The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

THOU SHALT HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER...REALLY: It is a dogma of adolescent existence, one that no normal teenager would think to question anymore than a believing Christian would seriously question the existence of the Trinity, a Buddhist would doubt the workings of karma, or a Yankee fan dispute the diabolical origins of the Red Sox, that the purpose of parents is to humiliate, embarrass, and to otherwise discomfit them in front of their friends. The parents involved may not mean to do so; they may even believe, poor fools that they are, that they are in some way actually helping their adolescent spawn with their social lives; but the view from those enduring the hormonal years will always be that the parents are trying to ruin them in the one arena of life that has any real meaning to these pimply cretins. Parents, in the adolescent worldview, exist primarily to provide economic and logistical support to the teenager and to remain in the background as much as humanly possible. When parents and their demands do come to the fore, the teenager resents the intrusion deeply, as it makes mock of their pretensions of independence, which teenagers prize deeply—most teens, however, would prefer to skip the reality of independence, as this would entail doing their own laundry—and provides fodder for that other great adolescent activity, complaining about their parents. This activity is general throughout the adolescent sphere and serves as a bonding agent between disparate groups of teens. If there is one thing on which nerds, cheerleaders, jocks, and stoners all agree, it’s that parents suck.

Why do parents spend so much of their waking hours attempting to destroy the social lives of their adolescent offspring? Strangely enough, no one knows for certain. In my investigations of the matter, I can find no sociological examination of the subject at all. There are detailed studies of almost every odd subculture one can think of, from the recruitment procedures of New York’s five Mafia families to the sexual and dietary habits of followers of YumYum, the great Melamicropolyindomalaymilkofmagnesian rutabaga goddess, but no great university, it seems, has thought the matter of parental uncoolness worthy of serious scientific study. I am not sure why this should be the case. There are several million teenagers in the United States at the moment, some of whom attend those very same universities that refuse to invest some small portion of their bloated endowments to look into the subject, all of whom would be very interested in knowing why their parents have it in for them and why it is that their parents, despite the teens’ best efforts to educate them as to the folly of their ways, insist on being complete and utter dorks.

I suppose I should not shatter their fantasies of independence like this; teenagers pine for the day when they will finally be free of parental control almost as intensely as their parents pine for the day when the kids will finally be out of the house once and for all; but their parents will go on embarrassing them for as long as their parents live. We do not tell our young people this sort of thing—one cannot tell these bright young faces, these young faces so full of hope and aspiration, and after the yearbook photographer is done retouching the senior class pictures, largely free of acne as well, that there is no escape from their parents, ever—and so we let them move forward into the great world, knowing that they will find out the truth the same way we found it out: the hard way.

Yes, the hard way. I am in no way an adolescent; I graduated from our happy little burg’s high school back when Jimmy Carter was still running for a chance to become the worst president since James Buchanan and I will have you know that I managed to go up and get my diploma and even be civil to the president of the local board of education despite my being the only senior on that football field besides the valedictorian and whatever the second place kid is called who was not completely stoned out of their gourd. Such is the power of clean living. I also have steady employment and a home of my very own, which I own outright and in no way share with the bank. This does little, however, to protect me from my mother’s ongoing attempts to make me look like a first class bastard.

If you’ve been following the weather reports at all these past few months, you will know that we here in the northeastern part of this our Great Republic have endured an eternity of one type of precipitation after another. Since the beginning of the year we’ve had to endure rain, snow, sleet, hail, snow mixed with sleet, rain mixed with snow, snow mixed with rain and sleet, sleet mixed with snow and freezing rain, which always confuses me, as I always under the impression that sleet was freezing rain, but it seems I am mistaken in this view, as there is apparently some small difference between these two vile annoyances detectable only to the most cunning of our nation’s meteorological elite and their very expensive instruments.

We’ve been getting rain, straight up and without the snow and sleet chaser, for most of the past month or so, rain coming down in buckets, in cats and dogs, in Bills and Hillarys, in toads and wombats, use the biological combination of your choice. Whatever pair of beasts you choose to describe the cloudburst, rest assured that the rain was steady, copious, and managed to fill my basement to the height of four feet (no, I’m not kidding; I checked the depth). As you may well imagine, I did not want to test the seaworthiness of my home while all my stuff was still inside and so I immediately called my local volunteer fire department for assistance. Flooding being a general problem that day, I had to wait several hours for our happy little burg’s Bravest to show up, during which time I sat up on my roof in the driving rain keeping a sharp eye out for stray icebergs.

The firemen showed up at length and immediately sprang into action after some coffee and a lemon Danish. They set up the pump and spewed the contents of my basement down my brother’s driveway, washing most of it down onto the street and leaving a canyon in the middle of his road large enough for the Federal government declare the gap a national park if they felt the urge to do so. When the firemen finished their task, I felt a peace and contentment I had not felt for a good many months. This warm and fuzzy feeling did not last, however; it was still raining.

Rain, after a while, will make some people crazy and my mother seems to be one of these unfortunate wretches. Now, you will, no doubt, be saying that a man should not be casting such vile aspersions about his own mother. But I do not cast vile aspersions, calumnies, slanders, libels, statistics, or any other form of untruth; I merely report the facts, and the fact of the matter is that at 3:30 in the morning and in the midst of a heavy downpour of freezing rain, my mother, who will be eighty come her next birthday, decided that it would be a good idea to get dressed and come down to my house to dig a ditch so that the rising water would not come flowing into my boiler room. Apparently, it never once occurred to her to wake me up and tell me of the impending disaster or to hand me a shovel, nor did the deleterious effects of pneumonia on the overall health and well being of an elderly woman in her late seventies ever cross her mind. The following morning she called and told me that the water was about to come into the house, a statement that, in my just arisen stupor, I believed meant that the inundation was imminent. I dropped the phone on my big toe and scooted up to the back door as fast as I could and threw open the back door, there to find a large ditch stretching from a few feet away from said back door to my brother’s driveway, or what’s left of his driveway. Aghast did not even begin to describe my mental state at that time. Absolute horror would be good, but the phrase lacks the oomph needed to really tell it like it was.

I cannot describe how bad this was. Visions of my mother dropping dead in the cold winter rain with shovel in hand while I lay inside snoozing the night away in a warm comfortable bed zoomed through my tortuous Roman Catholic psychospace like so many bootleggers trying to stay one step ahead of the revenuers, provoking a tsunami of guilt and paranoia, to thoroughly mix my metaphors. How would I ever explain this? No one would believe me if I told them that digging trenches in the middle of the night was exactly the sort of thing my mother would do, if she thought any of her sons needed a trench in their back yard. The pile of social opprobrium on my front porch would grow so large I’d need a bulldozer to get rid of it all, and then people would still point at me years later and whisper, look there, that’s the heartless bastard who worked his poor mother to death, he should have gotten ten years in the pen, if you ask me, Mildred. You know, I think teenagers should shut the hell up when it comes to whining about their parents; putting up with parents when all they’re asking you for is an A in pre-calc is easy. Putting up with them when they’re trying to drive you out of your mind in another thing altogether.

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