A labor of dislike

My sister recently unearthed some lost works from my late mother’s personal art collection. Both of these are from my “Elementary Period” (1967-73).

The first one is a scathing commentary on the cruel hegemony of the construction and paper industries, and their effect on childhood innocence. The giant anime-style eyes betray the deep emotion I felt, as do the cat whiskers. I call it, “Why I Majored in Computer Science and Not Art”.

The second piece is a study in mixed-media expressionism. Notice how the haphazard crayon work dares the viewer to find straight lines and defies conventional notions of what colors go together or what a stained glass window is supposed to look like. I call it, “Untalented Child Seeks NEA Grant”. Truly a work ahead of its time.

The Shriek

A few weeks ago I had business at my church one weekday morning.  As I was walking by the fellowship hall, I saw that the preschool kids were having races across the room.*  The kids were very quiet and well mannered until the teacher shouted “Go!”  At that moment, the kids took off running, and each of them began emitting a paint-peeling squeal that immediately stopped when they reached the other side of the room.

I don’t have children of my own, so I have never studied the phenomenon of why children scream while running.  However, this does not stop me from making up two theories about why this happens:

Theory 1: Children have small torsos.  As a result, their legs are much closer to their vocal chords than with adults.  It is possible that the vibrations of their feet hitting the floor as they run are transmitted directly to the vocal chords, causing them to vibrate at a much higher frequency than normal.

Theory 2: Children are inexperienced.  Children as young as three years of age may have been running for as little as three years.  The screaming may be a reflex reaction caused by the sudden realization, “Holy crap!  I can’t believe I’m moving this fast!  How did that happen?”

Little-Known Made-Up Fact: On the TV show Arrow, the “canary cry” sound made by the Black Canary is an actual recording of children playing tag** during recess at St. Mary’s Preschool in Vancouver, British Columbia.

*Child safety disclaimer 1: Racing is a form of competition, and may result in winners and losers.  No children experienced loss of self-esteem due to the fact that they were raised by actual grown-ups and not emotionally stunted overprotective weenies.  No participation awards were presented in the running of this race.

**Child safety disclaimer 2: Tag is a form of competition, and may result in winners or losers.  All children participating in this game were provided with juice boxes and a nap, after which they didn’t even remember playing tag, because it was time to feed the hamster.

(Trigger warning: Although Trigger was a three-year old stallion, he never screamed like a banshee on fire while running. This may be due to the fact that his feet were further away from his vocal chords.  Or possibly that his parents were not emotionally stunted overprotective weenie thoroughbreds.)


Making a name for oneself (or others)

Earlier today I was at Barnes and Noble.  As I was leaving, I passed the maternity/baby section, and one title caught my eye: 100,001 Best Baby Names. I didn’t have time to stop and check,* but I’m really hoping the last name on the list was “Irrelevant”.**

Actually, I did have time to check, but the names were listed in alphabetical order, not rank order.  The last name in the book was “Zygmunt”, which while being a bad name for a baby, is certainly not worse then “Dweezil”.

** For those who don’t follow football, the last person selected in the NFL draft each year is given the nickname “Mr. Irrelevant”.  He is always cut during training camp, but as a consolation prize, his mother gets a nice picture of him in his NFL uniform.

Trigger warning: “Trigger” did not make the list of the 100,001 best baby names.  It came in at 100,003, right behind “Cruella“.

By “football”, I of course mean football.  The kind played in the United States and Canada (and London in weeks 4, 7, and 8).  You’re thinking of “fútbol” (pronounced “SOCK-er”), which is an endurance match in which a dozen men see how long they can run around a field in shorts without scoring any points or doing anything interesting.  The current record is 60 minutes, plus two 15-minute overtime periods, held by every soccer game that ever went into double overtime.

Notice of Total Justification Anecdote:  One time at the gym, I was on the treadmill, and the TV in front of me was showing a World Cup semifinal match between a European team and a Latin American team.  (I believe it was Germany vs. Argentina, but it could have been the Holy Roman Empire vs. the Incas for all it matters.)  There was about 5 minutes left in the game, and the score was tied 0-0.  I walked away as fast as I could, but as I was on a treadmill, I didn’t get far.

So I watched the rest of the game, rooting for a final score of 0-0, so that the semifinal game of the world’s most inexplicably popular competition would have to be decided on penalty kicks.  (For Americans, this would be the equivalent of having the NFC Championship game end 0-0 and be decided by a punt, pass and kick contest, or the NBA semifinals end 0-0 and be decided by a game of Horse.)  I knew little about soccer, so when they announced at the end of regulation time that there would be an overtime to break the tie, I was very disappointed, but I was still on the treadmill, so I kept on rooting.  Eventually (15 minutes later chronologically, 7 weeks later subjectively), the overtime ended at 0-0.  I was devastated to find out that there was another 15 minute overtime period, but at least it would be the last.  To my great dismay, one of the teams (either the Toltecs or Austria-Hungary, I don’t remember) scored with less than 2 minutes (subjective time: 3 months) remaining.

I remember two things that reinforced my preconceived notions of soccer (the best kind of notions):

  1. Since the purpose of soccer is to avoid scoring points, one of the important statistics they maintain is “shots on goal”, the number of times a player accidentally kicks the ball toward the goalie.  In this game, at the end of regulation time, the Mayans had 0 goals on 12 attempts, and the Merovingians had 0 goals on 13 attempts, for a combined Futility quotient of 0-25.
  2. At one point, the color commentary guy (who was British, or possibly English), made the following statement after a missed shot on goal:

That would have been a splendid goal had it occurred.

When you have been reduced to subjunctive commentary, it’s time to go watch cricket.  At least it’s confusing enough to hold one’s attention.

Public service announcement: While searching for a baby wearing Carolina Panthers gear, I stumbled upon this picture of a baby wearing a Cleveland Browns helmet:

baby browns helmet

The child is clearly waiting for the Browns to make the playoffs, or possibly got confused and is watching fútbol.  Child Protective Services has been made aware of this abuse in either case.

Author’s note: This post was written in the style of Edgar Allen Poe, who apparently didn’t like soccer either.

Self-serving the community

This morning when I went to Barnes & Noble there was a fire truck out front. There was no fire. Apparently there were no fires anywhere this morning, because the firemen were talking with kids, passing out plastic fire helmets*, and posing for pictures with kids next to the fire truck.  (Disclaimer: A “picture” is like a selfie, only someone else takes it — kids, ask your parents.)

I wish to take a stand in support of holding a fire safety program right outside a giant building full of paper.

* Disclaimer: The plastic fire helmets were black.  This is an odd choice of colors, unless you are attempting to recruit anti-firemen to drum up business.  My stand for this is substantially less supportive.

Author’s note: I walked into the store behind a young father and his 4-year old son.  Before we had even gotten through the airlock (that space between the inner and outer doors where they put the table of unsellable books they don’t care about you stealing), the boy took off his black fire helmet, handed it to his father, and said, “Can you hold this?”  I could feel the waves of regret emanating from him as he took the helmet.

Relative risk


At the Grocery Boy, Jr. near my house (the one with the premium ice that will be less than $1.00 until sometime in 2114), there’s a sign behind the counter advertising cigarette prices. At the top of the sign, there is a statement:

Dare to Compare!

Now, I’m the cautious type. I wear my seat belt. I’ve almost completed my 53rd consecutive year of not skydiving.  Never once have I tugged on Superman’s cape, spit into the wind, pulled the mask* off Clayton Moore (that old Lone Ranger guy), and I wouldn’t think of messing around with Jim. (Disclaimer: I only know one Jim, and he’s far, far away.)

But I do compare things. Truth be told, I’m something of an elitist. Not that I think I’m better than other people in general (I have ample evidence to the contrary). But I believe strongly that people and products can be better than other people and products in individual categories of human endeavor.

However, apparently this behavior carries some sort of unstated danger, particularly when it comes to prices. It’s a subtle risk, though. I have only recently been able to discern exactly what sort of danger I place myself in when I contrast the relative cost of two things. To wit:

  • If the prices here are lower than elsewhere, my lack of thrift exposes me to general public ridicule if I leave without making a purchase, possibly impairing my sense of self-esteem. (Disclaimer: No, it doesn’t. If your sense of self-esteem is ever impacted by the opinions of others, please consult your dictionary for the new and improved definition of “self”.)
  • If the prices here are higher than elsewhere, I face the fiscal imperative to shop elsewhere, which exposes me to hazards such as the apparently drunk texter I passed on the road last night while enroute to elsewhere.
  • If the prices here are the same as elsewhere, I am inevitably forced to confront the possibility of price collusion by certain elements of Big Convenience Store, and its deleterious effects on our capitalist economy.

These are real risks, with potentially devastating consequences.  (If you don’t think so, consider the terrifying double-dog dare.)  And yet, except at public schools, we are willing to expose our children to comparison and competition on a daily basis, in some cases (see video) actively encouraging children to evaluate their relative cuteness, often to the detriment of their understanding of the temporal relationship between raisins and grapes.  I weep for future generations.  (Disclaimer: No, I don’t.)

As I was leaving, I noticed a sign in front of the store:

Your search for the
FRIENDLIEST store on Earth
ends here

I get it now. I can’t afford to compare the friendliness of stores. I wouldn’t dare.

* I also would not pull off the dark sunglasses he wore after Big Lone Ranger sued to make him stop wearing the mask at supermarket openings.

(Disclaimer: I have been looking for a reason to post this AT&T commercial, which I consider to be the greatest commercial of all time. Or would if I wasn’t scared to rank the greatness of commercials.)

Treating the kids to a meal

Yesterday morning I had breakfast at Bob Evans.  On the table was a placard advertising “Trick or Treat Tuesdays: Kids eat free!”

As I sat there eating, I kept wondering, “That’s fine for the kids who get free pancakes, and it’s certainly a treat for the parents who don’t have to pay for a meal.  But what about the “trick”?  Do they bring some random kids a plate full of liver and Brussels sprouts?  Or do they just show up with an empty plate to provide those children a valuable lesson: There’s no such thing as a free Trick or Treat Tuesday?

Math education for dummies



One of the things wrong with modern education is that kids don’t learn math.  This can be verified in almost any retail establishment, using this simple and fun game: Find a young sales associate that looks like he or she is under 21.  (Disclaimer: male sales associates are easier to find, as all female sales associates look 23.)  Purchase an item which costs $4.33, and hand the sales associate a five-dollar bill and eight pennies.  The game is scored as follows:

  • Score two points if he gives you the wrong change.
  • Score one point if he gives you back the 8 pennies, and then gives you the correct change.
  • Score one point if he uses a calculator at any point.
  • Score zero points if he hands you back 3 quarters.
  • Lose a point if he does this without relying on the cash register readout.

This is an easy problem to correct.  Simply find a school-age child.  Wait for them to say “I hate math” or “When am I ever going to use this?”  Then get an indelible marker and write across the child’s forehead “CHEAT ME!”

(Disclaimer 1: If the child is already out of school, it is OK to use a tattoo.)

(Disclaimer 2: This is best done to other people’s children, unless you want your children to live with you forever.)

Noble humor circles


Comedy is a very personal thing.  Different things make some people laugh, while leaving others cold.  My sense of humor tends to revolve around satire and wordplay.  My comedy heroes include Douglas Adams (who had an astounding way with words), Dave Barry (who can manage to set up five jokes at the same time), Steven Wright (who can generate punchlines with no setup at all), and Groucho Marx (who could deliver a joke like no other).

On the other hand, I have no real affinity for slapstick humor.  The one trait I can relate to in women is the inability to see the appeal of the Three Stooges.  And I have a pretty low tolerance for vulgarity, so getting a nervous laugh simply by swearing is wrong to me on many levels.  But even if I don’t share the sentiment, I can understand what makes most people laugh.

And then there’s Christopher, my friend’s 5 year old son.

(Disclaimer: I have not seen Christopher and his mother for many years.  Working from the dates below, today Christopher is about 25 years old.  And yet I’m certain his mother looks 23.)

Continue reading

The Tyrrany of the Alphabet


When my nephew was much younger (around 4 or 5) he used to love to play on my laptop when I came home for Christmas.  However, since I really didn’t have any games for preschoolers on my laptop, and my parents live in 1974, where there is no Internet, our options were limited.

My solution to this was to play spelling games with him.  And by “play spelling games” I mean open Microsoft Word and let him type.  The game had the following rules:

Round 1) I pick a word (“cat”), and he has to type it in by finding the letters C-A-T on the keyboard.

Round 2) I spell a word (“H-O-U-S-E”) and he types it in and tells me what word it is.

The game lasts until he gets bored, or until I think of an escape plan because I’m bored.

One night after dinner we were playing, and he decided to up his game (so to speak) and enter Round 3, where he would spell out a word on the keyboard, and I would tell him what it spelled.  Round 3 went something like this: Continue reading