Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Other Thing McDonald’s Does Well

2013-12-13 17.26.23

If you were blessed with healthy children, congratulations. That is a powerful bit of good fortune. If said children are still little, you should ready yourself for something that’s coming no matter what: There’ll be one crack in that sheetrock of parent-child relations you’ll have to slap some spackle on, and you won’t know the best way to do it. That imperfection is called laziness. I hated chores when I was a kid and so did you. And so do/did/will your kids. Childhood laziness isn’t limited to dumping the trash or pulling weeds, either. Sometimes chores come in the form of studying, in the form of homework and putting in the effort to get good grades. It’s all work and every kid hopes if they ignore it it’ll go away. I still do. Sometimes it’s easier to do things yourself and let the little leeches keep watching television or playing games, but you know you’ll create a serial loser if you make a habit of that. So what do you do?

Sorry, no magic answer here. But I can tell you how I dealt with it. One of the ways at least. When my kids had not gotten to an assigned duty by the time they should’ve, or when they came home with a lousy grade simply because they blew off the studying and I knew it, I made them stand before me and repeat a particular sentence: Would you like fries with that?

English: French fries currently sold at restau...

English: French fries currently sold at restaurant of McDonald’s Co. Japan Ltd. 日本語: 日本マクドナルドで販売されているフライドポテト(マックフライポテト)。(Mサイズ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes I made them repeat it like a mantra. This attitude toward work and school they’d adopted being what it was, getting this phrase down early would prepare them for the futures that certainly awaited. Look on the bright side, I’d say. You’ll get lots of fries, maybe a burger every once in a while, for free. And depending on which store they stick you in, you’ll probably get to see lots of your friends from inside the drive-through window.

At fourteen my daughter landed her first job: McDonald’s. I hadn’t even known kids under sixteen were legal to put on the payroll. In our state fourteen was the minimum legal age for employment, but strict rules regarding school and working-hours were enforced. I remember taking her to work that first day. She was so nervous and unsure of herself that I was helpless to put the kibosh on the lame-ass platitudes. Watching her slump alone into McDonald’s swamped me with that same wave of daddy gut-wrench that twisted me all up when I watched her hesitate halfway into a school bus her first time. There goes my baby. Don’t nobody do her wrong.

I remember thinking that I couldn’t do it—I couldn’t collect money, engage a hundred personalities, or prepare food and bag it day after day. And particularly not with all that mercurial movement and timing. My poor little girl. And to make things worse, it hit me how I had in essence laid waste the dignity of her new job throughout all the years of being her dad. Would you like fries with that?  I had been so clever, so effing funny. I hoped she’d forgot all that. About me. But really, what reason did I have to worry? This job thing wouldn’t last a week. Maybe not a whole day. She was too lazy around the house. I hadn’t done my job well enough for something like this.

When I picked her up at the end of her shift, she was wearing her new uniform—along with the very last thing I expected to see on her: a smile. Instead of announcing she’d had enough, she was proud of herself and ready to earn a paycheck. She was worn out, but the good kind of worn out, she said. Her bosses were helpful and everybody was really nice. Even a school friend of hers worked there, and they were put on the same shift for the coming week. So I took her to work the next day, and the difference from yesterday was the difference between plummet and soar. Now she wasn’t panicked. I took her to work many more times. I met the store supervisor, who told me how proud I should be of my daughter. I heard that I had raised a one-of-a-kind little girl there. She was hard-working and efficient and friendly and all kinds of good stuff that I sensed (really really hoped) was no schmooze. And I must’ve been right about that because they promoted my shiftless and sofa-bound offspring to assistant manager surprisingly fast, and to store manager soon as she turned sixteen.

I felt the jerk for my fries with that punishment-humor. Always will. The internet is puke-full of McDonald’s horror stories. I get it. I’m rubbing kitty-fur backwards here. Doesn’t change what was. McDonald’s did my job, really. They took a timid and couch-friendly fourteen-year-old and gave her a work ethic. She was proud of that first paycheck and she had every reason to be. She was even pissed off about the taxes, I remember, just like a grown-up. Wah…Dad?  She stayed at her first real-world job, not for a week, but for over two years before she accepted another offer. All the good stuff she picked up at McDonald’s though—the stay-with-it, the set-an-example, the find-the-funny—remained with her from then on. And maybe, too, I didn’t do all that bad for my own part. Helps to think so.

Today she passed the week-long battery of finals on her way to nurse-angel. Yeah, proud.




Another kid tells me a joke about the (fill in the blank) and the harelip. No idea what a hair lip is, but apparently it’s somebody who talks funny. Every joke I hear after that about this hair lip character involves the comedian of the moment talking in a particular whiney voice while on his way to a punch-line based on a pun created by the hair lip’s odd pronunciation of a word. I carry on as the only person in the world, it seems, unacquainted with the hair lips. I estimate that hair grows inward and does something to a guy’s lip that messes with his speech.

One day at work I’m in the office when a secretary’s mom stops by. The mom speaks, and I hear it. I hear that voice. I’m figuring Mom’s a comedienne. I’m waiting for little miss to grin or snicker. Oh Mom. Stop it. You’ll embarrass me. Waiting for Mom’s punch-line. But she keeps it up, keeps talking like one of those hair lips. Daughter says nothing, looks nothing. Not at all embarrassed. Anyway, Mom vanishes after a bit, and I’m sorting all of this out when a guy I work with asks the girl why her mom was talking like that. If I can shrink into a dust bunny…but I can’t. I know I turn red. Obviously a defective trait at work with Mom, so why isn’t he getting that? I wait for the girl to get defensive and jump the guy for bringing it up. Instead, What are you talking about? Like he’s an idiot, which he is at this moment, but for reasons other than any she has a handle on. And here’s an easy out that she’s handing him if he’s quick, but he’s not. Tell her you don’t know what you were talking about and change the subject. Nope. He takes another shot at it. Clarifies the question. The girl sits still with a dumbfoundedness that’s all sincere all over her face. Insists now she has no idea what he means. Finally, he figures it out. Late, but he gets it. To Daughter, Mom speaks plenty normal. In fact, Mom speaks just as she always has—since Daughter was born.

I learn a profound lesson here. I think about it a lot afterward. This girl’s smart, good at her job, and fun to be around. Someone you can have conversations with about the think-harder things in life. But she can’t hear her mother like the rest of the world hears her. In time, I begin noticing similar ignorance with people as it pertains to their loved ones. I remember asking a friend about the odd behavior of a family member and the friend doesn’t understand what I’m alluding to. If my own mother speaks in a weird pattern, how am I going to know? Is it that way for everyone whose parent speaks differently? Or do some children hear it?

I would forever after keep my antennae up in that area, and I would learn things. Children often do not hear the accents of their parents, if, say, that parent comes from another country and the child has grown up speaking English in the United States. Sometimes the child, though, will adopt a certain level of her parents’ accent but not know it. And you—outside of the family circle—will notice their shared vocal patterns and communicative quirks. If Mom pronounces a hard th word (though) with a soft th (thatch), then you can bet so do the kids. Yet sometimes you’ll meet a guy or girl who speaks perfect, accent-free English, and then you meet her or his parents who are straight from the old country, and your friend may be unaware of Mom and Dad’s accents—or fully aware.

This all gets even deeper, though. Okay, this is different, but it’s related. It all ties in. What about ourselves are we not getting that everybody else is? What are we getting that no one else is? People notice inside-the-head attributes about themselves, quirks, that they never hear mentioned by other people. Women, from my observations, will be more likely than men to keep it hushed for fear of being exposed as weird. Someone had to be first to give a name to déjà vu—probably a guy. When guys notice things about themselves–strange experiences of the mind–they’ve never heard discussed or described by others, they will usually just assume others experience it too or they don’t waste time dwelling on it. There are always exceptions, some of which would include psychopaths, murderers, pedophiles, cannibals, pursuers of bizarre fetishes and these stuffs, but that’s beyond the scope of what I’m dealing with here. A woman on the other hand will spend a lot of time worrying that she is different and will sometimes be haunted by feelings or experiences that are in reality far more common than she suspects. I know. I’ve been the one to pass on the good news before and more than once or twice. For example, I’ve noticed that when the season changes to autumn, with that first hint of cold air, I get this overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. I always have, and I’ve always thought it was interesting and pleasant, though I’d not heard it brought up in conversation by anyone else. Neither did I care. I decided to give that trait to the protagonist in my present novel. I was sure someone would recognize what I was describing. Recently a woman confided in me how the change of season to autumn at the time was making her think of old times for some reason, making her miss those days and certain people. Kinda weird, huh? Something about the smell in the air, she said. I asked her if maybe just maybe it happened every year. She said it did, and then asked how I knew.

Synesthesia. This is when one sensory, cognitive avenue within a person trips another one automatically. Letters and numbers, and even sounds, have a specific color. J is purple. 3 is red. A humming engine is orange. Days of the week or months of the year have personalities. Or colors. Or sounds. Or flavors. Mirror synesthesia is when an individual watches another person being touched and feels that touch himself, similar to the identical twin phenomenon.  More than five-dozen types of synesthesia have been discovered. Many synesthetes grow up believing that everybody has their same associative predispositions—that you and I see 8 as yellow, green as mean, or November as blueberry-flavored. They won’t know any of this is uncommon until some right-time, right-place conversation tips them off.

Have you ever been eye-squinting, face-crinkling confused at what your friend thinks of as being physically attractive? Whereupon the letters W-T-F have all kinds of color?

A type of dream befalls us where we realize that we’ve had this dream before, or more accurately, been here in this same place in our dreams in the past–only we’ve forgotten about it after waking each and every time. You’ll feel a sensation of: “I remember now! How could I have forgot?” I’ve never seen this written or heard it discussed in terms of dreaming, but I’m certain enough I’m not the only one to experience it that I’ll bring it up in a public forum. From reading the journals of those individuals who watched people die while following Napoleon’s army out of Russia, I know that before giving up their ghosts many would say “I remember now!” while staring into the ether and smiling. And I have read the same thing from people watching someone die in a hospital in modern times.

I’m still left to wonder if anyone else has noticed this characteristic in people—the characteristic of being oblivious of their parents’ speech patterns or even of the off-kilter behavior of a family member. How many of us are silently bothered by anomalies within ourselves that we think are as peculiar to us as fingerprints? If you search deep enough in surviving texts from Ancient Greece, you’ll see that the classic writers covered about every such subject. Near-death and out-of-body experiences, déjà vu, lucid dreams, bilocation and what have you, but they didn’t have a particular name for lots of these phenomena. The recent (by human standards) foray into the study of the mind with all of its specific fields has given us names for the hitherto unnamed. It has also fleshed out defects like dyslexia in ways that have led to treatments and cures. It is better, then, that we can recognize and create taxonomies for mental experiences so we might benefit society as a whole.

I made notes of many of these anomalous sensations and weirdnesses of mine and split them between two main characters as I wrote my story. They did not have the term “déjà vu” (already seen) in 1812, so, lacking a good way to describe it, the female character keeps it to herself. As she looks out a window to see the city burning, she thinks in the common Moscow French of the time: “J’ai déjà vu cela.” (I have already seen this.) In some other time, in some other world. She also sees spoken words in her head and mentally arranges them in pyramids as people speak them.


How are

you doing today?

This is one I got second-hand. She has been assigned this trait of not discerning her father’s brogue, too.

I use all this stuff in creating characters, and I use it in figuring out the world. Eventually I learned that one out of 700 ( or a thousand) babies is born with a cleft in its lip that the French called “With a lip that has a split like that of a hare.” The English pared it down to a more manageable “harelip.” Now known as “cleft lip,” the defect is also akin to the cleft palate and affects the speech. Modern medical technology has rendered this defect correctable, fortunately. So from whence derive the jokes? They would have to come from someone old enough to understand puns, but young enough to be so stupid as to turn something like that into a joke. And this gets into the psychopathic, sociopathic, narcissistic, cannibalistic pedophilic, put-me-in-diapers-and-spank-me categories of psychological oddities that exceed the bounds of this little disquisition. Maybe some other day.

NORWEGIAN WOODS: John Lennon, Volker Park, and the Night We Said Goodbye

December of 2013

December of 2013

There really is no way of saying this without it sounding something like the product of a typewriter in carnal congress with a sewing machine tumbling down a mountain: I walked on the Earth with people who walked on the Earth during the Civil War, and I am walking on the Earth with people who will walk on the Earth in the 22nd century. Verbal acrobat training camp and your calculator aside, that’s a deep concept to my easily-amused mind. I came of age during an era for which my own offspring has expressed envy. “I wish I would’ve grown up in the 70s.” And I have heard the same from others in her age group. For all their sakes I’m glad they didn’t, and apparently we’ve somehow managed to romanticize the devil which is our faults, but what can you expect from people who came up in the 70s? Nonetheless, I emerged from that mess and for some reason I probably wouldn’t trade it. Not without a few guarantees.

I hitchhiked. Not as the grown-up derelict I was setting up to become, but as a kid. A child. Twelve—hell, eleven—years-old. Imagine something like that now. Picture yourself as a cop in a cruiser; you’d be on that shit right quick. Good-hearted 21st-century adults would pull over, although in the capacity of a rescue effort—The poor boy’s doomed for a target!—then keep going after thinking it through—But what suspicions will this cast on me? It wasn’t an unusual thing to do, though, hitchhiking wasn’t, in 1970; nor was the sight of a kid with his thumb out evocative of any special ponderations for non-degenerate people. It’s how we got around. No cabals existed then of neighborhood mothers setting neighborhood standards for dress, speech, birthday soirees, vehicle purchases and child-rearing. Not that hitchhiking was sanctioned by my parents or others. It wasn’t for the most part. But sometimes parents know which battles to choose; and as a suburban version of a street-smart kid, you catch on quickly how to prepare for conversational contingencies long before you go home for the night. Frank’s mom gave me a ride. Sure, you remember Frank. And so forth.

When I was thirteen I discovered a place called Volker Park. Volker was Kansas City’s Haight-Ashbury, except with fountains, grass, and evergreen groves rather than building-fronts and hidden passageways. Drugs and music and guys with hair down to their knees speaking words of wisdom. The music was limited to Sundays, but it was especially cool because the only electricity was provided by somebody’s generator and the hat had to be passed through the crowd each week for gas money for the machine. I don’t know how bands got gigs there, or how organizers got bands there, but everything was voluntary, and at eye-level at least, it worked pretty well. The first time I ever heard Chain of Fools was there. A cute girl was bringing it home out in front of her band. Forever after, I’d have this thing for chicks who could sing. I remember thinking how fun that must be, to stand up there and do that.

What I don’t remember is how I even learned about Volker Park or how long it had been happening, but my friends and I would hitchhike down there of a Sunday in groups of three or four or five and we always got rides. The only humans younger than our kaleidoscope-eyed selves at Volker were toddlers, and you didn’t see a whole lot of those. People sold things there: Crafts, artwork, fresh fruit, and back in the spruce groves, substances. We, the gang, might pool our money, or one of us may have saved his paper-route income to be treated as the day’s hero, and we’d follow the call of the sirens straight back to the woods, to those mystical, soulful, druidic trees that grew so incredibly high. (And if you didn’t get that reference, you won’t get the one I’m omitting about Itchycoo Park, either.) And in their cedary, shadowy, evergreeny midst, the pagans would have set up shop. Over here, the affordable Mexican goodies. There, the pricey Colombian. A few steps farther, Jamaican. Ounces, my friend, and three-finger lids. Dime-bags, nickel-bags, and for the likes of a growing thirteen or fourteen-year-old boy, there would always be the one guy on his blanket, his nimble fingers busy rolling up joints with one hand and collecting two bucks with the other. “Are you ripping me off?” I was compelled once by my peach fuzz world-wisery to ask the guy as he tucked my two bills into his purse. “Yeah, man. Yeah. I’m ripping you off.” Well, he better not have been because I was nobody to trifle with. Clouds of smoke enveloped those evergreens like mists in the fjords. But that’s not all, my child. Come this way. I bought my first four-dollar micro-square of Scotch Tape in those trees. Except I bought it under a different label and the culprit didn’t stick around to groove on the virtually-free music while I was learning what adhesive tastes like. Target indeed.

The Grove and its new day trippers

The Grove and its new day trippers

Sometimes I would hitchhike my determined little way there by myself if no one else was into it. Or if I was into no one else going with me. The mesmerizing Volker milieu super-charged my burgeoning awareness. And accommodated my fogginess. And I met people. I met people just passin’ through as the T-shirts and VW bumper stickers and junior-high notebook adornments would say in those clever 1970s. Some of the hippies were disinclined to opine for the amusement of a punk kid, but others didn’t mind so much. They came from all over the country, from the Black Mountain hills of Dakota to Tucson, Arizona. I asked a guy from California, a guy driving to some state in the East for a big outdoor concert, how he knew to come to Volker Park. “I don’t know, man. I just heard about it.” Insignificant as that was, I was impressed enough to remember it four decades in the future. And I remember a little Sunday-comics-like handout publication that you could find anywhere in and around Volker called “The Westport Trucker.” It had nothing to do with trucking, though. If I remember right, it had to do with local Birkenstock-and-ponytail graphic artists and humorists moving the boundaries. Seeing what they could get away with. A comic book for the substance-based life. A showcase for the F-word. Far out drawings of bouncing boobies and dancing dongs. It was an element of Volker Park.

English: John Lennon and Yoko Ono

English: John Lennon and Yoko Ono (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In time, without anybody really noticing, the Trucker and Haight-Ashbury and hippies and head shops and Volker Park went away. By 1977, by the time Elvis took his final dump let’s say, the Park was just…just grass that city workers had to mow in the summer. A stroller, a Frisbee, maybe a blanket, maybe some sweat pants, a paperback on someone’s knee. Maybe nothing at all. No more riding on that merry-go-round. Then, on the 8th of December in the Anno of our Domini 1980 and all that…boom. Instant karma. This dumbass shot and killed John Lennon. It was a big deal. Probably not JFK big, and certainly not 9-11 big, but we remember where we were when we heard the news that day. Ohhhh boy. A split second of time passed, and no matter what else happened, there never again would be The Beatles. Not in our maybe-random slice of history. Heavy, man. I don’t know who initiated it, but word went round regarding a candlelight vigil—whatever the fuck that was—at Volker Park, not to mourn the death, but to celebrate the life of…aw, whom the hell were they kidding? It was to mourn the murderous passing of John Lennon into eternity. So I loaded up my guitar in somebody’s car and a bunch of us went to the ol’ haunt to see what a candlelight vigil was.

We were bummed—deep-in-the-gut, we’ve-been-had bummed—to find out it was nowhere, man. The park was crowded enough—more than any time in the past it was crowded by the old crowd with a contingent of new crowd added into the count—but outside of somebody somewhere playing a Beatles 8-track through speakers on his car roof while a few candles were waved over heads…nothing. It was boring. It was boring, it was dark, it was cold. Screw this. 

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The bands who played at Volker on those sunny Sundays still fresh in our memories had set up near the fountains, and that’s where I took my guitar. That’s where my would-be sweetheart sang chain chain chain and that’s where I plopped my ass down cross-legged and commenced to unleashing Beatles and John Lennon masterpiecelets. Hooray for me. People dug it. They sang along. Louder and louder, more and more into it. By the time I got to A Day in the Life, a wide circle had formed with me and an old acoustic in the middle. Applause, applause. And candles. “Do you know Strawberry Fields?” Yep. A blonde girl with glasses ran up and pinned a gold-colored strawberry on my jacket for that one. Another girl slipped a card with a quote by Carl Sagan into my chest pocket. (?) Another one—another girl, hell yeah—gave me a piece of scratch paper with her number on it (which for whatever reason I never followed up on) and we all had a pretty good time for an ash spreading. That night, John Lennon and Volker Park—and I suppose if I want to get philosophical, an era—were ushered out in my town with more of a bang (unintended, John) than the whimper it was all destined to be. Damn right.

Imagine There Was Music (it's easy if you try)

Imagine There Was Music (it’s easy if you try)

Volker Park is still there, but it’s not. Not really. It has a different name now, a name I don’t even remember. Okay, I do but I’m not going to say it. Just like I didn’t say the name of the dumbass who shot John Lennon. Not because the Volker zeitgeist was some great crucible of human virtue deserving of veneration—not by any stretch of the Scotch Tape-powered imagination—but because, well, you know. Because he might be unruly and not house-trained, and probably has rabies, but who the hell are you to rename my puppy?

You’ll see a film today–oh boy! A couple of videos of the Park in the day

And a great trailer for a documentary about Cowtown Ballroom in Kansas City, Missouri a few blocks from Volker Park during the same era.