Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Discovery in a jacket

I ended yesterday's essay with a tease. I said that Sunday's controversy arose from the jacket Younger Daughter borrowed because she had lost her own sometime during Saturday's revels (at Middle Son's apartment, she says, but this has still not yet been confirmed).

Younger Daughter needed a jacket because she was coming with me to the Northwest Side Irish Parade. The parade runs down Northwest Highway in my little corner of Chicago, within walking distance of my home. So we planned to walk.

Younger Daughter grabbed her little brother's fleece. It was similar to the one she lost, only much larger.

It was a two-tone North Face fleece jacket. In addition to the two side pockets one might expect on any jacket, there was apparently an interior pocket, along the zipper line, where one might put a driver's license or glasses or... in this case... a can of chewable tobacco.

Youngest Son had apparently neglected to zip up this interior pocket when he last abandoned his jacket on a chair in the living room. Younger Daughter wasn't looking for the contraband; it simply fell out.


I've never understood the appeal of smokeless tobacco. I've smoked cigarettes and cigars in my day, though if I've had two cigarettes in the last 25 years I haven't had three. I fancied cigars in high school, as much for the shock value as anything. I'd churn out these enormous clouds of smoke to the annoyance and dismay of my fellow high school sophisticates (most of them girls) and their cigarettes. But I never, ever had the urge to 'put just a pinch between my cheek and gum' as the old Walt Garrison commercial instructed.

On the other hand, I understand that athletes, and baseball players in particular, seem attracted to chewing (even if "chewing" seems to me to be more dribbling and spitting). Supposedly, the stuff doesn't sap an athlete of lung capacity ("wind") the way smoking does. Many of Middle Son's friends "dipped" in their time and Younger Daughter advises that, at her school, the baseball players spend far more time chewing tobacco than taking infield or batting practice.

Younger Daughter was placed in an unusual position when the can hit the floor. Traditionally she has been the one busted by surprise discoveries, not the one doing the busting.

There was, for example, the time we caught her with a pay-as-you-go cell phone. This was fairly early in high school, before we surrendered to the inevitable and got all the kids cell phones. Younger Daughter couldn't wait for our resistance to be worn down. No, she was a social pariah without a phone, or so she thought. She would be even more socially handicapped while grounded, however. And, though its not exactly true that Younger Daughter's high school years were the four years she was grounded, it sometimes seemed like it was going to turn out that way.

Anyway, one evening in the winter, when it was dark before dinner, I had occasion to be upstairs when I saw a glow coming from behind the partially open door to Younger Daughter's room. I was frightened -- at first -- because I couldn't figure out what was making that freaky greenish-blue glow. It turned out that Younger Daughter had received a message on the phone, but she wasn't in the room to receive it. And she'd left it out in the open.

That phone has been in my desk now, here at the Undisclosed Location, for years.

And there was the St. Patrick's Day just a couple of years ago, before Younger Daughter turned 21, that she returned home from the parade downtown with a mostly empty pint of Captain Morgan not particularly well concealed in the large bag she was carrying. She didn't think anyone was home because the van wasn't in the driveway -- but Long Suffering Spouse didn't come with me on my errand that afternoon. Long Suffering Spouse was working in the living room when Younger Daughter stumbled in.

"What's that bottle in your bag?" said Long Suffering Spouse when Younger Daughter came into the room.

"What bottle?" asked Younger Daughter, trying to feign innocence.

"That bottle."

"Oh, this?" Younger Daughter pulled out a pennant.


She pulled out her purse.


She went to reach for something else.

"I can see the top of the bottle from here," said Long Suffering Spouse.

And she could.

And then there was the time -- well, never mind. You have the picture now, surely. Younger Daughter is pleased as punch when someone else is in the dock -- happy it's not her -- but she is not used to being the agent of disclosure.

I pocketed the can.

"I didn't mean for that to happen," Younger Daughter said.

"I know," I said and meant it. In the ongoing battle of kids vs. parents, Younger Daughter has never turned snitch.

We went to the parade.

Among the politicians and pipe bands and floats was a trolley bus chartered by a hardware store that hopes to open up on Northwest Highway in the spring. The store owners had engaged kids to run down the parade route on either side of the bus handing out miniature tape measures -- little, round plastic things emblazoned with the name and address and phone number of the store. I took one when it was offered.

"Here," I said to Younger Daughter, "put this in the inside jacket pocket and zip it up."

Younger Daughter did as instructed. She looked a little confused at first, but then the light bulb went off. "Oh," she said. "He'll think that it's still there until he takes it out to look."


"That's kind of mean."

"Good. Don't tell him."

Well, of course she did. Long Suffering Spouse and I had gotten our Sunday obligation out of the way early in the morning, before either of the kids were up, so Younger Daughter and Youngest Son had to go to 6:00pm Mass. That's when she gave my plan away. "He's scared to death," Younger Daughter reported to me, only she expressed it in scatological terms.

Long Suffering Spouse and I had to get Younger Daughter back to her dorm Sunday evening (Spring Break having ended) and I didn't have the opportunity to speak with my youngest until late in the evening.

He was doing homework in his room.

"Do you have anything you wish to tell me?" I began.

"Nothing that you don't already know, apparently," he responded. He didn't look or sound happy about it either.

There followed The Chat. I told him that I didn't want him using this stuff. "If you want to spit and dribble on yourself," I told him, "use sunflower seeds. You like those and there's at least some nourishment in them."

I don't know -- and won't know for some time, if ever -- whether I successfully warded him off the stuff or merely made him more careful about getting caught again.

But I retained one arrow in my quiver -- and I made darn sure Youngest Son knew it.

See, I didn't tell Long Suffering Spouse. I promise you (and Youngest Son well knows) that were she to learn that he was messing with chewing tobacco there would not have been any quiet chat -- there would be an explosion.

A lot of parenting is role playing: Good Cop, Bad Cop. I think this may be hard-wired into the species -- the ability of parents to play Good Cop, Bad Cop is part of the evolutionary advantage conferred on kids raised in two parent families. In our house, we take turns, depending on the issue or who finds out what.

Sunday night was my turn to be Good Cop. Youngest Son's can of tobacco now resides in my desk next to Younger Daughter's pay-as-you-go cell phone.

1 comment:

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Good cop, bad cop? You should have been in the police force.