This is just a simulation of
our beloved essayist at work.
We really are not sure what
his creative process involves,
we just print the results.
The Worst Punishment Ever
Growing up, my father was a wise man. I just didn’t know it. My
dad was an expert in mind games by the time I came rolling around. In
the war to civilize his sons, he usually came out the victor. For example,
when I was in high school, my father bumped into one of my friends in
the hallway of our house one Saturday evening. My dad looked at my
friend and quietly said, “I know what you guys did last night. You can
either tell me your side of the story or I am going to call your father.”
My friend told him everything. I am pretty sure he would have
coughed up the Lindberg baby kidnappers if he had known. I lost my car
keys for a couple of weeks out of that one. The only thing my father
knew before my friend sang like a stoolpigeon was if you have a teenage
boy, on a Friday night, especially if his friends are idiots, there is a better
chance than not that he has done something stupid.
I am going to tell you the worst punishment my father inflicted on
me as a kid. It was a punishment so severe that it stays with me to this
day. It was not the time I walked up to my father, handed him the
spanking brush, and told him to spank me. He asked me why. I told him
to just spank me because by the time he found out why I need to be
spanked I just wanted the punishment over with. I had put a book in my
pants to lessen the blow. In my brain, I thought there would be a bit of
compassion because he could see how contrite I was. No, he removed
the book and spanked me for my unknown crime. He then went outside
and saw that I had shot put a few cans of house paint out of a second
story window of the house onto the sidewalk below. I got spanked again.
The fact that he did not remove every scrap of skin from my backside
should tell you what a gentle and good man he was. That was not the
There was the time in second grade, I decided to take the family
pickup truck for a cruise around the back pasture. Again, no. He was
actually pretty cool about that one. Third grade, I will just say the words
mini-bikes and beer. Again, the fact that I am writing this today proves
what a tolerant man he was. There was the time in high school when the
chief of police sat in my parents’ living room and said, “We are not
dealing with fireworks here, Mr. and Mrs. Soderstrum. We are dealing
with explosives.” My father handled it extremely well.
I did things, repeatedly and often, where my father should have
choked me to death, left me in the desert for birds to pick at my bones,
and no jury in the world would have convicted him. In fact, they probably
would have organized a parade for him. No, the worst punishment I ever
got was just before my fourteenth birthday. I was not yet old enough to
drive a car (Let me stress legally) and still had to use my yellow ten-
speed bicycle to get into and out of town.
When I was a youth seeing the opposite sex nude was extremely
rare. Today, with the Internet, a few strokes on the keyboard, it is what
freak adventure do you want to unfold on the screen before you. Young
people seem to be texting pictures to each other that would make Linda
Lovelace blush. Nudity is seemingly everywhere. Given that in some ways
this is the best generation of young people ever, it doesn’t seem to be
hurting them. It is just strange. I don’t quite know what to make of it.
When I was their age, nudity was forbidden. Oh, there were
magazines, but you risked your mom finding them. If one of your friends
was lucky enough to have cable television, there was Cinemax after dark
or as it was popularly known Skinemax. That usually meant parents not
being home on a Friday evening, which rarely happened. It was like they
didn’t trust us.
Oh, there were the occasional glimpses, usually involving an older
brother’s girlfriends or a friend’s sister. When a kid talked about it the
next day on the playground, it was like describing a unicorn. No one was
quite sure whether to believe him or not. It was mythical and you were
pretty sure you were never going to see that. There was nothing sexual
in any of this. It was the simple curiosity that all boys have.
It was into this void that I, as a young Republican businessman,
stepped. VHS tapes were becoming commonplace. I had a relative that
managed the local mom and pop video store, who was willing to rent
dirty movies because I was hilarious and knew more about movies than
anyone in the county. More importantly, video stores also rented VHS
players because they were still too expensive for many people to own.
So, I had the marketplace and I had the product. I could rent
movies where women appeared nude in them and get paid for it. If I
charged between three to four dollars a head, with just half a dozen
costumers, I would be rich, rich, rich. It was the American dream for a
teenager on a ten-speed.
I just needed a location to set up my movie theater. The answer
came like lightening from the heavens, my dad’s office. I could show the
movies on a Friday night and roll in the money the rest of the weekend.
Friday night came. Every chair was filled with boys my age. I think I had
eight or nine dollars of pure profit. “Get ready for Naked Ladies,” I
announced to the half dozen of my friends that were there as I hit play
on the VHS player.
As the film rolled, I thought I must have rented the wrong movie. It
was a real snooze-fest. Nothing and I mean nothing happened in the
first half hour. All the women seemed determined to keep their clothes
on. It was so clean it could have been shown at Disneyland to nuns. It
was a major disappointment. Everyone, except for my best friend Matt,
bailed. I didn’t care. I had a firm no refund policy. As the movie
continued to play in the background, my friend helped me put the chairs
back into place so we could go home.
It was then that I turned around to discover my father standing in
the doorway. He informed me that it was too dark for me to ride my bike
on the highway at night and he was there to drive me home. I thanked
him and informed him that we could leave as soon as I turned the movie
off. My father said, “No, you boys should watch your movie. I’ll just take
a nap on the couch until it is over.”
The couch was located directly behind our chairs and in the
darkness there was no way of seeing my father. The moment I heard the
springs squeak as he laid down on the couch the cleanest dirty movie
ever made turned into the filthiest thing ever. There was sex everywhere.
If it could get naked, it got naked. There were things happening that I am
still not sure are physically possible. It was horrifying, truly horrifying.
For the next hour-and-a-half, with each physically impossible act
after physically impossible act, my face got redder and redder with
embarrassment. Bodies were bending in ways they don’t bend, making
sounds they don’t make. I am pretty sure a parade permit was needed
for a couple of the scenes. I knew at any moment my father was going to
rise up, read me the riot act, and snatch me baldheaded. It was truly the
worst moment of my young life. Each time a spring on the couch would
make a sound, I somehow got more crimson. In the glow the television
screen, my friend Matt could see my face and started to giggle. It
became a full body contortion by the conclusion of the film. He was
laughing so hard he fell into the bushes in front of my dad’s office as he
tried to wave to me as we left.
I thought, “Well, maybe my father is waiting until my friend is gone
to let me have it.” He didn’t say a word. We got into the car. Nothing, I
thought maybe he doesn’t want any witnesses around when he kills me.
The whole drive home, which maybe takes a grand total of five minutes,
but felt like five hours, not a word.
I was sure he was going to let me have it with both barrels when
we got home. He just went to bed. Surely, he was tired. I mean he
seemed really old to me, like in his 40s. That was why he was not yelling
at me, I thought. Tomorrow morning I am a dead man.
Tomorrow morning came and went, and the next day and the next
day after that, then a week and a month, nothing. It was torture. The
whole time that Damocles sword just waiting to come down on my head.
It was only years later that I realized that that was the punishment, the
worst punishment ever.