Monday, April 5, 2010

139 days to Bar Mitzvah: diplomatic solutions

Are you one of those people who lives each day as if it were your last? I live each day as if it were an anonymous Wednesday in the middle of November. As I get older, I'm more aware that I should try to imbue some meaning to my days, but by my count, I'm working against almost 30 years of indifference. It's not easy to change.

Would you say that Spring Break is a time to spend each day as if it were your last? Perhaps, if you were a college sophomore hitting Lake Havasu with a fake I.D. and a semester's worth of energy bottled up inside of. If you were 12, the story might be different. When you consider all the work we've done to surgically remove lazy summer days from our children's lives, maybe a little Spring Break wiggle room is alright. So he watches seven "South Park' episodes in a row today. Who's counting?

Tomorrow is the penultimate day of the Jawa's Spring Break. It began last Monday. Save for a trip to Disneyland, he has spent more than 50% of each day either watching TV or sitting in front of his computer.

(as a side note, he just walked out here insisting that he would NOT practice his chanting tonight, the thinking being, I guess, that he hadn't gotten his money's worth, laziness-wise, this Spring Break)

But really, what's he supposed to do? Today, for example, he woke up right as I was leaving for work. Sandra Bullock was long gone, already 90 minutes into a work day that we estimate will finally conclude shortly before the 11 o'clock news.

I was gone before he even ate breakfast. After that, he was basically a prisoner in our house. Why? Because it's 2010, not 1975, and we live in a big, dangerous city, not Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. His options were quite limited: anything you can do inside the house.

Still, it would have been nice to come home and find that he'd done something other than sit mesmerized in front of the TV for eight hours. I wouldn't have minded if he'd brought the garbage cans up, his usual Monday job. Nor would my heart have broken if he'd gone down and gotten the mail.

Instead, he'd spent the day creating a sort of anthropolical exercise for me, in which the careful study of items strewn about the house offered clues as to the nature of the civilation that left them behind.

In the living room, I learned that our particular culture enjoyed hand-held video games and used both cellular phones and land lines to communicate with the outside world. They were a warm-blooded people, apparently, as they wore shorts on a blustery spring day.

There was more to learn in the kitchen, where they'd left clues pertaining to diet and manner of eating. They were herbivores, from what I could tell, living on a strange diet of macaroni and strawberries. There were some bread-like remnants on the kitchen counter. As for beverages, they subsisted on water and milk, but drank sparingly, leaving half-full plastic cups in their wake.

The picture was becoming more clear. I was beginning to understand this civilation, based solely on the items they'd left behind.

The bedroom was a bonanza. Here I learned what sort of clothing they wore (gray sweatpants, boxer shorts and black t-shirts) and how they spent their leisure time. They were a civilization of engineers, who spent their time developing computer skills and building scale models of space craft and seagoing war ships out of uniform and randomly-sized and shaped plastic bricks.

But they were not all work; evidence of their predeliction for sugary foods came in the form of a blob of melted chocolate on the living room coffee table. Interesting.

Nor did they show any interest in performing simple chores. Downstairs, a load of laundry sat in the dryer. We already mentioned the static condition of the garbage cans and the mail. While they kept pets, they tended to ignore them, forgetting, for example, that dogs need to leave the house at least once a day, lest they be forced to painfully suppress their bodily functions.

So I was in a tenuous position. Given all the evidence I'd gathered, I could only determine that having representatives of this civilization alone in my house was unlikely to lead to positive results. Since they had already established a permanent presence in our home, my only option was to take steps to modify their behavior.

I wasn't without options. I could try to intimidate them into submission or apply the classic "punishment/reward" paradigm. I could agitate them to the point where they were ocnfused and angry. Though I'd often used this strategy in the past, it was risky and laden with potential potholes. What if they became so agitated that they locked themselves in their room and made duct tape wallets? What if they employed misdirective tactics until I was the one agitated and confused? And what of the uncomfortable, urine-filled dog? A lengthy confrontation would not be in his best interests -- nor, potentially, the best interests of the living room rug.

The situation wasn't really acute enough to warrant a confrontational approach, anyway. I'd be wise to choose a third option: staying calm and direct, using diplomacy to ease the now listless party into doing what I wanted. Bearing in mind that I had no intention of walking the dog alone, I delivered a series of steady commands, repeating myself when necessary, and acheived my goals. Not only had I used artifacts to gather invaluable information about the alien civilization living in my house, I'd also managed to manipulate said alien's behavior in a quite successful and tangible way.

Also, he helped me walk the dog.

Having defused a potentially explosive situation without casualties, I carried a deep sense of satisfaction with me downstairs, where my nemesis, the stationary bike, awaited. It almost made up for another day of staring into the computer at work, looking for answers that aren't there.

1 comment:

Butter Goats said...

Gonna be a loonnng summer in Jawaland.