Remember Your First Summer Job?

This year brings a scarcity of summer jobs for America’s youth.  It is unfortunate that so many will miss the tremendous learning opportunity that summer jobs present.  I don’t know where I’d be today without such opportunities.

My first summer job, other than making spin art and being forced to play kickball, was at for a supplier of home security devices.  My task was to assemble and mail marketing materials.  The work was routine, and I was soon able to stuff, seal, and put postage on the envelopes while reading the books that my English teacher had assigned over the summer.  The system went fine until I accidentally sent one of our paranoid customers a copy of 1984 with our catalog.

The next summer I answered the calling to sell high quality cutlery.  We were trained to use the bonds of love to convince our family and friends that the wisest move they could make in their lives was to plunk down $600 for a set of butter knives.  If they balked at the price tag, we reminded them that the knives’ warranty could be bequeathed to later generations, like the estates of English gentry.  To seal the deal, we would demonstrate that the knives could cut pennies in half, perfect for salad or guacamole.

The most educational summer job was working at a convenience store.  My first day on the cash register I produced an error of $900, and the IRS showed up and demanded free Slurpees.  There was so much to learn.  I had to remember which cigarettes were running promotions and which ones prevented osteoporosis.  I had to know the price of every size of soda cup, from the 12-ounce regular to the 20-gallon Mega Gulp that included free use of the store’s dolly.  I had to serve hot dogs to customers without scrunching up my face.

Selling alcohol required extra vigilance.  Minors would try all sorts of tricks.  One time a young man told me he was 45, but that he suffered from a rare disease that made him look 19 and wear his baseball cap backwards.  I asked for identification.  He said he forgot it at home.  When I told him that, despite his condition, I could not meet his request, he threatened to sue me and then pedaled away on his bike.  I am still waiting for the summons.

Approximately 90% of our business, it seemed, was selling lottery tickets.  A man once gave me a list of six numbers to play, saying that those were his magic numbers.  I informed him that, statistically, he would have the same chances of hitting numbers one through six in order, and I showed him the math on a napkin.  He dismissed me as crazy.  I was about to pull out the calculator, but the line was getting long and people were starting to throw packets of Equal.  The next day the man played his magic numbers and the numbers one through six.

My shift was eight hours long with no break for lunch.  When a friend of mine saw me snapping into a Slim Jim between coffee station drills, he said that the law entitled me to a half-hour paid lunch break for every eight-hour shift.  I didn’t know if my friend was right, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me, and I told my co-workers I was forming a union.  That night at home while I stenciled my picket signs, a black car drove by and lobbed stale doughnuts at my front door.  I had gotten the message, and took a few of the doughnuts for lunch the next day.

I hope that the economy turns around soon, so that young people can have the same learning opportunities that I did.

Did you have any memorable summer jobs?

Mash-Up, June 11: Graduation

This week we review a few humorous posts involving graduation.

Chase McFadden, over at Some Species Eat Their Young, was chosen by the high school he teaches at to deliver the commencement address to the Class of 2011.  His speech, titled “Go Find Your Rock,” demonstrates how to combine enough meaning so that the graduates go away with something more than a diploma, with enough humor to keep the graduates’ attention while they bake in the blazing sun under dark caps and gowns, wondering when they are going to eat lunch and get money from their relatives.

It reminded me of Woody Allen’s speech to the graduates, titled “My Speech to the Graduates,” first published in the New York Times in 1979.  I would have sat under two caps and two gowns to hear the Woodman deliver this speech.  I don’t think he would have enjoyed the heat, though.

I saved the best for last.  A recent MBA graduate named Debbie posted an eHarmony video in hopes of, I imagine, finding companionship en route to everlasting love and affection.  The first 35 seconds of the clip are a little slow, but the content after that makes me wonder how anyone could resist asking this young woman for her number.

And that’s a wrap.  Enjoy the weekend.

Of Ice and Men

A few weeks ago I came across a story about a turf battle between two ice cream truck drivers in Pennsylvania.  Evidently one of the drivers tried to run the other drivers off the road.

Image courtesy of Roadsidepictures via Flickr

In my investigation of the webpage reporting the incident, I found this comment posted by a “Miss Polly,” the wife of the victimized driver (all quoted material is sic) :

Hi Everyone, this is Miss Polly, I am the owner of the Ice Cream truck that actually called the police because the other Driver ran my husband off the road and almost hit children…The other driver has ran me off the road in another instance last year….[and] is intimidated by a female. I would never let my kids get ice cream off the trucks in our neighborhood b/c they were so scary lookingAnd so you all know…we are the ONLY ice cream truck business licensed in Uniontown, Pa…the other owner is not licensed and is operating illegally. The permit office is sending him a complaint letter. If you would like to see pics of our truck, us, our children and our fans, visit us on Facebook 🙂

Does anything arrest a child’s attention like the music of an ice cream truck coming down the street?  During summer evenings, it did not matter how deep we were into a Monopoly game, or large random hole in the backyard; we would drop our little plastic hotels or little plastic shovels, shake down the closest adult, and run out to meet the truck, screaming “ice cream man” and shoving slower kids out of the way.

As I reflect on those innocent days, when the ice cream cost under a dollar, and could be consumed with digestive impunity, I try to imagine what it would have looked like to see another ice cream truck coming down the street in the opposite direction at the same time.

The first signal would be the music.  The same tune would crackle from the trucks’ speakers – Scott Joplin’s ragtime classic, “The Entertainer” – but one measure out of phase, so that as the two trucks converged in front of my home, the dissonance would intensify, signaling that something dramatic was about to happen, and that there would be more than enough Bubble O’Bills with the red gumball nose to go around.

But instead of stopping, the two trucks would accelerate towards each other.  Out of each driver’s-side window would emerge a lance in the shape of a waffle cone.  The change in my hand would grow sweaty as I watched the ice cream men joust on my street.

Time would slow down.  My friends and I would look from one truck to the other, and instead of the loud engine and crackly ragtime, we would hear galloping horses and the drums and strings from the Battle of Stirling scene in Braveheart.  And one of the drivers – the one who came everyday, the one we knew and loved, the one who I had shortchanged on more than one occasion and who never called me out or told my mother – shouts to his enemy:

“You may take my route…but you’ll never take my Good Humor!”

Then each lance would pierce the opposite windshield, and the two trucks would collide and be annihilated instantly, like matter meeting anti-matter in a particle accelerator, leaving us kids with a puff of smoke, and a scattered and smoldering pile of Pop Rocks, over which we would fight to the death.  Or until our parents called us in, whichever came first.

And to mark the end of an era, we would keep the money meant for ice cream, and never speak a word about it.

Did an ice cream truck grace your neighborhood?  Did you run out to meet the truck like your pants were on fire?

Is Your Dad Embarrassing?

Yesterday I read a story about a man who dressed in a different costume every morning, stood in front of his house, and waved to his teenage son going off to school.  The man did this for all 180 days of the school year.

It reminded me of the times my own father wore a costume.  He stopped trick-or-treating for Halloween in his 30s, so I only remember him wearing a costume for Purim, a Jewish festival that commemorates the triumph of the Jews over a Persian named Haman, who had tried to annihilate them with cookies filled with apricot preserves.  It is the one holiday where Jews are commanded to drink in addition to sitting through a long reading from a scroll of parchment.  And it is traditional to dress up as characters from the Purim story: the beautiful Esther, the resourceful Mordechai, the kind King Ahasuerus.  My father dressed up as Pinocchio.

My father’s Purim costume, minus the cricket

He wore a green Tyrolean hat with a feather sticking out, a white button-down short-sleeved shirt, lederhosen that buttoned up the sides, red suspenders, and a long fake nose.  He wore this when we walked in and saw my Hebrew school classmates and their parents; he wore this during the Rabbi’s reading of the Purim story, enthusiastically shaking his noisemaker each time “Haman” was mentioned (as is the tradition…among children); he wore this as he served cake and ice cream to the congregants after the service, saying to each one, “When I’m a real boy I want a Bar Mitzvah with a DJ!”

I’ve often said that males over the age of 10 should not be allowed to wear shorts that end above the knee.  My father does not sign on my theory.  He wore his Pinocchio costume proudly, frequently swinging his arms and kicking up his legs as if controlled by strings, and seemed unmolested by thoughts of the social consequences to his teenage son.

“Hey, that’s a pretty cool costume your dad has on there,” said a friend.

“What costume?  Whose dad?” I said.  My friend pointed towards my father while I dove behind a stack of prayer books.  I stayed there until I heard the sounds of people leaving and car doors slamming.  Soon I heard people calling my name, and I emerged.

“Oh, there you are,” my mother said.  “Where were you?”

“I was looking for my self-esteem,” I said. “It had rolled under a table.”

As we walked outside to our car, I hoped to see my father already behind the wheel, sunk down low in the seat like the drivers in Florida.  But he wasn’t.  He was standing in front of the synagogue, still in full costume, waving to the congregants as they got in their cars and drove away.  He looked so happy.  And as I looked to the congregants, I noticed that they looked happy, too.

Perhaps I was wrong to be embarrassed.  The following year, I picked up a top hat, umbrella, and grasshopper costume, and father and son rejoiced together.  And then waved to everyone.

Do you have any embarrassing dad stories?  Share them here so I can pretend they’re mine and turn them into blog posts!

Staying Sane at Chuck E. Cheese’s

Remember childhood birthday parties?

I do.

My most memorable childhood birthday party was venued at a kid’s party place called Chuck E. Cheese’s.  It was tagged as “a place where a kid can be a kid.”  They could have added, “and where a parent should be on Xanax.”

Chuck E. Cheese’s, like Gaul, was divided into three parts: the video arcade, the restaurant, and the pit of plastic balls.  For a brief period of time in my life, it was the place to be.  Nintendo was still a few years away, and a room full of video games was a fantasy that most kids had only heard about in books.  There was also skee-ball, and a mechanical seat that spun vertically on an eight-foot disc, just so that no parent would be deprived of the anxiety that a kid would fall on their watch.  There were no windows, and the dim lighting punctuated by glowing neon beckoned children as they ran from game to game, their little pockets filled with tokens that bore the visage of Mr. Cheese.  It was a lot like a casino.

The restaurant area was next to the arcade.  I don’t remember them serving anything other than pizza.  Even then, it was not so much pizza as a child’s conception of pizza.  It was as if someone had taken an already baked crust, poured on tomato sauce straight from a jar, threw on a few individually wrapped slices of cheese, and placed it in a microwave that said “Fisher Price” in the top right corner.  A pie of this toy pizza cost only $15, with an additional $3 for Maalox.

Whilst dining, the children were entertained by band of robots dressed to look like Chuck E. Cheese and his entourage.  When the music played, the robots would jerk their heads and shoulders around, and their arms would hold up instruments.  If you ate enough pizza, you could pretend you were seeing Joe Cocker dressed as a mouse.

The best part of hosting a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s was that the kids were constantly running around and screaming.  In the melee it was hard to keep track of which kids had been picked up by their parents, and which ones might be still be snorkeling in the ball pit.

My father went looking for the missing, but he was told that you had to be under 4 feet tall to enter the pit.  So he had to rent an ocean-floor sonar scanner to find the rest of my guests.  While the machine was on someone thought it was a video game and lodged a token in the circuits, and my father couldn’t get his deposit back.

Finally, the guests had either left or the search ended, and my parents and I sat amidst a pile of wrapping paper, pizza crusts, and a cake that an aspiring acupuncturist had poked with a thousand stabs of a plastic fork.  I don’t remember blowing out the candles, and I don’t remember unwrapping the gifts.  But the look of relief on my parents’ faces as we walked to the car will stay with me forever.

Did you have a memorable birthday party as a child?  Did you ever throw your child a birthday party and survive?

Inspired by “The Birthday Party, by the numbers,” by Leanne Shirtliffe at IronicMom.com.

Mash-Up, June 4: Kristen Lamb, How to Write Funny, Paul Johnson

This week we review a blog post from Kristen Lamb, a book titled How to Write Funny, edited by John B. Kachuba, and a blog post from Paul Johnson at The Good Greatsby.

Kristen Lamb is the best-selling author of We Are Not Alone and Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer.  Read these books if you want to write.  In the 21st Century, like it or not, a blog, a Twitter account, and a Facebook fan page are the holy trinity of an author’s platform, and Kristen wrote the bible.

On her blog, Kristen gives additional lessons on social media and the craft of writing.  Every one of her posts answers a question I had in my head before I visited her site.

For example, Kristen’s recent post, “Scene Antagonists–The Making of a Hero”, discusses the scene antagonist that drives the inner change of a character.  After I looked up what antagonist meant (it means the bad guy), I wanted to know how an antagonist would work in certain humorous books, where the main character’s obstacles are of his own doing.

I asked this in a comment to the post.  Kristen’s articulate answer was (1) be careful of literary fiction, which must be read in the context of the time it was published, and (2) even those protagonists’ inner turmoil must be externalized to tell a good story.  For years I had wondered why my every attempt to create a buffoon fell flat on the page.  Now I know what was missing.  There must be an anti-buffoon.

I’ve learned other great lessons in writing humor from the aptly titled How to Write Funny, an anthology of essays and interviews from accomplished humor writers.  It’s an old cliché that humor cannot be taught.  But this book does not really teach humor.  Instead, it demonstrates how to find and release the humor from the dysfunction that lies within and around us.  Chapter 14, on the 7 Commandments of Comedy Writing, is alone worth the price of the book.  That is, unless you are completely humorless, which explains why you are reading my blog.

And last, but certainly not least, is one man who does not need to learn anything about writing humor.  His name is Paul Johnson, and his blog, The Good Greatsby, has become a daily treasure.  Writing comedy is hard.  Writing publishable comedy every day seems next to impossible.  I keep looking in the website’s source code for elves that do the writing at night, but all I saw were semicolons, backslashes, and a half-eaten oatmeal cream pie.

One of Paul’s recent gems, “Food Pyramid We Hardly Knew Ye”, discusses the United States Department of Agriculture’s decision to change the food pyramid to a food plate.  The very idea oozes with comedic value, and Paul capitalizes on it nicely.  If you want to start each day with a laugh, bookmark TheGoodGreatsby.com.

And that’s a wrap.  Enjoy the weekend.

The Facebook Page Neurotic

Everyone wants to be liked by other people.  Even people who mow their lawns at 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning want to be liked by other people.  But measuring exactly how many people like you is difficult.  People might come to your party just for the peach cobbler.

Facebook pages, however, measure exactly how many people like you.  And being liked is completely different from being friends.  Lots of people are friends with people they don’t like.

I created a Facebook page to measure exactly how many people liked me, and because of this cryptic passage I read at location 195/542 in Are You There, Blog?  It’s Me, Writer:

 “All writers need a fan page.”

I created the page, uploaded a photo, wrote a self-serving blurb, and picked a gender.  I started inviting my friends to like me so that I could get the magic 25 needed for a username.  I wanted a username so that when I make business cards, the URL to my Facebook page is a neat “facebook.com/username” instead of the messy “facebook.com/firstname-lastname/longstringofnumbers.”

And I wanted my username to be exactly the same as my Twitter handle, MarkKaplowitz.  When you go through life with a first name that ends in the same letter and sound that begins your last name, you always fear that the two names run together in speech and that people won’t know where your first name ends and last name begins.

I think about the others who face this issue:  Julia Allison.  Michael Lewis.  Adam Morrison.  Jennifer Runyon, who played Gwendolyn Pierce on Charles in Charge.  Roald Dahl.  David Duchovny.  William McKinley.  Julius Caesar (using the Anglicized pronunciation).  These high achievers somehow got the world to know their first and last names.  When I saw that HTML was treating all names, big and small, on a lowercase basis, I worried that my concatenated k’s would be seen as one.  I needed a way to show differentiation.

And then I stumbled across Jody Hedlund’s Facebook page, with “AuthorJodyHedlund” as its username.  So it was possible!  I practiced typing my social media contact information on an imaginary business card:

http://twitter.com/MarkKaplowitz

http://facebook.com/MarkKaplowitz

Something was missing.  Then I saw it:

http://twitter.com/MarkKaplowitz

http://facebook.com/MarkKaplowitz

Killer!  The capital M, lowercase k, and capital K were dressed like the Blue Devils drum line!  Now no one would be confused.

My 25th like arrived last Friday afternoon.  With shaking hands I went to Facebook’s username portal, and was curtly informed that “MarkKaplowitz” was taken, just like that Steven Spielberg miniseries about aliens.

Who was this thief, this scoundrel, this cur, this knotty-pated fool who dared to take my username?

I scrolled down and found my answer.  It was me.  I had stolen my own name.

A few months ago, Facebook had offered me the opportunity to pick a username for my personal profile.  I had clicked on “confirm” because I like to click on things.  And Facebook’s help page said that usernames could not be transferred, period.

I searched for another way.  I found a post from August, 2010 that explained that one could release a username from a profile, and then immediately claim it for a page.  But the comments indicated that this strategy became risky in November.  I could not take risks.

One of the comments to that post proposed filing a Facebook copyright infringement claim against yourself.  I was skeptical but desperate.  I filled out Facebook’s form.  It asked for the name I was claiming and typed “markkaplowitz” and hit submit.  I wanted quick resolution, and a few seconds elapsed before I’d realized what I’d done.

I had forgotten to type “MarkKaplowitz” as I’d planned.  My business cards!  My perfectly aligned usernames!  My dispelling of confusion!

I received an email from Facebook confirming receipt of my request to transfer “markkaplowitz” from my profile to my page.  I drafted this reply:

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

I make reference to the username “markkaplowitz” that is currently the subject of a copyright dispute.  In the event I prevail against myself, I would prefer that the username for my page be entered as “MarkKaplowitz” with the first letters of my first and last name capitalized.  Makes it a little easier to read.  Sorry for being such a pain.  I love what you’ve done here.  I did not see The Social Network.

Sincerely,

Mark Kaplowitz

As the cursor stood poised over the send button, a voice inside my head said, “Don’t push it.”  But a louder voice said, “Follow your dreams.”  So I sent the email, went in the bathroom to throw up, and stepped outside for some fresh air.

I walked to a park, took a seat on a bench, and watched people.  A mother licked her hand to wipe her child’s face.  A guy in a backwards baseball cap scratched his chin while his girlfriend sent a text message.  A silver-haired man in a seersucker suit strolled by with a house cat on a leash.  The world showed nothing but indifference.

I went back to my computer.  No emails from Facebook, no change to the username.  I tried to blog, but the words weren’t coming.  I needed that username.

As the hours passed I became convinced that I would not get the transfer.  I would have to be “MarkKaplowitz2” or “TheRealMarkKaplowitz” or “ThatGuyWhoWritesThoseRememberWhenPostsOnSchlabadooDotCom.”  My business card would look messy.  My career would stagnate.  I would grow old on that park bench, telling myself over and over that I never should have sent that email.

And then I refreshed my page for the millionth time and saw that the username had been transferred.  It was “markkaplowitz” without any capitalization.  And I thought to myself, “You know, it looks kind of chic in all lowercase.  Maybe I should change my Twitter name to all lowercase.  For the business cards.”

Thanks Facebook!

Have you created a Facebook page?  Did you have any difficulty choosing a username?  What are your thoughts on capitalization in URLs?  What are your thoughts on crazy Facebook obsessions?

From Seditionist to Blogger

In high school I authored and distributed an underground newspaper.  I believe this was a step towards becoming a blogger.

My friend Darren and I had the idea of starting a literary magazine, but we needed funding for printing and the pizza parties that were required for every school club.  We asked the administration for help, but the entire arts budget had been spent on glitter.  So we took our operations underground.

The first thing we did was pick pseudonyms.  Darren chose “A. Hamilton” because he wanted to express his belief in liberty and the nobility of the fourth estate.  I chose “Zack Morris.”

Then we had to name our paper.  Our high school mascot was the eagle, and so we decided on The Eagle’s Nest.  Had I known that Adolf Hitler’s World War II bunker complex was also called the Eagle’s Nest, we might have chosen something else.  But these are the quirks of history.

We gave The Eagle’s Nest a serious tone to appeal to a higher class of reader.  We wrote articles about the quality of the school lunch, the demeanor of the custodians, and the girth of the cafeteria monitors.  We wrote editorials protesting the archaic practice of running during gym class.  We wrote fake interviews with teachers and students.  We crafted syllabi for classes that did not exist.  And at top of the issue, in a little box, was our journalistic creed:

If it’s not in here, we don’t give a s#!%.

We wrote the first issue on Darren’s computer one Saturday afternoon.  I had the more trusting of parents, and thus the copying job fell to me.  On Sunday night I asked my mother to drive me to Kinko’s.

“Of course, my pumpkin pie,” she said.  “What do you need?”

“Oh, uh, nothing,” I said, curling a manila folder.

I made her sit in the car while I made the copies.  It took only ten minutes.  I came back home with a box under my arm, went upstairs to my room, closed the door, and thought about the meaning of freedom.

And then we received a call from Darren’s mother.  “Do you know what they’re doing?” I could hear from the receiver that my mother held a few inches away from her head.  “They are going to be handing something out to the kids at school!  Something with bad words in it!  They are going to get expelled and won’t get into college!  We have to stop them!”

I tried to imagine how Darren’s mother found out.  I pictured a deposit of laundry, a neglected computer screen, and a long interrogation.

Although my mother did not confiscate the copies and put them on top of her armoire next to my slingshot and BB gun, she persuaded me to seek administrative approval for my subversion.  Darren and I agreed, through intermediaries, to postpone distribution, and the next day my father took me to the local law library to read and copy First Amendment cases.  It was not my idea of radicalism.  At least we went for ice cream afterwards

After a flurry of letters with the school’s lawyers, citing cases that involved Vietnam-era black armbands, Vietnam-era anti-draft t-shirts, and students who wanted to wear tissue boxes on their feet, a deal was struck with the principal.  We would show him the paper we wished to distribute, and he would make “suggestions.”  A memo went out to all teachers advising that Darren and I would be distributing an underground newspaper in between classes.  The arrangement was not what we’d had in mind.  We were not really fighting the establishment, and we were not really hiding our identities.

But when that first issue of The Eagle’s Nest was out there at last, and I saw my peers reading my “Elegy for Tater Tots” and laughing out loud, I thought to myself, “I like this.”

How about you?  Was there an earlier moment in your life that led to blogging?

My Happy Meal Addiction

Remember Happy Meals?

I do.

All meals have the potential to be happy, at least the ones that do not contain kale or anything else that belongs on a tree.  But a Happy Meal can come only from McDonald’s.

Image courtesy of Cosmic Kitty via Flickr

A Happy Meal was designed for children.  The food of the Happy Meal, to the extent it could be called food, was no more or less happy than a regular meal at McDonald’s.  If you counted the effects of age on the alimentary canal, the food was probably much happier for children.

The Happy Meal’s happiness was in the packaging.  The burger and fries came in a little cardboard box with artwork and puzzles on the sides, and closed up at the top with a handle in the shape of double arches.  Inside the box, alongside the meal, was a toy, a small plastic piece of junk that would spend ten minutes in my hands, and 10,000 years in my parents’ basement.

I insisted upon Happy Meals every time.  The design and theme of the box and toy would change every few weeks or months, and I had to have the new one.  Sometimes the theme was based upon a movie that McDonald’s thought would increase the desire for sugar, salt, and fat.  Other times it was seasonal, like a Halloween themed box with witches riding french fries against a full moon.

The boxes were shaped so that one could be fit inside another, and stacked as high as the laws of physics would permit.  After a few months I had stack of Happy Meals taller than I was.  It was my monument to life.  Sometimes I would sit in my room and look at my tower, and imagine it reaching to the sky, with a spiral staircase leading up to an observation deck and souvenir shop with snow globes containing miniature versions of my Happy Meal tower.

When the tower reached the ceiling of my bedroom, I started another one.  Before long I had a city, Hamburglars and Grimaces watching over me like cathedral gargoyles.  I was re-zoning the downtown when my parents finally said something.

“Mark, we need to talk about your Happy Meal boxes,” they said.  “We think they are a fire hazard and your grades are suffering.”

I was having a little trouble seeing them around the towers of Happy Meals.  One of the boxes was decorated like a house, and had a perforated window that I opened to watch my parents leaving my room, shaking their heads.

Unable to reach my family, I invited my friends to see my work.  “Thanks for coming over, Clarence.  Please sit over here by the East Tower.  Oh wait.  I had to remove the chair to make room for the pavilion and carousel.  I guess you’ll have to stand.”

After a while my parents stopped coming in my room.  They would leave my dinner outside my door and knock three times, so that I knew it was not other kids trying to steal my Happy Meal boxes.  Although the only dinner that held any interest for me was a Happy Meal.

My parents had stopped taking me to McDonald’s, though, forcing me to rely on other parents.  I would tutor their dim children in math or social studies in exchange for rides.  Even when my parents cut off my allowance, I managed to scrape enough change together by recycling soda cans that I found in the garbage bins at school.  My teachers thought I was setting a great example, and gave me an “Enviro-Kid” award that I taped to my bedroom wall, facing the Ronald McDonald Senior Living Center that I had erected next to my hamper.

I came home late one night with my latest acquisition—a Roman Empire themed Happy Meal, decorated like the Coliseum, with lions dipping gladiators in sweet and sour sauce—to find my whole family sitting in a brightly lit living room.

My father stood up, walked over to me, and gently took my Happy Meal from my hands.  My mother gave me hug and directed me to the sofa next to her.  My brother, a good four inches taller than the last time I’d seen him, looked worried.  The cardiganed man on my other side, who introduced himself as Dr. Burger, said that he was there to help.

I looked at the ground and saw a suitcase.  This was actually happening.  I asked if I go up to my room and get something.  Dr. Burger said that I could not, and my family nodded in agreement.  They wouldn’t even let me see my boxes one last time.

I was taken to the Ronald McDonald Home for Wayward Teens, and shared a room with a young man who was battling addictions to methadone and the little animal figurines that came in boxes of Red Rose tea.  For weeks I was under constant surveillance, and if I tried to stack something on top of something else, I was given a shot of electricity and placed on the “no dessert” list for that night.

I was so happy when it was time to go home that I did not notice the back roads route we took to avoid the strip of fast food restaurants.  There was a “Welcome Home” banner above our television, and a wide open space on my bedroom floor.  It was like being in another kid’s room.

The other day I saw a boy carrying a Happy Meal, probably made from recycled Chicken McNuggets.  The boy looked happy.  I hope I did too.

Thanks to Jay Kaplowitz for the topic.

Mash-Up, May 28: David Bouchier, Clay Morgan, Leanne Shirtliffe

This week we review an essay from humorist David Bouchier, a blog post from Clay Morgan at eduClaytion.com, and a column from Leanne Shirtliffe that was published in the Calgary Herald.

David Bouchier is an award-winning essayist for National Public Radio and author.  Originally from England, he relocated to New York’s Long Island, in search of, I imagine, more traffic.  His humor column “Out of Order” appeared in the regional Sunday edition of the New York Times for ten years until 2003.  The Song of Suburbia, a collection of humorous vignettes about trying to make it in the suburbs, is ever at my side.

David Bouchier’s writing is polished, lively, and funny, and he regularly treats the public to a featured essay on his website.  His most recent such piece, The Anxious Traveler (May 27), highlights the comic irony of our oppression by the very means of travel that were designed to empower us, a topic near and dear to my heart.

Our next piece comes from Clay Morgan via his website, eduClaytion.  Clay is a writer, professor, and speaker from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He has a particular interest in using pop culture references to reach a generation of students that are often considered unreachable, as Clay explains in this guest post that appeared on Lessons From Teachers and Twits.  His ebullience is part and parcel of his work, and every visit to eduClaytion puts me in a good mood.

This week, Clay writes a touching and funny memoir of “Macho Man” Randy Savage, a professional wrestler who brought life to the World Wrestling Federation from 1985 to 1994, and whose own life ended on May 20th when he suffered a heart attack while driving his truck and crashed into a tree.  Clay’s prose resurrects those gladiators in colorful briefs, sparring with metal folding chairs, and catapulting off the ropes onto their supine adversaries’ glistening chests and faces.

I saw the moves all over again: the body slam, the pile driver, the back body drop, the airplane spin, the gorilla press gutbuster.  Was it honest athletic competition, or staged entertainment?  Either way, I was glad it happening on the television instead of in my living room.

And last, but not least, comes a piece from Leanne Shirtliffe, who blogs at IronicMom.com about her misadventures raising twins.  Her work will bring a laugh if you have children, or even if you don’t have children but have seen examples of them on television.  Her article titled “Water, kids, and failed experiments” (Calgary Herald, May 26) is about keeping your cool when your child discovers the garden hose.

What is it with kids and hoses?  Sigmund Freud had an explanation, but this blog is geared towards a general audience.  Leanne wisely ignores the psychology, and takes her child’s fascination with aplomb and humor; a lesson in parenting, and a lesson in writing.

And that’s a wrap.  Enjoy the weekend.