Look Ma, no can see my feet!

spanking 1I just weighed myself on my wife’s new handy-dandy Weight Watchers LED-lit digital bathroom scale. Damn – not only does the thing work well, it might work too well. I stood on it and watched my weight go up, and up, and up and then I stepped off. I’d seen enough.

I got the phone and called my mother.

“Hello, dear.”

“Hi Ma, I’ll only keep you a minute. I just want to say I’m teetering on the cusp of obesity and it’s your fault. I hope you’re happy now.”

There was a sigh on the other end of the line.

“As usual, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Which means, as usual, I have to ask you what you’re talking about.”

“I’m fat and just the other day I read about a study that reveals why I’m fat.”

“You’re eating too much?”

“Ha – nice try, but that old line’s not going to work anymore. I know better now. Researchers at Canada’s University of Manitoba did a study of more than 34,000 adults and the findings suggest that the harsh physical punishment they suffered as children has put them now at a higher risk of heart disease, arthritis and … obesity. Ergo, I’m fat because you spanked me.”

“What? I never spanked you.”

spanking cartoon“You must have spanked me. Why else would I be fat?”

“Allow me to repeat myself. You’re eating too much?”

“Ma, 34,000 Manitobians can’t be wrong.”

“Manitobians? What’s a Manitobian? And anyway, if I did spank you, why is it that you don’t remember it?”

hypnosis“Well, I could have suppressed it. Forced it deep, deep down into my dark subconscious, where only little albino shrimps with no eyes and all of my darkest memories can live. Yeah, that’s it. I’ll bet if I went to one of those hypnosis therapists they could put me in a trance and I’d recall all of the horrid details, as well as find out I was the King of Siam in a previous life.”

“More than likely, you’d cluck like a chicken. I never had to spank you, back then. As for the present moment, I plead the Fifth. Now, talk to your father. Dear, pick up the extension in there. Your son’s on the phone … says he’s gaining weight now because we spanked him way back when he was a child.”

“Spanked him? Not a chance – you wouldn’t let me. Tell him it’s probably because he’s eating too much.”


A lesson too hard, too soon

The reality begins to take hold of this Sandy Hook Elementary student after the shooting today. Michelle McIoughlin (Reuters)

The horrific reality begins to take hold of this Sandy Hook Elementary School student outside the school today after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Michelle McIoughlin (Reuters)

“The sun is out today.”

My mother always used those same words as she stepped in between the sitting or prone bodies of me and my brothers on the floor of the family room on many Saturday mornings. We were spread out in front of the TV, all set for a morning full of cartoons. But whenever I heard those words, it also meant that she was making her way to that TV and about to hit the off button.

“The sun is out today. It’s too nice outside for all of you to be in here,” she always said. “Now, go outside and find something to do. Out, out, out!”

And out we’d go, reluctantly, for another day of playing. Goofing around. Getting into trouble. Getting out of trouble. All in all, just being kids.

It wasn’t so bad. Not as good as a slew of Bugs Bunny cartoons, but not so bad. We didn’t sweat it. Heck, life is pretty simple when you’re just a 6-, 8- or  9-nine-year-old, which at some point during our collective childhoods was how old we would have been.

That’s the way life is, when you’re one of those ages. Pretty simple.

“The sun is out today.”

Those words came into my mind again a few hours ago. Over and over. The sun was out at that moment. I was sitting in my truck, in the parking lot outside of my office. Taking a break from work. I’d just turned the key, and turned up the radio. I keep it tuned to the local public broadcasting station. I was expecting to listen in on whatever heady, wordy talk show was being broadcast at that time.

Instead, I heard the station’s news reporters talking. Live coverage. That could only mean one thing – bad news. Very bad news. News so big that it had knocked off the regular programming. Or news really close, somewhere in my home state of Connecticut.

It was both.

At that moment, all the reporters could report was someone had walked into an elementary school – kindergarten through 4th-grade – and started shooting. According to an anonymous source, the reporter said he’d been told there were up to 28 dead. And at least 18 of them … were children.

The story would become clearer, in time. There were 28 dead, that was spot on. But 20, not 18, were children.

Students at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Kindergarten through 4th-grade.

Including 6-, 8- and 9-year-olds.

“We were in my art teacher’s room. We heard some gunshots, like 20. Then the police came with guns and told us to close our eyes.”

Fourth-grader Vanessa Bajraliu, 9 years old.

In another report, a father told of his six-year old son’s dramatic escape from a room after the gunman burst in and opened fire. Robert Licata said his son was in class when the killer burst in and shot the teacher.

“That’s when my son grabbed a bunch of his friends and ran out the door,” he said. “He was very brave. He waited for his friends.”

A hero. A boy. A 6-year-old.

At my age, you’ve learned long ago that life is not simple. It’s complicated. It can be very, very good. But it can be cruel too. Harsh and unforgiving. Infuriating and frustrating. And very, very painful. Not always, but that’s the way life often is.

At my age. Maybe yours too.

State police officers lead evacuated students from the school after the shooting. Shannon Hicks (Newtown Bee)

State police officers lead students away from the school after the shooting. Shannon Hicks (Newtown Bee)

But why did it have to be that way … for these kids?

“The sun is out today.”

That’s all life was for me when I was 6-, 8- and 9-years old.

And what did the kids at the Sandy Hook Elementary School learn today?

It isn’t that way for them.

Allowances?! There are no allowances in childhood!

Today I stumbled upon a small news item that hit me in the head like Moe. According to a recent survey conducted by the American Institute of CPAs, the average allowance for the average American kid is $15 a week.

They score for chores? Taking out the trash, walking the dog, mowing the lawn … $15 a week. Sheesh. I was an average American kid. I had chores. I never got an allowance.

What’s worse, according to the survey, only 1 percent of the parents said their children save any of that parental payout. According to the rest, their kids immediately blow their weekly wad on toys and entertainment.

That seals it. Today’s tadpoles are … soft. And a quick flip through my stash of childhood photos proves it. When I was a kid, when you needed something, you worked for it.

Let’s say you needed a new t-shirt. Ask your parents to take you to the mall and give you the money to buy it? Yeah, right. Not quite.

First, we had to plant the cotton.

That’s me on the right. Oh, and that plow? I had to whittle that out of a tree trunk. With a butter knife.

Then, we had to pick it.

You may notice that we have no shoes on here. We ate them for lunch.

Oh, but we weren’t done yet. You can’t wear a bunch of cotton balls. We had to turn that cottton into thread. And then into cloth.

Yup, that’s me. I think I was making new underwear here.

OK,  so you’ve made your cloth, now what?

The adults on the left used sewing machines to make their clothes. And as for me there? I had to sharpen my fingernail to use it as a needle.

I even had to clean up the place at the end of the day.

That guy behind me is there to make sure I don’t run off with the broom and pawn it.

See what I mean? Kids today … soft, soft, soft.

And another thing. I noticed a school bus drive by the house today and realized that the new school year’s about to start.

School buses. To take the kids to school every day. And bring them home again.

Hell, when I was a kid and had to go to school …

Man is no match for his mother

The grainy, semi-focused security-camera video didn’t seem much different than any other one aired by the local TV news. A man approaches a counter, drops down a bag of Doritos and hands the clerk a couple of bucks to pay for it. Then he reaches under his shirt, pulls out a gun and asks for his change in ones, fives, tens and twenties. All of them.

But then, he glances to his left and freezes. A woman appears at the bottom of the frame. She’s yelling at him, he’s staring at her. She calmly reaches out and grabs the gun by the barrel, pulls it out of his hand and then pushes him out through the door.


What did I tell you about playing with guns and pointing them at people?

Life Lesson No. 374: When about to hold up the neighborhood store, first, do your research. Scan the aisles to make sure Mom and/or Dad aren’t shopping at the moment. The would-be robber had been snagged by his mother.

Now, you may be thinking that an event like this is a rarity and you’d be right. But take it from me, the power of a mother over her children is very, very real. And displays of it, even in extreme real-life situations like this, are more commonplace than you might think. Unless you’re a mother, of course.

Not being a mother myself, at least literally, how do I know this? Because I witnessed this power during one of the closest near-death experiences I’ve had so far in my life. And I’ve had a few.

It happened while I was working part-time as a bouncer at a bar in a rather well-to-do nearby suburb. Only problem was the bar wasn’t so well-to-do.

That’s me on the left, played by Sam Eliott, in the bouncer movie, “Roadhouse”. The guy on the right? I taught him everything.

On one side was a large college campus surrounded by affluent residences. On the other was the neighboring town – a mostly farm-based burg. Needless to say, these rather disparate social sects didn’t always mesh well. My job was to see that they didn’t wreck the place or kill each other. But first I had to ID everyone to prove they were humans of legal age and/or indeed truly certified, state-registered humanoids.

Wasn’t a bad job. Routine, really. Me, the bartender and the waitresses sober. Every one else, not.

One Friday night seemed pretty much like the previous ones.

Until the Friday night I saw them.

Well, initially I saw only one. The man coming to the door was big, dark, hairy and scary. And not looking to be in too pleasant of a mood. As he opened the door wide, two much smaller males scurried out from behind him.

They were from the next town. Salt-of-the-earth types, shall we say. Well, closer to dirt-of-the-earth, since most of it was all over them. Plowing was done and it was time for fun.

“Hi guys, I need to see some identification.”

Though I would learn later he was a man of few words, the towering, dark scowling one spoke first.

“You’re kidding me.”

That was followed by a grunt as he walked right by me and straight to the bar.

Being a native English speaker, I quickly translated: Now don’t you worry, kind sir. I assure you that my identification is fine, in order and with me. Thank you so much for asking and have a nice day.

“Don’t take it personal,” one of scurrying companions said with a smile while holding out his license for me. “It takes a while for Johnny to warm up to people.”

“Warm up? From the looks of him, I’m surprised he’d wait that long. Just kill them and eat them raw, like sushi.”

The only other Johnny I’d ever met before this was an American bison my uncle bought one summer to add to his animal farm. He kept him in the bull’s pen at my grandfather’s farm while he prepared its new prairie at his place.

The damn thing was a Mack truck with hair, hooves and horns; the meanest, scariest animal I’ve ever encountered – lions, tigers and bears (oh my), rogue elephants and Sasquatch included. If Johnny’s general dispostion was indicative of the species, and I was a native American when millions roamed the plains, the only way I’d have hunted them was with an M1 tank.

Make that two M1 tanks.

But my grandfather, being the consummate farmer and animal man, within a few weeks had Johnny eating out of his hand and following him around the pen like a hulking black Labrador retreiver on Qualudes.

Everybody else just looked like a bale of hay to him.

So, if Johnny’s companion that night had told me my grandfather had taught Johnny to talk, stand on his hind legs and drink beer, I would have believed every word. Would have to, I was looking at the finished product.

After that, things seemed to settle down to the normal Friday night routine. Man drinks beer. Woman drinks beer. Woman and man see each other. Woman and man can’t quite see each other clearly. Poof – love at first inebriated sight.

But what I also was beginning to notice was that Johnny was drinking beer. I mean, a lot of beer. Given his size, I figured the holding tank had to be pretty big. But, no matter the size of the man or his tank, eventually the beer always, always will conquer him.

I waited. I watched. I prayed. It didn’t work.

One the scurrying ones had reached his limit. Turned and said something to Johnny. I have no doubt he was convinced it was the funniest, wittiest thing ever uttered by one man to another. Too bad Johnny wasn’t one of them.

Time to go to work.

Lord, though I’m about to step into the Valley of Death, located in between these two devils, I pray that I will show no fear, and not pee myself until after I’m dead.

“Excuse me, guys. Didn’t mean to cut through here but Johnny, I noticed your beer there is almost gone. Since I was just passing by, how about I buy you another one?”

“Get out of my way.”

You picked a fine time to leave me, dear Lord.

It seemed that diplomacy and outright bribery wasn’t going to work here. Next: Try honesty.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that Johnny. I don’t know what this guy said or did, but you can’t kill him. And you can’t kill me either. I’m just doing my job. Sucks to be me.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“No I’m not and it’s nice of you to recognize me. I’m the bouncer at the door, remember?”

At this point, Johnny stopped talking. But he didn’t stop glaring at me. These were two not very good signs.

To my left, I could hear the bartender swear under her breath. And pick up the phone.

“Margaret? Sorry Margaret, I know it’s late. It’s me. You’d better get down here. Quick as you can.” She hung up.

Now, not knowing who Margaret was, my best educated guess was St. Margaret, matron saint of bouncers. The bartender had called her to head on down, gather up the remnants of my body and soul and carry them off to that big beer cooler in the sky.

I was just glad to be wearing clean underwear. For the moment.

Then the bartender spoke again. This time to the still-glaring Johnny and as loud as she could.

“Johnny, cut this shit out! I called your mother and she’s on the way!”

Ever wonder what Moses was thinking and feeling when he watched the Red Sea part in front of him? I have. And I know.

Holy crap, it actually worked.

I could have hit Johnny with a sledgehammer tied to the front end of a John Deere and not stopped him as quickly as the words, “your mother”. It was the most astounding thing I’d ever seen.

“You still gonna buy me that beer?”

“Uh, yeah. Of course, why wouldn’t I?”

Johnny sat down, drank his beer and waited. The scurrying ones left, pronto. Must have heard their mothers calling them too. A few minutes later, the door opened and I turned to see who it was. Didn’t quite believe it, though.

No lie, she couldn’t have been five feet tall. She was dressed in a coat, then a housecoat, then probably her pajamas. She looked pleasant, sweet, grandmotherly. And really, really pissed.

She stuck her head inside, found her son and spoke.

“Johnny! Let’s go!”

Johnny didn’t look. Just finished his beer, got up and quietly walked out. I looked at the bartender. She just raised her arms, shrugged, and smiled.

Me? I exhaled.

Doing hardcover time

News item: Faced with $12,000 worth of overdue books, DVDs, audiotapes and other materials, librarians in Lee County, a suburb of Atlanta, Ga., confronted the truth, in black-on-white: repeated polite pleas for the return of the items and payment of late fees were getting them nowhere. They needed to take a different tack.

So they turned to Unique Management Services of Jeffersonville, Mo., – a collection agency. Unique serves 750 public library systems across the United States and Canada, trying to persuade patrons to return overdue items and pay their late fees. For the company, it’s hardly a niche market. In a recent news article a spokesman said Unique has recovered in just the last year about $64 million in library materials and fines.

And not just for small suburban library systems. The Queens Library in New York City, which has 840,000 cardholders, is one of its clients. Joanne King, spokeswoman for the library, told a reporter her library chose Unique because of its “soft-glove” approach.

“We’re not into breaking kneecaps to recover books,” she said.

Millions in overdue library books and late fees? Maybe the feds over at Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms should add a letter to their acronym.

News item: In Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh-area police came knocking on the door of a home and spent a few minutes talking with the mother of a five-year-old. Seems the tot was sitting on a stash of overdue library books and the parents didn’t seem to be in any hurry to return them and pay the late fees.The cops were there to collect both.

Not an isolated incident, either. Four months later, they came calling at the home of a four-year-old, for the same reasons; this time to facilitate the return of the toddler’s overdue books and the payment of an $81.60 library fine, racked up over a 204-day period.

In both cases, the police were sent at the behest of the Freeport Area Library Board, who asked cops to pay a “courtesy call” to both of the delinquent cardholders.

The future: The exercise yard inside a maximum-security prison. It’s early afternoon on what looks and feels to be an early autumn day. From the inside, the best guess for the facility’s location is Anywhere, U.S.A.; there’s nothing above the high concrete walls to see but a dingy gray-clouded sky. No trees tall enough, no mountains or buildings high enough to see in any direction. It could be upstate New York or out-west Montana. Take your best shot – your guess would be just as correct as any other.

Inside the yard the chilled air whips around and swirls into itself, seemingly bouncing frantically from wall to wall, as if trying to find a way out. If it is, it hasn’t figured out yet that it’s just as caged as the inmates, who stopped looking for any cracks in the walls a long, long time ago. Unlike the wind, they’re in no rush but milling around the yard; a constant flow of men of all colors, all wearing the same color. Here and there, some slow and stop, forming small pods of people in conversation.

In one group, a couple of long-timers are talking when one looks over the other’s shoulder to get a better look at another inmate, a new arrival to the prison. A puzzled look comes over his face. The other inmate turns to see why, and is just as surprised.

Standing among the men, but well below them, is the new guy, trying his best to blend in and become a part of the goings-on going on around him. He’s looking much more puzzled than his two observers, and far, far younger to boot.

One of the veterans yells over to the fresh face.

“Hey kid, what are you in for?”

The newbie’s eyes drift from the men nearest him to the questioner. He sends the man a sheepish smile and summons up the courage to speak.

“Two Harry Potters, one Where’s Waldo, a Sports Illustrated for Kids and ‘The Hunger Games’ DVD.”