Archive for the ‘parenting’ Category

My IKEA Complaint Letter


TO: IKEA Complaint Department

FROM: Mr. Keith Yancy

RE: Product Issue Causing Gradual Insanity

Dear IKEA:

My name is Keith Yancy, and I am a customer at your Michigan (Canton) IKEA store.  I have a complaint.

Along with my wife and three daughters, I am a loyal customer.  I have purchased furniture, pictures, lights, light bulbs, rugs, drapes, plates, and a host of other products.  I like them all, even though they have unusual names like “Besta Vassbo,” “Vejbon” and “Hemnes” that I suspect I mispronounce.  I even like the food, from the meatballs to the 50-cent hot dogs, and I’m particularly fond of the cinnamon rolls.  I’m not ashamed to say I’ve spent thousands of dollars over the years at your store, and was generally happy to do so.

Until now.  And it’s all because of this:

photo 21_Cropped

Yes, this is a cup.  A cup YOU sell, in packs of 8, I believe.  Various colors, of which I own all.  To fully understand my problem, allow me to explain how these cups have begun to chip away at my sanity.

__________________________________________

It began with a trip to your store, obviously, with my wife and kids.  Because you design your store to channel hapless patrons like myself through all the merchandise, I unwittingly passed a display of these cups, and (unbeknownst to me) my youngest daughter put two packs of plastic cups in our basket.  My wife and I only discovered these cups as we were checking out, and began to debate our kids about why we didn’t need them.  But, with other customers waiting behind us and our daughters’ obnoxious ability to argue endlessly about anything for hours and hours, we gave up and just added them to our bill.

And that’s when it all started.

You see, these cups are left everywhere in my home.  EVERYWHERE.  Some empty, some half-full of water or milk, many COMPLETELY full of water or milk, all of which are left just waiting to be discovered by my wife or me.  This process can take days in some cases (as they are sometimes placed in very strange places), and only the smell of curdling milk makes their location — eventually — known.  My favorite ones are the ones with a spoon in them, fused to the bottom of these evil little colored cups by a layer of what was once hot chocolate (I hope); all attempts at getting a kid to wash them have, to date, resulted in dismal failure.

No matter what day of the week, time of day, or season of the year, these cups are everywhere.  They can be found left on the table,

D

on a countertop,

A

scattered around the house in places they shouldn’t be,

C

or even inside a candy dish, for reasons unknown:

B

This has been going on for months.  Little plastic IKEA cup-bombs, forever lurking within my home, their multi-colored silence mocking me from room to room.  I’ve tripped over them, found them in the yard, in the bathroom, in my cars, and because they are seemingly made of indestructible, perpetually cheery colored plastic, they never break, and therefore never grow fewer in number.  Even the colors contribute to my descent into madness: I find my OCD in full bloom when, as I load the dishwasher, I become agitated because I can’t find the OTHER orange cup, or wonder why the blue cups always wind up in the kitchen while the green ones disappear for weeks at a time, or why I secretly like the yellow ones the best.

I’M LOSING MY MIND.

Now you may protest that this is MY problem, as MY children are the ones leaving them everywhere, but I believe you are partially to blame.  Sure, all our parental attempts at getting the kids to clean up after themselves are generally failing, but it was YOU that designed your store to put them in our path.  YOU offer these cups in bright colors that kids like enough (apparently) to put them in our shopping cart without permission.  In other words, you set a trap for us (me), and I’m suffering as a result.

In case you wish to know how bad this situation has become, I’ve begun to suspect that these cups will eventually wind up everywhere — like a virus that takes over the entire planet.  I’ve begun to have visions of them cropping up around the world, like this:

verlander

patagonia

obama

korea

Given what I’ve observed at my home, I even think these cups could escape the bonds of earth.  I really do.

space

In fact, I’m convinced that these cups are so pervasive, there is absolutely nowhere they can’t turn up.  I’m willing to bet that if someone actually DOES find Bigfoot out in the forest somewhere, he’ll be walking around holding one of our little plastic IKEA cups, like this:  

bigfoot

In short, I don’t think I can escape these cups.  Ever.  Even when it’s my time to go, I suspect they’ll be waiting for my arrival:

heaven

Or, in the event that my behavior here on Earth isn’t as good as I think it is, I could EASILY picture these cups waiting for me elsewhere, poised to ensure my journey to insanity is both complete and eternal:

hell

______________________

So, IKEA, since you were in part responsible for my deteriorating condition, I propose compensation.  Clearly, you’re cheerful little plastic cups have negatively affected my mind, and I think a free package of cinnamon rolls is a fair exchange for my mental health.  If you are particularly moved by my suffering, some meatballs would be nice too.   I may eventually go completely insane, but it would be nice to do so after sampling your cinnamon rolls, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be a more docile and satisfied insane person on a full stomach.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I feel compelled to observe that, even if you choose not to offer compensation, my wife and kids enjoy your store too much for me to effectively boycott your products.  So while this may appear to be an empty threat, I can only trust that your conscience as a marketer and as a parent (if you have children) will nag at you, knowing you have driven a cynical suburban father of three out of his mind.

Yours,

Keith D. Yancy

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Donuts With Dad… How I Threw Up at my Daughter’s Grade School


by Keith Yancy

I thought my days of throwing up in a grade school restroom were 35 years in the past.  I thought wrong.

It all started with an event at my kid’s grade school: “Donuts with Dad.”  The flyer came home with my 10-year-old daughter, a purple slip of paper with a 1950’s style neon sign typeface, and lay in plain sight on the kitchen counter.  The flyer described a morning “Dad/kid” extravaganza, complete with donuts, coffee, and a short “discussion” afterwards about how to be a better Christian father.  And my 10-year-old daughter was pretty excited about it.  Only one conversation with her made it clear: she was really, REALLY looking forward to going to Donuts with Dad WITH her dad, and not going wasn’t going to be tolerated.

So, after a moment of reflection on how “good dads” do this sort of thing, I agreed to take a day off work and go.  Not that this would take all day; but something inside me warned me that this degree of social awkwardness might take some post-donut recovery time.  I’m not outgoing at these types of events, and sitting around with a bunch of other fathers isn’t something I typically like to do.  But I also know that doing stuff you don’t normally like doing is part of life, so with a sigh and a smile, I told my daughter we’d be there.

The day arrived, and I felt fine.  No issues.  I decided that, since I had the day off anyway, I’d go casual and try to look like one of the “cool dads.”  That meant, for me, jeans, a button down shirt (not tucked in, which, to me, says “I’m young and trying to be cool”), and a black leather jacket.  In retrospect, the entire ensemble was completely negated by the uncomfortable look on my face, but at the time, I thought I’d look okay.  My daughter was grinning ear-t0-ear, wearing her backpack and school clothes, excited about both dad going to school and the chance to eat a donut (probably not in that order).

We walked in, were greeted by some very, very friendly school employees, and walked into the Donuts with Dad area, which consisted of several long tables with coffee, donuts, bagels and spreads, all arranged carefully and garnished with harvest themed gourds and leaves.  It was obvious that women were arranging and running the event, which was good; guys would have just stacked a bunch of donut boxes on top of each other and let the chips fall where they may. 

The room was loud.  There were young kids darting everywhere, grabbing donuts and juice, with many of them sporting powdered sugar on their lips and cheeks.  Half-empty paper cups of juice were on virtually every horizontal surface.  Most of the dads in attendance were either sitting with their kids, making some forced small talk with the nearest “other” dad, or simply sitting silent while drinking coffee.  There were few open seats. 

At this point, I have two confessions to make: First, I don’t do well at these sorts of parties.  Even when I tried to dress cool, I knew I wasn’t, and would have probably paid cash money for the gift of invisibility.  As a result, I did the next best thing: I immediately tried to “blend in” by getting a cup of coffee and grabbing a donut.  This leads me to my other confession: when under such “social duress,” I sometimes make inexplicable choices.  And this time was one of them.

I decided, in one baffling moment, that I would eat healthy (!) and choose a bagel rather than a donut.  Looking back, this was the beginning of my downfall.  I chose what I THOUGHT was a plain bagel, and because putting cream cheese on it would seem awkward, decided to eat my plain bagel bone-dry.  My daughter, who doesn’t suffer from such social confusion, grabbed a donut and juice, and we retreated to a bench near the back corner of the room. 

My daughter was genuinely excited.  She talked and grinned the entire time (which made this entire story/experience worthwhile, I might add) and discussed what she would be doing in school that day.  She pointed out friends in the room, but either out of excitement or loyalty, refused to leave my side.  I began to eat my bone-dry plain bagel, only to realize that what I thought was a plain bagel wasn’t.  It was a pumpkin bagel.  I sighed.  I don’t like pumpkin-flavored anything, and here I was, holding a pumpkin bagel and a cup of luke-warm coffee, and feeling awkward and uncool. 

And then, another bad decision: I decided to eat my pumpkin bagel.  I thought it would look ungrateful and rude to not eat it, so I ate it, despite the fact that a) I hate pumpkin bagels, b) nobody cared, and c) no one would have noticed anyhow.  There we were, my daughter drinking her juice and talking non-stop while I looked vaguely bewildered in the corner of the room, force-feeding myself a dry pumpkin bagel.  I ate the entire thing.  No way was I going to look rude.

After a while, the kids were called to class, and for the first time in my life, I felt role reversal with my kid: I didn’t want her to go and leave ME there by myself, facing the uncertain-but-likely-oogly “Dad’s discussion session.”  I steeled myself for what was to come, gave her a hug, and watched her go, slowly shuffling toward the church entrance with the other shuffling, uncomfortable dads to start our “discussion.”  I started feeling queasy, but chalked it up to nerves.  I went in, and like all the other dads, sat apart from everyone else.  Every dad had at least four feet of personal space from every other dad.  A few of us made slight small talk, with hastily whispered introductions and a benign remark about how Donuts with Dad was a nice idea.

A pastor came in and led the discussion, which was really a lecture.  No dad spoke.  The lecture was pleasant enough, though it became clear that the sub-text to the lecture was the importance of financial support for the school.  This was not unexpected.  What WAS unexpected, unfortunately, was the growing realization that I was feeling more and more ill as time went on.

My physical state went through several phases of decline during the 30-minute discussion:

  1. I don’t think that pumpkin bagel agreed with me.”
  2. “I could actually throw up.”
  3. “I could really, really, truly throw up.”
  4. “I wonder how embarrassing it would be if I threw up here?”
  5. “I might just throw up here.”
  6. “If I leave now, could I make it home before I throw up?”
  7. “I’m NOT going to throw up.  Be strong.”
  8. “To hell with strong, be discreet.  I should go to the bathroom to throw up.”
  9. “Will I make it to the bathroom before I throw up?”
  10. “If I throw up in church, will other dads be offended?”
  11. “I’m going to look disrespectful if I leave before the prayer.”
  12. “I’m outta here.”

In the end, I fled just before the prayer, taking great pains to walk rather than run.  By this point, I no longer cared HOW I looked, just that I didn’t throw up pumpkin bagel all over the church in front of 60 other dads (and a pastor).  I made it to the restroom in time, which — thankfully — was empty, and promptly did what I should have done 30 minutes earlier: disposed of my pumpkin bagel.  The entire time, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that I threw up for the first time in 35 years in a grade school bathroom.

I cleaned myself up, and decided to leave.  I gave a polite smile and greeting to the women cleaning up the donuts and bagels, and walked carefully out to my car, taking care to leave before the other dads made their own personal mad-dash to their cars.  As I left the parking lot, I felt a mixture of satisfaction for going to Donuts with Dad with my daughter (who didn’t know my sad story at this point), embarrassment, lingering queasiness of my ill-fated pumpkin bagel, and relief that I had the rest of the day to recover.  

Donuts with Dad.  Next year, I’m sticking with donuts.

Until next time… 🙂

What I Learned at My Daughter’s Art Exhibition


Artwork Exhibit, CCS.

by Keith Yancy

Driving down to my daughter’s art exhibition this morning was more than just another errand for me, or another family activity for my wife and kids.

I’d been looking forward to seeing my daughter’s artwork since she began her summer classes at CCS — the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.  It’s a great school, one of the many, many “diamonds in the rough” that make up the tapestry of Detroit’s decaying downtown district.  Since the very first day, she’d been inspired, excited, and motivated more than I’d ever seen her before, and her enthusiasm for what she was learning, her teachers, and the experiences offered by the program had given her a renewed sense of purpose. 

But as much as she was excited about her experiences, I’m forced to admit that I was too.  Maybe that’s the true test of parenting: taking more pleasure from your kids’ happiness than your own.  But as happy as I was to see her artistic passion and creativity blooming, my concerns about an artistic career lingered in my mind like a fog.  A life devoted to art and creativity can be a lonely one, with many unknowns; creative people very rarely have the luxury of settling into a predictable or consistent “career.”  An artist’s career can often change and take many unexpected turns, with meteoric rises and plummeting falls, and abundant measures of both satisfaction and self-doubt.

This was on my mind as I drove my family downtown, from the suburbs to the inner city.  It’s a drive that in many ways is a mirror for some of my concerns.  It’s impossible to ignore the empty storefronts, the burned out homes, the waist-high weeds and the cracked, pock-marked asphalt that make up the trip into Detroit.  The stark reality of joblessness and broken dreams marks the journey, in a way few other places in America can equal.  The broken windows, boarded-up churches and weed-wild empty lots offer a silent, constant refrain: We were the dreams of yesterday, dreams based on work, dreams of prosperity, dreams of happiness… and we are gone.  How can I feel confident that my daughter will survive in the future ahead, much less thrive?  In a world where artists, musicians, and fine arts are increasingly seen as irrelevant — or worse?

I pulled into the parking garage near campus, and we walked inside the building where the exhibition was held.  We were ten minutes early, but there were people there already, teenage students like my daughter, curious parents, bored siblings, all waiting around outside the exhibition hall.  The walls are glass, and we could see inside and see some of the artwork, but no one went in.  Mentors and teachers came in and out, preparing punch and cookies and trying to pretend like the growing crowd was both not there and not starting to grow impatient.  We made small talk in low voices, the teenaged students trying not to look nervous.  Eventually, ten minutes later than advertised, the mentor students opened the glass doors, and the families poured in, most of whom resisted the urge to bolt straight to their own kid’s art display.  People begin to politely review whatever artwork was nearby, with polite and somewhat comic expressions.  It’s hard to look like a dignified art critic when you’re evaluating the shading on an eight-eyed, purple alien model figure set up on a small stand.

The artwork was surprisingly good, albeit uneven, and ranged from very, very rough drawings to 3D-animated graphics; futuristic models and a wide variety of self-made fashions were also well-represented.  The subjects reflect both classic objects and those of popular culture: impossibly aerodynamic car models and self-portraits, skulls, aliens, and soldiers next to still life scenes, tomb-raider-esque women with outrageously exaggerated curves (and wearing the requisite tiny outfits) next to drawings of bedroom furniture.

But the common element through all the art, from those with substantial talent to those with only marginal ability, was the passion and enthusiasm of the students who created it.  As I walked through the exhibition, trying (and failing) to ignore how old I looked and felt, I could see everywhere young adults showing off their creations, explaining their creative ideas and approaches, virtually radiating excitement and passion for what they’d done.  I found myself increasingly studying the artists rather than the artwork, and as I did so, I began to recognize that their enthusiasm, their incredible drive to express themselves and their ideas, was what was really on display.  The artwork was just a by-product of that collective power of self-expression.

And I found myself worrying less about my own daughter.  Her work clearly belonged there, her talents clearly focused in a place that molds and channels such talent and makes it useful to the artist and to the society in which the artist lives.  CCS has a strong reputation both for the rigor of their programs and their ability to find employment for their graduates, and though I know the road ahead won’t be easy for my daughter, that road would be far darker — and more harmful — if it led somewhere where her heart wasn’t.  As difficult as it may be for someone to pursue a career in the arts, to want to and NOT to do so is far more difficult, and ultimately, more destructive.

And so, I now know with absolute certainty that if that’s what she wants to do, then I’ll do everything I can to support her and help her realize her dreams.  

Nowadays, a career in the arts is, in some circles, considered frivolous, unnecessary, irrelevant.  This line of thinking argues, often very loudly, that “STEM” subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are where we should be guiding our children.  Perhaps.  But these same people are very often those who go to movies, listen to the radio, wear the latest fashions, send their children to dance classes and generally criticize those who pursue artistic careers — while being addicted to the very products those artists create.  While I hope that such critics eventually recognize this absurdity, I’m forced in the meantime to encourage my daughter to follow her dreams while ignoring such naysayers.

As virtually every culture in human history has shown, there will always be a need for artists and the arts.  Ultimately, I believe the many forms of artistic expression (music, literature, theater, design, etc) are what all of us enjoy most in life, artists and non-artists alike.  And while it may feel expedient and practical to steer a young adult toward a career in science, technology, or business, I can’t in good conscience push my daughter away from what she wants to do with her life.

I hope I’m right.

Until next time… 🙂

The Value of a Great Teacher


by Keith Yancy

This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to hear my 11-year-old daughter play in the PCCS orchestra concert.  As always, the kids did a terrific job, and played beautifully.

But as the concert went on, I found myself wishing that everyone in Plymouth and Canton could see and hear what I was seeing.

It was more than just the music.  The orchestras always play well, and I always leave wondering why our community isn’t more aware of these talented kids and the beautiful music they play.

No, what I wish everyone else could see is the power — the true “cause and effect” — that driven, passionate and caring teachers have on our kids. 

I saw hundreds — yes, hundreds — of kids, from middle-school age to high school seniors, not only playing instruments, but playing them with intensity, passion, and enjoyment.  Kids who obviously cared a lot about the music and their performance.

And their teachers.

Teachers have been taking a lot of hits these days.  Current thinking seems to assume that our education system is irretrievably broken, and that our teachers are complicit in this decline.  Teachers are frequently characterized as caring only about defending their pay and benefits, fighting for shorter hours and summers off of work, and resistant to efforts to evaluate them based on their students’ test scores.

But I saw none of that last Wednesday. 

I saw kids who clearly loved their orchestra teachers.  Seniors soon to graduate were in tears describing the impact their teacher had on their lives.  Younger kids who obeyed direction and commands from their teachers without question and with alacrity.  Kids who had obviously chosen to work hard, work together, and take instruction and direction to be a true orchestra, rather than merely a group of kids playing music together.

I saw teachers — in this case, Ms. DePentu, Ms. Zurbuchen, and Mr. Kobiskie — who clearly loved their jobs, the kids, and the music.  Teachers who recognized the hard work, the long hours, and the sacrifices of parents to make their orchestra come alive.  Teachers whose job it is to not only educate, but motivate — to inspire children to learn, to work, to cultivate the curiosity that would otherwise lie dormant inside of every child.

In other words, I saw the true value and power of good teaching.

And while I’m well aware of the problems in our education system, both nationally and locally, this value — this power — should not and cannot be brushed aside.  The contribution and impact a good teacher can have on a child is not a trivial thing, even if it can’t be quantified in dollars or a standardized test score.

I would challenge anyone who thinks this is merely “what all teachers are supposed to do” to try it for themselves.  Think it’s easy?  I’ve found that every time I assume someone else’s job is easy, I’m almost universally wrong.  And while I’ve never been a teacher, I’ve thought about what they deal with, and I wonder if all of us non-teachers would like it if we were so easily marginalized in the media. 

What People Should Remember About Teaching

1.  It’s work.  Ever had to stand in front of 20-30 people every day, all day long, and ensure that you’re reaching every single one of them effectively, consistently and productively?  That you have something worthwhile to say and do?  Do you have to plan your entire work year in advance, including lesson plans, research, etc? 

2.  It’s demanding.  Here’s but one example: Teachers have to not only know every one of their students names (in some cases, hundreds of kids), but are expected to know how each one of them is performing, what issues/challenges each one has, and even who they’re friends with.  Oh, and by the way, they’re expected to remember the name and unique personalities of every kid they’ve ever taught, whether it was three years or three decades ago. 

3.  It’s long hours.  Simply put, for most teachers, the “in by 7, out by 3” myth is exactly that: a myth.  (My brother-in-law is a teacher — a good one, too — and I know this through his experience.)  When does little Johnny get counseled?  When do 90+ papers/tests/projects get read, corrected and graded?  Not during school hours, for most.  In fact, teaching is often nights and weekends spent doing these tasks, calling concerned parents, conducting after-school tutoring sessions, writing recommendation letters, etc.  And, for many, the teaching day starts earlier than 7AM.  For those who point to the work-free summers, experienced teachers often provide tutoring, work on professional development, participate in other school-related activities (sports, camps, etc) and prepare for the upcoming school year.  Those with less experience?  They sometimes find summer jobs to supplement their “not nearly as much as people think” incomes.

4.  It’s frustrating.  Parents who somehow think teachers should correct their own parental failings.  Administrators who either don’t support teachers when needed or don’t bother to ask for input when making decisions that affect teaching.  Constant student distractions that inhibit academic performance (i.e., over-scheduled activities, family dysfunction, etc).  Poorly performing or behaving co-workers who give education critics more examples to criticize.  Put all that and more together, and the frustration must be enormous.  Pile on with popular public misconception about “how easy teachers have it,” and it’s no surprise that many teachers — especially the good ones — look for alternative career paths.

5.  It’s not “paint by the numbers.”  Or, at least, it shouldn’t be.  While the popular breeze blows toward standardized testing and standardized textbooks, a good teacher knows rote, mechanical education isn’t what inspires curiosity in a child.  A good teacher, in my opinion, brings their own talents to bear to bring subjects alive — to motivate their students to want to learn, to explore, to investigate subjects and go beyond memorization to real understanding.  And that’s done through activities, special projects, and customized lessons that go beyond a scripted textbook.

This, I suspect, is a glimpse at what it’s like to be a teacher.

Most people can think back on a special teacher that made a difference in their lives — a teacher that inspired them, that showed kindness, understanding and even discipline when they needed it most.  A teacher whose passion and enthusiasm took learning beyond a scripted text and brought learning to life in a way that was unforgettable.

Most people remember such a teacher.  I’ll be damned if I’ve ever heard anyone reminiscing about a textbook.

So, while we may have issues in our nation, our state, and our local community about education, I hope we can preserve the element that matters most — the good teachers who serve as a reminder that their avocation is a profession, not a job… a profession that fundamentally matters.  They should be considered assets to our schools, our communities, and our system, not liabilities.

If you ever have the chance to see our local PCCS orchestras, take the time to see — and hear — the difference a good teacher can make.   Go beyond what you read in the news, think back on a teacher (or teachers) that made a difference in your life, and then see that same effect on these kids.  I know you’ll enjoy the music, and I hope you’ll appreciate the lesson being taught to our community: teachers, good teachers, are individuals who still care about our kids. 

And that makes all the difference.

Until next time… 🙂

Another pulled thread: the passing of a restaurant.


 

The Plymouth Big Boy restaurant, now closed. Shot with my Hipstamatic app.

by Keith Yancy

“Hey Dad – I heard the Big Boy’s closing.”  My middle-school-age daughter announced this fact to the family as we sat down in our kitchen for dinner.

“Really?  When?”

“I think it’s closed already.” 

The Plymouth Big Boy restaurant.  Our family rarely ate meals there, but it was our ritual location for celebratory desserts after evening school functions.  Over the past few years, my family, often accompanied by my parents, would stop there on the way home for desserts and coffee.  Somehow, eating ice cream or drinking milkshakes had, over time, become connected with orchestra performances and dance recitals.

Unlike many other Big Boy restaurants, the Plymouth version was a tired, well-worn throwback to mid-1980s decorating, with dark terra-cotta floors and paneling that, if you looked carefully, was starting to warp and split in places.  Its best days were certainly in the past.  Tiny bathrooms that were not cleaned frequently enough.  Local causes like the “Support Mayberry Farm” coin canister on the counter.  Windows everywhere, yet somehow the sunshine never really seemed to fully illuminate the place.

Yet, it was ours.  We almost always stopped in during the evenings, and it was rare to see more than a dozen other customers there.  Mostly, the place felt weary, with empty booths and hanging silk flower pots illuminated in the half-light of fake Tiffany lamps.  Our kids’ laughter and loud conversations chased the latent gloominess of the place away, and for that reason I’d found myself resistant to ever stopping there without them.  In any event, long visits were almost instinctively avoided; the outdated décor seemed to evoke more melancholia than nostalgia.

At night, eating there was almost like sitting in Hopper’s Nighthawks painting… everything present and real, yet somehow disassociated with the world outside.

The food was not great, but edible.  Desserts were better.  Whatever you ordered, the waitresses who brought it to you were always kind.  Most of the wait staff were neither young nor old, quick to laugh, could answer a joke with one of their own, and generally made you feel like you were being “taken care of” rather than merely served.  Over time, as the waitresses got to know my family better, our desserts seemed to be increasingly generous in size, approaching huge portions which my daughters (and my father) loved.

It was our place, in spite of the shabby surroundings. 

And, without a warning, it was gone.

________________________ 

“WHY?” my youngest daughter shouted, eyes going round and anger spreading across her face.  “WHY are they closing our Big Boy?”

Her nine-year-old anger, while not unusual, was still a bit of a surprise to the rest of us.  Not fully realizing what was soon to be a typical nine-year-old’s emotional meltdown, I asked why it closed.

“They’re going to expand the grocery store next door, and they want to put in a gas station, I think.” 

Progress.  A good thing, most of the time.  Perhaps this is one of those times.  There’s little logical reason to keep a struggling, dilapidated restaurant open when someone else wants to create something more vital, more necessary for our town. 

I learned that the grocery store next door plans to expand and build a gas station there.  I suppose that’s progress, though there are two other gas stations within a few hundred feet of the site.  Somehow, “progress” in the form of yet another gas station rings hollow.  Couldn’t someone build something else there?  Is yet another gas station really necessary?  Part of me wishes that “progress” would mean allowing the site to return to a natural state, free of pavement, and neon lights, and noise.  But that kind of progress doesn’t seem popular these days, and my rational mind knows that you can’t create profits from an empty lot, or jobs, or more tax revenue. 

So, we make way for progress.  But in some cases, like this one, the price is just another small thread of our local fabric, another unique location that contributes to our local flavor.  As faded and sad as it may have been, it was ours, it was unique, it was a destination with a distinct character and identity.  In itself, it’s not that big a loss, but when you have many losses like it, replaced with the generic strip malls, and fast food chains, and – yes – gas stations, it surrenders yet a little more of our collective identity. 

____________________________

A few days ago, I drove past the place, and decided to stop.  It was striking how, after only being closed a few days, the place had changed.  Details once overlooked had somehow come together to create a forlorn mosaic: a dead shrub, a cracked and littered parking lot, vacant windows with hastily scrawled “Closed” signs facing the road. 

The Plymouth Big Boy has only been closed for a couple of weeks, but a stranger might think it had been closed for months.  Brown weeds grow through the cracks in the pavement.  Crumbling parking blocks still sit in jagged rows, the faded paint of the parking lines barely discernible.  In back, a heaping garbage area where the building’s interior was already ripped out and piled high.  Together with the dreary ambience of a cold, cloudy Michigan February afternoon, the scene could have easily been mistaken for the blighted areas of Detroit.  What had been our “place” only a couple of weeks ago was gone.

Out front, the familiar sign, still featuring the famous checkerboard pants-wearing big boy statue, remains.  The front doors — chained shut — bears another “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign just inches below a large sticker of a bright, waving American flag. 

It’s hard to ignore the irony.

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Restaurants come and go, and while the Big Boy chain lives on in other places, its days in Plymouth are over.  We shrug, move on, call it progress.  But progress often comes at a price – the loss of a job, the end of a small family tradition, the passing of yesterday’s icon.  Life continues, and most people probably won’t care too much about a flagging restaurant whose end had finally come. 

But there’s at least one person who remembers.

As my family realized that our youngest was genuinely upset about the news, we tried to provide some solace.

“Well, that’s a shame,” I said.  “We’ll have to find another place to celebrate.”

An angry tear slipped down her cheek, her eyes staring down. 

“I hate gas stations.” 

Until next time… 😐

Invoking father’s privilege: saying no to violent movies


by Keith Yancy

Well, this is different, huh? 

Me, the guy who has recently crowed about academic freedom and griped about censorship and book banning has refused to allow his nine- and 12-year-old daughters from seeing The Dark Knight with friends this past weekend.

And no, I don’t see the inconsistency here, though I needed to think about it for a moment.

That’s because these situations, in my mind, are very different.  My 16-year-old daughter, who had one book taken from her (and another almost taken) in her ADVANCED PLACEMENT, college-level literature class, was ready for the material.  My wife and I gave her permission to take the class, and read a few books considered controversial, because we knew she could handle it.

And, in the same way, I’m sure my nine- and 12-year-old girls are NOT ready to see Harvey Dent’s face half seared off, or The Joker shooting and stabbing people.  While I’m not quite sure what the movie’s rating is (I’m guessing PG-13), I AM sure that there are adult themes and sufficient violence in The Dark Knight to give my girls sleepless nights from now until July.  If other parents are okay with letting their kids watch The Dark Knight, so be it — that’s their decision as parents, and while I disagree with it, it remains their decision, not mine.

As you’d expect, my younger daughters seemed pretty annoyed at Dad’s flat refusal, handed down via a phone call from their friends’ house.  (I was pleased, at least, that they knew enough to call.  I suspect my 9-year-old was very nervous about watching “a scary movie,” and provided the necessary element of conscience.)  My 12-year-old was, judging by the text message(s) I received, disappointed.  But, as my own father would say, “too bad.”  Each kid is different, and while my 16-year-old is mature enough to discern fact from fiction, under the instruction of an educated, professional literature teacher, four girls in a suburban basement watching violent clown-mask-wearing bank robbers shooting people isn’t even close to the same thing. 

That’s why, even during the great censorship fight we recently fought at our local high school, I was always careful to remind people that it was an opt-in, college-level class; only students who were deemed “ready” by both parents and instructors were granted permission to enroll.  I would not necessarily assign the same books to younger, less-emotionally prepared kids, despite the books’ literary value. 

My younger daughters know little of this — they just knew that there was a movie about Batman on, and wanted to watch it.  And, had I granted my permission, they would have.  But I didn’t.  Because I know what can happen when kids see such images when they aren’t prepared for them.

When I was about 7-8 years old, I asked my parents if I could go with some neighborhood friends to see a generally lousy movie called Tommy (based on The Who’s “rock opera” album).  At the time, my parents were clearly not big Who fans, and knew nothing about the film, so they let me go.

Big mistake, though there was no permanent damage.

I can still remember — over 35 years later — images from that movie.   These images probably wouldn’t be considered that graphic by today’s standards, but they burned a permanent place in my seven-year-old memory.  I can still recall Tommy’s father being killed by his mom’s lover, and her head later being caved in by a wrecking ball while her lover/husband gets stabbed by crazy fans.  And keep this in mind: I have never seen the movie since that single viewing.  I can still remember how upset I was at the adult themes and graphic violence, none of which I was ready or prepared to see. 

Of course, the reason I wasn’t ready to see these images was because my parents did such a good job of protecting me from them, before and after this movie.  They just never realized that the movie included such adult content, and it only took one oversight for this to happen.  No long-term harm done, but it sure did upset a certain 7-year-old boy for quite a while during his adolescence.

And I’m going to do my best to shield my kids from such things, also.  They have plenty of time to witness such Hollywood-inspired dreck when they’re older and ready for it, but for now, I want violence to stay abstract and distant, not graphic and all-too realistic. 

That’s my job as a father — to decide when my kids are ready for adult themes.  And yeah… I get pretty angry when my parental decisions aren’t respected, whether they’re to grant permission or withhold it. 

So… there’s really no inconsistency here at all.  Not in my mind, anyway.

Until next time… : |