Sunday, October 23, 2011


He held the mike close to his mouth, so that his words could be heard to greatest number of people. "If you hate someone, then the Lord says, you'll burn in hell, a thousand times over! For it says so in the good book, the only book you'll ever need to read--"

"Come back when you have pubic hair!"

The voice came from the audience, from a college boy in a prisoner outfit. His friends laughed, low and dirty, and he tossed a cigarette in the speaker's direction and walked away.

His crude request wasn't off the mark, though,. The boy with the mike could hardly be more than ten years old, with short blond hair, piercing brown eyes, and a grim look on his face that suggested he wasn't enjoying himself one bit. He appeared to be a boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and perhaps given what he was preaching, he was.

Unlike the crowd around him, partying in the city of Salem, he was wearing a simple brown outfit and dark boots. Across the street, presumably, his parents were keeping a not-so-careful eye on him, laboring as they were under a huge sign that read, "REPENT, PEOPLE OF SALEM!"

Hey, it's hard work, trying unsuccessfully to convert a sinful flock. However, this isn't to say that the grim-faced boy was alone, because he was being watched over and followed, every step of his speech, by a smiling woman with a purple robe, dressed as a witch. Every so often, she'd dance behind him and sing, "This is total bullshit, this is total bullshit..."

"You are doomed, you worshipers of witches, you followers of the devil!" the boy continued, ignoring the woman behind him. "You don't have to be! The Lord loves you, I love you, and we both want you--"

"Go home and love yourself," said a short boy standing next to a tall girl with pink hair, as the crowd started to grow around the boy.

I tugged at Corb's sleeve. "This is awful," I said. "I hope nothing happens to him."

"They're not going to hurt him," said Corb, transfixed. "This is fascinating. I want to see what happens next." Next to us, Ashes and Theo nodded, not wanting to miss a second of the drama playing out.

The boy ignored the girl and the purple witch, and continued on with his testimony. A group of wicked boys gathered close to him, started taunting him. "Where do you come from?" asked one of the boys, in his face.

"Arkansas," said the boy.

"And this is how you're fucking spending your Halloween? Don't you want to live life?"

The boy paused for a bit, lost his focus, dropped the mike. Then, finding inspiration, he shoved it back to his mouth. "But what is living life? Do you like the life YOU live?"

Frustrated, Pink Hair ran across the street. "Are you just going to leave him alone there and not have someone look after him?" she screamed ao the people holding the "REPENT" sign. "How can you call yourself Christians if you just leave your little boy alone like that?"

A heavy-set man with thinning hair came forward, wearing a blue suit. "Now hold on, ma'am, he's not alone! He has the power of the Lord by his side. But, do you?"

"Maybe you should be by his side, too!" she continued. "What if something happens to him, while you're standing there holding your signs--"

"Nothing's going to happen," said the man, who nonetheless walked across the street, to get face to face with the lady, as the boy continued to proselytize. "But do you know what's going to happen to you? If you continue this sinful life, of witch worshiping and idolatry, you surely are going to burn in hell--"

"How dare you?" shouted Pink Hair, incensed. "You know, I don't have a problem with your religion at all, it's fine with me. Do what you want. But how dare you try to scare me into--"

"Woah woah woah!"

"How dare you try to use a little boy to--"

"Shhh, shhh, shh!" said the man. "It's my turn, let me speak."

Pink Hair stopped. "Okay."

"We're not trying to scare anyone," he said. "We have every right to be here and to speak our mind. All we're trying to point out is that there is one god and one god only, and that these people here who are spending the day, dressing up as demons and worshipping false gods, are sure to burn in hell and suffer a million horrible degradations, unless they embrace the Lord our God, the man who gave his life and died on the cross at Calvary."

Pink Hair rolled her eyes. "See? There you go again!"

"Shhh, shhh, shhh!"

But Pink Hair was just warming up. "You just tried to scare me into--"

"Now, ma'am, it's my turn to talk, you had your say--"

Suddenly, Corb was there by Pink Hair's side. "She DIDN'T have her say!" he shouted to the man. "You just lectured her! When she tried to respond, you cut her off. At least listen to what SHE has to say!"

And with that, the woman tried again. The preacher man gave him a second to respond. Meanwhile, the 10-year-old boy had handed the mike over to an older man, also on the heavy side, who was thumbing through his Bible, ready to begin his testifying. I turned the kids, who were watching Corb and the woman, locked in mortal combat with the preacher man. "You want to leave?" I asked.

Ashes' eyes were huge. "No, I want to stay. This is the most fun all night!"

There's a lesson for you, sinners: you can take the kids to Salem, spend a couple of hundred on wax museums, candlelit tours, and dinners, but sometimes, the best entertainment in life is absolutely free.

We must have spent an hour watching the preachers go on and on and get yelled and mocked by people dressed as witches, or goblins, or Sponge Bob Square Pants. When we finally left, it was only because the preachers had decided to take a break and our legs were killing us.

I think my kids learned an important lesson last night: forget about the curtain and the orchestra. Real life is more immediate, you never know what's noing to happen, and there's always a hint of viiolence in the air. In the end, street theater can make for the best theater of all.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A kind of death.

One of the things I get crap about all the time is the fact that I never answer my cell phone. "Why didn't you answer?" is something I'm always hearing from the kids or the ex-wife or the someday mother-in-law, usually in a slightly offended tone, as if I took one look at the name of the person calling and pushed my phone away, cackling out gleefully, "As if!"

Truth is, during the day, I keep my phone on vibrate because the sound of it pinging every five seconds due to all the email I get is enough to drive me crazy (but not enough to get me to vote Republican). Plus, it's annoying for the guy at work who sits behind me, who puts the mudge in the word curmudgeon. Him, I don't want to annoy. Then, at night, I forget to turn it back on to "noise" mode, so I can never hear it when someone calls, because I have this weird thing about having stuff touch my body, like rings or watches or, well...cell phones. So, I usually place it by the record player (yes, record player. They're back in style, right?) and forget about it.

This is why I was so gratified last night, to be driving home from Boston and hear the following exchange between Google executive Rick Schmidt and Gwen Ifill:
SCHMIDT: It's always alarming to me that people text message. They don't talk on the phone anymore. And people actually have forgotten how to leave voice messages on phones. It's sort of shocking, right?
GWEN IFILL: They have forgotten how to check them as well.
ERIC SCHMIDT: That's right.

Yep, that's me all over. Given the choice between sending a text message and having to be forced to actually engage in verbal intercourse, I'll take the text message, each and every time.

And also, what's the point of a voice message, I ask you, in this day and age? Most people I know have phones that clearly indicate who it was who called you, unless it's a bill collector or someone you don't know.

Now, if it is a bill collector or someone you don't know, by all means, leave a message. But otherwise, why do I need to bother listening to a message? I'd much rather just send a text message asking, "What's up?"

I don't miss it, either. Voice mails are not things that I shall sigh wistfully over and mourn the passage of, unlike the lost art of letter writing or the charming smell of burned wood on your clothing in the days when we used to communicate by smoke signal. Ah, those were the days. Even carrier pigeons have a certain charm, if you're into birds (dirty, disgusting, filthy, lice-ridden boids).

Not voicemails. I always hated leaving them...never know what to say, so I always try to be clever, and I'm sure, more than not, fall flat. And most voicemails are a trial to sit through and listen. The only one that really sticks in my head that's ever been worth keeping was one where boss called and forgot he was leaving me a message, mid-call, because one of his sons chewed the leg off of another son's Barbie doll.

Listening to my boss yell at his kid was kind of entertaining, i have to admit. I could just see him waving the amputated Barbie doll in his son's face, screaming with anger. Have to admit, I did keep the message around for months, just because it brought a smile on my face.

Also, some answering machine messages were kind of fun to listen to, too, in the dinosaur days of answering machines. Those days are long gone. Goner than records, apparently. No one leaves cute messages any more for you to snicker over. We're all far more serious, far more corporate, far more boring, than THAT.

So, sure, count me in as one of those who has gleefully ditched the practice of actual phone conversations and voicemail messages. Does that make me less the social guy I once was?

Perhaps. I suppose. Yes, yes it does.

However! All that time saved does gives me more time to play "Words with Friends" on Facebook! And that's...well, kind of social, right? Hey, a guy's got to have his priorities.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Another crossing.

6:30 in the morning. Saturday. The alarm goes off.

I throw the blankets back, stumble off the couch. Shuffle down the hall and knock on Ashes' door.

"Time to wake up."

"Mmmmmm hmmmm." I wait until I'm pretty sure she's out of bed, then move back to the couch.

Twenty minutes later. I stumble out of bed again and move over to the table where the printed out SAT ticket is placed. Scan it over, quickly. Excited, I moved down the hall, knock on Ashes' door again.

"Mmmmmm hmmmm."

"Hey! I just realized that it says we have to be there at 7:45, latest. That means we have fifteen more minutes to sleep!"

"Mmmmmm hmmmm." I move back to the couch. Sleep.

7:15, we're in the stang and just about to pull out of the parking lot on our way to Cumberland High School. This should be great, I think to myself, finally a perfect situation where nothing is going to go wrong. I printed out the Mapquest last night and it's only twenty minutes away, so we'll get there with ten minutes to spare. We have the pencils, the scientific calculator, Ash has been studying like crazy and should feel totally prepared and at ease and do just fine, and...

"What about my photo ID?" Ashes asks.

And with one sentence, my little bubble is popped. "Um, what?"

"My photo ID. I told you last night, I forgot it at mom's house. Remember? You called her up, she said she'd leave it in her car with the doors unlocked?"


No, no...don't panic, it'll be okay. Even if Josie's house is fifteen minutes away and...

Flash forward to 7:43. The photo ID has been picked up and I'm speeding down the highway in my stang, having spent the past half an hour watching the time ticking down, knowing that you can't change the laws of physics, no matter how much you would like to. 7:15 becomes 7:25 becomes 7:35 becomes...

"It's almost 7:45, says Ashes.

"I know." I try to keep a good attitude. "But we're almost at the exit."

"But we only have two minutes to go! And they're REALLY strict about these things."

"They'll let you in, don't worry. I'll walk in with you."

"It WON'T matter! They're really strict about these things. We might as well turn around and go back home now."

"No, no! Don't give up like that. We'll be fine." I put my foot on the accelerator just a little harder. "Just keep studying."

Ashes closes her eyes and places her study cards on the floor. "I've studied enough..."

"Look! We're almost at the exit." Just keeping thinking good thoughts keep thinking good thoughts...she's worked too hard, can't let this happen, it won't happen they wouldn't let it...

7:47, and we pull into the high school. I notice with relief that other kids are walking into the high school. And, not being thrown out. "You want me to go with you?" I ask.

"No, I'll go. I'll let you know if there's a problem." That in and of itself is a minor miracle, as Ashes ALWAYS wants me to go with her.

She opens the car door and heads to the entrance. I wait there as long as I can, not wishing to block anyone in. After a few minutes, I take a turn around the parking lot, then move back to the entrance. I do this six times, then park and walk over to the entrance, just to be on the safe side.

Ashes is nowhere to be seen. Just to be even safer, I send her a text, "You make it in?"

A few minutes go by, then: "Y"

As I drive off, I type into the Blackberry "Good luck! You'll do fine." I pause, then type: "I love you."

Maybe it's early hour or the lack of sleep, but as I type it, I start to feel a catch in my throat, and my eyes start to get misty. Silly sentimental man, Josie always tells me. And, of course, she's right, I am.

All I know is, one more hurdle has been crossed. And that feels good and scary (and good), all at the same time.

Growing up is so hard. So many stages and tests and things to be done as one makes the transition. It's hard on the kids, but especially...most especially, I think, it's hard on the parents.