Friday, October 30, 2009

A Child's Garden of Worses

I usually don’t write about things connected to my real job because I do not want to run the risk of it becoming my former real job. However, if I approach it in a purely Jane Goodall scientific mode maybe I won’t annoy my superiors. Since the topic of my column is an animal unlike any other this objective point of view makes sense. I am talking about that unique aspect of humanity known to the layman as “Kindergartener” or to the pure scientist as Absoluteeous Impulseeous.

When I first ventured into the natural habitat of the Kindergartener I became acutely aware of one thing. I am a creature of language and logic and kindergarteners are not. This became patently obvious as I tried to explain to a five-year-old why it is a good idea to use both hands while carrying a breakfast tray containing pancakes and syrup. Obviously the person who decided syrup was a good thing to give to 64 individuals who have only been adept at walking upright for the most recent third of their lives is now giggling uncontrollably miles away from the school cafeteria which now resembles the La Brea Tar Pits but instead of an exhausted wooly mammoth sinking into the muck and mire it is an exasperated principal prying shoe leather from the linoleum. If I try to explain why it is a good idea to use two hands the child’s eyes glaze over after the third word if none of those three words include candy, recess or candy.

It has taken me a long time and it goes against my natural default settings which require me to tell people why something is important, but I am getting better at just telling kindergarteners things. Kindergarteners have neither the patience nor the attention span for all the explaining. If I explain to a six year old that kicking a fellow student on the playground because you were mad at him is not an appropriate expression of anger, even though anger is a natural emotion and it is okay to be angry but not okay to follow through with that anger by inflicting pain on another human being, I’ve lost him. If I tell the kicker that he wouldn’t like it if somebody kicked him so he shouldn’t kick other people, he has started looking over my shoulder at the cool clock on the wall. If I just lean down close to the Jackie Chan of the jungle gym and say, “don’t kick or you’re in trouble” I have a chance of saving other children’s shins from minor bruising.

It became obvious after only a short time amongst them that a kindergarten student will not respond if the adult does not use the magic word. I am not talking about the magic words of manners: please and thank you. I am referring to the specific name of the child you wish to address. Let’s say a kindergartener is running down the hall, an unsafe act for most humans made even more dangerous by the fact these particular runners are as aware of their surroundings as a deaf bat, a deaf bat which has been dead for a week, a deaf bat which has been dead for a week and buried in the Mariana Trench.

If a grown up does not know the particular child’s name he will be ignored. I’ve tried. It usually goes something like this: “Uh, excuse me, hey, uh, kid, umm, little boy, uh, dude, kid in the red shirt, hey…” By now the Usain Bolt of the hallway has already startled two custodians, frightened three fourth graders and blown several crayon renditions of Wilbur and Charlotte right off the wall. However, if I know the kid’s name and call it out he’ll hit the brakes like Claudette Colbert just exposed her ankle and calf to a passing motorist. (Give yourself 65 bonus points if you followed that allusion.)

Just like Ms. Goodall I have also discovered many fabulous things. Most kindergarteners still have wonder and awe. They are excited by so many things that the rest of us take for granted. They also wish to share with you their excitement. This is why they are always trying to show you things and tell you about their lives. The only downside to this is: if a kindergartener beckons for you to lean down so they can talk to you and the first words out of his mouth are “there was this one time” you need to clear your calendar for approximately the next four hours.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Fully Functioning Family - The Downside

My upbringing scarred me for life. I won’t write a lurid biography which will land me on Oprah, or even worse, Jerry Springer. Nonetheless my youth has made many parts of my adult life unmanageable.

What horrors have I lived through? None. That’s the problem. My formative years were spent almost completely in a state of contentment and well-being. Ergo my thresholds for putting up with mean spirited people, dealing with anger and aggression, and my ability to fly off the handle and fully engage all my organs of suspicion are severely diminished. Yet, more and more, it seems those are the skill sets which would best serve me in the world we inhabit today.
I remember my father commenting when a person accuses you of having a certain trait it is often a trait that person himself has in spades. If someone thinks you are a liar it often means they are good at lying themselves. They assume others are doing it just as often as they do, thus they accuse people, truthful or otherwise, of also possessing that tendency.

The opposite is also the case. It doesn’t occur to me to lie. I am not saying that in some sort of “aren’t I pure as the driven snow” egotistical manner. It just doesn’t occur to me to lie. There are times I did lie because I screwed up so monumentally lying seemed the only recourse available to me, but it is not the default setting for my software. Because of all that, it is also not my default setting for interpreting what others are telling me. It does not occur to me that people are lying to me even when most other people, including the majority of toddlers and people who actually look up when told the word gullible is written on the ceiling, can tell Pinocchio’s nose just grew longer than Durante and de Bergerac combined. I am easier to fleece than a flock of sheep in May. (I probably shouldn’t have said that in such a public venue. My voicemail will be chock full of wonderful opportunities for aluminum siding and credit cards with the low, low interest rate of a pound of flesh compounded annually.)

My family liked each other. We chose to spend time together, on purpose. Don’t get the wrong idea. We weren’t the Waltons. Oh, we were that supportive and we had the strong highly principled father and the stalwart caring mother it is just we didn’t have wacky strangers show up on our doorstep every week in order to teach us meaningful lessons about life. (Although having a traveling band of circus performers live in our garage for a while would have totally rocked.)

Come to think of it maybe we were the Walton’s. My oldest brother was named after my father so we could have called him George Boy, and that was well before there was such a thing as a Boy George. Just like John Boy, George Boy wanted to be a writer when he grew up. He didn’t sit at a tiny window in an attic bedroom scribbling stories into a big chief notebook, but he did sit at a desk in his room with a circa 1950s typewriter creating the Great American Novel, yet to be published.

Like so many damaged adults living out the residual after effects of a youth gone horribly, horribly right, I fear I may be passing on the traumas to my own children. Just the other day I witnessed my eldest daughter walk right up to her younger sister and give her a hug. Right there in broad daylight, like it wasn’t anything to be ashamed of both girls showed sisterly affection for each other without being blackmailed into it with promises of iPods and cell phone upgrades if they would just get along with each other for ten minutes.

My fear is it may be too late. My three children may grow up thinking the best of others. They may believe marriage is a supportive partnership between two people based on respect and love as opposed to a sentence of punishment to be endured until the kids are out of the house and then the lawyers divide up the assets and the mental health of the two exhausted combatants of the matrimonial skirmishes. They may have an over-developed sense of fairness and become addicted to the rush one gets from injecting a hit of unadulterated altruism.

All I have to do to save them from a doomed life of contentment with an appreciable lack of angst is expose them to the most effective antidote: talk radio.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Truth Fairy May Be Dead

I have been studying the media for a while and decided that if I am going to make the leap from newspaper columnist to nationally known commentator I will need to change my ways. Instead of simply talking about the world in which I live and relaying the facts in my life I will need to hone different skills so I can convince people to believe things which are patently false and even detrimental to their own well-being. I will do all this in the name of making a buck and fighting with people for the mere sake of being contrary. If you will allow me to use this column for practice I will be forever in your debt.

Can you believe the impudence!?! (I’ll need to use lots of exclamation points) Not only does the government tax us to the point that we can’t afford a supersize Mint Mocha Chip Frappuccino with extra Chocolate Whipped Cream a day so they can pay for aspects of something as trivial as public education! Not only does the government expect me to get a license, which is like asking for permission, to drive a car – a car I paid for out of my own pocket with the help of a 15 year loan from a bank who didn’t care I couldn’t afford the payments! Now the government has gone too far! The jack-booted fascists are pumping directly into my house…water! They built an elaborate system of pipes throughout the entire city, proving there was a conspiracy of gigantic proportions, for the sole purpose of injecting into my home the very essence of life itself. How dare they?! Then they have the temerity to send me a bill each and every month to defray the cost of this communistic fluid. Sure I need it to cook and drink and bathe and wash my clothes and flush away waste, but the despotic government still has no right to force it on me like some bush league Kim Jong-il imposing its will and its colorless odorless liquid on me as if I was some sort of faceless proletariat to be exploited.

I say it is time to stand up to this socialist Big Brother (the Big Brother from the Orwell novel, not the Big Brother from that crummy reality show hosted by erstwhile journalist Julie Chen)! Refuse to turn on your taps! Dig your own well! Collect rain water! Drink only the grain alcohol you can create in your garage with no help from government hand-outs! So what if you lose your job because co-workers refuse to let you into the building due to the stench which follows you around like paparazzi following George Clooney! So what if you’re down to three healthy teeth in your head and you don’t need to cut your hair because you can snap it off at the length you want due to its stiffness. At least we will be free!

Oh, boy…that was exhausting. Thirteen exclamation points can really take it out of a guy. On the other hand it was kind of fun. It is freeing to make an argument which does not have to rely on logic or even facts. It sounds like a genuine argument but all it is really is a great big “You mother wears army boots.”

Maybe I don’t need to be so bombastic. That would be less exhausting. Maybe I can become a more subtle spinmaster.

The other day it came to my attention that many people are unemployed. The people discussing it on the television seemed to think it was a bad thing. What’s the big deal? Having lots of people looking for a job has many benefits.

One of the only laws of economics most people have even the slightest grasp of is supply and demand. If the supply is low and the demand is high the price goes up. That must mean if there are fewer jobs and a high demand for them then wages the workers earn must go up raising the standard of living for us all.

Also, if there are more people looking for work then the pool of possible employees must have a greater variety. This could mean fast food workers who have master’s degrees in Romantic Poetry. So, instead of hearing “Do you want fries with that?” the guy behind the counter might say “water, water, everywhere you wanna supersize that drink.”

Christopher Pyle wishes to apologize to Samuel Taylor Coleridge for messing with his poem. Also, he realizes he implied many wild things in this column. The craziest thing may be that people who majored in Romantic poetry aren’t already working at McDonald’s. He can be reached at