Revolt of the Toys

Toys 1

Toys 2

You always know when my three year old grandniece is visiting because our tiny two-room rental house begins to bear an uncanny resemblance to a toy store.  As my wife works from home, having a pile of toys around usually serves as sufficient distraction to allow my wife to take care of her job responsibilities.  Granted, Little One would rather be watching a Disney movie, kidvid on Netflix or (her preference) YouTube videos on my wife’s iPhone.  Hence, the toys.  Even at her young age, I think the kid is addicted to electronic devices.  The upcoming Generation Alpha (those now under five years of age) are more connected to the world than any previous group, including their millennial parents.

We’re not sure how we feel about that.  We’d rather that Little One take time to be a kid and not grow up so fast.  It’s not that we want to hold her back or anything, but watching her glazed eyes mesmerized by the screen is a bit unsettling.  Accordingly, we try to balance the electronic with a healthy dose of low-tech fun.  This includes playing outside with the landlord’s kids, having fun with the cats and dogs, making trips to local play venues and spending imaginative time with the huge number of toys to which she has access.

We have taken on some of the child care duties to allow my niece to go to work without worry.  She lives about 45 minutes from here, so the procedure involves a complicated relay of pick-ups and drop-offs that my wife and her sister have worked out with Little One’s mom.  I have stopped trying to keep track.  What I do know is that Little One stays over with us one or two nights each week.  Although the suitcase that she brings with her clothes usually contains a few toys, it helps to have the toy shop ready to go.

Never for a minute did I stop to ask the toys how they feel about this arrangement.  So I suppose it should come as no surprise that one of her toys decided to take matters into its own hands and speak its mind.  Pixar’s animation studios are about two hours down the road in Emeryville, but they have nothing on us here in Sacramento.

It started in the middle of night.  If a toy wanted to pick a time of day most calculated to capture our attention, this would be it.  While we may be fast asleep, you can be sure that we’re going to sit up and take notice when anything noisy develops anywhere in our tiny house.  Here at home, anyplace you are at the moment is no more than a few feet from any other place.  So it’s not as if a toy’s cri de coeur would stand a chance of being overlooked.

My best guess is that the toys took a vote.  Word is that they eschew any Electoral College type system of representation in favor of a New England town meeting style of direct democracy.  In this election cycle, the nominee was my grandniece’s Minnie Mouse telephone.  In better times, pressing the numeric buttons would result in the playing of recorded messages about visiting Minnie’s clothing emporium.  Turn them into good American consumers while they’re young, right?

Now, it’s not as if we’ve engaged in blatant abuse of the toys, at least not on a level that would warrant retaliation.  Benign neglect, maybe.  Perhaps the Minnie Mouse phone was attempting to serve as the voice of the other toys that were tired of being cast aside in favor of mere images on electronic devices.

At any rate, this is how the deal went down.  My wife and I were fast asleep when my dreams were invaded by a weird mantra that was chanted over and over again.  As I struggled to consciousness, I wondered if there was some type of emergency in the neighborhood that necessitated loud speaker warnings to evacuate immediately.  It sounded just about that ominous and urgent.  “What was that?” I asked my wife, who murmured “I dunno” and immediately returned to dreamland.

What on earth was I hearing?

“Stricky-ah! Stricky-ah! Stricky-ah!  Restricky-ah! Stricky-ah!”

Generally, I sleep so soundly that I wouldn’t wake up if a bomb went off.  But it seemed as if I had finally met my match.  This time, the sheer weirdness of this interruption to my somnolence was enough to keep me awake.  It sounded as if I had walked into an area that was off-limits and had tripped an alarm that was attempting to shout “Restricted!  Restricted!”

I climbed out of bed and headed to the bathroom, quickly realizing that the noise emanated not from outside, but from the toy pile.  The disembodied voice sounded like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.  I touched the Minnie Mouse phone and noticed that it was wet.  Immediately, the phone returned to its normal self as I heard the cheerful, chirpy voice to which I had become accustomed.  “Hello!  This is Minny Mouse!”

Now the toys were just playing mind games with me.  Was I still dreaming?  Was this all a product of my imagination?  And why was the phone wet?  Oh no, I thought, I hope the batteries aren’t leaking acid all over everything.

Padding back from the bathroom, I climbed back into bed and went back to sleep.  Less than five minutes later, it started up again.

“Stricky-ah!  Stricky-ah!  Restricky-ah!  Stricky stricky stricky stricky stricky stricky-ah!  Restricky-ah!”

As I am a lazy so-and-so, I really did not want to mess with it.  So I tossed and turned, went back to sleep and woke up again multiple times, only to find that the revenge of the toys had not let up.

“Restricky-ah!  Restricky-ah! Stri-stri-stri-stri-stricky stricky stricky stricky restricky-ahhh!”

In the morning, my wife filled me in.  Apparently, Little One had taken the Minnie Mouse phone outside to play and had gotten dirt inside it.  Then she took it in the bathtub with her to wash it.  That explained why I felt water when I touched it.  My wife said we would just have to throw it away.  And that was more than fine with me.

We had a lovely Saturday, complete with going out to lunch and attending a birthday barbecue for another three year old member of our extended family.  Little One was present and I had the opportunity to engage in one of my favorite pastimes, taking lots of iPhone pictures.  We capped off the day by watching the Olympics.

Saturday night, I was dead asleep when I bolted awake.  What was that noise?  “Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!”  It sounded as if one of our electronic devices was attempting to send a fax or maybe connect to an old-fashioned dial-up modem.  Oh, good, it stopped.

A few minutes later:  “Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!”  Not again!  It seemed that the nefarious Minnie Mouse phone was not about to give up without a fight.

In the morning, my wife removed Minnie’s batteries.  Later, she took it out to the trash.

Thus endeth the tale of the great 2016 revolt of the toy pile.  And tonight, I get some sleep.

 

 

The Candy Hat Trick

cups

Life in the parsonage, Wednesday afternoon edition:  Cue Alice Cooper singing “School’s Out for Summer.”  My niece just finished her first year of college (and she’s still only 17!) and wanted to hang at the lake with some friends.  About noon, I headed over to my niece’s house to pick up her and the baby and drive them over here.  The poor thing (my niece, not the baby) still doesn’t have a car (we had been lending her mine, which she wrecked a couple of months ago).  They weren’t here long before her brother came over with his girlfriend, who also happens to be my niece’s BFF.  At least I think they’re still BFFs.  You see, I heard about that little juicing incident.  My niece has been getting into this juicing/cleansing thing where she turns berries and peaches and gross stuff like turnips into juice, which is the only thing she consumes for days at a time.  Apparently, she finally talked BFF into trying it with her, a juicing partner if you will.  The only problem is that my niece’s friend likes to eat.  A lot.  (I can really appreciate this.)  Friend went over to niece’s house, they drank a bunch of juice and my niece warned her friend not to go home and eat on top of it.  Well, you know what happened, haha.

Which brings me to my nephews.  Two of them live close by, and I must tell you, these twentysomething guys have stick-to-it-iveness that I cannot help but admire.  I think I need to take a lesson from their perseverance.  One of my nephews was out of work for many months after he was laid off from his job building trusses for new home construction.  He was finally recalled last week, although he’s not too happy about the fact that they stuck him on the icky swing shift, meaning that he may never see his girlfriend again even though they live together.  He’s just happy to have a paycheck again, though.  My other nephew has been working loading trucks in a warehouse for months now, although they still consider him “seasonal.”  Oh, and he works the lovely graveyard shift.  Well, Saturday is his last night at work before he gets laid off again.  This is the second time he’s been through this rigamarole.  They’d rather keep laying off and recalling than taking on anyone permanently.  So he’ll get unemployment until he gets called back a couple of months from now for more “seasonal” work.  Bastards!

Warehouse nephew was over here today helping Homeless Guy #2 with his repair work on the church.  I think he made three or four trips to the hardware store and Home Depot for supplies.  At least one of those trips was to return items that they ended up not needing.  While he was here working, his sister and her maybe-still-BFF took off for the lake, leaving Pastor Mom and Uncle Guacamole to watch Half Pint for, oh, seven hours or so.

I’m guessing that Little One wasn’t feeling too well, as she was particularly fussy today.  We were lucky that she napped, if only for half an hour or so.  The rest of the time, she was acting all weird and clingy.  All of a sudden, she’d start crying for no apparent reason.  I’ve seen it before, but it’s definitely not the norm for her.

With my wife gone for three days, I tried all our usual games and songs in an effort to keep Little One occupied and make things a little easier on Pastor Mom.  Currently, we have the finger pointing game (she points at me and I respond by pointing at her, with accompanying excited oh-my-gosh facial expressions), the Boo game (discussed in a previous post), the color game (I name the colors of each of her hard plastic stacking cups and she repeats them back to me in a language that sounds vaguely like a cross between Japanese and Serbo-Croatian) and the bang toys together to make lots of noise and pretend it’s music game.  Of course, there’s pretzels and chocolate milk (mama has taught her the sign language for “more”) and green beans to dump all over the couch and the floor.  Then we have to love our stuffed animals, Eeyore and Blue Bear and Curious George and Elmo.  And she has her kid videos on Pastor Mom’s phone while Sesame Street reruns blare from the big screen TV.  We love the little rat to pieces, but mama couldn’t return from the lake soon enough today.  Poor Pastor Mom was exhausted.

Homeless Guy #1 showed up over here again this evening, making it the three-nights-in-a-row hat trick.  Possibly emboldened by scoring mini candy bars last night, he again asked for “sweets before I go to bed.”  We didn’t have any more regular candy, but we gave him my stash of individually wrapped sugar-free suckers that have been sticking to the bottom of a jar for at least six months.

I don’t eat that crap anymore.  If it’s not chocolate, who needs it?

Dorothy and the Nabi

elmo dorothy

Now I’ve seen it all.

At my age, there’s not a whole lot that surprises me anymore.  But thanks to my little grandniece, yesterday I had what is, for me, a new experience.

I have attended a birthday party for a goldfish.

If you have a child under the age of five, or if you are familiar with Sesame Street, you probably know what I am talking about.

Apparently, our Muppet friend, Elmo, has a pet goldfish named Dorothy.  And yes, you guessed it, she’s another year older.

The special day was celebrated by adding a birthday cake toy to Dorothy’s fishbowl and by having all the kids demonstrate how they wrapped their gifts for their favorite ichthyologic friend.  Behind the window shade, Mr. Noodle appeared in the cloud window to further demonstrate gift wrapping technique, but not before wrapping himself in orange paper and winding an entire roll of tape around his neck and body.  Silly Mr. Noodle!

Following a segment showing how birthdays are celebrated around the world, Elmo closes by singing a rousing chorus of “for she’s a jolly good goldfish.”

Please tell me that Dorothy doesn’t have her own fan page on Facebook.  Oh, she does, huh?

Unlike Dorothy, my grandniece is not celebrating a birthday this week (she turned one year old about three months ago).  But that didn’t stop us from buying her a present anyway.

Nabi Jr
We found a good buy on a kids’ tablet computer known as a Nabi, Jr.  Now, the Nabi website says this product is for children ages 3 to 7.  But we know Little One is going to have a grand old time with it, judging by the way she plays with all of our iPhones.  We have to keep an eye on our phones or she will swipe them and disappear before we know what happened.  The fact that they may be plugged in to charge will in no way deter her.  She will simply tug on the cord until the phone comes loose.  Once in possession of said phone, she will touch every part of the screen with reckless abandon.  My grandniece’s explorations have resulted in her sending texts to our friends, making phone calls and even deleting most of our apps.

I think I get it.  Our phones are a whole lot more fun than a birthday party for Dorothy the fish.

We figure it won’t be long before Little One will be speaking to us in an intelligible manner, and we know how that scene will go.  I fully expect her first full sentence to be “I want my own iPhone!  Now now now!”

We will cross that bridge when we come to it.  For now, however, we know that she will go crazy over all the colors, the games, the drawing and music — both kids’ tunes and classical (Mendelssohn, anyone?).  Most importantly, she will get to touch every part of the screen and making fun things happen.  At least until she throws it across the room (she likes to fling things).

elephant
My wife and I were playing around with the Nabi after we got it charged up today.  I accessed an app called ABC Color, where, after reaching the letter E, I used the drawing tools that appeared at the bottom of the screen to fill in an outline picture of an elephant with a gray colored pencil.  Like any infant worth his salt, I was unable to stay within the lines.  No problem there; I simply used the eraser tool to make the picture look perfect.

Well, I’d better sign off here and get myself to bed.  I want to make sure to be up in time to see the look on my grandniece’s face when we present her with the Nabi.  And to hear the crash when she flings it into a corner to go play with a spoon or hide behind my mother-in-law’s easy chair.

So good night, and uh, happy birthday, Dorothy!  Or, in your language, glub glub.

 

The Naughty Chair

time out

I have discovered that young children can be tyrants.

My wife and I (okay, mostly my wife) babysit our one year old grandniece at least four days per week while my niece is taking college classes.  We love her dearly and have a blast playing with her.

We spoil her beyond all reason, in the style of aunts and uncles the world over.

We pretty much follow her lead.  Most of the time, she is rather creative and comes up with all sorts of games.  Whatever strikes her fancy becomes the order of the day.

I mentioned last week about her game of pulling the headset cord out of my laptop and sucking on it.  And also the “La La Song” that she sings as a cacophonous duet with my wife. 

Now she has a new game.  It goes like this:  Baby bangs her palm flat on the couch.  Then it’s uncle’s turn to do the same in imitation of her.  Repeat.  Repeat. Repeat 20 more times.  Uncle wonders if she’s going to get tired of this sometime before dinner.  The answer is no.  Attempt to distract baby.  Fail.  Efforts to distract succeed only in annoying baby, who demands to know why you are doing this when the game is not over yet.

No matter what the game is, it is never over until baby says it’s over.  Don’t you know anything, uncle?

When she runs out of creativity, and has already pulled all of her toys out of the cabinet and strewn them across the living room and has grown bored with those, the little princess simply demands to be entertained.  As you know, being entertained upon demand is the royal right of all princesses.  Failure to comply will result in swift and terrible punishment in the form of a royal screaming fit that will jar your nerves from here to tomorrow.  You will not soon forget your transgression against Her Royal Highness, as you will wake up in the middle of the night and think you hear her bawling even though she is two miles away with her mom.

My little grandniece loves music.  Any kind of music.  On the TV, on our mp3 players or one of us singing to her.  She displays a big grin and begins dancing to the rhythm.  This should come as no surprise, as her mom, at the tender age of 17, has a melodious voice that some would kill for.

I’ve been trying to teach her the ABC song.  And “Frère Jacques.”  And “Sur le Pont d’Avignon.”  And “Alouette.”  Even “Les Chevaliers de la Table Ronde” and “La Marseillaise.”  Can you tell that I’m in French mode?  My college student niece has asked me to teach her some French and I’ve been trying to go over some easy phrases with her.

My favorite baby doesn’t know quite how to take all those funny sounding words.  She just stares at me raptly as if to say “You know what, uncle?  You have finally gone and lost your marbles, dude.”

We attempt to capitalize upon the little one’s love of music by using any music available to keep her entertained.  There is always the insipid Baby TV in the background, and then there are the Sesame Street videos that my wife has found online.  I think “Hooray-Hurrah for Broccoli” starring Abby Cadabby is my new favorite.

I don’t have children of my own, so much of this stuff is brand new to me.  Like the way a one year old demands attention.  And I mean demands.  It is fortunate that there are usually three or four adults here, giving us each a break as she toddles gingerly between us.  She discovers her world by placing everything in her mouth and sucking on it.  I have gained a new appreciation for child-proof caps and child-proof locks.

When she gets into something that is off-limits and refuses to take no for an answer, the little one earns a time out in the “naughty chair.”  At her own house, her mom has a cute little seat emblazoned with the logo “Time Out!”  Little Miss Fussbudget hates that seat, as her legs dangle from it and she cannot get off unaided.  Here at the parsonage, she has a tiny green plastic seat that serves as the naughty chair.  The only problem is that she loves this chair and drags it around with her.  It’s not that she wants to sit on it, mind you.  She just wants to suck on its legs.  Take that, Supernanny!

When my grandniece feels she’s not getting enough attention from the adult upon whom she is currently focused, or when she gets tired or when she doesn’t feel well, all bets are off.  She expresses her displeasure in the only way she knows how:  By wailing at a volume that can be heard over in the next county.

We try to ensure that she has regular naps, but this is becoming increasingly problematic.  No matter how tired she is, she does not want to go to sleep when there is the risk of missing something.  And there are enough of us around that this would be pretty much always.

Her glassy-eyed look is a dead giveaway for how tired she is.  But just try to put her down and the siren show gets going.  Today, Nana had to rock her until she finally fell asleep on her.  And then she rocked her some more, knowing that the moment she was put down in her crib, she’d start screaming.  Which she did.

It is difficult to say no to this little girl about anything, no matter how inconvenient it is.  Not just because we love spoiling her, but also because it causes her to pitch a fit.  In that respect, she can be a rather demanding despot.

But when you really think about it, why shouldn’t she be?  She knows how to get what she wants.

And, as they say in the funny papers, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

 

NaBloPoMo November 2013

Uncle Guacamole

pumpkin

My mother called last night and asked whether I am depressed because I am unemployed.  I assured her that such is not the case, that it is so nice to relax and to be able to do what I want to do rather than what I have to do.  But you know how it is, mothers are always worried, so they are hard to convince.

I wish you had been here today, Mom.  Then perhaps you’d understand.

My niece has college classes very early on Wednesday mornings, so she saved some time by bringing her baby over here yesterday in the evening.  The little one was with us all night and most of the day today.  At one year old, she is a handful for my wife and mother-in-law to handle together.  It is a wonder that my niece, or any mother, can retain her sanity.  I have learned that, at this age, they require attention every minute.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again:  There is nothing like being surrounded by extended family.  Many humorous and maddeningly frustrating moments result, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  I just soak it all in and bask in the glow.

The baby takes a few steps here and there, but mostly she toddles back and forth and it is necessary to keep an eye on her at all times.  She is fond of opening and closing cabinets, hiding behind furniture, pulling on cords and knocking things over.  Today, we brought over her favorite toy, a doll-sized stroller that she likes to push about without a doll in it.  Her latest gift was a plush Eeyore that is supposed to be Halloween-themed, but looks to me as if it has antlers on its head.  I call it Rudolph the Red-Nosed Eeyore, and the little one loves to cuddle it.

Little Miss Trouble wanders between us, checking on who is willing to give her attention at any given moment.  All the while, we have Baby TV playing in the background.  If you are not familiar with this British-based Fox franchise, let me just say that after about five continuous hours, you feel like you’re getting soft in the head and your brains are turning to a soupy mush.  But the Bug wiggles her diapered bottom and dances to the music, so we get a lot of laughs and have no choice but to keep the baby shows playing.

Last week, I ended up sharing some guacamole with the Bug at a family get-together.  Then last night we had some overripe avocados, so I made a fresh batch.  Guess who crawled over for a taste.  Now my wife is trying to teach the baby to call me Uncle Guacamole.

Other than that, the day was uneventful, except for the time my wife was holding the baby in her lap when the Bug suddenly thrust her head backward into my wife’s face, nearly giving her a black eye.  Ouchie!

Oh, and then my niece came over with a friend and a pumpkin after her classes were done for the day.  They sat out on the walk with Little Miss Fussy and carved a pumpkin.  After that, we watched the little one so that my niece could take her mother out to dinner to butter her up.  It worked.  She returned with her septum pierced.

See, Mom?  You have nothing to worry about.  My cup runneth over with love. 

Stupid Signs Seen in Retail Establishments

Listen up, business owners!  Today’s topic is:  Stupid signs in retail establishments that annoy the crap out of me.

These are signs that are not cute, are not funny and generally bespeak the fact that the owner and/or manager is a cretin with the IQ of a cockroach.  The fact that the establishment believes that its customers will enjoy such signs is indicative of its belief that the patrons are as soft in the head as the management.

So without further ado, I present to you the top four items on my list of infamy:

in God we trust

In God we trust, all others pay cash.

These days, most stores do not accept checks for obvious reasons:  Too often, they are worthless.  Cash is backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government (although the bank will send a counterfeit bill directly back to the merchant, but that is another issue entirely) and credit card payments (with proper I.D.) are guaranteed.  I cannot fault businesses for wanting to be paid.  If this means not accepting personal checks, I am fine with that.  I occasionally run across a business that does not take credit cards due to the fees involved, and I can accept that as well.  But please do not insult my intelligence.  Prominently display a sign describing what forms of payment you accept.  Please do not bring God into it.  Not only is this blasphemous, but it gives you away as a hick that is not worthy of my patronage.

you break it

Lovely to look at and lovely to hold, but if you break it consider it sold.

Aww, what a cute rhyme.  This informative sign immediately tells me three things:

  1. Children not welcome here.  I definitely would not bring my little grandniece into such an establishment.  Everyone knows that children like to touch things; in the case of my grandniece, she has to put them in her mouth and taste them.  Yes, parents are responsible for controlling their children in public.  However, there is a limit to what a parent can do.  Children will be children and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Even if you are holding your little one tightly in your arms, there is no guarantee that he or she will not suddenly thrust out an arm and unintentionally knock over one of your precious pieces of inventory.  And guess what?  My grandniece doesn’t have any money.  But I do.  And you’re not getting any of it, sucker.
  2. Customers with disabilities not welcome here.  I am probably lucky if I can get a wheelchair through the door of your shop.  Having surmounted that hurdle, however, I now have to deal with maneuvering tight little corners and narrow aisles so that you can get the maximum amount of stock into the postage stamp that you consider a store.  If, in the process, a wheel should happen to hit the edge of one of your displays and jar loose an item that a previous customer has replaced too close to the edge, I will have the pleasure of arguing with you (and probably the local constabulary) about why I am not paying for your overpriced schlock.  The same goes for those of us who, while still able to stand on their own two feet, have balance issues and might end up breaking something when quickly grabbing onto a shelf to avoid falling.  But really it’s not a problem, as it is obvious that you don’t need our money or our business.
  3. You are an ass who does not understand costs of doing business.  Your sign is forcing me to assume that you are an uneducated peddler who failed to graduate from high school and does not have even the most rudimentary understanding of economics.  So allow me to educate you.  Breakage/spoilage is a cost of doing business.  (Ask your accountant how to deduct this from your income taxes.)  If you are unprepared to assume this risk, or your paper thin profit margin does not allow for this, get out of business.  The fact that you wrongheadedly attempt to pass these costs onto your customers will not bother most patrons who walk through your door… until they break something.  If your merchandise is really that valuable, make sure it is enclosed in a locked case the way jewelry stores do.

Note:  Just because a retailer posts such a sign does not necessarily impose liability upon a customer who accidentally breaks an item.  How much a hapless customer must pay (if anything) largely depends on the law of negligence in your state or country.

helen waite

Our credit manager is Helen Waite.  If you need credit, go to Helen Waite.

Ooh, now we’re getting back into religious territory again.  No matter, I need to make an appointment with Ms. Waite, please.  I need to meet with her to discuss my excellent credit rating, my superb purchasing power and why your sorry business will not be the beneficiary of any of my disposable income.  In my magnanimity, however, I have added your establishment to my Christmas list.  Your gift this year will be a recording of “I Gave Her the Ring, She Gave Me the Finger.”

free beer

Ye Old Announcement:  FREE BEER!  December 32nd

I actually saw this one today when the family was having lunch at Shakey’s Ye Old Public House (otherwise known as pizza parlor) in Oroville.  This type of sign is the progeny of the old-fashioned candy store notice in which the proprietor announced “Free Candy Tomorrow” — and never took the sign down.

I so wanted to take a bit of white paint and a brush and very carefully change the “3” to a “2.”  I wonder if anyone would notice, not to mention how the management would react to the lines outside the door a few days before Christmas.  My guess is that the sign would mysteriously disappear without delay.  Which is a step that the management should take immediately.

Idiots.

 

An Open Letter to My Niece About Drugs

To my niece, who I love dearly:

Yesterday, I tried to help you with an essay you were writing for psychology class. It brought back many memories of my own college days.  After reading an article on the effects of alcohol and various types of illegal drugs on the brain and nervous system, you were supposed to write a short theme expanding upon how the information presented applies to your own life.  I suggested that you must have a wealth of anecdotes to draw upon from the experiences of your high school classmates.  (I sincerely hope you have no personal experiences to relate, and if you do, I’m not sure I want to know.  But let’s talk about it anyway. I know your two brothers use marijuana and I am concerned that your love for them might influence you in the wrong direction.)

“I don’t know what things are like in high school these days,” I told you, “but when I was in school a long, long time ago in the ‘70s, drugs were a really, really big thing.”

Without skipping a beat, you responded “it’s just like the 70s again.”

Well, then.  I guess drugs are everywhere.  Umm…

I have lots of stories I could tell you, dear niece, but I have a very distinct feeling that they wouldn’t even come close to the ones you could tell me.

Despite having graduated from a suburban high school in a wealthy school district and then having attended the local “drug central” state university campus, I never used drugs.  Not once.  Never experimented, never even was curious.  Bill Clinton may not have inhaled, but in my case, I just said no.  To do this, I had to be an island in the midst of a swirling sea of pot smoke, pills and worse.  And I had some close calls.

Drugs scared the crap out of me, and I ran away as fast as I could.  I spent four years of my young life doing the bob and weave.

Alcohol was different.  It didn’t scare me, it just disgusted me.  Dorm mates would get drunk and pull the fire alarm at two in the morning, causing those of us living at the top of the residence hall tower to roust out of bed and run down 21 flights of stairs to gather out in the below zero temperatures of the quad in our PJs.  Keg parties would be held on Saturday night; on Sunday morning, the dorm carpets would be sopping and sticky so that sloshing my way to the elevator (squish, squish) caused my socks to get wet.  The pervasive smell of beer and vomit was just another day in paradise.  The Who’s classic tune “Teenage Wasteland” comes to mind.  (I’m sure you can find it on You Tube, my dear.)

I remember celebrating a friend’s birthday with a bunch of students in a bar down on Quail Street and ordering an amaretto sour.  I didn’t even know what it was, but I had heard that it was pretty sweet and figured I had a chance of being able to sip at it without gagging.

I found beer as revolting as it was ubiquitous.  To this day, I do not know how my father (or anyone) drinks it.  “It’s an acquired taste,” Dad tells me.  Ugh, bully for you, Dad.

Then there was the wine.  The student choice appeared to be a cheap rosé called Lancer’s, often consumed with local favorite Freihofer’s chocolate chip cookies.

Let us not forget the many variations of Cuba Libre that were passed around.  One type involved buying cans of Coke out of the soda machine, drinking half the can and filling the rest with rum.  Then there was “rum and cherries,” served in a Dixie cup, that contained just a smidge of Coke for coloring.  I’m probably too old to use the word “yucky,” but there you have it.

Although I tried to fake it for a while by taking a sip of whatever was being served, about midway through college I had an epiphany that made me decide I wasn’t going to put up with it anymore.  Funny thing is, nothing dramatic happened to push me in that direction.  I was at a party at a dorm across campus, someone put a plastic cup of beer in my hand, and I proceeded to sip at it, trying very hard not to make faces at the horrible taste.  I walked around with it as a prop, as I always did, and finally braved a few more sips.  I realized it wasn’t as terrible as I had heretofore imagined and I drank about half the cup.  It was at that point that I woke up.  “This is not me,” I thought, “this is not who I want to be.”  I set down my beer, walked out of the building and never touched a brew again.  I had finally had enough of playing games for the sake of fitting in.  After that, I would just tell people that I didn’t drink.  If that made me a wussy, tough cookies.

The article that you were assigned to read, dear niece, mentioned something called a “keg stand.”  This is a phrase I had never heard of before.  I had the distinct impression that it did not refer to a platform on which to set the keg.  So, of course, I had to look it up.  Your assignment descriubed it as a dangerous form of binge drinking.  Turns out it’s an acrobatic drinking game (thanks, Wikihow).  What’ll they come up with next?  Sheesh.

In my first year of college, I quickly learned that a bong was not the sound that the carillon made to strike the hour.  I also learned that “hits” did not refer to music and that a “tab” did not refer to a bar bill or a typewriter key.  But then there were lots of strange terms I had to learn in college.  Many of my dorm mates hailed from Long Island and had a vernacular of their own.  A “pisser” was not a urinal; it meant that you were quite a character.  A “piece of work” was not an assignment to be turned in for credit; it meant that you were a hopeless nerd.  Furthermore, “taking a dump” did not mean that you were going out to empty the trash and “tossing your cookies” did not have anything at all to do with Freihofer’s.  And “worshipping the porcelain god” was decidedly not something that one did in church.  I’m sure all this stuff carries totally different monikers today, dear niece, which is far out, man.

Living in the college dormitories was intolerable for me; I made a go of it for two years before settling for a cubbyhole in a single room occupancy firetrap of a hotel downtown.  Being straitlaced resulted in merciless teasing that got old after a while.  And I found myself in a no-win situation involving eight students in a suite trying to make do with one bathroom.  I won’t go into details here, but it wasn’t pretty.

The swirl of pot smoke never seemed to end.  If I walked into the suite and they were at it again, I would turn around and walk out.  I’d take a bus downtown or wander around the campus.  The big question should have been:  Why isn’t anyone calling the cops?  The answer, of course, was that the city police stayed out of the campus and the Kampus Kops turned a blind eye.  The administration didn’t give a flip.

As a freshman (first time away from home and all that), I was terribly naïve and very nearly stumbled into disaster one day.  I should preface this story by explaining that I was caught up in a nightmarish game of Musical Roommates.  My first roommate, a very friendly guy, left me after three days to go bunk with his homie down the hall.  My next roommate got homesick and let after a couple of weeks.  At this point, I was paired with an older student, a druggie who did not appreciate wimps like me who told the residence staff just what was going on (which I finally did after walking in on him and his girlfriend doing the nasty).  My lovely roommate found the perfect way to get back at me.  He knew my Achilles’ heel:  Food.  In this case, homemade brownies.  His sex partner had made an entire pan, cut into nice little squares, and wouldn’t I like to have one?  I wanted so badly to take one, and it took all my willpower to say no.  I had read something once about druggies consuming marijuana that way.  Only later did I learn that the brownies were laced with hashish.

Pills of all kinds were for sale in our dorm.  The local drug dealer lived two doors down and across the hall from me; he kept his wares stashed in one of his dresser drawers, beneath his bulky sweaters.  He warned me that I would get hurt if I told anyone.  I have no doubt that he was telling the truth.

I suppose the ultimate in my college experience of dodging the ever-present barrage of drugs occurred at a party I attended in my senior year.  I was one of the editors of our student newspaper and an end-of-semester bash was held by the staff at another editor’s home downtown.  It was a three-story Victorian and they took advantage of the party possibilities that this arrangement afforded.  I walked in the front door to find people milling around with cups of beer.  Nothing unusual there.  Then I saw the sign.  “Liquor, first floor.  Pot, second floor.  Hard stuff, upstairs.”  I turned around, tore open the door and walked as fast as I could to the nearest bus stop.

And so, dear niece, if indeed it is the 1970s again in your high school and now your college, I feel for you.  I truly sympathize with what you are going through and I hope, for your sake and that of your little daughter, that you will emulate your uncle by turning and running the other way as fast as you can.

I know I’m over fifty years old and that I can’t possibly understand the challenges that your generation is facing today.  But I like to think I know a thing or two about peer pressure and how it is possible to respect yourself enough to say no.

And one other thing.  I love you and I kind of want you to be around for a while.