People prefer stories about my profane and cleverly disrespectful boys and my dysfunctional and injurious personal life over those blog posts in which I attempt to deepen readers’ understanding of important social and political issues. I am, it seems, more appealing as a hapless incompetent than as a smug, snarky know-it-all. In my last post, for example, I sort of suggested that anyone who did not agree with me is an asshole. In my family stories, on the other hand, I’m the asshole. People far prefer to laugh at an asshole than to be one. [That’s the last bit of profanity for this one, Mom. Promise.]
It has also been pointed out to me that length matters. Shorter is better. It’s the internet, after all. There’s a lot of material to get through. People are busy. What makes me think that I deserve so much time and attention? Arrogance? Emotional neediness?
Whatever. Today, we’ll take a break. No long, angry essay. Something short and light. Let’s get back to Ross’s badly-parented offspring, and back to the elementary school a block and a half from our house.
I ought to have seen something coming. Our youngest, Boy Number 3 [not his real name], was in grade seven. He had received a snazzy cell phone for Christmas. I don’t know why. Why does a twelve/thirteen year-old need a cell phone? His older brothers, One and Two [not their real names], had phones because I needed to keep track of them. Yes, I know, these phones really only gave me easy access to being lied to — “Yeah, I’m on my way home, I’m just waiting for a ride. Go to sleep. I’ll lock the door when I get in.” — but it is a comforting relief to hear one’s lying kid’s voice late at night and to know that one’s lying kid is safe and sound though not coming home any time soon. A grade seven kid is like a house cat; he doesn’t wander far or for long. If I needed to talk to him, I could just yell.
Everybody else in the family had a phone. Number 3 had to have a phone, or things would not be “fair”. Kids do not believe that different circumstances justify different treatment. They have a keen sense of justice and are painfully aware of parents’ tendency towards wanton unfairness. So he got a phone, which he used to call his two or three friends who also had dumb parents.
Number 3 came home from school one day, outraged at the Arts teacher. She had, contrary to international law and common sense, decreed that all phones be silent during her class. Worse, she actually confiscated the phones of those who dared defy her crazy rule. Can you believe that? Our dull reaction to his outrage confirmed yet again his conviction that his parents will always side with the school authorities over their own flesh and blood in these matters. There was no point talking to us. Dad and Mom: Stupid and Disloyal.
A few weeks later, I was talking to our long-suffering Principal about something, I forget what. At the end of our conversation, she asked me, “Do you want these phones back?”
So this is what happened.
I must pause here to emphasize – this is a true story. It’s not one of those stories about which one might say “You couldn’t make this stuff up.” Yes, you could. But, if it were a made-up story, it wouldn’t be very interesting. This story is only worth telling because it is true. True.
At the beginning of Arts class one afternoon, in accordance with The Plan, one of Number 3’s buddies, who sat at the back of the classroom, surreptitiously dialed our boy’s number. Number 3’s phone rang. [Of course it didn’t ring. Phones don’t ‘ring’ anymore. His phone emitted some foul rap music: a carefully chosen “ring tone” demonstrating his badassedness.] The ArtsEd dictator raised an eyebrow and prepared to implement enforcement measures. My guy made a big production about answering the call – “Oh, I’ve got it. Just a second. I have to take this call”. He pulled from his pocket, not his phone, but an old dead cell phone that had been in our kitchen junk drawer. On cue, his real phone stopped rapping. He pretended to start a conversation on this dead phone. Ms. Artsy marched over and demanded he hand it over, the phone-snatching tyrant. He complied with mock resignation.
Then, he pulled from his other pocket a second dead old cell phone that had been lying about the house, and he pretended to compose a text message on it. This phone was also taken, to his phony dismay.
Next, he reached into his desk and pulled out a cordless phone that had been decommissioned at our house after it had lost one of its batteries upon being hurled in righteous anger. We kept it around, just in case the battery ever turned up, which it hasn’t. He pretended to resume the conversation, apologizing to the imaginary caller for the interruption. Madam Tyrannical nabbed that one too.
Then, finally, he pulled from his desk an old land-line telephone, the coiled phone jack cord hanging from it. He put the receiver to his ear and pretended to get back to the call, twirling the cord absently with his finger while he talked. The fourth phone was taken into custody.
I have tried to instill in my boys respect for duly constituted authority. I have failed. Still. I think he earned an Arts credit for this.