The Theoretical Dump and Run, IV

Read Parts I & II          Read Part III

IV. Dump and Spritz

To while away the time downtown while the Little Monster was at the birthday party at the video game arcade, I could buy a cheap book at Barnes & Noble and relax with an eggnog latte. But, a week before Christmas, the bookstore line was twenty deep. I’d purchased the birthday boy’s present at my local independent bookseller the day before, waltzing straight up to first place at the counter, and the line at the downtown chain store saddened me.

I entered the surreal shopping center connected to the bookstore. An atrium the size of Delaware was all gussied up for the holidays. I rode the escalator up, up, up, one flight at time, up all four flights, to the top. I thought a restaurant would appeal to me, but I ended up fishing a granola bar out of my purse. I got on the down escalator and rode down, down, down. Surely a storefront would snag my interest while my kid blew up aliens. I glanced at my watch. Too pathetically early to check in on him.

I walked back over the nifty pedestrian overpass, which isn’t so nifty when your nine-year-old isn’t there to appreciate it with you, and stumbled into a scenario as eerie as the video game arcade: a department full of women from Stepford, smiles frozen on their made-up faces, all wearing feather boas, and all armed, ready to shoot the bottle of perfume they each held shoulder-high. “It’s a special we’re having today!” one of the ladies explained to me. As if I had not noticed, she said, “We’ve all got boas! Isn’t it fun?”

I owned exactly two bottles of perfume. One was given to me by my sister-in-law Kansas because I used it every time I was at her house, so finally she kindly gave me the bottle. When I wear it, I think of her.

The other was purchased at the garden shop where my other sister-in-law, Reno, lives. I wanted to support the store. When I wear it, I think of her.

Mostly I don’t use either one. When I do, I wear perfume for myself. I might spritz it on when I’m home alone writing or right before I go to bed. I don’t tend to wear it when going out, because I know what it’s like to be held hostage by someone else’s scent that might smell great to them but smells like bugspray to me.

But now that I found myself by chance in a perfume department, I thought I’d try Chanel No. 5. All my life I’d been hearing about Chanel No. 5. It was so pervasive in our culture that it was downright literary. I could buy a bottle of Chanel No. 5 and it would not be materialism; it would be homage. So I found the Chanel No. 5 counter and sprayed it onto my inner wrist, my charge card at the ready.

Oh.

Bummer.

Really?

This was like being disappointed in a long-awaited novel by a favorite author. Plus now I was going to smell like this all day.

“Would you like to try the new scent by Elie Saab?” a scant wisp of a saleswoman at the next counter asked me.

I stopped. I was raised to be polite, so I responded with party small talk. The woman was wearing a boa, after all. “Oh. Um, so she’s married to the car maker?” Bored rich carmaker housewife starts perfume line, I guessed. Kind of like I took up crochet for three days?

“HE. HE designs fabulous women’s clothing, and this perfume is what he thinks women should smell like as they walk down the runway.”

“Well, screw that b.s.!” I did not say. A man deciding what fragile women should smell like? I find that notion offensive. When my husband says, “You smell nice,” that’s one thing, but this seemed like quite another matter. Plus I’ll never walk down a runway unless I’ve just escaped from a wrecked airplane, in which case I’d probably look a lot like the shellshocked women I see in fashion show snippets. Only I won’t be wraithlike. Guaranteed in an Armageddon scenario such as the Little Monster was now facing at the video arcade, I’d outlast any of those women. I could survive for two months on the body fat on my rump alone. Plus I could run faster to get to any food and water because I wouldn’t be in seven-inch heels.

“I like it better than the Chanel No. 5,” I confessed to her once she gave me a hit.

“Yes, well,” she chirped, “that is quite conventional. Elie Saab fragrance is ultra feminine.”

So are maxi pads.

Every three feet, a boa-constricted woman offered me a scent. Mostly they obliged by spritzing it onto a strip of heavy paper that reminded me of the cardboard tabs I pee on to see if I have a bladder infection. But these tabs all remained white after they’d been sprayed.

Then the cheerful saleswomen—who would obviously prefer to be inside a reeking store with no windows earning a paycheck on a gorgeous December Saturday rather than anywhere else on the planet, judging by their exuberant joy—would rattle off the list of scents that combined to make this one unique scent, each uniquely costing about a hundred bucks.

At least a half dozen of the women mentioned amber as an ingredient.

“But amber doesn’t have a smell,” I, puzzled, finally said to one of the women. “Amber is a hard resin.”

Oh, Lord, now I’d gone and done it. I’d made her unhappy during the joyous holiday season. I’d truly f&cked her day judging by the smile that slid off her painted face clear down into her cleavage.

“I mean, maybe it had a smell before it hardened,” I babbled, trying to make her feel better. “Like maybe it smells like pine needles before the resin fossilizes and eventually becomes amber?”

Oddly, the thought of amber conjures a smell for me: sort of musky and yellow. Which isn’t really what I want to smell like. I’ve smelled like that on long motorcycle trips when showers felt ignoble. I didn’t need to drop a C-note to smell skanky.

“They must have meant ambergris,” a friend said later. I also knew that ambergris was once a stabilizer in perfume, but since ambergris is essentially hardened whale vomit, it’s difficult to come by and probably a lot more expensive than whatever chemical stabilizer is used in perfume today. I would imagine that amber in perfume would also make it too prohibitively expensive to be spraying it on indecisive women holding a dozen spray sticks. My only coherent thought was the spray sticks would make great bookmarks.

The next saleswoman sprayed a scent called Angel right onto me. One of the ingredients was chocolate.

“I love chocolate,” I said, “but I’m not sure I want to smell like it. I’d be hungry all day.”

Angel was made by Thierry Mugler. Wasn’t that a Harry Potter character?

A mostly-unclad woman advertised Angel on a big poster and the product’s packaging. I’m not sure how an angel would fly in a dress that tight. Her skirt had already ripped up to her hipbone. She looked like she’d had to fight tooth and nail with other angels for her scrap of sparkly material, which was apparently in short supply in heaven. Once she went horizontal overhead, guaranteed a couple of things would fall out of that dress. Despite what I’m sure must have been a plethora of hair and makeup artists, she still had her hair in her face, probably a result of her earthward flight. She should have asked for a do-over.

“That’s Eva Mendes,” the saleswoman gushed. “Isn’t she just gorgeous? I love her.”

What’s the advertising thought process here? I spray this stuff on and I’m going to look like that? My man is going to take one snort at my neck and think I look like that?

“And you get it in this great bottle!” the saleswoman said, Vanna-Whitishly modeling the star-shaped bottle for me.

Truthfully, while I had no idea when I left the house that morning that I was in need of perfume, I now had to have a bottle of perfume. My life would not be complete unless I found the perfect scent. I was a driven woman, suckered in by the pressure from a cadre of feather boas and a lot of time to kill. I’d left my child for two hours and I had a vacuum in my heart to fill, a frightened ache in my chest to deaden, and I needed to fill it now by handing over my plastic. Perfume required no dressing room horror scene. Perfume would be easy to carry home with Timmy the Play-typus Sock Puppet. Perfume could be handed over to the Man I Married to put in my Christmas morning stocking. My spending money on myself would be doing MIM a favor! It all made perfect sense in the insanity of shopping downtown the weekend before Christmas while my child gorged himself and then blew up evil conquerors of the universe.

I liked the scent of Angel. There were worse things than smelling like a baking cake.

But I hated the cheesy bottle. The saleswoman commented on how lovely it would look decorating my dresser (which I don’t have), but I thought that it looked more fitting for my cheap junior high school after-bath splash of Jean Naté. I couldn’t bring myself to drop a hundred dollars for something that even I knew looked tacky.

If I was going to buy into all of this, then packaging mattered, and I could not bring myself to fork over a Benjamin for that embarrassing bottle.

Time was running out, and I had not checked on the Little Monster even once.

Up next, Part V: GUILTY!


Available Soon:

The Strangler Fig: Stories by Jennifer D. Munro

An obsessed paparazzo stalks his subject—a singer whose photos morph but face remains unchanged. An unborn triplet haunts and taunts its mother for the choice she made. An infertile woman seeks to learn the language of the dead baby she continues to carry.

From New Orleans to Mexico to ancient Hawaii, six sensual, darkly fantastic tales reimagine classics such as Dorian Gray, Helen of Troy, and The Yellow Wallpaper.

From the pages of Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica; Thou Shalt Not: Stories of Dark Crime and Horror; Best of Crossed Genres: Fantasy & Science Fiction with a Twist; South Dakota Review; and others.

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The Theoretical Dump and Run, III

[continued from last week]

III. The Dump and Hesitation

I’d heard that places like Chuck E. Cheese’s were very careful about policing the premises, not allowing adults without kids to be there. I assumed a video game arcade, where I was taking the Little Monster for a birthday party, would be the same.

Not so. The place was huge, with multiple entrances and upstairs/downstairs restaurant/bars. Bars, like, where drunk adults hang out.

The Little Monster and I circled through the blitzkrieg that was the gaming center, electronic victims biting the dust in massive explosions, gunfire, and car crashes all around us. LM was so amped up that he could have won the NASCAR without a car. He could have passed Tom Cruise scaling tall buildings. We finally found the birthday party tucked away in a quiet room next to the upstairs bar, which, unlike the downstairs bar, was empty. This could be interpreted as a positive sign for humanity, or maybe it’s just that daytime drinkers know better than to navigate stairs.

The Little Monster zoomed to the far end of the big table to sit next to the birthday boy and that was it, I’d donned the Cloak of Invisibility. Oh my Lord, that child wasn’t happy; he was ecstatic.

The birthday boy’s parents clearly had their acts together despite their folly in agreeing to watch my sugared- and carbed-up child for two hours. They’d brought along a sister/brother-in-law couple to help corral and subdue the ten boys (I wonder what past transgression of theirs had led to a payback like this?). They explained to me their supervision plan once the boys inhaled their pizza, soda, and cake and the hellions were let loose to practice the electronic arts of war and destruction. As the dad explained the plan to me and we exchanged phone numbers and all of the Little Monster’s vitals should he be misplaced, including his doctor and dental records, and I considered requesting a criminal background check for the four supervising parents, eight other parents came and went, barely dipping their big toes into the room before giving a perfunctory air kiss and wave and then sprinting back outside. It was hard to tell over the explosions and implosions, but I think they were all humming Aretha Franklin. Freedom. FREEDOM. FREEDOM!

I backed slowly out of the room and then hung out in the doorway for awhile. Then I made it as far as the bar. Which is where I could just park my fanny for the next two hours. I could sit there in the deserted bar and keep an eye on things. It was just past noon, after all, and I wasn’t driving. But that would be pathetic, drinking alone in a dark bar in the middle of Armageddon; I’d wind up embarrassed since I’d keep diving under the table when I heard the screech of bombs. My Duck and Cover would become more and more likely the farther I got into each martini. It was sunny outside, a week before Christmas, with the jingle of bells and the crush of rampant materialism, and I was briefly liberated! I’d been waiting for respite like this! I could relax! But instead of a Dump and Run, I was totally In The Dumps.

Wait, hang on, hold the plane, stop the presses, rein in your horses! I only just got my son! He wouldn’t even be legally my child for another two weeks! I waited a long time for him, and you’re asking me to let go, already? The Man I Married and I had spent every waking moment of the last three years trying to turn this kid’s life around, trying to keep him safe, and now I’m supposed to just leave him? I’m supposed to trust other adults when all of the adults in his past failed him?

I made it out the door, staggering into the blinding light, then turned around. Then turned back around, walked half a block, then turned around again. I wasn’t doing the Dump and Run, I was doing the Hokey Pokey.

I was scared. What if something happened, and here I was gallivanting amidst the loaded charge cards? I should just go back, bite the bullet, and endure the bombs and guns. Parenting was all about sacrifice, right?

No, no I shouldn’t. He needed this chance to prove he could be trusted. I should treat him like a normal kid, whatever that meant. I should be a normal adult and spend the next two hours stimulating the economy.

I looked like what my car looked like when I was learning to drive a stick. I’d lurch forward for a bit, then stall out and stand there, screwing up the traffic flow, then I’d lurch forward unexpectedly again.

WTF, I decided. I’m going to do this. I’m going to let go. I spurted forward.

I could always go check on him from time to time. I could show up early. I think I can, I think I can, I know I can, I know I can. I merged into the masses.

Next week: Part IV, in which I try to kill time by drowning my olfactory senses


The Erotica Writer’s Husband and Other Stories by Jennifer D. Munro
Kindle Edition $1.49 at Amazon.com 

Twelve humorous stories about sex and the sexes. These sensual yet comic stories offer a fresh take on literary erotic fiction, as if Anaïs Nin and Erma Bombeck met at the library to spin tales of laughter and the libido. Collected from the pages of Best American Erotica, Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica, Best of Literary Mama, Clean Sheets, Zyzzyva, and others.

The Theoretical Dump and Run, I & II

I. The Invitation

The Little Monster was invited to a birthday party, which was lovely; he’s been invited to very few. Although the parties are great for him as he experiences what it’s like to be a kid like any other, I dread them, because the Man I Married and I haven’t been able to do the Dump and Run like most parents. We watch with envy as other parents drop their kids off with a nicely wrapped present and then wave goodbye with giddy grins. We wonder what they do with their two hours of freedom. I know where we’d be: in bed.

But if the Little Monster attends a party, so do we. He requires supervision, so we trail him around for two hours. This is okay if the parents, like one couple we know, shove big drinks into our mitts and keep them topped off (we walk to these parties). But normally attending a boy’s birthday party is about as fun as sitting inside the kettle drum as the ape tosses the bone in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But this birthday party would be with ten boys at a video game arcade downtown.

“Well, I’m sure as shooting not going to that,” I said to the Little Monster when I read the invite, tossing it aside.

I do what I can for my kid, I really do, but to communicate my aversion to accompanying him, I would have to write a new Inferno—it would be very short, because hanging out at a game center for two hours with ten boys would comprise all seven levels of my hell. Even a hip flask wouldn’t improve things much.

We could say no to this one, which was downtown a week before Christmas. Were the parents nuts? But, gosh, it was just great that he got invited.

Then I had a thought:

What if we just…left him there? (And then actually picked him up again two hours later?)

Like the other parents do?

Maybe it was time. Maybe he’d earned the privilege. Maybe we could be normal? Finally?

“Okay,” I told him, “but only if your therapist says it’s okay for you to be there without us.”

So at our next appointment I explained to the therapist about the party and how I couldn’t go because it was at a gaming center.

“Sure you can go,” he said cheerfully to me. “You could play a few games.”

“NO,” I enunciated between clenched teeth. “I canNOT go.”

“Ahh. Well, actually, a game center is one of the better scenarios. Nothing much can happen there.” He went over a few simple ground rules for the Little Monster and we moved on.

But I couldn’t let it go. I kept bringing it back up.

“So, Little Monster, what would you do if, say, a, a teenager came up to you and wanted to play the game that you were playing? What would you do?”

Then,

“What if you scored really well on a game and a young man came up and sort of put his arm around your shoulder? What would you do?”

Maybe the therapist was wrong! Here we were worrying about the Little Monster’s behavior, but game centers are filled with kids! What better place for icky people to hang out to prey upon them? Oh, my! Here I was worrying about the Little Monster all this time, but now I needed to worry about the entire rest of the planet!

II. The Journey

But to get to the video game arcade we first endured a bus ride downtown (I’d have to write a longer Inferno if I added in a chapter about parking downtown the week before Christmas). On the bus, we heard all manner of profanity and racist remarks, plus a story about a female critter that was about to sprout a huge schlong. Don’t you wish you could turn around to request a tad more info about a cell phone remark like that?

It becomes more and more likely that I’m soon going to let loose the uptight old biddy I’ve become in my attempts to protect this child who’s been given to me to safeguard. “You watch your language, young man!” I almost snapped. “There are children present!”

Yes, Timmy, that was 'schlong,' not 'shnoz.'

Why did I give up my television? We got rid of the boob tube because it’s too difficult to police the language and content, but we landed in the middle of an R-rated movie on a bus ride and then a walk through downtown. Even the mannequins in the purse department at Nordstrom were purposefully nude.

Wait, the purse department? Yes, naked mannequins artfully holding purses. Yeah, sure, I do that all the time. Because, being naked, I have no pockets, so I need the purse.

Why do I spend three hours per week driving the Little Monster to therapy so we can teach him what’s appropriate when our entire culture is inappropriate? How is he supposed to learn the difference? Believe me, he might not know the word hypocrisy but he gets it that his behavior is expected to be different from everyone else’s. Because of his background, he’s held to a higher standard. But I suppose that Barack Obama’s kids feel the same. Just yesterday the Little Monster and I were discussing how it must stink to be the president’s kids and have an adult follow you around all the time. Hm. The Little Monster commented that it must be boring for the men in black to hang around children the whole day and to have to go get them milkshakes. Gee, I can’t imagine.

“Are you finding everything you’re looking for?” the saleslady asked me as I charged through the store. Seriously? Do I look like I’m looking for anything other than the exit as I drag the Little Monster and Timmy the Play-typus Sock Puppet past the naked mannequins, regretting the decision to take this route through the store so that we could cross the neat pedestrian overpass?

“How about a blindfold and earplugs?” I didn’t ask. Maybe that’s what the naked mannequin had in her purse. Along with tampons. “How about a valium?”

Or maybe she could fish a couple of pasties out of that giant leather bag?

Next week: Part III, in which we reach the video game arcade


The Erotica Writer’s Husband and Other Stories by Jennifer D. Munro
Kindle Edition $1.49 at Amazon.com 
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Twelve humorous stories about sex and the sexes. These sensual yet comic stories offer a fresh take on literary erotic fiction, as if Anaïs Nin and Erma Bombeck met at the library to spin tales of laughter and the libido. Collected from the pages of Best American Erotica, Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica, Best of Literary Mama, Clean Sheets, Zyzzyva, and others.

The Lingo of Bluff-Tough Love

When you adopt an older child, you not only get the child himself, but you inherit the language of the families he’s lived with prior to yours. Thus, the Little Monster entered our home three years ago with not only a startling storehouse of profanity but with an altogether unfamiliar lexicon.

Such as, “I need to go Number Two.”

Number Two? What makes that particular job Number Two? Why second fiddle? Second best? Because, admit it, Number Two feels pretty good. Number Two feels A Number One. My dog illustrates the feeling when she takes one of her petite dumps and then races around the yard, feeling light and free and unfettered, no longer weighed down by life! We should all do the same, except it would be difficult, not to mention unseemly, to dash around the house with our pants around our ankles.

LM didn’t learn Number Two from us, in fact he’s never heard it uttered from my lips, but over three years later it’s still his euphemism of choice.

He might as well be speaking a Spanish word, it’s so culturally unfamiliar to me. It gives me pause. What would I have called it had I been the one cleaning it from his diapers and subsequently potty-training him? I come from a no-nonsense family and I probably would have called it what it was, albeit a G-rated version. My family on the maternal side is more linguistically than numerically inclined, so we always used an abbreviation, although I didn’t know it was an abbreviation nor what it stood for until I was an adult. I suppose I thought a Be Em referred to a puzzling existential epiphany one might experience while on the can. In the same way, I never knew why my Dad was always including Adam when he whistled every morning, “Up and At ‘Em!” I thought maybe it was a biblical saying, although that would have been the extent of religion in our household.

I grew up with a different lexicon than the one I can use with the Little Monster. I don’t use words like puka, pau, ono, kapu, and akamai, because for some reason when I lapse into the pidgin of my Hawaii childhood, I also lapse into an intertwined offensive sense of humor (what is now called cultural incompetency during long training sessions at academic institutions) and also nobody would understand what the hell I’m saying. “You going come stay or what?” Huh? Although it strikes me now that when I tell the Little Monster to do something, his slow-motion cooperation while doing seven other things along the way is the living embodiment of “going come stay.”

Besides the cultural language, there’s an entire family code that I can’t use. My mother, Tutu (Hawaiian for Grandma), recently reminded me that she often said to me and my brothers, “Do that one more time and I’m going to be wiping you off the wall.” She could say this because we knew it would never happen. It was code for “I’m serious.” And it was funny. And it worked.

Because he’s akamai, the Little Monster has indeed learned some of my family’s jargon. One day I said to him, “That’s your last warning.”

“I know,” he sighed. “I’m in the doghouse. I’m on thin ice. I’m in hot water. I’d better turn it around. I’m this close,” and he held up his thumb and forefinger. If he’d come from a different family, he would have added, “Yadda yadda yadda.” He has not yet perfected the eye roll that comes from my husband’s side of the family, but that will come with puberty, I’m sure. But all of the rest is mortifyingly from ineffectual me. To him these things are far from a last warning: they’re a running joke. Clearly I’m doing him no favors.

When my mom said, “Do that one more time and I’m going to be wiping you off the wall,” hooee! we knew she meant business. We got our okoles moving before we got the flyswatter.

Recently Tutu almost made the same threat to the Little Monster but caught herself in time. I actually saw her bite her tongue. Because it wouldn’t be funny with the Little Monster. Because he knows it could happen.

An acquaintance recently told me that he tells his little girl that if she doesn’t stop whatever it is she’s doing, he’s going to sell her to the gypsies. I didn’t know one could say “gypsy” anymore, but it wouldn’t have the same ring to say, “I’m going to fair-trade you to the Roma.” Regardless, neither would work for a child who’s been passed around already to too many families.

Tutu used to say, “Get in the car right now or I’m leaving without you.” And once or twice she did, leaving me and my brother in a vast parking lot. We thought it was a great adventure and pretended to be Hansel and Gretel, leaving a trail of popcorn. Because we knew she’d be back in her cherry red VW Beetle, which she was, burning rubber with steam pouring from her ears. Far from teaching us a lesson, she’d reinforced what we already knew: we were always safe even when we were pains in the ass. Tell the Little Monster I’m leaving him behind? Or actually leave him behind? Natch. Again, he’s been there and done that.

How about threatening bed without dinner, the tried and true method of Maurice Sendak? No can do. Not only been there done that but illegal to skip meals for foster kids, you’ll be happy to know. Now that I can legally do it doesn’t mean I will.

So we struggle to come up with a replacement code for “I’m serious. I mean it. I really, really mean it. This is your last warning. Don’t make me count. Three, two…”

So, for instance, “If you don’t start remembering to flush Number Two, I’m going to…”

To what?

Nothing, that’s what.

That’s the underlying message he needs to hear behind everything we say.

Nothing’s going to happen, no matter what you do. You will be fed, and you will be kept safe, and you won’t be sold (although if a really good price is offered and you are being a little turd that day and the deal would fund my one-way plane ticket to Costa Rica and a modest retirement, it might give me pause, just for a second. Or two).

However.

I would really, really like it if you flushed.

I mean it.

We have of course had to devise some creative consequences for the Little Monster, and I had to grow a pair to start enforcing them when a parent coach at Harborview pretty much called me a pathetic wimp for my lack of follow-through. “That child has got your number,” she said. That would be Number Two, to be exact, which is how I was allowing myself to be treated.

We’ve also come up with some family code that works pretty well, but it’s a family secret. If anyone outside of the family learned it, I’d have to sell them to the department that conducts the trials and writes the manual for Prevention of Cultural Incompetencies and Way Too Many Syllables in An Era in Which You Can’t Make Fun of Any Group Unless You’re In It and Even Then You’re Playing With Fire, Bucko.

I will, you know. I mean it. Just watch me. Three, two…


Now on Kindle

The Erotica Writer’s Husband and Other Stories by Jennifer D. Munro
Kindle Edition $1.49 at Amazon.com

Twelve humorous stories about sex and the sexes. These sensual yet comic stories offer a fresh take on literary erotic fiction, as if Anaïs Nin and Erma Bombeck met at the library to spin tales of laughter and the libido. Collected from the pages of Best American Erotica, Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica, Best of Literary Mama, Clean Sheets, Zyzzyva, and others.

How to Make your Kids Hate Television

Part II of the Telly Kibosh Chronicles (read Part I here)

In 1966, my mother broke down and bought an electronic babysitter. And who can blame her? She was 25 years old, had three kids—age 2, 3, and 4—and was going to graduate school while my dad worked swing shift at Pearl Harbor. We were all stuck in our small apartment due to long, heavy rains that left ankle-deep puddles outside. We watched Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo, and then, despite her pressing tasks, Mom would stay up late to watch Johnny Carson. The neighbors would comment the next day on her loud laughter (especially if Buddy Hackett was one of the guests). Wasn’t that alone worth the price for the relief it provided a busy young mother? I’m sure the small television was a huge expense for the struggling family. When I left home for college in 1982, I swear we were still watching the very same TV set (how else can I explain the 13-inch b&w with snapped-off antannae?), so they got their money’s worth.

Mom had earned her undergraduate degree while bringing three kids into the world. Her accomplishments put me to shame. In my forties, I still had not managed a Masters, a noteworthy career, nor a single kid. But I had television.

So when the Little Monster moved in when I was 43, my husband and I took the opposite approach to hers and got rid of the electronic babysitter. The Little Monster was six, and our new ragtag family had a lot of lost time to make up for, so why spend it looking at something other than each other? (Answer: because the 732nd game of Go Fish will cause you to consider sticking your head in the oven. Doesn’t matter that it’s electric, it’s the symbolic act that counts.)

Despite getting rid of TV, we did keep a hand-me-down nineteen-inch screen and an ancient, cheap DVD player (I am sure made by a three-year-old in a developing country, so my moral imperative as well as my thrifty heritage is to run that sucker into the ground). We get videos from the library and have a tradition of Sunday Night Movie and Pizza (often handmade by moi). We’re working our way through The Waltons, The Partridge Family, and the old Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys (tight pants alert!) series. We enjoy old musicals, like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Singing in the Rain, and old Disney movies like The Love Bug and the ones with Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette. Boy, were we surprised when Suzanne Pleshette showed up in the first Wild Wild West episode (tight pants alert!) as the floozy hotty. I only remembered her from the original Bob Newhart.

All we saw were the collars

But we had a few problems with our set-up: we couldn’t see night scenes, we couldn’t hear dialogue very well, and the player often froze on DVDs that had seen a lot of use. MIM and I found this state of affairs to be just fine. The more irritating the television experience, the less the Little Monster would be enthralled by it. Many movie nights found us leaning forward over our pizza, squinting and cupping our ears, intermittently chirping to each other like finches roosting in a hedgerow, “What did he say?” “I don’t know. I couldn’t hear it.” “What happened?” “I don’t know. I couldn’t see it.” It’s as if we were reading the script for Tommy.

Not until you can’t see what’s going on during night scenes do you realize how many characters go gallivanting all over town after dark. When do Nancy Drew and Joe and Frank Hardy ever sleep? They are constantly out on the prowl after bedtime, witnessed by us as an occasional flash of white spandex and a sparkle of white white teeth.

One day, after we’d been squinting at night scenes for about a year, I accidentally discovered that the screen was tilted down at an angle. I straightened it up, and suddenly it was as if Kevin Costner had hit the floods on Field of Dreams.

Mr. Kincaid, who's my real father?

But the volume problem grew progressively worse as the Man I Married increased his cider-making activities, oftentimes leaving me and the Little Monster to finish up a program while he traipsed off to clean kegs or bottles—which sounds like a quiet activity. But it involved hauling heavy loads up and down the creaking stairs in his steel-toed boots and running the bathtub water at full pressure for long periods of time. I took to hitting pause, waiting for the racket to quiet down when he was at his loudest. He would clomp through the livingroom with a bucket of iodine-treated water to find me and the Little Monster sitting frozen in front of the frozen screen (which is oddly disturbing when it’s Danny Partridge), like cats waiting to pounce.

When I watched adult movies on my own after the wee one was tucked in, I took to selecting English subtitles, which makes for a dissatisfying viewing experience when you know the language. The subtitle always jumps the gun or doesn’t quite match what’s being said. Try it with Joan Crawford sometime and all you’ll start to care about is getting up to make a martini. 

The Man I Married became so annoyed by my annoyance that we decided to break down and buy ourselves a new video system. While rearranging the furniture to make room for a new setup, I, um, found the volume control on the old system. So that’s what that extra remote control was for.

I need make no apology for my technological ineptitude, but I find it a bit scary from a man who used to steer a nuclear submarine. He says I can’t say that he “navigated,” but I say that’s mincing words when it comes to the person who’s pointing a fast-attack sub in whatever direction it’s going in.

We were so thrilled with our renovated sound system that we marched to the video store and paid three dollars to rent a real movie. We chose The Black Stallion. Which turned out to have zero dialogue. Just a horse and a boy cavorting in broad daylight on a desert island. We could have watched the whole thing on MUTE and been just as happy.

Go, My Little Monster!

“That Teri Garr sure looks great,” I said to MIM. “She’s hardly aged at all since Close Encounters and Oh, God.” Turns out The Black Stallion was made in 1979. Where did the last thirty years go? And here I thought the only thing I’d missed was Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. Like so much of life, especially as parents, blink and you miss it. But as the Black Stallion pounded around the track, his hooves thundering through our livingroom, I glanced over at the Little Monster. He sat forward on the edge of the couch, as if he were in the saddle, ready to ride off into the sunset. All too soon, it will be my job to let him go.

“Go, Little Monster, go!” I’ll yell from the sidelines, sounding just like Teri Garr in Young Frankenstein.

“What?” he’ll yell back, already too far away to hear. “What did you say? I couldn’t hear!” he’ll shout—just like old times.


The Erotica Writer’s Husband & Other Stories by Jennifer D. Munro
Kindle Edition Now $0.99 at Amazon

12 humorous stories about sex and the sexes. These sensual yet comic stories offer a fresh take on literary erotic fiction, as if Anaïs Nin and Erma Bombeck met at the library to spin tales of laughter and the libido. Collected from the pages of Best American Erotica, Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica, Best of Literary Mama, Clean Sheets, Zyzzyva, and others.