Uh-Oh! There Goes My Second Childhood
For the person who would be a newspaper columnist, it is first necessary to declare yourself as either liberal or conservative and then, writing for an audience of people who agree with you, attempt to beat the other side into, if not silence, then at least an advanced stage of bashfulness.
This is best achieved not through the application of facts, but through repeated accusations that the other side is either insufficiently fond of America or overly fond of the few remaining sexual practices of which Americans disapprove.
I was but a fledgling newspaper columnist when, striking my 40th birthday like the Titanic struck an iceberg, I became aware that being mean to people for so-much-per-word had soured me. I began to use words always like a baseball bat and never like an embroidery needle
My friends did not like me. My girlfriend departed for the arms of not one man, but several. The casual, humorous remarks that fell from my lips wounded the people to whom they were spoken.
I realized, there on the dusty footpath between late youth and middle age, that I was a much nicer kid than I was a man.
That is to say that, as a child, I was less surly, but equally bookish, easier to frighten and easier to comfort, and fonder of staying home (or at least in the yard) than going out.
Determined to regain at least some of the genial attitude of happiness I knew as a kid of, say, 12, I found again the things of my childhood.
I stayed home more and went to bed (at least in the summer) when it got dark. I read again the books written by 1920s historian Harold Lamb, biographies of Charlemagne and Genghis Khan my father bought me because they were full of swordplay and the language was just a tad over my head, and because my father believed that buying a kid the then-popular biographies of sports heroes would invariably produce a man who would be a slave to the bookies.
I bought a warm bathrobe in a juvenile plaid and slippers lavishly lined in polyester, and I read, in a much-too-large armchair, in the early evenings, and I took walks around the neighborhood, and bitterness dropped from me like you'd pull off an itchy sweat-soaked shirt.
And, of course, I ate SpaghettiOs, the round pasta that warmed my New England childhood days and which was a treat because my mother would not have served such a thing for supper and I didn't take them as a school lunch.
I ate SpaghettiOs, then, through a couple of recessions, a couple rounds of lay-offs at the paper that employs me, the discovery that anything the government deregulates gets more, not less, expensive and a host of other calamities, including the never-ending childhoods of Presidents Clinton and Bush. The explosion on Sept. 11 sent other men to the gin bottle. I stayed home and ate SpaghettiOs.
So, when the Campbell Soup Co. announced the recent recall of 15 million pounds of SpaghettiOs with meatballs due to insufficient cooking, I trembled. With the aid of this magical childhood chow, I had just gotten to the point where I had learned to regard my job the way I used to regard school — as something that ended every day at the same time, was leavened by recess and could be survived if you were smart enough not to ask any questions.
But hey, they recalled 'em, right? New, safe round pasta is on the way.
Just in time, too. A bunch of people are running for political office right now, and, I swear, I was starting to think I could see a real difference between the conservatives and the liberals — a mistake I would never have made as a child. Back then, I knew that a mean big kid who hits you because you're in his way is the same as the big mean kid who hits you to help you get out of his way.
To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com
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