Monkey on My Back

Nov 06, 2003 |J. Budziszewski

The frustrations of pesky parents and the imperfections of those they’d like us to date.

"Heyyyy, Doc!" No one else calls me that. I knew immediately who it was.

"Woody, I haven't seen you since Moses parted the Red Sea."

He grinned and gave me one of those complicated handshakes. Though his field of study was far different than mine, he'd taken all my courses as an undergraduate, and I'd come to know him well. "Doc, you gonna let me sit down?"

"What do you think? Tell me how you've been."

"Good. Passed my prelims."

"You emailed. Have you defended your proposal yet?"

"Not only that, I'm hip deep in research. Presented a conference paper in Parsnip last month. At Tech."

"That's convenient for you."

"Right, just two hours down the road."

"Two? It takes me three."

"It's faster if you know the way. I'm in Parsnip pretty often. I have friends there, and of course that's where the big cabbage accelerator is."

"I didn't know."

"Biggest in the world."

"Still like your work?"

"Love it."

"What brings you to South Campus? You're 'way over at the Sauerkraut Research Facility."

He lifted an eyebrow and smirked. "Special trip, Doc. I've got a writing idea for you."

"Thanks, but I'm not a pickle scientist."

"Not a research idea. This is for those columns you write for Groundless."

"Nounless."

"Whatever. I read your latest, about the church-hopping girl — say, do you make that stuff up?"

I laughed. "Some dialogues are based on real conversations, some aren't. Most are a mix. Depends on the topic."

"That last one wasn't bad. Anyway, I've got a column idea for you."

"I'm open to suggestions. What's your idea?"

"A problem that comes up among students all the time. Even older students like me."

"And that problem is — ?"

"Parents."

I rubbed my cheek. "I sort of had the idea that parents were a good thing."

He laughed. "That's because you're a geezer, no offense. Take my own parents."

"What are you, Woody — 25, 26?"

He grinned. "28."

"Aren't you a bit old to be quarreling with your parents?"

"You'd think so, wouldn't you? That's just what makes this such a good column idea. Just when you think it's getting better, it gets worse! Don't get me wrong, I honor my parents — "

"Go on."

" — and I appreciate what they're trying to do. But it feels like there's a monkey on my back."

"You make them sound like a dope addiction."

"Dope? I thought the expression referred to nagging."

"Never mind. What did you mean when you said 'Just when you think it's getting better, it gets worse'?"

"I mean that in my teens and early 20s I gave my parents a lot of trouble, but all that adolescent rebellion stuff is ancient history now. In those days the problem came from me. These days, it seems to come from them."

"Does it?"

"Right. Don't you think that's interesting? First the kid goes nuts. Then he gets over it. Then his parents go nuts. Don't you think that's ironic?"

"Very."

"You can see why I thought it was such a good column idea."

"Ye-e-es. I'm still not quite clear about it."

He leaned back and spread his hands. "Hey, I'm here to help. Ask and you shall be answered."

"Okay. You said you appreciate what your parents are trying to do. What are they trying to do?"

"They're trying to get me married."

"You don't want to get married?"

"Sure I want to get married. I thought I'd already be married by this time. In fact, I'm getting a little worried that I'm not. There aren't many girls in pickle science."

"Then — "

"Well, they keep pressuring me."

"Who? The pickle science girls?"

"No, my parents."

"How do they pressure you?"

"They tell me they thought I'd already be married by this time."

"But isn't that just what you — "

"I'm not making this clear, am I?"

"Not very."

"Take my mother, for example. Last year about this time I happened to say something about how hard it is to find nice girls. She jumped on that comment like a duck on a June bug."

"What do you mean?"

"Like a duck on a June bug? That's a Southern saying. It means — "

"I know what the saying means, Woody. What exactly did she do?"

"Quick as a flash, she said 'I might know some girls. If I come across someone cute and nice, would you like me to set you up so you can meet?'"

"How heartless of her. Of course you refused."

"No, I said 'OK.' After all, what could it hurt? That's what I thought at the time. But now — " He hesitated.

"I'm listening."

"Well, ever since then she's been trying to set me up with girls."

"But you told her — "

"I know that. But she doesn't have to take it so seriously."

"Just how seriously does she take it?"

"She keeps trying to fix me up with the wrong kinds of girls."

"Aha."

"Most of them are daughters of her friends."

"Distressing."

"Are you getting the picture now?"

"A bit."

"Should I go on?"

"Please."

"Take this girl Nancy. To meet her, I would have had to attend the singles group at her church."

That surprised me. "Do you have a problem with singles groups?"

He wrinkled his nose. "I've visited that church before. Some of the girls there are nerds."

"So Nancy's out."

"Right. Next came Harriet. All the relatives gather at my parents' house on the holidays. Sometimes other families are invited. My mother invited Harriet and her folks to Thanksgiving dinner."

"How did that work out?"

"It didn't. Don't you think people should have interests in common?"

"It helps."

"Harriet has no interest in pickles."

"None whatsoever?"

"Well, she eats them, but that's about it. The only things she talks about are art, current events, mutual friends, movies, novels, religion — things like that."

"The poor girl sounds quite limited."

"Besides, she doesn't appreciate dills. Next my mother tried to set me up with some other friend's daughter, named Olivia. I squelched that idea quick, believe me."

"Why?"

"I could never date a girl named Olivia."

"Silly of me to have thought so. Was that the end of it?"

"Are you kidding? You don't know my mother. When the first team didn't work out, she brought in the second team — Julia, Chloe, and Daphne. I actually met Julia."

"That's progress."

He grinned. "My mother pretended that it was an accident. Dad asked me to come over to help him move some boxes, and when I came into the house, there she was. She and her mother and my mother were going to have lunch or something."

"What was she like?"

"I considered asking her out, but she wears big hats."

"Excuse me?"

"If we went anywhere, I'd feel conspicuous. Self-conscious. You know?"

I glanced down at Woody's ripped cutoffs with the hole in the pocket showing his boxer shorts. "Heaven forbid that you should feel self-conscious."

"Did I mention that I met Chloe too?"

"Another accident?"

"This time it really was an accident. I was in the department store buying some socks, and my mother and Chloe happened to be talking in Aisle Three."

"And the problem was — "

"Nice girl, but no physical attraction."

"Was there something wrong with her appearance?"

"No, she's cute. Just not my type."

"You mentioned one more girl."

"Daphne. She was actually my father's idea — friend of a friend of a friend. I think she's a technical rep at the accelerator facility in Parsnip."

"So she's in your own field."

"That's what he said. But dating her was the silliest idea of all."

I looked at him in surprise. "Why?"

"Like I said, she's in Parsnip. That's two-three hours down the road. I'm not open to a long-distance relationship, Doc. Like the marketers say: 'Location, location, location!'"

While I was absorbing this, he rose and said "I gotta get back to the lab. But do you see what I mean about the monkey? You can have parent trouble at any age. That's why I thought this was such a good topic for your column."

I stood, smiled, and shook his hand warmly. "Thanks for coming all the way over here, Woody. I like your idea, and I know exactly how I'll write it up."

Copyright 2003 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.  

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