Had A Dad

In the end, it was barely a race. John was ahead by perhaps fifteen feet at the line, having taken the lead at the start before widening the gap over pretty much every jump afterwards. Not only was this John’s second win in two consecutive indoor BMX weekends, it was against three kids who were older and bigger than he was. One of them was a girl, but we have learned the hard way that there is little difference between boys and girls in BMX until they hit the magic age of thirteen, at which point the boys start snapping chains under power and the girls start wandering away from the sport. (There are, of course, some magnificent exceptions to that rule.) So this was a big win, made more so by the convincing fashion by which he’d smoked both his first-moto competitors and the riders in the main event.

As is his usual practice, my son stayed for a minute near the finish line to shake hands with his “friends”. I do not encourage this. “They aren’t your friends,” I hiss at him, “they’re the competition.” To drive the point home, I scheduled an evening showing of Ender’s Game before this last race, with particular attention paid to the scene where Ender breaks the neck of another child. “That’s what I expect to see from you… if, uh, only metaphorically,” I snapped. “Go out there and kill the other children.”

“I don’t know how I feel about that,” was his response. John can be awfully naive when it comes to the down-and-dirty world of pre-teen cycling. Yet he’s also remarkably observant, as he proved yet again as we stood in line for his trophy afterwards. “Did you see,” he whispered, swiveling his head to make sure he wasn’t accidentally upsetting anybody around us, “how the kid who got second… his mom was there… and she kept touching him?” As a matter of fact, I had noticed. It had set me to thinking, even before the race itself was run.

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Set “Them” Free

You can learn a lot about a society by the things it censors. In 1807, Thomas and and Henrietta Bowdler published a “family” version of Shakespeare from which the Bard’s blasphemy, sex, and violence had been carefully, but not always successfully, excised. Ophelia’s suicide became an accidental drowning, while the various curses and foul language were softened. (One example: “Zounds”, which is frequently lampooned as a equivalent to “heck”, or “darn”, was actually a contraction of the blasphemous “God’s wounds”, referring to the Crucifixion, and therefore about the most offensive thing possible to say.) The idea was to make the work accessible to children (and, let’s face it, women) for whom that sort of content was considered inappropriate.

The Bowdlers would come in for a lot of criticism, if not outright vilification, in the years that followed, but they never meant to actually censor Shakespeare. Their intent was to make it available for a broader audience, the same way that Garth Stein wrote a “young adult” version of his successful racing novel, entitled Racing In The Rain: My Life As A Dog. (The primary “bowdlerization” there is the toning-down of the adult story’s central plot point, a false rape accusation from a teenaged girl that proved to be very controversial with, and triggering for, certain male readers who could never imagine a young woman coming on to, or causing trouble for, a handsome older man, largely because they assume their own repulsiveness to the fairer sex is universal rather than a specific product of their own querulous, creepy personalities and Cheeto-dust-stained, fuggernautical miens.) At no point did Thomas and Henrietta suggest that the availability of Shakespeare be restricted. Rather, they hoped that their efforts would increase interest in, and engagement with, the original work — at the appropriate time, of course.

I’ve never particularly disapproved of censorship on moral grounds, within reason. Rabbit, Run was not materially improved when Knopf changed the phrase “Best bedfriend, done woman” found in the first hardcover edition back to Updike’s original draft of “Best bedfriend, fucked woman” in later paperback reprints. This mild evasion, and many like it, smoothed my childhood’s precocious passage through many an adult-oriented book. It wasn’t always evenhanded. When I was nine years old I found my father’s copy of John Toland’s outstanding The Rising Sun; I finished it understanding the mechanisms of Japanese torture, which were related in gripping detail, much better than I understood the idea of rape, which was mentioned when necessary but always held at a discreet distance. Perhaps it no longer matters in an era where even adults restrict themselves to a diet of young-adult garbage, but there was some benefit in not bombarding children with unrelenting grotesquerie, particularly when the grownups were smart enough to know what was being said between the lines anyway.

Those days are long gone, of course. There is now no sexual practice or perversion so disgusting that we will not cheerfully rub the noses of our children in it, particularly if doing so raises our status in a society that is now far too illiterate to usefully read Shakespeare in the original but which exalts sex-positivity to a degree that would make a fourth-century centurion leaving a vomitorium turn back for another round. Yet there is one bit of sexuality too pungent, too controversial to express in the printed (or HTTPed) page today; namely, the notion that there are two biological sexes and that they may be referred to as such in writing.

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Just Enough Rope To Hang Them

The most important lawsuit in the country right now has nothing to do with Horseface Stormy; it’s the one exposing Harvard’s secrets for choosing its next freshman class. Brought forward on the behalf of Asian-American students by a white activist-attorney, it’s exposed some odd media biases. Turns out that racial discrimination is good, even necessary, for society — if it’s discrimination against students with Chinese ancestry. And those Chinese-American kids are really better off taking their perfect high school records and top-rank entrance-exam scores to community colleges, anyway. Who would have thought?

It’s also been insinuated that the attorney behind the lawsuit, Edward Blum, is a racist scumbag who hates black people and who is using Asians as a patsy for his own anti-black feelings. All of that’s just a smokescreen. This lawsuit, the practices it exposes, and the entire affirmative-action movement in higher education, has very little to do with people of color, except as window dressing. Instead, it’s Goodwhite vs. Badwhite, and the stakes for the future are higher than you could possibly imagine.

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The Christian Moral Fable Known As “Legs”, By ZZ Top

There it was, right in the lobby of Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Sweetwater Sound. (Non-affiliate, non-compensated commercial message: for the absolute best deal on a GOOD example of a musical instrument, as opposed to a Guitar Denter special, call Matt Emick at (800) 222-4700 x1249, tell him I sent you.) ZZ Top’s “Eliminator” coupe. (Strictly speaking, I believe it’s a Tudor, and some of you will know better than I do.) Hard to believe it was just forty-two years old when Billy Gibbons bought it as an unmodified ex-daily driver, and hard to believe it’s been driven across the country without incident.

Three of the video singles from ZZ Top’s “Eliminator” album featured the car as a central character; I vaguely remembered them from my youth, with the one that stuck out being “Legs”. On a whim, I decided to watch it again. Having done so, I asked my Instagram followers if there was any way that the “Legs” video would be considered acceptable for release were ZZ Top to make it again today. The answer is obviously “Hell no,” but it’s not for the reasons you might think. Turns out that “Legs”, for all its flash and sex appeal, is primarily objectionable in the modern context because it is, at its heart, a story of Christian morality.

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In Which The Author Acts Like Someone Else’s Dad

When I saw the Tuesday night moto sheet I said “God damn it” loud enough to produce a double-take in the 285-pound woman standing next to me. Even though it hadn’t been five minutes since I’d heard her tell another steatopygous Stegosaurus of a heavyweight twentysomething BMX mom that Oh my God, I got so drunk after the fair that night I pissed the fuckin bed while the handful of elementary-school-aged kids around them nodded sagely. It made me think of something I’d read recently about the children of Afghan tribesman during the reign of Czar Nicholas. Something about how they had no childhood but were thrust headlong into the cares of the adults around them. Still, she hadn’t been the one to break the unwritten rule about not starting drama at the moto board. That faux pas had been all mine, and after thirty-four years in the sport, longer than any of the parents around me had been alive, I should really be above that sort of thing.

Still. My son is nine years and three months old. He is eighty-sixth percentile for height but he is so thin that there are no pants commercially available that fit him properly. Like his father, he has an oversupply of brain pan; when we went to the motorcycle show last year he put on an adult Arai Quantum in size XS and said “This is too tight.” As a rider he is reasonably indefatigable, capable of doing fifteen miles at pace on a mountain bike, but he just doesn’t have the muscle mass to shove a BMX bike out of the gate the way he wants to. When I tell him that he will eventually have that capability, that I could break a chain at the age of fifteen, he quite sensibly responds “That doesn’t help me now, Dad. I want to win races now.”

But he wouldn’t be winning any races tonight. There were four other children. One of them was ten years old and the others were eleven. At this age, having a two-year advantage is like being Nelson Vails at an amateur velodrome event; you have so much more leg than the competition that virtually nothing else matters. God damn it.

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In Which A Neighbor Opts Out

When the fat family moved, I became the old man of my cul-de-sac. Fifteen years prior, I’d been the new kid on the block, a buzz-cut bounder in my late twenties with a flashy BMW and a willingness to check every box on my builder’s option list. Eighty-eight homes in the subdivision and mine was the last to go up, sold at the highest price in arrogant defiance of my father’s rule-of-thumb that you should always own the cheapest house on your block for resale’s sake. But as the years flew by and I dutifully followed Thoreau’s decree to be what he called “new wine in the old bottle”, my neighbors drifted off in dribs and drabs. The recession of 2008 blew many of them away, short-selling if they were lucky and enduring foreclosure if they weren’t. Then one day I looked around and I realized that I was surrounded by strangers a decade or more younger than I was, raising children on tight budgets and carefully washing their pre-owned Toyotas on Saturday. They staged parties and cookouts to which I was pointedly not invited. Seemingly overnight, I’d become the “horsey people” from Updike’s Couples, the staid holdouts to whom the social rhythms and beating hearts of the hood were a complete and utter mystery.

Perhaps it’s not accurate to say “the fat family”. Not because they weren’t fat. They were spectacularly, gloriously fat. The husband and wife were both pink and plump from wrist to cankle like prime pigs when I moved in though they were scarcely any older than I was. They had a daughter who cleared two hundred pounds before she cleared the age of ten. Around that time the husband lost his job and had to take a temporary gig as a Wal-Mart greeter. Not surprisingly, the wife packed his bags for him shortly afterwards and it became just her and the daughter. She didn’t seem to age; you don’t really get wrinkles if every inch of your skin is under a Nissan GT-R’s worth of boost pressure. By the time the daughter was a teenager I couldn’t tell them apart. They even dressed the same, in a style I nicknamed Country Kitchen. Periodically, the husband would stop by for visitation, levering his sad big body out of his Saturn Ion in such a manner as to effectively broadcast his misery to all and sundry inside Neptune’s orbit. Sometimes he would have to wait until his ex-wife shooed-out her date from the previous night. Yes, she had boyfriends. It must be amazing to be a woman. If I go three days without using conditioner on my hair I can feel my visibility to the fairer sex evaporate like fog on a sunny Ohio morning but this chick had ’em lined up like Cedar Point’s Millennium Force despite not being able to fit in the seats of said roller coaster or, indeed, any other roller coaster I’ve ever seen.

The fat family’s house was purchased by an upwardly-mobile young couple whose every aspect seemed calculated to both raise my envy and irritate my pride. She was Generic Corporate Blonde, pantsuited but trim and muscular in the mandatory fashion for director-level advancement, steering a Prius in distracted fashion, early to work and late to return. He was a dark-haired version of the fellow who plays Jamie Lannister on GoT, striding out to his brand-new 528i every morning in a manner that indicated his eagerness to take on the world and beat it. No kids, no parties, no raised voices, not a hair out of place. Ah, but there was trouble in paradise.

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I Would Prefer That My Son Be Toxic

7 Toxic Phrases Parents Need to Stop Saying to Their Sons

I genuinely try my best not to live in an echo chamber, as much as anybody really can in the year 2018. What I actually mean by this is that I don’t typically “unfollow” or “unfriend” over political beliefs. It’s no secret to anybody who’s ever read a single word that I’ve written that I am generally to the right of Ronald Reagan on most issues, although I like the think that when it comes to social issues, I’m fairly Libertarian, and I wish that more Republicans would be, too. Marry whomever you like. Smoke whatever you like. But please don’t force me to pay for failing social programs, your healthcare, or your “right to housing” or whatever that lady from Westchester is talking about in between her hilariously incorrect takes on global politics.

There’s one guy whom I follow on Twitter (and if you’re not following me…well, that’s actually pretty smart of you) who hits retweet on every single possible liberal social issue. He’s a basic white dude, but of course he’s an advocate for LBGTQ, for womyn, for minorities, for poor people, for immigrants…you name it, this dude is on it. He’s childless, but he’s all about Marching For Our Lives. He tweets about toxic masculinity at least once a day. Drives me crazy.

In the real world, he and I get along smashingly, mostly because we don’t talk about any of that silly shit in person. I even coached him around a racetrack once. Genuinely nice guy.

Unfortunately, I can’t agree with him on most of what he says, or really any of it, because I don’t get to have the “luxury” (note the sarcasm here) of living childless in a three-floor walkup in a trendy neighborhood. I’m raising kids.

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It’s Just Lines On A Map, You Know

If you have time today, you might want to read about something that happened one hundred years ago. On July 17, 1918, V.I. Lenin (you might know him as the fellow from the Johnny Socko song) ordered the execution of the Romanovs. The details are recounted in dispassionate fashion at Wikipedia but they are enough to curl your hair: one of the children had an entire pistol magazine emptied into him before being bayoneted a few times, after which he was shot in the skull because he was still alive. When the stripped and mutilated bodies were delivered to a gang of Bolsheviks for disposal, they were enraged because they had expected to be able to rape the Romanov daughters before killing them. Failing that, they decided to use their fingers on the dead bodies.

When I read the Twitterati screaming for the triumph of “politics is personal”, that’s what comes to mind for me: a group of “resisters” abusing a dead woman’s body because someone told them she was a class enemy. These are forces which should not be released lightly. We think of America as a place where political discussion has always been relatively polite and reasonable but that’s only because our high-school history books omitted thousands of incidents where things got out of hand in the worst way possible, from the Memphis Massacre to the Bonus Army. I see a lot of people on Reddit and elsewhere, members of both the Blue and the Red tribes, who are very comfortable with the idea of destroying people’s careers and lives because of their particular stance on a political issue. That’s all well and good until the person you’ve destroyed decides that the shame of not being able to feed his children is too much and that the only possible answer is to come to your house and remove your face with a butter knife before committing what they call “blue suicide” nowadays.

Civilization is a veneer that we would do well to keep in place as long as humanly possible. David Brin, who is about as liberal as they come, wrote The Postman as an answer to post-apocalyptic fiction and a reminder that we are all better off because the mail gets delivered every day. As a parent, I would agree.

On the other hand, there might well be a breaking point at which it’s worth reconsidering the whole enterprise, or at least the Terms Of Service associated with said enterprise.

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The Camel’s Nose In The Kid’s Cage, Plus DadLogic

It was all fake. Every bit of it. The kid in the cage, staring forlornly out from his literally padded cell in the company of children wearing $69.95 Vans Sk8-Hi shoes? Fake. The picture of TRUMP CHILD CONCENTRATION CAMPS? It was from President Obama’s administration. The refugee child crying on the cover of TIME while Trump looks on with disdain? Not a refugee, and never separated from her family.

But if the coverage was entirely fake, the motive behind it was tiresomely real. After two years of trying every avenue of attack possible, the media has learned NAZI FUHRER DRUMPPPPPPFFFF’s weak spot: he is sentimental and doesn’t like to make people unhappy. The whole point of the fake-cage tempest-in-a-teapot was to get Trump to move the line on immigration a bit. Which he did, promptly stating that he would work to overturn the 1997-era legislation that governs the separate detention of children. Approximately an hour after he agreed to that, the media line changed.

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The Man In The Arena

It’s an unpleasant thing to say, but it’s true: This world is divided into those who do and those who watch. Which is not to say that most of us don’t wind up falling into both of those categories depending on the situation: even Presidents have favorite television shows, and Gore Vidal apparently laid off the criticism long enough to clean his house from time to time. In general, however, it is usually possible to judge someone’s credibility, legitimacy, and even character by how much time they spend doing as opposed to watching.

Elon Musk spends most of his time doing. A simple list of his favorite side gigs make you wonder where he finds the time: flamethrowers, massive underground tunnels, a breathtakingly viable private space program with VTOL rockets. And then there’s the matter of his day job, which involves nothing more than the creation of the first viable large-scale independent American automobile company since, oh, the Second World War or thereabouts. You can call him a Bond villain, which is the proverbial praising with a faint damn, or you can call him a megalomaniac, which is the typical bomb lobbed at the confidently successful by the socially-awkward unaccomplished. But you cannot deny that he is out there Doing. Big. Things.

A hundred years ago, or even fifty years ago, Elon’s innovations and ideas would have spawned a flood of strong-willed competitors; look how many American men took Henry Ford’s success as both a personal insult and a spur to attempt great things of their own. In this modern, sickly, navel-gazing age, however, what’s happened instead is that a million mewling nonentities have re-imagined their pathetic lives as wriggling suckerfish clinging to the Great White Musk Shark, hungrily scarfing up bits of waste and detritus as they congratulate themselves for adding parasitic drag to the whole enterprise.

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