I remember my first time smoking a cigarette like it was yesterday.
It happened when I was in high school, somewhere around 15 years of age. My friends and I were up to our usual antics—wandering through suburbia on our way to “roll a house” with toilet paper we bought at Safeway. I can’t remember who our target was since it happened so long ago—I’m now 42, so you do the math—but I will never forget the question my friend John asked when he saw me eyeballing his pack of Merit cigarettes.
“You want one?”
He held out the pack with one butt conveniently poking out from the others and, like a moron, I took it and accepted a light, as well. And the rest, as they say, is history.
A smart man would have refused and gone on his merry way. As I said, though, I was only 15, so my brain obviously wasn’t developed enough with regard to decision-making… or should I say good decision-making. And I have been smoking ever since—sometimes a pack a day and sometimes more—for nearly three decades.
I did quit for six months at two different times, but always returned to my tar-ridden friends, usually out of boredom. Of course, I may have been destined for smoking from a young age, but please know I only blame myself for the poor choices I’ve made.
When I was a young boy, my mother was a smoker. She wasn’t a heavy tobacco user, by any means, but I have clear memories of her lighting up in our old station wagon, especially after leaving the pool in the summertime. My brother and sister would immediately complain about the smell, but I always enjoyed it. And I’m sure this experience planted the seed for what would later become my most destructive habit.
Fortunately, my mother managed to quit smoking “cold turkey” and quickly joined the ranks of non-smokers who preach and nag others to follow suit. She would always say, “You won’t quit until you want to quit.” And for a long time, I agreed. Then I realized something my mother obviously overlooked. What if you don’t necessarily want to quit, but know that you need to?
This is the question I now face as I consider a third attempt at quitting. The first time I tried to kick the habit, I employed all the tools available to me at the time, from nicotine patches and gum to self-help tapes and books. Nothing worked and the first time I smelled a cigarette again, I got right back into it. My second attempt was slightly more successful and lasted a bit longer—this time using Chantix, the new smoking cessation kid on the block at that time—but since it gave me migraine headaches and may have eventually killed me (much faster than cigarettes, I might add), I failed again and returned to the nicotine treats.
And I have been smoking ever since, this time accepting the fact I may never successfully quit and giving myself over to the hacking, phlegm-producing loveliness that all chronic smokers experience. Represent, addicted brothers and sisters!
Seriously, though, the time for a third attempt at non-smoking is steadily approaching, largely due to two factors: my son and recent advances in smoking cessation technology.
As the father of a 6-year-old boy—one who has repeatedly asked me to quit smoking because “it’s bad for me” and “I could die from it”—I can longer think of consequences like emphysema and lung cancer as being relevant to me alone. Every drag I take from a cigarette moves me one step closer to death—and one step further from life with my son. And believe me, I want to be around for as much of his life as possible, preferring to grow old rather than adhering to my usual justification for smoking: “We all have to die of something.”
This is true, of course, but it doesn’t mean I should speed up the process, either. Choosing to smoke is like playing Russian roulette over and over again. You never know when you’ve smoked the cigarette that will ultimately kill you, so why take chances? After all, smoking is nothing more than gradual suicide. And to paraphrase Brad Pitt’s character from one of my favorite films—Ocean’s Eleven—I’m only suicidal in the morning. Most other times I consider myself to be reasonably well-adjusted, which I’m sure some who know me well would dispute.
Here’s hoping they keep their mouths shut, though. And you know who you are.
As if staying alive for my son wasn’t enough, I’m also considering another attempt at quitting because of the advances made in the field of smoking cessation recently—most notably the surge of electronic cigarettes on the market. Nicotine gum and patches are no longer the cutting edge, which is fine by me since I often found myself smoking while using these ineffective tools. Electronic cigarettes, on the other hand, not only target withdrawal symptoms by offering several different levels of nicotine inserts; they also help with the ritual of smoking—the experience of having something in your hand and mouth that seems like a cigarette, but does far less damage. And at this point in my smoking career, the ritual is about the only reason I smoke anymore.
By now, I’m sure my body has developed some kind of immunity to nicotine, since the same thing seems to have happened with caffeine. I can drink coffee all day long and still get to sleep. It doesn’t even energize me all that much anymore. Sad, I know, but this is the unfortunate consequence of long-term addiction to any substance… not that this is anything new, of course.
So here’s my plan: weed out traditional cigarettes, bring in electronic smokes and eventually kick them both completely. It won’t be easy and the chances of me becoming even more of an ass will increase exponentially with each passing day, but I have to try. My son is worth it and if quitting means spending more time with him, then I don’t really have a choice. This will happen soon, but first I have one more important task to complete: convincing my family members to spring for a Blu starter pack, preferably in time for my birthday in a few months.
No one said quitting would be cheap!
I’m sure we have all heard the “urban legend” about a young boy caught smoking by his parents, who then lock him in a room with a carton of cigarettes and tell him not to come out until he has smoked them all. Their objective is obviously to punish the boy for being bad while also ensuring he gets so sick of smoking that he never picks up a cigarette again. Granted, this seems like a very extreme measure—especially where young children are concerned—but some would likely classify it as “tough love” and support such a decision.
I am not one of those people.
The reason I classify this example as an urban legend is because I’ve heard about it numerous times, but never knew anyone who actually experienced such punishment—at least not until I read about a Tennessee couple who did this very thing recently. Instead of using cigarettes to punish their 5-year-old daughter, though, they used something most of us would never consider dangerous: grape soda.
Randall Lee Vaughn, 41, and his wife Mary Lavonne Vaughn, 58, of Surgoinsville, Tennessee are currently being held on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child neglect and aggravated child abuse. If convicted, they could face up to 60 years in prison or even the death penalty, depending on how things play out. Of course, I hope the latter occurs and after you hear what they did, I’m sure you will feel the same.
Apparently, the Vaughn’s daughter Alexa Linboom—a precious little 5-year-old girl—stole several cans of grape soda that belonged to her stepmother, so they decided to teach her a lesson. In the span of only a few hours, they forced Alexa to drink more than two liters of grape soda and water. What they didn’t consider, however, is how damaging it can be to consume so much liquid in such a short time. It basically dropped Alexa’s sodium levels so low that her brain began to swell. She started to turn blue and when she became unresponsive, the couple put her in the car and drove her to the emergency room. Alexa was soon airlifted to Niswonger Children’s Hospital, but the brain damage she suffered was too great. She was removed from life support and died a few days later.
The official cause of Alexa’s death was homicide due to “acute fluid/water intoxication,” but it’s obvious that something more disturbing was to blame—something both of her parents seem to possess in spades: stupidity. After all, punishing Alexa with “time out” or even a small spanking would likely have taught her the lesson… and she would still be alive, too. Thanks to stupidity, though, the outcome was much different… and much more tragic.
And all because an innocent little girl took some grape soda… how ridiculous is that?
When he was just 14 years old, Jimmy Pallais was adopted from Costa Rica and came to America to live with his new parents—Alex and Jenny Pallais—in Houston, Texas. Despite speaking very little English and being a literal “stranger in a strange land,” Jimmy was excited about his new life and went to his first day at Memorial Middle School anxious to see what his future would hold.
Little did he know that by the time he was 15, he would be getting extra special attention from the person assigned to tutor him in Language Arts: former English support teacher Kathryn Camille Murray. And when I say extra special attention, I of course mean the sexual kind.
In the beginning, Jimmy found comfort in Murray’s classroom—getting help with his homework and learning to communicate more effectively—and like many boys at his school, developed a little crush on his attractive young teacher. And who could blame him? Teachers certainly didn’t look as good when I was going in middle school… damn it.
Eventually, Jimmy summoned the courage to write his tutor a love letter, but lost his nerve before giving it to her. He tore it up and dropped it in the trash on his way out of class. Murray apparently saw this and when Jimmy returned to her class the next time, she told him so.
“I read your letter,” she said. “I really like you, like, for real… but we can’t have anything.”
This last statement obviously turned out to be false, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
When Jimmy’s parents discovered that their son had a crush on his married teacher—he often referred to her as pretty and would spend hours after school getting one-to-one “tutoring” with her, alone—they emailed Murray and also contacted the school principal, who assured them Jimmy would be moved to another class. This obviously didn’t help because Jimmy continued to communicate with his teacher through Facebook. And the following Monday morning, the young student decided to take his shot, so to speak.
Arriving at school early, Jimmy marched straight into Murray’s classroom and kissed her. Then he walked out and went to his first class. When he returned to Murray’s class later, she told Jimmy that she wanted him to kiss her again. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Jimmy and his young, apparently sex-starved—and possibly mentally ill—teacher had sex in her classroom, at a local hotel and even in his own bed at his parents’ house. Once they even hooked up after Jimmy’s father dropped him off for a school dance. Murray parked her car at the church next to the school and waited for Jimmy, who snuck over to meet her once his father was out of sight. And their secret affair likely would have continued if not for a series of unfortunate events… unfortunate for them, I mean.
Suspicion first arose after Jimmy confided in another teacher and told her that he had kissed Murray. Jimmy also claimed to have taken some “selfies” of them kissing using the cell phone his mother loaned to him. He eventually returned the phone to her, and that’s when the next disturbing clue surfaced. Jenny Pallais received a text message from Murray that was clearly intended for her son: “You know I love you… I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re going to be happy together… I’m worried about how obvious we are at school… I miss you.”
As if this wasn’t a dead giveaway, 12-year-old Fernando Pallais—Jimmy’s younger brother—told his mother he had walked in on Jimmy and Murray having sex in her own home. They were in bed together and even though he never saw sexual activity, per se, the young man did notice several condoms and Murray’s bra lying on the floor. And no, these condoms were not in their wrappers, either.
Jenny Pallais—who obviously missed her calling as a crime scene investigator—immediately collected her son’s sheets, contacted the police and had everything sent to a lab for DNA testing. And when the results were returned, they confirmed that Murray had been in the home with Jimmy. The police arrested Murray and charged her with sexual assault of a child, but soon released her on bail with the understanding that she would cease all contact with her young student.
Clearly, this didn’t happen.
Over the course of a few months, Jimmy confessed everything to his mother and then to police, who confirmed his story using hours of video surveillance footage from the school and even from the hotel the pair visited together. Prosecutors charged Murray with two more counts of sexual assault of a child, added one count of an improper relationship with a student and ordered her to wear an ankle bracelet. Of course, none of it helped since Jimmy and Murray began seeing each other secretly again.
And once again, their secret didn’t last, this time because Jimmy’s parents hired a private investigator to follow him. One late evening as she was “staking out” the Pallais’ home, the P.I. noticed Jimmy sneaking out and walking a short distance to meet a friend, who then drove him across town to an upscale, gated home. Jimmy jumped out and went inside, at which point the investigator contacted police and discovered who actually owned the house.
It belonged to Murray’s father. And she was already inside waiting for him, too.
The P.I. called Jimmy’s parents and by the time they arrived, police had surrounded the home and were using a loudspeaker to try to coax out the forbidden lovers. Eventually, Jimmy returned to his parents while police arrested his naughty teacher again. Murray’s bond was revoked and this time, she was thrown in jail.
Kathryn Murray had her day in court this week and, much to the chagrin of Jimmy’s parents and countless others around the country, her punishment seemed like little more than a slap on the wrist. Murray received a “felony deferred adjudication” and will serve only one year in Harris County jail. She has been ordered to surrender her teaching license—duh—and must also register as a sex offender.
And she must never contact Jimmy again, which is a directive I certainly don’t expect her to follow. Now 17 years old—and despite dealing with depression, suicidal thoughts and a host of other troubling emotions—Jimmy still has feelings for her. Granted, he claims that the love he feels for her isn’t the same as before, but it is still love. And since Jimmy answered “maybe” when asked if he would ever see Murray again, I suspect that the real answer is “yes.”
Just be sure to wait until you’re 18, okay Jimmy? At least then you’re officially responsible for your own bad decisions.
It’s finally Friday and like millions of people around the country, I am anxiously waiting for what I hope will be a relaxing, flu-free weekend. Of course, there are still hours to go until quitting time—the perfect amount of time for another edition of the Reality Round-Up—so here are some dumb and disturbing things that have been happening in the good old United States recently.
23-year-old Teresa Hernandez appeared in court this week on charges of first-degree assault of a child. Apparently, she was home taking care of her boyfriend’s 3-year-old son and decided to punish him in some extreme and brutal ways.
When he got too close to her while she was ironing, Hernandez pressed the hot iron down on his hand and left it there for at least five seconds while he screamed in pain. She initially told police that he grabbed the iron by accident, but changed her story a short time later.
Hernandez also confessed to pushing the young boy down the stairs a few days after burning him with the iron. She was apparently bringing a laundry basket downstairs and pushed into the boy, who tumbled down 12 stairs and hit his head on the tile floor below. The boy was taken to Randall Children’s Hospital for surgery and, as of now, remains in fair condition.
I certainly hope this poor little guy recovers. And I hope they throw the proverbial book at this mean “witch with a capital B.” What a loser…
PORTSMOUTH, RHODE ISLAND
A few weeks ago, Portsmouth Middle School parents received a rather disturbing email informing them of even more disturbing behavior by some of their students. It seems that some kids were caught snorting Smarties, the sugary candy normally associated with Halloween and trick-or-treating.
According to school officials, snorting the fruity treats causes a sugar rush—likely the same kind of rush you might get from actually eating the candy. Unfortunately for this young “users,” snorting sugar won’t get you high and could instead do damage to nasal passages. What’s worse is that school officials even claimed this behavior could lead to cigarette smoking or drug use later, which makes sense since a buzz-seeking middle school student may be more willing to experiment with different substances.
I only hope they don’t graduate to something harder… like Fun Dip or Pixie Sticks!
A 14-year-old girl in the Chicago area was arrested on Tuesday morning and charged with murder. And what she did shocked the small Mundelein community where she lives.
On Monday night, the young girl reached her breaking point with her 11-year-old half-sister, who she felt was unappreciative for all the help she’d been given—her older sister often cooked dinner for her and performed other chores around the house. After deliberating for 10 or 15 minutes, the older sibling went down to the kitchen, grabbed a butcher knife and proceeded to stab her younger sister… at least 40 times!
After showering and rinsing off the blood, the young girl phoned the police and claimed an intruder had broken in and attacked her sister. Local schools were briefly placed on lockdown, but this soon ended once the young assailant confessed to her crime. And since her sister died a short time after being found, the young killer could now be tried as an adult and could spend a considerable portion of her life behind bars.
It’s sad that we live in a society where even young children resort to violence to solve problems that could easily be solved without it. School shootings get all the attention, but it’s obvious that the problem runs much deeper. And the true victims are the kids who should be learning reading, writing and arithmetic… not revenge.
It saddens me to report on this next story, but it does provide yet another example of young children taking extreme and violent measures. Only this time the child in question was an 8-year-old boy.
By all accounts, Julianni Plascencia was a happy and sensitive young boy. He served as the youngest usher at his church, loved to play football and often asked his parents to give money to homeless people on the street. Unfortunately, something changed last Saturday night… and it was something destined to change the lives of his loved ones forever.
While his mother was out buying groceries, Julianni told his older brother that he was going to hang himself. His brother thought he was joking and told him not to say such things or he would tell his mother. Julianni walked away and, for a while, everything seemed fine… at least until his brother realized how quiet the house became and went to see what was happening.
What happened next still shocks the hell out of me.
The older brother found Julianni in his parents’ bedroom and, sadly, he had done exactly what he said he would: he used a scarf to hang himself from the doorknob. Paramedics soon arrived on the scene and were able to get Julianni’s heart started on the way to UC Davis Medical Center, but he passed away the next morning.
Julianni’s father believes his son was only mimicking something he’d seen on television, but that certainly doesn’t make his suicide any easier to handle. And again, it seems as if our violent society has claimed yet another victim… and we all know that he won’t be the last.
It’s been a weird couple of weeks and, as you can see from these stories, a traumatic few weeks, too. Kind of makes you wonder what tomorrow will bring, doesn’t it?
It finally happened.
After watching the entire eastern seaboard of the U.S. experience blizzards and record low temperatures for weeks on end, snow has finally come to my state.
And I could not be happier.
Like a giddy schoolboy, I sat up until the wee hours of the morning waiting for word of school closings—both mine and my son’s. He wanted to stay up with me—as I did with my siblings when I was young and the forecast called for snow—but ended up crashing around 11 p.m.
It was easily 3 a.m. before I finally passed out, and with only a two-hour delay to speak of. Fortunately, a pee break around 6 a.m. led to one last news check and, lo and behold, both of our schools were closed.
So here we sit in the midst of a snow day—the first in at least a few years. Granted, the snow’s already melting, there are large patches of muddy grass starting to appear and the roads seem fine, but for the next five or six hours, it will still feel like a wintry vacation.
Time to make a few snowballs, so I’ll catch up with you good people again tomorrow!
It finally happened. The flu has come to my house for the first time this season.
Maybe it’s this polar vortex and its arctic, bone-chilling temperatures that are to blame. Or the fact that one day it’s 30 degrees and the next it’s 65. Who knows?
The sad fact is that influenza is here now… and it totally sucks. Not for me, thankfully, but for my poor little man—although I have been kind of achy today, which is not a good sign. Time to push fluids and try to nip this thing before it really takes hold, I guess. Wish me luck (whimper, whimper).
Fortunately, my son’s temperature has dropped considerably and he actually ate something, so I know he’s on the road to recovery. And since I hope to avoid the flu this year—and got a damned flu shot to prevent it (we’ll see if it was worth the trouble soon enough)—today’s post pays tribute to one of the most annoying, dangerous, sniffling, snotty, painful, uncomfortable and downright unpleasant “bugs” ever to plague human beings: the influenza virus.
Please hold your applause until the end of the show…
Since I only have one child and have no idea whether I will ever have a second, baby names aren’t something I consider very often. Honestly, the only time they ever come to mind is when pregnant friends—or their proud husbands—engage me in baby name conversations, and even that is rare.
It’s actually extremely rare for husbands to do this, but when they do, it’s usually pretty quick. And most of the guys I know tend to let their wives choose, if for no other reason than men automatically pick the last name—unless they’re one of those progressive couples who use the woman’s name, a neutral name or even a symbol instead.
None of my friends fall into that category, I’m afraid.
Aside from these scarce occasions, the only other times I consider baby names are when those annual lists come out—the ones that tabulate the most popular names of the year. I’m sure you’ve seen them. Normally, they come out in the early spring, sometime around May. This year, however, I heard mention of them on NPR. And they didn’t just cover the popular names, either; they shared some of the strangest names as well.
The most popular baby names of 2013 (so far) vary from source to source, but there are always similarities. For boys, the so-called “top names” for 2013 babies were Liam, Noah, Oliver, Aiden, Asher, Owen, Benjamin, Declan, Henry and Jackson.
Is it me, or does anyone else sense some British influences in these name selections? God Save the Queen!
Baby girls also leaned towards the U.K. in 2013. Their top names were Charlotte, Amelia, Olivia, Ava, Aria, Violet, Sophia, Scarlett, Audrey and Emma. Toss in Chloe and Poppy and we may have a second British Invasion on our hands!
Of course, the best baby names—at least to me—aren’t the ones deemed popular, catchy, cute, thoughtful or even fitting; they’re the ones that make you say, “Now what in the hell were those parents thinking?” And trust me, 2013 had its share of terrible, bizarre and even hilarious baby names.
To be polite, we’ll implement “ladies first” and start with the baby girls, who will likely endure endless ridicule because of their new names:
- Assia—Avoiding names with the word “ass” in them is just good business.
- Blip—Is this supposed to be a name or a sound?
- Chevy—So dependable that you can ride her all day and she’ll still come back for more!
- Disney—This won’t get you a discount on Disney products or theme parks, you know?
- Eternity—She doubles as an enticing fragrance for women.
- Feline—Sorry if this sounds vulgar, but won’t this bring mention of “pussy” far too early?
- Goodness—Watch out if this name becomes a challenge NOT to live up to it!
- Kiwi—She’s almost as delicious and juicy as her fruity namesake.
- Miracle—At least 800 girls received this moniker, which isn’t as bad as those with variations like Ahmiracle and Dmiracle!
- Phone—Hold the phone? Someone actually named their kid… phone? I sense quite a bit of disconnect in her parents’ thinking.
- Trixie—This should be classified with other “prostitute names” like Kitty, Chastity and Bubbles.
- Wrigley—Their chewing gum is so tasty, why not name your kid after it? Talk about horrible product placement!
Sadly, baby boys were just as unlucky in 2013 and could see plenty of playground ass-kicking in their future. Among this year’s victims were the following children, all of whom could use your prayers and support:
- Butterbean—The vegetable isn’t even that good… and lest we forget about the boxer/wrestler Butterbean, who might just sue you for copyright infringement!
- Carrion—Yes, my baby boy is actually road kill. Scrape him up and let’s get him home.
- Cheese—Cut the cheese, people. No one deserves to be named after your favorite dairy product. And this could become a very sore subject if he ends up being lactose intolerant.
- Chow—His parents either love a particular breed of dog or appreciate a synonym for food or eating.
- Danish—I hope the parents of Cheese didn’t use this for his middle name!
- Egypt—At least he can jokingly refer to his penis as King Tut someday. Maybe King Nut.
- Harshit—This name means “full of happiness” in Sanskrit, but in English it translates to “shitty name.”
- Kodiak—It’s possible he may someday become a “bear”—a slang gay term for a large, hairy and ruggedly masculine man—but why rush things?
- Legend—That’s a lot to live up to, don’t you think?
- Panda—I have no response to this, except to say that it’s very sad.
- Rocket—Finally, Elton John will have his Rocket Man!
- Stetson—This name would probably fly in Texas… no offense, of course.
Please, please, please don’t do something like this to your children. Take it from someone who has experienced “name issues” his entire life—albeit for having foreign names rather than crazy ones: kids have enough problems these days. Why start them off with yet another disadvantage?
And I’m sorry, but if you think bullies won’t flock to a kid named Cheese Danish Williams, you’ve got another thing coming!
There was a time when I worried a great deal about America’s youth. To me, they seemed apathetic, lazy, entitled, annoying… the list goes on and on. And I can only imagine how some of them viewed me.
Over time—and thanks to some outstanding young people who proved me wrong—I began to worry less about our nation’s youth and more about the people responsible for many of their issues: PARENTS.
Trust me when I say that I am not a perfect parent and would never criticize other parents without having a very good reason to do so. And I also know that parents aren’t the so-called “root of all evil” when it comes to kids-gone-bad, at least not always.
However, we all know there are parents out there who do unspeakable, idiotic and shocking things to their kids… parents who make you wonder why more contraception isn’t available or why our government couldn’t have neutered them before they had the chance to multiply. Take 25-year-old Cheryl Keele of Rockdale County, Georgia, for instance.
Deputies arrested Keele on December 4th and charged her with burglary. Apparently, items continued to turn up missing from her neighbor’s home, including cash, prescription medication and even a gun. The neighbor always locked up nice and tight, but would often find the back door unlocked upon returning home from work. So she set up a motion-activated video camera in an attempt to catch the culprit in the act.
The next time she returned home to find her back door unlocked, Keele’s neighbor immediately checked the video footage. Unfortunately, she couldn’t load it because her camera was also missing!
The good news is that the police could review the footage. In it, they saw Keele’s small child sneak in through the doggie door, unlock the back door and allow his mother to come in and clean the place out. Needless to say, this led police to Keele’s home, where they obviously located the neighbor’s stolen camera.
I would claim to be amazed by Keele’s irresponsible, criminal and just-plain-stupid behavior—teaching her child to be a thief with no regard for his safety or even his future—but honestly, nothing surprises me anymore. Not even this final “Parent of the Year” candidate from Union County, South Carolina—and he could be a front-runner.
Deputies were called recently to a home on Jonesville-Lockhart Highway after family members reported 36-year-old Ty Ray Jones assaulting them and threatening them… and their pets. They told officers that Jones was drunk on the same moonshine he manufactured himself, right there on the property.
With probable cause firmly in hand, deputies searched the home and discovered a homemade distillery. They also encountered Jones’ child, who told them he was forced to make moonshine against his will and often feared for his safety. The poor kid even described the moonshine-making process in detail to the officers.
Jones was obviously arrested and has been charged with unlawful neglect of a child, unlawful possession of a distillery, criminal domestic violence and unlawful manufacturing of liquor. He is currently spending his nights in the Union County Jail.
One parent wants her kid to steal and the other wants his to bootleg.
Talk about having some messed up family traditions!
Wikipedia—the most reputable of all websites (and I am being extremely facetious, by the way)—defines an urban legend as “a form of modern folklore consisting of stories that may or may not have been believed by their tellers to be true.”
And I’m sure we are all familiar with some of the more popular urban legends: gang members who drive with their high beams on, wait for a passing motorist to flash them and then hunt down and murder them as part of their gang initiation; stomachs that explode after eating Pop Rocks and drinking carbonated soda; serial killers hiding in the back seats of cars; escaped murderers with hooks instead of hands; and so on and so forth.
Hell, there was even a string of mediocre movies about urban legends. The 1998 slasher film Urban Legend was the best of the bunch, and even that wasn’t all that great.
Nevertheless, urban legends are all around us and continue to spread through each generation—who incidentally continue this trend by creating urban legends of their own.
Personally, I find urban legends extremely interesting, even though I know most—if not all—of them are horseshit… or at least they used to be.
One of the most frightening urban legends from my childhood centers around one of my favorite holidays—and one many of us will celebrate tomorrow: Halloween.
I am, of course, talking about trick-or-treaters receiving apples—or candy—with razor blades hidden inside.
As a child, I didn’t worry too much about razor blades in apples because honestly, I never ate them anyway. People who hand out fruit mean well, but no one I knew ever cared for it. And we always considered playing a trick on them so the following year they would consider giving kids what they really wanted: junk food and other sweets to rot out their teeth.
Every Halloween, this same urban legend would rise to the surface, usually as warnings from parents: “Make sure you don’t eat anything until we check it for razor blades and such.” Kids didn’t always listen, of course, but many of us heard this every year.
Despite these warnings, though, I never knew anyone or heard of anyone who actually found a razor blade in their candy… at least not until recently.
Last Sunday, children in Scottdale, Pennsylvania went trick-or-treating—most likely since Halloween falls so late in the week—and among them was Matthew Hernley, a 12-year-old who seems to love the holiday as much as I do.
Michael and his mother Lydia Nelson made the rounds and collected tons of candy, but when they got home and checked it, they found something that turned an urban legend into reality. In one of the packages of M&M candies that Michael received, they found what authorities have described as a “razor-like blade.” Unfortunately, Michael could not remember which house the candy came from, but this would matter little once his mom contacted M&M/Mars, the company that produces the popular candy that “melts in your mouth, not in your hands.”
According to the people at M&M/Mars, the blade likely slipped into the bag during the manufacturing process—there were no visible signs of tampering, so this seems legitimate enough. Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that other bags of M&M’s could also contain sharp objects… and kids all over the place will be ingesting thousands of the tasty treats soon—if they aren’t already, that is.
The obvious lesson to be learned from this situation is to always check your candy and treats before you start eating them. However, I might add that since this urban legend came true, it’s totally possible that others will, too.
So before you flash your lights at someone blinding you with their high beams or decide to wash down those Pop Rocks with an ice-cold Coke, consider whether you might be the next victim of an urban legend come true.
And tomorrow when you’re trick-or-treating with your children, remember what almost happened to “M&M Michael” and take the necessary precautions. Halloween is supposed to be fun, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be safe.
By now, we all realize the dangers our children face. There are active shooters in schools, bullies, drugs, sex predators and countless other threats to our kids’ lives, and it seems as if no one… and no where… is safe anymore.
Unfortunately, contemporary life isn’t all that safe for parents, either, who face unique dangers of their own. Some are self-inflicted, of course, and some even involve their own children. One thing is for certain, though: parents all over the world are in peril.
See for yourself.
Last Wednesday evening, 16-year-old Mitchell Simon of Liberty Township, Ohio—an honor student with no criminal record—posted this status on his Facebook page: “I’m so pissed at everything I’m boutta be wreckless.” A few hours later, he tied his parents’ bedroom door shut, lit a fire outside it, stole his father’s car and took off.
Fortunately, Mitchell’s parents survived the unexpected attack, but they were both very much the worse for wear. Perry Simon, 50, had to jump from the second floor window and broke both of his legs. And Sharon Simon, 56, escaped with the help of deputies and fire crews, but inhaled quite a bit of smoke in the process. They were both transported to a nearby hospital and should fully recover.
Their son, on the other hand, won’t be so lucky. He has been charged with one count of aggravated arson and two counts of attempted murder. Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones is even planning to press for him to be tried as an adult, especially since detailed and premeditated murder plans were recovered from his home—complete with drawings and diagrams, as I understand. If convicted, Mitchell could be going away for a long, long time… or worse, since capital punishment is still legal in Ohio.
If you’re noticing a pattern in the media of seemingly well-balanced, innocent teenagers suddenly snapping, that’s because it continues to grow with each passing day. I’m not sure what—or who—is to blame, but something tells me parents aren’t always as guiltless as they seem. Consider this next story from Bogota, Colombia.
Margarita de Jesus Zapata Moreno, 45—a mother of 14 with one hell of a long name—was arrested this week for allegedly prostituting 12 of her daughters and selling their virginity to older men for as little as $160 a pop… pun intended.
Although Zapata denies the accusations, police believe that she started selling each daughter as soon as they turned 12 years old. One of her daughters was even impregnated and gave birth to a baby boy when she was only 14!
It’s pretty sick, if you ask me. And who among us would really be surprised if one of these abused girls suddenly lashed out and started killing people? In the ongoing debate over nature versus nurture—which focuses on whether we gain our physical and behavioral traits genetically or through our personal life experiences—I tend to lean towards nurture. Yes, there are things we get genetically from our parents and relatives—pattern baldness, down’s syndrome and a host of others—but I still believe the people we become is largely determined by the experiences we have and the lessons we learn from others.
Parents, of course, are at the top of this list—those who are actually involved in their children’s lives, I mean. We all know there are deadbeats all over the place, and when I hear about them, I am reminded of a quote I heard some time ago: “Any fool can be a father, but it takes a real man to be a dad.” The same could apply to parents in general, if you ask me—any fool can be a parent, but it takes a good person to be a mom or a dad.
This seems reasonable, but what happens when the parents are good people, only they aren’t allowed to be with their children?
The Soza family of Miami, Florida has been asking themselves this same question recently. Last week, Ronald Soza took his kids—Cesia, 17, and Ronald Jr., 14—to school and dropped them off as he had so many times before. Only this time when he returned home, he had some unexpected visitors: U.S. Immigration agents.
You see, Ronald is an undocumented immigrant from Nicaragua who has been living with another family—the Sandigos—while he works to support his family. Unfortunately, his wife and the kids’ mother—Marisela—was deported more than five years ago. Ronald will be joining her soon.
Now two kids who are American citizens—both having been born in this country and doomed to “mixed status” with their parents, who could be deported and taken from them at any moment—are all alone and may face foster care and even separation from one another. For now, at least, they remain with the Sandigo family in Miami. I only hope they can stay there until our government finally addresses immigration issues and finds a realistic solution to situations like theirs.
In 1989—as part of D.J. Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince—rapper and actor Will Smith won a Grammy for the single “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” Today—and because of people like Zapata, the virginity peddler—this still rings true, but I can say this: parents are starting to understand a lot more. And given the dangers that await them in the world—even those coming from within their own families—the timing couldn’t be better… and the need could not be greater, either.