Alan Olifson is an award-winning humor columnist, public radio commentator, comedian and regular host of Pittsburgh’s monthly Moth StorySLAMs. He created the acclaimed storytelling series WordPlay in his hometown of Los Angeles which he now produces in Pittsburgh along with Bricolage Production Company as part of their regular season. He’s hosted storytelling events for conferences, schools and, believe it or not, bridal showers. His book, Manchild: My Life Without Adult Supervision, is now out on Six Gallery Press!
Don’t miss out: Olifson’s book launch will be at Repair the World: Pittsburgh on March 11th (featuring special guest Tracksploitation)!
This event is a pay-what-you can fundraiser — $10 or more gets you a copy of the book and all proceeds go to Repair the World: Pittsburgh.
“Alan Olifson has a knack for taking relatable experiences – parenting mistakes, botched home improvements, the hassles of having to act like a grownup – and making them way funnier than I remember them being when they happened to me.” – Jonathan Green, writer/producer of Superstore and The Office
“How to use a hacksaw? Car maintenance advice? How to avoid getting hustled by a twelve-year-old psychic? You will not likely find answers to those questions in Alan Olifson’s hilarious, smart, real collection of essays. But you’ll laugh, like a lot, as you read about Olifson’s journey to figure it all out.” – Rachna Fruchbom, writer of Fresh Off the Boat and Parks and Recreation
Toys for Tots“I love you.” The words echo through our house. “I love you.” “Hug me.” “Red nose.” I live in a fucking minefield of talking baby toys, all on hair triggers. God forbid my kids breathe and their toy doesn’t shriek some platitude at them. I’m not sure how this benefits a child, the expectation that everything talks or giggles or sings when they touch it. I think it’s setting them up for some big disappointments in life. My son is not even two and the first thing he does when he gets a stuffed animal is squeeze the hand. “On, on, on!” In all likelihood he will be brought home from his first date by the police. To be honest, the whole talking toy thing is starting to creep me out. Sure they’re all cute and cuddly during the day but, as is the case with many things baby-related, if you take away the baby things get weird very quickly. For example, when our son was first born my mother-in-law and I would sit on either side of my wife, her shirt unbuttoned, helping her manage the baby while she struggled with breastfeeding. A poster for an It Takes a Village campaign. But take away the baby and you get a centerfold in a fetish magazine. Toys are the same deal. When I leave in the morning it’s all sun-drenched rooms and giggling children, but when I come home late at night and hear “Let’s play!” coming from the dark and empty living room, it’s not cute. It’s a scene from Paranormal Activity. And it is unclear why all battery operated toys let you know the battery is dying by just going off at random times. It’s like they finally get a sense of their own mortality and are trying to channel Toy Story or the Twilight Zone’s Talking Tina. I only have myself to blame for the haunted amusement park that is my home because I bought most of these toys myself, years ago, as gifts I thought were hilarious for other people’s children. It was only when I had my own kids that I realized Chicken Dance Elmo was kind of a dick move. I also realized how patiently some people can wait for revenge.
When my sister asked if we needed baby clothes I just thought she was being really nice. Until, hidden under the onesies and OshKosh B’gosh, I discovered the bongo-playing light-up monkey I’d given my niece six years before, like a horse head on my pillow. So you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t embrace this season of giving when it comes around. My sister and I have at least reached something of a détente; with kid gifts now flowing both ways we have an understanding of mutually assured destruction. But the grandparents are a different story. These otherwise intelligent, caring, generous people can still stand in the middle of my living room shouting over an all-cymbal version of Symphony #5 played by a jumping orangutan and ask, “So what do the kids need for Chanukah this year?” What do my kids need? Are you kidding? My son isn’t even two, my daughter is seven months old. What is she going to do with a present? She thinks I disappear when I cover my face. What my kids really need for Chanukah are a sense of object permanence and an inside voice. But you can’t stop the present train during the holidays. Which is why Lynn keeps an organized Google document of non-joke answers to this very question. Not because she is a presumptive, greedy bitch. It’s just, if you can’t stop doting family members from expressing their love through amazon.com, you might as well guide their love in the most appropriate and decibel-neutral way. Otherwise, even if they start out with the best of intentions, they will soon get tired, overwhelmed, and settle on I Just Ate at Chipotle Elmo. Lynn likes to think of her list as a helpful tool for those who are going to be getting our kids gifts regardless of what we say. She gives it out with the air of a parent giving a condom to their teenager on prom night. “I hope you’re never in the position to have to use this, but if you just can’t help yourself…” I think Lynn is hypersensitive about making present shopping as painless as possible for others because five minutes in the toy aisle throws her into fits of rage. Especially the boy toy aisle. Not that Lynn is a girly girl by any stretch. In fact I think she’s been working on the same container of eye shadow since our wedding four years ago. But she is still a girl and understands little girl tastes: a doll, a set of beads; something you can take care of or control. Girl stuff. But nothing puts her in a bad mood quicker than an aisle of boy toys. At a toy store, at least. I’m not sure how she is at Chippendales. But both to her are probably just a sea of pointless crap that will eventually take someone’s eye out. In other words, boy stuff. So for the sake of our marriage and the safety of the other shoppers at Target this year I volunteered to handle the boy stuff for our seven nephews. As a former boy myself I thought I would “get” the boy toy aisle. I love all that crap: Star Wars figures, Nerf balls, BB guns. Oh, was I naïve. It had been years since I’d been present shopping in person and I was woefully unprepared for the anime seizure festival that is the boy toy aisle, and this is with knowing exactly what I needed to get. My nephews wanted Bakugan, which from what I gather, are action figure warriors that tuck into spheres which then pop open and give their owners ADHD. Which raises the question: If we are making a list of toys for our kids, what goes on it? What kind of toys do we want them to have if not their current grab bag of hand-me-downs, impulse buys, and revenge gifts? We go to some people’s houses – nice, quiet, mid-century modern houses – where all the toys are handmade from sustainable growth forests and the only sound you hear is the gentle rolling of little pine wheels against polished hardwood floors. “We decided not to expose Spencer to any toys that take batteries or are made with plastics.” Well, that sounds nice and responsible. Shouldn’t we be deciding too? That’s what good parents do, right, make conscious decisions? Because everything is a “teaching moment.” Our children are little sponges soaking up everything we do, turning it into some kind of life lesson. And if we’re not mindful we’ll end up with a teenager full of nothing but the dirty sink water of our bad judgment, and you won’t be able to just wring them out because the sponge metaphor never work both ways. It’s exhausting to be a parent in these hyper-aware days of organic baby food and water births and What to Expect When You’re Expecting laying the groundwork for all helicopter parenting to come. Billed as a reassuring week-by-week guide to pregnancy, What to Expect reads like a week-by-week descent into a dystopian abyss where eating an under-cooked hotdog will lead to an “incompetent cervix” promptly followed by “uterine rupture.” After forty weeks of this book, you feel so lucky your child made it out alive I’m surprised more people don’t take their baby straight from the hospital to the nearest cryogenics facility. I envy my parents’ generation and their blissful ignorance. Back then, at most you read Dr. Spock, but more likely you just used Dr. Spock as a coaster for your scotch. Everyone just winged it. My parents fed my sister Milk-Bone dog biscuits, for example. Apparently she used to try to take them from our dog, so instead of telling her, No, that is not human food, they just started buying her her own box. That’s the kind of no-nonsense, do-it-yourself childcare advice you don’t see in What to Expect. I wouldn’t be surprised if they fed me leftover brisket from my own bris. They certainly didn’t worry about the percentage of recycled material in our toys. They let us play with Shrinky Dinks, which basically amounted to letting us put toxic plastic in the oven. What a liberating time to be alive and caring for another human being! But kids can’t play with ovens anymore. And I guess some kids aren’t allowed to play with electricity anymore either. But while I love the idea of a house with nothing that plays the ABCs, we are not going to raise our kids Amish. But we’ll definitely be more selective of what we get for our nieces and nephews going forward, since we know it’s only a matter of time before it comes back to bite us.
From Manchild: My Life Without Adult Supervision by Alan Olifson. Copyright (c) 2017 by the author and reprinted by permission of Six Gallery Press.