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August 4, 2012 · 7:42 pm

Don’t Step On My Blue Suede Tooth

According to the DSM, the “official” mental health diagnostic guide, body dysmorphia . The involves an excessive preoccupation with some real or imagined physical abnormality that causes “clinically significant distress in multiple areas of functioning.” I’ve always admired the DSM’s pretension of having definitive criteria. What the hell is “clinically significant”? Who the hell knows? This is the same manual that contains “Math Disorder” – which means that you suck at math. I don’t know how  much weight to put on anything in there.

But the “real or imagined” criterion has come to fascinate me, especially as it relates to this disorder. Almost everyone has some physical attribute they would change if they could. Most Americans say they would like to be thinner, and many people have minor grievances with the universe for giving them some other flaw- a big nose, a receding hairline, a birthmark, etc. Body Dysmorphia is something a little bigger than that. A professor once explained it to me this way: if Marilyn Monroe had a clinical case of body dysmorphia, she would leave her house in a ski mask every morning because she wouldn’t want anyone to see the giant mole that took up half her face. A younger prof would have gone with Cindy Crawford, but you get the idea.

At the same time though, many of us have encountered people who have ideas about their appearance that border on the insane. A common remark you’ll hear from a person with this sort of milder body dysmorphia-if they have the insight to see it- is that when they look in the mirror, they don’t see themselves as they probably are, but as someone who looks very much like the person the world probably sees, just with a GIANT nose or HUGE ass. When I heard that, I always thought that they meant that more metaphorically than they do. And I only really realized it when I discovered a mild body dysmorphia of my own recently.

My left front tooth has been slightly discolored since I was about 9 years old. In fourth grade, I was playing in the playground and I bit the curb with my upper teeth full on – American History X style.  The left front tooth was broken in half and the bone over my mouth, which holds a lot of teeth in place, cracked. That loosened my teeth, and I needed a set of braces temporaraily to make sure I didn’t lose them. When the braces came off, my teeth had been saved, except for that left front one. I needed a whole series of root canals and crowns to save it. The tooth stayed, but it was tinted to a grayish-blue for the rest of my life.

I was self-conscious about it. It didn’t help that one of the favored ways of mocking me for the remaining 5 years of grammar school was to sing “don’t step on my blue suede tooth.” Hilarious. I heard that song all the time, and after a while it just rolled off me, even though it burned at first. Year after year I heard that God-damned song. When I first got to high school, in that brief period at the start when the middle school social rules still applied, I got laughed at about it. A lot of the time it was muttered near me and not said directly; but I heard it.

Dentists didn’t help either. Whenever I saw one, they would marvel at how discolored it was, and they frequently offered me expensive cosmetic solutions for it. I was tempted sometimes, but I always passed. After that early part of high school, I just came to terms with it. I didn’t like it, but there it was. Eventually I  made friends and had girlfriends and everything was pretty much normal. When I had serious relationships later on, I asked how they were able to ignore it. They all said it wasn’t that noticeable. Some even said that they only really noticed it when I mentioned it.

That was sweet of them, I thought. They were clearly lying. It was a white lie, of course, but I knew the truth. It was pretty bad. The women who dated me, and the one who eventually married me, obviously saw something else in me that made my blue suede tooth unimportant. As I got older, and openly mocking someone became uncool, the only time it was ever really pointed out to me was by dentists. And they never hesitated to let me know just how bad it was. To hear them tell it, you would think my tooth was so very, very dark. Depending on the lighting, it was navy blue or battleship grey.

Recently, I went to a dentist who told me the post holding the tooth in place was sliding out of place and beginning to rot. The tooth would fall out unless I got it re-crowned. It would be very expensive. On the plus side, though, I would finally be rid of that tooth. I would have to do it eventually, since I was becoming a therapist and people are often weirded out by ugly teeth. I’d need to get rid of my grayed tooth in order to make sure clients felt at ease. So the time had finally come.

A couple weeks ago I had it done. As soon as I got out of the dentist’s office I looked in a mirror, and I was taken aback. It didn’t look that different. Sure, it looked a little better, but I wasn’t looking at a whole new me. That’s when it hit me. My wife, my close friends, my ex-girlfriends- they’d been telling the truth. It wasn’t that noticeable. After I got out of that chair I knew that the old tooth was gone. Nothing short of roofies could make me forget that it was impossible for the Evil Blue Tooth to still be there. So, when I looked in the mirror, knowing the tooth was gone, I was able to see my mouth as it must really have looked all those years. My belief that my tooth was a dark, navy blue hue was a complete delusion.

But I know what I saw. For thirteen years I saw that dark blue tooth every time I brushed my teeth and every time I looked at a photo. I saw it. Of the five senses, sight is the one we almost never doubt. You cannot see what is not there-or so we think. When people with body dysmorphia say they look into a mirror and see something ugly looking back, that is what they are seeing. With their eyes. It’s not that they see what is really there and blow it up in their minds. They see something that is absolutely not there. They hallucinate. Every day. I’ve been having a hallucination multiple times a day for thirteen years.

We think we are rational creatures incapable of seeing things that aren’t there. Our desire to believe something cannot fool our eyes, and we won’t see something that isn’t there just because someone else tells us it is. But for thirteen years I did just that. I believed the things those little monsters said to me so completely that my mind dictated reality to my eyes. Years of certainty and “evidence” only reinforced my ideas. Obviously, my tooth was discolored. Those children had exaggerated that, and the more they exaggerated it, the bluer my front tooth was every time I looked at it.

I am 32 years old. Insults made in fourth grade still stung enough to carry my imagination away from me. I’m not the healthiest person psychologically speaking, but I’m hardly a mess. I am an otherwise sane person, which is why I was so shocked when I looked in that mirror and I saw what had been staring back at me for just a little over a decade.

Is it that big a stretch to think teenage girls and women who watch Gossip Girl and look at Cosmo begin to see obesity when there is none? Is it hard to believe that people come to remember abuse that never really happened if they get told that it did by a trusted therapist over and over for years? People confess to crimes they didn’t commit all the time because they are terrified, strongarmed, starved and kept awake so that the cops repeating that they know you did it over and over begin to convince you that maybe you did.

Normal people hallucinate all the time. You probably do. The world you see is the world you have been told is there. Reality is actually a lie you tell yourself. How big a lie varies from person to person, but everyone is living in a world that they are making up. The Matrix was truer than you think.

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Awesome Spy-vs-Spy Sculpt is Awesome

Jason Freeny does an excellent Spy Vs. Spy Custom!

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Sexy Victims Party Game!

In the Criminal Justice System, Sexually Based Offenses Are Considered Especially Sexy. In New York City, the Sexy detectives who investigate these sexy felonies are part of a sexy elite squad known as the Sexy Victims Unit. These are their sexy stories:

That version of the opening words of Law & Order SVU comes into my mind every time that monotone introduction signals that I will be spending somewhere between 42 minutes and 9 hours watching SVU. That version seems more accurate. It’s silly and absurd (and sexy), and it gets at the icky and bombastic preposterousness that is congealed in every episode like semen on a crime scene. Law & Order SVU is that rare show that manages to be both preachy and prurient.

The thing about SVU is that it’s essentially masturbatory. The subject matter is always sensationalist. When the plotline isn’t a tittilating account of a rich girl gone bad, it’s a revenge fantasy enacted against the last acceptable whipping boy- the pedophile. That’s what the show is if you take it seriously, which a decreasing number of people do. If you see it as the madcap, screwball comedy it truly is it’s no less masturbatory. I delight in seeing just how silly the dialogue will get. I thrill as the writers push the limits of taste and credulity to the breaking point. But mostly I just laugh at the sexy sexiness of it all. It’s like Showgirls, but it lasts 11 seasons.

Whether you take the show seriously or not, most people find that at some point they’ve been sucked into an orgy of SVU. Streaming Netflix only makes it worse. You’re just a button push away from some more lurid details being bandied about matter-of-factly, more intense scenes of Chris Meloni pulling people out of chairs in their unnecessarily poorly lit and dinghy interview room.

What follows is an attempt to redeem SVU from its status as a solitary indulgence and make it a social event. This is Law & Order SVU game:

In the television watching experience Law and Order SVU is considered especially lonely. The group you are now in is playing a game that changes that, known as Law & Order Sexy Victims Unit Trope Spotting Extravaganza. These are the rules. CHUNG-CHUNG!

Law & Order SVU Valentine by Brandon Bird

The Rules

To play the game, you need the following: people, an adequate supply of your preferred social lubricant, a player willing to act as the scorekeeper, and access to the melodramatic one word title of the Law & Order SVU episode you choose to watch.

At the beginning of the game, the scorekeeper will announce the one-word title of the episode. Since almost nobody knows what the episode titles are, it won’t matter if any of the players have seen the episode. The titles are vague enough that you won’t remember which of the various SVU plotlines that have become mashed together in your head are which.

Before the episode is played, each player must pick which of the following list of ridiculous, recurring SVU tropes will be in the episode. Each trope has a point value. The ones that occur more rarely are worth more points than the really common ones. But be careful! If you choose a trope that doesn’t happen, that point value is deducted from your total. The player with the most points when the “Executive Producer Dick Wolf” screen comes on wins.

THE LAW & ORDER SVU RIDICULOUS RECURRING TROPE LIST

1. “We need a bus!” (5 Points). People are always getting stabbed and shot in front of police officers on SVU. This can play out two ways. If someone is shot or stabbed all the sudden and the cops yell the magic words that gets you the requisite 5 points. When it happens in or around court that gets another 2 for a total of (7 Points)If they find someone who has, by shocking coincidence been mortally wounded just moments before the cops arrive at the scene, and they yell the magic words, that’s an extra  2 points for a total of (7 points).

SVU Valentine by Brandon Bird

2.Did you know that 2/3 of the statistics cited walking in and out of the Squad Room sound like they were pulled from Wikipedia? Whenever someone cites a statistic or factoid. (5 Points) This happens shockingly frequently. If it is ME Warner, it’s only worth 2 points, because she’s the biggest culprit. If it is a statistic or factoid the person has no business knowing, like Stabler saying how much uncut diamonds go for on the black market, it’s worth (+2 Bonus)

3. This is above your paygrade, detectives.A Federal Agency interferes with an SVU investigation (6 points). It’s shocking how many terrorist organizations the Sex Crime Unit encounters. If, in the course of one of these episodes Munch mentions the Patriot Act, it’s worth (+2 Bonus points). If anyone else does, it’s (+3 Bonus points). If the federal agents say it involves “national security” it’s worth a (+3 Bonus points). If anyone says “sandbagged”, “stonewalled” or “out of the loop” it’s a (+1 Bonus Points). If the federal agency tag-teams the investigation, (+1 Bonus Points). If they have sexual tension with Olivia, (+4 Bonus Points)

4. Rat Squad! (9 point) Because the SVU Detectives are extremely unprofessional and preposterously unethical, IAB is often brought in. If that happens, it’s worth 9 points. If Elliot or Ice-Trefers to them as the “rat squad” it’s worth (+2 Bonus points) even in an episode that doesn’t involve Internal Affairs specifically. If anyone else says “rat squad” for any reason, (+3 Bonus Points).

5. We’ve Got a Runner! (8 Points) If the detectives approach someone in the course of an investigation and the person runs instantaneously, that’s worth 8. If they push a bystander out of the way, (+3 Bonus Points). If they tip trash or furniture over to aid their flight, (+2 Bonus Points).

Law & Order SVU Valentines

6. Those detectives are so dedicated! Whenever someone says “Go home, get some sleep” (5 Points).

7. No cop show has ever had a crotchety Captain! Whenever Cragen says “(So-and-so)- my office. Now.” (4 Points).

8. My Client Isn’t Saying Another Word! Whenever an interrogation is interrupted by the arrival of the suspect’s attorney (4 Points). If the lawyer says “This interview is over detective” (+1 Bonus Points). If the lawyer says “unless you plan on charging my client…”(+1 Bonus Points) if the attorney identifies themselves as though no one knows who they are (+4 Bonus Points). If anyone says “lawyer up” (+1 Bonus Points).

9.What Is The Meaning Of This! Whenever the detectives arrest someone when they’re in the middle of something (teaching a class, at a meeting, examining a patient) (8 Points). If there’s incredulous expressions exchanged between the surprised people at the arrest (+2 Bonus Points). If the arrest takes place while the suspect is actually engaging the media on the air (+5 Bonus Points).

Law & Order SVU by AK Tettenborn

10. “One More Word Out Of You And I Charge You With Conetmpt, Mr/Mrs. So-and-So!” If a Judge utters those words, it’s worth (6 Points)Whenever the Judge impotently bangs the Gavel during a court commotion (+4 Points). If the Judge tells the Defense attorney to “control their client” (7 Points). If the Judge tells someone to be quiet, then lets them have their monologue anyway, (10 Points).

11. The Rape Kit Tested Positive..For Sex! Whenever a fluid or object is said to have been “in” the victim (4 points).

12. Eliot Stabler reads the DNA Results:….You ARE the Father !Anytime someone discovers they had a family member they didn’t know about (10 Points)

13. That place is a fleabag flophouse place! Anytime they need to go to the Lydia Hotel (4 points)

14. “I was just in a meeting with brass and  it was a real *******fuck!” Anytime someone says “cluster” instead of “clusterfuck” (40 points).

15. This guy was a total perv! Check THIS out! Anytime the detectives read aloud from a diary of a victim or perp (10 points). If the cast each reads different parts to each other (+15 Bonus Points)

16. “Never Forget- Never Stop Mentioning!” Whenever someone says “when the towers fell” instead of 9/11 or some other less melodramatic substitute. (10 Points).

17. “If that’s it Detectives, I have some things to sign perfunctorily and hand off  to underlings while I simultaneously walk around looking frazzled.” If the police question someone and they continue working while answering the cops questions (2 points). If the Detectives walk off without giving their card or saying any thing (+1 Bonus Points).

18. “Free the Celebrity Making Cameo Appearance!” Whenever an activist wears the T-shirt for their cause over their regular clothes instead of just wearing the shirt (10 points)

19. Ice-T really seems like he’s an actual pimp and not a cop! Anytime the SVU cops go undercover. (10 points). If it’s Olivia and she has to do something sexual, (+2 Bonus points).

20. “In a-Russia ze goils need ze money, so I bringa zem heyah” Any fake accent from anyone anywhere for any reason (5 points).

21. “Mother loved fresh flowers like the ones found near the body.”Whenever someone refers to their mother as just “mother” (10 points). (+2 Bonus points) if they’re rich.

22. “It’s a Law & Order SVU you’ll never forget! It has a B-List Celebrity in it!”Any celebrity cameo, (10 points). If it’s playing against type, (+2 Bonus points).

23. Eliot is shirtless! I repeat: Shirtless! (9 points). If you see Jesus tattoo (+3 Bonus Points).

24. Psst…I’ve been infiltrating this exotic bird smuggling ring for 34.3 months…Whenever they are arresting someone and they find out the persons undercover (15 points). If they are told to “make it look good so my cover’s not blown” and they arrest them more melodramatically (+5 Bonus points) If someone says they’re undercover and the cops say “Oh yeah? What’s the color of the day?” (+15 Bonus points)

25. “Call me. Anytime. I say that to anyone who says they’ve been attacked and now I never sleep.” Whenever Olivia answers the phone in bed (15 points).

26. “Kathleen is drunk! And getting a tattoo! And she’s sexually active with a biker!” Anytime Stabler’s family appears (20 points).

27. “I think you might be taking this too personally because you were in astronaut school once, detective.” Anytime Cragen says he’ll take someone off because they’re “too close” (20points).  if he then relents and lets them stay on the case  anyway (+1 Bonus Point)

28. “Look how he posed the victims. It’s like he’s telling us he was locked in a closet by his mother who was obsessed with Humphrey Bogart movies.” Anytime they flash black and white pictures of the crime scene and/or corpse across the screen (20 Points)

29. “Your Victim was raped in the face, Detectives- and whoever did it was left-handed.” Anytime they do a close up of the corpse during the ME interview. Bonus if there is a gross-out interaction between the detectives and the body (20 Points, +4 Bonus)

Animal Victims Unit by Brandon Bird

30. “ The internet. Now it’s nothing but child porn, death metal fansites, and Neo-Nazism.” Whenever they look at the internet, (15 points). (+5 Bonus) if it’s an extremist website, +(7 if it’s an escort service or porn site).

31. “The victim is over at a hospital with an implausibly combined religious and secular name.” Anytime the detectives have to go to Mercy General Hospital, it’s 5 points. If the victim absconds from the hospital to the amazement of the nurses (+2 Bonus Points).

32. “But Wait! There’s more semen I didn’t tell you about!” The writers use this trick a lot. During the show-and-tell at the morgue the ME will present the evidence and leave the cops at a dead end. Then they say “I’m not finished” or somesuch, and they’ll give the cops the piece of evidence they need (4 points).  If the forensic evidence narrows down the suspects of crime scene geographically in a way that seems almost too good to be true (e.g, the pollen on the victim’s genitals comes from a flower that only grows along the Jersey Turnpike) (+10 Bonus)

The Walk-and-Talk is an SVU staple. Whenever the cast walks around and talks business simultaneously (5 Points). When a dialogue is interrupted with the answer to a question from someone who just walked in the room (5 Points).

33. She always dreamed of one day moving to New York and getting raped. Lots of SVU episodes feature Caucasian blonde girls from wholesome families in Midwestern towns winding up dead in New York. If this happens (15 Points). If the girl was secretly a hooker or stripper (+2 Bonus Points). If the girl developed a drug habit (+2 Bonus Points) If the girl maintained her Midwestern Purity and was in the wrong place at the wrong time (+10 Bonus Points) If a family member or friend from home is in the city trying to rescue them (+8 Bonus Points).

SVU Cast by Aaron Aryampour

34. These characters are really vivid! Each character has a schtick. They are all worth points. Every time Munch makes a joke about being Jewish, bonus points if he uses the phrase “my people” (5,+2). Munch is a conspiracy nut! How wacky! (+5 points whenever that comes up)Every time Ice-T makes a reference to the Ghetto, or his upbringing therein, or mentions his 10 years in Brooklyn Narcotics (5 Points). Ice-T and Richard Belzer have a really hallow, unconvincing give-and-take. Whenever they rib each other (10 Points). Craigan’s hard exterior is softened by his battle with alcoholism. When he mentions his time in AA or being “on the bottle” (10 Points).

Olivia really cares about the victims. She won’t let there be anymore victims because her mother was a victim and she stands up for victims because she’ll never let someone be victimized the same way. That’s why she’s on the special victims unit. Everytime Olivia says “victim” (+5 Points). Elliot is brooding and intense. This makes him do all kinds of tortured hero things. Like: Punching a wall (10 Points), grabbing a perp out of his chair (5 points), or grabs him by the collar (2 Points), Every time he leaves in a huff (5 Points), every time he yells “does that type of thing get you off?” (2 Points).

The cast’s banter is most evident when they’re in front of the silly meetings in the Squad Room in front of the photo arrays and maps that get higher tech each season. Luckily, they often happen right after commercial breaks! If there’s a map show and tell (5 Points), if there’s a chart with arrows between the characters (5 Points) if they Cragen gives out assignments right after the meeting (2 Points).

SVU Valentine by Brandon Bird

35. Put him in the Box! Interrogations usually involve some of the most recognizable tropes. If the cops threaten a suspect with the prospect of being raped in prison (10 Points) If they use the phrases “pretty” or “cherry” (+5 Bonus points). If a chair is thrown (5 Points), if pictures of the victim are presented to the suspect (5 Points). If the cops let other people who they want to convince of something listen in on an interview to shock them or shatter their illusions (5 Points). If a suspect yells at the one way mirror (15 Points). If the one-way mirror is shattered (15 Points).

36. “How about we get the department of something or other in here to do this or that ? That’ll really put a damper on your such-and-such.” This trope is a close cousin of people being super busy in a New Yorky way when the Detectives are canvassing. For some reason, people think that the city beauracracy is at the command of Detectives from Manhattan Special Victims Unit. Whenever someone hesitates because of “confidentiality” or “doctor-patient privelege” the Detectives threaten to have some city agency perform an audit or arbitrarily search their business or something. Usually it’s the Dept. of Health.

Whenever they use this trope, that’s (5 Points). If someone gets indignant, like a Priest who’s asked about a Confession always does, that’s (10 Points)

BONUS ROUND!!!

The City that stays up watching SVU never sleeps! I’m from NYC, and a lot of the time I’m watching the show I’m identifying locations. If you can successfully identify the location a scene is being shot, that’s (40 Points). Obviously, this only counts for locations that are meant to stand in as other ones (e.g, when they use a churchyard from downtown to pass as a quad in Hudson University, etc.). If they’re on the steps of Manhattan Criminal Court that doesn’t count.

TWIIIST!!! Whoever yells TWIIIST! first when one happens gets an extra (40 points) Whoever names the actual perpetrator successfully first gets (20 points), and whoever successfully names the current events issue or headline the story is ripped from first gets (40 points).

Whoever yells “Dick Wolf!” first before the final title card gets another (20 points)

These rules are undergoing constant revision and updating. I strongly encourage you to submit other tropes for consideration in your comments, and, soon, we will have an SVU Party Game that will be especially heinous.

ARTWORK CREDITS:

Cast Charicature by the very, very funny Aaron Aryanpur

SVU Valentines and Animal Victims Unit by the talented Brandon Bird. Valentine’s Day is around the corner, pick up the gritty sentimentality of SVU for someone you love at Bird’s site and store!

Next Week on Law & Order SVU by AK Tettenborn. Check out her other great stuff at Twice Shy!

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Parenting the Bauhaus Way

When I began the adventure of raising my son, I couldn’t believe how hard it was. Nothing I said got through to him. He didn’t seem to be interested in what was around him, unless it upset him- and then he screamed. There was this lack of curiosity that was puzzling. I knew when my boy was born that he would be legally blind because of an inherited condition in his family tree. A lot of these things that made raising him so hard I chalked up to the difficulty of raising a boy that was legally blind.

As time went on though, it became more obviously something else. The ominous A-word began to float around in our discussions of his progress. He didn’t seem to learn how to do many things, and even more disturbing was that that didn’t seem to bother him much unless it meant some direct physical discomfort. He wouldn’t ride a scooter. He tried, failed and abandoned it. He didn’t struggle to learn anything. For many months, we all told ourselves that this was tied to his near-blindness. That began to fade when we saw him climbing six foot ladders at the playground and walking across the room when he spotted a sippy cup of juice.

There were obvious indications of his poor vision, though. He held things very close to his face to look at them and he watched TV so close up he would get spit on the screen. I would cling to those signs of his blindness for months as the explanation for why he didn’t talk or really play with me, and why he seemed oblivious to what I said. All that time though, the spectre of autism lurked on the periphery of our relationship. I stayed home with him, and as the months wore on I could almost see it flitting around his room like a Ringwraith or a Dementor. An uneasiness stalked me that would not go away.

The longer he went on without talking, the stranger it seemed. The other oddities began to bother me more. He didn’t want to play with me. He was constantly twitching and shaking his head and jumping in place, as though he were trying to jiggle something loose in his head. These bothered me more and more, but as the months went by and he was getting close to two years old without speaking or even responding to sign language I held out hope he’d snap out of it. There was one thing that constantly haunted me. My son would not respond to his name. For weeks and weeks I tried to see if he’d turn when I yelled it. He rarely did, and most of the time it was for some other reason.

Autism is a lot of things, but the one aspect of it that has made life the most difficult in my brief time around the condition has been the asocial tendency of many autistic people. My son has asocial tendencies, albeit far less severe than many other less fortunate autistic kids- and his social interest has improved with therapy. He began ABA therapy 6 months ago, and the difference has been nothing short of remarkable.

Still, I sometimes I feel like I’m talking to a wall. I never know how much he understands and he often has a faraway look in his eye. On some days he has a catlike indifference to affection and praise, on others he’s quite sweet. Sometimes he laughs out of nowhere at a joke only he will ever understand. I have a short fuse, and I have often have to pause and take some deep breaths to avoid yelling at him for climbing on something or jumping on the bed for the millionth time that day. Sometimes I fail, and yell. It upsets me, he seems to take it in stride. It’s sort of creepy to see a kid so indifferent- he seems almost jaded. At times I love that about him. Often, it makes me sad.

Raising my son felt like that anxiety dream you have where suddenly discover you have a final for a class you didn’t do any reading for. It is that way for all parents, but how can you get your bearings as a father if your son sometimes doesn’t even acknowledge you? My boy often has very little need for my approval. It was worse early on -he would smile when I clapped for him sometimes, but more often would just go about his business. He seemed unable to understand that people are different from plants or furniture. Often, he would use me as a sort of crude tool. He would take me by the hand and place it on a door or a cabinet. When I opened it, I was dismissed, having served my only function. He pushed people to different parts of the room if like he’s rearranging the furniture. It’s changing, and it isn’t always the case, but often, my son seems to think of the world as a giant living room full of mannequins or dolls that yammer indistincly like the parents on Peanuts. A lot of the time, I’m just one of those dummies.

As I said, a lot of this has changed after 6 months of ABA therapy. My son is more social and more affectionate. He’s more patient, he’s less volatile, and he’s making efforts to communicate in ways I thought were impossible just months ago. Autism isn’t curable – at least I don’t believe it is, but it is treatable. It all boils down to developing the social instinct most people have innately. With therapy, my son has developed the ability to form bonds that other people have right away. After six months of therapy, I never doubt that my son loves me. Never.

Until now, he never thought there was a reason to let me know he loved me. He assumed I knew, just as he assumes I know that he’s crying because his juice isn’t cold enough without saying a word to me. My son can’t link his feelings to expressions, because he can’t link other people to information very well. This is something you can learn. My boy is slowly but surely developing the ability to show me he loves me.

His love is a weird kind. He’s sort of like an old- school Dad. He’s aloof, stingy with affection, demanding, and critical. He gets uncomfortable when he’s doted on or fussed over. Often, I feel like going near him when Sesame Street is on is like approaching Archie Bunker when he’s reading a paper in his armchair.  It’s hard to know what to do with such a worldly toddler. The role reversal is just bizarre.

Like a grouchy Dad who can’t emote, my son has moments where he is extremely cuddly and affectionate. Those moments are heart-stopping and powerful, if only because they are rarer than they are with most kids. We’re teaching him to show his feelings, to come out of his shell, to be comfortable with being loved. Those moments of connection are happening much, much more and I’m grateful for every one of them. This slow, arduous process of building a bond with an autistic child is teaching them how to show the love all kids have for their parents.

When I imagined what being a Dad would be like, I had images of heart-to-heart talks, showing him Star Wars for the first time, athletic failures (or who knows- successes), showing him how to ride a bike, taking him to a Yankees game, teaching him the difference between good rap and crappy rap, how to swim, how to read, how to discern right and wrong- the kinds of things everyone looks forward to when they find out they’re going to be a parent. Most parents have relationships with their kids that have those kinds of sentimental moments they’ll always cherish. Those memories are vital, but they aren’t the whole point.

My son and I haven’t had many of those moments. His first Halloween was kind of an ordeal. When I brought him outside to play in the snow for the first time, he totally freaked out. His first class pictures feature him on the edge of tears or with a kind of glazed expression. My son and I have a different set of memories. A lot of them involve hard work and struggling. There’s a lot of crying and tantrumming and me fumbling ineptly at the job of consoling him, or trying in vain to interest him in some toy or another. The thing is, my son has made progress. All the hard work we’ve done together, all those heartbreaking failed “firsts”, have united us in a way few parents can be with their kids.

Raising a child isn’t actually what I thought it was. Being a parent is working as hard as you can to teach your kid what they need to know to be grown-ups. You work and worry and sweat to put yourself out of the job of “parent”. A father or mother is charged with the gut-wrenching job of raising someone who will grow up to be an adult and an individual who will walk away from you. Your kids will come to reject a lot of your values, they will move on to their own lives. As your son or daughter becomes a man or woman, you become less and less a part of their lives, but they’ll still be the most important thing in the world to you. That is really what raising a child is about.

My son has taught me that I have to accept him as he is, and that the Hallmark moments I grew up thinking were what child-rearing involved have nothing to with love, or family, or being a father. Being a father means building someone up, slowly but surely. My relationship with my son has been about that and little else. The temptation to view that as some sort of tragedy is what makes it hard. When I see my son as he is now, when I see how hard he works and how much I’ve been able to help him, I don’t care that he didn’t love his first Halloween. I look back on the moments when he looked up and smiled at me or when he does something small that he’s struggled with for months with the same nostalgic affection most people have for their kid’s first day of school.

Raising an autistic child is by necessity stripped of sentimentality and nostalgia. The ornaments and frills of parenting are harmful and not helpful. As he learns to show love, we go through arduous drills of repetition and reward. My son and I live wholly in the present. The business of making a boy I’ll be proud of one day is totally superceded by the needs of the moment.My relationship with my son has a Bauhaus design- it is purposeful and functional. It is a love that is raw and exposed fro what it is. The dynamics of attachment and release that child-rearing truly is- the selfless love of both child and parent are right there in the forefront with my son. Like Bauhaus, my son and I have a relationship that looks severe, sterile, and mercenary to those who are outside the process of making it. Like Bauhaus, the raw functionality of our love for one another creates a lucid reality and a pure love that us unlike any other kind of relationship. We understand it and we can recognize it for what it is- the love of a family.

This blog is an effort to show you what parenting that puts function before form is truly like. It is wonderful. I love Bauhaus parenting.

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I am Closeted

I am secretly a nerd. Now, I’m just going to go ahead and cut off those people who say that is not so secret, because of how obviously nerdy I am. Yes, its apparent I am a nerd, but the true breadth and depth of my nerdiness is a secret concealed to most who know me. My wife only discovered the true extent of my geekiness after we were married, and for good reason. If she knew the shocking secret I plan to reveal to you now, I think she might have thought twice about marrying me.

I play D&D. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I’m willing to play D&D, I just don’t have anyone to play with. Whoa. That is pathetic. D&D is, I think, along with Magic Cards,the nadir of nerdiness. It is the line no hipster will publicly cross. It’s fine and good to watch Battlestar Galactica (the new one anyway), and its fine to play video games, and even to dig comics. You can admit those facts about yourself and lose a moderate but acceptable amount of social capital. As long as you dress normally, and wait until people know you well enough to divulge that information you’ll be okay.

There’s this scene in Freaks & Geeks (an excellent and sympathetic depiction of geekery), where the geek clique is making plans to play D&D. There is one holdout. “I dunno, guys….it’s really nerdy”, he says. Eventually he caves and winds up having a good time. I know what his hesitation was about, because I can see D&D from the point of view of someone who hasn’t played, too.

I think it is the play – acting (I suppose I should probably call it role – playing) aspect of the game that makes most people balk. There’s something about pretending to be an elf swordsman with your friends that seems profoundly childish. It hits at what people really find unsettling about the very nerdy, which is that most nerdy pastimes are essentially just refusals to give up on childhood. Most nerdiness is really just an unwillingness to grow up – to stop playing make – believe and obsessing about the shows you watched as a kid, or to stop enjoying the adventures of the Caped Crusader.

That unwillingness to fully enter adulthood creates discomfort in the non – nerdy. It’s like talking to a grown man whose brain somehow became frozen at age nine. The nerds socially astute enough to notice that discomfort are often hostile, and they create a reverse marketplace of social exchange, where your worthiness as a person is determined not by how socially skilled or mature you are, but by the degree to which you have eschewed those “artificialities”.

There’s something pathetic about the staunch refusal to give up on childish pursuits that eventually becomes the contempt with which nerds are widely regarded. To a certain degree, this pity (or contempt) is merited. There are many nerdy people whose refusal to move out of their Mom’s basement and empathize with people who don’t give a shit about Boba Fett is a sad rejection of living. They are like grown Linuses, terrified of losing their Spider – Man bedsheets. They desperately need to grow up or forfeit their claim to a productive, useful life.

I am not one of those nerds. At least I think I’m not, anyway. While I fully understand that nerdiness can mire you in pre – adolescence, I also think there is something healthy about being able to revisit childhood and return again. Growing up, in many ways, means submitting to bullshit superficialities, to surrender your imagination to the tedium of a nine to five existance, and to become a cog in the machine. Healthy geekery is a refusal to submit to the ridiculousness of adulthood, even if only in secret, while at the same time moving on from fourth grade. It is having friendships with different kinds of people and respect other interests, and, not for nothing, to have consensual sex with a living human at some point or another. To do that, you have to do some growing up. Just don’t do too much.

Maturing to the point you stop playing make -believe is a bare minimum of normalcy. That’s why the part of us that is not utterly ridiculous revolts against the idea of doing that again as adults. That’s understandable. Most normal D&D players keep a balance between the strategy elements of coordinating rules and the elaborate mechanisms for determining who wins a fight and talking with a preposterous accent or something like that. Most people who play D&D can do that. Some can’t, and it is those sad cases that force people like me to conceal my interest in D&D from almost everyone in my life. My wife is strictly forbidden from revealing this secret to anyone, even family and close friends. I choose when to come out or risk being ostracized. Jokes on 30 Rock and Community are making it easier, but it’s never easy.

But I am not a complete nerd. And I am not alone.

A short list of people cooler, funnier, better looking, richer, or just plain more important than you who have admitted they enjoy D&D: Robin Williams, Moby, Jon Favreau, Steven Colbert,Vin Diesel, Mike Meyers, Tim Duncan, Ben Affleck, Duwayne Johnson, Matt Groening, Matt Damon, Judd Apatow, Brian Warner (Marilyn Manson), Eddie Izzard, Jenny McCarthy.

I’m sure there are more. I don’t think the number of celebrities who confess they play will ever reach the critical mass necessary for D&D to be de-stigmatized. I’m not positive it should be. I’m just saying that someone you know might harbor this geeky secret,  and if it’s someone you love, be kind. It’s very hard admitting that you play a character named Brutus who comes from the Tarsian Empire, can wield two swords simultaneously, and once he reaches 4th level will take a Multi – class feat so he can do some spell – casting. I’m just saying is all.

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AMAZING TALES OF CHILDHOOD!!!

From the age of about 8 on – with almost no break – I have been in the process of writing a comic book.  In the two decades I have been writing down ideas for comic books, a large pile of notebooks containing character bios, story outlines, and lofty plans for elaborate universes has formed a nostalgic sediment in the storage spaces of my apartments. Most of them are garbage, but I hold a special place in my heart for those mead marble-covered composition books with my invented superhero logos carved in black bic pen on the malleable cradboard back cover – right next to the Metric – English conversion tables I never used in my entire education.

My favorite is”The Legends of Gregypia,” a collection of myths about a pantheon of Greek, Egyptian and Norse gods I thought were cool. I culled them mostly from my older brother’s copy of Deities & Demigods. All of the stories had a hero – invariably a sickly child who had magical powers no one knew about and who no one thought could do anything, except for the big shot knight’s girlfriend. The gods would get into some kind of fight that reversed the natural order. I remember very fondly a story where everything became black and white, and an even better one where it rained laser beams for forty days and forty nights. There was even one where everyone became blind – but no one gave me the Nobel Prize in literature. Fuck you, Saramago.

The sickly boy would always be tutoring the hot girlfriend of the most powerful knight in Gregypia with her “lessons.” She’d see his potential, and ask the cool athletic knight-who for some reason had a handlebar mustache –  to bring the nerdy tutor with secret powers on the  world-saving quest. The mission always involved getting the McGuffin that was needed to restore everyone’s vision or give out laser-proof umbrellas or whatever. The prince would always be like “no way, he sucks, I’m not bringing that scrub.” Everyone would laugh except the pretty head cheerleader of the Kingdom of Gregypia. The pretty-boy knight would go off and make things worse and/or get captured. Then the whole kingdom would be begging the funny-looking hero to save them with his powers. The nerd would hesitate, and the kingdom would really really beg, and then the hero would relent and save the day.

From there it usually went one of two ways. The more common of the two was that the princess  – who looked like Justine Bateman or Molly Ringwold  – would see the nerdy hero as the potential king he was and marry him. And then they had sex! Often it would be revealed that her formerly mousy and now muscular hero actually was the king and his identity had been confused because of some record-keeping snafu. Sometimes he’d send the cool, cocky hero to the dungeon and other times he’d be gracious. But the original favorite son of Gregypia always had his fate decided by the new cock-of-the-walk.

Other times, though, the kingdom would turn on the hero after he saved them and kill him or confine him to some sort of magical Sisyphean hell-prison where he would plot his revenge/comeback. I was a cynical bastard even then. But what would you expect from someone who had an imaginary enemy as a toddler?

I love reading those old stories because they are such bald self-disclosures. I guess they are to the nine year old boy what those diaries with the cheap breakable locks are to a nine year old girl. There is an exuberant, stupid innocence that makes these formulaic reiterations of the same plot infinitely engaging, at least to me. They apparently appeal to you because you’ve read this far. I think it is this kind of nostalgia that makes my new favorite comic strip, Axe Cop, so incredibly awesome.

Axe Cop is the brain-child of five year old Malachi Nicolle. His 29 year old brother and comic artist, Ethan Nicolle, has taken on the illustrating duties for his younger sibling. Ethan uses a classic, Darwyn Cooke- Bruce Timm-ish style on Axe Cop which accentuates the boyish charm that Malachi’s plots and characters embody. Ethan Nicolle’s stylistic repertoire is actually pretty diverse, as you can see in some of the pitches and pictures he’s compiled on his blog. Axe Cop appears here, and every one-page issue is golden.

The straightforward art is the perfect complement to the sincere, honest storylines Malachi writes. The stories are meandering, insane, and bizarre in that way all small childrens’ fantasies are, especially if they are egged on with timely requests to answer the question “and then…?” Five year olds have no filters. The story moves in whatever direction their simultaneously expansive and parochial imaginations move them. That is exactly what makes Axe Cop so delightful and refreshing to read. Comics are supposed to be fun, but take themselves very seriously. As they become monopolized by increasingly older, jaded, snarky fans who are altogether overstuffed with pop culture fare, they get even stodgier. Many of those fans would dismiss Axe Cop as silly. And it is. That’s the point.

The priceless fun these brothers have writing this strip leaks out of every panel.You can almost see the little boy get excited as he elaborates the story, and I enjoy imagining the gleam in his eye when he sees the stories drawn and then published by his super-cool big brother.  Reading Axe Cop recalls the joy of writing the “Legends of Gregypia” in a way no comic I’ve ever read since has even come close to. Calvin & Hobbes comes close in some ways, but this is the one that really scratches that itch for me. In a way, it’s the comic I’ve been waiting 20 years for – since my comic addiction has really always been just a way to chase that high.

Whether you dig comics or not, you should check this strip out. It’s just a great time. And now, just to add to the awesomeness of it all, Axe Cop has been picked up by Dark Horse Comics, and the internet has begun buzzing about a live action short by Peter Muehlenberg!

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