Reporting, Recording and Relaying - But Always Telling It As I See It

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Murky Socio-Economics Of School Pictures

It’s time for the annual emptying of the checking account that comes under the guise of School Pictures.  It’s not that we don’t want pictures of our kids, it’s just that we don’t want a lot of pictures of our kids.  Buying school pictures is like paying for twenty gallons of gas and only getting to put five gallons in your tank.

“Only buy what you want,” the uninitiated may say.  I scoff.  It’s IMPOSSIBLE to buy what you want.  The economic geniuses behind the available packages know exactly what you want; therefore, they construct said packages to include “almost” what you want.  This forces you into either buying a package that includes things like a diamond encrusted picture frame, or relegates you to the dreaded a-la-cart section, where an extra 5x7 can require a hardship distribution from your 401(k).

This year we have a choice of seven packages.  At the low end is the “Entry” package, which should be called the “entry package for parents who don’t care about their child” because the only photo you get is a Polaroid picture they take when your kid is in line.  At the high end is the “Ultimate” package which includes a hologram image of your child beamed onto the roof of your house. 

This is Sally, before her parents ruined her
There are all sorts of add-ons and special offers available.  But the one I find most compelling is the “Premium Retouching” option.  For $12 you can have your child’s photo “retouched”, and for free you get to ruin any semblance of self-esteem they may have.  “Sally, remember how we couldn't use you in the family Christmas picture last year because of the acne and yellow teeth?  Well, we are going to get your school pictures retouched!  Finally, a picture that won’t be embarrassing!”  If you think your child won’t be bringing that up in therapy in a few years you are mistaken.

We settled on the “Value” package which means one of the grandparents is getting downsized to a 3 x 5.  I was pulling for the “Family” package only because it sounds like we are truly invested in our kids.  “Oh, we always get the Family package.  It’s just so us!” 

The pictures will show up in a few weeks.  We will liberate the few that we need and relegate the balance to a drawer.  If they don’t fit, we can douse them in that extra fifteen gallons of gas and set it on fire.  Maybe that will drown out that annoying hologram on my snobby neighbor’s house.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Street Artist, A Walking Stick And A Lesson In Living

Olu, pronounced “Oh-Lou”, is a black man in his late fifties with great, rounded shoulders and an easy manner.  He’s a business man, artist and a sage.  Olu sits on a low wall outside of a restaurant in downtown Cleveland where he carves elaborate walking sticks with a folding knife.

Olu and Me in his studio
“That’s beautiful,” I told him as I walked up to him.  Across his lap was a piece of cedar about four feet long and an inch or two thick.  He held it firm in one hand, turning it, as the other gripped the knife and gingerly transformed the wood into an ornate and rustic piece of art.  Where he stripped the bark, the alabaster of the pulp provided a contrast to the dark exterior.

“My raw materials are cheap,” he said with a smile.

“How long does it take to make one of them?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “each one takes about eight to ten hours.  I try to get about five dollars an hour to help with my room.  This one here is about sixty dollars, but I am willing to negotiate.”  Business man.

As he handed the mostly completed stick to me, I immediately noticed the intricate detail of the face.  It reminded me of something you would see on Easter Island or from a market in Jamaica.

“Where do you get the inspiration for the design?”

He chuckled.  “I don’t get inspiration.  I look at the stick and listen to what it wants to be.  Then I just bring it out.  I guess you could say I uncover what is already there.” He grabs another piece of cedar, raw and untouched.  “Like this one here.  I was looking at it this morning and I see a wizard.” Artist.  (Those words have really stuck with me the last few days.  Maybe I am reading too much into it, but I like that idea.)

The Handle
“How did you start doing this?” I knew I was asking a lot of questions, but his story was compelling.

“Well,” he stopped working and looked at me, “Seven years ago I had surgery on both of my knees.”  He pulled up one of his pant legs to reveal a massive scar.  “I could only walk with two canes - hobbling around, mostly.  I was miserable.  One day I asked God what I was going to do with the rest of my life.  So I just pulled out a knife and started carving a few bumps and rings in one of my canes.  One day, a guy asked me where I got that old cane with the design in it.  When I told him I made it he asked if he could buy it.  I said, ‘sure.’  God kinda led me here.  I’m grateful.”  Sage.

There was no way I was leaving without the walking stick. 

While Olu uncovered what was already in that ordinary piece of cedar, I uncovered something that was already there, too.  I uncovered a talented artist who claims he can’t draw.  I uncovered a wise man that is probably often overlooked because his studio is a wall. 

For fifty dollars I have a very fine piece of original art – the only one like it in the entire world.  But it hangs on my wall not as art, it hangs there to remind me that there is a lot in this world to uncover if we are just willing to look.  And of course, it reminds me of Olu.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Adolescent Psychology, Gazelle Livers and Ping Pong

Building your child’s self-esteem is a pillar of adolescent psychology.  Doing so instills your child with a sense of self-worth and confidence, which seem like pretty good traits.  Go ahead – Google it.  I did, and the results all pretty much say something like, “Hence it is not surprising that parents and clinicians want to foster self-esteem in young people.”  To that I say, fuck that noise, especially if it comes at the expense of my self-esteem and self-worth and confidence.

When a badass dad lion in Africa has a son, he isn’t thinking about building up his son's self-esteem, he is thinking that in a few short years that little bastard is going to be competitor number one for a gazelle liver.  You know what badass dad lion does?  He sure as hell doesn’t show his son how to gouge a liver out of a gazelle.  Oh no, he eats every damn liver he can.

All of which brings me to ping pong, which for purposes of this story, will be a metaphor for a gazelle liver.  Over the summer, the boys and their friends have been playing copious amounts of ping pong in our basement.  A month or two ago, I thought I would enter the fray and play them.  I hadn’t played ping pong in some time, but nonetheless, I of course considered myself awesome, certainly capable of beating my two fourteen year olds.  Possessing such confidence, I thought during the first match that I should “take it easy” and then promptly lost 21-8.

“Okay,” I thought, “enough with that strategy, time to show them the mane and the big scary teeth.” And then I lost 21-12.

But once your cub discovers how tasty a liver is, the cat (so to speak) is out of the bag.  So then I determined that to rightly assume my place in the pride, I had to not only just win, I had to completely dominate.  I played ferociously.  When a ball offered itself to be spiked, I not only wanted to smack it, I wanted to crack the ball off of my son’s sternum (after it hit on his side of the net, of course.) 

My record improved dramatically, which is to say I no longer lost every game, just most games.  On the rare occasion that I won, I rocked it.  I talked smack.  I screamed things like, “I’m dominating you!”  And then they would beat me again.

So my new and possibly controversial advice is this.  Kick their ass while you still can.  Don’t feel bad about it.  In fact, relish it. You’re certainly not “fostering their self-esteem” by handing them a liver in a nice patch of tall grass.  And then, when they are better than you, when they routinely beat you at ping pong, pat yourself on the back.  Your kids are supposed to be better than you.