Tag Archives: Teenagers

My El Capitan, “Actually”


By Jack Edwards

I belong to a pot-bellied demographic that doesn’t need to seek out thrills to satisfy my desire for excitement. I don’t need to climb Yosemite’s El Capitan free handed, run with the angry bulls or skydive from the edge of space to feel the rush of adrenaline. You see, I’m teaching my 15-year-old to drive. My daughter Emma has a “strong sense of self” and pretty much declared after her first lesson that she was good to go. Unfortunately, as much as I dread clinging to the passenger seat and praying for just one more day of precious life, I had to insist on additional lessons to fine-tune a few essential skills. Little things, like not ramming into stationary objects. My work continues, and the status of my situation can best be described using a term you hear a lot  at the US War College: fluid.
Things got off to a rocky start. At the beginning of Emma’s first lesson, she hopped in and began situating herself – not by positioning the mirrors, but rather the stereo. I, still clinging to the hope that I might survive the experience, flipped the stereo back off, only to be met with the type of reaction you might expect after zapping someone with an electronic cattle prod. Emma, with the type of energy only a high school sophomore can radiate, quickly and excitedly explained that the stereo helps her concentrate and, “actually” would help her drive safer (or more precisely, “Music helps me concentrate, actually.”) This is the same logic she uses when she studies, but because my life is not in immediate peril of slamming into an oncoming semi in those circumstances, I acquiesce. Here, no can do.
Timing is still an issue. One minute we are sitting at a stop sign waiting for a vehicle that has the right-of-way bearing down at a distance of three miles away – a speck on the horizon, really – enough time for us to finish our lesson and put the car back in the garage before it arrives. Sea creatures have crawled up on the shore and evolved legs in less time than she sometimes declares the road clear to turn. However, don’t let this apparent sense of over caution fool you, because the next minute she’ll see a light turn from green to yellow one town over and she punches the gas to try to make the signal – only to be deterred by my high-pitched shriek of terror.
The biggest mystery is her parking technique. My daughter has proven extremely consistent in her parking. She manages to turn into the spot and put her right tires directly onto the right divider line. Not occasionally. Every time. She’s 100%. Like a pirate lacking depth perception because of his eye patch. She has what I call Pirate Parking.
One thing I have to give her credit for is her ability to adapt to the changing environment. Case-in-point, and I don’t know why, I routinely tell her to turn right, when I mean left and vice versa. Not only does she know what I mean, which as I have said is the opposite of what I’ve told her, she usually just ignores my mistake. But when she does correct me, she does so politely, at least for a high-schooler, “It’s right, actually.”
Side note: If you are a person of faith, desiring to lead a diehard atheist to a belief in God, try letting them take your daughter on a driving lesson. They’ll be applying for seminary by the time they pull back into your driveway.
Well, I gotta go. It’s time for another lesson – actually.

My Middle-aged Marathon


By Jack Edwards

Few things are more fundamentally wholesome than a high school fundraiser – a bake sale, a bottle drive, or, in the case of my daughter’s cross country team, a forced run of out-of-shape parents over a grueling 5K race course. And if you aren’t a runner or haven’t used the metric system lately, five kilometers in miles equals three heart attacks and a stroke.

Some number of years ago, a group of demented high school runners at my daughter’s school, which should remain nameless, so I’ll only reveal its initials – Sheldon High School, hatched a cunning idea. These young minds, with as yet undiagnosed psychotic tendencies engineered a scheme to recruit unsuspecting and wholly unprepared family and friends to participate in a 5K run at the bargain price of $25, or $5 per “K.”  And, like a fungus, it spread.  I personally found out that I had signed up three days after I had signed up.  One little problem – I had not “technically” run in 35 years.  The good news was that I had four days to train.

The first challenge I faced was that the closest thing I had to running shoes were a pair of leather wingtips, which feature all the impact absorbency of granite. So my wife took me (yes, like I’m ten) to a specialty running store.

A female clerk approached us and asked if she could help. Of note is that it was 100 degrees outside, and she was wearing a giant stocking cap.  No, it wasn’t 100 degrees inside, but it was like talking to someone at the North Pole who was wearing a bikini.  She told me to walk across the room while she kneeled down like she was lining up a putt – except she was looking at my feet.  Understand that I had no idea who this woman was.  I wasn’t 100% certain she even worked at the store.  Then she stood and announced that I was rolling my ankles.  She told me that the solution was a pair of running shoes that will push my retirement back three to five years.

Upon arriving home, I immediately announced that I was going on a run. My run consisted of bolting from my driveway like Prefontaine and maintaining a blistering pace for a full five yards before remembering that the final remnants of my knee cartilage parted company with me during the Carter administration.

Finally, the Big Day arrived.

My wife and I arrived for the race thirty minutes early. People were jogging around warming up.  I walked slowly to the check-in table, strategically reserving my energy for the race.  I signed in, they issued me my “bib” (the paper number you pin to the front of your shirt so they can confirm you came in last).  After a period of milling about, we lined up (or really “grouped up”) behind the starting line.  I positioned myself toward the back, so I wouldn’t get run over by all the skinny moms who had a take-no-prisoners gleam in their eyes – one of which was my wife.

The race was pleasant enough with the high school team members lined up along the race to make sure we didn’t accidently veer off course and end up sitting in a bar someplace. Their common refrain being, “Keep it up!  You’re doing great!” which was code for, “We can’t believe you’re still alive!”

I managed to “finish strong.” I blazed down the homestretch into the shoot like a lightning bolt as a result of my clever strategy of walking long stretches of the course along the way.  As proud as I was with my performance, however, next year, I’m begging them to hold a bake sale.


Tips for Lying – Lesson 1

Final Fibbing or No

Every major civilization and religion throughout history has frowned on lying.  And I wholeheartedly agreed – generally speaking, that is.  Nevertheless, I was taught that if you are going to do something, do it well.  Take pride in it.  Give it 100%.  It is in this spirit, we begin Lesson 1.

Whether you are 14 or 40, few skills are more important than effectively lying to your parents.  Remember, not everything is about you.  Not everything is about your needs.  There are times when you need to put your parents’ wellbeing ahead of your own.  Is it really going to do them any good to know the real reason you didn’t get home until 3:00 a.m.?  Do they really need that kind of aggravation?  I’m not saying you should lie often, but the occasional white lie, or fib as it were, has its place.  Think of it this way – it’s a win-win.

Tip #1.  When concocting a whopper designed to relieve you from attending school for the day, attention to detail is critical.  For example, never feign illness by simply saying: I think I got food poisoning.  While food poisoning is an excellent choice of illness, because unlike the flu, you can announce later in the day that you have recovered and go out with friends, the lie lacks the necessary specificity.  Your parents are far more likely to believe you, and grant you that much needed day off, if you say instead: I think I got food poisoning from the expired Tuna Helper I ate last night.  This statement directs your parent’s attention away from you, and to the Tuna Helper.  And even if they don’t think the Tuna Helper is the culprit, they will immediately begin painstakingly cataloging everything you’ve eaten in the last 24 hours.  The key is to get them thinking about anything other than you, and how completely un-food-poisoned you appear.  And also why all your dramatic retching, to put it bluntly, isn’t producing any actual vomit-like substances.

Tip #2. You may have heard the old adage that the three most important things in buying real estate are location, location, location.  A similar principle applies to the delicate art of lying.  Please write this down: “Deny, deny, deny.”  Practical examples:

  1. You are confronted with three eye witnesses accusing you of lying?  Deny, and state emphatically and without hesitation, “They must really hate me.”
  2. You are confronted with incontrovertible video recorded evidence that you are lying?  Deny, and say while scratching your chin in contemplation, “Wow, I guess they really can doctor any electronic recording these days.”
  3. You are confronted with DNA evidence linking you to the scene of a crime?  Deny, and reveal your darkest secret, “I have an identical twin who was stolen at birth.”

Homework (due prior to our next lesson):

Develop and successfully implement a detailed and believable lie which gets you out of attending an unpleasant family function, such as visiting Great Aunt Jennie at the old folks’ home.  Note: Up to half credit available if you are caught lying, but effectively deny it.

Next lesson:  Tried and true methods to land your dream job by lying on your resume.  Bonus material: How to expand on that lie during your interview.

Thank you for enrolling in this course!  Trust me, these techniques really do work.  Would I lie to you?

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No Mud Balls on the Menu

No Mudballs on the Menu

It doesn’t take long once your oldest kid enters those joyful teenage years to realize that, for all practical purposes, you have unwittingly engineered a panhandler into your home.  Sure, the kid doesn’t carry a cardboard sign saying, “Anything Helps!  God Bless.”  (Frankly, most parents wish their kid would throw in a God Bless now and then).  Another difference being that many of them are deeply antisocial and struggle to interact in normal society – the teenagers I mean.  Other than that, they’re DNA twins.

At this stage, fathers begin reminiscing to their children about their first jobs.  Stories to inspire their children for the rough road ahead.  I was no different.  At every opportunity, I interjected a comment about one job or another, often to my little panhandlers chuckling in response.  They baahed like sheep, “Daaad!”  It was ancient history.

My mini lectures featured three jobs of my youth.  The first was carpet shampooing.  Not normal carpet shampooing, like driving a van to somebody’s house and cleaning some old lady’s living room while she shuffles around and fusses and you do ten minutes of work.  Then she offers you a piece of rhubarb pie.  Not hardly.  No, my shampooing job at the ripe old age of way the hell too young, was shampooing dormitory carpets at a local state university.  This is in the summer, so the buildings are empty.  Floor after floor, building after building.  Conservatively, a billion square feet of carpet.  The good news was that this was before state institutions were required to pay the federal minimum wage.  So I was raking in like 18 cents an hour.  At least I received training my first day.  Some old guy who moonlighted as Father Time pointed his boney finger at this honking machine that I had absolutely no idea how to operate and said, “There it is.  Soap’s in the closet.”  It wasn’t until late that first morning that I realized the shampoo was supposed to be diluted at a ratio of one cup per gallon of water.  Until then, I didn’t know that water played any part of the equation.  Yeah – pure shampoo concentrate.  I must have burned through ten gallons by the time the light went off in my head.  Thirty years later, the place probably still smells like shampoo.  (This is why you don’t save money hiring untrained labor.)  My second job was advertised with a very specific description: “Manual Labor Needed.”  Perfect, I thought, I can do manual labor, anything’s better than subminimum wage shampooing.  The screening process was intensive.  I was hired about one nanosecond after I called the number and said the first half of my name.  I was told to show up at a house in a suburban neighborhood.  Once there, our boss, a guy who announced that we would get paid in cash at the end of the day, directed me and three other young laborers to the backyard.  We walked around to the back and then stood in awe.  The boss never explained how a mud ball pile the sized of Mount Everest got there, only that we needed to move it to a truck out front.  At first we tried using shovels to pick up the balls and put them in a wheelbarrow, but it didn’t work.  They were too sticky.  We were left with no choice other than to actually grab these basketball sized mud balls and set them in the wheelbarrow one by one.  We looked like creatures from the black lagoon by the end of the day.  So, at that early point in my life, I’m thinking, this is it.  I’ve hit the bottom of the mud ball barrel.  But I’ve always been one to reach for the gold ring.  And unfortunately, I managed to grab it.  The local school district was remodeling a building.  In retrospect, a chiropractor must have been on the school board and actively engaged in the planning.  Our task was clearly designed to exact an almost intolerable amount of pain from us “construction assistants.” I use this term loosely because those of us who were fodder for this particular cannon weren’t helping to construct anything.  We were actually cogs in what I have ever since referred to as the Human Conveyer Belt of Rubble.  Numerous brick walls were demolished in the building’s basement, thus leaving piles of old brick with abrasive angles of 100 year old mortar still attached to them.  It was reminiscent of the mud ball job, only with stairs and without a wheelbarrow.  We piled bricks into two five gallon buckets and then hauled them up to ground level.  I’m not sure what was worse, climbing up with the crushing weight of a bucket in each hand, or walking back down for another load, which created just slightly more mental anguish than waterboarding.  You may have seen this type of activity if you are a fan of films depicting mid-fifteenth century China.

With my children well versed in the mental, physical and financial challenges of entry level teen jobs, I stood back and waited to see how my oldest child fared.  What indignities would arrive at her doorstep?  And then it happened.  Her first job.  The horror of it.  All I could do was shake my head.  No shampoo, no mud balls and certainly no Human Conveyer Belt of Rubble.   Much to my crushing expectations, she landed a job as a hostess at an upscale restaurant.  Not only was it devoid of cancer causing chemical agents, dirt and debris, it was required to be so.  It was inspected by the government to ensure it.  And she was earning well above minimum wage.  There was only one thing I could do.  When she came home after her first shift, a grin on her face no less, there I was standing just inside the front door holding my sign:  “Anything Helps!  God Bless.”


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