Today | One More Thing
The Best Parts of Fall
by Tyler Sjostrom
One of the rites of fall — admit it, you and I and your mom all do it — is to gush about the adorable fallness of it all. Ooh, pumpkin spice! Ah, soup season! AND OH MY GAWD HAVE YOU SEEN THE LEAVES. But believe me, autumn is a many splendored thing for reasons entirely unrelated to the cracking of football pads, the crispness of the air, or your favorite cardigan that’s just been clamoring for a day such as this.
My kids go to bed much earlier. My wife and I have an almost-three-year-old son, and he’s mostly perfect. We love him very much, almost all the time. An exception is at bedtime, and especially during the summer. He never sleeps before the sun sets, and that means that our YouTube preferences trend troublingly toward CoComelon and anything involving a truck. However, when the sun sets at 8 p.m., so does our son. It’s like he wants us to watch fall prestige TV, although I doubt the thought has crossed his sweet little mind.
There are fewer songs about boats. Look, man. I like boats as much as the next landlubber. They’re engineering marvels, each and every one. That said, songs about boats, or about drinking on a boat, or about splashing about in the water before relaxing on a boat — they just do nothing for me. And in the fall, when less boating is occurring, radio programming follows suit. If you consider the irrefutable fact that more songs about boats means less songs about wizards and/or sorcery, I think you’ll agree that we could use a reduction of the former.
Growth slows where it should and quickens where it must. Most men of my ilk love tending to their lawn in the spring and early summer, but by September, it’s just a chore. So, as if by God’s grand design, grass doesn’t grow as quickly in the fall. The same goes for weeds. In fact, the only things that seem to grow more quickly in the fall are mums and body hair. This allows a great many of us to look at our lawn that only needs to be mowed bi-weekly, stroke our beards, and admire our mums. We also might notice that our wives’ leg hair has become mildly prickly, but she gets to do as she likes when boats and songs about them aren’t on the air.
Oktoberfest! Moving on.
There are fewer student drivers. I’ve never known why, but student drivers are apparently drawn to our house. They parallel park, execute three-point turns, and generally prove their mettle as a driver in front of our little slice of paradise. (Maybe their instructor just wants to check the progress of our mums?) But, since most driving instruction happens during the summer months, our curb quiets down once school is back in session. This causes my dog to bark less frequently, which causes my infant son to cry less frequently, which causes me to be a generally more genial person overall. These are all good things.
The point, really, is that even if fall isn’t necessarily your season, or if you get depressed when your favorite event is canceled, or if you simply think that pumpkin spice is an abomination of the highest order, there are always things to enjoy that might not make any online listicles. You simply need to know where to look.
I’d suggest anywhere that sells mums as a pretty good place to start.
A Fond Farewell to (Songs of) Summer
by Tyler Sjostrom
“I remember every moment; time was all we had until the day we said goodbye.”
- Richard Marx, “Endless Summer Nights”
Much ink has been spilled about the so-called end of “monoculture,” the phenomenon where all people, regardless of demographic, experience the same event mostly at the same time and mostly in the same way. Not surprisingly, the lion’s share of these events are tragedies or natural disasters — the Challenger disaster, 9/11, Nipplegate — but it certainly wasn’t always this way.
For millennials and Gen-Xers — those who whiled away the ‘80s and ‘90s in shopping malls wearing stone-washed jeans, and who greeted the recent “Friends” reunion as akin to the actual Rapture — there were shared touchstones that, if not necessarily seen as positive at the time, are warmly remembered today. And it’s hard to think of anything remembered more warmly than the Songs of Summer.
For children of this era, the annual Song of Summer was history being written in real time. Every year, roughly starting when MTV parked us all in front of the same screen and until digital media splintered musical consumption into a million pieces, there was at least one song that was completely inescapable. From sea to shining sea, and in all the Firebirds and Fuddruckers and Marshall Field’s in between, the same song was playing hourly. The upside? We all remember the same songs from the same summers. The downside? Some of these songs were (and are) terrible.
And that, my friends, is why Songs of Summer are so indelible. When you remember, say, “Step by Step” by New Kids on the Block (Song of Summer, ‘90), are you struck by how timelessly bad the song is, or by the memory of faking NKOTB fandom to impress a girl? When you hear “Macarena” (Song of Summer, ‘96), are you transported to the dance unit in junior high gym class, or to the pre-YouTube virality of Al Gore and Hillary Clinton enjoying the song’s charms entirely too much at that year’s DNC? Pick any Song of any Summer — Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” from ‘92, TLC’s “Waterfalls” from ‘94, Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” from ‘97 — and you likely remember the songs themselves only slightly more vividly than you remember who you heard them with.
While it’s that two-pronged quality — 1) the song was on the radio constantly, and 2) literally everyone heard it even if they didn’t want to — that gave rise to Songs of Summer, it’s those same factors that ensure the phenomenon will never happen again. Music is now more democratic, less monolithic, and probably truer to the “seasonless” nature of the online lives we lead. For certain, more options and more mediums for listening and finding new music will always be a net positive.
But this also spells doom for the Song of Summer itself; no song could dream of achieving the ubiquity a true Song of Summer requires. And, for a nostalgia masochist such as myself, the sunset on Songs of Summer is a little sad.
It’s sad that the music lovers of tomorrow won’t be able to unite around common scorn for Billy Ray Cyrus’s song/mullet combo or be thrown into a frenzy at the opening bars of “California Love,” even 25 years later. It’s unfortunate that not even bangers from Taylor Swift or The Weeknd or Olivia Rodrigo could dream of infiltrating the brain space of all ages like “I Swear” once did. That’s why I’m grateful for the Bryan Adamses and Mariah Careys and Sir Mix-A-Lots who were common to the summers of my entire generation — they were cheesy and they probably weren’t all that great, but they were everywhere. And that meant they belonged to everyone.
I guess you could say those songs just hit differently now. I guess you could say that I, like Richard Marx, remember every moment. And I’m guessing you do too.
Anatomy of a Dad Joke
by Tyler Sjostrom
I still recall my first encounter with my own dad’s Dad Jokes. We were driving past a Dairy Queen in my hometown in the mid-90s and the marquee outside said, “Monkey Tails, a dozen for $6.” And seeing the advert for Monkey Tails – bananas on a stick, dipped in chocolate – my dad quipped, “All those poor monkeys, wondering where their tails went.”
Admittedly, it took my brothers and me a minute to catch up. But when we finally arrived on Dad’s winking level, we all met on the plane where I now reside in perpetuity: the domain of the Dad Joke. It was dumb. It was for all of us. And it was perfect.
I’m finding my footing on this softest of stages currently, as my kids come into their own senses of humor. You see, Dad Jokes come with conditions. No more swearing. Jokes can’t be built on even the smallest amount of cruelty or pain-infliction. The butts of jokes will be animals and/or animals’ butts. Puns and plays on words will be important; incorporate physical comedy, all the better. And when we all laugh – me and the kids, yeah, but also bystanders who muse, “Oh, dad joke” – then we’ve achieved peak humor del papa. (That was a quasi-dad joke.)
To this dad’s mind, Dad Jokes come with four hard-and-fast rules.
A quality Dad Joke must be understood by literally everyone. First, an admission: all Dad Jokes are ultimately for the enjoyment of the dad who tells it. But that enjoyment is only truly pure when it’s shared. The kids must identify with the tenuous connection to comedy. Mom must roll her eyes at the lameness. Dad must be able to giddily anticipate the payoff. A Dad Joke is an entire family dynamic writ small.
Puns can live and breathe in a Dad Joke. I’m on the record as an opponent of most puns, with one notable asterisk: if it’s in the service of a Dad Joke. When I explain nut allergies to my kids? “Well, in a nutshell …” When I explain the importance of being an organ donor? “Well, it takes guts …” When my kid won’t go down for a nap? “Stop resisting a rest!” You certainly get the point.
“Silent but deadly” humor kills in a Dad Joke. Animals are funny to kids. Butts are funny to kids. Everything that comes out of animals’ butts, it must be said, is funny to kids. And while this puerile humor might be something we dads pretended to have outgrown years ago, we now have reason to play the hits, so to speak. With Dad Jokes, it’s okay to tell jokes about flatulence, even if they stink. Happiness comes from within, like … well, you know.
Dad Jokes should be spontaneous. Consider the chocolate covered joke from my dad above. Dads are generally understood to be somewhat clueless; it’s the essence of “bumbling Dad” in totality. So, it’s important that a Dad Joke is something that the dad in question stumbled upon by accident and is only sharing because he doesn’t know how not to. It’s an extension of all else dad-adjacent: the dad bod, the dad wardrobe, the dad rock. We don’t tell Dad Jokes because we want to. We tell Dad Jokes because we can’t help ourselves.
It’s good to share these moments with your kids because they’ll remember them. I certainly do.
You might even say that Dad Jokes are somewhat like pickles – they’re all pretty big dills.
The Thoughts I Think When I Take My Kids to the Zoo
by Tyler Sjostrom
As a parent to two young boys, I have default responses to a multitude of potentially sticky situations. Older son is pouting? “Alexa, play ‘Blinding Lights’ by The Weeknd.” Younger son is fussy? “Here comes daddy to blow raspberries on your tummy!” Nothing to do on a Saturday morning? “Everyone in the car! We’re going to find the nearest collection of animals!”
But for as much as I enjoy going to zoos – and I do, even if they kinda seem like animal prisons – I have questions and thoughts.
1) Why did every parent within 100 miles decide to come here at the exact same time as me?
2) Why am I the only parent within 100 miles who knows how to park?
3) What animal would be the best at driving and parking an automobile? (I’d argue in favor of the three-toed sloth. He’s cautious, you see.)
4) Hey, did you know that Fair Haven, Vermont, has a dog for a mayor? Mayor Woodford seems to have a lot going for him, but his favorability would certainly improve if he were a canine.
5) Do zoo animals have their own political hierarchies, and if so, are their leaders more or less qualified than the mayor of Fair Haven, Vermont?
6) Assuming that zoo animals do indeed have political hierarchies, where does the world’s best animal – the penguin, duh – fall on the political spectrum?
7) Do penguins often find themselves saying, “I’m sorry, I thought you were someone else,” to other penguins?
8) The Penguin in “Batman” was diabolical. The penguins in “Madagascar” are conspiratorial and clever. The penguins in “Happy Feet” are fabulous. In the wild, penguins are more faithful to their mates than humans. Penguins fascinate me, and I’m not alone in saying so.
9) Oh, how much is it to ride the zoo train? Whether it is $2 or $200, I’m in.
10) A zoo without a zoo train is exactly half of a zoo. (Tractor rides are an acceptable substitute if we find ourselves on a farm.)
11) If my professional career peaks with “conductor of the zoo train,” there isn’t any way I could be happier. Unless this was just one of my several duties as mayor of Fair Haven, Vermont.
12) What animal would be best at conducting the zoo train, assuming the three-toed sloth is still parking the car?
13) I’ve never left the Monkey House and said anything other than, “Do monkeys always sit perfectly still and not do anything?”
14) I’ve never left the Bird House and said anything other than, “You know, that was so much more enjoyable than the Monkey House.”
15) I have been pooped on in a Bird House. I’ve found that this does very little to make the experience less enjoyable.
16) If the elephants/giraffes/lions/seals/otters don’t emerge during your visit, a full refund is appropriate.
17) When my son sees the lions at the zoo, he yells “Mufasa!” And when the daddy lion is being lazy, he says, “Mufasa sleeping.” The day he learns that Mufasa isn’t sleeping will be the day the zoo is ruined for eternity.
18) For a dad, the perfect intersection of “total emasculation” and “total cuteness” is sweating through the zoo with an infant strapped to your chest.
19) Getting out of the zoo is no easier than getting in. Hey, could we leave today, Sloth?!
20) The second-best part of leaving: when my son says, “Zoo again soon?” The best part about leaving: when he recaps every animal he saw, from the diabolical penguins to the do-nothing monkeys.
Going to the zoo with your kids is one of the many things that makes being a dad a great job. Not on par with zoo train conductor or dog mayor of Fair Haven, Vermont, of course, but a great job, nonetheless.
The Summer Job Syllabus
by Tyler Sjostrom
Whenever I visit a tourist town (which because I’m nothing if not predictably basic, is often), I always take stock of the individuals who are scooping my Moose Tracks, bagging my saltwater taffy, or applying a henna tattoo to my lower back. And in making small talk, I always offer some variation of, “Hey, this must be a fun summer job.”
I’m not always sincere in this assessment. Some summer jobs look, and probably are, miserable, and no amount of sunshine can make this untrue. But because the window of when a person can properly enjoy the sacrosanct “summer job” (roughly ages 15-23) is short and because I’ve enjoyed a few great ones myself (thanks for the memories, North Prairie Bison Ranch), I feel like I’ve got a decent read on what makes one summer job better than another. It also won’t be long before my own sons are looking for a little extra scratch, and they’ll overlook my long history of henna tattoos and seek out any wisdom I might offer.
The knowledge they will glean is found herein.
Work with your friends whenever possible. One summer I worked in a pizza shop in Oregon with a college friend who would later stand in my wedding. That summer, any time a pretty girl walked by, we’d say, “Could I get some kalamata olives?” Everyone within earshot knew what we meant. Ten years later, when my wife and I took our vows, he slapped me on the back and said, “Ty, your wife, she’s a real kalamata olive.” Jobs come and jobs go, so spend those hours with people you like.
A good summer job should be limited to the actual months of summer. Adults understand that, before long, even the coolest job just becomes “a job.” Furthermore, jobs that revolve around things that are distinct to the summer months — ice cream shops, scooter rentals, drive-in movies — don’t have the necessary calendar pages to become monotonous. So, by keeping a job only for the months when a sleeveless shirt is the only vital part of the uniform, you’ll still remember it fondly when you’re back in class after Labor Day.
Money is the root of all evil great, but lived experience is far greater. In high school, I remember a friend got a job transferring paper files to his accountant dad’s computer. “I’m getting 10 bucks an hour,” he bragged. That same summer, I worked at a yogurt shop where I never knew or cared if I was getting a paycheck. But I did get a girlfriend out of the deal, and I can’t imagine transferring tax documents made my friend ever fall in love. And when summer ended, so did the relationship, as the rules of summer romance dictate.
Get an outside job whenever possible. When you’re an adult, it’s very likely you will only work inside. During the workday, you will mostly see other people enjoying the outdoors only through windows. “It looks nice out,” you’ll say. And then you’ll draw the shades because sunlight makes your monitor tougher to see. So, by all means, get those outdoor jobs while you can: landscaping, lifeguarding, farming, coaching. You may get an uneven tan, but you’ll get a more balanced life experience overall.
Consider the “after hours” benefits. My hometown has a water park that I’ve only visited when it was technically closed. This is because the kids who worked there would let their friends join them for some non-sanctioned hijinks when that day’s screaming children were safe in their beds. It’s been two decades since those summer nights, but the kids who made their own rules after hours remain summer job royalty in my eyes.
Much like summer itself, the window for when a person can enjoy a summer job is brief and fleeting. The henna tattoo won’t last forever, young friends, but the memories just might.