Question Man
A derived text sourced from Family Man by Calvin Trillin, 1998
William Walsh

Let me get this straight: you found this twenty-dollar bill last night and you want to turn it in for somebody to claim? Could it be, I asked myself when I read this, that the social scientist had come across an essential secret of child rearing? Then another thought occurred to me: why was I assuming that the Chinatown kids turned out so much better than the Massachusetts kids simply because their food was so much better? What is this, a selective hunger strike? Have we somehow raised a couple of Bolsheviks here? Do I personally believe in the Evil Eye? Could you please direct me to the nearest post office? So have I never said anything about my children that might tempt the Evil Eye? Has the kid turned mean and ugly, or what? Chubby the collie dog? You never knew that? Chubby's gone? Isn't it sort of late for me to be finding out about this? But what if Sukey had actually been embarrassed at having been caught in an attempt to annihilate her baby brother? Or what if she, as a child or as an adult, had done something else she'd just as soon not have me share with the population at large? What if, for instance, she had a serious drinking problem that she'd rather not see widely discussed? You want to throw a snit or something while I get the cereal? How many times today have you, in a weary and slightly disgusted voice, said, Oh, Mother? What is your record for number of questions answered at the dinner table with a grunt? So apparently the Miller boy has decided to go to law school because he figures a law degree will never hurt you, whether you actually practice or not, and he thinks it's the sort of thing you're better off doing right away because if not, who knows when you'll ever feel like going back to school even if you think it's basically something that will stand you in good stead, which makes a lot of sense to me, doesn't it to you, Nick? Does it taste like chocolate? Did they wonder about it? Had we ever taken the girls to the ballet on Sunday except for that time we went to see Parade? Does the Nutcracker count? Why should I be reminded that the plan I had devised to teach my daughters geography during the summer in Nova Scotia had never been put into effect? What's going on here? Is it possible that, for some reason of their own, the editors of The New York Times are trying to make every parent in the New York metropolitan area feel shiftless? Are you maintaining then, the inspector continues, that you were, through supervised block parties, teaching the rudiments of how architects use space or laying the groundwork that would make it possible for the children to absorb, at a more appropriate age, the principles of engineering? No other educational summer activities? No trips to Europe that included organized architectural tours? No trips made with the express purpose of improving the children's language skills? Under Methods of Tourism, what's this here about 'hanging around'? Do the summer movies count? Would you rather beg or borrow? Who is the meanest, nastiest, awfulest kid in your whole class? Are you ready for the big question? Of all the kids in your class, who is the nastiest, meanest, awfulest kid? Are you divorced yet? Why not? You folks from Indiana? Have they been to Parrsboro? Doesn't it seem to you that the chintz on that armchair by the window is getting a bit tatty? Just how do you suppose that Alice knows so much about what's au courrant in clothes? Just how do you suppose that Alice knows? We're leaving, and I'll ask her, once we've gone, what was that thing that whatzername had on? Just how do you suppose that Alice knows? Does she divine these things? Does she osmose what's in the air concerning hose and bows? Just how do suppose that Alice knows? How about, for instance, a marriage between a woman who eats mainly salads and a man who is what used to be called strictly a meat-and-potatoes guy? Did you have a nice day at the office, dear? Is that the jacket you're going to wear? How come Daddy doesn't have to finish his vegetables? Don't those places where there are starving children have starving grownups too? Where the hell did she throw the bottle now? We did remember to tell you not to join any cults, didn't we? What's new? Did I have to worry about one of my daughters being provoked by news of the White House conference to cast blame on her father for being an irresponsibly uncommunicative brute during those early-morning encounters? You don't happen to recall hearing anything in those days about pilgrims wending their way to Canterbury, do you? Why am I risking the possibility of poking a hole into this little baby just to change her diapers? If diaper pins were no longer a factor in our lives, then why didn't we have more children? Could I have diaper pins confused in my mind with buttons and zippers on snowsuits? Hey, whadaya -- kidding? You think I'm some kinda farmer or something? Don't you think you ought to button up the baby's jacket, with this wind? Is Mac checked out? So why was I checked out from the start? Will the presence of a cooing baby being powdered loosen things up? Will strangers now stop by the Koala Bear Kare table, say something like, Cute little booger, and fall into a conversation about diaper rash remedies? Is it possible that men -- presumably the only people who use men's rooms -- have been consciously keeping mum about the availability of changing tables? What are you going as? What are you going as? Who shall I say is calling? How could we have missed the first two? Who can imagine stepping into the street to join, on an impulse, the Tournament of Roses parade? Was that your dad on TV saying all sorts of weird stuff about eating pasta on Thanksgiving? You still use that old ten-horsepower of yours much anymore? And how about the story of the first Thanksgiving? What could be more celebratory than minced squab in lettuce leaves? And what exactly does Thanksgiving have to do with Rodgers and Hart, who would have been put in the stocks by the Pilgrims for having a sense of melody? What is it? What is it? Now we're going to have two cats? As my father would have said, what's to like? (or was it trying to fasten diaper pins?) If we were lenient on small matters and strict on large ones, did that mean that Alice and I considered television a large matter? Junk food? Did you ever get suspicious about why we had so many sleepovers next door at Tamar and Ariela's on Saturday night? Was there a hidden agenda here? In the back of our minds did we have some educational program worthy of reporting to the inspector from the Responsible Parenting League? Does anyone here know anything about the way land was acquired by settlers in the state of Oklahoma? Anybody? Do you know anything from Kiss Me, Kate? Is that guy singing, or what? What are you going as? Next year? Was I Horace in the story as well as myself? At the end of a gay Jewish wedding ceremony, how would you decide who stomps on the glass? Why should the two families like each other simply because the people getting married are of the same sex? Both parents? Is that legal? How am I going to get the Kleenex past the daughter in the middle? Could you please pass these over? Was that scene going to repeat itself, more or less, at Abigail's wedding and Sarah's wedding? Then how about the baby's father's parents? They should not be present for the birth of their grandchild even though a perfect stranger -- that's how they describe their daughter-in-law's stepmother -- is there? So how can I be from Kansas City? You mean because she's a fancy Eastern girl and you're just a simple lad from the Midwest? Daddy, how come the bagels in Kansas City taste like just round bread? Is he going to come out to pinch their cheeks and give them candy? Is he going to tell them how adorable they are? Had we at least given serious consideration to a move to the suburbs? But wasn't it scary to raise children in New York? Weren't you always worried about them? How come her friend sounds like a life-insurance salesman? Should we worry about that? Should we worry about that? Why was there no sound of a strong response from the backseat of our car? Should I worry about the possibility of an absence of contentiousness that could disable them in a world organized more or less like a New York delicatessen line? Did one of the worries that remained on my list have to do with the girls not being from Kansas City? Why are they going back? Yes, but why are they going back? Did that mean that our daughters would want no part of Caxton Hall Registry Office? Why didn't I bring it up before? And who are your enemies? Enemies? You mean that, just to take an example, a member could arrange to have the wedding reception of a friend's daughter here? Isn't it customary for the mother of the bride to have something to say bout this? You mean you'd like to put in a word for those taro cakes they do so well on the griddle? What if Abigail, for instance, ends up marrying someone who doesn't like the idea of having his wedding reception at a dim sum restaurant? You mean a stiff? Why would Abigail want to marry a stiff? Are you a family man? What am I supposed to say to that? What happened? Little cavities? But does that mean we're no longer traditional? Is it really true that a family -- a traditional American family -- can't have two sets of big faces? Why should it end when the captive breakfast audience gets liberated? How about asking him to do a song about a Mexican songwriter trying to write a song that does not have the word corazón in it?