Friday, December 26, 2008

My wife is painting over my manhood

Slips of paper have been appearing on our living room wall.

Sometimes there are four, sometimes three, sometimes only one. But they all have two things in common: 1) none of them ever stays up for more than a day, and 2) they’re all shades of the color blue.

My wife wants to paint our living room, I can only assume, blue.

Sure, just painting a living room sounds innocent enough, but so did the German invasion of Belgium to start World War I. I think that war started when Kaiser Wilhelm II’s wife wanted to paint the living room blue. The war was less trouble.

There's something the sexes (and by that I'm nicely saying, 'only women') don't realize about life – there are rules:

Rule 1: Men and women don’t think the same way.

Rule 2: Men and women don’t like the same things.

Rule 3: Women love colors. Men view colors as something nature created out of spite.

Many of the troubles between the sexes could be solved if women just realized Rules 1 through 3. Four through 10 are pretty good, too. They deal with all sorts of things like which way toilet paper should roll from the wall and why men appear to be so itchy.

The main point is that men and women don’t have the same tastes in home decorating. Well, except for those guys on home makeover shows, but I’d never invite them over to watch a ballgame.

I like one color for my walls – white. White walls are guy walls because guys don’t care about white. We care about red, blue-green and gray because that means we’re somewhere we don’t want to be, like stuck at a traffic light, Sea World, or jail. White just means bathroom, and we’re all comfortable with that.

“So what do you think of these blues?” my wife – who caused this mess – asked our four-year-old son.

He looked at the strips of paper on the wall for a few seconds as if he were contemplating man’s place in the universe.

“I think they’re dumb,” he said.

Hmmm. Maybe he was. That was a pretty deep thought for a preschooler.

The colors were labeled Cozumel Aqua, Cloudless Sky and Nimble Blue.

What do these names really mean? Are paint makers banking on the fact that, percentage wise, so few real Americans have been to Cozumel we won’t know this color isn’t what the water there looks like? That Cloudless Sky and Sky Blue from Crayola are exactly the same? And, in what universe is blue ever “nimble?”

I’m just waiting for my wife to start painting. I bet a nice shade of Shipwrecked Lovers Gazing onto the Azure Horizon all over my living room will be just fine … for an Italian restaurant.

Waiter, bring me a beer and a shot of testosterone. I think I’m going to need it.

Copyright 2008 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available at, or Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Attack of the Antagonizer

The Boy, almost four, stood playing at his train table as The Girl, almost two, walked into the room.

Utilizing what must be the instinct that keeps cage fighters alive, he knew where she was before he saw her. She was heading right for him, feigning innocence by pretending to talk with her grandparents on a Spider-Man cell phone.

The Boy’s shoulders tensed.

“Gigi, PopPop. Cookie, cookie,” The Girl said, then giggled, explaining into Spider-Man’s face her morning adventure in which she’d found a plate of cookies in the kitchen before anyone else had gotten out of bed.

But everyone in the room knew what she was up to. Mom, Dad, her big brother, and anyone watching on Google Earth – by which I mean everyone.

To outside viewers – have you ever been on Google Earth? It’s spooky – it wasn’t that The Girl’s plan was transparent or that her motives were suspect. But everyone in the room had seen this scenario play out more times than we’d seen the Elmo video that makes me want to drive my car into a lake.

She was going to approach her brother’s toys in exactly the way that would throw him into an Incredible Hulk-like rage, grab a toy, scream and run out of the room.

If this little girl were a super villain, her name would be The Antagonizer.

Commissioner Gordon: The Antagonizer has struck again.

The Batman (hissing): I’ll bring her to justice.

Commissioner Gordon: She took your Bob the Builder action figure and dropped it in the toilet.

The Batman (weeping openly as he punches a hole in the drywall): I do this alone. It just got personal.

“Gigi, cookie, PopPop, Bob Builder, yeah, yeah, yeah,” she sang into the play phone as she approached The Boy, music from “High Plains Drifter” running through my head.

Then it happened.

She grabbed a train off the track, screamed in a way that made me happy we don’t have pets, and started to run out of the room. The Boy stopped her by making a fist and knocking her to the floor.

Yeah, her mother and I saw the punch coming. Yeah, we could have stepped in before it happened, but what’s the kid going to learn?

“Don’t hit your sister,” bounced through the living room followed quickly by “don’t tease your brother.”

Tears came, tears went, a few mumbled exchanges of “I’m sorry” were barely audible, and we all hoped life would be better in the Offutt house because of it.

Of course, much like we all knew the event was going to happen, we also all knew “I’m sorry” carried as much sincerity as a UN resolution, which is none at all.

Five minutes later it all happened again.

Copyright 2008 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available at, or Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Men Will Fix Things -- When We're Darned Good and Ready

A wheel of my push mower fell off. It had been wobbly for a while and, in the great tradition of manliness established by so many proud Americans before me, I ignored it and hoped it would go away.

It did go away. It rolled across the yard.

“That’s not good,” I said, using another of the great tenets of manliness, which is stating the obvious even when alone. This is because, as every real man knows, someone is always watching – even if we can’t see them.

One of a man’s greatest fears, apart from the world running out of Slim Jims, biker magazines and cheerleaders, is that a wormhole might open and someone in another dimension might see us do something stupid. And what’s our recourse? I mean, how can you punch someone in another dimension?

I killed the engine and looked at the mower. Yep, I could tell the wheel was definitely gone because: 1) it was no longer on the mower, and 2) I could see the wheel sticking out of the neighbor’s grass.

I tipped the mower to its side to get a better look, but I should have known better. Under the “You smelt it, you dealt it Principle,” whoever notices a problem has to fix the problem. I saw a hole in the mower where the wheel should be. A big hole. A big rusty hole. So, under Guy Law, I had to fix it.

Hmm, I thought. Maybe I shouldn’t have left the lawnmower outside all summer.

The disemmowered wheel didn’t look any better. The nut was fused to a bolt that was now more rust than metal. So, fulfilling my role as man, I left the mower sitting in the middle of a partially mowed lawn and went inside to watch sports. As I sat on the couch drinking beer, I realized I’d made a lot of zigzags as I mowed, so I hope I hadn’t spelled anything dirty.

A lesser man would have asked, “Should I just buy a new mower? A better one? One with four wheels?”


I fixed the mower the next day. Why? Because that’s what guys do.

A power drill, some wrenches, a couple of bolts, a domino-sized strip of metal and after a few damnits, I finished mowing the lawn.

Compared to not fixing things, fixing things ranks pretty highly on the Things that make Guys Guys list. Actually, not fixing things, then fixing them, then belittling your accomplishment, then bragging about it ranks the highest – only if it makes someone else cry/feel in awe of you.

So, the next time something mechanical breaks down, or your wife wants you to watch anything with Kate Hudson. Just remember, you’re a man. Act like one and do nothing about it … until you’re good and ready.

Copyright 2008 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available from, or Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

If You Are What You Drive, I'm ... Uh, Old

The cell phone rang in my front pocket as my family and I walked across the clean but car-littered floor.

I thought about not answering it. I hate talking on the telephone in front of people who suddenly look like they want me dead.

What’s so important, I wonder when I see some else talking on their cell phone in public, that you have to tell Joshy Pooh-Pooh you love him when you’re in line at the grocery store buying laxatives?

But my pocket was ringing. What are you supposed to do when your pocket’s ringing? The call was from a buddy, so I answered.

One of the greatest features of a cellular telephone, apart from the fact that you can talk to someone on the opposite side of the planet as easily as setting an egg timer, is caller ID. I’m sure there are lots of people who ignore calls when the word “Offutt” appears on their phone. Fine. I didn’t want to talk with them anyway.


“Hey,” I said, in the traditionally accepted guy ‘hello.’ “Can’t talk. We’re at a car dealership.”

“What are you buying?” he asked.

“A minivan.”


“You’re old, dude,” he finally said, and the conversation ended.

There are things all of us say we’ll never do. Sometimes it’s drinking vodka up your nose, sometimes it’s Bungee jumping, and sometimes it’s voting for Democrats. Not surprisingly, these things often happen on the same day and in the same order.

For me, the thing I said I would never do is own a minivan. Owning a minivan means you’ve given up. You’ve become branded as someone with a soccer ball sticker in the back window. You’re just one of the masses, and yes, you’re old.

That night, when I drove my family home from the dealership in our new minivan, my wife and I joined the ranks of those who will purchase an estimated 1 million minivans this year.

Good lord. What am I going to do next? I wondered. Donate to Greenpeace?

Then my wife, who would donate to Greenpeace, put the America I know into perspective.

“I saw this minivan driving down our street the other day,” she said over the children who were completely failing to fall asleep in their car seats. “It was driven by a teenager playing loud, thumping rap music.”

An image rushed into my head. And, yes, his ball cap was on backwards.

“I wanted to yell, ‘Yeah, you’re pretty cool in your mom’s car.’”

That’s all I needed. In this world where, to us, we are what we think we are, and to society, we are what we appear to be, there is one constant – complete apathy about what other people think.

Yes, I’m just one of the masses and yes, I’m working on accepting the fact that I’m old enough to drive a minivan.

But the most comforting part of my wife’s story is, at least I’m not that guy.

Copyright 2008 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available at, or Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Dangers of Preschool ... For Mom and Dad

The Boy watched the clock like it was going to throw candy.

He’d been waiting for this day for weeks – which is about as long as the Triassic Period to a three-and-a-half year old. It was his first day of preschool.

“It’s not time,” his mother told him after he’d asked … again. She pulled a clock from a shelf and pointed at the hands. “When this is on the five it will be time for school.”

And he waited.

When the hand hit the five, he opened the door and said, “Bye. See you later. I’m ready.”

Then he and his mother were off to school. I looked at his little sister who was eating something off the floor and realized we’ll have to go through this whole thing again in two years.

Were we ready for our baby to go to school? We thought so. But no matter how much parents mentally prepare themselves for their child to go to school, which roughly translated from Parentese means “a place without me,” we’re never really ready.

Sure, we may seem confident, but something happens to parents when they let go of their child’s hand as he walks into the classroom.

Suddenly parents realize that instead of teaching their child important things the past three and a half years – like don’t talk to strangers and how to deliver a roundhouse kick to the face – they’ve been wasting time on silly things like counting and going to the bathroom.

How’s not peeing in your pants going to protect your child from terrorists?

My wife looked lost when she came home.

“He doesn’t know anybody there,” she said. “And what do we really know about the people who work at that school?”

It’s the nightmare of every parent of a first-time student that as soon as their child is at a distance greater than six inches from them something terrible will happen.

Parents are certain Germans, like the bad guys from “Die Hard,” are posing as elementary school faculty just waiting to teach preschoolers how to rob banks. Then maybe communists or gypsies – or worse, communist gypsies – will attack the school and steal all the really gifted children, which of course means yours.

“It’s OK,” I told her. “If there are any Lebanese Secret Service agents there trying to convince the children to invade Israel, I’m sure somebody will call us.”

For some reason that wasn’t reassuring.

Later that morning, I picked up the Boy from school. He looked happy and relatively innocent on the subject of international political conflicts.

“What did you do in school today?” I asked as we got into the car.

The Boy shrugged.

“I don’t know,” he said.

Yeah, I can expect about 13 more years of that.

Copyright 2008 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available at, or Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Don't Tell Your Wife Anything

I called my wife before I left work. I’m not sure why I did this. Maybe it was out of courtesy. Maybe it’s a habit my mom beat into my head when I was a kid. Or maybe I’m just not that bright.

I think it’s the last one.

“I’m going to the grocery store on my way home,” I told her.

That was simple enough, right? A guy saying ‘I’m going to the store’ usually means ‘I’m out of beer.’ Everyone knows that.

“Great,” she said. “Do you have a pen? We need a few things …”

There’s a guy rule, an important guy rule, designed to protect ourselves from our own stupidity – don’t tell your wife you’re going anywhere.

I haven’t learned that rule yet.

To a man, “I’m going to the store” is a declarative sentence – nothing else. There’s nothing to “I’m going to the store” that means anything other than “I’m going to the store.” To a wife it’s an invitation.

“We need M&Ms, raisins, pretzels and almond bark,” she said. “Got that?”

“Yeah, yeah, honey,” I bumbled. “I got it.”

I actually like going to the grocery store. It’s a big, friendly building with meat, cheese and smiling people who say things like “good day” and “may I help you?” It’s like a tiny Wisconsin. But I don’t like to grocery shop – it’s work.

The cart thumped as I wheeled it through the store. I had almost everything on the list – beer, pretzels, M&Ms and raisins. The words “almond bark” sat on the list all smug and confident in the knowledge that I didn’t know what it was. I think it even gave me the finger.

I pointed the cart down the aisle labeled “baking” and went in. Like most guys, I don’t bake; I cook. Baking is as alien to me as a triffid, that’s why almond bark must be for baking. As I went down the aisle, reading the strange names on strange packages, I might as well have been in the cantina scene in “Star Wars.”

Then I found it. Almond bark.

Wait a second. There’s white and there’s brown? Two types? There are TWO types of almond bark? She didn’t say anything about two types? What do I …

“You look lost,” a female voice said. I turned toward a grandmotherly woman who’d stopped beside me and frowned.

“Yes, I am,” I said. “If you sent your husband to the grocery store for almond bark, what would you want him to bring home?”

She lifted a big bar of white something off the shelf and plopped it into my hand.

“This one,” she said, smiling like I’d just done something really cute … and by “cute” I mean “stupid.”

I thanked her, paid for the groceries and went home. My wife wanted the brown kind.

Ladies, there’s a simple solution to this problem – don’t ask your husband to do anything. Oh, sure, an equally simple solution might be to give him a more detailed list, but that’s too much like nagging.

So, when you get the urge to ask your husband to pick up something from the store, stop, understand the fact that him bringing home the wrong thing is worse then him bringing home nothing, and go to the store yourself. That way everyone’s happy.

Copyright 2008 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available at, or Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A Vacation's Nothing Without Work

Vacation. A word so sweet your triglycerides rose to the level of Jabba the Hutt’s just by reading it. So, please, go to the emergency room – now.

Yeah, vacation is sweet, and I had five days of it. Five no-shavin’, no-workin’, no-thinkin’ days of lethargy and naps. I sat on the couch that Monday morning, a cup of coffee in my hand, when my vacation turned into one of those vacations you see in movies where everyone’s ankles are chained together and they’re busting rocks in front of a guy holding a shotgun.

“Bye, honey,” my wife said as she did a strafing run through the living room on her way to work, pulling the front door shut behind her so quickly I barely heard the words that would doom my vacation much like ‘I’ll have to raise taxes’ doomed Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign … by the way, he lost. “Have a great day. There’s a list on the kitchen table. I love you.”

Slam. Tap, tap, tap. Click. Vroom. Slam. Zip. … And she was gone.

Sure, I’ll have a great day. A great day of reruns, frozen pizza and … a list? A list? I’m on vacation and I have a list?

There are very few lists that can bring fear into the soul of someone who was planning to have a couple of beers during “Gilligan’s Island” that afternoon. The Shopping List (not “a” shopping list, The Shopping List. The one where your wife asks you to buy Tampons), Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s list of communist sympathizers, and the Mob’s hit list are nothing compared to a list your wife makes and drops on your head the first day of vacation.

I looked at the table. A piece of paper was propped against the saltshaker. As I approached the list, I could tell the message wasn’t going to be good – she’d used red ink.

Jason’s To-Do List By FRIDAY.

Great, I love deadlines, especially those written with letters shaped like little daggers.

1. Power wash the house.

2. Patch the sidewalk.

3. Wash the carpets.

4. Move the heaviest thing we own to the basement.

5. Move the second heaviest thing we own from the basement.

6. Mow the lawn.

8. Write treatise on the eternal struggle between good and evil through the eyes of Hannah Montana.

9. Pave the driveway.

10. Pull the Earth’s orbit closer to the Sun. We’re having the Smiths over for a barbecue this weekend and I’d like the weather to be nice.

Wow, that’ll take my whole vacation.

Guys, we really need to take back our vacations and our own manliness. Our days of earned sloth should not be wasted repairing the house and performing preventative automotive maintenance. We’re men, and we’ll get to it right after the ballgame.

There. I feel better. I’m going to make my own list, starting with No. 1: Be a man. I’ll work on that next week, after I figure out how to pull the Earth out of orbit.

Copyright 2008 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available at, or Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

My Kid Can Talk – Now I Can't Get Away With Anything

My life has changed. The change was drastic, but it happened so slowly I didn’t realize anything was different until I got busted – our three-year-old can tattle.

(A clip from the 2007 Emmy Award-winning sitcom hit, “The Toddler and Me.”)

My wife: Did you give our son chocolate milk?

Me: Pfft. No. Of course not. Remember, we agreed chocolate milk was a special treat. I’m saving it for his high school graduation. Shhh. It’s a surprise.

(Cue laugh track.)

The Boy: Goot blot habba poo.

My wife: OK, I’m glad we’re on the same page.

(Cue laugh track.)

It was a perfect balance of the Boy’s perception of the world (everything’s big and I’m hungry), his ability to express that perception (Hey, big people. If I don’t get some peanut butter and crackers pronto, there will be screeching), and the fact that I like to give him chocolate milk for no reason.

At the time, I thought what my wife didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me. The problem is, now she knows and, yes, it hurts.

(A clip from the 2008 Emmy Award-winning drama, “That Dead Dad.”)

My wife: Did you give our son candy?

Me: No. Of course not, he didn’t finish his peas.

The Boy: I got Tootsie Rolls, Mom. And a sucker.

(Cue ominous orchestral music.)

My wife: I thought we agreed … oh, never mind. You’re taking that quiz in Parenting Today’s Child Who Has One Crappy Parent Magazine, mister. And tomorrow night, we’re watching the Dr. Phil special, “My son’s in al-Qaida because my idiot husband fed him Twix.”

Oh, yeah. Things have changed.

1) I can no longer watch Dirty Harry movies while the children are awake. Although a three-year-old saying, “Do you feel lucky today? Well, do ya, punk?” might sound adorable to you, when those words come out of their kid, most mothers have a worse sense of humor than the CIA.

2) I can no longer imitate Mommy when she’s not watching.

The Boy: Oh, look at me. I’m Mommy. I say “no.” I make corn flakes for breakfast. I say “blah, blah, blah…”

My wife: Where did he learn that?

Me: TV. PBS sure has gone downhill.

The Boy: Daddy, show her what she looks like when she’s sleeping.

3) I can no longer go to Hooters.

My wife: So, what did you two do for lunch?

Me: We had chicken.

The Boy: The jiggly lady in orange pants gave Daddy beer and hot wings.

Me: (Cue the laugh track. For the love of God, please cue the laugh track.)

4) I can no longer watch sports in front of the children. One little “@#$% after an interception and guess who’s in trouble for something somebody repeated in Sunday school? A wife’s perception of what’s right and what’s wrong obviously doesn’t include a quarterback throwing into double coverage.

Just wait until you’re a teenager kid, then guess who’ll be tattling to Mommy.

Copyright 2008 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available at, or Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Greatest Breakfast Cereal in the Known Universe Is Back

My wife came home from the store with something special. I could tell by the way she grinned as she held something behind her back.

Admittedly, she could have been holding a machete, but I prefer to be an optimist in these situations.

“Close your eyes,” she said. “I have a surprise for you.”

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, I thought, pinching my eyes tight just in case I was wrong about the machete. A present for me? Yes, I’ve been a good boy.

It’s not often parents get presents. Five uninterrupted minutes on the toilet is usually gift enough. Many presentless holidays have gone by just fine because of that anniversary I got to spend on the can.

The surprise had to be something I wanted, or the secrecy would have just been mean.

Is it beer? Is it beer? Is it beer? I wondered. No, it’s not my birthday. The “Girls Gone Wild: Suburban Boise Idaho Community College” video? No, it wasn’t Christmas, either.

“Open your eyes,” she said.

You know the feeling when your team wins the championship? Your candidate gets elected? Someone doesn’t laugh when you ask them on a date? Yeah, it was kind of like that.

Oh, Quaker Oats, god of breakfast, lord of sweet yellow milk, heaper of the blessed sugar. Thou hast been kind.

“Do you like it?” she asked, holding a big blue box of Quisp, the breakfast cereal that made an elementary school me eager to pop out of bed just for the sugar rush.

Oh, the memories. Quisp watched Godzilla movies with me after school. Quisp got me going before a Little League game. It even, I believe, helped ward off vampires.

Oh, yeah. I liked.

Quisp, a little pink space alien drawn by Rocky and Bullwinkle animators Jay Ward and Bill Scott, brought his first shipment of space cereal – shaped like flying saucers – from Planet Q in 1965. In 1972, Quisp and his archenemy Quake (who made earthquake-powered cereal … whatever) entered the democratic process and America elected Quisp the best cereal ever.

Then something happened. Much like Gerald Ford, Quisp disappeared from the public eye in the late 1970s.

“Where did you find it?” I asked, taking the box from her hands as gently as a surgeon transplanting a liver.

Does she have a time machine? I wondered. And if she does, why didn’t she kill Hitler?

“Dollar General,” she said. “For a dollar.”

A dollar? A dollar for the cereal that could even make Saturday mornings with Scrappy Doo spectacular? That’s smart shopping.

I opened the box, poured golden flying saucers into a bowl, added milk, and transported back to 1972.

Quisp, I don’t care where you’ve been – even if it was a Mexican prison, anywhere in France or rehab – I’m happy you’re back. And that bowl of cereal? Oh, yeah. It was sweet.

Copyright 2008 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available from, or Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Trash Can Hypnotized Our Baby

The living room was quiet. Normally, quiet is good, unless you have children then you know the house may explode at any moment.

The silence worried me because our three-year-old boy was in the living room with his one-year-old sister. When the Boy and the Baby are alone in the same room and neither one is screaming, either all is well or she’s unconscious.

Following Dad Dictums No. 12 (expect the worst) and 13 (the kids are always out to get you), I leaned into the room slowly, like a hit man. The Boy stood over his train set making “choo-choo” noises. And the Baby was … the Baby was gone.

No, wait. She wasn’t gone; she was on the move. And, since she’s at the zombie stage of walking, “on the move” wasn’t all that fast.

The Baby looked around to make sure she was unwatched and toddled into the kitchen holding a toy cell phone and sunglasses. Hmm, I wonder if she’s been watching “The OC” again?

I listened as she padded across the linoleum with little feet we can’t keep socks on, followed by a soft thud. The Baby came out of the kitchen a few seconds later with no cell phone – and no sunglasses.

“What were you doing?” I asked, stepping into the room. She looked up, squealed like ET running from Drew Barrymore, and scampered away.

There are four universal truths when it comes to young children:

1) As a parent, you’ll eventually accept snot as part of your wardrobe.

2) Although you swear your three-year-old can recite the Gettysburg Address backward, when you put him on the phone with Grandma he stares vacantly into space.

3) Your one-year-old only waves bye-bye after visitors have driven home.


4) The kitchen trash can is the pagan god of babies.

I picked up my daughter, stepped into the kitchen and lifted the trash can lid. Yes, there were her toy phone, sunglasses and my favorite hat sitting atop a pile of salmonella surprise.

She giggled because she’d gotten away with another drop and dash.

Why, I wondered, is my daughter obsessed with the kitchen trash can when there are so many of her brother’s toys to chew on? Do babies like the smell of coffee grounds and eggshells? Does the bin have its own gravitational pull? Or is it the +1 Trash Can of Summoning I found playing Dungeons and Dragons back in college?

“Honey,” I said, shaking my finger at the plastic bin. “You know you’re not supposed to touch that.”

She said, “Pffft,” and took off toward her brother’s toys.

Sure, I’ll hear screaming soon, but at least I’ll know she’s not in the trash can … or unconscious.

Copyright 2008 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available from, or Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Don't Send in the Clowns ... Please

The thing called to me from a tiny part in the crowd, its puffy hands sweeping toward its chest like the mere motion would pull me closer.

Does anyone else see this? my five-year-old mind wondered. Probably not. If they could see this thing, they wouldn’t be able to ignore its bone-white skin, bulbous nose, and crimson lips stretched hideously wide for a human face. It must be invisible.

The milling crowd on the street briefly obscured the thing … all but its feet, its huge red feet. A hand shot above the crowd, moving like a periscope. My little fingers gripped Mom’s hand tighter as I watched the beast’s handscope gaze land on me.

As the milling people shuffled away the thing came back into view. It’s going to eat me, I thought as it blew bubbles from some beastly druidic wand.

“Jason,” Mom said, breaking the hypnotic hold this demon had on me. “Let’s go see the clown.”

I wet my pants.

Clowns freak me out. The makeup, the funny hats, the handkerchief that never ends – Hitler always carried one in his breast pocket, you know. And why the baggy clothes? Are they for hiding hunks of raw meat in case they get hungry later? Terrified people want to know.

A Reuters headline about a recent University of Sheffield study embraced me like a big fuzzy episode of “The X Files.” The headline read, “Don’t send in the clowns.”

I knew it … I’m not alone.

It turns out children don’t like clowns. Duh. We’re told from birth, “don’t talk to strangers,” “don’t take candy from strangers,” “stay away from Uncle Barney.” Then, at any street fair/circus/parade/birthday party organized by disturbed parents/police lineup, our parents throw us into the arms of someone wearing more makeup than a TV evangelist.

Parents, make up your minds, or at least narrow your definition of “stranger.” A man wearing greasepaint who climbs out of a tiny car with 15 other guys should probably be classified a stranger.

The study, initiated to make hospital children’s wards more comforting, found introducing paintings of clowns corresponded with a spike of children attacking the paintings with hatchets.

OK, so I made that part up.

The study actually found the 250 four to 16-year-old patients surveyed just didn’t like clowns; the older children were even afraid of them.

"As adults we make assumptions about what works for children," Penny Curtis, a senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield recently told Reuters. "We found that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them quite frightening and unknowable."

Yeah, I never really felt comfortable with Ronald McDonald. If he has to tell me my meal is “happy,” there’s something a little sinister to his agenda.

It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

Copyright 2008 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available now. Order it from, or Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Parenting Just Got High-Tech

The baby was asleep when my wife went into her room. Well, at least the baby should have been asleep. Children, as a rule, only do what their parents want if it fits into their schedule.

Baby (translated from “bllll” noises): Sleep? At bedtime? Pencil me in somewhere around 10 a.m. Thursday.

Secretary (usually invisible): You have a play date at 10 a.m. Thursday, but you’re behind on Making Mom Look Bad points, so it might work out.

Baby: Excellent. Make it so.

Going to sleep on time rarely fits into a child’s schedule.

My wife turned off the hall light, slowly pushed open the baby’s bedroom door and slipped inside the dark room. Waking a baby at bedtime means parents can’t spend the rest of the night doing things we always tell them not to … like blowing bubbles in our milk.

As my wife’s eyes adjusted to the dark, the corner of the room with the crib was still about as well-lit as an X-Files episode.

There are times when an idea crawls out of your head and shakes you so hard it’s almost religious. It was like that with Edison and the light bulb. It was like that with Einstein and relativity. And it was like that for my wife

I wish I had night vision goggles, she thought.

Oh, yeah, night-vision goggles. If the people at Babies R Us had any sense, they’d stock night-vision goggles right next to the breast pumps. Or, maybe …

You want to make sure the baby’s OK without turning on the light? You want to see why it’s taking your teenage daughter so long to get out of her date’s car? You want to catch you spouse eating spoonfuls of peanut butter at 3 a.m.?

You can. Just go to* and you can have it all.

The Catalogue

Night-vision goggles: See everything you need to: snipers, Charlie, your three-year-old planting Little People landmines along the night-night trail.

GPS Tracking Devices: Not only are these good for following your teen on every step of his/her date, it’ll save you that nervous call from the home when grandma goes missing again.

Hand-Held Metal Detectors:
Sweep every date … and your kid. If there’s a piercing you can’t see, trust me, you’ll find it.

Video Surveillance: In-home spying isn’t just for the government anymore. Is your three-year-old snitching cookies? Is your husband smoking? Is your live-in grandpa a blacklisted McCarthy communist sympathizer? Placing a video camera in teddy bears, toilets and dentures will make your home safe for democracy.

Bomb Robot: This remote-controlled police bomb detonator is a full-featured robot for hazardous duty operations, such as picking up and disposing of a Level IV Full-Fiber Diaper.

Jet Pack: As a parent, have you ever wanted to get away? To your quiet spot? To Portugal? The Parentscapist Jet Pack 2000 – with whining buffer – will take you some place safe from your kids. Even if you’re just flying around the room, they won’t be able to touch you.

So, when you’re looking for the latest in parental-stealth devices, will make your family wonder just what the heck hit them.

*Not a real Web site. If it’s ever a real Web site, I’m retiring early.

Copyright 2008 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available now. Order it from, or Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.