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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Oh, My Goodness! Oh, My Soul!

“Where’s Daddy?”
The young girl’s voice always sounded five on the word Daddy. She was, in fact, a day short of fourteen. Her mother rose and turned from the open oven with round cake pans in both her mitted hands. Her uncombed hair had fallen across her face, and she tried blowing it aside to see.

“Gross, Momma! I hate when you blow your hair with that weird face like you're blowin’ smoke out the car window—only old people smoke like that—your breath's gettin' all over the cake.”

“Alice, I haven’t smoked a cigarette in three years, and you know it.”

She had quit, but it had not quite been two years, and the motions of old habits are the last to go. Whenever Alice’s mother held a pen, she flicked it without thinking over an invisible ash tray. A subtle remnant of her past. Presently, however, at the foot of the basement stairs, in the small closet to the left, pressed flat among too many coats, was a dirty- pink parka with matted fir around the hood. Below a mitten in the pocket was a half-empty pack of Kools (a brand she had never smoked).

Alice pinched her mother’s hair as if it were unclean and hooked it behind her ear. “If you’d fix it first thing it wouldn’t do that.”

“Thank you. I got up early to make your cake. I'll go brush my hair while these cool. I set out your cereal for you. Grab a bowl and eat it down by the TV. I can’t have ya in the kitchen the morning of your birthday party.”

“I don’t like this cereal anymore," she complained, nibbling at a small handful of it. "

“Alice, you eat like a bird. What can I get you?”

“You never answered me. Where’s Daddy?”
“He’s behind the house working on his big secret, but the noise is about to begin so I guess...”
“I’m gunna go see what he’s doin’.”

“Not dressed like that, you’re not. Go put on some clothes. May mornings aren’t as warm as they look, and besides… you’re no little girl anymore.”

The screen door slammed itself shut on the word anymore. “Kids,” the mother said. It was a word she took comfort in whenever her daughter walked away mid-sentence. It happened so often that the mother sometimes wondered if she’d been speaking at all… or only pondering what she should say. But “kids” always came out clearly and swept away her feelings of irrelevance.

She laid out the pieces for the same “Belle" cake she had made since Alice was six. It used a plain Barbie doll pressed waste deep into the cake and "dressed" in yellow frosting that flowed down the tapered layers like a big “hoop skirt.” The first time she made one, it took half a day, but anymore she could do it with her eyes closed.

Alice had stepped out the side door wearing only the scant baby-doll PJs she’d gotten the Christmas before. The morning she opened the gift, her mother sat on the couch in her flannel pajamas and frumpy robe, smiling as her daughter held the silky thing up to herself. “I couldn’t decide between the pink and the dark green so I got ‘em both,” she said. On that hint of extravagance, her husband looked up from a new drill and said, “Whoa… That ain’t gunna keep you warm at night.” His wife slapped his knee. “You hush up! It’s time she had some pretty things. She’s no little girl anymore.”

From the front, the small ranch house at 11312 Primrose looked like all the others on the street, but it was actually L-shaped, sitting on a narrow corner lot just a block from the main drag of town. A droopy chain-link fence ran along the back of the yard; beyond it was an alley lined with neglected sheds and cluttered junk for the raggedy man to haul away (when he was sober enough to drive). Other than that, the alley was a shortcut all the kids took to town.
The back yard was barely wide enough for the rusty swing set and plastic play house whose happy pastel colors had faded in the sun of summers past. A flock of starlings on the lawn flapped off as Alice sashayed past. At the far end of the small yard was a double-wide gate that opened to the gabled “L” part of the house. This addition had a garage door opposite the gate, but it was not a garage at all.

Six years before, the realtor explained that the home’s builder and first occupant was a prize fisherman. The room's nicely finished walls still had the holes from pictures and mounted trophy fish and other “manly” things his wife did not want in the house. The low pile carpet showed only the slightest trace of trailer tires from the sleek bass boat he kept there. The "the alley room" (as they called it) was a great selling point, but other than storing some apartment furniture (from when Alice's grandmother remarried), the space was begging for a great idea.

The yellow tape measure extended to the far side of wide opening. Her father made a slight whip motion with his wrist, and the long ruler zipped back toward its case with the same tinny rattle that Alice’s Venetian mini-blinds made whenever she remembered to drop them.

“Whatcha up to, Daddy? Momma says it’s a secret.”

“Hey, there’s my birthday girl,” he said without looking up, taking another smaller measurement. “I’ve got a big surprise for you—that’s what I’m up to.”

Stepping into the room, her eyes went to the corner where her parents “hid” Christmas packages from her. Nothing there.

“I’m not telling you what it is ‘til the party, " he smiled, standing upright. His knees were stiff and his legs a little numb as he stepped in the room. "I wish I could put a big bow on it to let your friends know it’s yours, but ribbon doesn't come this big.” Only then did Alice see the huge crated box to her left.

“Is that it? You’ve got to tell me what it is. I can’t wait a whole day!”

“Here’s a hint: It's special-made to go in this garage door.”

Her eyes widened, “A car?”

“A car?” her father mocked. “How would a car be in that box?”

“What else goes through a garage door? A Boat!” She screamed.

“I didn’t say through the garage door, I said in the garage door. Right here in this space I’m measuring.” Her gaze dropped with a perfected look of disappointment. “Ally…” he always called her Ally when her pouting worked, “Ally, you’re only fourteen. Cars and boats will come soon enough, but what I’ve got here is even better. It’s not in this room—it is this room. That big crate is a bay window that fits right here in this opening. I had it delivered last Saturday when you two were shopping.”

She began to survey the room as the idea took shape in her mind.

“You’re making this into a room…for me?”

“Not a bedroom—an anything-you-want room,” he smiled.

“Anything? It’s my roomjust for me? I can come out here whenever I want? With anybody I want? And I keep the key to the side door?”

“Better than that. You can use the side door here to go out and in, but I’m also cutting a door through that wall there right into your bedroom. You’ll be able to come to the alley room from the inside, too. That’s the new door leaning there. It was a floor display ready to hang. The lock that came on it is keyed inside and out, but I can change that.”

“Don’t change it. I like that it locks both ways—makes it feel more like my room.”

“Okay. We’ll leave it and put the money we saved toward paint. Your mother will want to help you decorate.”

“No...Please, Daddy. Really. She got to decorate my bedroom, and we can leave that all pink and everything to keep her happy, but this is my room. So it should be what I want…about me, and my friends, and my music, and the things I like. I mean, if you and Momma are allowed in, what’s the point?”

“She does like the idea of getting you and your friends out of the basement, but she did want to help a little. I know... I'll tell her it’s sort of like the tree house I had when I was a kid. My parents never even went up the ladder.”

“Yeah, It’s like that…I guess...only way better,” she said, taking the taped key from the new door.

“I’ll say. Look here. I’ve already made the steps--the carpet's a close match--and piped in the ductwork for heat and air, and run your own phone line and the cable for internet and TV. You can have the big one in the basement. Your mother and I usually watch the one in our room anyway.”

“So will the bay window and door be done in time for my party?”

“That’s the plan. I have two buddies coming over to help.”

“Daddy, you’re the best!” she squeaked, kissing him on the cheek. She flitted out the broad door, again scaring off the gathered starlings. Only at the sound of their wings did the father look up, and only then did he notice how little she had on.

“Alice, where are you going?”
“Inside to take a bath.”

“Good, because I don’t want you out here like that when…”

The faint crushing sound of gravel under tires interrupted him as a red pick-up honked and rolled down the alley toward the double gate. Seeing her father wave at the two men in the truck, Alice flashed a friendly smile and started walking backwards away from him.

"Oh, Daddy, one more thing. Can I have some money to go buy some black paint? Not for today but for later on this week when some bo... when my friends come over to start painting.”

“Go, go, go …" He waved her away. "Wait… Black paint?”

“Yeah, I know just what I want to do. I saw it on this guy’s website. Don’t worry, you'll never have to look at it, right? Just tell Momma you two are going to pretend the room isn’t even here… just like before."

Her father nodded as he opened the gate for the truck. He didn't hear it yet, but deep in his mind some children on a school began singing a song. At first he barely noticed the earworm, but the voices became louder as the words came back to him. Finally, amid the sound of hammers and saws and drills, he sang boyishly above the din.

"Alice, where are you going?"
"Upstairs to take a bath."
Alice with legs like toothpicks
and a neck like a giraffe [raff raff raff]
Alice stepped in the bathtub
Alice pulled out the plug--
Oh, my goodness! Oh, my soul!
There goes Alice down the hole.

The silly song ran through his head all afternoon. He sang it again as they picked up their tools and arranged the furniture as best they could. His friends had never heard the childish chant, and they all laughed out loud at the end.

That night at the party, everyone showed up who'd been invited—even some older boys who hadn't been, but they all seemed nice enough. After singing "Happy Birthday" and blowing out candles, Alice opened her presents. There were T-shirts that looked a little small. One said "I Love Paris" with the face of a sultry waif instead of the Eiffel Tower. Another said, "Too Hot to Handle" across the front. There were also CDs and posters and one gift that was closed quickly and slid under the couch as the two girls that gave it laughed and whispers spread around the room.
"Kids," Alice's mother said as she came in with a tray of cut cake. As they began eating, her father proudly announced: "There's one more thing to open. Follow me." He took Alice by the hand that was not holding a plate and led them to the new door in her bedroom.

"Go ahead. Unlock the door, Alice. Show 'em the new ‘Alley Room’—or should I say ‘Ally’s Room?’"

"I’ll come up with my own name, Daddy. Hold this," she said handing over her cake and eagerly unlocking the door. "It's not done yet, of course, but it's going to be so cool."
She paused dramatically like a game-show model before swinging the door open. Her friends filed past with "ooohs and ahs" and muttered expletives her parents pretended not to hear as they stood outside looking in.

"Thanks for holding my cake, Daddy—oh, and for making it, Mom. Oh, and for all this, too. This is going to be SO awesome." Pulling the door behind her, she turned and smiled through the crack.

"Don't forget the deal. I can paint and hang posters and do everything just how I want it, right? This is my space. Hey, there’s the name I'll use, Daddy. That’s what I’ll call it…From now on we'll just say it's My Space!"
.© Copyright 2007, Patterns of Ink

I wrote the above bit of fiction for all parents who think it's none of their business to be a frequent and welcome guest at their child's MySpace address. I made this analogy with some teachers a couple months ago, and thought I’d write out the little parable last weekend. I revised it a little today after reading this week's Newsweek cover story (excerpt below). I learned the silly Alice song from my wife many years ago. She said the kids in her school used to sing it on the bus.

Like any other tool or technology, MySpace in and of itself is not evil, but like all such things it can be used for evil purposes or at the very least have unintended consequences. Treated properly, some may say it's not much different than having a back deck where friends hang around (or "birds of a feather" flock), but if it is treated as an extremely private no-parent-zone where countless hours are spent, there may be reason for concern (just as there may be with Alice's birthday present).

If you are a parent who does not yet know about MySpace, the links below are for you. Think of it as a cyber room added onto your house with access doors for guests (these can be friends or strangers—it’s up to the person with the key). It can be space where kids gaze out on the world or where they give that world a glimpse of themselves through a huge window to the alley of the internet, to the short-cut to what's happening that all the kids know so well (a primrose path if you will). There’s even a light that lets outsiders know when someone's home ("on-line"), and in many cases...the parents inside the house pretend the room does not exist.
Teens hang out at MySpace
MySpace posts leads to post-party charges
MySpace: Your Kids' Danger?
MySpace In Sex Assault Probe
A MySpace Cheat Sheet for Parents
(Parts of this last link seem as naive as Alice's parents. It says, "Remember, teens took over MySpace and made it their own. Try to respect that you're on their territory." It then quotes UC Berkeley researcher Danah Boyd, "You don't want to create controlling situations, because what these kids are trying to do is create a space outside of parental control." )
Patterns of Ink would agree. That's what the kids are doing, but I would disagree that it's wise to let them do it. Add the following to the story's concern...
February 12, 2007 Newsweek
Cover Story Edition: U.S. Edition Page: 40
Girls Gone Bad By Kathleen Deveny with Raina Kelley
The article asks and answers the following question:
"Paris, Britney, Lindsay & Nicole: They seem to be everywhere... are we raising a generation of 'prosti-tots'? / Allow us to confirm what every parent knows: kids, born in the new-media petri dish, are well aware of celebrity antics [and] are their biggest fans. A recent NEWSWEEK Poll found that 77 percent of Americans believe that Britney, Paris and Lindsay have too much influence on young girls.... Julie Seborowski, a first-grade teacher at Kumeyaay Elementary School in San Diego, says she sees it in her 7-year-old students: girls using words like "sexy," singing pop songs with suggestive lyrics and flirting with boys./ That's enough to make any parent cringe. But are there really harmful long-term effects of overexposure to Paris Hilton? Are we raising a generation of what one L.A. mom calls "prosti-tots," young girls who dress like tarts, live for Dolce & Gabbana purses and can neither spell nor define such words as "adequate"? Or does the rise of the bad girl signal something more profound, a coarsening of the culture and a devaluation of sex, love and lasting commitment? .... One thing is not in doubt: a lot of parents are wondering about the effect our racy popular culture may have on their kids and the women they would like their girls to become. The answers are likely to lie in yet another question: where do our children learn values? / Here's a radical idea--at home, where they always have. Experts say attentive parents, strong teachers and nice friends are an excellent counterbalance to our increasingly sleazy culture...."
Page 46 of the same article says:
"Twelve- to 14-year-olds are probably the most vulnerable to stars' influence.... And as much as we hate to admit it, we grown-ups are complicit. We're uncomfortable when kids worship these girls, yet we also love US magazine; we can't get enough of YouTube videos or "E! True Hollywood Stories." So rather than wring our hands over an increase in 17-year-olds getting breast implants, what if we just said no? They're minors, right? And while we worry that middle-schoolers are dressing like hookers, there are very few 11-year-olds with enough disposable income to keep Forever 21 afloat....[The] problem is largely under the control of we who hold the purse strings.


Blogger Nancy said...

Great analogy, Tom! I am so glad my kids are grown and this is one less worry I have. I'm going to forward this to my sister (2 teenagers to worry about). Excellent writing!

3/2/07 9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome story! I don't worry right about my kids on the internet, but they are only 6 and 3. I do however worry that by the time they are old enough to navigate by themselves, the advances will be even greater and it will be even easier for kids to hide what i sreally going on. But, I also firmly believe that if you are an INVOLVED parent it will be easier to spot when something is not right.

Thanks for your writing! It is always thought provoking and enjoyable!


3/2/07 9:51 PM  
Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

Nice story, Tom. Not to scare anyone out there, but I know plenty of convicted felons with CSC backgrounds (Criminal Sexual Conduct) that can't wait to gain access to MySpace. I can't stress enough, kids need supervision when using this site. Personally, if it were me, they wouldn't have their "own space." I think blogging is better than MySpace anyway.

4/2/07 2:38 AM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

Tom, even though our three children are adults now and my husband and I are beyond worying about them, we have fourteen grandchildren to worry about. Our adult children are aware of the dangers of the internet for children, but I will remimd them anyway. Thanks for the "heads up" story.

4/2/07 9:25 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Good feedback. This topic has been weighing on me for several months--not only because of the frightening implications of what JRT has shared (and it's true kids are way too free with personal info and pictures on MySpace) but because of the "parental disconnect," their inability to see the unintended consequences of technology (from video games to MP3 players) that either isolate us from others or create an alternate social reality.

The internet connects and disconnects at the same time. Even we bloggers need to be careful to keep priorities in perspective, but I do value this creative venue and your positive interaction is cyberspace at its best. Thank you.

4/2/07 10:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a newbie here! I caught you P of I on the nitty.gritty blog and was intrigued with "who is this person?"
You are a gifted writer for sure! Are you published? I sense an "artist" in you as well as you have just that sensibility. Maybe not with brush and paint but with words and insight and more.
My own kids are grown so "My Space" isn't an issue for me. BUT I do have grandkids and I pray that their "units" are diligent. The thing about parenting is~~it never ends, it just changes! I find myself praying probably MORE now than I did when I had the "young uns" under my roof!

12/2/07 9:12 AM  
Blogger Cara said...

thank you for the comment on my blog . . . strangers leaving their thoughts there doesn't weird me out . . . so no worries.

i was unsure of how kind my comment was on nitty.gritty . . . so, it was nice to hear some feedback. thank you.

12/2/07 12:15 PM  
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8/2/10 12:22 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

stopleaving this spam!

8/2/10 5:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8/2/10 11:07 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

More stupid spam. Here comes the fuzzy word step to writing comments.

9/2/10 12:27 PM  
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