Mr. Owl, why do they keep making brown Tootsie Pops?

Remember this guy?

“Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”

Wise

When you have to say “I don’t know,” but you want to appear wise about your own ignorance.

Mr. Owl is almost as old as I am. The Tootsie Pops he’s selling are older. Tootsie Pops were my favorite lollipop in those days. My boys seem to enjoy them as much as I did.

In all the years I’ve been eating Tootsie Pops, one thing has never changed: the chocolate ones (wrapped in the brown paper) are horrible.

All the other flavors are delightful, but the brown ones just plain suck. Even the texture is off-putting. The worst part is the brown always seem to be the most plentiful color in the bag.

study in brown

How did an orange one survive this long?

This is a photo of our candy bowl. It could have been a photo of any waning stash of Tootsie Pops from my childhood. The other colors disappear but the brown ones just sit there forever. Eight kids grew up in my house. We competed like wolves for treats. The brown ones collected dust.

Today, the tradition continues. Big Man is our most avid fan of Tootsie Pops. Whenever I see him with one, I tell him he shouldn’t be eating that color. “The [insert non-brown color] ones are for me,” I say. “I bought the brown ones especially for you. Those are the ones you should eat.”

He laughs like that’s the most ridiculous thing ever mentioned to him. “No. The brown ones are yours,” he answers. “You have to eat them.”

For a long time, I wouldn’t buy bags of Tootsie Pops simply because I feared my house would become full of uneaten brown ones and I’d have to move my family to a place with more storage.

But the orange ones won’t stop calling my name.

I stave off temptation as long as I can, but between me and a bag of Tootsie Pops I’m the biggest sucker.

Why do they keep filling the bags with the awful brown ones?

The world may never know.

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Modern Art make caveman feel old

When you’re very young, many things confuse you. Over time you change and you begin to understand more and more until you hit the prime of life, that fleeting moment when you understand as much about the world as you are ever going to. For that split second, you are in the grove, a knower of things, wise and worldly.

Then the world changes, and you understand less and less. Green reality turns to brown, dries to a brittle sheen, and floats away on a chilly breeze. All at once you are old.

I am old.

There are many things I no longer understand, but that which most recently warned me of my slipping mental grasp is stripes.

I didn’t understand stripes in my youth either. Circa 1971, my parents dressed me in a polyester shirt of many discordant, horizontal stripes, sporting a zipper V-neck with a metal hoop pull tab. I never figured out why. As I grew up, I discovered horizontal stripes look best on flags, while slim, sparse, vertical ones are better for fashion.

I thought I’d made my peace with stripes until our visit to the local art museum this past weekend.  The horizontal stripes were back, bigger and bolder than ever.

Even on my peak day in this world, I would not have presumed to understand art. My peak day is farther behind me than I realized. There are two huge rooms of stripes, and nothing else.

Hover over photos to see captions.

My wife asked the docent about the fabulous stripes. What I got is second-hand, but the upshot is the courageous artist freed us from the bondage of needing anything more than big stripes on big canvas to be aesthetically fulfilled. Perhaps this explains the tingle of aesthetic liberty I’ve been experiencing all week.

If only it were just the stripes conspiring to age me. There was also this.

or not so falling

Walls just don’t collapse the way they used to.

I roused the courage to ask the docent about this one. “It’s a falling wall,” she told me. I didn’t want to upset her, so I didn’t point out it wasn’t actually falling. There was more timber holding up that wall than the non-falling walls all around us. Maybe they were just supporting it until the crowd got there. I suppose you don’t want to advertise a ground-breaking Falling Wall exhibit and have all the latecomers be disappointed by a run-of-the-mill Fallen Wall exhibit.

Also in this gallery were two projector lamps projecting nothing but light onto the walls. The docent confessed the projector exhibits were open to interpretation. The boys interpreted them to mean they were to make shadow puppets on the wall. Some of the hand gestures were very artful.

We didn’t have time to view the rest of the museum because my family had to rush me to the Home Goods section of Target so I could flip through framed prints before I started shaking my cane and shouting demented gibberish at our brave new world.

Summer vacation is where the heart is

With two weeks of school left, the boys’ minds are in summer vacation mode already. Nobody wants to go to bed at night, nobody wants to get up in the morning, nobody wants to get dressed, and certainly nobody wants to go to school. The boys learned a lot at school this year. I don’t know where they learned how to phone it in, but that’s one life skill they seem to have down.

“Hello. Nursery School? I’ll be working from home today. Just pile the macaroni on my paper plate next to the glue and I’ll get to it first chance I get.”

Big Brother has a project due in a week. He hasn’t started it because maybe school will get over for the year without anybody noticing his wasn’t done. And once he moves on to middle school, they can’t touch him. The statute of limitations for fourth grade ends at the elementary school door.

Now that the weather has turned nice, it’s hard enough to corral all these open range rustlers into the house at bedtime, let alone get them into their beds. When you do get them all herded inside, they’re sweaty and grimy. Baths are nobody’s favorite, but a bath is five minutes that can be stretched into 20 when a boy needs to stall bedtime. Being clean is a small price to pay for that.

These boys have never owned a sense of urgency about getting ready for school in the morning, and the waning school year has lifted them to new heights of lethargy. Nobody’s in a hurry to get out of their pajamas, and when they do, Buster and Big Man would rather run around throwing underwear at each other than put on clothes.

Do they care that helping Mommy overcome all their morning tomfoolery puts extra pressure on me to get to work on time? Short answer: no. Long answer: not in the least. This morning I told them they were going to make me late.

“And then you’ll get fired,” Buster replied.* “And that will be good for you ‘cause then you’ll get to stay home all day with us.”

I could ride bikes all summer long with the kids.

I don’t know what Buster thinks he’s going to be doing at home all day when school’s still in session, but I think he’d learn quick enough he doesn’t want to spend his summer in the company of a ne’er-do-well who can’t hold a job. Clearly, he hasn’t thought about where he’s going to get a summer’s worth of popsicles when the gravy train stops rolling.

If I keep working, I will definitely miss out on lots of fun this summer. There will be the incessant fighting over bikes, scooters, and video game controllers. Being there for all those precious moments would put the cherry on top of unemployment. We could probably even afford metaphor cherries. They’re a dime a dozen with my blogger discount.

I’m going to try to make it through these last days of school without fulfilling Buster’s prophesy about getting fired, but this is only because I don’t know what’s good for me.

*You just earned yourself a summer reading program, my friend.

Field of painful dreams

When I was in little league, I got a colored T-shirt with a stenciled team name on the front and a cap with a solid color in front and white mesh on the back (the kind farmers wear when they are out combining corn).

Baseball has come a long way since then. Big Brother’s team has jerseys with numbers, baseball pants, socks, and caps with real Major League logos on them. Parents pay significantly more for sports leagues now than mine ever did, so I guess there should be more stylish outfits to get dirty.

This is Big Brother’s second year in a kid-pitch league. The kids pitch to opposing batters, unless it takes more than five pitches to get the batter out, in which case the coach finishes him off. Elementary school boys are not the most accurate throwers, and there are no walks issued, so this system keeps the game from bogging down into a wild-pitch duel.

Big Brother has a strong arm, but like all the elementary school boys, he has some control issues. Most of these stem from his fear of hurting the kid up to bat. He can throw a number of good strikes during warm-ups, but when a kid steps into the batter’s box, Big Brother’s head fills with images of hardball carnage leading to predictably wild results. As he explained it himself: “I’m a good pitcher as long as there’s no batter.”

Baseball can be a cruel and ironic game.

batting practice

Getting in some batting practice from a pitcher that probably won’t bean you.

Kids need to face their fears, so he was scheduled to pitch the first two innings of their opening game. He nailed the first batter in the back. The boy lived, and after wiping a few tears, even trotted down to first base.

I wouldn’t have wished Big Brother to hit a batter, but in the long run, it may have saved future batters from pain. Big Brother realized he wasn’t likely to kill or maim another kid with a wild pitch and stopped worrying so much about it. He relaxed and recorded a couple of strikeouts in two scoreless innings on the mound.

The flip side of this fear is getting hit with a pitch while batting. In this case, fear hinders a kid with a good swing from playing up to his potential. Somehow, I don’t think getting nailed by a pitch will help him relax, so there needs to be an alternate solution for this.

It’s difficult to be a good hitter when you are leaving your bat on your shoulder until you determine whether or not to duck. He needs to learn the mechanics of hitting in the proper order: step into the pitch first, then assess whether you need to dive out of the way. That way, if you are not ground zero, you still have a chance to contact the ball with the bat.

It turns out hardball wouldn’t be nearly so complicated to learn if it weren’t for the hard and the ball.