A Polar Plunge: The Girl with the Curls

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Cold. And colder still. JJ squinted out his kitchen window at the whiteness and the harsh sun glare from the icy field in back. Gusty winds kicked up snow that swirled and sparkled in the air. Fairy dust of frost, enchanting no one. Except…

… Another cold day in the 90’s. JJ regained consciousness on a strange couch after a night of acid and Pink Floyd. Alone in someone’s apartment, everyone gone. Who was that guy? And that girl with the curls and the sweater. Oh my God. Tripping nicely, he had watched her watching The Wall. Her, luminous and ripe. Him, deranged and all aflutter. “So ya, thought ya, might like to…go to the show.”

He drove home after guzzling some orange juice from the strange fridge. A bright and sunny bluster of a day. Eight degrees? Ten? The heater in his beater of a Sentra blew air that was slightly warmer than outside. His feet felt like two ice blocks. The road was gruel gray, salt streaked with white, like the cracked surface of some playground for ice krakens. JJ was spent, dazed and dull. When he got home he burrowed into his blankets and slept for twenty hours.

The phone rang. His mother, dead now. “Where are you?” A cousin’s First Communion (in the winter?), missed. A sacrament. Well, he had taken his wafer, hadn’t he? Actually, two paper wafers. And he had drunk prodigiously from the Wild Turkey. Communion for the wayward, blotter and booze, body and blood. It did the trick.

That night he went to the bar to watch the Patrick Ewing Anthony Mason Knicks. Something light- draft Budweiser and cigarettes. You could still smoke in the bars then. And he did, like a chimney.

Carl came in. “What the hell happened to you the other night?”

“When?”

“The other night.”

“You mean after?”

“Yeah. Where’d you go?”

“There was this girl.”

“The girl with the curls?”

“Yeah.”

“Holy shit. You didn’t…?”

“No.”
“Then, what?”

JJ thought of that part in The Wall when Pink really starts losing his shit, disillusioned and drug addled, holed up in some hotel room hell.

“So nothing. We watched The Wall.”

“That movie sucks. What about the boyfriend?”

“He watched too.” JJ thought of the girl with the curls, how a golden light emanated, how they smoked a joint and watched the movie while the boyfriend dozed. She turned and caught him watching her but just smiled. He had almost fallen off the couch. “What was her name?”

“Kelly or Kayla or something,” Carl said.

“Kara,” JJ said, remembering now. “Kara.”

Carl looked at him. “What the hell is the matter with you?”

“I think I’m in love.”

“Well get in line.”

“First in line,” JJ said. “I’m first.”

On the TV, Starks hit a three and the announcer said, “After missing his first nine, he’s really starting to heat up now. Hot and cold, as usual.”

JJ knew what he meant.

…In the present, the blowing snow settled until the next gust. Kara, the girl with the curls, is an alterna-crunchy personal trainer in Pennsylvania (Spirit Flex™). She’s married to an accountant and they have two kids. (He tracked her down on Facebook, hoping for pictures. Like we all do). Carl is a bagel baker right here in town. And JJ is JJ, also right here.

The boyfriend? Who the hell knows.

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Finally, Again

JJ Triangle

Waiting for JJ at the Dollop Café. Lila, his girlfriend, and Carl, his best friend, are catching up. JJ is the only shared area in their friendship Venn. Meaning they only hang out when Lila and JJ are together. Except for that one time, of course.

Lila asked, “Still baking the bagels?”

“Yup,” Carl said. “Someone has to do it. They sell them here, in fact.”

“Oh yeah? Doing any writing?”

“Working on the novel.”

“Who isn’t?”

“I don’t know. Most people just blog. They blog about not writing their novel. And the pain of not writing their novel. And they don’t have time to write their novel.”

“You don’t have a blog?”

“I used to,” Carl said. “It was called BageLit. It was about bagels and literature.”

“Ummm.”

“I would start by describing a type of bagel, ingredients, and the finished product. Then compare it to a piece of literature. Usually a poem.”

“Such as?”

Birches, by Robert Frost. That’s like a cinnamon raisin bagel toasted with butter. Comforting and nostalgic. Simple. Evocative of the way things ought to be. A reset after a tough spell.”

Lila looked at him, this rough-around-the-edges-bagel-baking-freak. “You always did march to your own drummer.”

“What are the options? The prevailing beat sucks.”

The waitress brought them that good Dollop Café dark roast and they fixed their coffee in silence.

Lila asked, “Did you ever tell him about that one time?”

“Did you?”

“No, it would just thicken the plot. He doesn’t need that.”

“No one needs that.”

“How do you think he’s doing?”

“Obviously better not drinking,” Carl said. “But…”

“But what?”

“He’s somehow more and less at the same time.”

Lila sighed. “I think I know what you mean.”

“I mean, it’s good, right. But something…creepy maybe? About him sober.”

“Shh, here he comes.”

JJ was coming toward them, moving through the tables, a man feeling good, in the flow. He reached the table and smiled down upon them.

“Worlds collide,” JJ said. “Finally.”

“Finally again,” said Carl.

“Yeah,” JJ said. “Finally again. But it’s different now.”

“That’s for sure,” said Lila.

“This is what’s important,” JJ said and took the seat next to Lila. “This is what I’m grateful for.”

JJ read the menu while Carl and Lila shared a look. “More and less at the same time,” their glance confirmed.  “Exactly.”

The waitress came back. “I think I’ll have a cinnamon raisin bagel,” JJ said and put the menu back in the stand. “Toasted with butter.”

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SLAP! Creative Humiliation

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On a recent trip to a speaking engagement I observed a family waiting to board a plane. Airports, hotels, and tourist spots are great places to observe the decline in child discipline and the resultant decline of our culture. This family was fairly unremarkable. Two obviously “magical” kids, one 5 year-old boy trying to engage a clearly uninterested stranger in conversation, the other, a toddler, with a t-shirt that read “Genius”. I called my wife about that shirt and we shared a knowing nostalgic chuckle. We both agreed that the little “genius” would prove to be anything but. That put me in mind of this excerpt from Chapter 6 of SLAP!, “Humiliation as Motivation”.

 

The beauty is, there is room to express yourself here. An example of Creative Humiliation: My wife made t-shirts for our children to wear when the unsavory aspects of their personalities proved resilient and repetitive. Our son often wore a shirt labeled, “Stupid”, reflecting his numerous failings. We look back now at his Kindergarten graduation pictures and laugh at the other children with their little neckties and dresses. And there’s our Paul with his “Stupid” shirt. We had to make that shirt five times as he grew through elementary school. Several of those well-dressed children now work for Paul at Kmart. Not so stupid anymore!

And we’ll never forget our Marian wearing her “Slut” shirt to the eighth grade dance after we caught her looking at shirtless pictures of soccer players on the internet. Unsurprisingly, she only had to wear that shirt once. The result? A mature adult choice as she recently put her baby up for adoption. We all amicably agreed that three children by three dads was one too many. I can’t describe how my heart swelled when her other two children helped blow out the candles on her 20th birthday cake. An unforgettable family moment made possible by SLAP!

 

There is nothing sadder or more naïve than that “magical” child built up into a “genius” before she can utter complete sentences. It’s all downhill from there.

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Note: You don’t even have to painstakingly stitch these humiliation shirts yourself like my incredible wife did. You can design them online and have them sent to you. Aggro-parents love the internet! Let your imagination flow. Aggro-parents have made shirts labeled with “Fat”, “Bitch”, “Loser”, “Short”, “Tard”, “Clumsy” and many more.

 

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White-tailed Deer

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            It wasn’t the uphill, it was the downhill that was difficult on the icy parts of the trail. Gravity doesn’t help in these situations. JJ hiked carefully down the steep section between Sheep Mountain and the little valley below the ridge. An ashen gray sky, very close to the ground, and a couple inches of hard icy snow crunching underfoot. Seventeen degrees and the dead of winter.

JJ stopped and it was suddenly quiet without the crunching of his boots. There was a distant hum from the interstate on the far side of the mountain and then he heard, as if an echo of his own movement, crunching footsteps coming up from the valley below. A shape moving through the trees below, coming straight up the trail. JJ waited for him.

The man was intent on his climbing, trudging sure-footed at a good clip, and he only noticed JJ when about ten feet away. The man stopped, unsurprised. “White-tailed deer,” he said, gasping a little.

“What?”

“White-tailed deer. Back that way,” he said and pointed back down the trail. He was catching his breath. “Three of them. Ran up the rocks like it was nothing.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. And did you notice the winter trees. The bare branches reach for the sky like capillaries. Or blood vessels.   Without the leaves I mean. The silhouettes of the branches reach into the sky, yearning. And they get nothing. Not this time of year.”

“I do get the capillary thing. Not the yearning, though. They’re kind of beautiful.”

“Yeah. Kind of like a lot of these people everywhere, reaching for something that can’t be had. Reaching for the sky, but stuck in the ground. Beautiful but doomed to be stuck.”

“Isn’t that human nature?”

“It’s just nature. Some people are birds, soaring. Or song birds, perky and social. Some are burrowers, like possums, nocturnal. Many people are trees, rooted and stuck in place.”

“What are you?”

The man took off his hat and looked up at the sky. Mucus was frozen in his moustache and his sweaty head steamed in the cold. “I haven’t figured that out yet. Maybe I’ll never know.” He put his hat back on. “Which are you?”

JJ thought of Lila and not drinking anymore and the money he won. “I think I was a dying tree that’s turning into something else.”

“Yeah. Sometimes there’s magic at work. Alchemy.” He looked hard at JJ. “I’ve had a lot of time alone.”

“Ok.”

“Take care,” he said and continued trudging up the path. JJ noticed the spikes attached to the bottom of his boots, gripping the ice, giving traction.

“I want more traction,” JJ said to himself. “I’m no bird. But, I don’t want to be a tree stuck and reaching to an uncaring sky.” He thought of the white-tailed deer, bounding effortlessly up the hill. He had seen them up here as well, usually in the morning or near sunset. They were silent and watchful, ready to move, graceful, and always in a small group.

“I’m definitely a land animal,” he thought. He started back down the trail, careful of the icy spots, picking his way gingerly. “I’m no deer, though. That’s for sure.”

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Honor Your Inner Stalin

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New Year’s Eve day, pale sunshine and no snow. So, JJ and Carl hiked from the farmhouse to the top of the mountain.

“In 2015, I plan to honor my inner Stalin,” Carl said.

“That’s your resolution?”

“Yeah. I plan to honor all of me, the light and the dark.”

“Will that make you a better person?”

“I think so,” Carl said. “It will make me a more complete person. I think we repress the dark stuff and that’s where we get into trouble. It’s still in there and needs to be recognized.”

“But what about the genocide? And the Cold War paranoia?”

“Don’t you sometimes wish you had the power to wipe out certain people? Or populations? Aren’t you paranoid and suspicious?”

“All the time.”

“Well, there you go.”

JJ looked out over the town. They sat on a cliff above the valley and no leaves on the trees meant big views all around. Too many people and houses down there, even in this smallish city. Too many people burning fuels, making trash, fucking up the planet. Many just worthless parasites, taking up space.

“But,” JJ said. “You can’t just declare yourself and start the process. You need a plan.”

“I’m talking about my inner Stalin. The psychopath inside. I’m not going to hurt anybody. On purpose.”

“What the hell have you been reading?”

“Emerson. His big thing is that there’s Jesus in all of us. There’s Socrates in all of us. There’s a poet in all of us.”

“So, there’s a dictator in all of us, too.”

“Exactly.”

Some images of Stalin came into JJ’s mind. Uncle Joe at Yalta, sitting smug with a regal FDR and a fading Churchill. Military Stalin, pockmarked with that moustache, iron-willed and cruel, watching the tanks parade in Red Square. Hitler, with his fussiness and silly moustache seemed like a jester in comparison.

JJ said, “My resolution is to not live in comparison.”

“In comparison to what?”

“Other people. I’m sick of giving a shit what other people think.”

Silence, except for the distant and constant hum of cars on streets, cars on highways, and a few stray horns. “I didn’t think that was a problem for you,” Carl said. “You’re one of the oddest people I know.”

“There’s things I want to do. But I always talk myself out of them.”

“Such as?”

JJ looked out over the town and thought of taking a stand about something. A nameless dread about the Other was always with him and something or someone out there was to blame. Rich people? Religious fanatics? Patriots fans?

“Maybe I’ll start a Gulag,” JJ said.

“There you go. With my inner Stalin and your lottery money, we can make some changes around here.”

“Then you can have me shot after it’s up and running.”

“I’m way ahead of you, man.”
“Happy New Year, asshole.”

“Same to you,” said Carl. “And many more.”

 

 

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SLAPPY Holidays!

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Leading up to Christmas I‘ve received hundreds of variations on the following question: “What do I do when my child gives a negative reaction to an unwanted Christmas gift?” A great question for a common and timely situation. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 11 of SLAP, “SLAPPING in Mixed Company”.

By now you’ve mastered a consistent hand brandishing technique that can be used in all situations. Remember, it can be discreet but leaves no doubt that a SLAP is coming if the target behavior does not change immediately. Also, you’ve constructed a SLAP chamber (highly recommended, see Chapter 7) or designated a SLAP area of your home. The routine has been established and the child understands what will occur if the behavior continues.

If the child does not respond to his healthy fear and continues to act out, then action must be taken IMMEDIATELY!. Many new Aggro-Parents make the mistake of delaying the SLAP until it is more convenient, especially when other people are around. But delay will remove the threat of humiliation which, as we’ve seen over and over again, is a critical component of a healthy childhood. Remember: Delay and we Pay.

The child must be removed from the room and, at this point, the level of humiliation is up to her. If the child does not respond to the verbal SLAP prompt, (“come with me” or “see me in the other room”) then a swift physical response is necessary. The child is trying to take control and betting that you won’t do the hair towing or arm yanking techniques (see Chapter 5) in front of other people. WRONG! Remember, being a closet Aggro-Parent does not work! That’s like being a closet breather. Shame and embarrassment are for those wishy-washy parents who will some day watch their adult children slurp cereal milk in front of the same old family television. They will never leave! We are raising strong, successful, and grateful children. Aggro-parents from around the world are with you during moments of hesitation or doubt.

SLAPPY Holidays!

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Traditional Balsam Wreath, $49.95

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Dear Dave,

The good – arrived very fast; smelt fabulous when the box was opened. The bad – I think the smell comes from a spray – it has completely gone now. The wreath is not round but “egg-shaped”! Decorations look cheap. Frankly, it looks ugly. It’s too late for me to return and get another (company arriving). I used to get much cheaper ones from the local chain store, at less than half the price, but thought I’d splurge this year. It will be back to the chain store next year!

Boston48, Boston, MA

Dear Boston48,

What is it with you people and your “wreaths”? People are not seasonal decorations! My dear readers, this is a good reminder to drive in your lane, punch at your weight class, or stay in your socio-economic comfort zone when looking for a partner. Look at what happens when you set your sights too high! Now you’re stuck with your “wreath” and your holiday party will certainly be ruined. Think of what your guests will say about the oval shape of your “purchase”. The thought of a smug LL Bean type is much better than the reality. Those decorations can’t hide the ugly truth once you get close and the perfume wears off. People are people, regardless of where you shop for them. That being said, consider a middle-of-the-road option. No need to drop down into Walmart territory. Avoid the temptation to go slumming for a “wreath” just to piss mom off at Christmas dinner.

Happy Holidays!

Dave

 

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