Archive | Research RSS feed for this section

Wanna Know Who You Really Are? Spit Here.

5 Jun

by Roger White                                                                              

 

So the wife finally convinced me to do this ancestry DNA thing you’ve probably heard or read about. Ya know, you send in your DNA sample to this mad scientist type place somewhere in Utah and a few months later you get to find out you’re not Scotch-Irish like you’ve been told since you were 3 but are in fact one-fifth Bosnian-Herzegovinian with a touch of Latvian Orthodox and a slight dusting of the Saskatchewan Moose Jaw Clan. Which is probably why your family just said you were Scotch-Irish and left it at that. Much simpler.

Anyway, one day the wife hands me this cardboard box and excitedly proclaims, “Here’s your kit! Time to provide your sample!”

I was instantly horrified. The only “samples” I’ve ever had to provide for medical/research purposes involved either (a) needles, blood, and pain; (b) sitting alone in a room with a tiny container, some tissues, and a “men’s” magazine while trying hard to think sexy thoughts; or (c) forcibly going to the bathroom and then, while completely mortified, placing my uncomfortably warm “sample” into a tray in the wall of my examination room while praying to God no one opens the tray from the other side of the wall while I’m providing my uncomfortably warm “sample.”

To my great relief, I found out that the ancestry guys just wanted my spit. For a moment, as I self-consciously began earnestly trying to hock up a nice loogie, I eyed Ralph asleep on the floor and pondered what the results would be if I gave them a vial of elderly long-haired dachshund saliva. “Dear Mr. White,” I envisioned, “from your unique DNA sample, our labs have concluded that you are eight-tenths Old World German with a family history of hunting badgers and an unusual tendency toward heartworm. For long-term health, you may consider drinking less from the toilet and going for ‘walkies’ at least three times a week.”

But no, I diligently hocked up my sample, sealed my little vial, and we both shipped off our DNA data in hopes of discovering if great-great-great-great-great grandpappy was perhaps Nebuchadnezzar II or Spike Jones or whoever.

We have since been in the “waiting phase,” while—according to the company literature—the DNA lab experts and biochemists in white labcoats spend arduous weeks attempting to deconstruct our respective spittles down to the double-helix level and painstakingly extract our ancestry information. A substantial part of me thinks that in reality, there’s a big basement room in Provo somewhere with a giant wall map of the world and a bunch of guys in t-shirts and sweatpants armed with darts.

“OK,” a rotund guy yells out, still munching a pizza crust, slouched at his chair. “Watch out. This one is for, let’s see, this dude’s name is ‘White.’” He reaches into a coffee can full of darts, takes a dart and heaves it at the wall. “Rocko,” the guy yells. “Where’d that hit?”

Rocko takes a swig of Miller Lite from a longneck bottle and shuffles over to the map. “It’s in the middle of the damn ocean. Try again.”

The rotund “lab expert” sighs and throws another. “Bingo!”

Rocko burps and leans down to inspect the dart’s landing zone. “Bolivia. Somewhere in the middle of Lake Titicaca. Wow.”

“How ’bout that? Bet the guy never knew he was one-quarter Titicacan. OK, watch out, here goes again…”

I’m hoping that’s not how it goes, but the cynic in me can’t help but think the whole thing is at least a little bit scammy. I did read somewhere that the results aren’t 100 percent accurate and that some folks tend to be over-identified Scandinavian for some reason. I guess Scandinavian is the default heritage, kind of like on the Magic 8 Ball how more times than not the answer is “Results Hazy. Try Again Later.”

 

Roger White is a four-sevenths Scandinavian freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely six-elevenths Creole wife, two half-Sri Lankan daughters, a full-blooded Obesian dachshund, and a cat that refuses to provide a sample. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

A Cautionary Tale from the Planet Retha

27 Jul

by Regor White

 

Sit down, kids, and I’ll share a tale. Mikey, don’t sit so close to the fire. Your Keds are starting to melt. That’s it. OK, good.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (turn right at Andromeda, second star cluster on your left), there was a planet called Retha. The dominant species on the planet Retha were beings known as Nahums. Now, to energize their transport Planet Rethapods and to heat their dwelling units, for many years the Nahums of the good planet Retha used a substance known as ilo—a gooey byproduct of gigantic decayed creatures (called oarsiduns) that lived long before the Nahums.

As time went on, technology developed rapidly—as did the burgeoning population of Retha. The great thinkers and scientists of the planet began to wonder and worry about the safety and the continued availability of the resource ilo. They found, you see, that ilo gave off foul emissions when consumed for energy—and common sense told the thinkers that only so much ilo could be used before it was all gone. Furthermore, the thinkers had found wondrous ways to harness Retha’s natural, reusable energy—such as her great winds and the heat from her nearest star—to fulfill all of the planet’s power needs.

Alas, the influential and powerful Nahums who owned the ilo reserves resisted violently any consideration of these new energy discoveries. They intimidated the thinkers, employed their own so-called scientists to refute and discredit the thinkers, and they paid great sums to Retha’s lawgivers—an unscrupulous class Lopiticiansknown as Lopiticians—to ensure that laws and edicts quashed any and all acceptance of this upstart “renewable energy.”

Disaster followed disaster regarding use and transport of the volatile substance ilo—such as the great ilo spills in the waters of Oximec and Askala that killed all manner of creatures and fouled the once-healthy waters.

The strained rationalizations and twisted logic of the ilo elite reached the pinnacle of absurdity, however, when a process known as farcking became widespread in the Retha region known as North Aricema. Farcking was a procedure invented by the ilo industry to reach deep into Retha’s crust and force out pockets of ilo and its sister substance (called natural sag) by injecting great quantities of high-pressure liquid. This farcking process and the resultant injection of the mass quantities of farcking waste into Retha caused violent tremors—planet rumbles known as rethaquakes—where there had seldom ever been such tremors before.

In the North Aricema provinces of Sexta and Olkamoha, for example, where there had been an average of only one measurable rethaquake per year for decades, they began experiencing an average of 100 of these tremors per year since widespread farcking began there. Yet the pawns of the very wealthy ilo industry quakes!claimed there was no connection—no “concrete proof” of what was patently obvious.

Even after scientific journals all across Retha proved a definite link between the flurry of rethaquakes and the farcking procedures, the province of Sexta went so far as to forbid the governments of its very own villages to ban these rethaquake-inducing processes.

Under the guise of scholarship, ilo industry propagandists, such as the Institute for Policy Doublespeak in the village of Sallad (an ilo stronghold of the Sexta provincmr merrille) produced stories blaming geology itself for the uptick in rethaqakes. A Nahum named Merrill Swetmath, a “resident scholar” of the Doublespeak Institute, even wrote that the high-pressure injection of farcking wastes might be to blame, not the farcking itself. The ridiculous premise of this argument, of course, was that the waste-water injection WAS a basic component of the farcking process! Astounding, no?

Well, you probably know the outcome here, kids. The Lopiticians refused to listen to the scientists and true thinkers who were looking out for the future of Retha. The great and powerful ilo industry reigned supreme over the land—until, that is, swarms of rethaquakes ruined the landscape, and the ilo reserves eventually ran out, throwing an unprepared population into a new Dark Age. Poor Retha.

Thank goodness Earth is no Retha. Eh, kids?

 

Regor White is a freelance Nahum living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely spousal Nahum, two precocious offspring units, a very obese dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com. Or not.

Question for the Ages: Do Snails Get Mad?

31 Mar

by Roger White

 

So I’m sitting on my front porch on a gorgeously sunlit Sunday morning, while Ralph the dog slinks ever so farther into the fringes of the yard and out of my line of vision. He does this so he can stealthily nose through, roll around in, and snack on various dead bugs, worms, and other dogs’ indiscretions in our yard. And to think we let him sleep in our bed with us. Max the fat cat reasonable maxsimilelazes next to me, casually observing a snail making glacial progress across the sidewalk. I begin watching the snail, as well. The little guy is near the edge of the walk, mere inches from the luscious black earth of our garden. It must have taken this tiny gallant gastropod all of this morning and most of last night to ooze his way this far from the driveway, judging from his slimy trajectory, and I marvel at his determination. I figure there’s some greater life lesson here, presumably about fortitude and believing in oneself and putting your best foot forward and all that. Although technically, snails don’t have feet.

Well, to be scientifically correct, the word “gastropod” is derived from the ancient Greek term that literally means “stomach foot,” which would indicate that a snail does indeed have a foot formed from its stomach. However, this is an anthropomorphic misnomer, based on the fact that to humans it appears as if snails and slugs crawl on their bellies. In reality, as we all know, snails and slugs have their stomachs, the rest of their digestive systems, and all the rest of their molluscal viscera in a hump on the el gastropodoopposite, or dorsal, side of their bodies. In most gastropods, this visceral hump is covered by, and contained within, the shell. This will be on the test, and, no, Leonard, you can’t be excused, just hold it in.

So, technically, I’m still not sure if snails have feet.

Anyway, um. Oh, yes, well, just as Eddie Escargot is about to reach the promised land, Max the cat jumps up and bats the unfortunate mollusk back across the sidewalk. The little guy sits there, stunned, back at square one. I swear I hear a tiny, little expletive. Another life lesson, I’m thinking. You know, if at first you don’t succeed, Rome wasn’t built in a day, cats are evil bastards. Stuff like that.

I shake my head at Max’s playful cruelty, wondering if he realizes what he’s done. “Was that necessary?” I lecture. “That is one pissed-off snail.”

Then it hits me. Is it? Is that snail mad as hell and not going to take it anymore? See, these are the things that I ponder. This, among many other reasons we won’t go into in this forum, is why I don’t own or manage a productive business, am not a best-selling author, and never made it to the professional tennis circuit. I am engrossed, wifey would say distracted, by matters such as this: Do snails get angry?

one pissed snailMy curiosity piqued, I dash to the computer and google the question, “Do snails get angry?” I’m not really expecting an answer, but you never know.

Sure enough, the query comes up word for word on the WikiAnswers site. Some bozo replied, “No, slugs and snails can’t get angry because they don’t have faces and therefore can’t frown, smile, or laugh.”

Wait a minute. Snails have faces. Don’t they? So I google “snail face,” only to find a host of sites about snail facials, a Japanese spa treatment in which they smother your head in live snails, which is apparently supposed to retard the aging process because of the incredible properties found in mollusk mucus. Tokyo spas are charging $250 to slather your mug in slugs–$300 if you want to eat them later.

But again, I digress. So I dash back outside to see for myself if our torpid little traveler has a face, only to find Ralph the dog rolling all over the poor thing in the driveway. Yes, Eddie Escargot is escargone. I pick the little guy up and place him gently in the garden, his final resting place. I swear I see a hint of a grin. Snail heaven. Gastropod Valhalla. Hey, there’s a name for our garage band.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Sours for Albert’s Mom

16 Apr

by Roger White

Day 1

Dr. Keys says I should keep a log about how I feel and react to the medications for the next fortnight, so here goes. You see, my gentle flock, living in Austin, as festive and cool and hipster casual as it may appear, comes with a price. I’m not referring specifically to the Venusian triple-digit summers or the wanna-be Stevie Rays hanging out smelly and rudely insistent on every corner—although that does get tiresome. All of south downtown carries a constant aroma of stale beer and lax hygiene these days.

But no, the harshest penalty for residing deep in the pancreas of Texas, for us of the hypeallergiesrvigilant immune system ilk, is allergies. Cedar fever, hay fever, molds, oak, elm, ash—you name it, we have it in spades. My suffering of late has grown beyond the reach of OTC meds and even my allergist’s happy hypodermic, so with doc’s cautious approval, I signed up for a 10-day medical trial of Lerjistan. Sounds like an outlaw country in the Caucasus region, I know, but it’s apparently the latest wave in histamine blockers and vascular inversion and other medico-technical jargon that I don’t even begin to understand except for the fact that Dr. Keys believes it may ease my slobbering, sneezing symptoms.

Day 3

Scary thing is that this trial involves sequestering myself away in this sanitarium-like dorm for the entire 10 days, while men and women in white antiseptic attire, under the watchful eye of the gangly and bookish Dr. Daniels, take my blood pressure and my blood and walk around smiling a little too sincerely. But heck, I actually get paid for my guinea pig services, so I figure I should relax, take the oblong red pills with my meals and catch up on my Andy Griffith shows.

There are five other men in the facility with me, five others desperate for relief or rent money. Regardless of the motive, we all receive the same regimen, and we’ve all been given the same caveat: though the expected efficacy of Lerjistan is high, initial side effects noted in earlier trials may necessitate tweaking of its chemical recipe. Mental side effects, The Friendly StaffDr. Daniels said. Hence the signing of copious waivers, generous compensation, and the carefully monitored quarantine. Everyone’s friendly and professional, but I keep expecting Nurse Ratched to come around any corner. Symptoms have already begun to ease, but I do feel oddly stimulated. Almost giddy at times.

Day 7

Albert, the guy rooming with me, is an odd duck. Heavy and covered with a permanent sheen of forehead perspiration, he hoards just about everything he gets his hands on: ketchup packets, creamer, sugar, napkins. They’re stashed in his bedside drawer like treasure. He buys packages of cherry sours from the vending machines in the cafeteria and stuffs them in his drawer. He never eats them. He has at least thirty packages of Sourscherry sours. They’re for his mom, he says. She loves them and can’t find them anywhere in town anymore. “Truth is,” Albert said today, “I don’t even have allergies. Lied about it. I need the dough, man. My mom’s kicking me out of the house if I don’t get a job soon.” I asked Albert if he feels strange at all when he takes his pills. “Yeah, a little,” he said. “Like I’m speeding my ass off.”

I have discovered, from information gleaned from four outstanding medical and pharmaceutical web sites, that Lerjistan contains a ketamine alkaloid derivative. Ketamine, in its pure form, produces an out-of-body-like experience and heightened brain wave patterns. Interesting. Allergy symptoms have all but disappeared, and I feel strangely powerful. Alive.

Day 9

Time has ceased, but what is time but a manmade construct? I can explain only by degrees, for only by the most minuscule of degrees is the veil lifted for me. I have immersed myself in the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, and I now know that the astronomers and scientists are mistaken. It is not by winds aloft that this magnificent vortex operates. This awesome spiral, as large as the Earth itself, manifests from below, spawned from a tumultuous whirlpool of the nitrogen-methane sludge that comprises the ocean-like surface of this titan planet. I’ve inspected the moons of Saturn, upon two of which Life thrives, unlike Life at all that meets our egotistical definition. Baby steps only, my friends. But I must start somewhere. The galaxy is rife with puzzle pieces that, in full context, fit in the answersuch spectacular perfection. Then, of course, the Universe itself. Pointless to explore, for it is one of a billion billion such constructs, all connected in a grand Mobius strip of creation that simply leads back to point of origin. To be correct, there is no point of origin – like holding a rubber ball and attempting to divine the beginning. There is no Universe; there are no sprawling oaks outside my window; there is no window. Albert has no cherry sours. Everything and everyone are but specters – thoughts in the great mind of That Which Is All. I don’t use God; it is inadequate. And the word conjures religion, and religion is useless. Crowd control only, means for power, gain, self-serving rationalization. Similarly, there is no death. Death of the human form, absolutely the same as a green leaf plucked from its living branch, merely moves the inhabitant life force on to that Mobius strip, where further experience, greater knowledge, takes us closer to That Which Is All. This that has been revealed to me is preface only. There is a vast store of which I’ve yet to comprehend. The great Truth I glimpse now I can scarcely recount, the enormous majority of which I know I lose when I return to my dormitory room. Unfathomable revelations are brought forth with every journey, yet for reasons beyond my grasp they are veiled from my consciousness. They are placed deep in my soul, as they surely are in everyone and everything, but they are curtained for this time.

Day 10

Whew. Strange dreams I’ve been having. They took us off the pills yesterday, and I feel shaky but back to normal. Dr. Daniels said they’ll likely play around with Lerjistan a bit more before deciding on its general release. Probably wise. Damn, my allergies are coming back. I bought a pack of sours for Albert’s mom, but doc told me he was gone.

“Gone? You don’t mean…”

“Yes. Gone. He checked out early. And swiped our coffee pot, the bastard.”

“Oh.”

So I ate the candy. My head hurts.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Looking for Just an Ordinary, Average Scholarship

19 Mar

by Roger White

I am an average guy. I live in an average house, and I have an average family with an average dog and cat. Mind you, my wife and two girls are the finest specimens of human average guybeauty and goodness ever, and I love them more than even the ’71 Cowboys, but Herbert Finkbinder in accounting over at the U.S. Census Bureau would just call us average. Know what I mean?

It hit me just how average we are the other day as I started researching ways and means of getting our daughters through college. Lindsey, our oldest, will be a high school senior next year, and the mere thought of paying for four years of university lectures, dissertation programs, dorm keggers and such gave me a nice, average case of angina. Linz is a bright kid—intelligent, talented, creative—but she suffers the crushing disability of being a member of an underserved, underprivileged demographic: the average Wonderbread family.

In my quest for potential scholarships, I, Joe Wonderbread, have found that precious higher-ed hash can be had only if you are highly unique in some way. Say, for example, if you are tall. The Tall Clubs International Student Scholarship is available for women at least 5 feet 10 and for men 6 feet 2. Conversely, the Little People of America Scholarship paves the way for little people to attend college. Strikes one and two. Linz is average height. I also found that the Atheists for Human Rights Award (AHRA) offers university dough for outstanding members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community—not that there’s anything wrong with that—but there’s another strike, unless Linz has been dating that hyperactive guy for a year under false pretenses. Oh, and for the AHRA money, you have to be a Minnesota resident, so even if Linz decides to play for the other team—not that there’s anything etc.—she would have to move to St. Paul to get the funds.

The Chick & Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Scholarship, I discovered, is open to HEY YOU DUCKany high school senior in the United States who can call ducks. Compelled to know more, I found that each contestant must follow the rules ordained by the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest—and that each scholarship applicant has exactly 90 seconds to use the four standard duck calls: hail, feed, comeback and mating. Well, of course. I passed this one by Linz. Strike four.

Strikes five through eight included (these are real, understand) the Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship, the Klingon Language Institute Kor Memorial Scholarship for Klingon Language Study, the National Candy Technologists Scholarship, and last but not least, the Duck Brand Duct Tape Stuck on Prom Contest Scholarship. What is the Duck Brand Duct Tape Stuck on Prom Contest Scholarship, you ask? Simple. Scholarship applicants must attend a high school prom wearing complete attire or accessories made from duct tape. The submission must include a color photograph of the couple together in said duct tape prom attire. Linz turned this down flat, even after I reminded her of Lady Gaga’s rise to stardom. I considered asking wifey to the spring fling—first place is a cool $2,500! I wonder if the Duck Calling Scholarship and the Duck Brand Duct Tape thing could merge somehow. Anyway, strike eight.

 Ummm no

So. Linz wants nothing to do with any of the above, she has little hope of getting a free ride as a college quarterback, and she happens to be the only color of the rainbow that doesn’t have some kind of scholarship fund set up for her advancement. Don’t get me wrong on this. I’m not bitter—any precious bucks that anyone can get based on anything about them—I say more power to them. But the average kid from the average Wonderbread family? Hmph. This got me thinking. We need an average scholarship, for students from typical, run-of-the-mill families with no distinct heritage. What do you say?

I’ll just throw this out there. Off the top of my head. Let’s call it the Average Wonderbread Kid With Average Relaxed Demeanor (AWKWARD) Scholarship for People Of Obscure Personal Ancestry, Genealogy, Etc. (POOPAGE). There you have it. If you’d like to donate, send a minimum of $25 to AWKWARD POOPAGE, P.O. Box 3, Cement, Texas 75555.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Let’s Play the Blame Game

11 Dec

by Roger White  

 

Did you ever notice how a lot of bloggers and columnists these days start their blogs and columns with “Did you ever notice…”? Uh oh.

Actually, in all the 2,103 columns I’ve written over the past (censored) years, I don’t believe I’ve ever kicked off an installment with those four Seinfeldian words. So allow me this one:

Did you ever notice how there is always someone or something to blame for every cotton pickin’ thing these days? In this age of victims, nothing just happens by chance or circumstance anymore—someone must be blamed. Fault must be found. Perpetrators must be punished. And surely somewhere down the line, lawyers must be compensated.

I have resisted this mindset as long as I can, dragged my feet against the rushing tide of the times until my heels are raw. So I give in. I will now add my voice to the din; therefore, I give you my “blame” list for some of the odd quirks and tendencies that are endemic to li’l old me.

Scapegoat No. 1—Doorways. Ya know the age-old question of “what did I come in here for” that hits you when you walk into a room and then draw a complete blank? Well, at my age this happens just about every hour on the hour. I thought I was getting old and feeble-minded, but as it turns out, my door is to blame. Yep, psychologist types at the University duhhhhof Notre Dame have determined that walking through a doorway triggers something called an event boundary in your noggin. In other words, what you were thinking of in one room goes flying away when you go to another room, especially when the TV is on and the Cowboys have the ball. Okay, I made up that last part. But isn’t this great? I have a lawsuit in the works against Pella Doors and Windows. If you want to join me in a class action suit, dial 1-800-DUM-DOOR.

Scapegoat No. 2—Apple Maps. I get lost a lot; now, I’ve someone to blame. Did you hear about this? Seems that Apple Maps, in its rush to compete against Google and other major online map companies, goofed big time, putting many cities and landmarks in the wrong places.

In one grievous instance, Apple plopped some town called Mildura, Australia, more than 40 miles away from where it really is, and—believe it or not—some drivers actually ended up stuck in the rugged Australian outback and had to be rescued by police.

Can you picture this? The road sign reads “Mildura Straight Ahead” but the car’s Apple Map says “No, Ron, turn left.”

you are here, no here“Crikey!” says Ron and turns left against his better judgment. Ten hours later, as Ron scorches in the 110-degree heat of the outback, he decides to leave.

“NO!” orders Apple Map. “You are here. This is Mildura.”

“But…I’m thirsty.”

“I’m sorry, Ron, but I have shut off your motor.”

This is ripe for another juicy legal action, no?

“Uh, yeah, hello? Is this Apple Maps?”

“Yes.”

“Listen, I have Apple Maps on my iPhone, and it told me that to get to Dallas I had to drive straight ahead off the Galveston Sea Wall, and my car is now in 15 feet of water. Can I speak to your legal department?”

Scapegoat No. 3—Kitty litter. One of my duties around the homestead is waste management—and this includes changing that most toxic of entities, the kitty litter box. I have always thought that this lovely, touchy-feely euphemism—kitty litter—is one of the cruelest of domestic ironies. The term “kitty litter” sounds cute, harmless, even cuddly somehow. Have you ever changed a kitty litter box that hasn’t been touched by human hands in over a week? This is one of the foulest, nastiest, zombie apocalyptic-type things you’ll ever come in contact with. I honestly believe that you could arm the U.S. Marines meowuhohwith cats, turned back end toward the enemy, and you could send any opposing force running faster than Iraq’s elite Republican Guards.

Anyway, it turns out that, now stay with me here, some suicide attempts have actually been linked to kitty litter. I believe it. A study by a guy named Teodor Postolache (really, that’s his name) claims there’s a link between an infection called Toxoplasma gondii, which you get from handling kitty litter, and suicide attempts.

So there you have it, honey. I would change the box, but, man, I’m so down. What’s the use in living?

Side note to self: File suit against the Fresh Step company.

Now, this last part has nothing to do with anything, but I believe it carries a strong message for you and me. Seems that a Florida man remains in the hospital with severe injuries after the cops stopped him for DWHATSIYS.

What’s DWHATSIYS, you ask? That’s police lingo for Driving While Having A Traffic Sign In Your Skull. Duh. The Florida Highway Patrol pulled over one L.R. Newton after he smashed into a road sign and then kept on going. When they stopped the guy, they found that a big chunk of the traffic sign was sticking out of his headbone. Newton’s in stable condition, but the sign didn’t make it.

Stupid sign. I’d sue the sign makers.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

 

They’ll Take My Lawn Darts When They Pry Them from My Cold, Dead Hands

26 Nov

by Roger White

Every Christmas season, right on cue, under the guise of “the public interest,” some Grinch-worshiping cults masquerading as nonprofit research groups publish their annual lists of the most dangerous, evil, and malicious child-eating toys of the year. I have a toy bone to pick with these guys—not a large toy bone, just a small one. In fact, it’s small enough to lodge in the throat and necessitate a trip to the emergency room. But nevertheless…

Don’t misunderstand, I acknowledge the need for watchdogs in our society, especially when it comes to the safety and well-being of our tiniest community members. There is surely no call for manufacturing and marketing such items as Mister Mickey’s Mini-Molotov Cocktail Set or Captain Smiley’s Fun with Asbestos Removal. But some of the selections for the naughty toy list are a bit nitpicky, if you ask me.

Take this year’s U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety, for example. The PIRG Nerds spent all of their time from September through November hanging out in toy stores and malls playing with all the toys, games, and gadgets. (Side note: I want a job at PIRG.) According to the PIRG report, “Our investigation focused on toys that posed a potential toxic, choking, strangulation, or noise hazard.” The report mentioned nothing about all the obnoxious, overly-sexed, street-walker-dressed dolls aimed at the preteen set—but then, maybe I’m being a prude.

 

No, PIRG’s pet peeves involved amounts of lead, tiny magnets in toys, little toy pieces that kids could swallow, loud toys, and toys that contained something called phthalates. Not only do I not have the foggiest idea what phthalates are, I don’t even know how to pronounce them. Trying to pronounce phthalates produces enough spittle as to discourage me from even investigating them, and I recommend the same for you. This is the “if you can’t pronounce it, it can’t hurt you” school of consumer protection. I will note that the PIRG study reported that the state of Washington had the toughest phthalate protection laws on the books—they went as far as making toy manufacturers that used phthalates spell out the amount of phthalates on the toy. This, I’m sure, caused toy manufacturers in Washington to increase the size of their toys just so the word phthalates could appear on the toy.

As for the rest of the hazards on the list, come on. We’ve become a nation of coddlers. As far as lead goes, I found out after the fact that all of my beloved Hot Wheels cars of the late 1960s were slathered in lead paint. I never ate one of my Hot Wheels cars. I crashed them a lot, maybe even burned one or two to see how neat it would look, but I don’t recall ever licking or munching my toy cars. And I turned out fine. No, really, I did. The dangers of magnets, choking, poking, burning, toxins, all that? Let me just say that when I was a tyke, we had Creepy Crawlers (basically an open hot plate used to cook plastic goo); giant lawn darts, which my pals and I would use as WWII bombs on our toy tanks and soldiers (we wore makeshift helmets on the battlefield); BB guns, which we would fire at each other to reenact famous battles throughout history; stingray bikes with no safety helmets or silly pads; and junior chemistry sets complete with instructions on what to do if you caught fire. And we all somehow made it through to adulthood with nary a scratch.

Well, I wouldn’t say nary a scratch. There was that incident with Jimmy Peterson’s left eye. And, oh, yeah, Bobby Scoggins never could catch a ball again after that one time—and jeez, I forgot all about poor Stevie Blackwell. He was a fun guy, rest his soul. OK, OK, never mind. I suppose some of the old toys are best left in the old days. Who’s up for some Slip ’n’ Slide?!

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.