Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Child Abuse Prevention & Tater-Tots



As a part of her ongoing education, my wife was signed up to attend a seminar on how to identify and prevent the sexual abuse of children. Nervous about facing such daunting subject matter alone, she asked if I would attend with her. I agreed, and was informed that although it began immediately after I got off work there would be a “snack supper” provided to the attendees. From past experience with the term “snack supper” I assumed this meant I would be provided with cubed cheese and cocktail weenies until I could get to a Wendy’s.

Fortunately, the coordinators had provided a spaghetti and tater-tot main course which was both delicious and filling. As with many of these events, we were seated at round tables with other attendees which meant we found ourselves in the company of a young woman we had never met before. We made the requisite small talk and then we were handed a pre-course evaluation quiz meant to gauge our current level of knowledge concerning sexual abuse in minors.

All questions were presented in a true/false format and while some were well-worded and concise, a few proved to be difficult to answer. One in particular that generated some discussion between us and our table-mate was, “Victims of childhood sexual abuse are statistically more likely to develop cancer and type 2 diabetes as adults.”

At first glance, we were all tempted to mark this one as false. After all, how could one draw a direct line from childhood sexual trauma to adult cancer? However, I began to reason out-loud that such trauma could perhaps lead to anxiety and addictive behavior which could in turn manifest itself as a nicotine habit which is statistically-likely to lead to a cancer diagnosis. My wife, eagerly jumping on this train of thought, added that the same anxiety and behavior could lead to compulsive overeating which, one could argue, is a harbinger for type 2 diabetes.

Basking in the glow of our impeccable reasoning, we glanced at our table-mate for input but she appeared to have become somewhat sullen. A few moments later, she left the table to smoke a cigarette and returned to the table with a plate of two-dozen tater-tots which she consumed in silence.  

Once again, I had managed to place my foot directly into my mouth but quickly rejected the idea of addressing it. What would I even say? “I know earlier my wife and I implied that a nicotine habit and robust appetite could indicate child-hood abuse and an untimely demise but we weren’t talking about you just because you enjoy menthols and have a penchant for tater-tots.” I decided that any continued conversation would be futile so we simply waited for the next video segment where a woman with severe eyebrows would lead us through the participant guide.

At the course’s conclusion (which was extremely worthwhile even if from a parenting perspective) we were given a post-training quiz. As the facilitator walked us through the correct answers on the post-quiz, several attendees would speak the answers out loud. For the most part, this process was handled with the dignity and emotional gravity demanded by the subject matter.

There was, however, one table that seemed to be under the impression that we were participating in bar trivia. As one speaker was leading us through statistics they would often shout “True” or “False” ahead of the conclusion of the sentence. There was also a few extremely awkward moments of inappropriate clapping if their answers were correct:

Speaker - 90% of child abuse cases are perpetrated by someone the family knows an……
Table 3 –True! True!
Speaker – That is true. [Clapping from table 3]

At least they weren’t taking shots for correct answers.

All in all, I would encourage anyone to attend child-abuse awareness training as we should take every opportunity to end this scourge that has tainted so many lives. Just try to refrain from victory dances when you correctly guess a statistic.   

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Garage Mirage



I have noticed a suburban trend whereby homeowners with attached, enclosed garages have forgotten that it is possible to actually park their cars in them. All over America, perfectly functional vehicle storage areas have been repurposed to protect structurally-compromised couches and optimistically-procured exercise equipment. Meanwhile, the homeowner’s second largest investment sits outside collecting hail-damage and bird feces.

We have a neighbor whose late-model vehicle has never experienced the luxury of weathering a storm indoors because their garage is full of items whose aggregate value probably would not even cover the cost of a few tanks of gas. They are literally telling the world that keeping a perpetually-immobile lawn tractor and a couple of defective birdcages dry is more important than protecting their only mode of transportation from preventable harm.

I realize that I am probably steeping on a few toes and there are many people I love and admire who will read this while resting in the yard-sale papasan chair that displaced their Lexus, but this epidemic must be stopped before it is too late.

I imagine, like most epidemics, it begins small. Having a dust-covered treadmill in your guest room has gotten embarrassing and who wants to haul three cardboard boxes of outdated keepsakes into the attic. So, you simply stack a few items in the corner of the garage and don’t pull in so far. Next, you add a few decommissioned children’s toys and a plastic tub of outdated winter clothes you intend to include in a perpetually forthcoming “garage sale.” Before you know it, two years have passed and you would rather unload groceries in the pouring rain than make a judgment call on the wobbly nightstand you received when Aunt Sally “went to be with Jesus.”

If this phenomenon becomes any more deeply ingrained in our culture, the entire real estate industry will be faced with rebranded residential homes. Instead of “fully-enclosed 2 car garage” you will see ads that tout “outward-facing ground-level storage bay with retractable access door” or “indoor rummage-sale staging area.” Prospective buyers will stroll through houses and wonder aloud if their collection of flood-damaged ottomans will fit in “that big room with the oil stains.”

I have heard all of the arguments in favor of garage outsourcing. The house doesn’t have enough storage space. We are just waiting until we can afford a storage unit. It would be easier for someone to steal my old tape deck than my Nissan. In my opinion, there a very few legitimate reasons to place a $20,000 sedan outside so that you can protect future estate-sale fodder from the adverse effects of inclement weather.

Here are acceptable scenarios for parking your car outside when you have a perfectly functional garage:


  • Gam-gam’s iron lung requires an emergency generator whose switch housing must be placed away from precipitation.

  • You discovered a lost Rembrandt in your uncle’s attic and need a place to store it until Sotheby’s can arrange for a pickup.

  • You told your son that his Night Ranger tribute band could rehearse at your house this week because the bassist’s girlfriend “needed some space.”

  • You have taken possession of an adolescent Bengal tiger and wish to hide its existence from your neighbors but don’t trust it enough to leave it in the living room with your beloved Pekingese “Reginald Cuddleford” while you are at work.

  • You drive a Pontic Grand Am.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Mid-Term Elections



What has struck me most about mid-term elections is how predictably cyclical they have become. Invariably, when our nation decides that a sitting president deserves a second term they will vote in an oppositional legislative branch two years later. This happened to Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and now Obama.

The speeches are the same. The newly-empowered party will announce the mid-term victories as a repudiation of both the sitting president’s policies and party by the American people. This momentum will last for a few years until the pendulum of popular opinion swings back the other direction and we decide that we were better off with whatever we had before. The minority party will then be dissected by political commentators as “out of touch” until the majority party makes enough mistakes to disgust a sizable portion of the electorate.

Even as partisan as our world has become, it still seems as though we are scared of letting either party hold the reigns for too long. Perhaps we theorize that a lengthy Republican rule would lead to compulsory gun ownership and pre-marital abstinence while a lengthy Democratic regime would transform the populace into lazy pot-heads who exist on government subsidies. The truth is that many people find moderates to be attractive candidates because we don’t like extremes.

We find the idea of “convenience” late-term abortions repulsive, but aren’t heartless enough to pretend that a mother of two choosing between cancer treatment for herself and the life of her fetus fall into the same category.

We support the idea of gun-ownership, but don’t believe the second amendment allows Uncle Cooter to purchase anti-aircraft rockets at a flea market.

We yearn for peace, but are not naive enough to believe all manifestations of tyranny can be stopped by economic sanctions and symbolic resolutions.

We believe that there should be consequences for your actions, but find it untenable when those consequences are proportional to your socioeconomic class.

We agree that our immigration system is broken, but haven’t forgotten that much of our nation’s strength derives from cultural and ethnic diversity of its people.

We want our government to provide the services it is tasked with (infrastructure, defense, and regulation) but we are tired of seeing our tax dollars squandered away on Congressional pet-projects and studies on hamster migration.

Even my own state ratified a paradoxical mix of moral imperatives. We further restricted abortions while expanding the availability of gambling and alcohol. One might even argue that making it more convenient to procure wine and less convenient to deal with unwanted pregnancy borders on entrapment.

The fact that all of these measures enjoyed popular support on the same ballot was somewhat bewildering to me. Voters wish to see more libations and roulette wheels but less abortion clinics. I say that not because they are necessarily related, but because such a mixture would be unthinkable as a single candidate’s platform.

Can you imagine running as the staunchly “pro-life, pro-liquor, and pro-let it ride” nominee? It would be excruciating just to decide where to hold you rallies. You would probably offend half your supporters just by showing up to events. There you are, apologizing to the Nevada gaming commission because the altar-call ran long at the Southern Baptist pro-life conference. Thus is the life of a politician I guess. I am still trying to find a representative willing to deport Honey Boo-Boo as a cultural-terrorist.