Sunday, March 29th12.9°C
Old as dirt. Twice as gritty.

The perfect child

Once upon a time, in that alternate universe we generally call ‘the old days’, parents grabbed at any opportunity to show off the extraordinary beauty, exceptional intelligence, and remarkable artistic talent of their perfect children. They did this out of sincere pity for the victim audience - who was stuck with sub-standard children. It seemed a kindness to give them a glimpse of what they might have had, in different circumstances.
First of all, you had to trap the victim. This was done in a variety of ways, but the end result was always the same, you had the victim cornered, they had no escape short of knocking you down and running, and once the trap was sprung, you opened your wallet. 
They knew what it meant, too, when you opened that wallet. They knew you weren’t about to pay for lunch, not a chance. You were about to produce the wallet-sized photo of your perfect child.
They would sit, with bated breath, at the ready to draw their own wallet, and while they might be slower on the draw it didn’t really matter because in a wallet-slinging contest the speed of draw isn’t key to victory, the presentation is.
Subtle solicitation of compliments was critical to good presentation. “Yeah, so here’s the kid, guess he’s grown a bit since you last saw him.”
The victim was then compelled to say, while drawing her own wallet and barely glancing at the snot-nosed creature being presented, “Oh my, your child is SO AMAZING! Look at that good-looking boy, he will break hearts one day.” 
Your response was denial, of course. “Oh, well, he just looks like a kid to me, haha, but at least he has reasonably good teeth,” - and this is the moment where you would then cite someone else saying good things about your kid, and really, you could stick any old name to the words because you were making it up anyway, and nobody was going to fact-check - “Oh but who knows, haha, maybe if we’re lucky he’ll do alright. His teacher was saying just the other day that he is exceptionally brilliant in every single way that a child can be brilliant, oh it was so embarrassing, I just wanted to say, no, good heavens, truly, this is just an ordinary kid, but she was so excited I could not get a word in edgewise.” 
At this point, however, your victim would no longer be listening, she had her wallet open to her own perfect child. Your child was yesterday’s news in her mind, it was time to move on to hers, so she rushed through a quick, “Yesyesyourkidisgreat”, then added, “Oh you want to see Susan, I suppose, let’s see if I have a picture of her in here,” - despite you had given no indication that you wanted to see the little brat - “ah! there she is, we’re so hoping that one day she will grow out of that unfortunate sad-faced look she always has for photos.” You were forced to cede the floor to her mousy little scowl-face horror of a child and declare, with wide-eyed amazement, that she was the most beautiful little girl you had personally ever laid eyes on, and that her moody look would surely burn holes into the hearts of every boy in existence one day.
Thinking back on it, it seemed a lengthy process just to show off your kid, but it worked out okay, the job eventually got done, usually amid multiple martinis which helped to move the conversation on to much more interesting things such as the salacious goings-on of your open marriage neighbours.
Modern parents have streamlined the process, though, and the rules of engagement have changed considerably. Facebook has long since replaced wallets as the venue, and endless repetitive photos and videos have replaced that single little wallet-size photo of yore, yet it is still about showing other parents the shocking perfection of your child in the sincere hope that they regret having to be stuck with something so significantly inferior. 
However, with Facebook update-slinging replacing wallet-slinging, you’re at a distinct disadvantage if they draw first, because to draw immediately after someone else has drawn is seen as desperate, you have to wait at least two days before returning fire. Since there is no warning of a draw about to happen, you have to stay on top of things with pre-emptive strikes. And forget singular victim in this, with Facebook it’s a veritable AK47 attack of show-offiness, with dozens of victims slain in one bloodbath massacre. 
Worse, the modern process of child-centric snobbery is completely lacking in subtlety or any pretense of modesty, when showing their pictures they’ll even steal your obligatory words of praise. They pre-praise by telling you how cute she is, how handsome he is, how smart, how perfect - they say it all, they don’t leave one single thing for you to say in response. Worse, the subsequent discussion about the open marriage neighbours who are still at it after all these years never happens now, because they are on everybody’s facebook friend list and would not only read anything you wrote they would probably post detailed photos about it.
So, after enduring the unrelenting smug show-offiness of a parent who beat you to the draw, you are left without so much as a chance to fake a compliment, enjoy a decent martini, or engage in a bit of vicious gossip. All that’s left for you is the click of the ‘like’ button. 
And where’s the fun in that?

Suck it up, buttercup

We suck up to people when we think it might help make life easier for us. Don’t deny it, everybody does it, it is human nature.

You’re sitting vulnerable in a chair with a dentist hovering over you with assorted tools of torture, and you, like most people, have the good common sense to make nice. You just do. You suck up to him in any way you think might make him be gentle. You really want him to like you. Too bad it won’t work, he just found out that the top-of-the-line Lexus he had on order arrived with a dust mark on it, so he is deeply unhappy. In fact, he hates your guts. This is a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sucks to be you. Sucks to be your teeth, or what’s left of them once he is done.

Then, barely recovered from your dentist visit, you’re about to undergo an operation, and it’s the same thing. You suck up, you play to the doctor’s ego, you flatter with the hope that he will say, “OMG, this is SUCH a nice person! Instead of using the serrated kitchen knife to fix him up, I’ll be gentle and use only the finest surgical tools this side of heaven. I’ll do ANYthing to save him, maybe even skip lunch!” Of course halfway through the operation, your surgeon will notice a grumbling in his stomach, at which point he will throw in the towel, probably inside you, and go off to lunch. When he returns, he will be annoyed because lunch sucked, and the service did as well. He probably won’t remember where he left off and will just amputate a few limbs here and there and be done with you. 

The whole thing makes you feel stabby, so you head to City Hall to lodge a complaint about everything. You’re not very nice to the receptionist because what the hell, she doesn’t have the power, and besides she is in your way. You’re there to see the mayor, where is he?

And that is where you’ve made your biggest mistake. Of all the people you should be nice to in this world, the people who man those desks should be at the top of the list. Dental office, doctor office, city hall, anywhere there’s a receptionist, save your niceness for them. Not only are they the ones who have to work for eight hours a day dealing with the often prima donna testiness of doctors and dentists and what-nots who are ego-driven and not particularly nice to their staff, they are also the ones with the power to get you to where you want to go in that office. They are the ones who drive Ladas that work part-time and choke them with fumes on the way to work where they have to listen to the sob stories about Lexus dust marks. They are the ones who live in normal houses and have to endure lengthly diatribes about the mismatched paint jobs in the million dollar mansions.

If you’re rude to these receptionists, they can make things very very hard for you. They have the magical power of making the boss be available in ten minutes . . . or unavailable for the next two years.

And if your timing is bad and you’re rude at the wrong moment, they are going to see you as the last straw. You don’t want to be the last straw of someone who camps in the back yard because that’s what she can afford, but who has just finished soothing away the tears of a frustrated doctor who found out that his first-class tickets for the weekender trip to Paris are on the wrong side of the airplane and he’ll miss the sunset.

“You. Yeah you, I’m here to see Dr. Fiddlesticks, double fast, honey, I don’t have all day. You’re going to have to get off your chair and actually do something here, I’m afraid.”

“I’m so sorry, sir. I don’t speak English.”

“What? Of course you do, you’re speaking English right now.”

“No, those are the only words I know. And these.”

“Listen, stop dicking around with me and get the goddamn doctor. You’re going to be looking for another job at this rate.”

“Hmm, well, I do know some other English words, good ones, too. I’m not allowed to say them, though.”

“Damn, you’ve wasted enough of my time, just book me an appointment, make it snappy.”

“I have one available on March 30th at 2 pm, will that work for you?”

“Yes, that will be fine. It’s about time.”

“It certainly is. March 30th, 2017, 2 pm.”

“What??? Stop pissing around!”

“Mais oui, pissing? You want bathroom, si? Ya, here ist der key. You must be, what you say . . . crazy like banshee because you don’t understand that I no speaken zee English. We could speak in Latin, if you like. Do you know it? Tu es stultior quam asinus.”

“Why you . . . “


Mandatory condolences

First it was mandatory birthday greetings on Facebook, the ‘surprise’ birthday-wishes schtick in which you get to show your utter amazement that so many people actually remembered your birthday despite that you put your birthday in your profile knowing full well that all your friends will get endless reminders about it. One of the best comments I’ve seen following a spew of birthday greetings was the disingenuous remark, “There's no hiding them anymore, is there?” Umm, actually, there is, although it means the only people who will remember your birthday are people who actually do remember it, and haven’t been badgered about it.
Let’s face it, the Facebook birthday schtick is as tacky as those cheap plastic license plate frames that get you to advertise for the dealership where you bought your car. And in both cases - with the birthday greetings and license plate frames - people blithely go along with it for reasons I cannot fathom.
“OMG, you guys REMEMBERED MY BIRTHDAY! I can’t believe it, so many messages! There’s . . . there’s just no hiding them anymore, is there!” 
“YES, I was horribly ripped off when I bought this car from Bob’s Auto Emporium! But, who cares, they want me to use this crappy license plate frame to promote their business, and wow, I sure will, Bob, you betcha!”
The first thing that comes off the car before I drive it off the lot is the license plate frame. The day they pay me to keep it on is the day I’ll consider keeping it on. So far they’ve always just laughed nervously when I’ve suggested that. They think I am kidding. 
And the first thing that came off my Facebook account was my birthday, once I realized what it meant in terms of promoting it. Obligatory happy birthday greetings are not my thing.
Wait, I digress.
Where was I . . . 
Oh right, so Facebook has just exponentially upped the ante in the tacky department with their new Mandatory Condolences. They don’t call it that, they call it ‘Legacy’ but trust me, that’s what it is, it’s mandatory condolences. Legacy is currently stateside, but sadly will arrive here soon enough.
I should add that on the Facebook blurb for Mandatory Condolences . . . err, I mean Legacy, there is a reference to people ‘passing away’. They don’t ‘die’, because nobody dies these days, they ‘pass away’ or they ‘go to the other side’ or they ‘leave’ or ‘evaporate’, they will do anything and everything, but they flat-out refuse to die. 
I’m doing none of those, I’m just going to die and be done with it. My pets just die as well, they never go to the Rainbow Bridge, they just up and die. My dog would have hated this mythical bridge full of dead animals that makes adults, even atheists, talk in cloying euphemismal My Little Pony terms. Angus, if you’re anywhere near a damn bridge, make a run for it for god’s sake. Oh wait, you can’t because you’re dead, so you’re busy moldering in your grave, which is fine, since it is what we all - people and animals - do, unless we're cremated, in which case we get to be lung-choking dust that will blow into people’s faces when they try to scatter us. It is the last great thing we get to do: Piss someone off by getting all in their face.
People - especially in North America - are afraid of death (as evidenced by the fact that they can’t even say the word) but at the same time are obsessed by it, which to me is an abysmal waste of valuable living time. Yet despite this fear of death, people find ways to trivialize it, especially on Facebook where someone might post an update like this:

OMG, my dog died today, it breaks my heart.

And the damn thing gets 50 likes. Are people liking that your dog died? Or that you’re really unhappy? They can’t just type ‘I’m sorry’ instead of ‘liking’ it?

And as though we don’t meet up with enough death and grief close to heart as we travel life’s road, we now too-deeply mourn the death of celebrities, other strangers, and even unknown pets far and wide. We are in perma-grieving mode, perma-RIP mode. I was caught up in it when Steve Jobs died, it actually affected my whole morning until I realized, what the hell am I doing here, I did not know this man. Write about his admirable traits, sure, but grieve? No. If we too closely embrace all the world’s woes, how can we hope to schedule joie de vivre into our lives? 

Back to Facebook’s Legacy blurb. It reads, “Today we’re introducing a new feature that lets people choose a legacy contact—a family member or friend who can manage their account when they pass away.”
It is an interesting idea, and begs the question, ‘what else should be kept going after you’re dead?’ Should your survivors keep your Netflix account running as well? Add movies they think you’d like to your My List? What about the telephone, should the line be kept live in case people want to call and leave you a message?
Further along in the blurb we discover, “You’ll be able to respond to new friend requests from family members and friends who were not yet connected on Facebook”.
But wait . . . omg, why? Why why why? Why would you ‘friend’ a dead person? “Hey hi there! It is SO GOOD to be reconnected, how in hell are you? Dead? Oh right, well there’s that.”
Apparently you can also, “update the profile picture and cover photo”.
But if you’re updating a profile picture of someone who has died, what in god’s name are you going to use? A picture of the grave? A picture of the body in the casket . . . hold on, maybe a picture of the body with one finger at attention.
. . . Hold on. Okay, yes, put that way Legacy may have potential after all.


Oh sweet sleep. I love those slipping-down seconds when you feel yourself disappear into another world, your brain drifting away on the promise of a good dream. Then maybe you grind your teeth for a bit if you’re into that kind of thing, then it’s time to maybe snore and drive your mate out of his or her cotton-picking mind, now it’s time for a toss here, a turn there, a flip, a kick or two, a cuddle, then maybe you’re too hot so you kick off the covers and then you’re too cold but the covers are no longer around, they have been stolen by that bastard lying beside you. Yet all this is done as seamlessly as a ballet performance, and in the deepest of pristine sleep. This is what we call a ‘pretty good night’s sleep’. 

There’s another kind of sleep, though. It is called ‘a crappy night’s sleep’ or, after a few nights of it, ‘no bloody sleep at all, AGAIN, thank you SO MUCH for asking, #I@#$)#@‘. 

When the person living in the same house asks you ‘how did you sleep’ after you’ve had a bad night, he or she is generally far too smart to add that they slept like a baby. However, they were in that bed with you, so you already know they slept like a damn baby because every time you looked over, there they were, mindlessly sawing logs with a smile on their face, completely oblivious to your suffering. Gazing down at their pathetic sleeping form, you hate them with every fibre of your exhausted being, and things don’t improve all that much in the light of day. Forgiveness takes time, and lots of coffee.

As a rule, I am pretty lucky in matters of sleep. I’m generally down for the count for eight hours, at which point a form of pre rigor mortis has set in. I’m a morning stiff, you see - although luckily not a dead stiff (yet). All my joints manage, in those short eight hours, to completely forget what their job is, so I’m like the Tin Man, can’t move fast, I need my oil, which is taken in the form of several cups of coffee. I don’t really mind, because who wants to move fast first thing in the morning anyway, unless you’re chasing down the rat who ‘slept like a baby’. 

On those rare occasions when sleep refuses to come, I take it very personally. Very very personally. Very very very personally. I take it personally because I know that it is a vindictive and deliberate act on my body’s part, with the brain fully in on the game. They get together and decide to toy with me. “Let’s not sleep tonight, bwahahahaha, we’ll do a sleepectomy on her (again), she will go mad with it. We will have fun. Bring popcorn, I’ll bring beer.” There’s no good reason to do this to me, it’s unbelievably malicious.

A sleepless night goes approximately like this - I hit the pillow, and fall into an instant deep sleep. One nanosecond later, my eyes open. I silently explain to them that it is not time to open. They shut again, but then, as though on springs, they reopen. I repeat myself, this time less patiently. The eyes shut, but reluctantly and with attitude, so I cover them with my hand. This is when the brain takes over. The brain is much more powerful than the eyes. You can bully the eyes into doing what you want, but just try that with the brain. It has so many tricks, and it knows you really well. It knows what buttons to push. 

Next the legs get into the game. The usual way to sleep is suddenly not good enough for the legs. No, they now hate that way of sleeping, and won’t do it. They won’t do any other way either, instead they flail about. They have decided that the bed is hostile territory, and they want nothing to do with it. The arms notice these antics and get into the game. The rest of the body thinks this is amazing stuff and it does what it can to play along. So there I am, a twitching nervous wreck, unable to sleep in the uncomfortable bed - the same bed that the body thought was just fine one night earlier. 

In theory, the trick when you can’t sleep is to just go with it. Relax, read a book, don’t think about time or sleep. Reeeeeeee-laaaaaaaax. I grab my book and make it through the first sentence and suddenly feel more tired than I’ve felt in my entire life. I put down the book, turn out the light, and zzzzzzzz . . . z . . . . . . z . . . zz . . . z - damn, I have to go pee. Has there ever been a more tired person staggering to a bathroom? No, there has not. How can I even make it back to the bed? Maybe I’ll fall asleep on the floor because that’s how tired I am. With effort I do make it back, and my body and brain laugh in harmony as I once again come fully awake.

I accept that I won’t sleep ever again. This I announce out loud. “Why even bother,” I say in my best Eeyore voice. “I will just stay up for the REST OF MY LIFE.” No response from the dead weight on the other side of the bed. We all - myself, my brain and my body - head into the office to get this column written. In minutes I am fast asleep in the chair. My joints, which are whiny things at the best of time, notice that they are resting in highly unacceptable positions, so they ache at me until I wake up. I stagger back to bed, and am now totally ready for sleep, oh boy. Crawling into the bed, chilled and done for, I fall instantly asleeeeeee-wide-awake.

This slips me into rant-mode. I become severe with myself, because sometimes you have to be. “You stupid stupid stupid body, you stupid stupid stupid brain. I hate you more than I’ve ever hated anything or anyone, why, I oughta smack you a good one. I wish you were de . . . wait, never mind that, but I really hope you suffer.” 

And that’s the thing, it works, I do suffer. It is a complicated relationship. 


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About the Author

This bio was written by Jo Slade. As you can see she has written about herself in the third person. What normal person would do that? They just wouldn't. Who knows how many other persons might be involved in this thing, a second person? Another third? I worry about it. I - she - we - can't even keep it straight, this paragraph is a damn mess, there are persons all over the place. Round 'em up and shoot 'em. That's what I'd do, and by golly I think that's what Jo Slade would do as well.

Biographic nutshell: Jo has been messing around with words for a long time. Sometimes she'll just say words instead of writing them, it saves on paper.

This column: The columns that appear here are of a highly serious and scholarly nature, therefore it is advised that you keep a dictionary and ponderous thoughts nearby.

If, after reading the column, you find yourself tossing and turning at night, burning with the need to email me, just do it. I answer to [email protected]


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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