Seven…

“Death cancels everything but truth.” – William Hazlitt

Wedding or funeral—which would we rather attend?

That’s an easy one, right?

Wrong.

Something else Solomon said was that it’s better to be at a funeral than a wedding.

Why? Three reasons (and none of them are jokes about marriage, like the either/or question: Are you married or happy?). First, everyone dies—it’s when, not if. Second, it’s wise to admit the first reason and foolishness to laugh when it’s time to mourn. And third, the outcome of honest mourning will lead to a better way of living.

Instead of ignoring death, we’re to become comfortable with it. With what death means.

Death means we’re alive.

To paraphrase Descartes, We die therefore we’re alive.

But there’s a difference between death and dying. Dying is often horrible and painful and harmful to those around—its’ agonizing and impoverishing. While death is closure.

It’s the denial of death that’s debilitating. It’s a form of fear that accentuates itself – it feeds off itself. Avoiding death reinforces the fearfulness of death. When we think about happy things to crowd out the sadness of death those happy thoughts become linked with the refusal of death.

And when we refuse death we’re refusing the opportunity to live.

Refusing death is like attempting to stop time. That’s how we lose life.

We lose life by disregarding the experience of time.

But holding death loosely—a loved one’s or our own inevitably—seems to trivialize the value of life. So we grasp at everything and anything representing life, whether personally in extreme emotional or physical stimulation or vague, symbolic representations we associate with life. Birth. Youth. Energy and vitality. We fear loss.

And depression. We fear depression.

According to common wisdom the ‘red flag’ of depression is thoughts of death. Actually the refusal of death is leads us to the either/or of ignorance or suicide, literally, when taking one’s own life is the honest option of the two. It’s a new martyrdom.

Suicide is a resignation to the future being worse than the past, often because of the past. And the present is regarded as worse than what is unchangeably the future.

But is the future inevitable?

The most unfortunate determinism of life is the inevitable experience of abuse (an extreme illustration of the ordinary). Ironically and predictably nine-out-of-ten who experience some form of abuse in childhood reproduce abusive behaviors in adulthood. The abused continue in abuse.

It’s not time for the inevitable; it’s time to question it.

The past isn’t altered but it’s open to a different reading. Most of what has happened, happens to us. Accidents of birth—when, to whom and in what circumstances; female, male, black, white, brown; rich, poor. We don’t choose these things. That’s the truer truth.

We didn’t choose these things, and we can’t change these things.

Why, then, is guilt our typical response to things unchangeable? Guilt is supposed to show humility, but this humility for being born a human isn’t humility. It’s

The alternative? Living without apology.

Is there another way to tell our story? Another way to account for what’s happened to us and what we’ve done with our lives?

Narrating our story differently, narrating our tales with an eye on what’s next, is a good practice. Instead of an unchangeable past leading to an unalterable future we can find an alternative.

This is our alternative. It’s time to become better interpreters of our own life, and of time.

By its very nature the moment, this moment, is transient. It cannot be grasped. It always dances between past and what’s next. It’s timeless.

And it’s also what’s next. It’s not the future, it’s what’s next.

There is no simple, direct, uninterrupted line between past, present and future. Calling that’s next ‘the future’ gives it a singular, closed and inevitable meaning. It cannot be changed. The only human response becomes resignation to it, and passive aggressiveness as a lifestyle.

An unchangeable past leads to regret (when married to guilt) but an unchangeable future invites worry and inevitable failure.

It’s time, not simply to change the future, live in the moment, or even accept the past.

There is an alternative. There is an option.

It’s time for the truer truth.

Four…

“Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.” – William Shakespeare

Help!

We’ve all said it; yelled it; screamed it; prayed it.

And we aren’t the first generation to cry for help.

But we’ve sure found a way to make money answering the cry for help.

Self-help or improvement books have been around for as long as, well, books have been around. They’ve been called by different names, like guides, conduct books, handbooks, pamphlets, plays and dramas, philosophies, proverbs, sometimes histories and often biographies.

We called them stories, once upon a time.

We’ve always had good books about behavior, food, manners, etiquette, politics, government, money, marriage, sex, dating, friendships, work and virtues. From Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, from the Bible’s wisdom literature to the Kama Sutra’s how-to erotica, and from Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night and As You Like It to Charles Dickens’ Hard Times and A Christmas Carole—the stories we told and read showed us a better life.

Or at least they tried to.

The better life was often shown to us by contrast, negative examples, cautionary tales—all embarrassingly contrary to what we have come to call normal.

In Solomon’s proverbs we read about the fool. No one wishes to be a fool, let alone be called one, even by Solomon.

Fools refuse learning. Fools actually love being foolish. Fools are complacent. Babbling. Slanderous. Senseless. Conceited.

Here’s a good exercise: read one of those proverbs each day. Some will make us laugh. Some will confuse us. We’ll wonder if we know anyone like this or that.

It might take five minutes a day to do this, but we’ll start to see fools all around us.

Fools find humor in wrongdoing. React immediately to insults. Corrupt their friends and drag them down into foolishness. They despise those who admit their wrongs. Don’t enjoy learning but always want to offer their opinions. And there is no reasoning with a fool.

Except.

Except when one plays the part of the fool because every else thinks themselves wise.

For effect fools and clowns are chosen to play the roles of sanity among those who are too foolish to admit their ignorance.

We look to clowns and fools to say plainly, honestly what no serious person dares to say. The wise fool in the hands of William Shakespeare no longer stumbled and juggled to amuse but also speak of love and lust, truth and morals. Such fools are, it turns out, not fools at all.

But maybe we’re too principled or proud, too serious or too intelligent to learn from the fool.

King Solomon’s father, David, was running for his life from one king when he fell into the hands of another king—both viewed David as an obvious threat. His life was at stake. He would surely be killed. But he lived to become king himself.

How did he save his own life?

It wasn’t with a sword (this time). It wasn’t with a speech.

David faked insanity.

He scratched and pawed at doors and gates, leaving marks with his bare hands; he drooled on himself. He played the madman.

He thought it better to continue to live rather than be proud and dead.

But some fools are fools—that’s the irony of comedy.

In the English Gotham Tale of the Cuckoo Bush the men of Gotham heard a cuckoo calling from a bush. Because they believed the cuckoo was the herald of spring, the men build a fence around the bush to keep the bird in place and thereby attempt to preserve springtime eternally.

But (of course) the cuckoo just flew away.

In response the Gothamites don’t admit their silliness or stupidity. Instead they say they should have made the fence higher.

Some fools are fools.

And we don’t always know the difference.

Today is the day for the fool—the fool who is wise.

And we must be our own fool.

Or we will be someone else’s.

Toddling… 10

They started to talk more about serious things in the kitchen around this time, but they stayed in the kitchen, dad up against the counter and mom with her dripping dish gloves.

I got to watch TV more, Mary was stuck in a little saucer-like chair over in the corner of the kitchen (or sometimes with me watching TV, although she didn’t watch the TV much since she was just more than a year old). We watched shows like Leave It To Beaver and Ward and June would be lounging in the living room, Ward reading his paper in his dress shirt, tie and suit jacket still on and June doing needlework nearby, chatting about Wally and the Beaver.

They never fought – one of them was occasionally confused, with a comedic twist, but that was quickly resolved and happiness restored. It did strike me that June was often worried and frowning and raising questions like, ‘Ward, do you think the Beaver is okay?’

And Ward would calmly say, ‘He’s fine, June. He’s just a boy growing-up. I’ll go talk to him.’ And June would say, ‘Well, I wish you would,’ and she’d go back to her stitching. And Ward went off to the boys’ bedroom with Wally doing his homework on the little desk and Beaver reading a comic book laying on his bed with his shoes on (I could never do that), until Ward told Beaver to get his feet off his bed. And they’d talk, calmly, sometimes comically with Wally rolling his eyes and saying, ‘Gee, dad, how come?!’ (every sentence Beaver said seemed to start with a ‘Gee’ but I could never do that either according to mom because it was another way of saying Jesus and that would be like swearing, like Gosh meant God, heck meant hell, cripes meant Christ, darn meant damn, shut meant shit, fudge meant fuck, and we told the joke: ‘Do you know that kids who say fudge get darned to heck’).

And when Ward wanted to make a point to his Beaver he’d drop his chin down, look at Beaver and say something with a few ‘Well’s’ in the sentences. Dad never used ‘Well’s’ when he talked to mom, and they never sat in the living room when they talked, and mom never did needlework anyway. And when they talked about Grandma I got to watch a lot more TV.

Grandma Ryan lived in Detroit, with Grandpa’s sister, Aunt Margaret, until Aunt Margaret died and Grandma was all alone (Grandma and Aunt Margaret had lived together since Grandpa Ryan died before I was even born). “She needs some care, Mary,” dad told mom. “Yes, I know, but it won’t be too much. She took care of me my whole life, it’s the right thing for me to do,” mom answered. “I didn’t say it wasn’t the right thing to do, Mary; just that your mom is needing more and more help these days, and it will take a lot of your time.”

All I thought was that Grandma was coming to live with us and how great that was and how much fun that would be – it always was fun to see Grandma Ryan, since she was my only Grandparent (dad’s dad died just before I was born, and Grandma Kelly died right after I was born – they took the until death do us part seriously and dad said she died from a broken heart).

But Grandma Ryan never made it to The Hills because she passed away the week before we were going to drive to Detroit to pick her up and pack her stuff. So instead of moving her, she was moved here in a casket to be buried near us. Mom took a train to Detroit the day after Grandma Ryan died and dad took care of us and drove us around in the station wagon and kept asking me where stuff was, where stuff went, and why we didn’t like the food he cooked for us, “Because it doesn’t taste like mom’s macaroni and cheese, it’s just different I guess,” was all I said, trying to be nice.

All of Grandma Ryan’s stuff wound up in an estate sale except for her personal effects which my mom fussed over instead of fussing over Grandma, and mom kept wondering out loud where something or another was because she remembered it from when she was a young girl and would have liked to have it.

She said how some things were sentimental to her when dad tried to help her by saying, “Mary, if we had everything of sentimental value from your mom’s place we wouldn’t be able to move around in our house.” Mom cried when dad said this, just like mom cried when Grandma died; dad didn’t cry, but I cried when mom cried, so I cried too.

And after that, when mom was shuffling through old photographs of when mom was a kid just like me, in the middle of a story about when they moved because Grandpa lost his job, mom stopped because she was crying again. I needed to know why she was crying, “What’s wrong mom?”

She dabbed her tears and smiled, “I’m just remembering, Danny, just remembering when I was a little girl.” “Like Mary?” I asked. “Yes, like Mary,” she said. “Mom, why didn’t you have any brothers or sisters?” I asked. “I just didn’t Danny; your Grandma and Grandpa and I were very poor and we didn’t have much when I was growing up. And we had to move around when daddy could find a job, so we moved often.”

I watched her shuffle through a few more photos, heard a few more stories, mom cried some more, and I asked, “Mom, are we rich?” “Why do you ask that, Danny?” “Well, because you said that when you were a little girl you were poor and so you couldn’t have brothers and sisters, but I’ve got a sister and you’re gonna have another baby.” “Well, I wouldn’t say…you see, it’s different now and…well, Danny, your dad and I have more…” and she stopped, thought for a moment and said, “Danny, compared to how I grew up, we aren’t poor, but that doesn’t mean we are rich.” When I asked dad later that day if we were rich, and after we got through the questions about why I would ask such a question, dad said, “There are always more people who have more and people who have less, so to some people we are rich.”

But we weren’t poor – nobody would say that. And then dad asked, “What did your mom say when you asked her if we were rich?” I told him that she said pretty much the same things that he did, and dad just nodded, saying “Huh, interesting.” I didn’t know what he meant, or if he meant anything.

 

Toddling… 9

They started to talk more about serious things in the kitchen around this time, but they stayed in the kitchen, dad up against the counter and mom with her dripping dish gloves. I got to watch TV more, Mary was stuck in a little saucer-like chair over in the corner of the kitchen (or sometimes with me watching TV, although she didn’t watch the TV much since she was just more than a year old).

We watched shows like Leave It To Beaver and Ward and June would be lounging in the living room, Ward reading his paper in his dress shirt, tie and suit jacket still on and June doing needlework nearby, chatting about Wally and the Beaver. They never fought – one of them was occasionally confused, with a comedic twist, but that was quickly resolved and happiness restored.

It did strike me that June was often worried and frowning and raising questions like, ‘Ward, do you think the Beaver is okay?’ And Ward would calmly say, ‘He’s fine, June. He’s just a boy growing-up. I’ll go talk to him.’ And June would say, ‘Well, I wish you would,’ and she’d go back to her stitching.

And Ward went off to the boys’ bedroom with Wally doing his homework on the little desk and Beaver reading a comic book laying on his bed with his shoes on (I could never do that), until Ward told Beaver to get his feet off his bed. And they’d talk, calmly, sometimes comically with Wally rolling his eyes and saying, ‘Gee, dad, how come?!’ (every sentence Beaver said seemed to start with a ‘Gee’ but I could never do that either according to mom because it was another way of saying Jesus and that would be like swearing, like Gosh meant God, heck meant hell, cripes meant Christ, darn meant damn, shut meant shit, fudge meant fuck, and we told the joke: ‘Do you know that kids who say fudge get darned to heck’).

And when Ward wanted to make a point to his Beaver he’d drop his chin down, look at Beaver and say something with a few ‘Well’s’ in the sentences. Dad never used ‘Well’s’ when he talked to mom, and they never sat in the living room when they talked, and mom never did needlework anyway. And when they talked about Grandma I got to watch a lot more TV.

Grandma Ryan lived in Detroit, with Grandpa’s sister, Aunt Margaret, until Aunt Margaret died and Grandma was all alone (Grandma and Aunt Margaret had lived together since Grandpa Ryan died before I was even born). “She needs some care, Mary,” dad told mom. “Yes, I know, but it won’t be too much. She took care of me my whole life, it’s the right thing for me to do,” mom answered. “I didn’t say it wasn’t the right thing to do, Mary; just that your mom is needing more and more help these days, and it will take a lot of your time.”

All I thought was that Grandma was coming to live with us and how great that was and how much fun that would be – it always was fun to see Grandma Ryan, since she was my only Grandparent (dad’s dad died just before I was born, and Grandma Kelly died right after I was born – they took the until death do us part seriously and dad said she died from a broken heart).

But Grandma Ryan never made it to The Hills because she passed away the week before we were going to drive to Detroit to pick her up and pack her stuff. So instead of moving her, she was moved here in a casket to be buried near us. Mom took a train to Detroit the day after Grandma Ryan died and dad took care of us and drove us around in the station wagon and kept asking me where stuff was, where stuff went, and why we didn’t like the food he cooked for us, “Because it doesn’t taste like mom’s macaroni and cheese, it’s just different I guess,” was all I said, trying to be nice.

All of Grandma Ryan’s stuff wound up in an estate sale except for her personal effects which my mom fussed over instead of fussing over Grandma, and mom kept wondering out loud where something or another was because she remembered it from when she was a young girl and would have liked to have it.

She said how some things were sentimental to her when dad tried to help her by saying, “Mary, if we had everything of sentimental value from your mom’s place we wouldn’t be able to move around in our house.” Mom cried when dad said this, just like mom cried when Grandma died; dad didn’t cry, but I cried when mom cried, so I cried too.

And after that, when mom was shuffling through old photographs of when mom was a kid just like me, in the middle of a story about when they moved because Grandpa lost his job, mom stopped because she was crying again. I needed to know why she was crying, “What’s wrong mom?”

She dabbed her tears and smiled, “I’m just remembering, Danny, just remembering when I was a little girl.” “Like Mary?” I asked. “Yes, like Mary,” she said. “Mom, why didn’t you have any brothers or sisters?” I asked. “I just didn’t Danny; your Grandma and Grandpa and I were very poor and we didn’t have much when I was growing up. And we had to move around when daddy could find a job, so we moved often.”

I watched her shuffle through a few more photos, heard a few more stories, mom cried some more, and I asked, “Mom, are we rich?” “Why do you ask that, Danny?” “Well, because you said that when you were a little girl you were poor and so you couldn’t have brothers and sisters, but I’ve got a sister and you’re gonna have another baby.” “Well, I wouldn’t say…you see, it’s different now and…well, Danny, your dad and I have more…” and she stopped, thought for a moment and said, “Danny, compared to how I grew up, we aren’t poor, but that doesn’t mean we are rich.”

When I asked dad later that day if we were rich, and after we got through the questions about why I would ask such a question, dad said, “There are always more people who have more and people who have less, so to some people we are rich.” But we weren’t poor – nobody would say that. And then dad asked, “What did your mom say when you asked her if we were rich?” I told him that she said pretty much the same things that he did, and dad just nodded, saying “Huh, interesting.” I didn’t know what he meant, or if he meant anything.

 

Toddling… 8

The first time I thought about anything close to divorce was when mom and dad had a fight one night when I was a couple years old and mom was crying and dad was leaning up against the kitchen counter, calmly and quietly, with his arms folded, trying to explain something about money (or the lack thereof) to mom.

(Turns out that most guys don’t have more than one wife because they are too poor, but most people who got divorced did so because they were too poor…go figure.)

I came into the kitchen, standing in the doorway, unseen, until mom said something in anger and marched out the back door. I reacted and blurted out, “No, mom, don’t leave!” And when dad still didn’t move from his spot, didn’t uncross his arms, didn’t say a word, I protested, “Dad, don’t let mom leave!”

But he did nothing, said nothing. Now I was crying and I raced outside after mom and saw the garage door open. She was inside our station wagon, head on her hands on the steering wheel and her shoulders were bobbing to her sobs as she cried. By the end of the night dad put me to bed, found Bunny which I had misplaced again and tucked me in, changed Mary’s diaper and had her in his arms last I saw him, and when I heard mom’s voice in their bedroom I could finally fall asleep. Nobody said another word about the fight the next day. And nine months later my little brother Johnny was born.

If people didn’t get divorced in The Hills, they did in the United States, especially after World War II (when all the boys came home, all the women were waiting for them to divorce their sorry butts – in 1940 4.6 out of every 1000 got divorced, but in 1946 10.2 out of every 1000 got divorced, but people got married more often too).

But in the late 50’s the rate decreased (to as low as 3.6 in 1958) and it didn’t start to go up again until the crazy 60’s, and the divorce rate was about the same in the early 60’s as it was in the 20’s and 30’s. But whether people got divorced elsewhere or not, it was scandalous to divorce in The Hills; it wasn’t just sad it was a sin (always for Catholics, and only in certain cases for the Protestants in town; and we didn’t have any Mormons or Muslims, so the polygamy/concubine thing wasn’t really an option).

But all the same, it was still scary to see mom sitting in the station wagon when she was fighting with dad about money. It was as if she was just about gone, she had the transportation all worked out, but where could she go? Her own mom, Grandma, was going to come and live with us in a couple of weeks (I heard dad and mom talking about it, but they weren’t fighting about that). Mom belonged at home, married, with us, not in the station wagon.

When mom and dad discussed this kind of stuff – any kind of stuff – they did it in the kitchen, dad in his spot with arms folded, leaning back against the kitchen counter while mom washed a pot in the sink, wearing yellow Playtex gloves, cuffed an inch or so showing the white insides.

When she wanted to emphasize what she was saying, mom would turn and drip suds drops on the floor near the sink; when dad wanted to make a point he would leave his spot and slide up next to mom, facing the middle of the kitchen and mom’s hands in the soapy water, his head tilted and leaning in mom’s direction speaking quietly. Sometimes they laughed about things that they didn’t say loud enough for me to hear, and sometimes I just wasn’t listening. But sometimes they talked sternly to each other, and sometimes just one of them was talking, on and on, while the other one stood with head down, saying nothing. I knew when to interrupt, “Yes, Danny? What do you need?” And I knew when not to interrupt, “Danny, I’m talking with your dad; don’t interrupt” (it really wasn’t that hard to figure out).

*** *** ***

Toddling… 7

People got married all the time in the late 1950’s, and I just figured that people always got married. Right there in the beginning of our story (in the Bible, at least), it says “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”

Funny thing is that when you read Genesis there aren’t any fathers or mothers around yet, just Adam and Eve (people don’t even know if Adam and Eve had belly buttons). And the explanation of what a guy and girl do – leave, cleave, be one flesh – was about as specific as dad’s answer to my questions about what marriage was. And the word marriage isn’t there either, but that’s what they were doing – everybody knows that.

Marriage was the fancy word to talk about the ceremony and what makes it formal – you know, official and all. The titles people get when they get married, becoming husband and wife, are about what they get to do to each other, the “they shall be one flesh” thing (you get to go to the wedding ceremony, but nobody is supposed to see the couple become one flesh, if you know what that means).

It is the cleaving part that makes marriage different from prostitution and just sex, and most people think that Genesis also tells us that this leave and cleave thing is also about monogamy and almost explicitly eliminates polygamous and polyandrous unions (the problem is that when you keep reading the Bible nobody who is anybody, absolutely nobody, has just one wife, and no wife had more than one husband). The idea is that marriage is about exclusiveness, one guy and one girl, together, always, only. Anything else is, well, just not done.

The whole question of marriage really took on importance since the nineteenth-century because of evolution and people wondered aloud, for the first time in civilized circles, whether humans were like (other) animals who just screwed-around, made babies, and died alone.

It was either this or we always got married. And smart people with French names who were called anthropologists tried to figure out the relationship between sex and economics (not that, but common property, homesteads and family trees).

Turns out that most people got married, and only uncivilized tribes didn’t (that’s what made people civilized or uncivilized, so of course the definition fit the description). Even Darwin tended to agree that males and females paired-up, even if they didn’t always stay together, both of them usually wound-up pairing-up with another partner. But, then, Darwin married his own cousin.

There was one really funny thing anthropologists told us about: polyandry, that is, a woman with several husbands. The typical primitive deviation of monogamy was the harem thing with a sultan, king, or stud with a stable of phillies, but there were stories about how in the good old days some Arabs, Aborigines, Thibetans, New Zealanders, and, of course, the Hottentots had really rich and powerful women who kept more than one husband. (We always heard about the Hottentots – it was a fun word to say, even for adults.)

Sometimes it was a fraternal thing with the husbands being called brothers (but even then there was always an older brother who was the chief husband, even if he wasn’t the chief). So the woman was actually married to one family, not to just a bunch of different guys; this sort of thing is even in the Bible where if a man dies the brother has to marry his sister-in-law and keep the family name going (which always seemed weird). But nobody believed that polyandry was ever normal or more than a passing fad like when there were a lot more men than women in a culture, or in a culture where women were in charge – a Sadie Hawkins kind of thing.

Even Sadie Hawkins day wasn’t always around; it came from a Li’l Abner comic strip in 1937 and Sadie was “the homeliest gal in the hills” who was tired of waiting for guys to ask her for a date. So Sadie’s big shot dad in Dogpatch, Hekzebiah Hawkins, decreed the first annual Sadie Hawkins Day because he was afraid that his ugly daughter would never leave his home. The event of Sadie Hawkins Day was a footrace in which the unmarried girls chased the town’s unmarried guys and when caught they had to get married. It became an empowering rite in high schools and colleges long before women started burning their bras (that’s a way of saying that the whole feminist movement was the result of Al Capp’s cartoon, Li’l Abner).

And everybody knows about the alternative – polygamy, and that means many marriages. But even though everybody knew about it, not everybody did it (the Greeks and Romans didn’t, but that’s probably because the men had concubines, otherwise known as sex slaves, although some Muslims still have the concubine thing going).

The only civilized people who were polygamous were those wacky Mormons in Utah and they said that God told Joseph Smith to do it in 1841 – it wasn’t even optional, it was a requirement from God. Smith’s chief apostle, Bringham Young (who’s favorite quote was supposedly, ‘I don’t care how you bring ‘em, as long as you bring ‘em young’), said “Some of my brethren know what my feelings were at the time Joseph revealed the doctrine; I was not desirous of shrinking from any duty, nor of failing in the least to do as I was commanded, but it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time. And when I saw a funeral, I felt to envy the corpse its situation, and to regret that I was not in the coffin, knowing the toil and labor that my body would have to undergo; and I have had to examine myself, from that day to this, and watch my faith, and carefully meditate, lest I should be found desiring the grave more than I ought to do.”

You know he was either lying or the most truthful man ever born; either he was really, really happy about having to have a harem and just didn’t want to seem too excited about it, or he really thought all his wives would kill him (but what a way to die).

I think he was lying because Bringham had twenty-seven wives, the first was sweet eighteen-year old Miriam Works when he was twenty-two and the last (but not necessarily the least) was a perky little twenty-three year old Ann Eliza Webb when Bringham was sixty-six (that old dog).

That was about the average age of his brides – in their early twenties (two were in their forty’s, but three or four were closer to sweet-sixteen). That also meant that he had a whole bunch of kids – fifty-seven or so (you see, he wasn’t too morbid about his conjugal privileges after all). He had his troubles too; like his last wife who divorced him, and he married six of Joseph Smith’s widows when Joseph was killed in 1844 (not all at once, he spaced them out over five years…how many honeymoons can a guy handle!). He never had more than nineteen wives at one time (look who was killing whom!).

But most guys can’t afford more than one wife, so most in cultures guys are faithful because they are poor (that’s the sex-economics thing anthropologists were talking about). Either that or the guy is a hound and just can’t wake-up next to the same girl every morning until death to us part. Nobody got divorced in The Hills in the 1950’s, just like nobody got divorced on television (although the divorce rate in Hollywood was off the charts and everyone knew this but attributed it to the indulgent lifestyle of show business or just living in California which people in The Hills called the land of fruits and nuts and then laughed at their pun). Nobody who was normal got divorced, or at least nobody talked about it.

Mrs. Green, our next door neighbor was not normal like this, but I didn’t know that for a few years. Mr. Green was around for a couple of years when I was a kid, but he lived in the basement of his own house (which I thought was neat, but mom said I couldn’t move into the basement).

After Mr. Green wasn’t around anymore, Mrs. Green would come over on Saturday’s asking for help with something around the house – a stopped up sink or a leaking washer or a window that was stuck. Mom would always make me go with dad and that was fine because I would get a cookie (but they were always out of a package or box, not like mom’s and homemade).

She was always grateful, she’d say to dad, and a couple of times she was angry about having to have someone else unclog the sink or clean leaves out of a gutter, but she wasn’t made because she wished she knew how to do cool things like that. She said things about Mr. Green or about money, or about lacking both. And when mom and dad had cocktail parties, Mrs. Green was always invited and sometimes she’d dance with someone else’s husband, and one time with someone else’s wife. But all I knew was that Mrs. Green was alone even though she was still a Mrs.

Toddling… 6

The show ended every day as calmly and warmly as it began with a personal touch from Miss Nancy. She would wander off casually toward the side of the set and grab her magic, psychedelic mirror and start to sing The Magic Mirror song.

She would hold up an opaque mirror and talk from behind it. “Romper Bomper Stomper Boo, tell me, tell me, tell me who…. Magid mirror tell me today, did all my friends have fun at play?” The screen would go into elliptical swirls and twirls of rainbow colors like Miss Nancy was on an acid trip, but when it faded back to her the opaque mirror part was gone and we were looking into Miss Nancy’s face and she would say the names of the kids she was seeing through her magic mirror.

She’d say “I see Judy, Ricky, Caroline and I see Mark this morning and Amanda and Timmy and on and on and on….” But she never said my name, and my name’s not that unique. She tried to cover the omission with “And of course I see you too, and tomorrow I’ll be looking for you tomorrow morning in the Romper Room School.” I don’t know; maybe I just missed it, but even on my Special Day, as she used to call a kid’s birthday, she didn’t say ‘And I see Danny!’

Mom asked quite often, “Did she say your name today Danny?” and I’d always answer with a ‘No’. “Well, maybe tomorrow she will; you’ll see,” mom would say in encouragement (mom was a Do Bee kind of mom). And I’d think ‘Hey, yea, maybe she will say my name tomorrow. It could happen!’ And I’d be hooked and wait the twenty-three and a half hours hoping.

Mom had a way of turning disappointments into hopes, she made my world my world, she was my world – that’s what moms do for their toddlers. And all she asked was that I say please and thank you, and eventually to distinguish between can and may (“Can addresses ability, may speaks to permission.

So you should have said, ‘May I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch?’ not ‘Can I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch?’ ‘). She wiped my nose, combed my hair, tucked-in my shirt, tied my shoes, did my laundry, cleaned my room, made my bed, wiped my nose, washed my face, cleaned-out my ears, combed my hair, always found Bunny when I mislaid him, encouraged me, scolded me, touched me, hugged me, held my hand, took me everywhere with her – she loved me, and I loved her. “Mom?” “Yes, Danny?” “Mom, I love you,” and she’d blush, stop what she was doing, and always respond, “Oh Danny, I love you too!” I loved her so much that I hated everyone else, even dad. It’s really quite normal for young kids to live with a zero-sum take on life – that if you love something so much, it must mean you hate everything else since you’ve only got 100% of everything, like love, and since mom got all 100% (it would have been an insult not to reciprocate her obvious 100% love for me with, say, 63% for her and 37% for dad). “Danny, you don’t hate your dad! That’s really not a nice thing to say.” “‘But I love you mom!?” was my only response – it’s every toddler’s only response, that is until we learn that we can love more than one thing at a time and are better because of it.

It’s all about figuring out what makes my mom, my mom. Now she gave birth to me, and that happened because of something she did with dad, but I had to learn that mom and dad were one thing – married.

Mom and dad married was like peanut butter and jelly on a sandwich was just one thing (who eats peanut butter without jelly, but word has it that Elvis liked to eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but that’s another matter altogether). This was why mom just smiled at me when I told her I was going to marry her. I once said that I was going to marry Miss Nancy of Romper Room, but I always loved mom the best. I couldn’t marry mom, of course, but she wasn’t going to tell me that. Not even dad said more than, “Hey, that’s my wife you’re proposing to young man!” when I informed him I was going to marry her.

I didn’t really think marriage was anything more than being with someone who is very special to you so that everyone else would know that person was special to you. What that something you did to that special someone was I had no clue. Dad said he asked mom to marry him and she said yes, and it was time for me to go to bed. “Okay dad, goodnight.

I’m going to marry her, just like you.” “Okay, Danny, you do that.” As he was tucking me into bed I asked, “What does it mean to get married?” “Well, that’s a good question,” dad said, but he didn’t really answer so I pressed, “What do people do when they get married?”

Maybe I thought this angle might improve my chances for an answer, but I was wrong. “Well, after the ceremony, there is a party called a reception where everyone eats dinner and dances and celebrates with the married couple.” “Then what?” I said. “Well, then the couple goes on a honeymoon.” “And?” “And what, Danny?” dad responded. “And, what’s a honeymoon?” “Well,” dad paused, again, “a honeymoon is kind of like a vacation for the couple and…they start their marriage together, and….” And dad stopped there. “Okay, thanks dad. Goodnight.”

And I went to sleep and dad seemed relieved at the end of the questions, but I never married mom.

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Toddling… 5

The show, like almost every show on TV that I watched, tried to communicate and reinforce basic American values of hard work, honesty, thriftiness, wholesome virtues of modesty and chastity (that’s why Elvis was such a problem to some people).

For instance, Romper Room taught you not only how to stand up straight (a chief virtue of adolescence), but it also taught kids to avoid complaining (like, I’m tried, I’m hot, I’m cold, I’m thirsty, I’m bored, I can’t, and the cardinal sin, I don’t want to, which covered everything). Instead Romper Room modeled ideal behavior in the Do Bee song; Mr. Do Bee would lead and everyone knew what it meant to be a Do Bee instead of a Don’t Bee.

It started with the chorus, “Did you ever see a do bee, a do bee, a do bee? Did you ever see a do bee? Go this way and that.” And then broke into verse after verse (back to the chorus in between the gung-ho, Marine-like chant of the stanzas), “Go this way and that way, and this way and that way.

Did you ever see a do be go this way and that?” And then bow, raise this hand and then that hand; and if you raise your hands you certainly have to wave them, “Did you ever see a do bee wave this hand and that?”

I did, just about every morning. And, last but not lease, you’d “Clap this way and that,” and the last stanza’s “that” would trail off and everyone would sit, exhausted, on their seats or on the rug and quietly model a controlled afterglow of excitement (whenever we did action songs at birthday parties we’d go crazy and get out of control and someone would get hurt, as the parents promised, If you don’t settle down, someone’s going to get hurt.

And, Sure, it’s all fun-and-games until someone gets hurt.). But no one ever got hurt, unruly, boisterous, wild or crabby on Romper Room.

The only time I got out of control was when I mislaid my Bunny. By that time I was four Bunny was just a rag with strings, but it started out as a baby toy – a stuffed animal that I had in my crib since I was in my crib.

Over time, with day after day with a toddler, Bunny began to show signs of wear with every inch and ounce I gained. Bunny started out blue (I was a boy, after all), then became brown as the fur wore off to reveal the fabric underneath, then it tore and the stuffing fell out, but I still hung-on to Bunny even though Bunny was now just a ragged thing with strands and stitching dangling from it that I would rub in between my fingers as I went to sleep.

When I lost Bunny I couldn’t go to sleep; I could be in bed but I cried and refused to sleep. I loved  Bunny. Once I left Bunny in the station wagon, and another time I put Bunny in the bread keeper-drawer in the kitchen, and one hysterical night I refused to sleep without Bunny even though it was late and I didn’t know where I had put Bunny that day. Mom and dad looked everywhere, tried to bribe me with the promise of a new Bunny in the morning, threatened me with grave bodily harm if I continued to whine and cry for Bunny, until they got me up and led me on a tour of everywhere I’d been that day in the house.

When we got to the kitchen, I checked the bread keeper-drawer (Bunny was there last time), I checked the oven but mom barked that Bunny couldn’t be in there because she had baked a casserole in there just hours ago. And we checked the clothes’ hamper in the bathroom and in the closet in the hallway, the one in the basement where some toys were stored, and we had already checked the closet in my bedroom.

We eventually returned to the kitchen and started going through the cabinets and mom even checked in the cold cuts drawer in the refrigerator, but I was standing looking out the screen door. “Did you take Bunny with you when you went with mom to the store?” dad asked, but I wasn’t looking toward the station wagon.

I was looking into the yard, “I think Bunny is out in the yard, by the swing.” Mom said Bunny couldn’t be there because I wasn’t outside that day. “Yes, I was” (I needed Bunny so I had to be honest even though it would get me in trouble because I had slipped out in the afternoon and played on the swing when mom thought I was watching TV while she was taking care of Mary up in her bedroom). Dad didn’t ask how Bunny got outside, but when he returned with a ragged, brown, stringy piece of fabric just moments later I jumped for it and gladly hurried off to bed without saying a word.

I guess mom and dad were so happy I was going to bed that it never bothered them that I had gone outside when I shouldn’t have. The next morning I took Bunny to breakfast with me and then to Romper Room, just like every other day.

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Toddling… 4

Instead of gaining weight because she quit smoking, mom was getting fat because she was pregnant. I would stand in her shadow, literally, as her extended abdomen cast an eclipse of the sun in my direction.

Eventually, I asked the inevitable, “Mommy, how does a baby get in your tummy?” I wasn’t asking for an explanation complete with pictures or a lecture in reproductive biology, or even an answer to what she and dad were doing under the covers the night I walked-in on them dancing in bed. Every kid wanted to know because we didn’t know and it was so special and so important according to all the adults, “Oh, you look beautiful!” and  “You’re positively glowing!” And they had parties for the baby and the baby got presents.

All mom would say to my how question was, “Danny, you say the darndest things!” It wasn’t like it was a unique question, it was just a question she didn’t (or couldn’t) answer. And Art Linkletter had already cornered the market on the phrase, Kids Say the Darndest Things, in a series of books he published with that title (the first was the number one best seller for two whole years), and Linkletter was on television with his show People are Funny and House Party for most of the ’50’s and ’60’s. He would put a microphone in a kid’s face and ask some poor little boys a simple question like, “Is it okay for a boy to kiss a girl?” And the boys would say, “As long as she’s your mommy” and “Not until you’re eighteen years old, until then it’s against the law” and “If you kiss a girl then you have to marry her – it’s the right thing to do.” And when he asked something like “How can you tell when two people are married?” The kids said, “When they’re a boy and a girl” and “When they have a baby” and “You have to watch to see if they are yelling at the same kid.” And when he asked, “Do your parents fight?” (and the mom’s looked embarrassed and shy, covering their blushing faces with their hands), kids would say things like, “Yep, all the time, but it’s usually my fault” and another one said, “No,  because mommy is having another baby” and everyone in the audience laughed and giggled and the kid didn’t understand why so he insisted, “She is so having a baby! You should see her big, fat tummy.” When Linkletter asked the boy where the baby came from the kid protested with, “Well, I didn’t put it there.”

That was a bit too racy for my mom’s tastes (reality TV isn’t for everybody, I guess), so I’d have the channel turned to my kind of programming and that usually meant Channel 9 in Chicago, WGN. It ran all the kids shows that I watched during the days at home with mommy pregnant with Mary and then with Johnny. Mom would watch soap operas while I was taking my naps, but I’d get most of the early morning and lunchtime viewing I wanted with shows like Romper Room.

And none of these shows talked about where babies came from (like the Linkletter joke: “A second grader came home from school and said to her mother, ‘Mom, guess what? We learned how to make babies today.’ The mother, more than a little surprised, tried to keep her cool. ‘That’s interesting,’ she said, ‘How do you make babies?’ ‘It’s simple,’ replied the girl. ‘You just change ‘y’ to ‘i’ and add ‘es.'” That was better than Linkletter’s characteristic joke, Q: How do two porcupines mate? A: Very carefully).

My days always started with a bowl of cereal (and I’d always add sugar), toast and sometimes a little fruit (those pictures of a ‘Well balanced breakfast to start off your day’ worked on my mom).

Sometimes I’d sit with dad and mom, but dad didn’t want the television on (even though I could see it just sitting there across the room). There was never a newspaper at the breakfast table, just mom, dad and me. Dad would read the paper at night, after dinner, but before he’d go out on the front porch to just stand there, he’d sit in his chair and read through the paper, from cover to cover, from the news to the local interest stories to the business news to sports, and sometimes even the funnies (I’d climb on his lap toward the end of his reading because that was when he’d get to the funnies and even though I couldn’t read, dad would sometimes read them to me and I’d look at the cartoon drawings, but it was more enjoyable than funny).

As soon as dad kissed mom and me goodbye in the mornings I’d turn to mom and ask if I could turn on the television, “Yes you may, Danny. Are you going to watch Romper Room?” I’d sit too close to the TV and mom would order me not to sit so close or I’d go blind, and I’d oblige her by scooting back an inch or two, still just feet, not a yard, from the console Zenith television with knobs and a hidden panel concealing the important controls that I was forbidden to touch).

The television would hum when I clicked it on and there would be a hiss, sometimes a flash on the bowed tube – it looked like a bubble, bulging and stretching out as if the shows were pressing against the inside of the screen trying to get out. It warmed up and brightened slowly; the sound of the program playing coming through the speaker first, then the image to match coming into focus in a minute or so. This anticipation was thrilling and agonizing at the same time.

Romper Room was a preschool educational show that ran in almost every television market in the country starting in the mid-1950’s. (We didn’t know it was education, of course.) There was really no such thing as preschool for kids in The Hills in the late 50’s though; instead we had moms and we stayed home with them like normal families while dads went off to work (like Ward and June Clever on the 1957 debut of Leave It To Beaver). Years later, when dad started referring to the TV as “The idiot box” and “The boob tube,” it was his way of complaining about the valueless, entertainment that television was to him. But Romper Room was purely educational – a classroom setting complete with teacher, students, activities, and lessons.

Bert and Nancy Claster came-up with the idea for Romper Room and syndicated the show, first from Baltimore and then from Chicago, and Miss Nancy (who was actually Nancy Claster and took the hostess job because the actress backed-out at the last minute, which was obviously a poor career move) was seen in American homes for ten years until the Clasters’ daughter, Miss Sally, took over in 1964.

They also franchised the show in 150 markets and local Miss So-and-So’s, trained by the Clasters, brought the alphabet, the days of the week, reading from books, lessons and lectures in good manners, and action songs to all of us each and every morning as if we were in a kind of pre-kindergarten schoolroom.

The show had less than ten kids on it each day and they weren’t passive, just like true viewers (and I was one) rarely spent the whole show on our bottoms. When the music for the Posture Basket Song started-up, I’d hop up to retrieve a paper picnic plate to do the action song along at home. “See me walk so straight and tall, I won’t let my basket fall…. Watch me hold my head up high, Like a soldier marching by. A back that’s straight and strong you see – Helps to make a healthy me.”

And I’d walk around the room with the plate balanced on my head, moving too quickly and the plate would fly off so I’d scramble to pick it up and get back in step with Miss Nancy.

The show even had a snack time in between an action song and the alphabet, and before the kids on set had their milk and cookies they’d say a prayer, God is great / God is good / let us thank him / for our food. And I’d ask mom if I could have a cookie and of course she’d say no because it was still early in the morning and I’d just finished a wholesome bowl of sugared cereal, so a cookie wouldn’t have been healthy this early in the day.

Toddling… 3

By the time mom was ready to have her baby that everyone would know as Mary the cocktail parties had slowed considerably, mom had stopped dancing and she would sit next to dad on the couch while other couples would slosh around with a drink in one hand and a partner in the other; that is, the drinking was still going strong (but mom sipped something that looked and tasted like Coke that she let me sip and then sent me off to bed with Bunny), and only a few people were smoking.

They never told me when, but they told me how they both quit smoking – cold turkey, like everyone did before everyone thought smoking was an addictive behavior and the smoker was a victim of an evil drug called nicotine.

It was all made worse because cigarette companies cured the tobacco so that it was milder and people could inhale it more, and mechanized processes made it cheaper to make a pack, and then someone invented the safety match, and cigarette companies paid just about everyone to advertise their products.

Some doctors (the smart ones) started to worry so in the 1950’s the Public Health Service started telling people that smoking cigarettes could give you heart disease, lung cancer, cancer of the mouth, esophageal cancer (or it would be easier to say just about any kind of cancer, since that’s the point), asthma (that would be preferable to cancer, I’m guessing), respiratory problems like bronchitis and emphysema, decreased pulmonary function (meaning you’d run out of breath dancing in our living room), and intrauterine growth retardation and the corresponding low birth weight (I was almost nine pounds so either mom didn’t smoke when she was pregnant with me or I would have been fourteen pounds at birth unless she had). In 1957 Surgeon General Leroy E. Burney said, “The Public Health Service feels the weight of the evidence is increasingly pointing in one direction; that excessive smoking is one of the causative factors in lung cancer.” And it was that word, “excessive,” that was the out for those who kept smoking – the too much of a good thing can kill you, kind of logic.

You see, it wouldn’t be scary if the chances of getting cancer from smoking were relatively low, especially since four out of ten young adult Americans smoked in the 1950’s, but people started smoking more and more – from three thousand cigarettes per year per smoker in 1950 to nearly four thousand per year per smoker in 1960.

And people started dying more and more (at a pack-a-day plus, it was unavoidable). Even though everyone died eventually, chances were 70% higher that if you were a smoker you’d die of cancer, younger and sooner. So if you wanted to live, or just improve your quality of life, you had to buck the trend and quit (as in, just stop – cold turkey) smoking. As a result, chewing gum companies made a mint, and cigarette companies countered with a smoking = quality of life campaign, like the one for Camel’s in the 50’s,

The thorough test of any cigarette is steady smoking. Smoke only Camels for the next thirty days… And see how mild Camels are, pack after pack… how well they agree with your throat as you steady smoke. See if you don’t find Camel more enjoyable than any other cigarette you’ve ever smoked.

And Rock Hudson said, “I’ve tried ‘em all, but it’s Camels for me! Why? Because, There is more pure pleasure in Camels! More flavor, genuine mildness! Good reasons why today more people smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” And the ad from 1956 ended with, Remember this: pleasure helps your disposition. “And for more pleasure – have a Camel!” Who could argue with that?!

Arguing with that, or with people in general, was also attributed to poor quality cigarettes or the lack of cigarettes altogether, so another Camel ad read,

MAD AS A WET HEN? That’s natural when little annoyances ruffle you. But the psychological fact is: pleasure helps your disposition. That’s why everyday pleasures, like smoking for instance, are important. If you’re a smoker, you’re wise to choose the cigarette that gives the most pleasure. And that’s a Camel!

It seems that the Camel people had stumbled onto something. And they weren’t alone. Chesterfield went sexy and smoky in their ads in the 50’s; like, “PACKS MORE PLEASURE – because it’s More Perfectly Packed. Firm and pleasing to the lips…mild yet deeply satisfying to the taste – Chesterfield satisfies the most.”

And there was a picture of a busty, firm woman with bright red lips sucking on the phallic cigarette, cheeks drawn in, eyes rolled up just a bit. Chesterfield even had a Girl of the Month before Playboy had the centerfold. They might as well have portrayed a spent male and a rosy cheeked model tucked beneath bed sheets, puffing away at their Chesterfields looking like the afterglow of orgasm. Smoking was sexy, and linking it with sex, sexuality, having sex, or just having had sex, sold cigarettes.

For people who actually quit smoking in the 1950’s didn’t seem to think of it as a great burden. They didn’t require the sympathy of their culture, no detoxification, no fits of addictive withdrawal, no support groups, and no cigarettes (just second-hand smoke which they still enjoyed).

From the Journal of the American Medical Association to Reader’s Digest and its abridged version of Roy Norr’s newsletter, “Cancer by the Carton,” everyone was starting to be told that people were dying because they were smoking. And people started to get the message, but so did the cigarette companies. So, if you wanted to quit because of the health concerns but didn’t really want to give up the pleasure and relaxation of smoking the cigarette companies had an alternative for you: filters! In 1950 less than 2% of cigarettes were filtered, and by 1960 it was more than half of all cigarettes. So,

Winston smokers believe that smoking should be fun. That means real flavor – full, rich, tobacco flavor – and Winston’s really got it! This filter cigarette tastes good – like a cigarette should! Along with Winston’s filter flavor, you get a filter that really does the job. The exclusive Winston filter works so effectively, yet lets you draw so easily and enjoy yourself so fully.

Cigarette companies called filter tipped cigarettes “less harmful” and “smoother too,” and said the filters trapped the dangerous stuff that killed you but let the flavor through (but they had to use harsher tobacco so the filtered smoke would still taste like the good old days smoke that killed you right up front without a mediator). And everyone believed them; kind of like selling death to someone as “less harmful” and “smoother” at the same time. After the Public Health Service said cigarettes would kill you and ruin what life you had left, more people ended up smoking in America by the end of the 1950’s. So the Surgeon General had to really go after the problem and released the infamous January 11, 1964 report, supported by an advisory committee of over a hundred doctors, from Drs. Ackerman to Zukel, saying,

In the early part of the 16th century, soon after the introduction of tobacco into Spain and England by explorers returning from the New World, controversy developed from differing opinions as to the effects of the human use of the leaf and products derived from it by combustion or other means.

Pipe-smoking, chewing. and snuffing of tobacco were praised for pleasurable and reputed medicinal actions. At the same time, smoking was condemned as a foul-smelling, loathsome custom, harmful to the brain and lungs. The chief question was then as it is now: is the use of tobacco bad or good for health, or devoid of effects on health?

It was pretty gusty, considering that the Surgeon General was about to tell half of the adults in America that something they were doing, something they did everywhere they went – at baseball games and parties, at home and work, in restaurants, parks, trains, cars, cabs, buses, bars and bedrooms, with drinks, after dinner, after sex  – was not only bad for them, but also bad for America.

At the time smoking – why you did it and how you quit doing it – was all a matter of character, of will power, of what kind of person you were. There was no clearly unique personality of a smoker (probably because one-third of all adult women and two-thirds of all males were smokers in the 1950’s so the personality type would have been simply your average American). The Surgeon General’s report put it this way,

Nonetheless, there are many, though not always clear, relationships between smoking and a variety of social end economic variables. Taken altogether, there emerges the picture of smoking as a behavior that has over many years become tied closely to many of the complexities of our present society.

There can be no doubt that smoking as a habit is determined in some measure by a variety of such social forces as are reflected in demographic data of the kind reviewed above.

But it will be some time before the specific interrelations can be disentangled. Since man is not a passive target of such forces but an active participant, no possible explanation can omit consideration of the way in which he reacts to and, in turn, creates such forces, in short, a consideration of personality factors.

You see, it’s about will-power, about what kind of people Americans are; and in the 50’s the American aphrodisiac was will-power. Americans are not victims, we’re not addicts, and we’re not bad people. And by the early 60’s, when smokers gave reasons for quitting, few of them said they were afraid of cancer.

They explained their choices with macho reasons like, “Because I wanted to” or “Because I just didn’t like the taste of smoking” or “Because I didn’t like spending so much of my money on cigarettes.” It was personal and the Surgeon General made it even more so when his report said that parents were killing their kids because more kids took up smoking when mom and dad smoked.

Killing their own kids! Kids also started smoking in order to seem more grown-up, and some did it to spite mom and dad. Both had the same motivation – acting like equals with parents.

Mom and dad explained that they smoked to relax themselves, to relieve stress (or maybe just to show other people they were under a lot of stress and pretend to be more important than they were – no one figured that one out either), or to lose weight – dieting to death, so to speak.

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