'Rents Lose It

Becky enrolled at Oakton High School, where she faced the first snubbings she had ever experienced. The suburban Washington teenagers were snotty and mean. Becky gave it her best to fit in, especially in chorus and orchestra, but the effort didn't pay off. Her grades slipped and she started cutting school.

cellocase04Becky kept right on being funny, though. In a fit of comic genius, she placed my Killy hat and blonde hairpiece on her cello case, with a result something like this:

Becky and I were doing the usual stuff for kids in 1970--smoking pot and cigarettes, hanging out with people we didn't know very well, picking up hitchhikers and bringing them into the house when our parents were gone. Gen and Doug oscillated between concern and rage as their control over us slipped away. I was 19, employed, and beyond their reach. Becky was having trouble adjusting to the move from Utah and was fed up with being told what to do by what we figured were incompetent and inconsistent authority figures.

In addition, Doug was anxious about his new job. He hated the 12-mile commute to Washington through Northern Virginia's traffic, which was untenable even back then, especially for someone from the west's wide open spaces. He usually came home from work irritable, raging about left-hand turners and Metrobuses, and spoiling for a fight. Gen, who apparently felt sorry for him, what with all the stress he was under, was perfectly willing to help him out by setting Becky up for a fall. Becky's messy bedroom would do the trick.

No normal teenager maintains a clean bedroom. Everybody knows that. It's a fact of life. A parent who knows how to choose his battles just closes the door and counts the days until the kid goes off to her own life, leaving the bedroom a smoking hole ready for repurposing as a den. Not Gen and Doug.

Grounding Becky didn't get her bedroom cleaned up and didn't even keep her at home, so they went for her jugular. They sold her cello. They had threatened me with the same tactic over my violin, but I shut them up after I started making big bucks at the NEA and quickly saved enough money to pay them for the sonofabitch. At 15, Becky wasn't in a position to do that. She had a paper route, but it didn't pay the couple of thousand bucks she needed to get Gen and Doug off her back.

I still fail to understand why parents would steer their kids into music careers, then pull the cloth out from the carefully set table by selling the cutlery, but there it is--and over a messy bedroom.

By selling the cello, they lost any psychological leverage they thought they had over Becky, so they resorted to the only tool they had left--and the one they knew best--physical violence. Over a messy bedroom.