Friday, December 22, 2006

"More Centrally American"

This may be my last post for a couple of weeks, for Groom and I, some months back, bolstered by a few shots of whiskey slammed down during a State of the Union address (by the end, we were channeling David Byrne, chopping on our arms, and slurring, "This is not our beautiful country"), decided to take Wee Niblet and Girl to



*Guatemala* for two weeks.

Really, what better place to let The Kiddles have their first international adventures (not counting Thunder Bay) than a country recovering from a civil war? If they're going to make it in this world, they need to know early and young that good coffee comes from countries where indigenous people have been "disappeared" through guerilla warfare.

We haven't even been teaching them any helpful Spanish or Mayan phrases but instead have been honing their pronunciation of a single French term: "coup d'etat."

Last weekend, for further preparation, we took them to see Mel "I hate Jews, but only when I'm drunk" Gibson's APOCOLYPTO. There's nothing sweeter than hearing my three-year-old son's voice, piping up in the darkness: "Mommy, what's a human sacrifice? Is that like the time I lost my Martian Manhunter action figure?"

All right, so actually we're planning a rather-benign family vacation to visit my sister, who teaches at an "American-style" Guatemalan school in Guat City ("So, as long as we're reading Lily's Purple Plastic Purse, would anyone like fries with that?"). We'll travel to a waterpark, a volcanic lake, and the town where my sister gets her eyelashes tinted. I predict, as well, that many a local market will benefit from our desire for gorgeous, colorful fabrics and folkart.

Along the way, I'm sure I'll take a header into some lava or mangle my Spanish attempts and end up asking a waitress for "more green knuckles in my shoehorn"; in short, when I get back, you can be assured of a few new Jocelyn As Traveler Dork tales.

(Them ain't puffs of smoke coming out of those volcanoes; them is word balloons in which Jocelyn is screeching "YEEEEOOOWWW, but lava stings my suppurating sores!").

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"The Best You Can Hope for in the Hoosegow is a Sealy Posturpedic"

Consider this story of misdirected holiday hopes, broadcast last week on NPR:

Richard Perez of Lake Station, Indiana, wanted to impress his beloved wife by giving her a plasma television this Christmas. The rub was that he didn't actually feel compelled to *pay* for the TV.

At this point, a little Grinchian ingenuity kicked in, and Richard brainstormed: "Hear me out on this, brain: I work as a security guard at the Radisson, and that's a company, right? And it's companies what sell stuff, right? And sometimes they don't even sell stuff but even give it way, right? Plus the really good companies sometimes call that giving away dealie 'a holiday bonus,' right? And can I even help it if the Radisson Company Place is too busy or cheap or confused to sort out its holiday bonuses this year? Well, I can kind of help it, I suppose. I could help them bonus me because they are, after all, a Company Place, and I do work there. Has anybody seen my box of wine? I got the Peachy Reunite' the other day on clearance at the Chug 'N Drop."

Enjoy the wine, you criminal genius; that job at the Radisson? Not for long, Poor Richard. Not for long.

His mind made up, Perez punched in at work ("If I'm on the property, I'm on the clock, baby. Hey, how long 'til my break? I need a Marlboro but bad") and shortly thereafter, forgetting all about the hotel's surveillance cameras--as a security guard, why *would* he remember?--he enlisted the aid of his favorite righthand man and best friend: an empty luggage cart.

Entering an unoccupied room, Perez loaded up Best Friend with a 42-inch plasma TV and a Sleep Number bed system (one of those doohickies that can adjust mattress position and firmness). Knowing that a plasma TV and a Sleep Number bed system might, *cough cough*, look suspicious on a luggage cart, especially as he rolled them out of the hotel and up to his idling van, Richard cleverly disguised the cart by draping a sheet over it. ("In all my years here at the Radisson as a security guard, I know I've never stopped anyone and asked 'em, 'Yo, what you got under that sheet on your luggage cart, Mortimer?' I don't dis people like that, and plus also the customer is always right, and some people might just need a sheet over a luggage cart, like me tonight as I bonus myself.")

On tiny cat feet, he then slyly hoisted the goods into his getaway vehicle, drove home--gunning it to 80 mph all the way--and wrapped up the TV for his wife (in my mind, she is named Carlene), sticking it under the tree with a card that read: "To Mom, Honeybunny, from Big Papa, Daddy." Then he retired to the comfort of his newly-positioned and firmed mattress, watching the old TV and hollering, "NOOOO deal" at Howie Mandel, until...

...the police showed up, warrant in hand, to cuff Big Papa (reading him his Veranda Rights), ruin Carlene's Christmas, and take a quick joy ride on the Sleep Number. In true Spinal Tap fashion, they were overheard directing Newbie Officer David St. Hubbins, "Crank it to Eleven!"

Monday, December 18, 2006

"An Acceptional Tail"

I read and grade papers for a living. While I was recently compelled to poke a hole in my eardrum with a mechanical pencil when I read the 9,543rd paper on "why bow hunting rocks," for the most part, my job has its perks: a great schedule, lots of autonomy, and an office door that locks.

One of the non-contractual perks, though, is cackling at student errors. If you are one of my students and are reading this right now, rest assured I would never chuckle at *you*--no you are all that is triumphant luminosity and startling genius; it's all the others to whom I'm referring. Most certainly, you would *never* struggle with subject/verb agreement or rely on spellcheck over what your human instincts might tell you.

I used to keep a comprehensive list of these nuggets, but then, after the time a student wrote an essay, quite tearily, about how her family had just buried her grandmother with the things most important to her--her Peekapoo (euthanized) and her bingo dauber--my spirit for list-keeping sagged like K-Fed's Calvins.

Nowadays, I keep a casual Hall of Homonymic Fame jotted down onto my gradebook:

"I hate it when they put someone up on a pedal stool."

"Chris found a rancid note, asking for a thousand dollars, or his hamster would be killed."

"The mother had many paternal feelings for her child."

"The veranda rights suck."

"All my life, I've wanted to attend the Super Bowel."

"Americans have no work ethnic at all."

The jokes make themselves, really, don't they? In fact, my reactions to these errors morph into a kind of sound-alike story problem: "If we put the kidnappers up on a stool and then pumped them up really high, how many stench-filled threats could they throw down? And if your mother is both a cop and a tranny, how many hours does it take her to gently cuff the perps while also serving them mint juleps? Further, if we add in one person worshipping at a colon, can we then arrive at a country that has built itself on the backs of its working ethnics?"

Today, however, I had to reorder the trophies on the Hall of Fame shelf, clearing a space in the center for this one:
"Victoria's Secrete hasn't done this country any good."

Hmmmm. I dare venture the opinion that many, many people are grateful for Victoria's secretions, even now, in cold and flu season.

As I ponder the possibility of models, doing the slinky walk and oozing from all orifices, even those covered by their million-dollar lingerie, all I know is that I'll take reading error-littered student work anyday over a job as the mop-up guy after Vickie's televised runway show.

(EWWW. Just look at the work awaiting Mop-Up Dude #3; the floor is slick with it)

As I return now to my grading, I find myself

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"Downward-Facing ADHD Doggie:
Frantic Yoga"
I may pride myself on being a hearty soul, but the truth is that I host a puny inner wuss, a very small person who lives inside me and who doesn't like scary or creepy things like:
people knocking on my front door wearing crisp white shirts and neckties, travelling only in pairs, wielding a fistful of "literature";
headless Barbies;
leggings underneath dresses;
lots of shots of Jagermeister;
J. Lo's ghoulish husband Marc Anthony (leader of the Latin Vampire Cadre--"now serving blood-based salsa in the Green Room; all those with backstage passes, prepare to meet your fate");
Texan housewives, with their big red mouths continually yacking and shellacked hairdos never moving, even under the duress of rhetoric blown at high, unthinking speeds out of their husbands' mouths;
gaggles of Red Hat Society Ladies, out for tea, having rented a limo for the afternoon;
alligator on-a-stick (attendees of the Minnesota State Fair know whereof I type)

Such things make me shriek like Nicole Ritchie, all smoked up, seeing flashing lights in the rear view mirror. And then we both grab our cell phones and call our publicists (Nicole: "Um, yea, so I smoked some pot, and then took a little blue pill, and I really had to drive because I absolutely had the munchies, but I can't actually eat anything cuz I already had my tic-tac today, so I thought maybe I'd just go stare at the Hollywood sign and think about how it looks like it could be made of Twizzlers." *** Me: "Omigod, I totally just slapped that Texan housewife when she told me I should wear more gold. How can we spin this to The Duluth Tribune?").
But what if my publicist is out for cocktails at PURE with Pamela Anderson and Jamie Foxx and doesn't pick up? What to do then?
Well, I could assuage my fears by attending a calming yoga class, right? I mean, through controlling my breathing and working through a series of sustained poses, I could cleanse my chakras and free myself from the willies engendered by women who wear too much make-up; I could re-center; and I could get back to what's important (like how the Hollywood sign looks like it could be made out of Twizzlers).
So one day, after a run-in with a headless Barbie (that'll teach me to vacuum under the beds), I was forced into an emergency visit to yoga class--all I needed was that reliable, gentle atmosphere and a few warrior poses, and the mantra of "no head, no head, Skipper had no head, no head, no head, but she had on excellent pumps, but no head, no head, no head" would be banished from my brain.
Upon entering the room, I noticed the teacher had not yet arrived, so I spent a little time sniggering at a couple of the other class attendees (not so very yogic of me, I concede), especially the woman in full make-up, sporting a sternum full of jewelry and one of those off-putting coordinated gym outfits. What the pajeebus is up with women like this? Naturally, I assumed she was a Texas housewife, visiting the city to see how we do our downward dogs north of Ye Olde Mason-Dixon line.
Suddenly, however, this woman reoriented her mat and welcomed us all to class. Wait a Mary Kay minute, but she was the teacher! After a few words to greet newcomers and a couple tips on how to use a flatiron for best effect when straightening hair, Mary Kay Yogi started class.
What ensued made me long for more quiet, quality time with Headless Skipper; at least she and I could stay focused on each other for more than ten seconds at at time. Mary Kay Yogi, though, moved through each pose in rapid time--we barely held "Free Pink Sedan" pose for a nanosecond-- keeping us moving at a staccato pace for an hour while we held each pose "for five breaths" (if those breaths were coming out the mouth of a mouse in Mile 18 of a marathon). I would no sooner hit a pose than she'd dismiss it, calling, "Okay, let's shake it out."
I don't know much, but I know this much is true: in yoga class, the words "let's shake it out" are antithetical to everything that the holding and breathing and shaking and sweating are supposed to be about. No, no, no "let's shake it out."
Normally, I leave a yoga class feeling refreshed and cleaned out, ready to face the Red Hatters of the world, but that day, after my mandatory post-class makeover, during which I learned the proper application of false eyelashes, I felt, well,
Go, um, Spurs?
(shout out to Rocco)

Monday, December 11, 2006

"East Or West, My Couch Is Best"

More adventures from the "Jocelyn As Idiot Runner" Files:

I am the kind of person who can get lost between my house and my job (where I've worked for six years). I can take a wrong street on my way to Cub Foods and end up doing an 18-point turn to back myself away from a creek I never knew existed. I can head out, confidently, to find the mall, only to discover that I'm in a small touris town 26 miles north of here.

In short, I'm severely directionally challenged. It's so bad that my Wee Kiddles, small children who can barely get themselves onto a toilet without help, are able to call out, as we drive, "Maaaa, you were supposed to turn right back there." Yea, whatever. At least I can myself onto the toilet unaided--knock wood.

So it was with no small trepidation that I challenged myself to undertake a new sport last year: orienteering. An overview of orienteering would go like this: throw yourself out into the woods with only a confusing map and a compass and try to find small, hidden flags as fast as you can. There is a reason why all competitors are required to carry a whistle: HELPPPP, I'VE FALLEN, AND I CAN'T GET OUT OF THE LUMPY HUMMOCK!

Before starting my first orienteering race in Big Woods State Park, I made darn certain that my husband was acquainted with the sound of my particular whistle, so he could come find me after 10 hours had elapsed and before my need for a hamburger and chocolate caused me to wring the neck of a squirrel and cobble together a spit on which to roast it.

And then I was off. The clock started, I copied the "control" points onto my topographical map, and I dashed, with great enthusiasm, into the woods.

Several moments later, I re-appeared, turned in a circle several times, scratched my head, and then dashed off into the woods the opposite direction.

And then, for the next hour, I stopped, scratched, and dashed with regularity, looking over the map and cross-referencing what I was seeing in the woods with the symbols on the map. Was I standing in a "dry ditch" or and "erosion gully"? Was that mound in front of me an "earth bank" or a "small knoll"?

Eventually, I managed to find all seven control points and punch my little orienteering card each time (and I am big enough to admit that I only found a couple of the control points by tagging behind other muddy souls who were in my same race).

At the end, when I came blistering out of the woods into the bright sunshine, I felt as though days had elapsed, not a mere hour; the journey had been that complex. I was a new woman, one who had learned deep lessons while under the canopy of the oaks: nature is confounding; some people either "got it" or they "ain't" when it comes to directionality; and I should never again leave the safety of my couch.

By the way, if you have any extra time today, please come find me. I'm lost.

All I wanted to do was walk to my kitchen after writing this, but now I'm in a really small, dark place...wait a minute, I just pulled a Batman action figure out from my armpit...ooh, and there's a Blue's Clues camera resting on my clavicle...and some legos stuffed up in my nostrils...I guess I'm in my kids' toybox.

Bring food. And a compass.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"Tell Me I'm Pretty, Then Watch Me Cling: Lonely Hearts and Icy Lungs"

Yesterday on the Western Waterfront Trail:

-10 degree wind chill + an hour of trail running = me, in the clearance bin at the Lunacy Mart

That's the new math.

Three minutes into the run, I was giving myself a serious dressing down: "Okay, this blows like Mt. St. Helen's. This sucks like a Dirt Devil hand-vac. This bites like a curry powder donut."

Then I sneezed, and all my teeth shattered, so the rest of my ravings were just gummy mutterings. Suffice it to say, I would rather have been one of Britney Spears' neglected children (well-dressed and warm, if illiterate) than out in that cold.

But I was determined to continue, as I have a complex and semi-deranged mental process through which I "earn" late-night sweets by moving my body during the day. And I knew there were warm brownies coming my way at 10 p.m. So I continued to run. And curse. And feel like the wind was a State-Fair-demonstrated Ginsu knife, cutting and piercing and peeling and flaying my bits, all to the amazement and applause of the onlooking trees.

Changing tack, I decided to try role-playing, something normally best saved for dominatrixes and couples therapy, but essential in this situation. So I pretended I was Will Steeger...and then Anne Bancroft or Liv Arneson...and then Robert Scott...and then I had a revelation: pretending to be a polar explorer, about to die of scurvy, hunger, and frostbite, was some pretty dumb motivation. Rather, I should cast myself in the role of a down comforter or a pair of fleece underwear.

There, that was better. I was a pair of fleece underwear, nestled in some Scandia down. Much better. I was even able to admire the amber weeds, frozen in the bay, and the enthusiastic lone hockey player out on the ice next to me; he'd set up his own goal and was skating, shooting, and then raising his arms triumphantly in the air with each "GGGOOOOAAAAALLLL!" Yea, this fleece underwear business was going okay.

And then I yawned, and my jaw broke in twelve places. The coldness had not receded...and did not until I started paying attention to the NPR story playing on my headphones, a story about a new book compiled by David Rose (They Call Me Naughty Lola), excerpts from which had me cackling to the point that the icicles dangling from my nostrils finally cracked and fell to the ground with a melliflous tinkle. The book relates the phenomenon of personals ads in The London Review of Books; these ads have become a showcase for clever people who, instead of writing notices that detail their love of long walks on the beach and dedication to playing Scrabble, portray themselves as idiosyncratic, even repugnant, misfits:

'They call me naughty Lola. Run-of-the-mill beardy physicist (M, 46).'

'I've divorced better men than you. And worn more expensive shoes than these. So don't think placing this ad is the biggest comedown I've ever had to make. Sensitive F, 34.'

'List your ten favourite albums... I just want to know if there's anything worth keeping when we finally break up. Practical, forward thinking man, 35.'

'Employed in publishing? Me too. Stay the hell away. Man on the inside seeks woman on the outside who likes milling around hospitals guessing the illnesses of out-patients. 30-35. Leeds.'

'I like my women the way I like my kebab. Found by surprise after a drunken night out and covered in too much tahini. Before long I'll have discarded you on the pavement of life, but until then you're the perfect complement to a perfect evening. Man, 32, rarely produces winning metaphors.'

'My ideal woman is a man. Sorry, mother.'

'Your buying me dinner doesn't mean I'll have sex with you. I probably will have sex with you, though. Honesty not an issue with opportunistic male, 38.'

'Not everyone appearing in this column is a deranged cross-dressing sociopath. Let me know if you find one and I'll strangle him with my bra. Man, 56.'

'Are you Kate Bush? Write to obsessive man (36). Note, people who aren't Kate Bush need not respond.'

'Stroganoff. Boysenberry. Frangipani. Words with their origins in people's names. If your name has produced its own entry in the OED then I'll make love to you. If it hasn't, I probably will anyway, but I'll only want you for your body. Man of too few distractions, 32.'

'Ploughing the loneliest furrow. Nineteen personal ads and counting. Only one reply. It was my mother telling me not to forget the bread on my way home from B&Q. Man, 51.'

'Mature gentleman, 62, aged well, noble grey looks, fit and active, sound mind and unfazed by the fickle demands of modern society seeks...damn it, I have to pee again.'

'Slut in the kitchen, chef in the bedroom. Woman with mixed priorities (37) seeks man who can toss a good salad.'

'Bald, short, fat and ugly male, 53, seeks short-sighted woman with tremendous sexual appetite.'

'Romance is dead. So is my mother. Man, 42, inherited wealth.'

'67-year-old disaffiliated flâneur jacked up on Viagra on the lookout for contortionist who plays the trumpet.'

'Looking for a man who doesn't name his genitals after German chancellors (not even Prince Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingfürst, however admirable the independence he gave to secretaries of state may have been).' [sidenote: this woman, a 38-year-old local government arts official with an interest in Bismarck, said that she been inspired by a disastrous experience with a date who announced over the tiramisu that he called his private parts "Asquith," after the late British prime minister. "I'm fairly easy-going, but I specifically didn't want another dessert-spoiler," she said, explaining that the only thing she could think of worse than a wartime prime minister was a pre- Weimar German chancellor.]

'My favorite Ben & Jerry's is Acid- Boiled Bones of Divorce Lawyer.'

'I wrote this ad to prove I'm not gay. Man, 29. Not gay. Absolutely not.'


My first reaction to hearing these ads was, "Wow. These people sound like bloggers! I would totally read their posts." My second reaction was, "Wait a minute, is that my car over there? I'm done already with this trail of frozen tears? Wahoodlie!"

I sprinted towards the car, tripping over a train track in the process; and the sound of my iced-up tibula splintering when I fell was a dark melody in the still, white, frosty air.

As I slowly crawled to the car over the course of the next hour, I stopped occasionally and patted together little sno-cones to suck off my gloves--what refreshing hors d'oevres!

It was getting late, and I was dragging my carcass through the snow with my shards of teeth, broken jaw, and fractured leg, but my heart remained warm, thanks to the wit of strangers. May they all meet and marry...and bring me warm brownies in the hospital.

"Suffering From Twinklementia: Color Me Ronnie"

Zoom in on 1997:

One day, having just slammed a triple-shot mocha in an effort to fight off a marauding hoard of the late-afternoon grumps, I made a new friend.

As I exited the coffee shop, a woman--a stranger to me--came up and said, "I see you all the time around here, and you always have such a twinkle in your eye. I know that means you are a naturally happy person, to have that sparkle. I can just tell from the way you smile. It's just like the twinkle Ronald Reagan always had in his eye; I mean, I always knew we were in good hands with him, not like nowadays with those guys they've got going. Yes, you're just like Reagan. But I don't even want to think about how he is now and whether or not that twinkle is gone. He just made me feel so safe and secure, but now when I think about it, I just feel so sad and as though it's the end of my world. What will I do when that twinkle is gone forever?"

Nervously, I pointed to the sky, shouting, "Look, it's, um, a satellite with military capabilities, and I'm late for a date with Leona Helmsley to discuss trickle down economics, so gotta dash!"

Then I hopped in my Honda hatchback and gunned it for the Arby's.

Monday, December 04, 2006

"Ehhhh? I Cain't Hear You 'Lessin' I Turn Up My Hearing Aid"

Here's a statement that most everyone--outside of perky cheerleader Homecoming Queens, Buzz Lightyear, Paris Hilton, Lassie, and Barack Obama--can agree with: "I've spent a large part of my life feeling not cool but wishing I were."

Certainly, my desire to be "cool" has steadily and mercifully waned since high school ended, and my standards of "cool" have also evolved. Twenty years ago, "cool" was tied into what I did on the weekends, who I hung out with, and what shoes I wore. Nowadays, though, my idea of "cool" has little to do with any of those things (except for the shoes part; I mean, a *foin* pair of shoes will always rock my personal runway). I can sit on the couch all weekend, watching THE WIRE with my husband, wearing my favorite Keen shoes, and that keeps me plenty hip, in a I'm-clutching-onto-age-39-by-the-cuticles-of-my-scraggly-fingernails way. So I haven't seen Coldplay or Moby in concert. So I've never had a Cosmopolitan or an Appletini. So I can't remotely claim that anything in my life is "avant garde."

The grace of being almost-damn-forty is that I don't care one whit about my lack of cool, and what a glorious release that is, compared to the days of age sixteen, when my friend Charlene and I would stand in the halls of West High School between classes, raising our arms up for each other, instructing, "Sniff me. Am I pitting out?"

Recent decades have brought the peace that comes with believing "pitting out" is just another weapon in my charm holster. Frankly, I just can't be bothered to go all Anna Nicole just because I actually smell, look, taste, and feel like a human being rather than an artificial overlay of one.

In short, there's a whole lot of ease that accompanies the attitude of "So what?" More often than not, the people who actively strive to stay "with it" strike me as the uncool ones, the ones to feel sorry for. I can do without that whole game, really.

Or so I thought.

Then the other week, in the classroom with my college students, my "I'm Living the New Kewl" house of cards toppled. Until the toppling, I was fine with not being "cool" because I felt, way deep down, that this lack of caring actually made me cool (check the DSMV-IV under "James Dean Syndrome"). But as that mental deck of cards wafted to the table, I epiphanized: how much do I genuinely not care about being up-to-the-moment if I remain careful to toss out offhand "I'm still with it" references around members of the Millenial Generation?

"Man, I can't believe Nickelback is actually popular. They're so lame. Give me Insane Clown Posse anyday."

"I know what you mean about Ugg boots. Since when does comfort equal style?"

"Did you see that crazy giggling baby on You Tube today?"

"I love your ringtone! I swear you *are* Fergilicious!"

"Is that a Go-gurt? How clever is yogurt in a plastic tube? I mean, you're doing shots of food right here in the computer lab, multitasking as you write your thesis statement. Now that's just smart food."

"Check you out! You are a text-messaging, Web-surfing savant. Who knew you could add people to your friends list on Myspace while also telling your boyfriend, 'i wnt out.'?"

"Wow, you're into hardcore? Are you a straight-edger? Do you thrown down a little 2-step?"


The Sobering of Jocelyn began with one comment at the beginning of class, "Man, nobody is here today. What's going on? I know it's the end of the term and a Friday and all, but wassup, homefries?"

In response to my questioning, Helpful Student Cory piped up with, "Everybody's been camping out all night in line for the PS3."

I didn't miss a beat. Oh, I came right back at him: "Hey, when did Duluth start naming its schools like New York City? Is there a new Public School 3 opening today? I would have thought I'd have heard about that, or at least the fact that PS1 and PS2 had opened, too, right?"

From my lofty perch, I peered down for affirmation. All I saw were bewildered eyes. My interpersonal expertise kicked in; I read the body language, and I realized I was waaaaay off base. So I soldiered on: "Oops, so it's not a school. Is it a new class the college is offering? Are students lining up to register for it?"

Bewilderment gave way to guffaws, as bravehearted Kasey horned in with, "It's PlayStation 3, and maybe you should try leaving your house sometimes, so you'd know when something huge is happening."

At this juncture, I squeaked, "And PlayStation 3 is, um, one of those things people, hmmm, play on, like it' s a station, and now there are three of them?"

In quick time, the growing crowd of onlooking students, heady with the rare feeling of possessing knowledge, gave me a mini-lecture about the galaxy of gaming systems and how people, that day, were purchasing the new PS3 and then selling it on E-bay (...which, in my defense, I *have* heard of. It was bombed by the Japanese on December 7th, 1941.) for upwards of $1,000-$2,000.

So, dang. Zoom in on me, the nerdina in the center of the lecture, smart enough not to confess in the face of their chiding, "Horsefeathers! I *did* play Pong back in 1976 and used to watch my next door neighbor play Space Invaders for hours on end. It's not like I'm some Dumb Dora; I'm the Real McCoy, no Joe Palooka."

But they had caught me out: cool no more, for evermore. Backing away, I begged my sources to, in the future, keep me informed if significant world events were underway. Since I don't have a cell phone, they couldn't phone or text me with the news, though. But they could crank me up on the old wall-mounted telephone (my ring is two longs and one short--but careful of the party line listening in!) or, in a pinch, they could start a bonfire and use their hoodies to send me smoke signals.

After a big group hug, I told them all they were the cat's pajamas and the bee's knees, but I had to 23 Skidoo.

Then, on my way out to the Model-T, I fell and broke my hip.

Friday, December 01, 2006

"Will Shortz and a Gold-Lame' Bikini"

Speaking of why parents worry that the schools won't be able to unlock their kids' particular gifts...

Yesterday, my three-year-old son, Wee Niblet, draped me a big poncho of goosebumps, with one, random comment.

We were getting out of the car, on our way to a running store to buy Groom's birthday present (how Norwegian is this birthday desire: "I don't need much, but I would like one or two new water bottles with straps to use when I'm running." My reaction to this modest request was, "And how about something frivolous and fun and totally impractical so that you really know it's *your* day? How about a fuzzy cover for the car seat? Better yet, for the toilet seat? Or maybe you'd like a pair of those ten-toe socks, multi-colored? Or how about a perm?")

But no, water bottles it was. Okay, and so I also got him a copy of Heat and some chocolate bars and a new game to play with the kiddles, but I fooled him by wrapping them in water-bottle-shaped paper.

Anyhoodle, Niblet and I were exiting the car, when he looked up at the strip mall next to us, at one business specifically--"Plaza Hairstyles." Without stopping to think, he noted, "If we could take down those letters off of that green and pink sign there, we could use some of them to write 'Star Wars.' Well, okay, not the whole thing of 'Star Wars' because there is no 'W,' but we could use the 'S' and 'T' and the 'R' and the 'A' to write the first part of it."

Because I dote on Niblet and am looking for any excuse to hold him up to the world as Wee One, Boy Genius, I stood there, agape. Why, yes, we could spell most of "Star Wars" with the letters in "Plaza Hairstyles." Crikey.

Outside of a general feeling of awe, I was also struck, again, by how pervasive and breath-takingly effective marketing is towards kids--that my lad, whose exposure to "Star Wars" has come through hanging out with the six-year-old boys in the neighborhood, is learning to read at the knee of George Lucas....well, it puts a whole new spin on The Force.

Later, after we went home and broke out the toy light sabers, doing an interactive, interpretive, modern sword dance of joy in tribute to Niblet's smarts, I informed Groom that our kid, who has never wanted to sit down and "learn" the letters of the alphabet, has apparently internalized something during all those games of Clifford Bingo and in all those readings of The Superhero ABC's.

Groom and I did a mental high-five, had a quick saber duel in the living room (Qui-Gon Jinn versus Darth Maul), and then mused that Niblet's quirky intelligence may never find a place in the schools. This is the boy who, while running at high speed through the kitchen, sees a Cheeto on the table and announces, "That looks like a scarecrow." This is the kid who unfolds a cardboard french-fry container and exclaims, "Hey, I made an angel!" Additionally, he wants nothing more than to grow crystals and carry out other science "conspiriments," all while waiting for Santa to bring him a rock tumbler so that he can find and polish agates. And he most profoundly does not have a brain that thinks through rote, worksheet channels.

So maybe he'll stay home with us in a few years, if we discover that he and his body guard, Darth Vader, don't find their niche in a traditional classroom (Darth's cape would look very dramatic there, in the cloakroom, on its little hook, with his Charlie's Angels lunchbox hiding underneath it...and just imagine him mopping up the linoleum with the opposing team during dodgeball). If we do end up homeschooling Niblet, we totally plan on hothousing his anagrammatical talents and turning him into a crossword puzzle rockstar; he'll do us proud in 16 years when he goes to Stamford, Connecticut for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and becomes the youngest-ever winner of the weekend's challenges.

Look for us there, in 2022: Groom and I will be the two in the front row of the finals, weeping on each other's shoulders, clutching our mechanical pencils to our breasts, taking photos when Niblet--harkening back to what he remembers of the bloody 2005 championship puzzle, with its Draconian clue of "stark and richly detailed, as writing" (answer: "Zolaesque")--reads the clue of "to exist in a tortured state of light-tinged darkness" and easily fills in "V-A-D-E-R-I-A-N."

After the room of crossword (and, no doubt, Star Wars) geeks quiets its ovation, I shall harken back to that day outside Plaza Haircuts and know, for certain, that witnessing my child's achievements has been a pleasurable trip on a slow-moving cargo vessel to a galaxy far, far away.