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Childhood Ghost Story: The First Sighting

(image via wikimedia)

The ghost in the doorway freaked me out a little bit, but I didn’t scream or cry or yell out for help.  I was 10 years-old, it was in the middle of the night, and I had just woken up, and I was going to get up to use the bathroom when I saw it.

An old guy in a robe was staring at me in my bedroom doorway.  That’s what it looked like.  A sad old guy.  Looking back, I’m probably lucky he didn’t open his robe and flash me, but no, it wasn’t like that.  He looked like an old man, and he had a night cap on his head, and he just stood there looking at me.

I could still see my brother’s closed bedroom door across the hallway, but it looked kind of murky.  I could kind of see through the guy, but I definitely couldn’t see past him clearly.

I’m not sure I even believed in ghosts before this happened. Growing up in the 1970s, we didn’t have the internet to look up stuff, so we believed in whatever we believed in.  I remember kids believing in Bigfoot, and UFOs, and the Lochness Monster, and the Sasquatch.  Nobody believed in vampires or King Kong or giant bugs.  Ghosts were somewhere in the middle.

Our small town theater (that got movies a year after they’d come out) had once shown a documentary about the paranormal and other weird stuff.  There was a scene that reenacted some girl dying and a photographer catching a light that looked like her soul.  That scene wasn’t very believable, even by 1970’s standards.  The scene where Bigfoot smashed his giant arm through a window was way more compelling to me.  I was scared of a giant hairy arm crashing through my window.  A light that might be (but probably wasn’t) a soul?  No way.

Movies like that had just intensified my imagination.  Even in 5th grade, I knew I had an imagination.  I read comic books.  I drew my own books and came up with my own stories.  I daydreamed a lot, but not enough to get in trouble in school.  I could get my work done, daydream, and then get more work done.  I daydreamed in increments.  Daydreaming was like my way of getting mental energy back.  It was like coffee before I started drinking coffee.

Since I was already aware of my imagination, I thought at first the old guy in my doorway was just a trick of the light, and I tried to be logical about it.  There was no way an old guy could get into our house and walk down our hallway without my parents hearing him from their makeshift bedroom right by the front door.  Plus, my hound dog would have gone nuts.  My hound dog hated strangers.  There was no way my hound dog would let a ghost near me.  My hound dog could probably detect a ghost before I could, and I hadn’t heard a peep from my hound dog.

I squinted and rubbed my eyes.  My muddled brain filled with questions.  What if it really was a ghost?  What if I got up and tried to walk through it?  I hadn’t seen enough ghost movies or read enough ghost books to know what happens if you walked through a ghost.  Would it retaliate it or, even worse, possess me?  I didn’t want to get possessed by a dead old man.  But I needed to use the bathroom too.  This wasn’t something I could ask for help with.

That was the problem.  As cautious as I was of the ghost, I was more scared of being thought of as a wimpy kid. I didn’t want to be shamed by screaming about a ghost.  My dad already thought I was a bit odd.  I didn’t want to add to it by screaming about an imaginary ghost.

Under normal circumstances, maybe I could have waited out the ghost.  Yeah, it was the middle of the night, but it would be light out in a few hours.  No ghost like this would stick around during the day.  Plus, if he did, my parents would see him and then I’d be off the hook.  I wouldn’t be the crazy one if somebody else spotted the ghost before I mentioned it.

But I had to use the bathroom.  Having a ghost stare me down probably made the bathroom urge even worse.  I didn’t think of that then, but it’s probably true.  I had a choice to make.  Be scared of the ghost?  Or use the bathroom?

Then I felt for the warm lump on my bed that was my hound dog… and the warm lump was gone.  I patted around the bed.  I slowly pressed my palms to the floor, hoping that maybe she had switched to a nearby location, but I felt nothing.  No!  No!  No!

My hound dog was gone!  That didn’t make any sense.  She never left in the middle of the night.  Where would she go?  That was simple, I thought; she went somewhere the ghost wasn’t.  My hound dog had abandoned me.  And I had to use the bathroom!  And the ghost was still blocking my doorway.


To be continued!

And you can read from the beginning at Childhood Ghost Story- The Prologue.

The Spider-Man Comic Book Cover That Traumatized Me

I was six years-old when this comic book came out, alright?  I’m not still traumatized by it!  Now I think it’s kind of funny.

Every super hero goes through a time when he/she wants to quit, and it lasts only a couple issues.  If the hero quits, sales of the comic book go down, and the publishers can’t have that.

Still, this cover was kind of unsettling for a six year-old with no cable or internet in 1972.

What was on the cover that could disturb a six year-old?  What would make Spider-Man want to quit in 1972?  What are you waiting for, true believer?  Watch the video!! 


Long Story: Teachers With Unfortunate Last Names

He can’t concentrate because some kid in the front row is picking his nose. (image via wikimedia)

When I was growing up, I had some teachers with funny last names.  In junior high I had a math teacher named Mrs. Butte.  She insisted her name was pronounced “Bee-Yute” like the word “beauty,” but she wasn’t attractive at all.  If she had been a hot chick with cleavage, we might have pronounced her name correctly.  But she wasn’t, so we didn’t.

There was also a social studies teacher named Mr. Dick (and his name was pronounced exactly like it was spelled).  Nobody made fun of Mr. Dick.  You would think a guy named Mr. Dick would stay out of teaching because of his last name, but nobody ever made fun of him.

Mr. Dick was an old man who had cool tattoos on his arm (none of them looked like his last name).  He had been teaching for decades, and everybody in town had grown up knowing Mr. Dick (or knowing about him), so nobody thought anything about his name anymore.  He was just an old man named Mr. Dick.

There’s no way to prove this, but my junior high was probably the only school that had both a Mrs. Butte and a Mr. Dick.

Then in high school I had an English teacher named Mr. Faggins.  Mr. Faggins announced on the first day of school that his name was to be pronounced as “Fay-guns.”  I knew my rules of pronunciation and how the double consonant causes the vowel in front of it to have the soft sound, but I was also polite enough not to argue with an adult about how to pronounce his last name.  I’ve always believed that a person should be able to choose how to pronounce his or her name.

Of course, somebody would have to test Mr. Fay-guns.

It was the second day of school, and there was this kid named Tucker who sat in the front middle desk of Mr. Fay-guns’ classroom.  I was in the third desk two rows closer to the door.  Tucker was an annoying kid who got beat up every once in a while (but he brought it on himself, so nobody felt sorry for him).  Mr. Fay-guns was going over classroom rules when Tucker asked a question.

“Can I go to the bathroom, Mr. Faggins?”

Mr. Fay-guns paused and said, “Not now.  And in the future please pronounce my name correctly.”

Mr. Fay-guns continued lecturing about his rules, but a few minutes later Tucker interrupted him.

“When can I go to the bathroom, Mr. Faggins?”

“You will not go to the bathroom as long as you are mispronouncing my name,” Mr. Fay-guns said slowly.

“I need to go to the bathroom, Faggins,” Tucker said.

Here is what everybody who was there agrees about. Mr. Fay-guns thwacked Tucker upside the head, grabbed him, and physically threw him out of the classroom.

Here’s where there is some disagreement.  I think Tucker left out the word “mister.”  Other students said that Tucker said “mister”,” but stressed the “Faggins” so much that it sounded like an insult.  Also, I think Mr. Fay-guns hit Tucker with a dictionary (not an unabridged dictionary, though that would have been really impressive and maybe deadly).  Others insisted it was just a paperback book that had been lying around.  A couple students said Fay-guns open-palmed Tucker, but I heard a clear THWACK, and a slap doesn’t make a THWACK sound.

I saw Mr. Fay-guns grab Tucker by his shirt collar and drag him out of the classroom.  Others said Mr. Fay-guns pulled Tucker by his arm, then armpit, and then threw him out.  A couple guys said Tucker ran out of the room crying like a baby.

Tucker maintained all-year long that he had done nothing wrong and that Mr. Fay-guns had attacked him for no reason.

There is no cell phone footage of the event (which took place in 1980, I think), so it shall forever remain a mystery what exactly happened.

If something like this occurred today, things would be handled a bit differently.  Nowadays if a teacher hit a kid with a dictionary (I stand by my version of the story), the teacher would get fired and probably get sued.  Nothing like that happened to Mr. Fay-guns.  Even better, Tucker got switched to another English teacher.  That was great because we didn’t like Tucker anyway.  But I was a little scared of Mr. Fay-guns after that.

I remember Mr. Fay-guns, not because of his last name (though that helps) and not because he beat up a kid in class (that helps too).  I remember Mr. Fay-guns because something happened in his class one day (nobody got beat up) that made me realize that I could be a pretty good writer.

But it’s a long story.

To be continued in Long Story: The Power of Mediocre Teachers .

This story originally appeared in Dysfunctional Literacy on November 11, 2012.

The 4th of July, 1976 (Revisited)

(image via wikimedia)

Even though I don’t remember most holidays from childhood, I vividly remember the 4th of July of 1976.  I was ten years old, and the United States was turning 200.

The United States had just gone through the Vietnam War and Watergate and there was a presidential election coming up, but there was no internet or cable news or social media, so people didn’t get consumed by all that stuff as much (and if they did, we didn’t see it).  We just got consumed by other stuff.

The 4th of July isn’t my favorite holiday.  It’s probably not even in my top five.  But I remember this particular July 4th of 1976 more clearly then I do any other holiday.  I have such a fond memory of it that I wrote a story about it a few years ago, and now I post the story every 4th of July (if I remember to do it… sometimes I forget).  My title might be a little lazy, but at least it tells you what the story is going to be about.

4th of July Story

Relax. This picture was created in 1902. It was okay for kids to fire off guns back then. (image via Wikipedia)

I was 10 when the United States turned 200 years old.  It was a big deal back then, but at the time, the meaning of the 4th of July was lost on me.  As an adult, I understand July 4th  is the annual celebration of the signing and approval of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress.

I understand how important the following sentence from The Declaration of Independence is:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

That one sentence had a bunch of concepts that were unique way back in 1776.

The Declaration of Independence is also known for John Hancock’s really big signature.  As an adult, I appreciate how momentous the signing of that document was and how it began the process of liberating the colonies and forming one of the greatest nations in the world. I appreciate John Hancock’s really big signature.  I even remember a couple jokes about how a guy named John Hancock had a really big signature.

When I was a kid, I didn’t understand all this, including the John Hancock jokes.  Back when I was 10, the 4th of July was about shooting off fireworks.  And 1976 was a great year to shoot off fireworks.

Read more at  4th of July Story: The Box of M-80s 

Classic Comic Review: Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe is kind of hard to read.  It was written in 1851, and that automatically makes the novel difficult for a lot of readers.  Some sentences are long, and the dialogue is filled with dialects and accents that over-sensitive readers today might (and probably would) find offensive.

Still, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was kind of an influential novel, and it sold a lot of copies.  It shocked readers with its portrayal of slavery in the United States south and helped inspire the abolitionist movement.  Several pejorative terms (which I’m not going to get into because I’m not that kind of blogger) came from this book, but many people today don’t understand the foundation of these pejoratives.

Even though I’ve never read Uncle Tom’s Cabin from beginning-to-end, I HAVE read this classic comic book.  It was in a stack of Classics Illustrated comic books that my dad kept and let us read.  I’ve outgrown comic books to some extent, but I’m interested to see how this 1946 (reprint) comic book version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin holds up today.

In today’s environment, reviewing a 1946 (reprint) comic book version of an 1851 story that deals with slavery can be a bit risky, but hey, that’s just the kind of guy I am!  If you’re interested in what a classic comic version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin looks like, watch the video below.

Unexpected Conflict at the Used Book Store

(image via wikimedia)

When I went to the used book store a few days ago, I was excited because I hadn’t been surrounded by so many books for so long.  Before the lockdowns and the masks, I would go to the city’s main branch public library once every couple weeks, but that has been closed since mid-March, so I’ve been stuck with the remnants of my once great book collection.  And that collection is in a closet.

Believe me, I still have plenty of books at home that I haven’t read.  After I finished reading my library books, I read East of Eden by John Steinbeck, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John LeCarre, and Texas by James Michener.  I was even challenged by some guy to read Ulysses by James Joyce, but I told that guy that being in a lockdown was enough punishment for a while.  I’m still reading The Bible too.  All those books are worth talking about, except Ulysses.  I’m not talking about Ulysses.

Before I left for the used book store, I made sure to clean my mask.  I usually only wear a mask in grocery stores (I don’t go out much), and I never spend much time there, so I don’t worry about how clean my mask is then.  But I knew I’d be in the book store for a while.  I even got a new filter.  Yeah, I know people get upset about when and where and how you should wear masks, but I’m not that kind of blogger, and I’m just telling you what I did.

As soon as my daughter and I walked into the used book store, she almost ruined the trip by asking an employee for help.  She has one book for her summer reading list and… wait a minute… only ONE BOOK!?!?  A couple summers ago, she had five books.  Now she’s older and has only one book.  That doesn’t make sense.  And that book is 1984 by George Orwell.  Schools must have given up right after the pandemic started.  They even gave up on their massive summer reading lists.

Anyway, my daughter asked the employee where 1984 by George Orwell would be.  I was disappointed In her.  You never ask a book store employee where a book is.  You find the book yourself.  Only people who can’t read ask for help finding books.

“We could have found the book ourselves,” I said to my daughter as the employee led us around the store.

“This is faster,” she said.

“No, it isn’t,” I said.  “I know exactly where 1984 is.  Fiction/Literature.  Right there.”  I pointed to the correct shelf before the employee got there.

“Hmmmfff,” my daughter said and shrugged her shoulders.

There were two copies of the book, one that spelled out Nineteen Eighty-Four and 1984.

“Go with the numerical title,” I said.  “Nobody spells out years.”

My daughter agreed.  That was the cheaper book and it was in better condition.  No bloodstains or boogers.

“Check for missing pages,” I said.  That had happened a few years ago when I’d bought a really nice old copy of Dr. Zhivago for a really cheap price.  Then I got home and discovered it was missing 30 pages.  The used book store didn’t do returns.  I didn’t even try.  Jerks.

My daughter started walking to the check-out counter.

“I want to browse a few minutes,” I said.

“I already have what I want,” my daughter said.

“I’ve waited four months to be surrounded by books I don’t already own,” I said.  “I want to browse.”

“I’m the one who drove,” she said.

“I’m the one paying for your car,” I said.  “And your insurance.”

She shrugged again.  I set my timer for 15 minutes.  I wanted an hour, but my daughter had things to do.

As I waited for a woman to leave the Antique Books alcove (only one customer at a time for each alcove, according to the signs), I strolled through a couple nearby sections.  I was still disappointed that my daughter had asked an employee for help.  I had never taught her not to do that, though, so maybe it’s my fault.  I just thought it was an understood unwritten rule: You don’t ask for help at a bookstore.  Maybe it’s a generational thing.

When it was finally my turn to enter the Antique Books alcove, I grabbed an old edition of some classic (I didn’t care what it was).  I couldn’t smell the pages through my mask, so I pulled it down over my nose and breathed in.


I turned around and saw some woman behind me pointing at her mask and staring at me.  Ugh, I thought, a mask enforcer… and she wasn’t even an employee.  Just so you know, I respect employee mask-enforcers.  But busybody mask enforcers?

“Please step back,” I said in my loud fake police voice.  “Only one customer per alcove.”  I pointed to the overhead sign.  Haha!  The woman hadn’t seen it, so all her moral authority was gone.  That has to be a bad feeling, to believe you’re superior with moral authority only to find out that your own behavior is just as bad.

I sniffed the book one more time.  Then I pulled the mask up over my nose again.  I was tempted to hang out longer in the Antique Books section just to antagonize the mask enforcer, but that would have been wrong, so I left and gave her the nod, and she returned the nod.  Everything was cool.

I bought a couple cheap paperbacks but nothing noteworthy.  I paid for my daughter’s book too.  Maybe I’ll read 1984 before my daughter gets to it.  Some people call it a warning for the future.  I think of it as a history lesson.  I wondered if the characters had to wear masks in 1984.


What do you think?  Should you ask for help at a book store?  Is it okay to pull down your mask to smell the pages of an old book?  Would you buy Nineteen Eighty-Four or 1984?

Childhood Ghost Story- The Prologue


(image via wikimedia)

This is a true story.  Yeah, I know; when a writer starts off by saying it’s a true story, you automatically think it’s a lie, but you’ll be able to tell this is true while you’re reading it.

I’m not crazy either.  Again, I know a narrator isn’t supposed to say that, but you might think I’m crazy while I’m telling this story, but I’m telling you I’m not.  Sometimes you just have to give a narrator the benefit of the doubt.

People will think I’m a liar or a crazy guy because I’m about to claim that I saw a ghost in my house when I was a kid.  At the time, I thought it might have been my imagination, but now I’m pretty sure I saw a ghost.  I couldn’t tell anybody at the time because I probably would have been punished or laughed at, but now I’m coming out and telling the truth.

There was a ghost in my house.  I’m saying it with certainty.  I’m 95% sure I’m right.  To me, that’s certainty.

I have to set up the situation a little bit, so please stay with me here.  When I was in 5th grade, my family lived in the rural south.  I’ve written about this time of my life before in a couple other stories on this blog, and I’ll probably write a few more.  It was an interesting time.

I was the youngest of four children.  My oldest brother had already graduated high school and had moved out (or had gotten kicked out, depending on which version you believe).  The next oldest was a senior in high school.  My sister was a tenth grader, so I was the youngest by five years.

Our small house wasn’t designed for a family of five, so my parents took a back living room and used that for their bedroom.  My older sister got the first bedroom down the hallway, while my older brother and I took the opposing bedrooms at the end.  The family room was at the front of the house so you could see down the hallway from there, but we had to go through our parents’ bedroom to get to the kitchen, and there was only one bathroom, which was opposite of my sister’s room in the hallway.  These details will matter later on.

Now that I think about it, having only one bathroom created more horror stories than the ghost did, but everybody believes the bathroom stories.  Trust me, you don’t want to hear the bathroom stories.

The major dynamic for me was that I was scared of my dad.  He was a drinker and could get violent (but not as bad as some drunks that I’ve heard about), and I’d seen him do some some bad stuff and heard him do some bad stuff.  I’ve always said that I learned from the mistakes of my older brothers and sister.  When I saw them do something that got them severely punished, I told myself not to do those things.

For example, I’d seen my sister and my oldest brother smart off and then get severely punished, so I knew not to smart off.  I’d seen my sister lie a few times, and I’d seen her get severely punished.  Even with my good behavior, I still got punished a couple times, but not as bad as my older brothers and sister.  The worst punishment I took was for something that didn’t even happen (I’m not going to explain it because it- the punishment- happened over 45 years ago, but I still remember it).

Day-to-day life was okay for me because my dad was trying quit drinking and his personality was mellowing out, but his temper could still flare up, and it was unpredictable.  My dad was charming when he was out in public, but I was always a little anxious around him in the house.  Even as an adult, I never really got over it.  Except he’s dead now, so I guess I’m over it after all.

We also had a really nervous hound dog.  She was a really cool hound dog.  She’d been a stray, and she’d obviously been abused because she was scared of almost everybody, but she trusted me.  She would come into the house only if I was with her.  If I wasn’t home, she’d refuse, even if you tried to lure her with food.

At night, she would sleep in my room, most of the time on my bed.  If I got up to go to the bathroom, she would follow me.  She would even follow me to school.  She wouldn’t wait for me all day, though.  She’d wander off and do dog stuff, but then she’d catch up with us on the way home.

One day she got hit by a car while we were walking home.  It all happened so quickly that I couldn’t react.  She got hit, and then she rolled around and got up and yowled and ran away from the scene.  With all the noise she was making, I thought she was like a headless chicken, running dead without even knowing it.  But when I got home, she was wagging her tail in the front yard.  She wasn’t even limping.

We couldn’t take her to the vet because she’d get car sick almost immediately.  We had learned that the first time when we’d had her checked for everything.  If she were going to the vet, she’d need pills and a 24-hour fast.  We only had one car, and dad wasn’t going to risk dog vomit in the car, even though he liked the dog.  My dad had to spend a lot of time driving that car.

At any rate, this dog was loyal to me.  I think the dog trusted me because both of us were nervous all the time.  Then the ghost showed up.

And I’ll get to that in the next episode.

To be continued!!

Classic Comics Review: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Literary snobs might look down upon comic books, but Classics Illustrated is what got me into reading classic literature.  My dad had his childhood collection of classic comic books stored in a cabinet, so my brothers and I would read them on summer days when the electricity was out and weather was too bad to do anything outside.

Classic comic books can’t replace reading the original novel.  I’ve always known that.  But it’s probably better than just watching a movie, unless the movie is really true to the book and entertaining.

When my 8th grade English class read Romeo and Juliet, I had an advantage over most other students in the  class because I knew the story, thanks to this comic book.  Like any other 8th grader (except for the weirdos and the super-brains), I still struggled with the Shakespearean language, but I at least understood what was going on.

Just so you know, I used my advantage wisely.  I didn’t spoil the ending for anybody. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, we didn’t call them SPOILERS.  If some snooty guy ruined the ending of a book that we were reading in class, we called it “helping.”  If they ruined a popular movie that had just come out, we beat them up.  Remember, I grew up before anti-bullying campaigns existed.  So did William Shakespeare.

It would have been tough to ruin a Shakespearean play during the Elizabethan Age because so many of his scripts were based on commonly-known stories.  Still, I’m sure someone tried to spoil it a different way, maybe by yelling out popular lines ahead of time or screaming “You suck!” at actors, even if they didn’t suck.

Haha!  Yelling at actors.  At any rate, here is a comic book review of Romeo and Juliet with no shaky cam.


The Introvert’s Guide to Saying No

(image via wikimedia)

It’s tough to say no to people if you’re polite or an introvert.  Maybe this doesn’t only apply to polite people or quiet people or introverts.  Maybe saying no is tough for everybody.

I started thinking about this topic recently when I refused to make a small donation to a children’s fund and my daughter looked horrified.  I don’t even remember which children’s fund it was.  It’s probably a scam.  I was just paying for groceries, and after I’d swiped my card, the screen requested two extra dollars .  I stared blankly, and the clerk asked if I wanted to donate to the charity.  I said no without any thought until I saw my daughter’s facial expressions.

“You were rude,” my daughter said, as we left the store.

It’s tough to explain how to say no without making it sound mean.  My wife and I work hard, and it seems like more and more people are asking for money or other stuff (and it’s going to get worse).  We live in a city with a lot of panhandlers.   If I said yes to everybody who asked, there wouldn’t be much left.  And it’s important for my daughter to know it’s okay to say no.

“Just say no,” gets made fun of a lot.  Back in the 1980s, it was seen as an oversimplified solution to a complicated drug use problem.  To be fair, it was a lot better than “This is your brain on drugs.  Any questions?”  And it was better than “I learned it from you!”  Anybody can say no.  Not everybody can scramble eggs and blame their parents.  But “Just say no” gets a lot of grief.  It doesn’t get as much flak as “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.”  But it’s right up there.

“Just say no” is great when it’s not politicized.  If somebody asks you for something and you don’t want to give it him/her, just say no.  There’s nothing wrong with saying no.  Here are a few steps:

1.   Have a strong neutral face.

I was taught to smile a lot and be pleasant when I was a kid, and unfortunately people take that as a sign to use against you.  If you’re too approachable, some people will think you’re weak.  Work on having a strong stoic blank face.  It doesn’t have to be mean.  Look in the mirror if you have to and practice being expressionless.  This is great prevention.  Never being asked in the first place is better than saying no.

2.  Recognize and resist shame tactics

Manipulators use shame tactics to get what they want because they know you have compassion.  It’s called “weaponized empathy,” where people use your own compassion against you.  Shame tactics don’t work if you have no empathy, and a bunch of manipulators know about empathy but don’t have it themselves.  Shame doesn’t work once you recognize the tactic, even if you have empathy or compassion.

Anytime guilt is involved, it’s a scam.  If it’s “for the children,” it’s a scam.  If they say “If we can save just one life…” it’s a scam.

And if a person tries to guilt trip you into saying yes, then they probably don’t deserve your help anyway.  I should know.  That stuff used to work on me, but now it doesn’t. I don’t like guilt trips because the person asking for help shouldn’t make demands.

3. Set the rules

The person doing the favor sets the rules.  You don’t have to be a dick about It, but it’s important to remember.  I decide how much money I give (because I know I’m never getting it back).  I  I decide what time I pick you up.

If I’m helping out, I want to see results.  If you say it’s “for the children,” I don’t want to find out you’re flying private jets to Epstein Island.  You want to save “just one life”?  I want to save a bunch of lives for generations upon generation to come. I set the “terms and conditions.”  I’ll be nice about it, but don’t treat me like a sucker either.

4.  Have a Go-To phrase

My favorite rejection phrase is “No, I can’t right now.”  That’s all anybody needs.  The requester doesn’t deserve an explanation, especially if he/she asks for one.  If a demander is pesky/rude and asks “Why not?” (which has happened), a good response is “I have a good reason, but I’m not explaining it.”  That’s it.  That’s more than most people deserve.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I live in a city filled with panhandlers, and I know some introverts or quiet people ignore them or pretend they’re not there, but I’d rather acknowledge a person and say ‘I can’t right now.”  That’s usually it.  Every once in a while I have to repeat myself, but I say it and keep walking.

5. (Optional):  Say yes every once in a while.

You don’t have to say yes if you don’t want to.  I occasionally do just to show my daughter that I will.  I also encourage her to look up charities that are actually reliable.  But I want her to have the ability to say no.  Otherwise, people will take advantage of her.

I’m glad my daughter is compassionate, and I’m glad she’s polite (except to my wife and me), but I told her that it’s okay to say no.  She doesn’t even have to be polite about it.  Polite people have no responsibility to be polite when saying no.  I try to be polite, but that’s just how I was taught.  You can pretty much say no any way you want to.  And if they guilt-trip you, then you can say “Get lost, you leech!”

I don’t insult people very often, but it’s in my arsenal when I need it.


As my daughter and I exited the plaza, we saw a collection stand for children with very serious afflictions.  It had the coin slots and the funnel so you could watch the coins roll like a cyclone to the bottom of the canister.  It was mesmerizing.  And it was (supposedly) to help children with very serious afflictions.  If there’s any group that I’ll donate money to, it’s an organization that helps children who have very serious afflictions.

Plus, the collection stand had a coin funnel contraption.  I can’t emphasize that enough.  I don’t care who I’m donating to if there’s a coin spiral contraption.  My money could be going to hate groups or international terrorists or a politician, and I wouldn’t care.  I could stare at the coins spiraling all day long.  When we had given up all our change, my daughter and I ran back to the car, cleaned coins out of all the compartments, and ran back to the store to feed the coin spiral.  And it was all for the children (I hope).

Maybe I’ll buy my own coin spiral and start asking other people for money.  Who can say no to the coin funnel?


What do you think?  What is your policy for saying yes or no to people who ask for money (or help)?  Is there a better way to ask for money than a coin funnel?  If so, what is it?

Revenge of the Almost-Expired Milk

It looks so innocent but caused so much chaos. (image via wikimedia)

I promise I’m not going to describe anything gross in this part of the story.  Some authors would describe what happened because they get a kick out of shocking readers, but I’m not like that.  What the gross thing looked like and sounded like doesn’t matter in this story.  It’s what happened afterward that matters.

So let’s get the gross part out of the way.  The short version ( you can read about it here) is that in sixth grade I got into a milk-drinking contest at the end of lunch with a kid named Kevin.  He won, but after lunch he started feeling nauseous.  And of course, right before class started, Kevin had made a slow dramatic walk to the classroom door, but right before he got there, he… you know.

Since some readers have queasy stomachs, I’ll fast-forward a couple minutes (and finally get to the story joined-in-progress).  The teacher showed up right after it happened (lucky her!), and we filed out of class and sat in a line in the open lobby by the principal’s office.  Kevin went to the nurse.  I’m pretty sure it was a simple diagnosis.

Once we were out of the classroom, I felt like I could breathe again.  We watched as the cleaning crew (I don’t remember what they looked like or what they carried) entered the classroom. All I can remember is that we only talked about how Kevin had done something gross and disgusting.

“Ewww,” one kid (I think his name was Chris) yelled. “That was gross!  It looked like a flood of….”

“Aaaaaak!” another kid (I think his name was Ben) shrieked.  “That was disgusting.  It sounded like a bucket of….”

A bunch of boys and a couple girls were clamoring about how what had happened was gross and disgusting, and they were so loud that I couldn’t get a word in.  Even the girl who had screamed (in the previous episode) was excitedly describing how gross and disgusting everything had been.  It was a shared traumatizing experience that would be blamed on Kevin for the rest of the year.

We probably would have compared gross and disgusting observations all afternoon if our teacher hadn’t told us to shut up.

Back then, teachers told students to shut up all the time.  Nowadays, parents would complain that the teacher was being verbally abusive.  Now that I think about it, parents would also complain about the teacher leaving kids in the classroom unsupervised for so long (in the previous episode).  And parents would complain about lunch ladies passing out unlimited cartons of almost-expired milk (in the first episode).  I guess everybody used to get away with stuff back then.

As we sat in enforced, temporary silence, it occurred to me; Hey, I was the milk-drinking champion of the 6th grade!  I had to think about that for a second.  Yes, since Kevin had failed to digest all of the consumed milk, I was the 6th grade champion.  All I had to do was to NOT do what Kevin had done. And I felt fine!

Yes!  I was the champion!!  This was something to be excited about.  I couldn’t wait to rub that in Kevin’s face, especially after the way he had immediately taunted me after lunch.  I was going to say something to the class.  In an exhilarating moment of victory, I took a deep breath, and then…. and then…

Some kid gave me a note to go to the principal’s office.  That was a letdown.

I don’t remember our principal’s name, but I remember that she used a switch.  This was in the rural south in the mid-late 1970s.  Corporal punishment at school was expected.  School administrators were fired if they didn’t beat kids often enough (I’m not sure that rumor really was true).  Once or twice a week a student in the lobby would hear the CRACK coming from the office and then see a kid walking out holding his butt.  You never heard that CRACK on girls, though.

Our principal lady was old, but most of the ladies at school were old.  I was a little scared of her because I’d heard the CRACK and I’d never talked to her before.  All I remember is that I didn’t have to wait long.  As soon as I stepped into the main office, the clerk pointed me to the principal’s open door.  As soon as I stepped into the principal’s office, the principal told me to sit down.  As soon as I sat down, she started asking questions.

“Did you have a milk-drinking contest at lunch?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Did you drink multiple milks during lunch?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Did you throw away any unused milk?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Did you induce your friend to throw up in class?”

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

“Did you cause your friend to throw up in class?”

“No ma’am.”

The principal didn’t give me a speech.  She grunted, I think in disapproval, and handed me a slip.  I knew what it was, a detention pass for after school that day.  I’d seen enough of these.  They’d never been issued to me before, but I knew what they looked like.  I wanted to ask why I was being punished, but I was afraid to.  I just took the pass and read it.  The bottom said:

REASON-Being stupid.

I looked at the principal, and she said, “I expect that kind of behavior from Kevin.  I don’t expect it from you.”

I hadn’t known she was even aware of me.  I just left the office, and I never talked to her again.  At least she hadn’t used the switch on me, I thought.

The story is kind of anti-climactic, but so is most of life.  Yeah, Kevin and I drank a lot of almost-expired milk, but the milk won in the end.  Kevin had thrown up in class and was embarrassed about that for a long time.  I had to sit in detention for an hour after school and missed the King Kong vs. Godzilla after-school movie on television.

I mean, I got home that afternoon just as the battle between the two monsters was getting started, but I couldn’t watch it because my parents yelled at me for getting home late, and then they yelled at me for having gotten detention.  To be fair, they laughed when I told them what had happened.  Unfortunately, by the time I was back on their good side, the movie was over.  Remember, there was no way to record TV back then.  Now with the internet, I can watch those old monster-fight movies any time I want.

I found out later that Kevin hadn’t been sent to the principal’s office at all.  He had kept faking like he was sick with the nurse so he got to go home early.  I wouldn’t even be able to brag to him that I’d won the milk-drinking contest because there was a girl fight before school the next morning, so by the time class started, nobody cared about the previous day’s contest.  Back then, girl fights were unusual, so that’s all anybody talked about.  From what I understand, girl fights happen all the time today.

So whether this was a tale or a legend or just a simple story of revenge, the almost-expired milk Incident is one of my few sixth grade memories that stand out.  I learned from this to not get goaded into acting out somebody else’s stupid idea.  I learned that you can get into more trouble than people who have committed worse deeds than you.  But most importantly, I learned that if you’re going to drink almost-expired milk, don’t drink too much because it will get its revenge, one way or another.