2009-03-19 / Sam Bari

Mixed messages

You can't beat a system you can't understand
By Sam Bari

For the past few days, I have been visiting my son, Roman, and his family. My grandkids, ages six and four, are starting to remind me of a misspent youth with my erstwhile gang of young ruffians who looked at life with more humor than sense.

Children get their speaking skills together and enjoy communicating during the formative years from about four to seven or so. As vocabularies improve and the ability to pronounce more diffi cult words becomes easier, they manage to speak in increasingly complex sentences that soon turn into an endless narrative on their ongoing, minute by minute review of life as they see it . . . or . . . as they want you to remember it. The latter is the operative phrase that we shall address today.

Those of you who have children, especially older children, are well aware of that which I am speaking. The next generation quickly learns that if they talk continually and fast, their nattering soon turns into nothing more than background noise that parents tune out.

By the time children become teenagers they have mastered the technique of hypnotizing their parents with continual and dull verbiage. Using said technique to its best advantage is an acquired skill.

A shining example of a master of this fine art was Pookie Grossberg, my boyhood friend. Pookie had a way of telling the truth the right way at the right time. This allowed him to commit the most dastardly deeds and walk away with impunity. By the time Pookie was a teenager, he was an undisputed expert.

Whenever Pookie did something that he knew would come back to haunt him when his father found out about it, Pookie would wait until his dad came home from work. That was the ideal time.

As soon as his father sat in his easy chair Pookie would burst into the room and tell his dad about his day. Pookie's dad did not have the heart to stop his children from talking to him, but he would invariably listen to the news and just tune Pookie out. He would occasionally nod his head and grunt while Pookie ranted on nonsensically.

Pookie would talk about driving to school, report on every class in detail, tell his dad what he had for lunch, and as he talked he picked up the pace of his delivery until everything he said would blend into one indiscernible word. By this time his father didn't even bother to nod or grunt.

When Pookie saw his father's eyes glaze over, he knew he had him, and Pookie would do his magic. "AfterschoolIdroveacoupleoftheguyshomebutwestoppedatthepoolhalltoshootafewracksandonthewayIgotaticketfordoingfiftyinaschoolz nesoyourinsurancewillprobablygoupaboutfiftypercent." Then he would stop.

Pookie's dad would notice the abrupt change and usually say something like, "That's good, son. I'm glad you had a great day. Now let me watch the news and I'll see you at dinner." And Pookie would say, "Sure thing, Dad," and walk away smiling.

His father heard, "I got a ticket for doing 50 in a school zone so your insurance will probably go up about 50 percent," but it didn't register. However, when the insurance bill came and Pookie's dad would get so mad he could barely speak, Pookie would calmly say, "I told you about it last week when you came home and you said, "okay.""

His father then felt guilty for not listening to his son, and that totally disarmed him. The conversation would end with his father sputtering, "Well . . . be more careful and don't let it happen again."

Pookie's technique worked well. However, other methods accomplished the same end. Kinky Boswell, another member of our ragtag group was the most adept at the half-truth. If his father asked, "What did you do today?" Kinky would tell him that he took his mom's car to the garage.

He would leave out the part about stopping at the garage to get a quote for fixing a fender that he dented when he hit a fire hydrant when he was trying to park. When the bill arrived, Kinky's dad assumed it was for something his wife did, and wouldn't press the issue. But just in case Kinky was confronted, he knew he could say, "I told you I took mom's car to the garage."

If these scenarios seem all too familiar, try to remember, we did the same thing as we tried to survive growing up in a system we can't understand.

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