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Funbag

What Crap Should My Teenager Have To Pay For?

1:07 PM EDT on March 14, 2023

View of young music fans as they look at vinyl LPs in the racks of an unidentified record store, Falls Church, Virginia, October 13, 1977. The teen at fore holds two albums ('New England' and 'Locked In') by British rock group Wishbone Ash. (Photo by Warren K Leffler/US News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection/PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
Warren K Leffler/US News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection/PhotoQuest/Getty Images

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we're talking about Easter candy, playing Skee-Ball on the toilet, cereal bags, and more.

Your letters:

Dee:

Your oldest child is slightly older than mine. Mine hasn't had much luck picking up babysitting jobs, is too young for (and can't yet drive to) a retail job, and she won't turn 16 until after summer break ends. How have you handled the luxuries they ask for? My daughter uses her birthday and Christmas money for brand-name leggings and other items, but last week she hit me up for beauty-store waterproof mascara after I just bought her a regular mascara set.

My parents had me at 19, so I grew up with what I needed but we were never wealthy. I had a job from the time I was 16, and I remember buying my own period supplies and schoolbooks as a teenager. We live in an expensive area of the country, so my fear is that she's going to live with me forever while driving a prestigious new car and getting her nails done every week. So what have you made your daughter pay for herself versus you paying for, and did it start once she was old enough to have a job?

I don’t have a clean answer to this, because our daughter represents our first attempt at raising a 17-year-old, you know what I mean? I’ve told her, “Listen man, this is our first time raising a kid to adulthood. We’re learning as we go, and letting you go isn’t gonna be easy for us. So not all of our decisions will be consistent, and there’s a good chance that you won’t even find them rational.” All of that has remained true as my wife and I have sorted out what we should be paying for and what the girl can spend her own damn money on (damn that avocado toast!). But she still works a retail job a couple of days a week, and therefore has enough in the bank to buy clothes at the thrift store, etc. We rarely have to worry about any of that.

But we make exceptions for obvious (to us) shit like school supplies, books she wants to read for pleasure, toiletries, etc. We also pay for her hairdresser, and my wife treats her to a girl’s day out at the salon once in a blue moon. Being a dad, I’m in the dark as to which makeup items are vital and which are over the top, so I rely on my wife’s instincts (and her aversion to overspending) to make those calls. Maybe drugstore mascara irritates my daughter’s eyes and she needs the organic shit, I have no idea. I just go with the flow there. Not every family can afford that, so I understand if that’s a no-go for other parents. Our daughter is a practical girl, so I’ve rarely found any of her material needs to be unreasonable, with the exception that she wants a cat and won’t stop asking us for one. My wife is highly allergic to cats and I personally think that cats are pointless, so we say no and always will. She won't get a cat, or a new Porsche, anytime soon. We've been consistent enough for her to get that implicitly.

The digital age has only created more gray areas on what you should buy for your teenagers. We made the girl pay for her phone and any app she wants, but we pay for her plan. We make her pay for her meals out with friends, but sometimes we slip her a $20 just in case she’s in a pinch. I set up an Uber account for her that I pay because I don’t want her driving drunk. I gave her my ParkMobile password because she doesn’t have a credit card to set up her own (when to get your kid a credit card is its own parenting decision ecosystem). And I make her pay for gas if she drains the tank. Some of those decisions have filtered down to the two boys. We made the youngest pay for Hulu (so he could binge watch all of Naruto) because we don’t watch anything else on it. But we set up Apple Pay for the 14-year-old so that he can buy himself something to eat after soccer practice. It’s a lot of Chipotle quesadillas.

In other words, we’re making all this shit up as we go along, same as every other parent out there. We’re using both life experience and gut instinct as our guides. When those fail us, we adjust as best we can. Our kids aren’t entitled dickheads yet (far as I know), so I think my wife and me are doing as good a job as we can. If we spoil them on occasion with a nice takeout meal or whatever, I don’t freak out about it. It’s fun to spoil your kids on occasion. I’ve read about parents who retroactively charge their kids for groceries, rent, etc. All of that feeds into the whole “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” delusion that permeates the minds of some of our richest assholes. Why have kids if you don’t want to provide for them? Why hold your own upbringing against them? If you want your kids to have a good life, you can start right NOW by springing for the occasional bubble tea. It’s no sin, and it won’t get in the way of teaching them how to be financially responsible. Raise your kids the way you’d want to be raised.

Lyndsey:

Let's say the average Defector reader is somewhere between 35 and 45 years old. What song do you think they've heard the most in their lifetimes? I have to believe it's Counting Crows' "Mr. Jones." That song was absolutely everywhere at least a year after it came out, and today it gets played on alternate rock stations, soft rock stations, and even classic rock stations, not to mention the playlists of many a chain restaurant and grocery store.

Are we counting ALL songs in this question? Because then you’ve gotta factor in “Happy Birthday,” the national anthem (the actual one, not the Radiohead song), Gary Glitter, and every heavy-rotation Christmas song. All of those would be at the top of the list, with “Happy Birthday” probably taking the top slot against your will. Against my will. Against the will of all mankind. This song is a disease, and it must be eradicated.

If you have kids, as I do, you are invariably subjected to a gantlet of kiddie birthday parties where you’re forced to both hear and sing “Happy Birthday” dozens of times, all the time. It has worn my ass out. Neither my wife nor I can listen to that song ever again. I refuse to sing it out of principle. I take a knee in protest anytime I hear other people sing it. If I ever DO sing “Happy Birthday,” I do a noticeably perfunctory rendition of it, so that the person on the other end of the phone knows I’m just as tired of that shit as they are. I want birthdays outlawed now, and that song is the reason why. I can deal with all other overplayed novelty songs. I genuinely like the national anthem, and I love Christmas music. We don’t need birthday music of any sort … unless we change the national birthday anthem to “Time Of Our Lives” by Pitbull. Then I’m good. But “Happy Birthday” needs to be taken out into the forest, shot, and left to die alone.

But let’s go back to Lyndsey’s question. I’m old enough to remember when “Mr. Jones” waged a sudden and vicious assault on the American population back in 1993. I was like why did they record this song while the lead singer was being attacked by a dog? Why did he feel so symbolic yesterday? You can’t seriously tell me this guy has fucked every woman in Hollywood. I thought all of those things, and thought them all 500,000 times I’ve heard “Mr. Jones” since then. But there’s no chance that I was subjected to that song more than “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” or “Beat It,” or [insert horrible Eagles song here], or “Smooth” by Santana featuring Rob Thomas. Zero. Think of any song like “You Sexy Thing” that’s been licensed to death, and suddenly hearing hobo-ass Duritz mangle that high note in the chorus feels downright rare. And you know what song really laps the field? Well … someBODY once told me it was this one:

You know it’s true. Don’t bother fighting me on it. By the way, here’s a twist for you: I think “All Star” is a perfectly good song. I’ve never had a problem with it. Even if I heard it in a grocery store today, in 2023, I get a little extra pep strolling through the baking aisle. That’s when I get my game on.

Christopher:

A variation on the whole, “Can Alabama (or whoever) beat the Texans?” question: What if I am the coach of the Texans? I have never played a down of organized football in my life, but played plenty of Madden and watched countless hours of football on TV. I have a month to learn their playbook. During the game, I am responsible for all personnel packages, play calls, when to challenge, use timeouts, etc. I have to think I am incompetent enough to fuck up the Texans to the point that Saban walks all over us.

Nope, you’d still win that game by a mere 50 points instead of 80. You could use the same personnel on every down. Your QB can audible out of your terrible play calls. You’d fuck up all of your challenges and timeouts, but there are only so many of those to waste. Your atrocious, Mike McCarthy game management skills would be conspicuous but unimpactful, because the talent disparity would remain so vast. My guy Matthew Coller wrote about this just a couple of weeks ago, when one of his readers asked him why the NFL Draft, despite all of the scouting and analytical machinery that goes into it, remains such an inexact science:

The one thing that always comes up about players failing is that they are overwhelmed by the speed/power/violence of the NFL. It’s such a different game. You can tell often tell in their first camp if they’re going to fight to become a good NFL player.

That dynamic isn’t dependent on coaching staffs. You’ve seen plenty of NFL players flourish despite working for awful coaches. YOU would be one such awful coach, and you’d still be able to pull your starters in the third quarter against Georgia.

Doug:

Earlier today I was playing iPhone games on the crapper. It got me to thinking: would I be able to shoot a gun accurately while taking a shit? Drive a car? Ride a motorcycle? Play Skee-ball? Theoretically, anything you can do from a seated position, you can also do while shitting. But I guess what I’m asking is: would the effort and concentration required to pinch off a really good loaf mess with my aim, throw my motorcycle off balance, etc?

Whoa hey wait, who plays Skee-Ball while seated? I’ve been to a lot of shitty boardwalk arcades and I don’t ever remember a row of benches for elderly Skee-Ball enthusiasts. You’d rocket every ball directly into the coin slot, which is amusing visual but detrimental to your ticket haul.

I’ve already gone off track here. A mere 10 Skee-Ball points for me. Lemme answer Doug’s question more comprehensively. You cannot just automatically take a shit while doing other activities you normally do while seated. Both your body and your mind are oriented to make evacuating your bowels the priority when you have to go, which means any other physical distractions are unwelcome. Dicking around on your phone is so low in intensity that it doesn’t really count in this formula, but driving a car? Along a bumpy road? Working the pedals with your foot while semis bob and weave all around you? That’ll make you clench up for a good long while. I have run many stories about people shitting themselves on this website, but the truth is that shitting yourself is hard. It has to be a genuine biological emergency before your brain finally gives your anus the green light. Or you have to be really drunk. One of the two. If shitting under duress were easier, we’d all do it. I’d wear a big diaper on every cross-country flight. But no, no my butt has to be more discerning than that. What a snob.

I do think I could fire a gun while shitting though. I’ve fired plenty of guns in my day. Your job while aiming is to slow down your breath, focus, and hold steady on a fixed target. Those are absolutely ideal conditions to push a big ol’ Snickers bar out of your body. I’d be a deadeye from 200 yards away. Bow and arrow would be a lot trickier. But a gun? Call me the American Standard Sniper.

HALFTIME!

WednesdayGrrl:

Where is the middle ground between, "Obsessed with all possible negative outcomes" and, "Don't worry, be happy?" My partner is a very, "take things as they come" sort of person, whereas I am a very, "plan for every eventuality and fret endlessly" type. When I try to justify my concerns, my partner just tells me not to worry so much (helpful, thanks). I'm sure there's a happy medium in there somewhere, but I can't figure out where it is and I'd sure like to find it.

So much of this is dependent on your life situation and/or your mental health. I’m on record as being vehemently against cynicism, because it doesn’t get you anywhere and it makes you a fucking killjoy. But I’m not stuck in a dead-end job. I’m not commuting two hours a day. I can afford to see a therapist and do so. I’m not dying of cancer. My loved ones aren’t gonna have their homes repossessed by the government as a make-good for their Medicare bills. I can afford to take things as they come, and I have to understand that not everyone can. I do try to see it from that angle, but then I see some weird, goth-ass tweet complaining about, like, the Oscars and I’m like actually no fuck those losers. Like you, WednesdayGrrl, I’m a work in progress on that front. Everyone is. Your whole life can be a hunt for that middle ground.

But you can’t find it alone. You said your partner blows off your fretting. I’ve often done likewise to my own wife, who wants every pothole ahead noticed and taken into account. Makes booking any Expedia trip a touch more arduous. But my wife isn’t a cynic, she’s just being smart and thorough. So when she gives me The Look after I roll my eyes at her, I know that, A) I’m being an insensitive prick, and B) I’m not taking advantage of her contrasting perspective. If she wasn’t on top of everything, we’d probably book the wrong flight dates (which I’ve done in the past). Conversely, if I wasn’t around to be like HEY MAN LET’S GO GET A FUCKING SHAKE, we’d never go get a fucking shake. You gotta complement each other, in both action and temperament. That’s where the middle ground is. It doesn’t come from you; it comes from the dynamic between you and those closest to you. So my advice to WednesdayGrrl it to sit her partner down, explain how she’s wired to them, ask for a little bit of empathy, and then say you’ll try to chill the fuck out wherever you can. Give and take, etc. You can enhance each other’s outlook rather than stifle it.

By the way, none of what I just said applies to sports. You can either ride or die with my team or go fuck yourself.

Allison:

I believe that Easter has the best holiday-specific candy (speaking here of the candy you can find in your grocery store's seasonal aisle). Halloween has the most candy, but it's all just the normal candy you can get any other time of the year. Christmas has a couple unique things like candy canes, but it pales in comparison to Easter. Easter gives you giant chocolate bunnies, Cadbury eggs, Robin's Eggs and other good stuff (not including Peeps in this list because they are bad). Please validate my take by publicly agreeing with it.

Sounds like someone here has never eaten a STALE marshmallow peep. That’s the key. Gotta eat those fuckers when they’ve been sitting out on the counter for like two weeks. Then you get a quality chew. Otherwise, I’m will publicly agree with the rest of Allison’s take. Creme eggs alone justify Easter more than the whole Resurrection of Christ thing does. When I was a kid, I used to freak the fuck out whenever the Cadbury Bunny made its first TV appearance every spring. I was like FUCK YEAH IT’S EGG TIME, and then I’d bike to the drugstore to get fat. Kicked ass.

Then I married a German woman, whose family would send German Easter candy to us every year. As you might have guessed, this stuff makes American Easter candy look like toilet water. They actually FILL their chocolate bunnies over in Europe! Can you believe that! You get actual candy instead of a hollow wax sculpture that your kid will leave on the floor after biting off the head. It’s wild. I have no use for jellybeans anymore, and Reese’s eggs are basically the same as Reese’s Santas (both are great). But otherwise, specialty Easter candy really is a difference-maker. And, keeping in line with Allison’s parameters, you can find some of the European Easter shit at American grocery stores now. Like the Lindt carrots. They’re the only umbrella-shaped item on Earth that I respect.

David:

In my 54-year existence on this planet, there has yet to be a single improvement made in cereal packaging technology. It is still the little cardboard flap that 50% of the time doesn't work, and a plastic bag that you need to rip open like you are showing off an amazing feat of strength while hoping not to disperse the contents all over the kitchen. It seems like everything else has improved dramatically, whether it is the liberal use of Ziploc bag technology or the use of a plastic spout on a milk carton (instead of that squeeze-and-pray option). 

We’re in '90s standup territory with this question, but that easily beats the 2020s standup trope of “I can’t say anything anymore, you guys!” so I welcome it. Cereal packaging remains substandard because it’s the cheapest way to package it. That’s how big food conglomerates improve their profit margins without actually improving their actual products, and that’s why I can’t buy Corn Pops that come in a foil bag anymore. Oh, how I took you for granted, foil bag. You were one of the good ones. But now you’re gone, and now I never know when I’ll reach into the cupboard one day and discover that one of my kids has ripped the cereal bag all the way down to the bottom. They do this with chip bags, too. Get some scissors, you layabouts.

I don’t agree with David that everything besides cereal packaging has “improved dramatically,” by the way. Most resealable pouches never reseal. The ring on milk carton spouts sometimes rips clean off without the carton itself actually opening. And the seal on my bottle of Advil has a miniature pulltab that does NOTHING. It’s always ends with taking a pen and stabbing that seal like it’s Janet Leigh. My only way in. This is the worst thing that capitalism has ever done.

Summit:

With LeBron taking the torch of all-time scorer after 20 seasons, Brady becoming the all-time Super Bowl champ, Gretzky scoring the most goals, and Bonds hitting the most homers, is our generation witnessing the greatest time for records in sports history? What would have to change for people to eclipse the records? I guess living longer or simply allowing steroids.

There will always be a next wave. Always. When I was a kid, I never thought I’d see a better quarterback than Joe Montana. I was wrong. I thought I’d never see a better tennis player than, like, Pete Sampras. I was wrong. I thought I’d never see a basketball player than Michael Jordan. I was… OK, I’m still a secret holdout on that one, but I’m WAY more open to debate on it than I used to be. The point is that there will never be a point in sports history where it’s all downhill from there. Whether it’s PEDs, new training methods, better coaching, or more forgiving rules, these athletes are keep gonna outpacing previous generations. And then old farts like me will be like DURRR THESE WOKE YOUNG GUYS ARE NOTHING COMPARED TO ADRIAN PETERSON, and then you’ll slap me in the nuts. My own team lets me down plenty, but sports on the whole rarely do.

Jim:

How involved is an author in the audiobook production process? I was listening to a novella by Stephen King, and the reader used different voices for different characters. Is that something the narrator would have run by King? You're an author, and I have "read" The Hike, The Rover, Point B, and The Night the Lights Went Out, all by audiobook. To what extent were you involved in that process? Is it more grueling than writing the book?

Stephen King probably has enough clout to choose his audiobook voice talent if he’d like, but regular authors like me usually aren’t granted that level of authority. I was paid to narrate my own memoirs, for obvious reasons.* It took a couple of days inside a sound booth, which was tiring and dehydrating in equal measure. But again, I got paid. No complaints.

*Part One of The Night The Lights Went Out is in oral history form, so they had to cast actors for the voices of my co-workers and loved ones. Many listeners thought that those were their actual voices. If that isn’t good voice acting, I don’t know what is.

For my novels, the publisher would pick a voice and tell me, “This is who we’d like to cast,” and I’d be like, “OK.” I got a heads-up, but not much more than that. And I can’t gripe. No audiobook is gonna perfectly match the voice in my head when I write a book, so I’m probably the worst arbiter of who should narrate my shit and who shouldn’t. So long as YOU like my audiobooks (and it seems like most people do), then I’m good. I also thought that Rebecca Soler, who did the Point B audiobook, was really good. I’m glad I didn’t try to veto her. They wouldn’t have let me anyway. My books don’t sell enough copies for that.

Email of the week!

Aaron:

I don't really have a question, I just wanted to advocate for how amazing CPAP machines are. Without getting too in depth, they hook up to your nose/mouth and blast air into your throat to keep it open while you sleep, so you can breathe. I always knew I was a horrible snorer and that I was chronically tired. I couldn't drive for more than an hour without falling asleep at the wheel and I was falling asleep at my desk, mouse in hand.

So I had a sleep study and it turns out I stopped breathing 45 times an hour and my blood oxygen level was getting down to 65 (if you have COVID, they recommend going to the hospital if it drops below 90, and below 70 is potentially fatal). So I got a CPAP and holy shit my life has turned around completely. Over Christmas, I drove 14 hours straight to Colorado. I have more energy now than when I was 18. I cannot tell you how incredible it is. 

All of that is to say if you snore or are tired at all, get a sleep study done. They have an at-home test now and it’s affordable. I'd copy and paste it 1000x if I had the time: Get a sleep study and get a CPAP if you need one, they are a fucking miracle. 

You heard the man. Get a sleep study and make your teenager pay for it.

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