Archive for June 2011
Thank you, Your Honor.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: you have been assembled here to decide whether Thag and Miggtha, the parents of the plaintiff, have served ably as parents. The plaintiff intends to demonstrate that the defendants knowingly and maliciously deprived my client of privileges to which he has an inalienable right: play dates; junky snacks; being served first; going a week without bathing. They engaged in this behavior with complete awareness that my client desired the exact opposite. They imposed their will on him, using their superior size, experience and authority in the household.
As counsel for the plaintiff, I apologize in advance for exposing you to the disturbing images, episodes and statements you will encounter during these proceedings. But they must be examined by your eyes and ears if justice is to be done. You alone have the power to determine whether the defendants can continue to serve as parents to my client, or at the very least to compel them to alter their parental policies for the better.
We will show that the deprivation the defendants cause my client are attributable only to malice, not to legitimate considerations; that the desired and actual effect of these policies was to upset my client; and that the defendants reacted to my client’s anger by denying he had a legitimate grievance.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is your job: to examine the evidence presented to you and, determine whether, as we believe, it proves that my client’s parents must grant him the privileges and pleasures that he deserves.
Good morning, members of the jury.
I, too, must apologize to you, for the colossal waste of time this will turn out to be.
You see, contrary to what the plaintiff’s counsel would have you believe, the only animus at play in the interactions between the plaintiff and defendants came from the plaintiff himself. The only malice ever expressed was a product of the plaintiff’s own distorted perception, not from my clients. I intend to show that every single episode of alleged parental misconduct was either precipitated by the plaintiff himself, or beyond the control of my clients.
Thag and Miggtha are more than adequate parents: they provide and care for their children; tuck them in every night; read them stories; even let them watch movies when time allows. But they have certain red lines the plaintiff has repeatedly and flagrantly attempted to violate. It is those violations, not my clients’ legitimate responses to them, that should be our focus here.
Far be it from me to accuse the plaintiff of systematic brinkmanship and provocation although such a characterization cannot be far from the truth; but I will demonstrate that his accusations against my clients stem not from a just desire to right any wrongs perpetrated against him, but from a corrupt worldview that assumes he is automatically entitled to the fulfillment of his desires. For the plaintiff, justice means getting what he wants – or making those who refuse to do so feel his wrath.
Do not be fooled, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. What you will see is not the malicious, cruel story of abusive parents, but a pair of put-upon, tired and patient human beings whose son has yet to outgrow the notion that the universe revolves around him.
What the plaintiff needs, ladies and gentlemen, is not restitution, but the loving, sincere provision of a swift kick in the pants.
Bill, Elaine, I’m sorry about the damage to your apartment. I’ll do what I can to fix or replace whatever got damaged. I was trying to keep the place well while you were gone, and did OK for the first couple of weeks, but then circumstances conspired against me.
I’ll try to give all the details in this message so you don’t get completely shocked when you see what went wrong, but I do understand that beholding it all with your own eyes upon your return will nevertheless give you pause. I apologize again for causing you that.
It all started when I went to check on the plants on my way out of using the bathroom. I knew they hadn’t been watered in at least a week, so I found a glass in the kitchen and brought some water over. I didn’t want to overdo it, so of course I didn’t empty the glass completely. But I accidentally whacked the glass against the side of the ceramic planter. Not only did the glass go flying, but I gave myself a nasty cut on the webbing between my thumb and forefinger. I tend to faint at the sight of my own blood, so I knew I had to do something about the bleeding right away. I ran to the bathroom – and slipped on the spilled water.
I sprawled on the living room floor and cut myself all over my hands breaking the fall. The blood got all over the rug, but I couldn’t do anything about it at the time, since I needed to administer first aid. So I got myself to the bathroom as quickly as I could and sat on the toilet. But I didn’t notice I’d left the seat up when I was there before, and fell in.
I couldn’t get myself out so easily because my hands were all cut up, but I had no choice. I tried to grab the hand towels to give myself a grip, but only lifted myself an inch or two when the towel rack came off the wall and hit me in the ribs. I was knocked back down into the toilet. I was finally able to wiggle into a position where my elbows could support my weight as I slowly unstuck myself from the toilet bowl. Now I was soaked as well as bloodied, but I managed to stand up and move toward the sink. I wanted to brace myself on the vanity, because I already felt faint from the pain and bleeding. But I didn’t make it, and collapsed into the bathtub.
The shower curtain broke my fall a little bit, but only because it was torn completely from the curtain rod. On the way down my head hit the soap dish and knocked it off the wall, and my arm hit the faucet lever and turned on the hot water. It took me a minute to realize what was happening, but by then, scalding water was coming out of the spigot all over my midsection. I jumped up, screaming, and leaped out of the tub, hitting my head again on the now-bare curtain rod and knocking it down.
I leaned over as fast as I could to turn off the water, but the curtain rod had come to rest just so, and it poked me hard in the crotch. I doubled over and fell into the tub again, splashing bloody water all over the bathroom. I did manage to turn off the water and slouch against the outside wall of the bathtub, wondering what I should do, but I blacked out again.
When I came to, my bleeding had stopped, but I hurt all over from the cuts, the burns and the bruises. The Schillers from downstairs heard the commotion and came up to check. Poor Mrs. Schiller. She slipped on the little puddle of water as I did and banged into the planter. She hit it with her head, knocking it onto the floor, where it smashed and dumped soil everywhere. Mrs Schiller was knocked unconscious, but Mr. Schiller came in right after her and called an ambulance, but it took him a while to hear my groans as he fussed over his wife. He carefully made his way to the bathroom and saw me amid the wreckage, whereupon he had a heart attack and collapsed, knocking over an end table and causing the lamp to smash on the floor. The exposed filament was now touching the fringed edges of the blood-stained rug, and the rug began to smolder. It took me a minute to realize that I smelled something burning, but I gathered my remaining strength and hobbled out to the living room. I kicked the lamp away from the rug and stamped out the burning part, but didn’t notice that the still-exposed lamp filament had come to rest against the front flap of the sofa.
The sofa burst into flames. I hobbled over to the kitchen and filled a pitcher with water, which I then threw over the flames, repeating the process a couple of times just to make sure. The second time, some of the water landed on Mrs. Schiller, who came to and sat up; the third time, I must have missed the couch and got her full in the face. She lunged at me and began pummeling me, and as you can imagine, I was in no condition to defend myself. But very quickly she looked over and saw her husband. She, too, gasped and clutched her chest, and soon collapsed. The paramedics arrived a few minutes later.
Again, I’m sorry for the trouble, and I’ll do what I can to make things better. Please relay my good wishes to the Schillers when they are released from the hospital, which I understand could be any day now.
Oh, and I think my wallet fell out of my pocket somewhere in the bathroom. Possibly into the toilet. Please check and let me know.
A Glossary of Childspeak
It’s not fair: I don’t like that I’m not getting what I want.
Just a minute: In about eight minutes or until you mention it again, whichever is later.
What?: I’m going to plead ignorance even though I know perfectly well I shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.
I’m sorry: I’m sorry I got caught.
I didn’t do it: See: I’m sorry.
[Insert sibling name] is bothering me: I’m bothering [sibling name] and object to his/her ability to respond in kind.
I’m thirsty: I’m looking for excuses to get out of bed again.
But it’s mine!: It’s more important to assert my control over everything than to let the baby play with a worthless item and thus keep him happy for a few minutes; better he screech for the rest of the afternoon.
But I want!: My wants should trump everything: justice, nutrition, equality, and parental commitment to people other than me.
I have no homework: I couldn’t care less whether or not I have homework.
I did my homework: I’m praying you won’t tell me to show you my completed homework.
I didn’t have a snack today: I’ve had the countless helpings of junk food that my friends provided, but that doesn’t count.
I don’t like it: I want to save as much room as possible for dessert.
But I like it: I’ll say anything to get you to allow me to engage in shortsighted behavior with benefit only in the immediate and superficial.
Fine: I’ll do what you say, but be aware that I see this as an affront to all things good and pure, i.e. my desires.
I’m hungry: I want junk food.
But you said!: I ignored every proviso, condition and stipulation that you made and only focused on the part about getting what I want.
I put it away: I threw it on the floor, but there’s a chance it looks like it’s near its proper place if you choose just the right angle.
I have no clothes: I resent the occasional need to look for clean laundry in the -gasp!- laundry room.
[Insert sibling name] is distracting me: [Sibling name] is dutifully facilitating my efforts to avoid doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
I didn’t hear you: I was ignoring you and hoping you’d get sidetracked by something else so I could keep doing what I’m doing.
Sarah, this schedule for the end-of-year kindergarten party needs some work. You made the mistake of leaving the kids time to eat something.
When we schedule these things, we specifically make them at dinnertime. To give the parents the illusion that some nutritious food will be available immediately afterwards, we rely on them to bring pot luck food, but inevitably they all bring cake of some sort, or at least cheap store-bought cookies. Starting any time after five means we might inadvertently give some families a chance to get some non-crap comestibles into their systems, and we can’t have that; not when we’ve spent the whole year plying them with sugary snacks when the parents aren’t looking.
Start by announcing that pickup time is early today – say, eleven-thirty. That will give the parents several unanticipated hours of conflict between work and child care, establishing a firm base of resentment before we even start the festivities.
What we need to do is call the event itself, for, say, a quarter to five. People will straggle in, as they always do, and we won’t actually be ready to start for another forty-five minutes to an hour. I’ll get up and make some long-winded announcements of thank-yous to various people: you, other staff, various parents. We’ll have an hour’s worth of performance by the kids: some singing, some dancing, some reciting lines, some interactive stuff with the parents. I see you’ve already got some parents preparing a skit, which is good; they won’t want to waste their preparations even if things are running late.
Following the kids’ display of whatever pathetic moves we’ve taught them – to dangerously amplified music, of course – we’ll crowd everyone into another room for an educational bit: some storytelling, a moral lesson, a bit of history. When we’re finished, and people think it’s time for the fathers’ skit, we’ll get everybody back in here for some more kid-centered activity – a bit of dancing to more loud music should do it – and then we’ll do the skit. They’ve already been informed that the skit should end with more music and dancing, so we’ve got that aspect covered and then some.
When the skit ends, it should be almost seven o’clock already, and everyone will expect to go eat and leave. But that’s when we’ll allow time for the parents to show their appreciation by taking a few minutes to give us some gifts and shower us with disingenuous praise through gritted teeth, to much forced applause. Thinking it’s over, a number of families will get up to leave, but that’s when we’ll start the slide show. It was supposed to be limited to ten minutes, maximum, but in fact it goes almost fourteen. Then we can let everyone go eat.
It will be past dinnertime by then for most of these four-year-olds, so they’ll go to where the food is and begin gorging. Inevitably, there will be no flatware, even though someone will remember to bring a knife to cut the frosted cake. So that cake will go uneaten, causing bitterness all around, but the rest of the junk food will get finished quickly. Some freak parent might even bring a fruit platter, but its nutritional value will be far outweighed by the fat and sugar in all the other treats.
That’s where we’ll have various take-home gifts for the kids: badly cropped and stretched photos, flimsy plastic doodads of dubious utility, and just enough other detritus to make carrying it all, plus a now-tired, hungry child, an exercise in frustration and resentment. That is how to cap off the year, Sarah. Let’s get started.
Archimedes’ Principle: Any floating object displaces its own weight of fluid.
As Applied to Parenting: The bathroom floor is gonna get absolutely soaked.
Newton’s First law of Motion: Every body remains in a state of constant velocity unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force.
As Applied to Parenting: The kid will stay in bed until you force him to get up; and the kid will remain wild until you force him to calm down and get ready for bed.
Newton’s Second Law of Motion: A body of mass subject to a net force undergoes an acceleration that has the same direction as the force and a magnitude that is directly proportional to the force and inversely proportional to the mass.
As Applied to Parenting: Keep valuable objects out of the kid’s reach.
Newton’s Third law of Motion: The mutual forces of action and reaction between two bodies are equal, opposite and colinear.
As Applied to Parenting: The more you need the kid to cooperate, the more likely he is to resist.
Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation: Every point mass in the universe attracts every other point mass with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.
As Applied to Parenting: The toys will never, ever remain put away.
Newton’s Law of Cooling: The rate of heat loss of a body is proportional to the difference in temperatures between the body and its surroundings.
As Applied to Parenting: The food will be too hot for the kid to eat, or you waited too long and it’s already too cool to be appetizing.
Boyle’s Law of Gases: For a fixed amount of an ideal gas kept at a fixed temperature, pressure and volume are inversely proportional.
As Applied to Parenting: That diaper is going to stink.
Law of Conservation of Energy: The total amount of energy in a system remains constant over time.
As Applied to Parenting: Just when you’ve gotten one kid to sleep, the other will wake up crying.
Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: One can never know with perfect accuracy both of those two important factors which determine the movement of one of the smallest particles—its position and its velocity. It is impossible to determine accurately both the position and the direction and speed of a particle at the same instant.
As Applied to Parenting: You will wrongly anticipate which direction the toddler will toss his bowl of cornflakes.
Law of Conservation of Mass: The mass of a closed system will remain constant over time.
As Applied to Parenting: No matter how healthy he is, you will be made to feel like a bad parent because your child’s weight percentile is low.
Law of Conservation of Momentum: If a closed system is not affected by external forces, its total momentum cannot change.
As Applied to Parenting: No matter how good the rest of the day was, once things start to go downhill toward evening, you know you’ll have a fiend on your hands by bedtime.
Avogadro’s Law: Equal volumes of ideal or perfect gases, at the same temperature and pressure, contain the same number of particles, or molecules.
As Applied to Parenting: Somehow the kids can tell when a sibling’s balloon, seemingly identical to his own, is actually inflated to a larger volume, and thus cause for a tantrum.
Jack, this is just amateurish. No one goes for old-fashioned antisemitism anymore.
It’s one thing to couch your Jew-hatred in terms of Zionism; we all do that. But if you want to keep those hymies from moving into this neighborhood in greater numbers, you’re going to need some arguments more sophisticated than Jewish control of the media. That’s not gonna play in Peoria. Besides, Peoria already has an established Jewish presence, so you have to rethink your whole approach.
What you need to do is find some issue that really bothers the people around here, and then develop some approach that somehow links Jews with the dark side of that issue – but you have to make sure it’s not a Jewish issue, or the antisemitism is too obvious. It’s been decades since a guy could count on knee-jerk Jew-hatred in America, or at least open Jew-hatred. What you want to do is attract the closet antisemites and give them enough plausible deniability so everyone can claim it’s not about the Jews’ Jewishness at all.
So what you might do is oppose construction of a synagogue, but only talk about how it would disrupt traffic, or the skyline, or be too noisy. And those concerns can be completely fabricated; you only need them to give you and your associates cover. Since we’re talking Orthodox Jews here, give an example of how crowded the streets will be on Saturdays with people going to and from services. If you’re loud enough about it, your vehemence can make up for any perceived ignorance. And if anyone pokes holes in your claim, like by noting that Orthodox Jews don’t drive on their Sabbath, well, you just move on to the next claim, no harm done. After all, it was just an issue of traffic as far as you’re concerned.
Then there’s the issue of an eruv, that string around the town that makes renders the whole place a single residential area in Jewish law. The Jews won’t be allowed to carry things around outside on the Sabbath without it. But since the community will need municipal approval to attach the string to telephone poles, you can take aim at their attempt to make the place more hospitable to Jews by claiming the project illegally involves the government in religious affairs. That way you can make it about the constitution instead of about how much you hate kikes.
I know you’ve also tried to muster opposition to Jewish migration by arguing about property values. But I don’t think you’ll have much success there, since it’s just ain’t so. In fact a growing Jewish community pushes property values up. You’re best off just dropping that subject, unless you want to look like a bigot and an idiot. Idiot is OK these days, but bigot is not.
Of course if you want to go really hardcore, and are willing to invest some serious time and energy, you could go the San Francisco route and try to get ritual circumcision banned. If you go down that path, just make sure not to get too caught up in the medical evidence for or against; there just isn’t anything conclusive either way. You need to keep the discourse squarely in the emotional realm: make it about babies’ rights; throw around loaded terms such as “mutilation” and “genital cutting”; call the practice barbaric. Those are good ways of staying on the offensive and avoiding the issue of your opposition to Jewish existence, not merely Jewish practice. Your lead here is the highly successful model of antisemites who claim only to be anti-Zionist, a roster that includes such reputable souls as Saddam Hussein and Mahmoud Ahmadinijad.
You know I would never steer you wrong, Jack. Some of my best friends are antisemites.
Caroline, it’s so sweet of you to take care of our plants and keep our house while we’re overseas. Chris and I are grateful to you for making the time commitment. I’m just leaving this note to make sure you have all the information you need.
I guess we’ll start with alarm system. I told you the code, but in fact all the code does is give you about 15 seconds to get through the front hallway to the kitchen, where you have to punch in the code again on the keypad behind the toaster oven (next to the fridge). If you don’t make it in time, the kitchen doorways are sealed by an iron portcullis that drops very quickly from the ceiling, and noxious fumes start coming from the air conditioning vents. So please, please make sure to get the code punched in swiftly. I’d have included instructions about taking care of the dog, but poor Fifi set off the alarm accidentally a few weeks ago and got impaled on the portcullis.
When you leave, please reset the alarm on your way out by punching in the code again, first from the kitchen and again from the front hallway. You’ll have to enter the code on the hallway within thirty seconds of doing so in the kitchen, or trap doors open on the entire ground floor. The trap doors lead to an oubliette that we don’t really use except to store old copies of National Geographic that won’t fit in the bathroom, and we don’t tend to go down there more than once or twice a year. So just be careful.
Next: the plants. Most of the plants are taken care of by an automatic irrigation system; the only ones to worry about are the three bonsai trees in the study and the Audrey II in the living room. The bonsai trees just need some trimming every now and then to keep their shapes; you probably won’t need to do anything, since we just trimmed them yesterday. But the Audrey II needs either a couple of live mice or half a pint of human blood, every other day. We tend to use mice: just place them in a paper bag at the opening to the plant’s main pod, and the Audrey II will devour them quickly. If you get squeamish and don’t want to handle mice, feel free to use blood; we have some needles, tubes and bags in the master bathroom that you may feel free to use. And you’re welcome to lie down on the bed, but make sure any stains are properly laundered.
We have a tank of exotic fish in the study, most of which are also fed automatically at the right intervals, but the piranha in the other tank needs fresh meat every few days. We keep some leftover pieces of meat on the door of the fridge; two or three of those should do. If any of the pieces you select still have fur or accessories, such as ribbons, on them, please remove them before placing the meat in the tank. If you run out of meat – though you shouldn’t unless Glenn gets unusually hungry and doesn’t leave anything over – you can find more pieces of Fifi in the freezer; you’ll just have to soak them in lukewarm water in the sink for about ten minutes before you drop them in the tank.
We had the place fumigated just before we left, so don’t be surprised to find dead roaches or other little beasties. You can just sweep them up and dump them in the trash. We might also have forgotten to check the second-floor guest room beforehand, and neither of us can recall actually saying goodbye to our last houseguest, so it’s possible you’ll find a body in there if you decide to look. That’s entirely up to you, of course, but if you elect not to check, please keep the guest room door closed just in case. If you do find a body, that would obviously give you more options when it comes to feeding Glenn. And please examine the body’s possessions so you can leave us a note telling us who it was.
Trash collection is on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and we didn’t have time to empty the trash cans around the house before we left, so please take care of that for us when you get a chance. The bins are on the south side of the house, right near the shed with the vials of rare communicable diseases. There’s probably trash from the shed in the bins, so you’ll want to don a mask before removing the lids to add anything. Cliff, our friend who lives in the shed, sometimes likes to curl up in one of the bins to read his German medical journals from the early 1940s, so please knock on each one to alert him before you wheel the bins to the curb for collection.
That should do it, I think. There’s no need to answer the phone or open the mail; we’ve received so many ransom notes that we don’t bother treating them urgently anymore. After all, they want our money, so they can sit and stew until we get around to answering. And we’ve called to suspend delivery of the paper until we get back, so don’t go looking for our copy of Der Stürmer. If it does get delivered, just slide it under Cliff’s door; he usually enjoys it after we finish with it.
Again, thank you so much, Caroline! We’ll give you a call when we get back. Perhaps we can have you over for a home-cooked dinner.
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