Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Family Vacation Part IV: Showdown at the Train Museum

Author’s note: This is the last of a four-part story of my family’s summer vacation. We made it out alive.

The steam-converted-to-diesel train engine was bigger than my house. Its wheels stood a good six inches over my 5’10” head and the photograph I took of my son in front of the engine made me wonder where he was in the picture.

“When it first ran, the wheels turned so fast it pulled the rails out of the ground,” our tour guide at the Railswest Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa, said.

I don’t doubt it. Although the engine looked harmless now, when that barn-sized mass of metal moved, I’m sure it shook the earth like Tom Jones did Vegas.

Council Bluffs, sitting just across the Missouri River from Omaha, Neb., is a pivotal piece of U.S. railway history. It was the eastern terminus of the transcontinental railroad … oh, who am I kidding? The kids didn’t care.

The Boy, four, ran through the yard and, after a head-nod from our guide, stormed up steps and into the cab of a steam engine.

The Boy loves trains. If given the choice between pulling his sister out of the path of stampeding Clydesdales and watching an engine shunt freight cars, he’d pick the rail yard.

The Girl, two, loves trains only because it annoys the hell out of her brother.

“Do you know what this is?” our tour guide asked, pointing at a car behind the engine.

“The tender,” the Boy, and of course it was. For readers whose child isn’t obsessively fixated on trains, the tender held water for the boiler and coal for the firebox of steam engines. I didn’t know that until the Boy learned to speak.

Our tour guide was really exceptional. She was patient, businesslike and probably knew quite a bit about trains. I’m just assuming that, of course, because we couldn’t hear a word she said.

“No, my do it,” the Girl screamed in a pitch that may have only been audible to dolphins.

“Mine,” the Boy bellowed, wrestling her over controls of an engine that no longer ran.

And so on.

Back when this engine thundered over the railroad tracks that stretched across this country, there was a way to deal with people like this – toss them off the train, preferably as you were crossing a trestle. It was a more civilized era.

Next came the dining car where …

“I went poopy, Daddy,” the Girl said to her mother. Our two-year-old can tell us apart – she breastfed after all – but sometimes calls me Mommy. She just wants to keep us guessing.

Please enjoy this brief interlude while my wife changes the Girl’s diaper in our minivan. The Boy sure did.

The guide then took us through a mail car and caboose, but after dropping something old and maybe irreplaceable out an open window, my wife hauled the Girl off like a mail sack, if mail sacks screeched.

We past a lot of busy freight trains during our two-hour drive home, although no one saw them but me. I was the only one still awake – I was driving.

Copyright 2009 by Jason Offutt

You can order Jason’s books on the paranormal, “Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us,” and “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” at

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Family Vacation Part III: Flying Death at the Henry Doorly Zoo

Author’s note: This is the third of a four-part story of my family’s summer vacation. By now the inside of the minivan smells funny.

Sundays as a kid were borderline fantastic.

The day started with a pile of fried pork and hash browns covered in gravy. That was followed by church, hamburgers, a Tarzan movie and “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.”

“Wild Kingdom” was the pinnacle of Sunday programming for a 10-year-old boy because, unlike the “Wonderful World of Disney,” there was a chance I’d get to see a 250-pound feline gut a wildebeest.

Zoologist Marlin Perkins hosted the program throughout the 1960s and ’70s and never got close to an animal unless it climbed into the front seat of his Jeep. But his co-host, Jim Fowler was nearly killed every episode. Jim’s job was to wrestle whatever beast nature threw at him: lions, anacondas, yaks, rancors, the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms – anything. But never a blonde. I always felt sorry for Jim.

I wasn’t thinking about Jim as my family and I walked toward the entrance of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo (home of the Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom Pavilion); I was thinking of Marlin. My family was going to experience animals like Marlin had and just as nature intended – from behind a thick sheet of glass.

With the drunken frivolity of the College World Series (see Part 2) safely outside and across the street, we met my wife’s college friends and their families ready to tour one of the best zoos in the Midwest.

The zoo, founded as Riverview Park zoo in 1894, attracts more than 1 million visitors a year to its indoor desert, indoor rain forest, great ape exhibits and an aquarium that holds 1.3 million gallons of salt water. Oh, and sharks. Lots and lots of sharks.

But it was at the indoor rain forest where the spirit of Marlin Perkins watched from a safe bench outside as our group braved the interior.

Water drips from the upper reaches of the Lied Jungle, and howler monkeys fill the air with their hoots. Immense fish, big enough to swallow a human baby, swim in a shallow indoor creek as tapirs wander the banks. A rope bridge, a tunnel teeming with vampire bats, and dirt trails lead visitors through re-creations of the jungles of Asia, Africa and South America.

The Lied Jungle, we later discovered, is something called a “total immersion exhibit,” which, translated into English, meant one of us was going to be attacked by a monkey.

My wife’s friend Debbie pushed her three-year-old son Ben through the South American rain forest, Ben nibbling at Cheerios scattered on the tray of his stroller, and everyone oblivious to the orange flying death that stalked them.

The green and white sign on a wooden placard in the rainforest read: “Please DO NOT Climb Tree,” although no one could read it through the one-pound golden lion tamarin streaking through the air.

The tiny monkey thumped onto Ben’s tray, scattering Cheerios onto the rainforest floor. The adults screamed. Ben screamed, his relationship with Curious George ruined forever. The other children screamed. The monkey screamed … and possibly pooped.

Terrified of the giant howling humans, the tamarin leapt into the trees and escaped to safety.

The rest of the zoo was impressive and fun, but much less threatening.

Thanks, Jim Fowler, that was the best zoo trip ever.

Next week: The Railswest Railroad Museum.

Copyright 2009 by Jason Offutt

You can order Jason’s books on the paranormal, “Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us,” and “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” at

Saturday, July 04, 2009

My Family Vacation Part II: Dodging The College World Series

Author’s note: This is the second of a four-part story of my family’s summer vacation. If you want to pray for me, it’s too late.

Cars, tents, campers, lawn chairs and banners for Division 1 schools like LSU, Arkansas, Virginia and Texas decorated the parking lots of Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium like a preschool art project. The colors made me a little woozy.

It was Day One of the 2009 College World Series, it was 7:30 a.m., and traffic was backed up for blocks; which was good for the scalpers, who were also backed up for blocks. The last time I’d seen that many cardboard signs was on a Chicago off ramp.

The average attendance for the College World Series over the past five years has been 278,321, which, compared to the city’s population of 432,921, the stadium seating capacity of 23,100, and the just more than 10,000 hotel rooms in Omaha, meant there were a lot of people in town with nothing to do except get in my way.

But my family and I weren’t in Omaha for the College World Series, which caused a problem with parking. We were on vacation and taking our children to a Midwest vacation mecca – the Henry Doorly Zoo. At least 50 weeks out of the year there’s decent parking at the zoo, which shares parking lots with the stadium, because for 50 weeks the city doesn’t host the series.

I don’t plan well.

“The zoo opens at 8:30 a.m. Saturday,” my wife said as we settled into the scary hotel of death (see Part 1). “We should get there early. Let’s go.”

It was 7 p.m. Friday.

We weren’t alone in this quest to have fun in a city that’s best chance at tourism dollars was to ignore us and cater to people waving banners. My wife’s college friends and a few of their husbands were in town, and we were all going to the zoo. That made nine adults and nine children, all under six. I was scared. I can barely contain my own kids. What if one of the other parents had to go to the bathroom?

We drove slowly onto the street that leads to the stadium and zoo behind vehicles with college flags and foam fingers, packing the giant parking lot like it was a sausage. And we found a spot – easily.

The zoo, unlike me, planned ahead. Any vehicle could park in the zoo’s special parking lot if the people inside paid zoo admission.

Clipboard Guy:
How many adults in the vehicle?

Me: Two.

Clipboard Guy: You have to pay zoo admission to park here.

Me: I know.

Clipboard Guy: I mean, you can go to the games, just know we’re going to use your money to buy pizza.

Me: We’re going to the zoo.

Clipboard Guy (looking at me like Congress looks at Supreme Court nominees): That’ll be $23.

I’m sure the carload of geniuses from the University of Texas who spent $69 to park next to us, and were now drinking Natural Light from the trunk of their Saturn at 7:30 a.m., were going to the zoo, too.

Next week: The zoo.

Copyright 2009 by Jason Offutt

You can order Jason’s books on the paranormal, “Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us,” and “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” at

Friday, June 26, 2009

My Family Vacation Part I: The Motel of Death

Author’s note: This is the first of a four-part story of my family’s summer vacation. I can’t claim it on my taxes if I don’t write about it.

The motel looked good from the outside, as well it should have; it was in a nice town like Omaha. Clean, new, right off the interstate and within a few minutes drive of everything my family would need on vacation.

It was the inside that concerned us.

Although the lobby felt like a room after an argument (the kind of argument that results in widely-scattered blood and several arrests), the motel wasn’t really bad. I’d been in a bad motel before, in Colorado:

Mountain mornings are fantastic, but when I awoke staring at the flowery wallpaper that clashed with every other pattern in the industrialized world, instead of throwing open the curtains and drawing in the majesty that is the Rocky Mountains, I turned on the television, because I’m an American.

“Tragedy unfolded this morning,” the cute, just-out-of-college reporter who always gets the 6 a.m. weekend shift, said as she stood in a parking lot, “as an argument turned deadly in a room at this (insert cheap motel name here).”

I smiled, only because it didn’t involve me.

But as the camera panned out to show the exterior of the motel, I noticed something that slapped me as hard as that girl did in college.

Good Lord, I realized. The reporter’s standing next to my car.

That was the worst motel I’ve been to. This was the second.

I’d made reservations over the phone – something I’ll rethink the next time we go on vacation. Reserving a motel room in Omaha, Neb., from a woman in Bombay, India, is surprisingly impersonal. I was happy with the great deal I’d gotten, but disappointed there was no pool.

However, when the guy whose forearm tattoos boasting “blood, death and Satan,” checked me in, I got over that “no swimming pool” thing. There may have been a body floating in it.

“Did you see the writing in the hallway?” my wife asked as I rushed my family into our room, secured every lock on the door, and booby-trapped a shotgun pointing chest-high at anyone who might walk in. I hoped housekeeping knocked.

Yeah, I’d seen the words, “Blood Gang,” outside our door. I’d also seen the crowbar marks where someone had once broken in, although I kept telling myself he’d simply misplaced his card-key.

“Are you nervous?” she asked, because I was. It must have been the sweat, or the involuntary shakes that tipped her off.

It was my own fault. I didn’t discover I was trying to book a room two days in advance of the College World Series until I tried to book a room two days in advance of the College World Series. It was now the “Blood Gang” room or the streets.

“No, I said, reaching for the room’s mini-fridge. “If we don’t touch anything, or go near the window, or sleep, or … oh, look at that. A head.”

Well, it wasn’t a head. It was a half-empty bottle of something orange and a cucumber. Either way, I wasn’t about to touch it.

Next week: The Henry Doorly Zoo and College World Series parking.

Copyright 2009 by Jason Offutt

You can order Jason’s books on the paranormal, “Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us,” and “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” at

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why Is It Always the Groin?

The Girl ran through the water with all the energy her two-year-old toddlerness could muster, which is approximately enough to power Detroit through a rough winter.

Her mother and I have, of course, told her not to run at the pool 1,001 times. This is not hyperbole; we’ve kept track.

“Daddy, Daddy,” she screamed, although her mother and I have, of course, told her not to scream at the pool.

We’re no longer surprised she doesn’t hear us. All parents will eventually realize their children only consider them “those big people who give us food.” When they’re teens that turns into, “those people who embarrass us/give us money/gave us their hairline.” What we say isn’t really important. You know, like “don’t play in the street,” “don’t eat the thing wrapped in foil in the back of the fridge,” “study.”

“Honey, don’t run at the …” I started, but was stopped by a sudden blinding pain.

Using a cursory, “awe, isn’t she cute,” glance, a child looks like a soft little bundle of fluff that is fun to play with. In reality, a child is pointy, possesses at least six knees, 14 elbows and a head I’m convinced was built on the planet Krypton.

I bent forward, but not voluntarily.

The groin, I wondered as the pain subsided and I could see shapes and colors again. Why is it always the groin?

Fathers, I’ve found – the hard way, and don’t think I haven’t cursed my father for not warning me – spend roughly 37 percent of their day working, 29 percent sleeping (mostly in front of the television), 19 percent eating/driving/thinking about cheerleaders, and 15 percent in the fetal position gasping for air.

What I wouldn’t give for a bruised thigh or a fat lip. At least then I wouldn’t wonder why we spent all that money for a vasectomy when it was going to be done at home for free. I usually wonder this while lying in a pool of my own tears.

“What’s wrong?” my wife asked.

“Hhhhhheeeeeehhhh,” I wheezed.

“She got you again?” she said, trying her best to sound sympathetic.

I nodded.

Ladies, you’re wonderful understanding people who have absolutely no clue what I’m talking about. When this injury happens in the movies, everyone laughs, Dad gets up and goes about his business, which usually involves doing something socially awkward in front of his kid’s friends. Hollywood is founded on lies. When this happens in real life, everyone still laughs, but Dad doesn’t get up.

When the color came back to my face, we left. Not because of me, the kids were tired after dragging me out of the water.

On the ride home, the Girl and the Boy screamed when they saw a woman walking her golden retriever down the street.

“Maybe we should get a dog,” my wife said.

Great, that’s just what I need, another pointy thing in the house.

Copyright 2009 by Jason Offutt

You can order Jason’s books on the paranormal, “Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us,” and “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” at

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Rules of Being Protestant

There are accepted rules when it comes to being Protestant.

The host is crackers and grape juice, which leaves Protestants of today worrying about the number of carbs they’re taking in on Sunday morning.

At some point, usually near the end of the service, someone will pass a plate down your pew. You’re supposed to put money in it. Just picture yourself at a party in college although nobody’s going to return with a fresh keg.

You’re supposed to sit quietly, unless it’s time to sing, then it’s acceptable to mumble because there are plenty of people who’ll sing over you, just like in elementary school.

And children get their own special sermon at the front of the sanctuary, during which they sit looking at the back of the sanctuary to see if their parents are watching.

This is the Boy’s favorite part of the service. He loves to wave at us.

“Would the children like to come forward?” the preacher asked.

A few children, pushed into the aisles by their parents, ventured forward. The Boy sprinted. He’d already sat still 10 whole minutes.

But something unexpected happened; the Girl squirmed out of my wife’s arms.

“I wann go, too,” she said.

What? She’d never asked to go to the children’s sermon before. She’d always been content to color, practice saying Daddy’s special “football words,” or sit in the nursery and win animal crackers off the other toddlers at craps.

But the children’s sermon? She’s only two. The Boy’s four, he can handle the responsibility of sitting on steps quietly and waving. He also has the advantage of never pulling a skirt over his head.

“Are you sure?” my wife asked.

“Uh huh,” the Girl said and we let her follow her brother to the front.

There’s something about a pretty little girl in a pink dress and ponytail that doesn’t scream, “I’ll age you prematurely,” but my wife and I are no longer fooled.

The Girl walked in the general direction of the children’s sermon and stopped.

“She’s not going up there,” my wife whispered.

She was right.

The Girl turned, looked at us, grinned, and started weaving her way through the empty rows of pews that always dominate the front of Protestant church services. Muffled laughter ran through the congregation, not necessarily because this was cute – it was – but because everyone knew it embarrassed the heck out of us.

“When she comes close enough,” my wife said, “I’m going to grab her.”

The Girl crept closer. My wife watched her like a lion stalking a gazelle. Three feet away she looked at my wife, turned and skittered back down the aisle.

“Don’t look her in the eyes,” my wife said. “She’s like a wild animal. If she knows we’re looking at her, she won’t get close to us.”

So we employed the deer in the forest “if I can’t see it, it can’t see me” technique and my wife finally caught her. Yes, the Child Running Loose in the Sanctuary Routine is one of the accepted rules of being a Protestant. And it’s cute, as long as the dress stays below her head.

Copyright 2009 by Jason Offutt

You can order Jason’s books on the paranormal, “Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us,” and “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” at

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Toddlers, Teenagers -- They're All The Same

The toddler screamed. You know, toddlers scream a lot.

“No,” she wailed, yanking her hand out of mine. “My do it.”

We were crossing the street and when it comes to the street, my wife and I have four rules for our four- and two-year-old, 1) look both ways before going into the street, 2) never go into the street, 3) if crossing the street with Mommy or Daddy, hold one of their hands, and 4) if you violate rules One through Three, you’re shipped to work hard labor in a Siberian logging camp in 1974.

The Girl wanted to violate Rule Three. Not on my watch, chicky-pie.

She screamed again, mainly because I’d tucked her under my arm like a football and, for some reason, she didn’t like it. Toddlers have control problems – if they’re not in control, it’s a problem.

“Just wait until she’s 16,” my wife said, holding the hand of our non-screaming four-year-old son, who had to be enjoying this. “Then we’re really in trouble.

The Girl at 16? Oh, dear Lord. We could already see what was coming. The clothes, the fingernail polish, the Girl still thinking she can cross the street on her own.

“No, no. Put me down. Put me down. Put me down,” the Girl screamed, and screamed, and screamed, and screamed. I could only assume she thought repeating the same thing over and over would work, even though it never does. The Girl unsuccessfully employs this method when asking to watch extra television, get candy, drink coffee, or take the minivan out for a death race with those punks from the Pretty Pony Daycare. Although my wife and I appreciate her tenacity, her success rate is as low as Middle East peace talks.

Yeah, toddlers are teenagers, only shorter.

In a couple of years when the Girl decides to pull up her skirt and chew on the hem during the pre-school Christmas program, it’ll be OK. If it happens in 14 years, our house will get calls from the principal, the pastor, angry parents, and a bunch of teenage boys asking her for a date.

By the way, the answer is no, jerks.

I put the Girl down on the other side of the street and she stopped screaming, squinted at me, stomped down the sidewalk in a huff, and, if she’d had the motor skills to give me The Finger, she just may have done it.

Yep, toddlers are teenagers.

- They both yell, “I’ll get it, I’ll get it,” and sprint through the house whenever the telephone rings.

- They’re both fascinated with cell phones, computers and remote controls, and they both know how to operate these devices better than you.

- Hygiene is only an issue when it’s inconvenient for them.

- TV ranks ahead of Mom and Dad. … So do soft drinks, playing with dust particles in the window, and anything else I care to write.

- A lot of times you can’t understand what they’re saying. With toddlers, it eventually gets better.

- They both love body art. For a toddler, it’s Sharpie-colored fingernails and a Scooby Doo sticker on their shirt. For a teen, it’s a visible “why can’t I get a job?” piercing and a Scooby Doo tattoo on their butt.

- They both want to pick out their own clothes. When a toddler decides to wear a skirt so small her diaper shows, it’s cute. When a teenager wears a skirt so small her panties show, Daddy hemorrhages.

- At some point, they both hate you. Toddlers make up faster because they can’t pour their own milk.

- They both want to make their own mistakes. For a toddler, this is done while discovering the laws of Newtonian physics – like gravity. For a teen, it’s going to the wrong kind of party, being on Facebook instead of studying, or going to a college Daddy hates and for which he won’t pay a penny of tuition.

Yep, I’m already thinking about that. Keep it in mind that the next time we cross the street.

Copyright 2009 by Jason Offutt

You can order Jason’s books on the paranormal, “Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us,” and “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” at

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Toddler's Trip to the ER

Blood was everywhere. I’ll get to that later.

Sunlight streamed through the open front door as the Boy, 4, and the Girl, 2, elbowed each other to see who could get out the door first. A clear, warm day after being trapped inside by the weather turns small children into very cross rugby players.

Then I made my first mistake of the day.

Parents make mistakes all the time, like rescuing their child instead of letting them learn the hard way, taking their eyes off the road because the girl jogging had something written across the seat of her shorts, and giving a teenage boy keys to anything – especially if you live in a neighborhood where girls jog with words across the seat of their shorts.

But I violated Parental Rule No. 152: Don’t let children with a history of pushing each other out of your sight – ever.

The door slammed and I … paused … to … grab … my … glass … of … tea. The screaming started immediately.

Outside, the Girl was face-first on the concrete at the foot of our front steps. The Boy was standing next to her holding the handlebar of his bicycle.

“What happened?” I said, scooping the Girl off the sidewalk, expecting a complete denial of any wrongdoing – no matter how lame – by the Boy. I was used to it.

“She fell,” he said and, unlike the times my wife and I find her crying in a pile of Little People*, I believed him.

I looked at her. Blood was everywhere.

Scalp injuries involving children are usually minor things that produce enough blood to make, 1) weak parents faint, and 2) the strong ones fondly remember their favorite “Friday the 13th” movie.

Standing at the foot of the steps, holding my sweet little girl who now looked like Carrie at the prom, I had a vision. It was of her at 16 years old, and she was pointing to a half-inch scar on her forehead.

“I could have been homecoming queen,” she screamed. “Except for this. Thanks for not taking me to the hospital, Dad. My life is ruined.”

Good Lord, like I wanted that hanging over me.

The cut was wide enough for stitches. My dad would have rubbed butter on the gash and laughed because we were wimpy enough to need butter for a blood-gushing wound. But Dad was from a generation that boasted concussions and fewer fingers.

We were in the ER five minutes later. Parental lesson learned: bad parenting is educational.

Three stitches, an adhesive bandage, a bunch of Daddy’s signatures on papers with words too small to read, and two chocolate ice cream cones later, we were home.

And all this happened while Mommy was at the store. The hard part of Daddy’s day wasn’t over yet.

*For people without children, these are a line of toys, not leprechauns, fairies, elves or Oompa Loompas. Well, maybe Oompa Loompas.

Copyright 2009 by Jason Offutt

You can order Jason’s books, “Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us,” and “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” at

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lesson learned? Revenge is pretty sweet

The homecoming float was almost finished.

I hopped in the cab of the John Deere tractor and pulled the lever controlling the hydraulics. The cylinder, used to lift and lower farm implements into the ground, was now connected to a giant Orrick High School mascot.

The mascot, a bearcat made out of chicken wire and stuffed with black and yellow napkins, stood on a wagon hitched to the tractor. It slowly lifted a plastic barrel over where its head would eventually be and brought the barrel down again.


Our senior float captured the wholesome, romantic and Shakespearean essence of Donkey Kong. I just hoped the wind kept down during the parade, or it would end up naked.

The art kids were finishing up the giant papier mâché head, then our float would be ready for the parade, “Homecoming ‘83: Video Maniacs.”

I don’t know who came up with that theme, I just hoped they weren’t very proud of themselves.

It was cold in the barn our float was hidden in, and I was glad. I’d stashed a couple of Dad’s beers in the tractor cab for the parade and I’d hate for them to get warm.

I was going to be the driver. Kaz was riding shotgun, keeping his eye on the float to make sure it didn’t go out of control and kill bystanders.

Yeah, that “Best Float” ribbon was going to be ours. The senior class almost always won first place. Sure, it took some of the fun out of the competition, but high school seniors are petty, and we wanted that ribbon.

Our only threat would be from the junior class. We’d heard rumors they had a lot of parents helping with their float, but that was all we knew. High school homecoming float construction holds a certain level of secrecy, much like crashed flying saucers do in the government.

But what their float was didn’t matter.

Tomorrow, I’d smile and wave at everyone lining Front Street, sipping stolen beer out of a paper cup and celebrating the junior class’s second-place finish with whatever lame video game they’d chosen.

Oh, yeah. Tomorrow was going to be sweet.

The next day, the junior class won. All that mindless napkin stuffing, all those nights of actual work for nothing.

Kaz and I were sitting in the cab of the tractor before the parade when the float committee gave the first place ribbon to the junior class’s Pac Man float. Even with our creative treatment of Donkey Kong getting even with his oppressors, in this case the opposing football team, the juniors won with something cutesy. Oh, sure, Pac Man’s mouth opened and closed, but … who cares.

“This sucks,” I said.

Kaz looked at me.

“Somebody’s got to do something about this,” he said.

So we did.

Going down Front Street, our second-place Donkey Kong tossing a make-believe barrel at an effigy of a pirate followed the junior class’s Pac Man, with its first-place ribbon. The stolen beer tasted good to me, especially since we’d probably get in trouble if we drew any extra attention to ourselves. Of course, we got lots of attention with the big “Juniors Suck” sign we’d thrown together and hung in the tractor window.

We got in-school suspension for that stunt, but yeah, it was worth it.

Stupid juniors.

You can order Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” at

Friday, March 20, 2009

Who needs pets when you have children?

The kids screamed as my wife pulled the minivan to a stop next to a great tree-strewn lawn and slid open the doors. They popped from their car seats, giggled and ran into the park to chase squirrels.

My wife and I stood there, smiling as our four- and two-year-old dashed between trees, fell, scratched behind their ears, got up distracted by something blown by the wind and took off again.

Yeah, it’s nice to let the kids out to run.

The Girl fell and her brother stopped to help her. Good boy, I thought, and was happy my wife had brought treats. Then, as the Girl took off in a random direction, the Boy peed on a tree.

This behavior in children is, of course, normal. However, the following thought might encourage a personal visit from the Division of Family Services, a court-appointed counselor or Jesus. As we stood watching our children do things they’d better not do when they go to kindergarten, my wife dared say that in the first few years of a child’s life, parents treat their babies like dogs.

I was embarrassed to agree with her.

During the course of educating our children, we encourage them to roll over, sit, stand, shake hands, speak, eat out of a bowl and let us know when they have to go to the bathroom.

Children pace at the front door when they want to go outside. They crawl under their bed. We wake up to find they’ve crawled into our bed. They lick. They jump on the couch to look out the window. Their noses are usually wet. They splash in the bathtub then run around the house dripping wet. They hate to have their hair brushed. They whine when they’re hungry. They eat off the floor. They bring you random objects. And, yes, sometimes they have accidents on the carpet.

We parents don’t help. We take the kids for walks, play catch with them, teach them to stay in the yard, encourage them to do tricks, and some parents even put leashes on their children when they go to the mall.

When they’re tired, a small child will crawl up into a parent’s lap. And what does the parent do? Pet them.

We take our children to parks and lakes so they have room to run and some parents even put their kids in shows.

We tell our children how to behave, and tell them, “no,” when they don’t. Then, when the child does something right, we pat their head.

When our son was two, he said he wanted a dog. Instead, we gave him a little sister. I’m not sure he’s satisfied with that; she’s too stubborn to fetch.

Copyright 2009 by Jason Offutt

You can order Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” at