A Few Words Before School Starts

It's easy to tell that it's back to school time -- everything's shorter. The days are shorter, parents' tempers are shorter, and the line at the movie theater to see all those lame recycled sequels is so short you can sit in any seat you want and have plenty of room to stash that Tub-O-Popcorn, 55-gallon drum of Coke, and seven-pound box of Milk Duds you just shelled out $24.95 for.

This means it's time to sit down and have a talk with the kids about the importance of an education, be they your kids, your sibling's, or the ones that live next door who spent most of the summer tied up and gagged in your tool shed so you could have some peace and quiet.

Kids, you see, need guidance. They need advice. Actually they need it like a hole in the head, but since they're smaller than we are, they're going to get it. After all, we heard it, and since we were taught that it's better to give than to receive, we're going to give it to them whether they like it or not. And there's no question which category it falls in.

In case you don't feel comfortable having this discussion, or just can't find a slot between Weakest Link, Fear Factor, and Blind Date to do it, cut out the rest of this column and hand it to your target kid. After they stop looking at you with a blank stare because they forgot what they're supposed to do with paper that has words printed on it, they'll ask you to email it to their cell phone. Whatever you do, don't ask them how that's done. You're supposed to be the one in charge here. It's bad enough they have to reset the clock on the VCR every time the power goes out, don't remind them that you can't remember how to turn on the computer.

OKAY KIDS, START PRETENDING TO READ HERE!

School is important. One day you'll look back on it fondly as having been the best years of your life, though chances are that epiphany will occur during group therapy while you're buzzed on Prozac. Even though the thought will pass, you should still make the most of these years.

First, get plenty of sleep and eat a good breakfast so you're alert and can pay attention in class. After all, you never know when it will pay off. California eighth-grader Daniel Barnes memorized a telephone number that was on his state-required reading comprehension test and dialed it when he got home, discovering that it was an offer for phone sex. Now that's an education.

Next, study hard and stay in school. Remember, the alternative is working, and trust me, that's no fun. If you do well in school you can go to college, then graduate school, postponing your having to get a job for a long, long time.

Whatever you do, don't let yourself be channeled into a career just because your parents think it's a good idea. Do what's right for you. Parents naturally steer their kids towards careers like law, medicine, and investment banking. That's because they like the idea of getting free legal advice, free medical care, and a new house because you plundered yet another company by buying it and dismantling it in the name of progress. And who can blame them? Of course they don't want to hear that your goal in life is to be a Doritos taste tester, the winner of next year's Nathan's hot dog eating contest, or the unofficial sixth member of 'N Sync, so lie if you have to. Remember, it's for their own good. And yours.

Set your sights high. Think outside the box. And no, that doesn't mean using your brain when the TV's turned off. Remember that innovation is good. The Japanese are growing square watermelons because they fit better in a refrigerator, which is a great idea. So why don't you consider creating thin, flat tomatoes which don't need to be sliced before being put on a sandwich?

Then there's the company in Syracuse, NY, Transgenic Pets, which is developing a non-allergenic cat. This could lead you to work on creating a dog that doesn't have to be walked. They could be disposable--once they fill up you just toss 'em away and get another.

Paint-by-numbers is another good inspiration. They're the paintings from the '50s which allowed anyone to create ugly art by not coloring neatly between the lines, something we supposedly get past by second grade. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History (motto: "Boy, are we desperate for exhibits") is displaying the paintings in the name of culture. This is pretty cool. And you would be too if you came up with variants like movies-by-number, TV-by-number, and pop music-by-number. Okay, maybe this is a bad example, plenty of people are already doing this.

Like it or not, your career is an important consideration since as an American you'll be working longer hours than anyone else in the world. That's right, we edged out the Japanese by putting in an average of 1,966 hours per year. To put this in perspective, that's 37.8 hours per week, 7.6 hours per day, and an awful lot of Web surfing on company time.

Be careful though. Remember that your career isn't the most important thing in life. According to a survey by Columbia University and the National Institutes of Health, most Americans say sexual satisfaction is more important than job satisfaction. Thus, you might want to sit down and think about which is more important to you so you know where to focus your energies.

Either way, remember that practice makes perfect, doing your best is the goal, and homework is more fun if you decide sex is the most important thing. But whatever you do, don't tell your parents you heard this from me. I need to keep my job. There are still a lot of Web sites I haven't checked out yet.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com.

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