The Blob

Our front yard started with a big honking For Sale sign (which I had The Spouse rip out of the ground as soon as we closed on the house because I didn’t want to give that idiot realtor even one second of advertisement) and a little bit of landscaping. There were two or three hostas, a few mounds of Sweet William and a small boxwood. The shrubbery was about two feet square and maybe eighteen inches tall.

Over the years the boxwood grew. The Spouse had a dull set of clippers he’d use to keep it in shape, but the plant was sneaky. It would always grow a little more than he trimmed. Slowly, it crowded out the hostas. It grew tall and wide, deep green and bushy. Grew being the key word.

I’m not sure when I started calling it The Blob. Maybe it was when I noticed that the hostas had been swallowed up.  The porch might have been next. But The Spouse was confident that he could control the creature. I was less certain. I didn’t like it. No, I did not like it one bit.

The Blob soon engulfed the entire front yard. There was a very narrow path, less than a little trail’s worth, around it. The Blob grew taller than me. Eventually it became impossible to reach to trim the middle of the monster. It overtook the view from the picture window in the toy room. Porch sitters were hidden from sidewalk strollers. Feral cats, raccoons, oppossums and flesh eating spiders (I’m less sure about this last one) lurked in and around it.

My dislike for this thing, this Blob, grew along with it.

Last winter–when we had a real winter with cold weather and snow–the Beast went mad when we stepped off of the porch. There was a few inches of snow on the ground. He furiously sniffed near the Blob and suddenly bolted. There was something loitering behind that stupid Blob. I was on the ground and he dragged me  to the back of the Blob. I was screaming “STOP,” punctuated by short, guttural words that rhymed with truck.

The Blob didn’t eat me, but it could have. I was about ready to sacrifice the Beast to the monster. Instead the Beast, surprised to see me on the ground and in the snow, thought it was a game. I did not find it entertaining. No, not one bit.

Once, in the Spring, I saw a trio of little sparrows that were being chased by the neighborhood hawk fly into the sanctuary of its boughs. And then there were the nests and little eggs that sheltered in the arms of its nursery.

Still, it had to go. Since it was beautiful and healthy, someone said that it was valuable. I tried to give it away. There were a few window shoppers. They looked underneath its branches and were shocked to see that it grew from a one root, a single specimen.  Unfortunately, nobody could figure out how to get it out.  Well, one guy said he’d need a crane. No takers.

So today, Julio and his crew came by. In less than thirty minutes, it was gone. Twenty-five years of growth disappeared in less time than a lunch break. Bye Blob. It was you or the yard. I really won’t miss you, but I am still sad to see you go. Funny how you can have both of those feelings at once.

The spot is readied for a birch tree, with that beautiful smooth gray-white bark. The tree will contribute to the replenishment of the city’s tree canopy. It’s native and helps with the water table. It’ll shade the front of the house, host some nests and allow space for ground greenery.

I’m thinking hostas. Maybe some Sweet William. Nothing invasive though. We know where that leads.

That Sinking Feeling

The moment the SUV plunges into the thin ice on the mostly frozen lake. As captured on the local news.

“Oh man. Erich’s dad is so much fun.” The boy was breathless. They had a great time at the cabin. They made fires. They cooked on the made fires. They ran in the frozen woods at night with flashlights. Erich’s dad told the best ghost stories. He didn’t tell his mom, but Erich’s dad let him puff a pipe.

Mr. Bronch most definitely did not let him smoke, though. Sure, Erich’s dad was smoking. The boys asked him about it. Mr. Bronch didn’t want it to be a magical mystery, so he let all of them put their mouths on the lip of the pipe and suck or blow or whatever they did. It wasn’t a lesson in smoking, but a lesson that smoking wasn’t unknowable and wasn’t that important. But they were all sworn to secrecy. They very much liked that.

It was just an overnight trip, but it was the best day in the boy’s life. His own dad had many more rules, was always invoking said rules and was a big stick in the mud. You always had to do a safety check on your helmet before you got on your bike. You had to come in the house if it was thundering. You needed to do your homework before you could play your game–even though everyone else could do both. You had to go back and apologize to the second baseman you taunted after you stole that base. You always had to go to the bathroom before you left the house. Is there no privacy?? Just too much of the words “must” and “should.”

Mr. Bronch was good with them doing whatever they wanted. He didn’t intervene if they argued. He even jumped in on the one battle that got physical. That was hysterical. They all laughed so much they forgot what started the fight. But they remembered getting out of Erich’s dad’s headlock. And eating a huge bag of potato chips with a big jar of dip when they watched the movie that Mom did not want them to see. He got a little nervous, though, and looked away when they had that part with the lady without her shirt on. The guns, though, he was down with that. When that guy blew the other guy’s brains out? Erich’s dad told them it was all fake. They knew that mostly already.

“So can I go back to the cabin next week? Please?” His mom looked at him and shook her head.

“Not next week. Erich won’t be with his dad. Have him call me and we can figure out the next time.”

The next time wasn’t for a few weeks. But he was pumped and primed to go back. There would be him and Erich and Tom Jr. and Levi. And, of course, Mr. Bronch. They were going to bring their skates and skate on the lake.

His dad made him repack his backpack. “Where’s your toothbrush? Did you pack an extra pair of socks? It’s going to be cold. Here’s your ColdGear leggings. Just pack them!” Jeez. This was so annoying. He was sure that Erich’s dad didn’t poke in Erich’s bag.

Then his dad made him practice lacing up his skates. Seriously? And he went through a classic safety checklist. When he rolled his eyes, his dad grinned a little and said, “Guy, I just want you to be prepared. I trust you to do the right thing, but a little practice doesn’t hurt.” He went through the drills. He gave his dad a dap as he scrambled out of the car, his backpack swinging in his arm. He didn’t take the time to loop it over his shoulder. He was gone.

“See you tomorrow!” he chirped as he ran up the driveway to Erich’s dad’s big black truck.  The truck was running, but there wasn’t anyone in it. His dad parked the car. The boy rolled his eyes in his brain.

“What? Dad. It’s fine.” Erich’s dad came out the garage door, carrying some bags.

“Hey Tom.”

“Hey! How are you? Haven’t seen you for too long, man.” Erich’s dad grabbed his dad’s hand and pulled him in close for a hug.

“Yeah. Too long. You guys should come by. I finally got the direct gas line to the grill. We can put steaks and burgers on all winter.”

“Sure, but I think that your wife likes me not so much.”

“Don’t be paranoid. She can be friends with both you and your ex. She’d love to have you by. She was asking how you were doing.”

“Tell her I’m just fine. I talked to her last week anyway. She should have asked me then.”

“Sure, whatever. She was just doing logistics. Between my job, her job, the kids and her mom’s been sick.”

“No. Not her mom? That’s tough.”

“We think she’ll be fine. But it’s just a worry now until we go through the checklist of docs. Getting old seems to suck.” His laugh was a little hollow.

“We’re not going to do that, though. Get old that is. We have too much shit to do.” Tom’s laugh was full. They were interrupted by a yell from the tumble of boys in the front yard.

“Get OFF of me!” The boy’s dad looked over to assess the situation. Erich’s dad put his bags in the back of his truck.

“Hey, guys. Take it easy. I think Levi said he had enough.” The boy’s dad was good at deescalation. The pile broke up. The boy held out a hand to Levi. Tom Jr went behind him and lifted him up. Tom Jr was the youngest, but only by a Irish twin–ten months younger than his brother Erich, but bigger than all of them.

Erich’s dad clicked the remote to close the garage. The boy’s dad walked onto the porch and pulled on the front door to make sure it was locked. He stopped to give his son a quick hug before he returned to his car. “See you tomorrow!” The boy waved back. Then they all hopped into the truck. Erich had shotgun. The other three fought over who had to sit in the middle. Erich’s dad had them do rock, paper scissors and then told them to shut the hell up. They liked it when he cursed. They felt grown up.

They grabbed their backpacks and followed Erich’s dad into the dark cabin. It smelled of the fireplace and a little must. It was freezing.

“Okay, you guys go ahead and get your skates. I’ll get the fire started and meet you at the lake.” He flipped the top of a beer and shuffled through the branches next to the fireplace. “Erich, first go grab me a big log.”

Erich and the boy went to the back patio and pulled two big, for them, logs off the woodpile and brought them in. They found their skates. Levi and Tom Jr had already gone to the lake. Not like it was far. Just down a few steps, across the slatted cedar walk and down a few more steps to the dock. The other boys were laced up when Erich and the boy caught up.

The lake was plenty frozen. It was mostly smooth, too. As they skated across, it moaned underneath them. The moon provided the light for their games. They decided to run relays just as Mr. Bronch joined them. He skated out beyond their playground and they forgot about him as they swapped teams out for the next round of races.

Crack! Their was a fissure that was growing deep in the ice. Tom Jr. looked up to see if the rest of them were okay. The boy looked at Erich. This was his territory. Then they saw a dark figure racing towards them. He was coming fast. The boys locked their arms to be an impenetrable wall. They dug their skates sideways into the ice. Mr. Bronch was coming like a bullet fired from a gun. The boys steeled themselves and, just at impact, Erich’s dad snowplowed to a stop, showering the line of defense with ice. As the boys doubled over laughing, Tom Jr. lost his balance and fell.

Mr. Bronch pushed him along. Levi gave the next push. Tom Jr was laughing and couldn’t get up. The boy and Erich gathered Tom Jr by a leg each and swung him around the ice. His dad joined in and grabbed the boy by his arm and leg and swung him around and let go. Tom Jr. sailed across the ice and then disappeared. Out of their sight. The moon was behind the clouds. They were cracking up. Tom Jr flew off like a weird rocket.

“Tommy!” Erich yelled. They didn’t know where he was, not for sure. They couldn’t see Erich’s dad’s frown. “Tom?” He couldn’t have gone far. The ice cracked again underneath them.

“Dad, is he okay? Where is he? Is the ice gonna hold?”

“The ice is a foot thick. We are fine.” But he couldn’t see his boy. “Tom!? Hey, Tommy.” He raised his voice a little.

“TOM-MEEE,” Levi screamed. He was still playing. The boy joined in. “Oh, Tom. Oh Tom JOON-YER.” They skated out a bit. They couldn’t see very far, with the moon behind the clouds. It seemed like the wind was picking up. Or maybe it was the dark. “Tom. You okay? Say something.”

The clouds moved and let some moonlight through. Between that and their eyes adjusting, they could see a figure on the ice. Erich’s dad was surprised he was so far away. The four of them skated to the unmoving mass, the boys pulling up to let Mr. Bronch get there first.

“He’s okay.” They saw that Tom Jr was sitting up. Or maybe he was being propped up by his dad. “I’m going to take him to the cabin to warm up a little. You guys can skate for a while.”

Tom Jr was on his feet. He wasn’t talking but was responding by nodding to his dad’s questions. His dad supported him, really steered him, to the dock. “Man, you really flew!” The boys laughed. Tom Jr seemed to laugh, too. Then it was clear he wasn’t laughing, but throwing up.

“Gross!” “Jesus, what did you eat?” “I’m going to barf now.” “Does it taste the same?”

“Skate away from the puke,” said Erich’s dad. He sat Tom Jr on the dock and took off his skates. “He’ll be okay when I get him some water and get him warmed up.” Tom Jr couldn’t focus enough to get his boots back on by himself. His dad shoved his feet in his boots and tried to get him to stand up. Walking wasn’t working. Tom Jr threw up again. He wasn’t too big to carry.

The boy kept glancing over at Tom Jr and his dad. Nobody seemed to be very worried, so he worked to ignore his concern. The grownup had this. It was fine. It was getting colder and a big cloud was overtaking the moon. Erich pointed to the house, “Let’s get back in.” Erich grabbed Levi’s skate and the boy grabbed his boot so Levi had to sock skate after them for a little bit. It was too cold to play boot-keep-away for long. Erich tossed the skate back on the dock and ran up to the house. The boy waited for Levi to get his other boot on, and they raced back.

Tom Jr was on the couch in front of a big fire. He had a cloth on his head and a quilt over his body. His eyes were closed. He didn’t respond to any of them. The boy shook his shoulder. Erich grabbed his hand. “Dad. Dad. Dad. Tommy’s hand is really cold. Is it supposed to be so cold?” Erich’s dad had three microwaved hot cocoas looped on the fingers of his left hand. He put his right hand on Tom Jr’s as he handed the steaming mugs to the boys.

“Drink up. Then get your jackets. We’re going to take a side trip.”

When the boy’s dad came to the hospital to pick up the boy and Levi, the boy was more than relieved to see him. His dad wrapped him up in his arms and was surprised with the tightness of his son’s grasp around his neck.

The boy stopped being frightened. He was still scared for Tom Jr. but now that his dad was there, his dull, methodical and careful dad, he was exhausted. And he felt safe.

Storm Chased

A mean storm meeting a beautiful evening sky. Run!

It was time to go. She looked along the row of desks to the window next to the wall clock that evidenced the time. She got stuck on the window. She wasn’t running late, but it was dark. She walked past the empty desks to look outside. Everyone in her aisle had already left. Slackers.

Her eyes scanned the sky. It looked like it might be getting ready to storm. Like an August squall kind of storm. In the heat of summer there are spates of mini-monsoons, sometimes four, five or six days in a week. These are expedited events. Storms that when you beat them home, you’re dry. And if you don’t, you’re wading ankle deep through a tiny flash flood roiling at the storm drains at the intersection. The latter is a bit gross.

She shut down her Pokemon session that had been running amiably in the background all day. There were a few pokestops near the office, and someone(s) had been setting lures. No walking but much catching between emails and meetings.

She swiped over to the weather app. It displayed a current temperature of a comparatively mild 88°F. Rain wasn’t forecast for another hour. She’d be home in half that. Quicker if she took in fewer steps and high-tailed it to the closest train station. She grabbed her backup umbrella, just in case. She put it back in her cubby. She wouldn’t need it.

She looked up at the window again and thought better. She plopped the tiny orange umbrella in her bag. It didn’t take much space, and better to be prepared. The app said No. The sky disagreed. She was going with the non-virtual reality.

She optimistically put on her sunglasses rather than her inside peepers. She placed her sunhat on her head–easier to wear than to carry even though she looked ridiculous walking into the premature evening decked in sunwear–and pushed through the two sets of doors to the sidewalk.

She had been out at lunchtime when it was plenty hot. The vestiges of that hot was on the metal and glass of the doors. It rose from the sidewalk through the soles of her shoes. It was still hanging out in the thick air. She turned toward the corner and her hand flew to her head, to keep her wide brimmed straw chapeau from lifting off her head. She turned to a stranger at the light.

“Wow! Now that’s a cold front.” The woman next to her took in the floppy bonnet, looked up to the blackening sky to the west and grinned her agreement as she scurried across the street. The light had changed. All the commuters on the sidewalk were dashing to their next stop. The wind was cold. And pushy. It was a warning.

Her foot reached the sidewalk on the other side of the street. She looked up, again, to her right. The clouds were moving, and getting darker. There was a definite border between the stormy side and the calm side. The stormy side was encroaching, though. There wasn’t a  referee to throw a flag and make it organize itself according to the rules.

She saw the man who spent the day on the street packing up. She somehow knew he didn’t sleep on this street, but she had never seen him leave. The wind was motivating him.

She stopped every eight or ten steps and looked back at the sky. She saw a flicker of lightening and heard the thunder. She mounted the top of the escalator and descended into the subway and boarded a waiting train.

Her car came out of the tunnel. Damn. She was losing the race with the storm. The line of blue sky and fluffy white clouds was behind her, behind the train. Before her was a dark, rumbling and angry sky. Looking over her left shoulder she could see the reflection of sunshine. A caldron of something wicked this way comes to her right.

The conductor warned the people on the about the weather conditions. “Use caution on the platform,” he entreated. She dismounted from the train onto the bricked walkway. She smelled storm. They say it’s ozone. The sky cleared its throat like an old smoker.

It wasn’t raining now, but it just had. People stood at the edge of the cave that opened into the elevator well. She pulled out her little umbrella and released it from it’s little bag. It wasn’t quite raining. Not yet.

She held the umbrella above her head that was covered by her sunhat. Her sunglasses and staw hat looked silly underneath the short-sticked, orange umbrella. Nobody noticed. If they were under the overhang, they were looking up. If they had left the station with her, they were looking to get out of the rain. Some went to the bus bays. Others to the kiss and ride. She and some others walked along the sidewalk to the intersection.

There was a flash and a boom. The lightening and the thunder were concurrent. The storm was here and now. She ran a few steps, and then the rest of the block. She wondered if she could minimize being struck by lightening by running. It couldn’t hurt.

Going home meant going toward the bright part of the sky. Maybe if she hurried–another reason to run–she could leave the storm. Her house seemed to be underneath the clearing. The rain was hitting the cover above her head with more purpose. It was still fairly light. Another flash and another deep grumble from the sky. She skipped over the curb and flew to the next corner. The next flare lit up the street. The thunder was quick to follow, louder, longer and lower than before. She saw her house and squared her gate to be greeted on the porch by a big dog and a man.

He laughed at her sun and rain gear. She closed her umbrella and the sky opened up and poured rain. She was home just in the knick of time.

Lean Wit It

A 1970's era Yamaha 250cc. It's blue. It's agile and small.

They were going to go to the movies and, afterwards, most likely to Big Boy. He was the friend of her friend’s brother from a neighboring high school. He had a dark mop of long loose curls and a friendly grin that showed a small chip in his top tooth. It was from a Little League accident. A misplaced baseball. He didn’t play sports now. He preferred machines. Engines, specifically.

She didn’t really know him, but they met watching a basketball game at her school. For the next few weeks they quietly asked about each other, until her friend gave her number to the brother who passed it on to his friend. That was a few weeks later, after basketball and baseball seasons. It was the end of the school year, with long days that closed in cool nights, by the time he was coming by to pick her up.

She looked at the clock. She needed to be ready to answer the door when he arrived. The idea of her father opening the door to meet him was too awkward. She had to get there first. But there was time.

Getting ready wasn’t a big production. She grabbed the hot pink tube and unscrewed the lime green brush. Great Lash. It was waterproof. She wasn’t very skilled with the wand. She wished it was more like a magic wand and she could conjure the eyes of the models in Glamour. Her lashes always ended up with clumps. Her sister used a safety pin to separate clumps. But she didn’t trust her clumsy self with a needle pointed at her eyeball.

Today there was only one clump. And it wasn’t that bad. She fumbled around on the dresser and pushed past the brush for her lip gloss. It had a little bit of color, lots of sticky shine and tasted like Dr. Pepper–her favorite soda.

That was it. She looked at the clock. Scheduled pickup in 10 minutes. She went into her sister’s room and sprayed some cologne. Maybe too much. It’d dissipate some anyway. There usually wasn’t any left by the time she got home but she definitely smelled of the juice of sweet, nameless flowers.

Ugh. Her dad was puttering around in the garage. He had the lawn mower out and a brown stubby bottle in his hand. This wasn’t her plan but it would make for some additional drama. She perched herself on the arm of the couch in the front room, closest to the door. She heard him coming.

His was a full-sized bike, but it wasn’t the biggest bike. It was Japanese, so it had that higher pitched whirr. He tuned it to be loud. It didn’t growl and pop like a Harley, but kids didn’t own Harleys. He swung it into the short wide driveway. She came out of the house before he turned off the engine and looked at her dad.

Hmmmm. No reaction. She was sure that he’d say something.

The boy removed his helmet as he swung his leg off of the bike. He had a worn but clean white t-shirt with the fading name of a band. He jeans were crinkled by his knees and at the top of his leg where he bent to sit. The helmet in his hand was white, and he rested it on the seat. Her dad looked up and nodded.

“What time you going to be back?” he asked him. She got there first and told him that they were going to see some ensemble racing comedy and then grab pizza or a burger. “Okay,” was his reply.

She looked at him sideways. He didn’t mention the chariot.

The boy shook the man’s hand and walked her to the blue motorcycle. He asked her if she knew how to lean in a turn. She lied and said she did, as if she always rode on the back of bike. He handed her a helmet. It was blue with a full face. She put it on and felt like she was wearing a goldfish bowl. She could barely hear and what she did hear was the echoes of her breathing inside. The weight of the helmet made her feel like a bobble head. She had to concentrate to hold her head steady.

He got on the bike and she sat behind him on the flat seat. He started the engine and she saw her mother come out of the house, into the garage. Her dad was back tinkering with the lawnmower and her mother smiled and waved as they tooled off.

Her confusion over the lack of parental reaction was overtaken by the lurch of the bike and the wind cycloning her hair. She felt a little weird with her hands around this stranger’s waist, but the gawkiness was sidelined by the rush of the ride. The boy didn’t show off. He didn’t take chances. He didn’t weave or speed. He knew that the bike itself was enough show.

She automatically leaned into the first turn. He looked back at her and nodded. She was happy that he couldn’t see her ear-to-ear ingenue grin. It wouldn’t be cool and she couldn’t help herself. She was sorry when they got to the theatre. The movie was funny enough, but ran long and he had to work in the morning. He rode her back home.

It was different riding in the dark. Not only was it much cooler, but the direct exposure to the lights of oncoming vehicles and the amplified sound of the engines–the one underneath them and the ones all around them–added a sense of danger. Not fright, but excitement.

He dropped her off. She didn’t want him to walk her to the door. She liked the motorcycle much more than the boy. And she was disappointed that she didn’t shock her parents. That was to be part of the fun.

She was done with that dalliance, and decided to concentrate on her regular beau. The one that her parents liked. His car was fast enough and it seemed there was no tweaking her parents. No danger. No excitement.

In her head, she heard the high whine of the engine just before the shift and remembered her head jerking back as she rocketed behind a stranger down a dark road.

 

Do the Mashed Potato

An erupting volcano. It looks hot. And dangerous.

When my mom would get mad, she would use her words–occasionally at a deafening volume. Usually, though, just at an extremely loud volume.

I really can’t remember exactly how she would get wound up. In my memories, she could blow at any time. She didn’t go zero to sixty. She was more like a rocket launch, minus the countdown. Or maybe an exploding mountain top that exposes roiling lava in a crater. Perhaps there were some seismic gurgles or telltale belches of ash, but we were too young, and then too self-absorbed, to predict the eruptions. We weren’t scientists with well calibrated instruments. We were the simple natives that managed the fallout as it occurred.

My dad was the usual target, but when the moon was right, nobody was excepted. The moon was a character in the drama. Her blasts seemed to be tied to hormones. Dad would stand in the garage and warn us before we’d walk into the blast furnace, whispering that she had her period.

Once she was on, it could be days before it was safe. She’d be so primed that the slightest slight could train her sight your way. When she’d blow, we would be very quiet. Don’t poke the bear.

This day the Goddess of Yelling was present. I think Dad was mowing the lawn. We were goofing around in the other room. Since we were kids, and we heard it all the time, we could sometimes be oblivious to the conflict. When we were called into dinner, we brought our foolishness with us.

Mom was yelling at Dad out in the back yard. We were laughing around the table. I threatened My Older Sib with mashed potatoes on my fork. She laughed and loaded her own. She drew it back. I dared her with a raised eyebrow. Her hand slipped and the potatoes catapulted past my right shoulder and landed with a horrifying plop on the rug in the next room.

Horrifying in a way that spawns shrieks of laughter that we could barely contain–but we had to because Mom was walking toward us. But worse, she was walking in her stocking feet toward the potato landmine. Oh God, if she stepped in it, we would be dead. We started to giggle. She didn’t know why we were laughing but she was not happy. She turned her ire to us.

I am sure she asked, in her outside voice, why we were laughing. We, of course, could not tell her. We were both terrified and dangerously amused. One step to her right and she would find out for herself. She was so angry that she started to stomp from one foot to the other, like the angry troll underneath the bridge that the Billy Goats Gruff crossed.

The closer her small white-socked feet came to the potatoes, the more excited we got. Not in a good way and not in a way we could control. “What was so funny?!?”

Big Sib burst out laughing. She had a clear view of our mother and her foot almost touched the food. I turned around and desperately started a long tale of what happened at school. Something in this train of thought had to be funny.

Most fortunately, she wasn’t interested in my narration and the the mad-hopping slowed. She turned, and we held our collective breath as her foot hung in the air over the mashed potatoes piled on the carpet. Everything seemed to stop, except for the giggles that we had to choke back down to their origin. Do. Not. Laugh. It is almost over.

She moved her foot forward above and then past the floor food and stepped away. It was over.

I don’t remember where she went, but I know that we had to remain at the table until the coast was clear. A furiously whispered argument followed on who would defuse the bomb. Big Sib thought it should be me. Her argument was that it was my fault since I, in the parlance of children, started it. I, on the other hand, was sure that it was her responsibility since she was the one who lost control of her fork which was the actual cause of the almost-disaster. Bottom line, neither of us wanted to get caught while cleaning it up.

As was typical, we likely came to the solution of sending in the rookie–the Youngest Sib. The logic was that she was least likely to get in trouble. Mom, at that time, usually spared her the venom. In fairness, she caught her share years later.

So goes my story about mashed potatoes. You know how you grow up and sit around with your folks and come clean about your childhood misadventures. Didn’t happen with this one.

Type A or Type B

That 70s Show. Kitty is easy. Red is not.

What kind of parent are you? Here is a little quiz.

  1. Which one is more important for a child to have:
    a. independence or
    b. respect for elders?
  2. Which one is more important for a child to have:
    a. obedience or
    b. self-reliance?
  3. Which one is more important, for a child to be
    a. considerate or
    b. well-behaved?
  4. Which one you think is more important for a child to have:
    a. curiosity or
    b. good manners?

How many A’s did you have? How many B’s?

These simple questions were developed by this guy Feldman from Stonybrook and have been used by social scientists since the 1990’s to help quantify folks’ tendency to very high, high, medium and low levels of authoritarianism. The questions are effective because they aren’t loaded as good and bad options. Both options are fine. They simply identify a preference.

A couple of other guys, Hetherington and Weiler, wrote a book in 2009 that pretty much predicted this year’s inconceivable presidential campaign. No seriously. You don’t have to read the book, it’s in the article. But they talk about how people with high authoritarianism have been sorting themselves to the GOP.

These simple questions identify people’s leanings toward authority. Bottom line, the more A’s, the more you

…prioritize social order and hierarchies, which bring a sense of control to a chaotic world. Challenges to that order — diversity, influx of outsiders, breakdown of the old order — are experienced as personally threatening because they risk upending the status quo order they equate with basic security.– More from VOX.

It’s more than the preference for authoriy that’s driving people now. It’s authoritarianism combined with a concern for their (and their families’) safety.

People do not support extreme policies and strongman leaders just out of an affirmative desire for authoritarianism, but rather as a response to experiencing certain kinds of threats.

So you have the perfect storm. Uncertainty and social changes trigger the desire for the safety of clear and familiar rules and norms + a fear of physical threats especially from outsiders like 911 terrorists or ISIS.

When they face physical threats or threats to the status quo, [some people] support policies that seem to offer protection against those fears. They favor forceful, decisive action against things they perceive as threats. And they flock to political leaders who they believe will bring this action.

But the people being driven to the law and order and social conservatism in the GOP are not necessarily aligned with the party.

The responses to our policy questions showed that authoritarians have their own set of policy preferences, distinct from GOP orthodoxy. And those preferences mean that, in real and important ways, authoritarians are their own distinct constituency: effectively a new political party within the GOP.

This is what I said before. Not like I’m saying “I told you so,” or anything.

It’s just that we can’t understand what’s happening without trying to understand what’s happening. And this can mean uncomfortably confronting assumptions and learning about new models that fly in the face of these assumptions.

Don’t be afraid. They can smell your fear.


I totally recommend reading the full article on Vox. It’s long, but it’s worth it. And likely better than my tl;dr above. The Rise of American Authoritarianism, by Amanda Taub; published March 1, 2016.