Today | One More Thing

One More Thing – October 2020

Raised by Witches

by Tyler Sjostrom

Parents are always, always wrong. If you think I’m wrong, I can only assume that you are yourself a parent, which only reinforces just how wrong you are. And this pervasive, indefatigable wrongness of parents is never more evident than in the movies of our youth.

It’s the crux of many formative films, be it “Goonies” (parents permit their home to be annexed by a country club) or any “Jurassic Park” (unattended minors versus historical apex predators) or “Home Alone” (the chef’s kiss of bad parenting). But for my money, “Hocus Pocus” always stood out as a fine representation of all the questionable choices a parent could make, both in the film itself and in my relationship to it.

Bewilderingly released in the summer of 1994 rather than the fall — a decision undoubtedly made by a bunch of parents —  “Hocus Pocus” tells the tale of the Halloween shenanigans of Salem, Massachusetts, the trio of witches who seek the souls of the young to stay alive, and a town of legal guardians who are incredibly chill about the whole thing. When it finally made its way to our local theater in small-town North Dakota, I told my mom of my desire to attend.

Judging by her reaction, you’d have been justified in thinking that she still hadn’t forgiven Bette Midler for the majestic monstrosity that is “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” “You are not seeing that movie,” she wailed, not even extending an “ask your dad” olive branch. My fate had been sealed. I would not have the pleasure of seeing a movie that the venerable Roger Ebert described as “thoroughly unpleasant” in his one-star review.

It wasn’t until my brother told her what the movie was about that her folly was revealed. She wasn’t familiar with “Hocus Pocus”, but it did have a similar linguistic rhythm as “Helter Skelter,” a book that recounted the tragic Manson murders and was central to the growing “Satanic Panic” of the time. She thought I wanted to see a movie about unthinkable evil; I wanted to see a movie where witches wake from a 300-year slumber and somehow know the lyrics to “I Put a Spell on You.”

As with many misguided parental choices, my mom’s Hocus Pocus/Helter Skelter glitch had unintended consequences. I don’t remember exactly when I finally saw the movie, and it may have even been the following night. What I recall perfectly, however, is suddenly being fascinated by “Helter Skelter,” which I hadn’t heard of previously but that I suddenly needed to read. My poor mom, in doing her best to protect me from something nefarious, led me to sneak the book from our town library at an age when no person should have been reading it. 

My mom is wonderful for many reasons, not least of which is that she’s willing to laugh at herself when she’s made mistakes, and she’ll gladly concede that being wrong (and knowing when this is the case) is a huge part of parenting. None of us knows what we’re doing, really, whether we’re trying to keep our kids from exposure to something inappropriate for their age or hoping to prevent witches from sucking out their souls like a Hoover. 

I’m a parent, of course. Our first child is almost two, and we’ll have another in February. Before long, like so many moms and dads before me, I’ll have loads of experience in being wrong. But if we’re wrong in the service of trying to do right, we may just get out of this thing with souls intact.

 

 

One More Thing – September 2020

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

by Tyler Sjostrom

On the first shift of my first bar job, I made the mistake of wearing a collared shirt and gelling my hair. The regulars, a merry band of misfits and pranksters, taught me almost immediately that I was not in the domain of collars or primping or anything approaching agreed-upon social mores; I was in a bar, dangit. And after constant ribbing for the entirety of my six-hour shift and — this actually happened — the ceremonial removal of my collar by scissor, I knew with certainty that I was among friends.

The unofficial mayor of this motley crew introduced himself as “Bil, with one L.’” Taking account of my appearance as I found my bearings behind the rail, he christened me “Skippy,” which he still calls me on the rare occasion when our paths cross. (Whether this nickname was drawn from my upbeat nature or some vague similarity to pasty peanut butter has never been clarified.) Bil always took a Miller Lite can with a dent in it, was known to don a Batman cape and cowl when riding ATVs, and I brought him as my date to our staff Christmas party. I haven’t seen him in ages, but I’ll never forget him.

There were a solid dozen years where bartending was my primary income, and it was eccentrics such as Bil who kept it interesting. I can still be found behind the bar on occasion, and I know how acutely my friends in the service industry are feeling the sting to their security during the ongoing pandemic. But I also feel for the ancillary cast of characters — bar regulars such as Bil — who have experienced a pretty seismic shift to their little communities as well.

Every bar worth visiting has its own assortment of regular patrons who have a way of becoming part of the fabric of the bar itself. They always show up at the same time on the same days; they order the same drinks; they tell the same jokes and stories, most of which are of questionable taste. And just as on Cheers, the undisputed urtext of bar culture for this or any generation, they usually even sit in the same chairs. After all, they’re called “regulars” for a reason.

We can debate the merit of a community whose organizing principle is drinking at a remove from familial concerns, and where the line between a conversation and an argument is a pretty blurry one. This cheapens the relationships not only between the regulars themselves, but also between the regulars and the bar staff who serve them.

Truly, some of my most memorable friendships have been with bar regulars, almost all of whom are at least twice as old as I am. This has allowed me to get to know people whose worldview is diametrically different from my own, and to challenge any assumptions I might have about those worldviews. It’s the single thing I miss most about frequent bar work.

At a time when so much is missing from the bar scene — ordinary hours, ordinary capacities, ordinary anything — it isn’t only the regulars who miss, for lack of a better term, the regularity. The relationship is a symbiotic one; bartenders miss their regulars just as much.

It’s bar regulars who essentially train newbies in the ways of the bar. It’s regulars who add a little color to long, slow happy hour shifts. And sometimes, it’s regulars who take one look at your shirt, with its preppy, pointless collar, and say, “Hey, Skippy, hand me a scissor.”

 

One More Thing – August 2020

Stop Annoying Your Vet!

by Tyler Sjostrom

An unexpected benefit of our current situation is that we’ve collectively become more attuned to the well-being of our neighbors. Caring for the health of those around us, mental, physical or otherwise, is a net positive. And this got me thinking about a friend who works in the veterinary field.

When my wife and I have a problem with one of our pets, we call Alex. A few years ago, when the health of one of our cats deteriorated quicker than America’s once-flattening curve, Alex talked us through it. When our dog got a twisted tummy and needed surgery, we again sought her advice. Even when we had a cat sneak out a few years back, we employed her legendary skills as an animal whisperer to help us bait a trap to encourage his safe return. Each time, we picked her brain for a relatively simple reason: we trusted her brain more than we trusted our own.

But at what cost? Soliciting this sort of expertise from friends who are skilled in a certain field is not uncommon, but it’s hard to think of another profession where you’d see more “friends” emerge from the woodwork. When you are getting a haircut, do you consult high school classmates who went on to careers as beauticians? If you’re having a heart attack, do you say, “A guy in my fantasy league is a doctor. I’d better see what he thinks first”? Of course, we don’t.

But with our pets, it’s different. Animals can’t speak to express pain and we’ve come to believe that our veterinary friends are essentially part animal; ipso facto, they’re more than happy to answer all forms of four-legged inquiry at all hours, day or night, right?

Maybe not. When I call Alex for animal advice — which I truly try to never do unless it’s a problem that she might find fascinating — I do my best to be mindful of her time and personal commitments. However, if she’d decided to express her love for animals by joining the cast of “Cats,” I’m ashamed to say that I’d probably have found someone else to consult instead. Seeing as vets commonly struggle to separate the needs of their patients from the needs of friends and family, I’m not at all alone here.

This creates an untenable problem for those in the veterinary field: an abundance of people asking for what is essentially free service, who may be taking advantage of their deep concern for animals. This leads to those in the veterinary line of work — who already treat sick and dying animals daily, who grow attached and say goodbye to patients, who might prefer animals to humans — giving more of themselves than they have to offer. But what about the veterinary workers themselves? We call the ghostbusters, so to speak, but who do the ghostbusters call?

When veterinarians have animal problems of their own, they rely on their hard-earned expertise and that of their colleagues. So let’s take their advice. Most often, they’d tell us simply to stop looking on our phones for answers and take our animal to the vet already. Even though your veterinarian friend may care for your pet as if it’s their own, it’s always in the best interest of your animal to be seen in person.

Let’s not assume that our friends in the veterinary field have unlimited time and energy to devote to animals who are not their own. Let’s let them enjoy a little distance from their work when they leave the office. And let’s not make them wish they’d screened our calls, or worse, joined the cast of “Cats.”