I didn't know somebody had invented a test to measure narcissism. Even better, researchers have been administering it to college students since 1982. The shocking news this week is that recent results confirm a trend: today's college students are, on average, more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors. The researchers blame everything from permissive parents to untrammeled access to social networking sites like MySpace, which are designed to help each little darling showcase The Wonder That Is Me.
A related Atlantic Monthly article cites a school teacher whose antidote is simple: "I tell them that self-esteem comes from a self doing something that is worthy of esteem."
The other night I moved into that syrupy space between wakefulness and dreams, and thought that the Wife was roughly snuggling me. There was frenzied movement, interspersed with a tight little squeeze around my chest. There was also something metallic that occasionally whacked the back of my head. She's on the wrong side of the bed, I thought to myself.
Finally I woke to find Isaac snuggled in behind me, his ducky in one hand, his cowboy gun in another. Even when he sleeps, that boy can't be still.
Later I had a dream that Eli was kidnapped by a gang of carnies who travel by train. I have no idea what that means. In my dream I stepped into my bedroom long enough to grab my two favorite guns. Then I called a couple of men I know, and they brought their guns, and then we went and got Eli back. What's nice is that I'm confident each of those men would help me bring violence if that's what was needed, without hesitation. It's good to have friends like that.
Eli is bringing me another bookmark, a long piece of white paper cut all the way around with craft scissors to give it a decorative border. I have hundreds of books. I think soon most of them will have a bookmark made by Eli. It's what he does sometimes, just sits at his desk and quietly sings and makes bookmarks, like we are all in danger of losing our place. Maybe we all are.
"Do you know why I make you bookmarks?" He asks me.
"Because I love you. Do you know why I make them long and thin?"
"Because you're long and thin."
I love that he is sweet-hearted and innocent, and believes that the world can be a good place. I love that he is my son. I love that he helps save me from losing my place.
I'm looking forward to our new church sanctuary because it will have pews. Right now we sit on folding chairs, which is part of the reason why I had to stare at the pimply ass-crack of the young woman in front of me, until I left to sit in the lobby, where the view was brighter and the sermon sounded kinder. She was a visitor, and some grace must be afforded, though the regular member who brought her treated everyone to more than we needed to see of her lime-green underwear.
At this point, please play in your head the voice of a nasally overindulged teenage girl, complaining that you just can't buy pants any more that don't sink low on the hips. Now, please slap this girl, as well as her mother and father. Cathartic, isn't it? You certainly can buy pants that don't expose your butt, and while you're at it you can pick out some shirts that don't expose your poochy belly and your brave little bellybutton hardware. On behalf of civilized society everywhere, I'd like to say that we are all tired of being the captive audience for your self-obsessed, half-naked prancing.
So what do you say we all start buying clothes that fit? This goes for boys as well as girls, because I'm also tired of seeing the waistbands of boxer briefs, inevitably exposed by boys who really should still be wearing tighty-whiteys and sucking on pacifiers, so nearly tangible are the umbilical cords that their mommies haven't bothered to snip.
Just to be clear, children: none of us cares to see your underwear. We don't need to see your cleavage and your bellies and most certainly not the canal that you regularly swipe with toilet paper.
I blame the fathers, because it works for me. When a girl dresses like a slut, I'm inclined to believe that she's craving attention from men. Why does she feel inadequate, Dad? When a boy dresses like a slouching ingrate, I'm inclined to believe that he's not been shown how to comport himself like a gentleman. Why doesn't he understand how men carry themselves, Dad?
At the funeral last week, there was a boy in flip-flops. I wish someone had escorted him out. I think I would like to work on becoming the kind of man who does that sort of thing. It would be a vain effort, but maybe shame can only be brought back one person at a time. I'm not arguing for a return to slacks and ties at all times, but can we at least preserve some dignity? Can we put on shoes for a funeral? Can we cover our asses for an hour in church?
"Dad," Caleb asked me Saturday, "why do some men wear earrings?"
"They want people to pay attention to them, because they aren't man enough to be themselves."
"They want attention?"
"Yep. When I was a college boy I had an earring, because I wasn't man enough."
"But now you're man enough. You look like a man."
"Caleb, something I've learned is that being a real man doesn't depend on how you look, but how you behave."
"You're a real man, Dad."
"I'm trying, anyway."
And that's the truth. Maybe it's what cheeses me about girls who show any stranger their underwear, and boys who don't bother to put on shoes when a body has to be put in the ground they don't even try. It doesn't occur to them that there are times and places where their comfort and self-expression are unimportant. They are ill-bred, which means that their parents are doing a poor job, and maybe more of us should say so.