When you’re born, your tiny little baby brain will be like a little ball of fresh play-doh sealed away in a can. As parents, it’s our job, our duty, our responsibility to take that little, wonderful, amazingly pliant piece of play-doh and mold it into the best human being on the planet. That’s every parent’s job, and I have bad news for you, Blue. We are going to mess it up. Big time.
At some point, we’re going to do something incredibly brash, naïve and dumb that we will think is no big deal, or just “something you’ll just get over”, because we are looking at it from the viewpoint of an adult. Our grown-up brains are concrete. Stick and stones can break our bones, but when they hit concrete, concrete wins. Adults are set in their ways, and it’s hard for us to imagine that for you, the concrete hasn’t quite formed yet. We don’t quite get in our dumb, concrete brains that a stick won’t break your bones, but it will create lasting impressions, like a handprint, that never fade completely away.
For instance, I don’t like spaghetti. It doesn’t make any rational sense. It’s not the taste. It tastes fine when I actually sit down and eat a bowl. It’s not the texture. I like pasta of other breeds. I just don’t like spaghetti. I never order it at a restaurant, and I never willingly buy it at a grocery store. So what is it? What could have happened to me to make me not like this food that is almost universally adored?
I tried to trace it back to some traumatic experience at the dinner table. I pictured my brother, his face covered in tomato sauce and noodles dangling off his highchair like vines off the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Nope. Nothing there. What was it? I thought and thought and though about it, and the answer just popped in there.
It all goes back to Squire Court.
In the subdivision I grew up in, there was a main artery of road with long fingers of streets spreading out from them. We lived on Malibu. Over a hill and around a curve, there sat this tiny nub of a street called Squire Court. All it was a giant cul-de-sac, a big horseshoe of houses nestled in behind a little rise in the road.
Every year around Halloween, the people that lived on Squire Court hosted a haunted cul-de-sac. It was a big deal. For one or two nights, every house on that little psychotic street competed against each other to see who could traumatize the most children of the dumb parents who thought, “Hey, this will be fun. My kid loves being scared.”
Yeah, naïve parents. Here’s the thing. Your kid loves being scared by Tim Burton movies or maybe the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. Not places like Squire Court, where Jason Voorhees chased girls down the sidewalk with a chainsaw that was definitely on and may or may not have had the chain still attached. Or where they had Dr. Frankenstein’s lab sitting out in Ray Finklestein’s driveway and every twenty minutes, strobe lights flashed on and Frankenstein came to life. Or where they had this giant spinning wheel with a rusty hook dangling above it. And next to it, a man twisted a gear over and over again as another man sat in agony on the wheel, his entrails attached to the hook, more and more of them spilling out as the wheel completed its grisly revolutions. The whole time this was going down, the man turning the gear was looking out in the audience, taking open casting calls for his next victim. My dad volunteered me, and I screamed, turning to run away.
“Don’t worry,” he told me. “Don’t worry. He’s okay. It’s just spaghetti.”
“I’m not going on that wheel!” I yelled, shaking with terror.
“I know,” my dad said, trying his best to reassure me. “Forget about it. It’s no big deal.”
Wrong. I never got over that image, Blue. It burned its way in there, and for years, whenever me and my friends rode bikes through the neighborhood, I went to great lengths to avoid Squire Court. That was where the roulette wheel tore out your intestines.
Or spaghetti. Which I have never enjoyed eating since that Halloween.
Your mother and I haven’t discussed this yet, Blue, but I’m going to use this experience to my advantage. We want you to develop healthy eating habits, so clearly, the best way to do this is to terrify you into not eating the foods we don’t want you to eat. I highly doubt you’ll like hot Cheetos when all your teenage friends are munching on them after we make them look maggots on a decomposing body for a Halloween decoration when you’re four. Beef will probably be a no-go after you witness a zombie apocalypse and see the undead feast on flesh and marinated rib-eyes. And when you wonder why you don’t like high fructose corn syrup, you’ll have me and the fake gunshot wounds peppering my stomach to thank for that one, too.
Planned traumatization. I think I’m on to something here, Blue. I just hope you don’t have a problem with spaghetti.