she wants them or not. Although, in my case, instead of swans I get sixteen-year old bottles of fennel seeds.

And dryer lint.

Yes, dryer lint, because apparently I am the only one in the house allowed to remove it from the lint trap. (This even though we didn’t even own a dryer for the first five years of our marriage—obviously my secret dowry also included future possessions as well). Now normally this would not be an issue—even I am not so petty as to be above touching lint—but on those occasions when I am out of town for a few weeks it can get downright dangerous, not to mention frustrating when the lint cache is so full it takes two hands and bracing both feet to manage to get it out of the dryer upon my return.

The same can be said for the dumpster I need just to haul away the junk mail that piles up in my absence, as well as the very impressive collection of empty toothpaste tubes we would own if it weren’t for my diligence in actually throwing them away.

I’d say that this was a simple case of hoarding—of someone being unable to throw absolutely anything away—if it weren’t for the perfectly good vacuum that managed to find its way out to the curb for bulk pick up. (“I didn’t think we were using it anymore.” Apparently WE had never used it—it was something that also only lived in my sphere.)

I’m sure that there are also things in our house that I never do, or at least never do correctly. (In fact, I am sure that there is an entire list somewhere—and that loading the dishwasher is on there.) And I’m also pretty sure that one day the unluckiest one of us will have to find out exactly what the other’s list entails.

But until then: can I interest anyone out there in some lovely aged fennel lint salad? Maybe we can trade for a (partially) used vacuum cleaner.


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The Consent Equation


I know that my son, Clyde, has not always appreciated having a budding social justice warrior for an older sister. I’m sure he didn’t fully appreciate having her come home from working her shift at Pride in the Pines when he was twelve and making him listen to her “sexuality is a spectrum” speech. And no eleven-year-old boy is ever really ready for his sister to casually mention that “virginity is just a social construct.” But the day that probably stands out the most in his mind is the time when he was nine and she burst into his room demanding he answer the question, “Can drunk girls consent?” And then, when he didn’t answer her quickly enough, answered the question herself with a sharp, “No, they can not.” Nor did he probably appreciate the lecture that followed when she explained to him that consent must always contain the following three elements: “continual, verbal, and enthusiastic.” At nine I’m pretty sure he was more interested in catching up on the latest Naruto release then in learning the finer points of navigating sexuality in a world of vastly unequal power dynamics.

Now, however, at the wise old age of sixteen, when such things are much more relevant, I’m sure he feels a little less mortified, and a lot more grateful. (Well, to be honest, probably no less mortified, and only a little more grateful.) But still, there must be some degree of gratitude there, if only for helping him thus far avoid any of the scandals that have befallen pretty much every celebrity ever, with the possible exception, of course, of Tom Hanks. (Please, don’t ever let me hear anything bad about Tom Hanks.)

Of course, I’d like to believe that Clyde (or any boy, really) has always been the type of person who already understands everything his sister once insisted he learn, with special emphasis placed on the importance of consent, but recent scandals would seem to insist otherwise. Apparently, there are some men (yes, I know: #notallmen) who seem to be under the impression that the “nuances” of consent are not, in fact, something simple enough to explain to a nine-year-old boy, but are rather some form of advanced math, a complicated story problem involving clothing, and alcohol, and buyer’s remorse. The truth of the matter is that consent is not even long division level of hard; it’s simple addition. You+ continual, verbal, and enthusiastic=consent.

This is so easy to understand, and so commonly accepted that Lenny Bruce worked it into his stand up act sixty years ago. (“You never touch it” he complains to his wife, who replies “Do you really want me to touch it if I don’t want to touch it?” When he answers her with a desperate “Yes!” the audience laughs. They laugh because, even back then, they knew what he was asking of her was wrong.)

Lenny (and Lenny’s wife, and Lenny’s audience) all understood what Louis C.K. and others seem to have forgotten, or pretend not to have known in the first place: not only does an absence of “no” does not mean “yes,” but a “yeah, I guess” doesn’t mean “yes” either. Because, really, the most important part of the consent trinity is enthusiastic. Without enthusiasm there is no consent. (And if you are so socially inept that you legitimately can’t tell the difference between enthusiastic and grudging, then it is probably in the public’s best interest not to let you wander freely about without some kind of an aide.)

We can’t all be lucky enough to have an older sister who firmly believes (rightfully so) that “the birds and the bees” should be updated to include “and asking nicely, please.” But, just maybe, we can all make up for lost time by channelling our own budding social justice warriors and explaining consent to the boys in our lives. Even if they would rather get caught up on the latest Naruto release.


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Yes, There Is Something We Can Do


Before we knew anything about the driver of the car that careered down a New York city bike path, before we knew any of the details about the shooting in Las Vegas, before we had more than snippets of information about the massacre of half of the congregation at a small Texas church, we all instinctively knew one thing about the assailant: it was a man.

Think about it: as shocked as you were when you first heard the news, how much more shocked would you have been to find out that the perpetrator was a woman? That’s because, in nearly 100% of seemingly “random” acts of violence, the perpetrator is a man. An angry, violent, man. And this—this, is what scares me the most about all of these attacks. It scares me because this is the part of the equation that I actually have the ability to do something about, and I’m terrified that I’m going to somehow mess it up.

I can accept the fact that there is no way for me to control many of the terrible fates that could potentially befall me or the people I love. Random acts of violence are just that—random—and I can no more determine when and where the the next one will strike than I could determine where the next meteor will fall. And so, by that logic, there is nothing to be gained by worrying about them.

However, as the mother of a son, I can try and control the other half of the equation. I can’t do anything to ensure that I or someone I love won’t one day be faced with an individual who is so broken and angry they want to hurt everyone around them. But I can do a lot towards making sure that I don’t help create that very same broken individual myself.

It is a sad fact of our society that the only emotion many boys are allowed to feel is anger. Not sadness, not fear, not disappointment, not anxiety—every expression of these “weaker” emotions is met with the command to “man up,” or “stop being a little pussy.” And so we create these sad, inchoate creatures who have been denied the opportunity to really understand what it means to be human. We talk about Millennials who have never learned “how to adult,” while ignoring the much larger problem of our neighbors and coworkers who have never learned “how to human.”

Look, I’m not trying to pull a Trump here and say that this isn’t a gun problem. It is clear to anyone with even a slight understanding of math that less guns would equal less carnage, in the same way that if we were suddenly able to purchase personal nuclear weapons at Walmart the body count would start to go way up. But there’s no reason that it can’t be both an anger and a gun problem, in the same way that someone can be both drunk and stupid. And so, what I’m suggesting is that we try and work on both problems at once. Outside of the home let’s work on electing people who understand that, unlike lobbyists, numbers never lie, and inside the home let’s work on helping our tender-hearted, sensitive boys stay that way.

Although perhaps “work” is the wrong term for what we must do, because that implies that there is something wrong with our boys that we need to fix, when the truth is that there is something right with them that we need to stop breaking. Just like our little girls, our little boys are born ready to love and be loved in return. Compassion and kindness is their factory setting; all that is required of us is to not change it, and to speak up when others (coaches, teachers, older relatives) try and change it themselves.

It might not fix the entire world, but it will at least fix the part of it that is still within our grasp. And who knows? It’s entirely possible that that just might be enough.


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Standing up by Sitting Down


When I was a sophomore in high school, I decided to stop standing for the pledge of allegiance. There was no single reason for me to come to this decision—while there were plenty of things our government was doing that I did not agree with (these were the Reagan years, after all), it was more of a matter of slowly realizing that not only did the words in the pledge make me uncomfortable (as an atheist I found the “under god” part particularly irksome), but also that the very sentiment behind it gave me pause. At that point I had only taken one class in world history, but that had been enough to let me know that nationalism never ended well for anyone.

So I stopped. I stopped because once I really thought about what the pledge meant to me I knew that to continue to say it would be dishonest. This decision, of course, did not go over well with my fellow students, and went over even less well with some of the teachers and administrators. Finally, after one class had devolved into chaos, with half the room saying the pledge and half the room not saying the pledge because they were too busy yelling at me to “Stand up! Stand up! Stand up already!” I was called in to speak to the principal about “causing a distraction.” (The irony of the people who were actually doing the yelling not being called in for being “distracting” was not lost on me.)

We spoke at length about why I wasn’t standing and reciting the pledge. And then, after hearing me out, he sent me back to class. And that was that. I never said the pledge again. The shouting continued for the rest of the year, but less and less each time, until finally, by the time I graduated, it was hardly remarked upon at all. And in my mind I thought that that had meant I had won.

For over thirty years now I thought that meant that I had won. Me. Personally. That my arguments were so compelling, my belief so sincere, my demeanor so calm and righteous that the obstacles before me had simply fallen away in shame.

Watching what is now happening on sports fields around the world has caused to me re-evaluate that belief, much to my chagrin.

What if the truth was that the best argument I made sitting there in my principal’s office was one that never came out of my mouth? What if the best argument against me getting into trouble for asserting my rights was simply the fact that me having (and exercising) those same rights didn’t really make anyone uncomfortable? After all, the idea that my people—young, white bookish females—were rising up and calling for change was probably not that intimidating. I mean, yeah, it was a little intimidating (hence the yelling), but really, to older and wiser heads, to the ones who actually had the power (like my principal), it was probably just an anomaly.

A blip.

It is, without a doubt, humbling and kind of depressing when you finally realize that you weren’t quite as “all that” as you’d like to remember. But it is also empowering. It’s like the first time you ever realized that the only reason you had won all those games of Hearts with your grandmother back when you were a kid was because she was letting you. At first you were shocked—your reality was upended. Then you were angry and defensive—surely it wasn’t all of the games? I mean, you must have won some of them, right? And then, finally, you were determined. Determined that, from now on, all games would be on the level. Meaning that, from now on, you would compete as equals.

It is probably the height of irony that now, after all of these years, it is only in watching the hysteria surrounding people protesting against an unequal system that I finally understand just how much I myself have benefitted from that system, but then again, that’s just irony doing its job.

Because really, if there’s anything in this world that truly qualifies as “equal opportunity,” than surely it is irony.


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Things Left Unsaid…Almost


Well, it finally happened. My son, Clyde, just asked me if I would be willing to take fifty percent of the things I was about to say and just…not. Considering the fact that we have known each other for sixteen years now (his whole life), the truth is in that taking sixteen years to finally say this to me he has actually set a new record—no one else has ever made it past ten. (And even then that ten year mark was set by his sister, Clementine—most adults only make it three or four years before they make this request.)

The incident that caused Clyde to break his streak involved me going to his high school Open House, a refused handshake, and some pus. Okay, here’s the whole story. As it happens so often in Flagstaff (especially among us clumsy people), I slipped on some cinders and ended up getting some of them lodged in the palm of my hand. Deep. They weren’t really painful—more annoying than anything, but I kept my eye on them nonetheless, watching for signs of infection. (To be clear, I was watching not out of fear of infection, but rather hope: I knew that the only way I would be able to dislodge those deeply set cinders would be to squeeze them out on a wave of pus. What? Go to the doctor? For cinders in my hand? Okay Mrs. Munchausen.)

Anyway, the night of the Open House the Blessed Event finally occurred, and I was able to get the last, deepest cinder out of my hand. Being the thoughtful sort, and knowing that other people generally don’t like to touch another person’s pus, I decided to decline all handshakes that came my way that night. Also, so as not to appear rude and standoffish, I accompanied each decline with a regretful, “Sorry, I can’t shake your hand right now: I just squeezed a bunch of pus out of mine.”

True, in retrospect the added “Want to see?” was probably a bit much, but that last cinder had been percolating in there for well over a week, and I was feeling giddy with triumph.

All of this made perfect sense to me. And no sense at all to Clyde. Hence his request to just…not.

Of course, what Clyde (and everyone else) doesn’t understand is that I am already editing out half of my comments. Heck, truth be told I’m editing out more like seventy-five percent. And at that Open House? Closer to ninety for sure. I was like the Terminator at that Open House, scrolling down a list of comments in my mind until I got to the “appropriate” one. Clyde had no idea how many comments about the color and texture of the pus I kept to myself, nor how many comments reminiscing about how, “this one time, I got a splinter—more like a miniature stake, actually—to shoot halfway across the room.” And it probably hadn’t even occurred to him the number of stigmata jokes I graciously kept to myself, all out of respect for him.

Fortunately, thanks to Clementine, I know that there is still hope for him to one day be able to recognize my true tongue-biting skills. After all, she was the one who was appalled by the things I said out loud when she was ten, and yet now, at the age of twenty, often finds herself biting her own tongue just as hard. (Although she is not entirely happy about this: whenever she tells me about trying hard not to say something—and failing—she says, “Oh my God—I think I’m turning into you.”)

So, if the pattern holds true, Clyde should be reaching this same epiphany by the time he is thirty. At which point it won’t really matter what I say anymore, because by then I should be old enough that I can finally play my “senile old lady” card.

I can hardly wait. In fact, maybe I won’t. Open Houses will never be the same again.


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My kids are both unquestionably Millennials, not only in age, but in attitude. This is both a good and a bad thing. It is bad in that they think that “Starbucks” is one of the five food groups. Good, though, in that that chastise me when I get my own Starbucks in a disposable cup. Good in that they are more likely to “swipe right” based on how cute the cat is that is being held in the profile picture than on how closely the cat holder’s skin tone matches their own. Bad in that they are swiping at all. But really, the thing that most defines them as true Millennials is that there are drawers and drawers in my house that are absolutely full of participation trophies. Or rather, participation medals, since medals were the compromise we somehow reached between the space-hogging (and expensive) trophies of legend and the flimsy green “Participant” ribbons of our own youth. Yes, my children are of the generation that perfected getting a prize just for showing up. Or rather, as they were only children then, they are of the generation that had the practice perfected upon them.

They are the generation sneeringly referred to as “Snowflakes”—the kids who supposedly have been conditioned from birth to melt at the first sign of adversity. The ones who are derided for wanting all of the spoils of victory without doing any of the actual fighting. And yet, ironically, as the events of the last few weeks have shown, they are not the ones who truly deserve that title. They are not the ones who are holding the Ultimate Participation Trophy. Because they are not the ones marching through the streets carrying torches.

If Charlottesville has taught us anything, it has taught us that white privilege is the ultimate participation trophy. And the people who refuse to acknowledge this truly are the ultimate snowflakes. Or rather, as one internet meme but it, the “broflakes.”

Think about it: the very definition of privilege is receiving benefits for something that you did not earn. It’s getting into a school because your father went there. It’s getting the chance to rifle through your glove box looking for your car registration unharmed because your age and/or gender is considered “unthreatening.” It’s even something as simple as getting to be first in line because your last name starts with the letter “A.”

There’s nothing wrong with having privilege. And there’s nothing wrong with resenting people who have privileges you don’t. (Yeah, that’s right all of you Andersons out there—as a Wilson, I resent the hell out of your privilege.) And, really, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your privilege. After all, who among us doesn’t enjoy finding a twenty dollar bill on the sidewalk? Unearned, undeserved, but still, it feels like a triumph. Like, for once, everything is coming up you.

Here’s the thing, though: what do you do with that unearned twenty? Do you look around to see if someone else is looking for it, or do you slyly pocket it? Or, if you already have a wallet full of twenties, do you give it to the next needy person you see? What you do with that unearned twenty (or your privilege) defines you. The Charlottesville nazis? Pocketers, every last one of them. Worse, pocketers who, as soon as that twenty was safely tucked into their wallets, rewrote the story in their own heads so that they had somehow earned it. “I was the only person smart enough to look down at that moment, so…”

I’m not saying that Millennials are perfect. I’m not even saying that there aren’t plenty of pocketers among their own ranks. But it seems to me that they have learned at least one very important lesson that the rest of us still seem to be a little bit behind on: if you’re going to hand out medals to everyone just for showing up, then you had better make sure you have enough medals to go around. Even if you have to pull a few out of your own drawers to do it.

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Old Yeller

 Logging on to my computer the other day, I couldn’t help but notice the headline blaring across the top of the page: “Is Yelling Worse Than Hitting?” My response to this was both immediate and visceral: Dear god, I certainly hope so—there’s no way I could hit as hard as I can yell. It was with a bit of trepidation, then, that I finally clicked open the link, where I saw, to my immense relief, that I needn’t have worried at all: according to the article in question yelling is indeed much worse than hitting. Imagine my confusion then when the very same article went on to suggest several ways that parents could avoid yelling, my favorite two being 1) Try not to be around stressful people and situations (like, perhaps, your children?), and 2) whenever the urge to yell overtakes you try retreating to a quiet room and lighting a soothing candle instead. (Since the urge to yell usually overtakes me when one of my children is doing something like chasing the other one around the living room with a steak knife, suggestion number two would probably not be in anyone’s best interest, and in fact would undoubtably lead to a spate of articles with headlines like: “Are Puncture Wounds Worse Than Mental Scars?”)

When did yelling get such a bad rap, anyway? As far as I’m concerned, yelling has it all over spanking. For one thing, with yelling you don’t even have to be within arm’s reach for it to be effective; on the contrary, the farther away the yell-ee is from the yell-or, the more effective it seems to be. (Nothing says I’m serious like a reprimand delivered from two houses away.) And then there’s the fact that yelling gives you a much broader range of nuances to choose from: from the casual stop riding on the dog yell, to the more strident stop peeing on the dog yell, all the way up to the frantic don’t put that in your mouth–it came out of the dog yell.

In fact, one of the best things about yelling is that you don’t even have to raise your voice to do it: every child knows that the most frightening yell of all is the silent one, the one where your mother simply mouths just you wait at you while she is on the phone.

Of course, to give the authors of the article credit, I’m sure that there are plenty of households out there where the parents don’t really yell at all, just like I am sure that there are plenty where they never watch anything but educational TV, never eat any food that is not triple-certified organic, and never make any decisions without first holding a family meeting. And I’m sure that these families are very, very happy—even if it is in a Stepford kind of way. My question for them, though, is this: what happens when all those poor un-yelled at children finally go and live in the real world? How do they deal with their first boss, their first room-mate—even their first spouse? Do they just dissolve into a puddle of tears at the first raised decibel?

At least with my children I know that whatever unreasonable boss, psycho room-mate, or Jerry Springer-worthy spouse the world throws at them, they’ll be O.K. Even now, at the tender ages of four and eight, they could probably go to a PETA convention wearing full-length fur coats and emerge completely unscathed. Heck, they could probably wear PETA t-shirts to a cockfight and be none the worse for wear.

Now if only I could find a way to make them immune to siblings and steak knives they’d be set for life.

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Cage Match, Revisited

Today is my son, Clyde’s, 16th birthday.  This is a column I originally published when he was five.  (Note the dated jokes about George Bush and Dell computers.)  Spoiler alert: neither of my predictions for Clementine and Clyde’s future career paths came true.  Thank god.

I’ve always wondered if the little tics you have when you are a child give any indication as to what kind of career you will have when you grow up. Take my stepfather, for example: from a very young age he showed an unusual interest in both sweeping and making secret recordings of people using the toilet, and he grew up to be crazy. Okay, so maybe that’s not such a good example, but just imagine a five-year-old Thomas Edison driving his parents absolutely crazy with all of his early inventions, or Mademoiselle Curie’s favorite toy being her junior chemistry set. Who knows, maybe even George Bush made a habit of invading neighboring kids’ yards and liberating their unusually large toy reserves. It’s possible.

Of course, the real reason for me having such a strong interest in this question is none other than my very own five-year old son, Clyde, and the rather “interesting” personal habits that are are all his own. When he was younger these habits involved things like wiping his butt and blowing his nose with the same piece of toilet paper—in that order. Naturally, this made me think that any future career he had would involve him saying things like “would you like fries with that?” and “I’d like to tell you about a special offer from Dell.” Lately, however, he has begun to show talents of another sort, talents that I hope may yet lead him down an entirely different, albeit not quite as respectable, career path: fight promoter.

Everything Clyde touches starts a fight. His silverware at dinnertime, the pair of socks he has been told to put on, even the worms he finds when I am planting in the yard. Nothing is safe from his Don King-like machinations; when it comes to organizing a throw down he is Tina Turner in Beyond the Thunderdome, except that he is also that creepy little guy who’s always saying, “who rules Bartertown?”

With Clyde, though, it’s not just the fights themselves, but rather the nature of the fights that makes me think he has a future in the sports world. Like all the best fight promoters, Clyde knows that there is more to orchestrating a fight than just throwing a couple of combatants into a ring: instinctively he seems to understand that the best fights involve not just man against man (or, in Clyde’s case, fork against spoon), but rather are little Morality plays where Good can finally triumph over Evil. That’s why, in Clyde’s rumbles, the potato masher (Good) always wins out over the ice cream scoop (Evil), and even the lowly (but still Good) butter knife can carry the day against the supremely Evil corkscrew.

Of course, the thing that really makes me think that Clyde will grow up to be a fight promoter, and not just a fight instigator, are his audiences. Who can forget the big showdown between the slotted serving spoon (Good) and the melon-baller (Evil)? Certainly not all the soupspoons and teaspoons, who turned out en masse to cheer their brethren on. (And certainly not the rest of us, who ate our cereal with forks for days and days.)

You’d think then, what with Clyde’s career path seemingly laid out before him, that I’d be entirely sold on the idea of your childhood interests determining your future career–-but actually, I’m not. I can’t be, because that would then mean that my nine-year old daughter, Clementine, whose current favorite hobby is cutting out little tiny pieces of paper and leaving them in piles all over the house, will someday grow up to be a performance artist. Or, like my stepfather, crazy. Although, I have to say that, of the two choices, I’m definitely hoping for the latter.

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Sign, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs


There was one summer when I was in college that I worked as a painter for the university. For the most part this meant repainting and patching over a bajillion thumbtack holes in dorm rooms, but occasionally we would also paint a common area like a hallway or stairwell. When that happened there was one guy on our crew who always liked to be the one to write and hang up the “Wet Paint” signs—and the rest of us would let him, because his “Wet Paint” signs were always way more successful than ours. This was probably due to the fact that our signs simply said “Wet Paint,” whereas his signs said, “Tell a man that there are billions of stars in the Universe and he will believe you without question. Tell the same man there is wet paint and he has to touch it and find out for himself. WET PAINT.” Yeah, our paint got touched a lot less with the wordier sign.

Of course, I don’t know if those longer signs really worked better just because they were long. I’d like to think that was the reason, though, because if long signs really can cause someone to stop and think then I’m going to start plastering my house with them. Or at least every part of my house that contains a teenager. (The washing machine and dishwasher are safe, obviously.) My signs will say things along the lines of, “Why would you believe, unquestioningly, that GMOs are bad for you, but will not accept the notion that milk left out on the counter overnight will go bad?”

Or better yet: “Why do you believe there is a worldwide conspiracy afoot to control the internet, but cannot understand that you can go online and check your grades at any time?” Also, “So Bigfoot and Slenderman are real, but skunks (the kind that come into the house and eat the cat food when you leave the back door open), are not?”

Who knows? Perhaps we are all just hard-wired to make things more complicated than they need to be, and like with every other emotion, teenagers are just the same as us, but more so. Or perhaps belief in the things we can’t change (the government is watching our every move) is easier to accept than belief in the things we can (if you keep smoking it will kill you.) Whatever the reason is, I wish there was a way to harness a teenager’s complete and unquestioning belief in absolute utter nonsense into a similar belief in things that are actually true. Things like, “doing your homework will improve your grades” and “the best way to find something that is lost is to get out of bed and look for it.”

Maybe, though, it’s not the message that is the problem—it’s the delivery. A wise man once said, “A lie will travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its pants on;” a more modern retelling would be, “A lie will have three different subreddits while the truth still has a myspace.” Maybe I just need to find a way give “Wet towels will mildew under your bed” the same following as “Drinking Mountain Dew Red will turn you into an alpha male.”

Of course, there is always the possibility that if I train myself to start thinking like a teenager—if I train myself to communicate only in memes, for instance—that I will then become the thing I’m trying to study, and no longer remember (or believe) whatever wisdom I originally wanted to impart. (Maybe memes are like a really slow version of The Ring: watch enough of them and you acquire the curse. Only, instead of dying, you become incredibly gullible.)

In the end I’m sure that what will actually happen is that I’ll just do it the same way my parents did when I was a teenager—and as I’m sure their parents did as well: give it time. After all, adolescence isn’t a permanent condition. And, to tell the truth, sometimes it’s kind of fun watching people touching the wet paint.

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