Thursday, March 25, 2010


Thought I'd stick with the lighter stuff another day at least. This is something I wrote about six years ago and didn't know where to send it to get published. Then, I thought--I bet I could sell it to myself! I didn't get the price I wanted, but nothing's perfect, is it?

Genealogy/By Les Edgerton

For the longest time, I've been urging my twelve-year-old son Mike to quit that stupid middle school he goes to and get a good-paying job at the Woodvale Shopping Outlet 7-11 out on Highway 12.

"Look at all the advantages," I've said, feeling for the umpteenth time that my words were traveling through the space between his ears. "Most kids wait till they're sixteen and drop out of school to get their first position behind the counter. You'll have a four-year jump on those mugwumps. Think ahead. I wish I had when I was your age! I'll help you, you know. I've got a source for fake I.D.'s, the whole schmear. My guy can even whip you up a graduation certificate that you can't tell from the real ones, case The Man shows up." "The Man" being the truant officer who patrols this area, harassing decent, hard-working kids on behalf of something called the "system."

"You're big for your age, Mike," I said, in my concluding argument. "You'll have no trouble at all, passing for sixteen."

Mike's got this whacky idea that if he stays in school and graduates he'll be able to go to college and become a doctor.

A doctor!

"Have you forgotten last summer when you fainted when you fell off the slide and broke your leg and saw a little blood? You think a doctor faints at the sight of a tiny little smear of red? That's a doctor that's not going to last long before he's driving a Yellow Cab on the graveyard shift!"

"It wasn't the blood," he said, in that irritating argumentative tone preteens seem to favor these days. "It was the bone sticking out."

Right. Like the sight of a dinky little white stick would make someone pass out!

"Whatever you say," I answered, more than a hint of sarcasm in my voice and probably a smirk on my lips, which I couldn't hold back. We both knew what it was that caused him to keel over and it wasn't some minuscule little bone fragment.

"Well, you better get more used to work than you are now," I said. "Doctors work twenty-two hour days, seven days a week. They don't even have time to brush their teeth before they have to stick somebody's heart back in their chest cavity or do mouth-to-mouth on some wino who's choked on their Boone's Farm. I can't even get you to make your bed on a consistent basis. And, when was the last time you picked up your underwear? I see a pair right now over in the corner that have been laying there at least a week."

That was a mistake. His eyes lighted up when he learned he wouldn't have to brush his teeth 7/52. That's all he picked up out of all I'd said. A major perk in his mind.

I tried to counter that with the many benefits of a convenience store career.

"Slurpys," I said. "All the Slurpys you can guzzle down. All day long. And magazines. Have you thought about all the magazines you can read? For free??? While your moron friends are studying calculus and logging time in detention popping their pimples, you'll be flipping September's Playmate of the Month foldout open and reading informative and educational articles. Without having to even give up your allowance to buy it or having to hide it under your mattress! Not only that, but by the time you're sixteen, you'll be the assistant manager already. On the day shift! Do you realize people in the convenience business will kill to snag the day shift? And bossing around those slackers who waited too long and fell subsequently far behind you from the gitgo in their own shortsighted career paths."

None of my logic and arguments seem to work. He's bound and determined to stay in school. All I can do is hope he comes to his senses before it's too late and he arrives at the ripe old age of sixteen and finds out he's in line with twenty-nine other dropouts for the same job he could have had just for the asking four years earlier. Those four years will go by faster than he thinks.

I just don't want Mike to make the same mistakes I've made when I was his age. I think most dads can relate. Like Hitler said, "Youth is wasted on the young." Which is the real reason "Mein Adolf" founded the Hitler Youth. To help kids realize before it was too late they were throwing away their salad days along with the salad dressing. Hitler was lucky. He had a whole country at his disposal and didn't even have to do much to gain the people's support. Just make a few trains run on schedule and he becomes a regular god! Or was that that Italian guy... No matter.

Would that I'd been so fortunate when I was a young lad!

But, no. I had the kind of father who was a miserable follower. A Merino sheep, trés-docile variety. Pappy looked around our neighborhood and saw that all the other dads made their kids go to school and sure enough, there I was, sitting on my butt in third-hour English with all the rest of the little lambs whose fathers bought into the Trilateral Commission's clever-but-insidious plan. That "not-so-secret" master plan to keep Americans wage slaves for the rest of our lives by wasting our formative days in studying utterly-useless information solely designed to keep us from thinking for ourselves.

George Orwell, you were sooooo right!!!!!!

There were no 7-11's when I was a boy--kids have it all today!!!--but there was an Conoco gas station on our corner and the owner told me he'd hire me in a minute to sweep his floors and do simple stuff like oil changes and tranny lubes. Think my father would let me quit school and take advantage of this man's generous offer to teach me a useful and high-paying trade?


Oh, I've told Mike more than once about my own father and how I'm trying to provide better opportunities for him than my stinkin' old man gave me, but does it register?


You'd think he'd open his eyes and unplug the wax in his ears around his own house, see what goes on.

I'm speaking of his mother. The woman I generously provided a home and marriage and many, many luxuries and other amenities to, at a time in her life when she was wasting away in college, misspending her valuable time pursuing such "useful" skills as training a mouse to run a maze. Yes, that's right. Training a rodent to go from here to there in a subdivided box. That's all she did in this one class, Psych 101, she was always yammering about. Three hundred sixty-four bucks she laid out at Rosedale Community College for Psych 101 and all you did was feed a rat a piece of Cheez-Whiz every time it made the so-called "correct" turn. For four months this went on. The hardest thing the prof had to do in his so-called "job" was stifle his giggling every time the suckers piled into his classroom and headed for the mouse housing projects in the back. P.T. Barnum was a piker compared to this slickster.

"Oh, yeah, rat lab," I remember mentioning to her at the time, with tongue-in-cheek. "There's a big demand for that out there. I was just looking at the want ads in Sunday's paper and there must have been six and a half columns of ads from big-shot mouse executives searching desperately for experts to train their rats to run mazes. And the pay! You'd be amazed at what these guys are offering for mouse professionals. And that's just with a bachelor's! Don't even ask what master degree holders are getting! If you've got a doctorate, you need to start looking at houses with enough land for a small landing strip for your own private Lear jet that'll be whisking you off to Bermuda and the South of France on your many generously-provided-for vacations."

Back then she used to laugh at stuff like that, say I was the funniest guy she'd ever known. That's all changed.

Boy, and how!

I wish Mike could have seen us together back then. When his mother was a kind, compassionate woman with a rich, warm sense of humor, instead of the shrew she's become and the kind of nagging, whining harpy he's always observed around the house.

Back then, she was more than happy to be married to an inventor-slash-idea man. In those early, halcyon days, she was more than anxious to give her full support, both emotionally and in a practical way--by working a couple of easy jobs--to help further her husband's career. Does she still grant that unconditional and loving succor?

Ha! I wish!

You wouldn't have even asked such a question if you'd been by our house any weekday during the past six years at four-thirty p.m. when she arrived home… and just opened your ears a tiny bit as you were passing by!

You wouldn't believe some of the things she says to me. Screams in that fishwife's shrill, irritating screech she has, I should say. In front of our only child, Mike, the fruit of our collective loins. What she supposes that does to the integrity of our family unit, I can't imagine. She doesn't have a clue what massive, irreversible damage is being done to our son's Id and Super Id when she makes her crude, insensitive, hateful remarks.

Read some Freud, girlfriend!!!

I hate to think about what kind of family he'll create some day. Does the name "Son of Sam" ring a bell???

Just about every day, for instance, she'll come home from her first job, walk in the house and see me hard at work. Does she say, "Hi, sweetheart. Whatcha working on? Would you share with me? I love to hear about your work! Take a break, hon, and come sit by me and tell me about some of the many knotty problems I know you're facing. Maybe you'd like a nice backrub to iron out all those nasty tensions and relieve the mental stress. Can I fix you a tasty rum and coke?"

No. She does not say that or anything resembling that. Not Miss Belinda nee Walker. Not Miss "I've Been Working-So Hard At The RV Factory And My Feet Hurt And Soon I Have To Go To My Telemarketing Job" Belinda. You kidding? You can't imagine a more selfish woman, who's totally into herself and no room for anything in that narrow world as inconsequential as a mere husband who's aged years beyond his chronological age from the never-ending tension she's created with her unreasonable attitude.

No. What she says, almost every time is, "On the couch again, eh? You know, when you get up, there's an imprint on the cover looks exactly like your body? I catch myself thinking it's the pattern they sewed in at the factory and wonder why they chose that. I wonder more why we bought it."

Funny lady!

She knows my work is 99.9% in my mind. Maybe a stranger or layman not familiar with the processes that are crucial to inventing the new products and ideas society desperately wants and needs would imagine I was just lying there daydreaming instead of what I'm actually doing--working my butt off to the bone!!! But, Belinda knows better and yet she elects to lash out at moi (yours truly) with these infantile, hurtful remarks. She also knows that the TV helps me immensely in the thinking process. I'm not really watching "Days of Our Lives" even though to an uninformed eye, it may appear that's what's going on. That's merely a form of white noise that helps me attain the proper frame of mind which only happens to be absolutely necessary for the tough mental drudgery required. I work much the same as a writer does. If I was a famous novelist and had sixty-eight bestsellers out and was lauded on "The Larry King Show" and "Oprah" and "Nick at Nite" would she make such asinine comments?


I'd like to talk to Mrs. Stephen King and see what she has to say. What I'd really like to do is get Mrs. Stephen King over to the house, get her in the kitchen with Belinda and say to her, "Hey. Educate this woman, will ya? Tell her what you say when you walk in on Steve in the Barcolounger and he's staring at the ceiling. Bet what you don't say is, 'Hey, Stevie, you on the Barco again? You know when you get up there's an exact imprint of your body on the leather. Ha, ha.'
We both know the answer to that, don't we?

Unfortunately, not only am I not Hitler nor do I have his historical luck to be in the right place at the right time with the trains and all--I'm not Stephen King either and that puts me at the mercy of a short-sighted and sadly-ignorant woman who doesn't deserve to have the genius of a husband she was fortunate enough to have trapped into that blissful state of matrimony she enjoys.


Mike doesn't take notice of other things, either, that might have a positive influence on his career decisions. Like the times I've put on hold the important work I'm doing to go out and get a job in what usually turns out to be a vain attempt to keep Belinda from her constant yammering. More than once, I've sacrificed my call to the inventing/idea profession to simply shut her up and gain a bit of peace in the household.

Pacify the witch!!! is a crude, but accurate way of describing the sacrifices I make many times!!!

A good example was the time I became a genealogist. It wasn't my first choice, but after poring over the help wanted ads for several weeks and not finding anything I could put my unique abilities and talents to use in, I spotted what seemed at the time to be an interesting offer. It even seemed to be intellectually-challenging and that's what I was after more than anything else. Some kind of work that would stimulate the ol' gray matter, get the lead out, so-to-speak, to coin a phrase.

What the ad wanted was a person who could assist this guy in researching his family's history.

Detective work.

Oh, sure--I figured some of the work would involve boring computers and probably even being stuck in some musty library poring over faded marriage certificates illegibly-written in Olde English and such--but I sensed there might be some travel involved too, and probing interviews with all kinds of interesting people, some of whom might even be famous. If I was lucky, maybe the guy (his name was Aaron B. Rodthistle, according to the ad), would discover he had some one hundred and two-year-old great-aunt or a fifth-cousin living in Bimini and I'd be dispatched to gather vital information from her before she shuffled off her mortal coil (whatever that is!!!) and the critical info was lost forever.

Would I bring my swimsuit to that interview? You decide!

Yeah, well, was I fooled…

As it turned out, my first hunch was correct. I spent days and days at the downtown library--the main branch where all the genealogy stuff was kept--and mostly what I did was walk around asking dumb questions of people in the genealogy department who didn't know squat about genealogy. Look over there," was their most common answer, pointing to some bookshelf way in the back, looked like you should take a cab to get to. "Look under R."

I'd hike my way down to the spot indicated, weaving around the winos who used the library for their naps, only to find sixteen books of Rodthistles alone. I'm supposed to wade through all that, I thought? Yeah, right.

Realizing it was a hopeless cause, I decided to use my time more constructively than in some useless rummaging around in a bunch of moldy books that were hopelessly out-of-date and probably about a different branch of the Rodthistle family than the one I was supposed to research. I'd been working on a process to keep unsightly dandruff off of executives' suit shoulders and was close to a breakthrough. My inventor's instincts told me the solution was hidden somewhere within the magical and fascinating worlds of electro-magneticism and molecular chemistry. Some compound that would repel the nasty flakes away from the material in suit jackets. I knew the answer lay in something simple that no one had thought of. A combination of two common household elements that, if the suit was simply and easily treated with the formula, would cause the offending particles to fly off in the opposite direction like steel shavings do when they come into close proximity with a negative magnet. Something like that. A solution, so simple in hindsight, that I'd smack my forehead in rueful, self-deprecating humor, exclaiming something out loud like, "Boy-o-boy! Doesn't that beat all! This was right in front of my very nose all the time!" A humorous anecdote I could use in my speech should I find myself in Stockholm, accepting a certain very well-known prize… I can see my idea culminated symbolically and expressively in my imaginative mind. It appears to me as a cartoon, in which a delighted Armani-clad CEO is watching tiny flakes whiz away from him, disappearing in a mist of white and falling harmlessly to the floor as he stands outside his firm's board room, a sign informing, "IMPORTANT MEETING TODAY!!! BE THERE OR BE SQUARE!!! I find it hard sometimes to articulate exactly what I see in my head, but it doesn't matter, as I know exactly what I'm seeing and that's all that really matters for the inventing process. If I can see it, I can do it. Ghandi or Vince Lombardi or someone like that said that and it's true. I've even got that posted above my workspace in the garage. I typed it out and framed it and I look at it every time I go out there to work, taking a silent moment to let the words make their impact. It doesn't say, "If I can see it, I can do it"--substitute "you's" for the "I's" and that's what it says, literally, but you get the idea.

Anyway, instead of frittering away precious research hours on Mr. Aaron B. Rodthistle's stupid family crap--the bit of investigating I did complete revealed a family tree more boring than you could possibly imagine--I invested my time instead perusing the many informative volumes in the hard science section. Once or twice, I was this close to a breakthrough, but even though I came tantalizingly near to the elusive answer I sought, I was unable to unlock the formula (that was probably right in front of that aforementioned nose!) during my time there. It wasn't wasted time, though. Not in my estimation. In my mind, every dead end you encounter leads you closer and closer to the right cul-de-sac! Take that for some constructive criticism, you "the glass is half-empty" negatoids!!!

I may still have been employed in that useless and (in my opinion) vain work on behalf of Mr. Aaron B. Rodthistle, when one day, whilst poring over a college-level chemical text, one of the librarians who'd gotten to recognize me and knew my mission, came over and asked if I was still doing research for Aaron B. Rodthistle.

"Why, yes," I replied. "I'm taking a brief sabbatical from my investigation at the moment, but shortly I'll be cracking those hundred-year-old death certificates, you bet!"

She snorted. "You know, we all think he's a 'lune,' don't you? It's why he hired you. He won't come around here any more because we all fall down laughing every time he comes in the door."

"What's so funny?"

"HE'S AN ORPHAN!" She hooted that out and over behind the counter by the autobiographies and biographies of the famous and near-famous, I saw two librarians collapse behind the desk in paroxysms of laugher when they heard her say that.

"Why does that make him a nut?"

"Why?" she said. "Why??? Why is because he isn't researching his birth parents. Couldn't care a fig about his birth parents. He's researching his adopted family." She pulled out a hanky and swiped at the corner of her eye. "Father's side mostly."

"You're kidding," I said, trying to sort out what this information meant. "Why?"

She sniggered. "We all asked him the same thing. Know what he said?"

I didn't and admitted as much.

"He said…get this…he said his adoptive parents were his only real parents and his biological mother and father didn't count. They'd abandoned him so they didn't matter in his eyes. He only wanted to learn about his heritage…on the adopted parents' side!" She burst into uncontrollable giggles at this last and walked away, shaking her head from side to side.

Well, what could I do? I mean, the guy was an obvious Fruit Loop of the mixed nut variety. While the money was good and the work easy--if you didn't mind being bored into an early grave called "Ennui"!!!--in good conscience, I couldn't keep on backing up to take my check from this fool. Not to mention the harm this might do to my professional reputation should it ever leak out the inane pursuit I'd been involved in!

So I quit.

Do you think Belinda would have empathy for my situation?



I won't repeat the tirade she launched into the day she came home, expecting me to be down at the library as I had been those many long weeks (three) on behalf of Rodthistle's insane pursuit, and found me toiling furiously on the couch. Imagine that for yourself!!! It shouldn't be hard, with what you now know about the woman!

And guess who had just arrived home from school in time to witness her vitriolic harangue? To behold his mom, spittle flying from her mouth as she loosed her invective on her poor, hapless, and bewildered husband?

That's right. My poor, misguided, foolish, overeducated son.

A front-row spectator at this unseemly, savage scene.

"You see?" I said to him, once Belinda had left for that cushy gig she has the nerve to call "work" down at the Speedy Vacuum Cleaner Telemarketing Center. How one can have the balls to call a well-paid and highly-pleasurable activity "work" when it involves chatting for four hours with other housewives, is something I'll never understand. Getting paid good money to gossip over Ma Bell's and Glen Campbell's lines would represent a dream come true for most women of my acquaintance!!!

"You see, Mikey?" I began, the second she slammed the door on her way to that dream job. Loosened it right off the hinges. Just another chore created for the ol' job jar for yours truly by you-know-who… It just never ends… But, I digress!!!

I went on. "Son, your daddy's plight may well become your fate, if you persist in that ill-advised course you've set sail on. You may wake up one day, forty-one and a half years old, at a time when you should be anticipating the golden years of retirement, and find yourself chained to a woman like your mother--a woman whose only aim in life is to cut her husband's balls off at the knees! That what you want? Well, Mister… that's precisely where you're headed if you stubbornly cling to this foolish school thing."

Sensing he didn't quite grasp the same picture of his future I saw oh-so-clearly, I went on. "It's the same old historically-proven domino effect," I said. "You keep going to school, let's say. Let's suppose you even graduate from middle school. You with me so far?"

He nodded.

"The next thing you'll want to do is go to high school. Is that a fair assumption? Can you see where that might happen?"

Again, he nodded. Maybe I was getting through to him after all!!!

"Okay, then. Put yourself in the future. You're standing in a big mob of people with teal-blue robes on and mortar-boards on their heads. You've all just been praised to the rooftops by a bunch of middle-aged geezers who've spent the past two hours telling you you're the "hope of the future" and "the brightest of the bright" and other such pablum and ludicrous drivel. You're human--you like praise like all of us do--and you buy into this crapola they've been dishing out. Follow?"

He claimed he did by yet another nod.

"Right after this graduation charade, you'll probably go to some classmate's house for a big party, where you'll get drunk on 3.2 beer and wind up in a bedroom with Easy Sally, getting some honey on your stinger. I know what I'm talking about here, son. Don't ask how I know."

Again he nodded, more vigorously than the other times and I noted he had that same gleam in his eye that he did when he found out doctors don't have time to brush their teeth.

I cut to the chase.

"What'll happen after that, is that you'll get this bright idea to go on to college and what do you suppose will happen there?"

He shrugged his shoulders. I could tell from the distant look in his gaze that he was still back there with Easy Sally at the graduation party. Kids…

"I'll tell you what will happen." I grabbed him by his shoulders, pulled him sharply toward me until our noses were inches apart. I had his attention now!

"You'll be going to rat lab and buying into the same propaganda your mother did and your brain will atrophy away until it's the size of a diseased black walnut. What little of it you've still got, that is! You'll end up conning people on fixed incomes to purchase life insurance or maybe find yourself back at your old middle school, leading little morons down the same deadened path you just traveled on, but now on the other side of the desk as a "teacher." (I spat out the last word.) "You know what else will happen, Mike? You'll think you have to marry a girl who also has a college education. Don't smile. You will. You'll look down at those girls who had the smarts to quit school early and make something of themselves. You won't even look at the girls who could do you some good, stand by you in your climb up the 7-11 ladder of success. You'll want one of those silly college girls instead. Someone like…" I hesitated and took a deep breath. "… your mother. You want that?"

He didn't know what to say. He was obviously stricken by the horrible Polaroid of the fate that loomed before him that I'd just shared with him. Dazed and downhearted and woebegone. It was all over his forlorn little kisser. At that moment, I so desperately wanted to take pity on him. After all, he was my only son and I loved him to pieces! I detested having to do this to him, but the sooner he learned about the real world, the better off he'd be. The truth may hurt, but it's the truth that shall set ye free as it wisely says in Joshua or Deuterotomy or Acts 3:11, somewhere like that.

"Okay," I said, more gently now. "That's one scenario. The certain fate that awaits you if you keep hopping on that yellow bus every morning."

I waited to let that sink in before going on.

"But then…"

Once more, I outlined what could be clearly a more glorious and rewarding future in the convenience store business. When I finished, I reached behind me to the object I'd been waiting to give him. The "deal-clincher" as an aluminum-siding salesman would say.

Without a word, I handed it to him. This was an event that needed no explanation. One of those ageless father-son ritual moments.

The December issue of Playboy Magazine.

The year-end, wrap-up issue, the one with the photos of all the previous year's Playmate's of the Month.

"Here, Mikey," I said, after giving him a moment to comprehend what he held in his hands. "This is a glimpse at your future should you choose the right road. While other kids your age will have to sneak around to get their hands on these, you'll have free and easy access to as many as you want. While they're hiding their purloined copies under their mattresses--not knowing that's the first place parents look!--you'll be able to just casually stroll over to Aisle 6 and pick up your own copy… whenever you want!"

I waited until he looked up, my heart gladdened at the emotion I saw expressed there.

"And, best of all--you'll be getting paid serious money to read these!!! You'll also be getting paid to eat all the Slim Jims you want. I've already mentioned Slurpys--you know how much you like Slurpys!!! Hostess Ho-Ho's! At the same time you're knocking down a regular, man-sized paycheck for all this fun you'll be having, picture your former schoolmates. Hunkered down over their six-pound math books, struggling to understand something called 'quantum physics.' How many times do you suppose anyone uses quantum physics in their jobs? That should tell you something right there about the "value" of your so-called 'education!' Think about it. How many times do you suppose someone's boss comes up to them and says, 'Well, Ralph, you know it's time for your year-end review. If you can tell me what year Columbus sailed the ocean blue, you'll get a nice raise and that promotion you've been wanting!' Can you guess how many times that happens in the workplace, Mister Student?"

We talked some more and while I'd like to report Mike saw the wisdom of what I was telling him and quit school on the spot and went down and filled out a 7-11 app, I'd be lying. A victory of sorts was achieved, however.

At the end of our talk, he agreed to at least go down and see if he could snag a part-time job after school. While this isn't the complete triumph I'd hoped for, it represents at least a partial one. I feel confident that once he's on the job and experiences the many benefits therein, he'll take that next step and apply for full-time hours.

I praised him for his mature decision, and in the true nature of the born salesman which I could have been if I'd so desired, ended our talk by letting him in on yet another of the many benefits of the career he was embarking on.

"I haven't even mentioned the uniform," I confided. "Women go bananas over uniforms. Picture yourself in your white shirt with the company logo stitched over the pocket and that snappy azure-blue bow tie! Think that doesn't attract the babes???!!!"

I can't wait to see his mother's face when she learns about the decision he's made.

We'll soon learn who's captain of this ship! I don't think it will prove to be a certain telemarketer!!!


Sarah Ahiers said...

You should have held out for more money - i bet you totally would have caved if you had stood your ground

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I agree with Falen! Great story, Les. I think I'll go home and share it with my middle schooler. Ha ha. :-)

Les Edgerton said...

Thanks, guys! Sadly, Mike is now 20 and didn't take my advice. In fact, he's really messing up--going to college, working and not even close to that middle management job at the 7-11. You work, you slave, you try to give them the benefit of your wisdom... and whadda they do? Follow the crowd!

Oh, well...