How to Deal with Your Parents

10 May

Livenlove-

It would appear that your relationship with your parents is not where you’d like it to be. They’d prefer that you’d stay 15 and unsullied forever while you’d rather grow up and get on with the sullying.

I would imagine this grip will loosen once you meet the right man, preferably an upstanding fellow with a string of Ph.D.’s after his name and/or a string of 0’s after any other digits in his bank account.

I understand this issue all too well. My parents were incredibly strict. Why, I was nearly nine before I realized our house even had windows. I didn’t actually get to enjoy the front yard until I was fifteen.

My two brothers and I were protected from anything and everything, not so much for our sakes, but to allow our parents to live their lives as though it were still several decades earlier. We were kept inside at all times and busied ourselves with sweeping the dirt floor, dusting the dirt walls and reading selections from an 1897 Sears-Roebuck catalog.

Our parents kept our interaction with either sex to minimum by teaching us at home. We learned a mixture of Amish farming techniques, quadratic algebra and the holistic teachings of John Harvey Kellogg. Occasional visits from mailmen, milkmen and Social Services gave us a glimpse at life on the “outside,” which seemed to be filled with various stern-looking men in ill-fitting uniforms.

When we were finally set loose on the world during our later-teen years, we found that our training in the areas of barn-raising, pre-calculus and cleaner living through regular enemas left us ill-equipped to deal with a society that had moved on without us.

We planned to enroll in the local community college to broaden our extremely narrow horizons, but the call of the draft board derailed that dream permanently. In mere days, we were at the front, munching on corn flakes and drawing complex equations in the Korean snow.

Still, we found that our lack of a formal education did not diminish our status in the Army, which declared that each and every one of us was “equal,” and thus able to serve our country proudly as “pawns” in an international game of “Chinese Checkers crossed with Russian Roulette.”

Take heart, Livenlove. Your problems are only temporary. Sooner or later life will throw you a “curveball” that will make all your parental woes seem insignificant by comparison.



Sincerely,
Clifton L. Tanager

On Interior Design

17 Apr

sof93 -

I would imagine there are all types of people out there who would want to hire an interior designer. In fact, most of those would probably be men of indeterminate ages and backgrounds.

Here’s my view on this: if you’re like me and have outlived two wives, you find yourself staring at the same furniture sitting on top of the same carpet for nearly a decade. I would love to be able to do something else with it, but I just really don’t have any ideas.

The carpet was purchased during the height of shag’s popularity during the 70’s. We (my wife and I) decided that it was time to lose the bright orange that had come to define our living room and were looking for something more muted and less violently tropical.

Unfortunately, all the carpet stores were stocking the same variety of multicolored shag carpet, one which resembled a Motel 6 floor crossed with an underachieving Chia pet. But since we were in the market, we found ourselves with no other choice. It was either take home what was available and make the best of a life that would suddenly seem incredibly temporary or buckle down and spend another decade or so with our retina-searing orange magnolia pattern.

Another decade passed and we ventured out to the carpet stores yet again in hopes of finding something to replace the slightly-worn motel room floor, which had begun to attract Gideon Bible salesmen and conventioneers from across the country. Something about that dark blue mottled with multi-colored flecks seemed to make our lives (and the lives of our infrequent guests) seem transitory and budget-priced.

Things were no better in the ’80s. We headed into the Carpet Mart only to find our selection limited to black, white or black and white patterns. The salesman assured us that this was all the rage with the stock market folks and various effeminate band members. We told him that we just needed something sensible and earth-toned. Of course, we were at least a decade to soon, or we would have found ourselves wallowing in colors named after trees, geographic features and muted emotions.

We ended up taking home a basic black carpet, feeling that this would cover up most spills and possible stains. Unfortunately, our two white Persians soon turned the new carpet into an white-haired atrocity and the low pile was dense enough to defeat even the strongest vacuum cleaners of the day. (What I would have given for a Dyson in those days! Well, not the $400-$500 they’re asking for them, but definitely some sort of appreciable sum. I might even have broken out the Benjamin. We kept one in a booksafe for “emergency use only.”)

And to this day, that supposedly black carpet has remained, gazed at with a boredom that frequently borders on derision by both my cats and I. They seem to tolerate it because it highlights their fur so keenly. I tolerate it only because I know the work and expense involved would make me regret ever having taking the initiative to do anything about it.

And don’t get me started on the lamp. It’s a housewarming gift from the late ’60s and has all the discreet charm of a protest march. Its combination of pea soup green and gunmetal grey makes me yearn for a simpler time, like the period of four years where I went completely colorblind thanks to some unexploded fireworks I had stored in the garage which suddenly changed to exploded, thanks to some rather careless pipe movements on my part.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are potentially millions of people who need some help fixing the place up. I’m sure my experiences are not the exception to the rule. I’d look for some help myself but I made several promises to my late wife over the years, including the solemn oath that I would never let another woman rearrange her furniture. Or sit on her “side” of the couch. Nothing was said about the carpet, but the furniture would have to travel as far as the kitchen at least if that’s ever going to be changed.

Good luck out there.


Sincerely,
Clifton L. Tanager

How to Take Control of Your Wardrobe

30 Dec

Young Lolwut would like to take charge of selecting his clothing, thus ending the playground taunts of “Your mother dresses you funny.” Hopefully, with a little advice, Lolwut can turn the tables on his schoolyard antagonists, pointing out that he dresses himself.

Mr. (?) Lolwut -

As far back as I can remember (which is sometimes just earlier in the day), children have always yearned for more personal freedom and parents have yearned for more time to themselves. There’s just no good way to “have your cake and eat it too,” as several parents have said while avoiding direct questions.

As my brother and I found out during our many long and mostly sunless years growing up in a secluded corner of the dimmest part of town, our parents would be hard-pressed to give up what little control they had in life by letting us make our own decisions.

When it came right down to it, selecting our clothing, toys, books, friends and major religion were the only choices they really had left to make. Several foreclosures had ensured that they ended up in the only housing that would take them. Many years of invisible toil in thankless jobs had left my father on the corporate treadmill. My mother most likely would have enjoyed selecting a different living room dirt floor pattern and husband, but a series of misunderstandings during a “duck and cover” drill during health class had left her impregnated.

So they chose everything for us. We first noticed this when we asked for new bicycles. We had seen some in the local circular and thought they’d be a keen way to escape the unlit sections of town, if only for an hour or two.

We were denied this request and given ambulatory contraptions cobbled together out of factory seconds from Josiah’s Handcart Shoppe and abandoned hoop skirts. While they were mobile enough to outpace walking, they left us full of groin-area bruises and splinters.

When we wished to change schools in hopes of reaching the nearly-mythical 6th grade, we were informed that our entire family had attended this underlit one-room schoolhouse and that we would too. When we indicated that the schoolhouse had not been staffed in over a year thanks to the new public school only minutes away by splintermobile, we were told that anything past 4th grade was simply “showing off” and would only make our ancestors jealous and perhaps homicidal.

Needless to say, choosing our own clothes was out of the question. Due to the extreme financial duress we endured, my brother and I were often subjected to hand-me-downs from various well-meaning relatives who apparently had the big hearts to give away their excess wardrobe but not the brain capacity to retain pertinent information such as our ages or sexes.

Consequently, my brother and I were usually adorned in bizarre combinations of flapper pencil skirts, vintage Levi Strauss undergarments, low-cut burlap sacks and various pieces of chainmail. We would do our best with what we had and hastily mount our rolling hoop skirts in a vain attempt to grasp at higher education before it was removed and taken nearly nine blocks away to what for all intents and purposes was another planet.

As we grew older, we lost our will to fight these various injustices and instead, became genteel doormats for our parents’ micromanagement. The day our draft cards were called was one of the happiest of our young lives. Finally we would have a chance to dress like others and perhaps even ride a splinterless, free-rolling vehicle.

Take heart, Lolwut. You’ve not much longer to endure this treatment. Sooner or later you’ll be free of their iron grasp and allowed to dress yourself however ridiculously you want, at least temporarily. By that time, however, you’ll most likely be looking for employment or higher education and will have to adjust your wilder apparel selections in order to retain both of these advantages.

To the future!

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Sincerely,
Clifton L. Tanager
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How to Serve Notice on Serving Your Country

19 Dec

Excellent question, Exclamation Point. (I’ll never get used to these “new wave” names.)

It’s always tough to break bad news to your parents. (This is assuming, of course, that you have a good relationship with your elders. My cousin, Ralph Bostwick, was so unliked that his declaration of intent to join the military was greeted with a small impromptu parade that began in his high school parking lot and traveled through town to his bedroom, where his possessions were cheerfully thrown out of the second story window, along with his remaining dignity.)

There are several ways to go about this. One option is to post an anonymous letter in the local paper, informing your parents of your whereabouts while still leaving just a hint of doubt in the minds of others who are less acquainted with you. This presumes, of course, that your parents still read the newspaper rather than just track the whereabouts of various celebrities via Google News.

Another option is to send an informative postcard from wherever you’re stationed with just enough verbiage to communicate that they won’t be seeing you for up to four years. This is best handled within the first few weeks of boot camp, as the latter weeks’ intensity may find you without the strength to lift a pen.

Of course, don’t put this off for too long or you’ll be sending this postcard from behind enemy lines or from within a POW camp. If this is the case, be sure to mention your exact whereabouts and specify that they forgo the usual selection of handmade cookies, audio cassettes and condoms and send you something more useful, like reinforcements or a large cash bribe.

However, this is a digital age and your options are much more open than mine were. You can send it via chain email (remember to include a vaguely-named attachment), update your status to “In the military for the next four years. Don’t touch my stuff. That means you, Doug,” on Facebook or just direct them to your vanity Wikipedia page and indicate that “recent updates” have been applied.

We had none of these during the 1950’s. If you didn’t tell them in person or write a longhand letter, it may as well have not happened at all. Some of my platoon put this on hold indefinitely, which usually resulted in a form letter from the Uncle Sam informing the parents that their son had been killed or injured severely in the line of duty, thus turning the procrastination from “indefinite” to “just recently.”

Of course, the military had its share of screwups as well. My good friend Stacey Aaronsen was felled by a sniper in the line of duty and the corresponding letter was sent to his parents, who were convinced his sudden and long disappearance was just a phase he was going through.

However, the myopic clerk in charge of hand-addressing the envelopes dropped the crucial “e” from Stacey’s first name, resulting in the letter arriving at the home of Stacy Aaronsen, a lifetime civil servant who had been married for nearly 30 years at that point. This letter was opened and read by his wife, who sat still for nearly ten minutes straight after completing it, finally wheeling on her husband with panicked queries as “Who the hell are you?” and “How did you get in here?”

After a long and pointless discussion, they agreed to disagree and parted ways after 28 years of marriage. Stacey (with an e)’s parents endured the years of silence with good cheer and vague rumblings about the length of late-adolescent “phases.”

Exclamation Point: your best bet is to tell them straight out. Not only will this save their marriage and save you some embarrassment, but it’s incredibly hard to find anywhere that sells postcards these days.

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Sincerely,
Clifton L. Tanager
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Taking An Undeserved Break

3 Aug

Not that I’ve earned it or anything, but until further notice, Unsolicited Advice will most likely be collecting only spam and dust until my return.

If you are curious, indifferent or maybe just want to yell a bit, the full explanation is at my main site.

-Clifton

How to Use a Phone… Possibly

28 Jul

The powerful force that is iPod Nano is having trouble with the intricacies of his or her feature set. I wade in with a cautionary tale about escalating phone service turf wars and possibly, a little practical advice…

iPod Nano -

I’ll have to admit up front that I’m a little unfamiliar with most of these terms. I did pick up “Phone,” “does” and “INTERNET,” but beyond that you might as well have been speaking Esperanto for all the sense it made to me.

I’m constantly amazed by the variety of communication options the youth of today have at their disposal. (Well, not “constantly.” I do take a little time off from my amazement now and then, usually to do “something for me.” “Something” usually entails a nap, a glass of Scotch or a Scotch-related nap.)

When I was younger, we were limited to alternating weekday use of the local party line and some makeshift tin can-and-string phones. The adults (who actually paid the rent on the line) had the line tied up day after day, talking to each other about gout remedies, the new (and unmarried) woman who had moved in down the hall, which percentage of lye would remove stains but not skin or hair, whether or not the Kaiser was “full of it” and so on.

If my friends and I wanted to have a long, private conversation without having to look at each other, we would turn to our old standby, the tin-can-o-phone. This gave us the chance to speak uninterrupted for the most part. Occasionally rival tin-can operators would cut our string or attach one of their own strings to our pre-existing network with the intent to hijack the conversation(s).

We’d retaliate by grafittiing the nearest alleyway with disparaging rumours about their incredibly small coverage area or insinuating that usage of their tin-can system reflected poorly on the “tied-in” individuals and was quite possibly an affront to God. (Most things were in those days, and those who argued this “fact” tended to be labeled “affronts” the fastest.)

As more and more people sought to add their own string to these networks, a greater number of rivals began operating in the area. They would undercut our string system with offers of fatter, more secure string or additional cans placed in convenient and semi-private areas.

Tensions ran high, causing line snappages in major boroughs and wreaking havoc on our semi-private lives. A few kids came across some hemp, which was a major breakthrough thanks to its longevity and potential smokability.

The hemp looked to put most of us out of business but Karen Judson’s parents de-regulated the industry by throwing out every manner of thread, yarn and twine in their garage one afternoon. Small startups tied on to hemp lines, gradually bleeding the system of its precarious exclusivity.

We all raced against the inevitable, devolving into a series of small-time turf wars predicated on “strand thickness” and “can portablility.” The first kid who realized you could transmit of heavy-duty fishing line was a millionaire by age 15. The young entrepreneur who discovered that a tomato paste can could do the same job as a #10 (with no signal degradation or noticeable volume drop) sold out to Jacob Bell’s authoritarian mother for an undisclosed amount of coinage and chewing tobacco.

The rise of private phone ownership soon sank our beloved industry. We began to communicate with each other through a mixture of indecipherable hand gestures and blind ads in the local paper. Our parents enjoyed their newfound freedom, which allowed them to find out the latest on their siblings’ mostly illegitimate children without having to suffer through 20 minutes of corn medication recommendations or a post-potluck recipe exchange.

So, to answer your original question: yes. The internet IS amazing!

Sincerely,
Clifton L. Tanager

A History Lesson featuring A.V. Tanager

20 Jul

I’d like to take a break from answering unanswerable (and the occasional shouldn’t-be-answered) questions to introduce you to my grandfather, Artemis Valiant Tanager. While I won’t be introducing you to him literally, mainly due to his having passed on decades ago, I’d like to treat you to one of his wonderful stories about his days in the Spanish-American War, also known (mainly to him) as The War to End All Wars. He also referred to it as the Great Depression and The New Deal occasionally, when not referring to it as The Era of Good Feelings. He did love a good generational label.

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to locate a photo of Grandpa Artemis, no doubt due to photography still being very much of a “dark art” during his most photogenic years (age 12 and age 31, if I’m not mistaken). However, I did find a rather nice scientific drawing of a Palm Civet Cat, who will be featured prominently in the following tale. Enjoy.

My great-grandfather, Artemis Valiant Tanager, was a veteran of the Spanish-American War. Keeping with the family tradition (which he had just started that afternoon), he would often sit down on quiet nights and regale us with horrendous tales of his proud service of his country (mostly the United States).

He’d dim the lights, often inadvertently, before beginning his story. As an “attention-grabber,” he would sometimes accompany the dimmed lights with a lusty yell and a few muzzle-loaded shots, usually aimed high and wide, thanks to his delirium tremors and failing eyesight.

We’d gather around his feet, our little hearts racing and our little hands surreptitiously checking ourselves for bullet wounds, and sit in rapt, near-catatonic attention as he began:

“We were encamped for a few weeks, nestled deep within the lovely rolling hills on the outskirts of southern Manila. Unfortunately, many of us were too dead, too wounded or too scared to enjoy what was left of the scenery and most of these autumnal memories have only returned via gunfire-triggered flashbacks or years of regression therapy.

The Filipinos were somewhat ill at ease as well, what with their country being used as a war-ridden playground for a battle between Spain and America. We indicated through a series of inept hand gestures that their invitations to play “host” for this war must have been lost in the mail, a common occurrence with drunken Pony Express riders and their none-too-sober mounts.

In fact, their invitations had been lost, having been bundled with several thousand care packages on a steamer located up in Cleveland, OH. It had followed a circuitous route through the Great Lakes before emerging in the Atlantic and heading for the Philipines. Unfortunately, a calculated attempt to “stir things up” saw the ship run full-bore onto the nearest Filipino beach, launching itself over a scrub-covered mound and unceremoniously drop its entire load directly between the two peaks that bookended Manila. Obviously it was a huge mess and those at the receiving end were none too pleased.

Anyway, the men and I had received our orders earlier that day via the Filipino version of the Passenger Pigeon: the Palm Civet Cat. The small packet of top-secret information and lifetime supply of cyanide pills was carefully inserted by highly trained couriers into the lower intestine of the cat.

Though known for their ill-tempered clawing and unrestrained bowel movements, they actually could become quite tame given the proper training, although the constant stench was somewhat of an annoyance.

Ike, you can use the facilities when this story is finished. It’s rather rude to keep interrupting.

(An aside: Grandpa was referring to my cousin Ike, who was three years my junior and somewhat of inconvenience to be around, thanks to his constant urination which led directly to his constant dehydration. Spending time with Ike meant rotating between the nearest restroom and nearest sink/water fountain. He was also a poor conversationalist, what with his words being continually drowned out by his water intake or muffled by the door to the men’s room.)

Someone had discovered, most likely due to boredom or being hopped up on the local fortified mango wine, that the beans found in their heaping piles of feces could be used to brew a rather strong cup of joe. Of course, “joe” had not yet become widely used slang for coffee, but instead referred to the eye-wateringly powerful beverage made from a mixture of civet cat feces and the 90-proof mango wine.

We lost a few men to what we now know as “e coli” and a few more to the heart-stopping power of the wine’s most active ingredient: polypropylene glycol. While its many uses around the world render it safe to consume in small quantities, a weeklong-bender’s worth would usually turn a healthy man’s blood into something between high-pressure plastic and memory foam. Shortly thereafter, it would turn their minds into a mush we referred to as “Mango Madness.” Those under the spell of “MM” often rushed headlong into the nearest body of water before emerging briefly to futilely attempt to set themselves on fire.

Ike– again. You can wait. All this urination can’t possibly be good for your remaining kidney. Maris, stop picking at that bullet wound. There’ll be plenty of time for that when the wound becomes infected.

Anyway, the messages would be retrieved from the civet cat droppings along with the precious coffee beans and assorted roughage. After a quick cup of joe and a scan of the illegible map, we were ready to storm whatever the hell it was that to the very blurred north of us.

Long story short, within 24 hours we had reclaimed the capital from the peaceable but proud Manilans and were celebrating with a spiked cup of deadly mango-joe. We sold our coffee secret to Juan Valdez Sr. who promised to take it to his grave as soon as he made a quick fortune.

The rest of us adopted a fair amount of the tamer civet cats as pets, taking them home with us to become coffee makers, guardcats and handy shipping containers for various illegal products and substances.

Ike, as soon as you’re done collapsing in pain, you may use the restroom. Maris: I’d like to take a moment to refer to the release form you signed prior to your visit.”

- Clifton L. Tanager

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