About The Untamed Shrew

“That wench is stark mad or wonderful froward.” ~William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew (I. i. 69)

Crappe Diem

Why is the youngest generation plagued by a pervasive sense of entitlement?  I have discovered at least one source – diaper rewards programs.  For those who may be less familiar with babies’ backsides, allow me to clue you in to one of the many guerilla marketing tactics used to overwhelm the sleep-deprived, addled brains of parents with young children, particularly those who still demand assistance with their bowels.  Diaper manufacturers incentivize parents to purchase their wares by providing said parents with super secret codes hidden inside diaper packages that can be redeemed for various “rewards” – prizes in the form of trinkets and toys.  It’s sort of like the hidden prizes in Cracker Jacks…with an emphasis on the “crack.”  In effect, dear parents, this means your child is being rewarded for the very act of defecation itself.  (For the sake of full disclosure, my own daughter spent the last year pooping her way to a stuffed, talking poopy…er, puppy.)  Why, then, should we be surprised when our children end up physically grown and still thinking the world owes them – big time – for that big dump they just took?  And let’s be honest – it was magnificent.  How about a round of applause – or at least a moment of silence, which should come as no problem since we’ll all be holding our breath and noses, and donning hazmat suits.

The road to this puppy is paved with poo.

This crappy conundrum is then further compounded by the various prizes that are used to bribe our children to divert their excrement into a flushable device.  In my youth, I was rewarded with a shiny gold star sticker on the calendar for adequately crappy days – innocuous enough.  Yet juvenile demands have since escalated, and expectations include promises of Disneyland, puppies, and personal unicorn footmen to attend them if only they will squat in a predetermined location and not just wherever the urge happens to strike.  In my day (and yes, if read aloud, that would be pronounced with a harsh, aged rasp), it was reward enough not to have crap in one’s pants – although the occasional gold star was a nice bonus.

Child psychologists, you may keep your refrains of “positive reinforcement” and “self esteem.”  Parenting isn’t about being a child’s best friend so much as engaging in psychological warfare.  Over the centuries, children have gained the evolutionary advantage in this arena, equipping themselves as consummate manipulators – with their pudgy cheeks, itsy-bitsy fingers, diminutive skeletal structures, and intentional mispronunciation of basic words, the breed has never been deadlier.  We are programmed to respond to their every iddle-widdle command – and to do so with enthusiasm…and candy.

“Thank you, Mother and Father, for teaching me self-sufficiency.  In return for your great and wondrous deeds, you may now bring me a lollipop.  And something cuddly.  And tickets to ‘Sesame Street on Ice.’  You may go now.”

Yes, child, we shall.  But be forewarned – your day of reckoning is coming.  One day, we will be old, feeble, and – yes – possibly even incontinent.  On that most glorious day, one that shall live in infamy, we’ll have but one thing to say:

“We’re moving into your house.”


Emily Post Part III: The Taming of the Chauffeur

Allow us to return, for a fleeting moment, to a more genteel era: When mustachioed butlers were burned at the stake of public ridicule (Emily Post Part I).  When the color of a footman’s livery was not generally described as “cirrhosis” (Emily Post Part II).  When one minded one’s Ps and Qs rather than burped them.  Yes, dear gentlefolk, it is time once more to allow Mrs. Emily Post to conduct us to that bygone era via her 1942 Blue Book of etiquette.  In this chapter, we learn how to attempt domestication of the most elusive, feral servant breed of all – the savage chauffeur.

First off, how can the chauffeur be discerned from other servant species?  Mrs. Post helpfully distinguishes their behavioral tendencies, “The position of the chauffeur differs from that of the other servants in two respects.  The first is that he has no regular days out.”

(This accounts for the particularly dour, loathing, hostile tendencies of chauffeurs throughout the world.  The real mark of a great lady of the house is channeling this burning, homicidal rage into efficient, obsessive car polishing.)

The chauffeur’s habitat also sets the breed apart: “Second, he usually finds (and pays for) his own board and lodging.”

(This accounts for all those fellows with signs standing outside Wal-Mart advertising their requests rather than walking inside said department store to procure a job application.  Having already procured a position, they must at least pretend they do not chug Jim Beam and slumber in their masters’ cars while off duty.)

As to the chauffeur’s eating habits: “Sometimes a single man eats with the servants in the kitchen, but this is not usual.”

This is not usual, as chauffeurs are social creatures who gather for communal readings of Motor Trend magazine and feast in large packs on the flesh of puppies and virgins.  If maintained singly in captivity, the chauffeur should be confined to the outdoors and held in check by chains applied to the hands and feet, taking care that the chains coordinate with the livery of the outside footmen.

Though with that said, let it never be uttered that Mrs. Post is heartless: “Sometimes, too, there may be a room over the garage or perhaps a whole apartment – especially above a garage that has been converted from a stable – in which he and his family may live.”

We say “especially above a garage that has been converted from a stable” since it reminds the chauffeur and his genetic derivatives of the level of esteem in which they are held by the lady and gentleman of the house.  Specifically, it is the level of esteem that is shared only with the dung of the master’s and mistress’s late horses.  Remember the golden rule of the well-appointed house: An ounce of bourgeoisie suppression is worth a pound of proletariat uprising.

(There is presently a spirited disagreement among the well-to-do as to whether the chauffer should be taught to read.  On the one hand, it will not do for a menial servant to start getting ideas in his little head – ideas like “minimum wage” and “women’s suffrage.”  But on the other hand, while there is little difference between a Rolls Royce and the U.S.S. Monitor, it’s considered poor form to batter one’s way through a four-way stop because the chauffer hasn’t the foggiest idea what the red hexagon is trying to convey.)

The Red October of automobiles

Mrs. Post continues, “His duties are irregular, sometimes extremely so.  In a large family, particularly where there are half-grown or grown daughters, a chauffeur’s life can be inhumanly strenuous.”

The footman bet the butler five bucks that the chauffeur is one late night pick-up of the grown daughter from parking that Rolls on her foot.

Of course, “certain humane as well as very rich employers have two chauffeurs who drive in alternate shifts.”

But the majority of good society knows that this practice is very silly indeed, as it implies chauffeurs are real people.  Though, perhaps there is some value to it in the ability to take one chauffeur out back and humanely dispose of him should his performance not be up to par.  For example, if he forgets the following:

“No chauffer ever carries a robe on his arm as a footman does when waiting at the door for his employer.  Properly, the lap robe is laid in deep full-length folds on the far side of the seat.  As soon as the occupants have taken their places the chauffeur reaches across and, holding the edge of the fold, draws it toward him across their laps.”

Wait…you can pay someone to do that?

Never trust a man who can slam off your head in a car door. Repeatedly.

Kale: The Devil’s Vegetable

While we live in a state whose economy, and football team, is firmly wedged in a large brick of cheese, our family’s ability to participate in the idyllic, pastoral, inebriated Wisconsin existence is hampered by a cold and simple fact – plants die whenever I or my husband express an interest in them.  Or, for that matter, even look at them too long.  Luckily, however, we have discovered a way to enjoy the agrarian lifestyle via contractual proxy, which for the less rural among you means we purchase a share in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm.  What happens then is a farmer, on a weekly basis, delivers a magical and seemingly bottomless box of produce for us to puzzle over.  The contents vary throughout the season and are, as might be expected, unpredictable, bringing simultaneous excitement and dread in anticipation of each delivery.  It harkens back to Christmas as a youth where you wonder if the brightly colored box from Aunt Mildred contains a shiny new racecar or a pair of socks with reindeer on them.

Yet no animal, vegetable, or mineral is quite so dreaded as that which is received in bulk quantities in 90% of the boxes throughout the growing season – kale (perhaps better known as the Devil’s Vegetable – or the reindeer sock of the CSA).  I am told – by our farmer and by some friends who unwittingly planted a few seeds in a garden patch – that it is prolific.  Even during this year’s unprecedented drought conditions, it thrived.  In the face of Mother Nature’s literal burning hatred for it, and perhaps for all life on this earth, it laughed, spat in her eye, and filed to run as a Democrat in Missouri.  This proves that you can do nothing to kill it – even with fire.

Scientific and theological fact: Kale is expelled from the ground because, in the bowels of hell from whence it originates, its consumption is deemed cruel and unusual punishment.

Though it is but a green leaf, kale has the texture of shoe leather.  One variety we receive is, in all seriousness, called dinosaur kale – presumably because it is an accurate representation of what dinosaur would taste like.  It’s also tougher than Kevlar.  In light of current harsh economic realities, NASA might consider it as a cheap replacement for constructing space shuttles – I hear the Chinese are already looking into it.  For anyone still stupid enough to try and eat it, I do have some good news for you.  Cooking does change its texture – from that of shoe leather to warm shoe leather.

There is nothing more endearing than a vegetable that accomplishes all of the following:

  1. Tastes noxious (somewhere on the spectrum between “microwaved sauerkraut” and “thirty-year-old Limburger”).
  1. Makes one’s entire house smell noxious while it is cooking (somewhere on the spectrum between “man’s sweaty gym sock” and “dead skunk”).
  1. Makes one personally smell noxious after eating it (somewhere on the spectrum between “dear god, open a window!” and “explosive hazard”).

Whereas oatmeal may be likened to a broom for the intestines, kale may be likened to applying a Shop Vac directly to one’s colon.  So why consume such a demonic weed at all?  Because it is healthy!  Densely packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and the power to shoot rainbows from one’s wazoo!  Wait – that wasn’t a rainbow.  Rainbows don’t smell like my toddler after her 9:30 interpretive grunting session.

Our CSA farmer – the fellow who diligently (and maliciously) plants, harvests, and distributes this crop throughout the region each year – stated the following in a recent newsletter, “If you are a kale hater and would rather eat kitty litter than kale, speak up now.”  So, dear farmer, this is my plea: more broccoli, more cauliflower, more beets if you absolutely must.  But no more kale.  I’d suggest burning the field and sowing salt into the land, but I doubt you’ll succeed where Mother Nature failed.

And it might just make it angry.

A fully matured stalk of kale.

You wouldn’t like it when it’s angry.