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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

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Good Old Irish Beating

In last night's Vernors post, I mentioned that I don’t drink. I say that casting no judgment on those who choose to do otherwise. I don't wear abstinence as a medal of self discipline, for if I did, it would hang ironically on the crest of an out-grown suit.

But the title of this St. Particks' Day post is not “To drink or not to drink.” Patterns of Ink is about stories—not arguments. So here is the Preface Story to some essays on why I don’t drink—I’m writing it today not to be a party pooper but in honor of my red-headed, Irish great grandfather who knew this topic all too well. It was he, after all, who got the good old Irish beating in this short story that I called: "The Gray Hair in the House."

First some background: I must be careful how I tell this story. You see, my 95-year-old grandmother reads printed versions of these posts, and I wouldn't hurt her for the world. Through the years, I've never heard her speak ill of even the harshest realities of her life and of those with whom she shared it. So if this story about a difficult topic seems a bit soft focused, you'll understand. As is true with so much of life, you'll have to read between the lines. [That's her there at the right in 1930, holding my mom on the front porch of her parent's house.] And now for the story...

The Gray Hair in the House

Some time early on in the Great Depression, when my mom was just a baby, her young parents fell on hard times and the three of them moved in with her grandparents. The shared house saw them through the 30's...and the 4o's, 50's--actually, they never moved out. They lived together for 40 years.

Whenever we watched "The Waltons" in the 70's, my mom would say, "See. Everybody back then lived together--you had to," as if we held secret questions about the stories of her life, all of which were set in her grandparent's two-story house on the corner of Forest and Riverview in Port Huron, Michigan.

Because of these shared living arrangements, Mom often said she grew up with two sets of parents. She called her grandfather "Dad" and her father "Daddy"; she called her grandmother "Mom" and her mother "Mumma." It's understandable how that happened. She loved all four "parents," of course, but as a child, she found security in her grandparents, "Dad and Mom" Collinge--just as her own mother did.

When Mom and Dad Collinge were home, things were calm; things went as planned; and if not, they were settled with less words and commotion. You see, my mom's dad was an alcoh... well, let's say daily "drinking" was his pattern of life. [I wrote of him with nostalgic affection in Present Tense Past Perfect, but by the time I knew him, he was a kind caricature of his younger self, a loving but slightly detatched grandfather.]

For Grandpa, all roads went from point A to C with a "B" for bar in between. On the rare occasions when he came home on time, clear eyed, and smiling, my mom says her teeth would chatter with excitement because it usually meant they'd all get along that night. She recently told me that her grandparents were always home to make sure things were okay for her and her siblings. I'll never forget how she said it, "I always felt safe when there was gray hair in the house." (I'd not heard that before, so I had to read between the lines.)

In the summer of '42, my mom was 12. By then she had learned the patterns of wonder and fear and hope. She'd learned that good days followed bad, and that playing on the cool lawn between the front porch and the apple tree was a good way to pass bad days. And so she did on a hot morning in July.

Just twenty steps away, Dad Collinge [my great grandfather] was skimming his goldfish pond with an old wire colander lashed to a broomstick. He was not a singer, but when his heart felt it, could carry a tune. Every now and then he'd step toward the house and with a faint brogue sing up to the open kitchen window: [Double-click the word "Maggie" to hear the tune.]

"I wandered today to the hill, Maggie
To watch the scene below
The creek and the creekin' old mill, Maggie
Where we sat in the long, long ago."

 
His wife's name was not Maggie but Lura from Tura Lura Lura, an Irish lullaby. He sometimes sang that, too, but whenever he was "in Dutch" (as folks back then called "trouble"), it was "Maggie" that he sang in bits and pieces through the day. Even when it didn't work, my mom found peace in the old song's story and the enduring love it lifted up. He hummed a verse by the pond and then stepped back to the window:
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"The green grove is gone from the hill, Maggie
Where first the daisies sprung
The creekin' old mill is still, Maggie
Since you and I were young."

The charm of the song was lost on the rusty screen. The only reply was the clank of dishes and the thud of cupboard doors from the kitchen inside.

The cool grass tickled my mom's back, and the sun warmed her lightly closed eyes until it was suddenly eclipsed by Dad Collinge hovering over her. She opened her eyes behind a lifted hand but could not read his face for the sky. Then from out of the blue he said...

“Beverley, don’t ever drink. Don’t even take one sip. So help ya. Will you promise me that?”

She nodded "yes" and without thinking asked, “But don’t you drink?"

Not quite answering the question, he said, “I’ve only come home drunk once in my life, and I think you know when it was.”

Mom did know, for it had happened recently, but she hadn't said a word, believing firmly that things not talked about sometimes went away.

Three days before on the 4th, after the fireworks at the park (and some more in a spat between him and Mom Collinge), he’d gone to the Grotto for a drink...or two...and returned home to a darkened house. He left the car askew of the narrow garage door, stumbled up the hill of the yard and again up the back porch steps, bumped through the door, and came to rest in the middle of the living room floor. It was a long rest, face down.

When Mom Collinge woke to see him there, she smelled the scent so often brought home by her son-in-law, and disappointment swept over her. In a fit of rarely provoked rage, she grabbed the nearest thing to hit him with, but seeing it still plugged in, a better idea took charge.

It was her Hoover vacuum sweeper--the one he'd bought her. She turned it on, and turned it on him--trouncing it up and down his back like white shirts on a washboard. He rolled over in shock, but the Hoover kept beating and sweeping until it sucked up his shirt tail and whined to a halt.

“Lu, what are you doing to me?” He begged with an ever-clearer mind.

“I’m cleaning you up that’s what. You’re a mess on my floor. I stayed up waiting for you. Swept the floor two times, but I must have missed this spot! Lookatcha! I'll not have this from you, too.”

My mom heard all the noise in the night but knew not to go downstairs. Her own mother and father either didn't wake or knew they'd long ago lost the right to call the kettle black.

Next morning at breakfast, no one was talking. At lunch, Dad Collinge said, “Aw, Lu, come on…” That night after a supper of rump roast and "cold shoulder," he said, "Aw, come on, Gert..." (Her middle name was Gertrude.) But Mom Collinge held her ground and her tongue. She'd been quiet for three days.

So yes, my mom did know the "one time" he was talking about; she knew it was for that he was singing, and she loved him all the more for the effort. She stood up and gave him a hug. "You promise, Bev?" he asked again, and she nodded to his earnest eyes. She walked him back to the pond, and continued around the house and up the back porch steps.

Inside, Mom Collinge was peeling potatoes into a brown paper bag.

"Need any help?"

"Lunch is already on. These are for supper. "

Mom looked at the table. It was set with sandwiches, but the usual call out the back door had not come and was not on its way.

As always on such days, my mom felt a vague guilt, and just as staying clear of household conflicts had become a pattern of life, so too had her tendency to apologize for them. "I'm sorry," she said.

"Honey, don't do that to yourself." She cut off two pieces of potato and handed one to my mom. [To this day, my mother and I cannot peel potatoes without eating a raw wedge.] Crunching down on the slice gave my mom an idea.

"Remember last fall when I brought apples in from the tree, and you were peeling 'em in curls--right there at the dining room table--and you put some of the peelings in Dad's hat...and when he put it on they dropped all over him? Remember that?"

"Yes, Dear. I remember."

"That was sure funny, Mom. Remember how he acted mad then laughed?"

"That he did, Dear, but..."

Outside the window, Dad Collinge resumed his crooning....
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"And now we are aged and grey, Maggie
The trials of life nearly done
Let us sing of the days that are gone, Maggie
When you and I were young."

My mom left the kitchen and came back with her grandfather's snap-bill cap from the coat tree. She dropped it up-side-down beside the bag and smiled. Mom Collinge took a deep breath; her eyes welled up; then she let out a long slow sigh.

"I love you, Beverley," she winked and peeled a potato into the hat.

Mom set the cap beside her grandfather's plate, and called him in to lunch. Her teeth chattered with excitement, like they did when her dad came home on time. All would soon be right she knew. It always was when all was well with the gray hair in the house.
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My mom says Dad Collinge never drank again after that, and my mother kept her promise to him. The other patterns in the house remained but became more tolerable with time.
[That's my Great Grandpa, "Dad Collinge," in the middle; my mom's parents are with him in the living room of the home they shared for 40 years. circa 1973]
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When Mom was 19, Mom Collinge died just a year or so before my parents wedding. To that marriage my father brought a mostly German lineage, but his father's bloodline (and his blood) also had the sting of alcohol. Because they both knew what it was like to live with an alcoholic parent, together my mother and father had sworn off drink. It was not a "holier than thou" stance as much as a "been there, seen that, no thank you" approach. In that sense, some experts would say that both my genetic disposition toward alcoholism and my personal bent against alcohol were set before I was born.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, my not drinking is not a testament to my self-discipline, as if I reign victorious over some recurring decision. For me it was a choice I made as a young man. My parents rightly forbade it, but by the time I could do as I pleased, it pleased me not to drink. So now looking back from age fifty, I ask myself, "Would life have been better with alcohol?" Nothing I have seen in thirty years has made me think so, and nothing I've heard (from those telling me I should) has met the burden of proof incumbent upon change. I don't think I've missed a thing but, in fact, have been spared from much.

A few years before my grandmother moved out of the house in 1976, my mom found that old Hoover in the long "walk-through" closet upstairs. That was the first time I heard this story. Grandma said, "Take it. It still works good." And we used the vacuum for years, but it eventually went up to Mom's attic. Two years ago, she gave it to me to put down in the cabin. It still works fine, but after 70 years, it’s earned a rest. On the bottom, scrawled in my great grandfather's hand are repair dates. The first is 12-9-1938. On the top, the brand-plate says
"It BEATS as it Sweeps as it Cleans."
Mom Collinge swore by it.

. [Right click on pictures to enlarge and read.]
.(Long before I was offered a drink by a fellow co-worker and politely declined, I heard the above story more than once. It is a true story, told to me by my mother who would sing "Maggie" and reminisce about various details each time she told it. The memory speaks of a hard topic and hard times, but she told it fondly somehow. The story serves as a foundation for the six short posts that follow, entitled "Why I Don't Drink." Through the years that question has come up countless times. I never feel defensive by the question, and I trust I'll not be offensive with my answers below.)

Parts I, II, and III of "Why I Don't Drink"

This six part series was originally posted 4/4/07, but had been intended to follow the above story about my Irish great grandfather's important role in my mom's life. That story was a "preface" of sorts to this post and the three that follow.

Part I: My purpose in writing these posts
Part II: My background
Part III: My temperament (These three parts are in the post you're now reading.)Part IV: My disdain for “Glamorized Alcoholism”
Part V: My desire to be “exemplary" to teens in this matter
Part VI: My wife, weddings, and some thoughts on Jesus at Cana

Part I:
Since adults who drink slightly outnumber those who don't drink. It's possible that half of the people reading here will disagree with me, but remember... these thoughts are about why I don’t drink—I’m not casting judgment on adults who choose to do otherwise. After reading this you may very well say, “Wow, Tom. Sounds like YOU shouldn’t drink. Good call. But I don’t have all that baggage. I drink but it’s simply not a dependency in my life. It's been a long time since I've had too much, etc.” I’m okay with that, if it’s true, but if you’ve ever been curious how a guy my age could “not drink and not even want to,” you may still find this an interesting read.

As my blog "header" indicates, I'm a Christian and a school administrator. Neither of those titles in and of itself precludes imperceptible consumption of alcohol from one's life. We all know teachers and administrators who drink regularly and publicly with little regard to who might be watching. They might first point out that what they do on their time is their business. They would then explain that it's perfectly legal and therefore “exemplary.” They may further mention that even “being tipsy” is not illegal—as long as one doesn’t drive a vehicle or engage in “disorderly conduct” while under the influence.

So from a legal standpoint, a large percentage of educators may find this discussion moot because, to them, “happy hour” after school or having a table full of beer bottles at the local sports pub with their students sitting at the next table is “exemplary” if indeed they are expected to be exemplary on “their own time,” which some may argue is not in their contract.

Do you remember your first alcoholic drink? None of us remembers our first drink of milk or water or any other “drink” not regulated by law, but in American culture, most adults remember the first time they took or declined “a drink.” They may even remember the second and the third time they made that choice. Habits are recurring choices that require less thought with repetition. They are patterns of behavior.

When substances are involved, the line between habit and addiction is more difficult to draw. Most people claim they can take or leave drinking, like W.C. Fields who snarled, “I can quit drinking whenever I want. I’ve done it a thousand times.”

Fields, of course, was the anti-tee-totaler poster boy during prohibition in the Roaring Twenties and early 30’s. Most people consider “prohibition” either a disastrous revelation of man’s addiction to alcohol or the futility of trying to legislate it from existence.
In truth, it was probably both.

Some argue that it was the failed “prohibition movement” and the imposed “minimum legal drinking age” (MLDA)laws that followed its repeal in 1934 that set the wheels in motion for today’s staggering alcohol statistics in the U.S. In other words, some argue that it’s because drinking is considered a “no no” that young people are drawn to it. We know there is some truth to that flaw in human nature. (Proverbs 9:17 says “Stolen waters are sweet.”)

To further support this point, some claim that in Europe and other less “Puritanical” cultures where drinking is not such a big deal—under-aged drunk driving is almost unheard of, but they fail to note that teens having access to cash, Coors, and cars is a very American phenomenon. Germany's beer-drinkng age may be 16, but teens don't get their driver's license until they are 18. In many other such countries, the average family (much less teen) simply doesn't have a car.[More about that in part IV.] So let me point out that this discussion is indeed about this current American culture—not a global Utopian village… not “ancient times.” These thoughts are about this culture; the one that I live in, the one my students live in.

Part II: My background
Like many Americans, I've never really checked my ethnic roots, but I've taken my parents word for it that I'm a "mix" of English, German, Irish, and as my Grandpa used to say, "a fifth of Scotch."

As you’ve read here before, my grandfather (whom I loved and who never did me harm) was an alcoholic. I never spent a day with him that he did not drink. I never went on a road trip with him that he did not stop at a bar. I didn’t know it at the time, but his persona, his smile, his uniquely “fermented” scent, came in part from the bottle that was nearly always within reach.

My other grandfather died when I was an infant, but later on in life, when I was old enough to “need to know,” my father shared with us that he, too, had a life-long dependency on alcohol. Back then, the terms “alcoholic” and “alcoholism” were not used, but the alcohol in my “bloodline” goes back many generations. I suspect this is true for more people than would care to talk about it.

I grew up in the home of a couple that wanted to break the chain of alcoholism in both their families. My mom and dad simply chose not to drink because they had grown up seeing what it did to marriages, to families, to family budgets, to failed businesses and so on. It was not a “religious” matter—indeed, the churches they grew up in were silent on the subject. True, when I was about ten, we began attending a Baptist church that encouraged abstinence, but this was not an imposition on my middle-aged parents; it was a point of agreement. [More about that in Part VI.]

I loved the alcoholics in my life, but they served as reminders of why I never wanted to begin drinking. When my great grandfather begged my mom not to drink— “not even a sip,” it was because he was afraid for her. Afraid the cycle would start all over. I do not drink for that same reason.

I know me. I know my strengths and weaknesses. If I had acquired a taste for liquor, I think I would sometimes want that taste. If I had a fondness for how a few drinks made me feel, I think would want that feeling too much. As it is, I actually prefer non-alcoholic grape juice over wine. I’d much rather have a glass of fresh cider than a pint of beer. I confessed in a previous post that I’m a Vernors man. I simply have no taste for cocktails and "adult beverages." I confess that I don’t know what I’m missing, but I suspect I’ve been spared from a lot.

Part III: My temperament
Those of you who read here, can probably sense that I’m sometimes prone to the “creative melancholy” common to many writers. (I’m not claiming the skills of the writing profession—just occasional lapses into the disposition.)

Study the great artists, actors, musicians, and writers through the centuries, and you’ll see a high proportion of “romantics” and bohemians. It seems as if the very gifts that helped them understand the highs and lows of life in their art made them vulnerable to real highs and lows in their lives. Many of them tried to maintain the “highs” with alcohol.
(I know, I know. It’s a depressant not a stimulant.) It seems to be an occupational hazard from Poe to Hemmingway; Sarah Teasdale to Edna St.Vincent Millay; Picasso to Van Gogh.

It may seem cliché to drop these famous names, but even a casual study of many gifted people not mentioned above will bear this point out. So I’m merely saying as a friend that it behooves those who have a hint of an artistic temperament to be very careful with alcohol.
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Part IV follows...

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Part IV of "Why I Don't Drink"

My disdain for Glamorized Alcoholism:
[This post contains at least 5 red Youtube links as "proof clips" .]

We live in a society that has long glamorized drinking. The history of Hollywood, both on and off the screen, is the story of going to bed with martinis and “waking up in Margaritaville.” For decades, advertisers have directly connected "good drinking" with good friends, but they never show us who drives them home. The "movies" have been glamorizing elegant drinking with our favorite classic stars for decades. From these films, we're taught that sophisticated drinking can be a regular part of our day with no problems, and then (if someone has too much) we're taught to laugh at its effect.

Take a moment to think of the last time you saw a typical depiction of drunkenness on the stage, film, or TV screen, and you’ll probably see humorous, laughable, lovable lost souls. Do they show drunks puking and hung over the next morning and yelling at their wife and kids? (Okay. Homer Simpson may be the exception. Go beyond him.) Or do they just entertain us at the drunk person's expense?

I realize that it’s natural for us to laugh at what we fear, but I think laughing at drunkenness serves a different purpose: it lowers the standard of "too much" by implying that as long as we're not "that drunk," we're okay. As long as there is someone "drunker" within eyesight, we're drinking "responsibly." The facts in Part V [next post below] will bear out that we have problems (and for instance shouldn't drive) when we are far short of "being drunk." Beyond the fact that temporary loss of motor skills is funny (like seeing a dizzy kid), I think we laugh at drunks because few people see themselves as one.

Here are a few examples of drunks that help us feel "responsible."

The drunk buffoon is in theater from Greek comedy/tragedy to Shakespeare (e.g. Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night)

I mentioned W.C. Fields in the 30's. In the sixties, we watched a similar "have a drink" character every week on The Dean Martin Show.

Or Otis stumbling in to Mayberry. [He evidently only attempted to drive while drunk in this episode. I am a huge Mayberry fan, but I must confess Andy Griffith's writers were caught up in the "let's laugh at a drunk" rut. Scroll down this article from Drunkard Magazine to see their favorite episodes.]
More recent sitcoms are no better. Seems like I vaguely remember some "Friends" getting married in Vegas (but not remembering a thing).

We wink at drunk sports casters (like this clip of Joe Namath).

We laugh at the notion that many "singles" rely on drunkenness to lead to casual one-night stands.

Perhaps the lush we feel the least guilty about laughing at is "the accidental drunk." You know the little rascal who got into the wrong cabinet or Disney’s Dumbo when he drinks the clown’s spilled whisky, and sees “pink elephants on parade.” Even his rat friend is drunk with him. Here's a more pathetic Youtube clip of a real rodent who accidentally got drunk on fermented pumpkins. Sad that we feel sorry for a dead-drunk squirrel but laugh when it's a fellow human being.
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Who could forget when Rob Williams' Mrs. Doubtfire gets unintentionally wasted? There's nothing more amusing than a disastrous moment for the dysfunctional familyof a divorced couple fighting over custody of the kids. Perhaps, the classic accidental drunk of all time is Lucile Ball during her filming of a “Vitameatavegiman” commercial. I'll admit, this is a humorous 6-minute sketch, but that simply proves my point!

Some of you may be thinking… “Come on, Tom. Don’t be a Ned Flanders. So what if we glamorize drinking. So what if kids have been exposed to hundreds of humorous drunks by the time they’re 13. Kids are smart enough to know that real drinking in real life isn’t funny.” I wish the mounting evidence touched on in the second half of Part V, confirmed that. In gathering it, I did meet one young man who knows it's not funny to lose motor skills. His name is Brandon. (Watch this powerful one minute video)
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Assignment: We tend not to leave comments on "old posts," but if you see a blatant example of glamorized irresponsible drinking and drunkenness viewed largely by an under-aged audience, please share it here. Please include the date of your observation; title of the show or film; a brief description of the "funny drunk" scene; and the age of the young audience who may have viewed it. Thank you.

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Part V of "Why I Don't Drink"

My desire to be “exemplary" to teens in this matter

Several years ago, I was at a nice country club for a wedding reception that had an open bar. Father Walter Brunkan, the priest who presided over the ceremony, also oversaw the local Catholic High School. As he and I were standing off to the side of the room, visiting about educational matters, an annoying but important-looking barfly kept coming up and offering him the drink in his hand. Walter kept declining, and explained to me that, in his position, he had a long-standing practice to never drink in public and this individual knew it.

The third time the glassy-eyed barfly approached he said, "Come on, Father, these kids need to see a good example of moderation."

Just then a mere twenty feet away, a groomsman puked his guts out all over the brocaded carpet. The hall fell silent until their etiquette kicked in and everyone went on as if nothing happened (giving a wide birth to that part of the rug).

My friend turned to the persistent man and said, "Tell you what: I'll be the example of the abstainer; you put your drink down and be the example of knowing when to quit; and we'll let that fellow be the example of what happens when you don't."

The speechless man walked away. I smiled at the perfect sequence of unfortunate events, and whispered, "Can I quote you on that?" I often have. [When he retired, they re-named the street in front of his school "Father Brunkan Blvd."]

I don't claim to be a perfect example in every "self discipline" matter of life. Case in point: When I was in high school, I was what we euphemistically call a "late bloomer." I was one of the smallest kids in my school until I grew six inches in my Jr. and Sr. year. Still, I wrestled in the light weight classes. My freshman year of college, I wrestled at 118. My brother Dave also wrestled (30 pounds above me). We were in good shape. Now I confess we would be as exemplary in "stretchy pants" as Jack Black is in Nacho Libre (but we wear shirts and have better hair and slimmer legs).
However, when it comes to the dangerous, peer-related matter of alcohol, I intend to hold my ground. In all my years of working with thousands of teenagers, not one would say, at that moment of decision, "Mr. K does it so it must be alright. After all, the drinking age is just a man-made rule." I'll concede that many students have probably seen me take an unneeded third slice of pizza at a cast party, but it didn't impair my ability to drive them home.

In more recent years, I've spent a few evenings in the restaurant side of Buffalo Wild Wings watching the Detroit Pistons play-off games or the Tigers with dozens of current students and alumni. Though strangers around us are drinking, I would consider it reckless to flaunt my legal right to have a beer in front of my students, even if I sipped just one bottle all night.

Even though it's fun to cheer with hundreds of others, I have since declined invitations to that particular setting during such games, because frankly, I can't shake the funny feeling of mixing enthusiastic drinkers and under-aged non-drinkers into such crowded conditions, and I can't help but think it’s not good for teens. Many of my peers disagree, and that’s fine. Time will tell, but I'd rather invite the group over to our home for the game (which we often do).

I’ll wrap up Part V with several Googled factoids and links, but let me share something you won't find on the WWW. Here are seven of my most heart-felt reasons for my choice to keep alcohol out of my life:

(1) My cousin Mike (on the couch here) was killed by a drunk driver the year after he graduated from high school. The drunk who killed him had killed another person while DUI a few years before.
(2) The fourth week of my student teaching, I walked into my 9th grade English class and noticed that the last desk in the first row was empty. The night before, my student was in a car with a drunk driver going 100 MPH down State Park Road where the car did a Duke’s of Hazard jump into two large trees, killing all four occupants.
(3) I knew another teen, suffering from alcoholism and depression a few years after graduation, took his own life in his father’s office parking lot. He and his note were found Monday morning.
(4-7) Four other students of mine have been killed by drunk drivers. One was finishing his medical residency at a hospital in Oklahoma; one was coming home from his girlfriend’s house on his motorcycle. A drunk driver crossed over the median of the highway. A witness said Kyle saw him coming, laid down his bike and scrambled out of the way, but the drunk driver swerved to miss the bike and drug my daughter’s classmate 30-40 yards before continuing on his way home without stopping. At the drunk driver's trial, he got the lightest sentence possible, because since he didn't even stop at the scene, the judge deemed him “too drunk” to know what he was doing. (Had he been less drunk, he would have been dealt with more severely.) My daughter still has his picture on her wall.

You may be thinking, "That's sad, Tom, but all of those cases had to do with someone who got drunk. I'm against drunkenness, too. Our kids need to learn how not to get drunk when they drink."

There is a percentage of adults who can testify to having that balance in life, but many of them look back at an age where they weren't as successful at it, and they'll whisper that they currently have friends or associates who claim to have that balance but who in fact often lose it. (Over 25% of adults--not teens-- admit off the record that they sometimes knowingly drive DUI.)

Let me say again that I'm not "preaching" on this topic. I'm explaining why "the burden of proof" has simply not been met for me to change my view toward alcohol as a person who works with teens every day. The factoids and links to sites like this below have reinforced my intention to be living proof to my students that you don't need alcohol to enjoy life.



...............Factoids to follow up on...............
Just added July 17, 2008 This article says, "Driving intoxicated is not only dangerous, but getting caught can come with a hefty price tag. In 2006, intoxicated drivers contributed to 32 percent of traffic fatalities, or 13,470 deaths. By taking some precautions, you can avoid a costly DUI and stay safe on the road.A BAC of .08 percent is now considered legally intoxicated in all 50 states. If you're caught driving at or above this level, you'll get arrested and handed a heavy fine. But that's only the start. For years afterward you'll have to deal with increased insurance rates, legal bills, licensing fees and other court appointed expenses. After it's all said and done, costs go well into the five figures."You should never drink and drive, but thousands of people make the decision to do so every day...." This article says, "On an average day in the USA, 10 teenagers are killed in teen-driven vehicles. The death toll could swell in coming years. A record 17.5 million teens will be eligible to drive once the peak of the "baby boomlet" hits driving age by the end of this decade — 1.3 million more than were eligible in 2000. "Young people aged 16 to 24 were involved in 28 percent of all alcohol-related driving accidents, although they make up only 14% of the U.S. population." 1

The Monday, April 2, 2007, Detroit Free Press reported: “On any given day across the country, 5,400 kids under age 16 are taking their first drink, according to the latest research [of the] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration...."

Alcohol is the most commonly used drug [and number one cause of death] among teens. A recent survey of students found that:

52% of eighth graders (and 80% of high-school seniors) have used alcohol at some time; 25% of eighth graders (and 62+% of high-school seniors) have been drunk.1 32% of high-school seniors say they have been drunk in the past month.3

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC published a study in the January 2007 issue of Pediatrics, found that 45 percent of the teenagers responding to a survey reported consuming alcohol in the past month, and 64 percent of the students who drank said they were binge drinking, which is defined as having five or more alcoholic drinks in a row [with the purpose of getting drunk].
The official PTA website says this about teens and advertised booze: Ten magazines, each with at least one-fourth of their total readership below the legal drinking age, featured nearly one-third of all alcohol advertising expenditures in magazines. More than half of the money spent on alcohol magazine advertising could be found in 24 magazines with youth audiences, ages 12 to 20... In fact, 25 brands placed all of their magazine ads in such publications.
Parents are passing out the booze: Two out of three teens said it is easy to get alcohol from their homes without parents knowing about it. One third responded that it is easy to obtain alcohol from their own parents knowingly, which increases to 40 percent when it is from a friend's parent. And one in four teens have attended a party where minors were drinking in front of parents. (Another related article.) [Tuesday night's "Law and Order SVU" episode was on this very topic. The parent was charged with manslaughter when someone was killed on the way home from the party where she passed out the booze.]


Researchers have established that... the risk for developing an alcohol use disorder is approximately 50 to 60 percent genetic. Children of alcoholics are at high risk for developing problems with alcohol and other drugs; they often do poorly at school, live with pervasive tension and stress, have high levels of anxiety and depression and experience coping problems. Each year between 1,200 and 8,800 babies are born with the physical signs and intellectual disabilities associated with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), and thousands more experience the somewhat lesser disabilities of fetal alcohol effects. FAS is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation in the United States.

College-age drinking at all time high: Nearly half of today's college student population is stumbling through the college year, either drunk or high on drugs, ...Forty-nine percent (3.8 million) of full time college students binge drink and/or abuse prescription and illegal drugs, according to the report, "Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America's Colleges and Universities." The study also finds that 1.8 million full-time college students (22.9 percent) meet the medical criteria for substance abuse and dependence.... Nearly 38 percent of college administrators say the major barrier to more effective prevention is the public perception that substance abuse by college students is a normal rite of passage. This fact leads to... Article 4:

15% of American workers are under the influence on the job: Workplace alcohol use and impairment directly affects an estimated 15 percent of the U.S. workforce, or 19.2 million workers....

Update: On May 9th, 2007, the St. Louis Cardinals banned beer in their club house after the DUI death of one of their players. Kevin Hench at FOXSports.com had this to say:

"We have a problem in America. The only thing we love more than our booze is our car. Mass production of the Model T began in 1914 and by 1927 there were 15 million on the road. The 1919 Volstead Act, proscribing the sale of alcohol, was repealed in 1933. And thus our 20th century exercise in killing each other and ourselves with our motor vehicles began in earnest.

"If it's too dangerous to provide a couple of beers to 25 guys in a clubhouse — all of whom can afford cab fare or limo fare and some of whom can afford to charter the Concorde — then what of the tens of thousands of over-served fans that the park just disgorged out into the parking lot? I mean, if a team is serious about public safety and its own liability, shouldn't it really extend the ban to the entire park? Ah, but now we're talking about the bottom line. Banning beer in the clubhouse doesn't cost the club anything. In fact, it saves them a few bucks. Banning $8 beers on the concourse — and thereby jeopardizing massive sponsorship deals — would be a financial hit no club will ever take.

"I laughed out loud the first time I saw the Jack Daniels commercial (during a sporting event) on cable that suggested several ways to drink J.D. before intoning, "... but however you choose to enjoy Jack Daniels, enjoy it responsibly." Really? Who sidles up to the bar and orders Jack Daniels with the intention of drinking responsibly? When I order a Jack and Coke, it's my declaration that I plan to drink irresponsibly. It also means I'm not driving." [Because goodness knows it's just too much to ask people not to get drunk. TK]

The Hidden Epidemic of Very Young Alcoholics /MSN.com 5-10-07
By Heather Millar "The stats disguise a startling truth: Kids are starting to drink at the age of 11, 10, even 9. This is how it's happening — and how three young drinkers finally stopped." Read the article here: 1 2 3

Part VI follows...

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Part VI of "Why I Don't Drink"

My wife, weddings, and some thoughts on Jesus at Cana

My Wife: I love my wife. She is understandably leery of the internet and this whole "blogging thing" so I don't write extensively about my family (i.e. "our family". I write a lot about my childhood family). Because of that I'll simply say that all of us who enjoy the privilege of a good marriage are better persons because of our spouse.

In my case, she puts me in mind of the "preacher's daughter in that song from Rascal Flatts called "Dry County Girl." We both benefited from great parental role models on this topic of drinking, and I'm confident that has made our house pleasantly "dry," because let’s face it, this topic is either a source of harmony or discord in many marriages. Thanks, Honey!

Weddings: I've been to hundreds of weddings and over half of them had "drinking" at the reception. “What are you, Tom, a wedding crasher?” Hardly, but for over fifteen years I owned a successful video production business. Among many other commercial ventures, I "shot" a couple dozen events a year. They were my bread and butter. [BTW, I was not like those jerks who make a big production out of weddings. My business-card-motto was "Helping you hold the way it was," and I deliberately tried to stay out of sight. My creative, understated style was a hit at Bridal Shows and kept my calendar full. Through those stay-at-home-mom years for Julie, my second income was a God-send, but when I moved into administration, I had to let go of my business.]

I mention my wedding experience only to say that I've seen what I'm talking about. I have not seen high school drinking events. I've not seen the college drinking scene depicted in "Animal House" or "Old School"; and as a life-long non-drinker, I've never been drunk. (The only time I feel drunk is when I'm trying to read those squiggly letters on our comments pages--those babies are a real test of the trifocals!) But when it comes to seeing adults under the influence, I've encountered countless examples from "Thank you, Ma'am, but I'm married" to "No, Sir, I'm not your son, and please breathe that way as you look for him." I've even seen a few "Can somebody help this man up? He seems to have dozed off on the dance floor."

Warning: Here comes the controversial Jesus stuff! Parts I, II, and III were about my background. Hard to argue with that. Part IV was about our culture's glamorization of drinking and drunkenness. Hard not to see that. Part V was about our concerns with under-aged drinking. Hard to ignore the law. And until this point in Part VI, I've deliberately not brought up religion and particularly not the Bible.

I've avoided doing this for three reasons: First, though I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and though I base my life upon its truths... I'm not what some may call a Bible thumper and some of my readers wouldn't have read this far if I were. Second, many of my concerns are tied very specifically to current American cultural consequences and precise things like "blood alcohol content," beverage "proof," teens with cars, etc. which are not specifically addressed in the Bible's use of the word "drunkenness"; and third, I know that many of my readers who are like-minded on most topics may disagree on this subject, and I like to keep the peace on my blog. =)

It may surprise some that my views on abstinence are more fervently questioned by Christian peers who advocate my liberty to drink than by my non-religious friends who respect my choice not to. Why might that be?

For my non-religious friends, I'm guessing it's because they've seen more of what I'm talking about up close and personal, and for them, if they were to decide not to drink, they'd give an all or nothing approach a better shot of success.

For my fellow "Bible scholars," (college roommates, peers, etc. through the years) I think it's because we tend to “argue about” what the Bible does or does not specifically prohibit. The more literally a particular church or denomination adheres to the teachings of the Bible, the more offensive some find it to a have caution imposed on them that is not mandated in scripture. That’s understandable.

Though Christ Himself, called the path behind Him the narrow way," choosing to walk it is not a list of "dooz-n-don'ts." That would describe a "religion" rather than a relationship. The Pharisees were good at following the letter of the law without the spirit of its purpose. Today some call it “legalism,” a pejorative term, and no thinking person wants to be branded a "legalist." It poisons the well, and marginalizes his participation in any discussions such as this.

"Adding to" scripture is risky whether we hope to make it more rigid or more loose. For instance, some people add to the story of our Lord’s first miracle, the turning of water into wine at the wedding of Cana, and use it as a proof text for drinking and even as a license to “party hardy.” After all, they argue, that’s what Jesus would do.

Now, I'll admit that I'm not a big fan of the whole WWJD merchandizing fad. I admire a person’s desire to identify with Jesus by wearing something, but I find the question flawed in one respect. I believe Jesus was the Son of God. He knew everything. He could read people's thoughts, convert prostitutes, heal the lame, give sight to the blind, raise the dead, walk on water, and yes, turn that water into wine. So I think he would be well pleased for his followers to do what he told us to do rather than everything he himself did. WWJHMD: What would Jesus have me do? May be a better question.

Setting that aside, I’ll further admit that it's silly to try to use the wedding account in John 2 as a prima facia case for or against drinking, but through the years, it has come up again and again. A while ago the country music market heard in Toby Keith's song "If I was Jesus." It's on his CD along with "I love this bar," "Whiskey Girl," and "Weed with Willie."

There's a verse in The Gospel According to Toby that would have us believe that at that wedding Jesus was a good ol' boy like the ones in his other songs. We do know that Jesus hung around with the worst of sinners whom He came to save. That's no secret, but show me this in John 2: "If I was Jesus...I'd be the guy at the party, turnin' water to wine. Yeah me and my disciples, we'd have a real good time." Some people actually defend this as an accurate portrayal of Christ’s attitude and motivation at the wedding.

Any straightforward reading of John 2, clearly indicates that Jesus was indifferent to the wine supply and did not consider it his concern. He did however know where the supply of fresh water was because his instructions to the servants required hauling more than 120 gallons of it to the large urns he used in his miracle.

I have been to the site in Cana (1997) where this wedding took place. It is not a large venue. This picture is very similar to the place local historians agree upon. We don't know the exact number of guests, but no commentary I've read suggests that 120 gallons of wine were needed to satisfy either their thirst or their celebration. It was a miracle of "bounty" not need.

The "unknown factor" is what was the alcoholic content of the wine. We know fresh-squeezed grape juice is not yet fermented. I for one love it. What I don't know is whether the people of Jesus' day like that fresh-pressed "vino" well enough to say, "You've saved the best for last." There are a few different words translated as "wine" in scripture (books and books are available on the subject) but none of the words provides a basis for knowing how its "proof" would compare to modern adult beverages and distilled spirits ranging legally from 12 to 152 proof (75% alcohol).
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We know from Scripture’s many condemnations of it, that drunkenness did occur back if one drank copious amounts or very fermented grog. There's just no hint of that condition [drunkenness] at Cana before or after Jesus provided more than 120 gallons of his drink. Until we know whether "best" means most  flavorful or most potent, we can't make a valid comparison between this ancient miracle and the many 21st Century adult drinking occasions for non-pregnant guests, age 21 and up who upon leaving the event will drive Cameros not camels, Durangos not donkeys (or in Jesus's case, just walking in a straight line).
.For those who may still choose Toby Keith's take on the miracle, a few questions remain: If Jesus were drinking, and "the guy at the party...having a good ol' time," why did he seem so indifferent to his mother's initial concern? If he wanted to be guy getting the credit for keeping his buddies drinking, why did he perform the miracle so secretly? If the news of 120 gallons of "the good stuff" resulted in the kind of "fun" Toby's describes in "I Love This Bar," why is there no mention of even a hint of alcoholic influence? Why no hint that the guests and disciples were "hung over" the next day when they began their journey up the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum (implied in verse 12)? If all the guests partook of that "best wine," it certainly wasn't potent by today's standards. One other thought: If it had been potent, would Jesus have been a prude or prudent to warn any expectant mothers at the reception not to partake of his miracle wine? Or were the warnings pasted on the side of every bottle of wine today ahead of the learning curve for the Son of God? I'm just wondering...

Please forgive those silly questions. Even if we knew the answers, it would not address whether a higher standard now exists in a culture that has more unbridled blessings and liberty than any governed people in history; is it unBiblical for Christ followers to self-impose a higher standard on themselves, or their households, in a culture that has made booze one of its biggest businesses--both in production and advertising; that has spent 80 years glamorizing alcohol for viewing audiences around the world; that has far more cars per capita than any other nation or continent; that has millions more of the youngest, most inexperienced (and yes "drinking") drivers on the road than any other civilization on the planet; and that now knows the damaging effects of alcohol on the unborn child and on developing brains from birth to roughly age 25?
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My concern is not with mature adults who on occasion discreetly include imperceptible amounts a "low-proof" beverage options in their private lives or family celebrations, my concern is with the more and more vocal young Christians who think the drinking scene in the ever-more prevalent after-work and weekend settings is a prudent practice and/or example to set for today's teens and twenty-somethings in this current American culture.
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WWJHMD? I cannot speak for others, but I know the answer for myself, the "children" under my roof, the teens in my school, and those I hope to influence who minister to them with me.
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Vernors Va Va Voom!

And now a word from my sponsor.
(This is actually a free advertisement since I've not yet figured out how to get paid for putting adds of my choice on my blog.)
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There is a beverage called Vernors that is as close as I come to "strong drink." It's unlike any other "ginger ale" on the market, and according to historical records, Vernors is the oldest "pop" in America. It's actually a civil war story.

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I'll point out that the can is green, but that is a gnome on the old logo and not a leprechaun.

For years Vernors was only bottled in Detroit. My brother Dave and I once rode our bikes there to apply for work. The factory smelled sweet the moment we walked in the door. They weren't hiring, but it was fun to say we tried.

Years later I was living in Iowa and found one six pack of Vernors on the shelf at Hy-Vee (which is sort of like Meijer's in that it has Dutch roots in its founders. Ours was, in fact, the Hy-Vee that once employed Super Bowl Champion Quarterback, Kurt Warner, as a bag boy when he sat the bench at UNI.) I bought the cans and saved them for rare occasions, because Hy-Vee said it was just a sample shipment. I kept one of the cans. It's down on the top shelf in "the cabin" on the top shelf. [above]

Now that I'm back in Michigan, it's readily available and always on hand. This picture does not show "diet" Vernors, but that's what we always get. (Just thought I'd throw that out there for good measure... no pun intended.) My kids say it tastes like medicine, which is ironic because my mom always bought it for us when we were sick to our stomachs. Since there was never "pop" in our house as kids (except a case of "Town Club" for New Year's Eve), it was great to have some in the fridge "just for you." It was a perk for being sick. Maybe that's why I'm so fond of it.

When I was a kid, the commercials simply said, "Vernor's--Va Va Voom!" because it is a known fact that this stuff is more highly carbonated than any pop in the world. If you pour it in a glass, and drink it too soon, you'll sneeze--it tickles your nose that much. I love it. It few years back, it bought by a big conglomerate, and they took the apostrophe out of the name. I think they took down this old sign, too, but thank heavens they left all the fizz in the "pop."

So anyway, here's to whatever Irish blood that's in you!

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.
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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."
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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.
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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.
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"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
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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.
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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." )
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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...
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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.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Casting Type

In 1984, I was a third-year high school English teacher. My classroom was next to the typing room which housed twenty IBM “Selectric” typewriters—the ones that used a letter-ball. My own typewriter used 45 separate mechanical “skinny arms” that left letters on the paper like swatted flies. (Everything I "wrote personally" between 1974 and 1990 was done on that old Royal Junior.)

It's hard to believe that back in the 80's teachers were still typing tests and hand-outs on “spirit masters” rolled into a typewriter. We kept razor blades in our desks to scrape off typos before running them off on the “spirit duplicator machine,” a process that used highly flammable methyl alcohol dispensed from two-gallon cans in the teacher work room.

Today’s students know nothing about these duplicating methods, but some of you may remember the days when teachers walked in a minute late with purple fingertips, and handed out purple-inked pages that were still damp and cool and smelled so good we held them up to our noses like fresh-baked bread. Smelling those spirits was the highlight of my otherwise substance-free life as a student. Looking back on it from a teacher’s perspective, however... between the razor blades, combustible cans, and toxic fumes it’s a wonder any teacher over 45 lived to talk about it.

Only when “photocopying” became affordable in the early 1990's, did the spirit duplicator disappear from schools. What would teachers do without copy machines. But get this... yesterday my wife handed her student assistant a letter and asked her to “Xerox” it for her. The student politely said, “I’d be happy to do that if I knew what you were talking about.” Then she just stood there blankly. For a split second Julie had a similar blank look, caused by a premonition of herself in a nursing home trying to remember where she put her glasses, but she shook it off and explained that “Xeroxing” is what we used to call “making a copy.”

I must share one more fact from 1984 before getting to the real point of this post--which is more about the future than the past. It was in that same year that a freshman at the University of Texas “souped up” up his Macintosh Apple II computer and began charging others for doing the same to theirs. His name was Michael Dell, and twenty years later, his company became the world’s largest producer of personal computers (click on chart to enlarge).
I'm typing this on a Dell computer, but I'm not really “typing,” in the old sense of the term—and these are not patterns of ink—they are bits of binary data in cyberspace.(How's that for a blog name?)

We are living in exponential times. The changes I’ve described above are nothing compared to what lies ahead. A friend recently sent me an online PowerPoint presentation called
“Did You Know.”
[If you promise to come back here, you may go watch it now. It takes six fascinating minutes.]

That slideshow was put together by Karl Fisch, a high school teacher in Colorado and fellow blogger. I confess that after viewing it twice, I felt like an old mop, wrung out of all I thought I knew and flung back to the floor to soak up something I didn't even know had spilled. One thing we must remember when we feel overwhelmed by change is that technology--no matter how amazing--is simply a tool. How it is used will always reflect the heart of man. It can be used to connect people (as it does in blogging), but it can also be used to exploit people as is does with pornography, gambling, etc.

Think of it like this: The Gutenberg Press was a technological marvel in its day, printing 200 copies of the Bible in 1445. Printing presses through the centuries went on to print far less noble things. Today,I can include links in my posts from Bible Gateway which puts over 50 translations of the Bible at our fingertips in seconds, but that same internet technology can bring countless sources of filth and wasted time into our homes. See what I mean? Technology will always expedite man's nature and reflect his heart. It is in that sense, that even in the face of head-spinning change, we can say with Solomon “there is nothing new under the sun.”
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Please direct any "veteran teachers" you know to this post. I'd love to hear more thoughts about the old technology of our trade, etc. In the meantime... Thanks for letting me "type" at ya!
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