Mightier Than The Pen

Making The World A Bitter Place

Archive for June 2011

We’ll Play Spin the Molotov Cocktail

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A slumber party? Why, that’s a terrific idea, Lynn. Good for you. Only in second grade and already getting creative with birthday celebrations. How many friends do you want to invite?

Ah, I see. Hmm. Well, Lynn, we’re going to have some difficulty fitting the whole class, even just the girls. It is a big class, after all. If you really want this to be a sleepover for everyone, then you’re going to have to trim the numbers a little. I can suggest a couple of ways: invite only the kids you like – or that you would like to like you – and forget the others. They’re just losers, and you don’t want to associate with losers. The other possibility is to invite everyone for a party, but only your real friends get to stay over.

I want to make clear that either way, you must make sure that absolutely everyone knows which group they’re in. You can’t have losers just up and assume that they’re in just because no one rubbed their loserness in their face enough. So when you issue invitations, distribute them when everyone is around and make a point of remarking loudly about who deserves your friendship and who could never hope to be in your league.

But that’s just the beginning, since we do need to plan the party itself. Obviously it needs to be on a weekend when no one has to worry about getting up late. So let’s make it next Saturday night, since your birthday is Sunday, and we can do a little “official” birthday celebration at breakfast, and you and your friends can have another special thing to gloat about in the presence of the unworthy, just to twist the jealousy dagger a bit.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though; we need to discuss the afternoon and evening first. So you want just to invite one group, not stagger it as I suggested? That’s good; it’s less complicated that way. What activities do you have in mind? Oh, nice – pin the tail on the donkey. May I suggest a variation you might enjoy? How about instead of a donkey, you use the picture of one of your unpopular classmates? Oh, I knew you’d like that.

Then what? Oh, I guess pizza, unless you have some other idea. Hmm. Yes, going to the pizza parlor instead of ordering in is a good idea, and it’s walking distance, too. Are you sure that Freeman girl will be outside at that hour? She might not see you and your buddies pass by. Oh, she always plays with her dumb dolls about then? Fine. You need to pretend you don’t notice her. It will actually sting more than if you say anything to her. It will be a greater blow to her self esteem to realize her existence doesn’t even register with you than if you take the time to give her attention, even if it’s negative. It’s important that you internalize that attitude long before junior high.

When you come home, we’ll announce it’s pajama time. Ooh, it just occurred to me: if you really want to do this exclusion thing right, there has to be somebody who ends up crying and going home early because everyone is treating her like an outcast. It’s probably best if you find someone who really, really wants to be part of your clique, someone who will be thrilled to pieces to be among those who received an invitation. But once she gets here, you have to make sure she doesn’t get too comfortable. She can’t be allowed to really feel she’s made it into your inner circle. The idea is to keep the teasing and meanness limited until we get back from the pizza place. Then, once everyone gets out their pajamas, have the rest of the girls gang up on her and mock her mercilessly. It could be anything, but her taste in sleepwear would make a fine issue to start with. Then you can move on to her hair, and how it resembles some kind of roadkill baking in the sun, or accuse her of liking the most hideous boy in the class. I’m sure you know that facts aren’t the point here. Your goal is to make sure this girl ends up in tears, running to me so she can call her parents and go home. I’ll pretend to sympathize, but inside I’ll be cheering you on. Before she leaves, you need to say something about not wanting to have over a crybaby who would probably wet herself in the middle of the night anyway.

But back to pajama time. Once everyone is ready, I’ll put on a nice long movie for you to watch. I have a number of them you haven’t seen yet: Silence of the Lambs, The Shawshank Redemption, Platoon, Schindler’s List, and Pulp Fiction. Any of those should really set the tone for the rest of the night. If any of your guests decide the movie is too scary, that’s a clear indication she’s a loser and should go home sooner rather than later.

It’s important that you learn this lesson early in life: there’s no such thing as too picky when it comes to choosing friends.

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Written by Thag

June 30, 2011 at 11:06 pm

This Court Will Recess While the Plaintiff Puts Away All the LEGO

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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.

Written by Thag

June 30, 2011 at 12:06 pm

And I Got a Paper Cut While Writing This

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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.

Gregg

Written by Thag

June 29, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Work Ethic: Noun; What I Lack

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In my junior year of high school I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be a journalist. Thank God I never acted on that decision. For one thing, I can’t stand deadlines. They make me want to hide from the work and hope it goes away. I’m surprised how often that actually works. [Note to self: the US Presidency is probably not in your career path.]

It actually wasn’t my decision at all, come to think of it. My AP English teacher decided it would match what she perceived as my skill set and passions. She even ended up writing an effusive recommendation for some merit-based scholarship based on my supposed goals of bringing the truth to the world with compelling, articulate flair. In a fit of what now seems to be insanity, I even had her sign my yearbook. She did so with breathless prose, extolling the virtues of good journalism and the nobility of chasing such a dream. She wrote it in French. In retrospect, I must say her virtues as a teacher remain difficult to prove. Not to mention her presumed ability to arrive at an accurate assessment of an adolescent’s still-nascent talents. I should have seen even then that there was no way I’d ever succeed in journalism.

I harbored the illusion that I would eventually grow out of my tendency, which flowered from the fourth grade onward, not to give enough of a damn about things assigned to me. “Half-assed” doesn’t begin to describe most of my last-minute project submissions: if you strung them end-to-end you might end up with three quarters of an ass. But the few projects about which I did care, I did well. I suppose I assumed that as I approached a path in life that hewed more closely to a career that suited me, those would be the rule rather than the exception. I was a moron.

Fortunately, I discovered rather early in my college years that journalism and I were not destined to blossom together. Although I quickly advanced through the hierarchy of the undergraduate newspaper, I found myself assigning the meaty, potential-rich stories to others instead of snatching them for myself. I just wasn’t interested in more work than was absolutely necessary. My most notable journalistic achievement during those years was transcribing a conservative lecturer’s hourlong diatribe against the impending opening of the university’s first fraternity. My avoidance of work, on at least one occasion, extending to manufacturing absurd scenarios that would shift the burden of responsibility for my uselessness to the laps of my unsuspecting superiors.

The occasion that comes to mind occurred during my second semester on campus, when I hadn’t done an iota’s worth of work toward a major story, since I was too busy playing simulated chess on my roommate’s computer. The night I was supposed to submit it, I took one of my unused 3.5″ floppy disks and slammed it repeatedly in the door to my dorm room, taking care to crease the internal disk and render it all but unusable. I then sulked into the newsroom forlornly brandishing the disk and lamenting the fate of this major story. Oh, and that this unforeseen turn of events could not be remedied my me, as I had important prior commitments. But my shirking was seldom so obvious that it became too discernible a pattern. What I did discern, however, was that although I had no specific ideas of what career to choose, I would certainly not choose journalism.

So it gives me a measure of gratification to see the myriad philippics in all and sundry bastions of traditional media, railing against the newfangled business model that values eyeballs over all else, to the point that the pillars of good journalism as we knew it are at risk of collapse. The gratifying feeling lasts about four seconds, until I realize that I am unemployed anyway.

Still, I breathe a sigh of relief that I did not waste years of my life pursuing a career in a field rapidly transforming from excellence in reporting to excellence in marketing. For journalism, I never had the requisite discipline; for marketing, I never had the requisite lack of a soul or conscience.

Even at this moment, as the four of you read this post, I cannot bring myself to do what every rational person would conclude is the reasonable act: despite my sincere wish to succeed as a writer, I refuse to sell my soul to Facebook, to cynically exploit my friendships in an effort to give this blog prominence. Heck, I don’t even have a Facebook account.

Call me a traditionalist. Or whatever. Whatever you call me is probably not important enough to warrant any effort on my part to respond. There’s a simulated chess game going on here, after all.

Written by Thag

June 28, 2011 at 10:27 pm

In Other Words, Only My Wishes Count

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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.

Written by Thag

June 27, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Your Job as a Kindergarten Teacher Is to Torment the Parents

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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.

Written by Thag

June 26, 2011 at 11:55 pm

The Physics of Parenting

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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.

Written by Thag

June 23, 2011 at 8:30 pm