Smiling Skulls: On Death and Diversion

With sinister skulls on their black Metallica and Megadeth T-shirts, the teenagers who snaked alongside me in the queue to ride the Screamin’ Eagle roller coaster at Six Flags in St. Louis, Missouri, looked like diplomats of death to my twelve-year-old self. Only line dividers separated us as we waited in a series of sheltered areas, each one connected to the next by a flight of stairs that led the amusement park’s patrons ever closer to exhilaration—and perhaps death.

In first grade, I went to Worlds of Fun in Kansas City with my friend Jon, who told me about a roller coaster on the premises that had been shut down because one of the seating harnesses had failed, causing a rider to plummet to her doom. Fact or fiction, I thought about that every time I waited in line to ride a roller coaster.

I usually enjoyed the rides despite my dread, but the jaundiced skulls on those teenagers’ shirts only made Jon’s story seem more credible. Some skulls smiled, with canine teeth like vampires. Others had eyeballs that somehow managed to resist decay. They stared out of bony sockets at the living, leering and lidless. The skulls projected something manic and menacing all at once, as if they knew something in death the living could never know. [Read more…]

Coming Home to Fatherhood

I recently saw a brief clip of a ten year-old girl in her classroom who looks up to see that her soldier father has unexpectedly come home from Iraq. I confess that I am a complete sucker for this. I couldn’t describe the video to someone without getting husky voiced, which is just plain embarrassing. I watched it on Youtube a half dozen times, and then—because the Internet is of the devil—I was presented with the opportunity to watch other videos that the Youtube algorithm deemed similar to the first.

So of course I watched them all.

Some are exploitive—parents and principals and news anchors all conspiring in elaborate, hours-long hoaxes to maximize the surprise of children, and ensure that it’s all captured on high-quality film for consumption by suckers like me. Others, like the video that pulled me in, are simple and brief and lovely. [Read more…]

Baseball and the Law of God

Last Friday night, a freak microburst descended on our neighborhood with eighty mile an hour winds scattering tree limbs like matchsticks and knocking out the power on a steamy summer evening. My husband decamped to sleep at the office (he had to work on Saturday), and I spent an exhausted night on the living room sofa huddled next to my two sweaty children.

Twenty-four hours later, power still off, we checked into a Fairfield Inn two miles from our house, cranked on the air conditioner, ordered a large pizza, and sat in our slick cool hotel beds watching the Washington Nationals play the Baltimore Orioles.

For it has been the season of baseball in our house. Way back in March, my eight-year-old son signed up for a machine pitch team coached by a friend’s father, among others. [Read more…]