"Arrgh," I say to my wife over the Sunday paper.
"Did something you read make you say 'Arrgh'?" she asks, neatly
putting her question mark between the single quotation mark and the
double quotation mark, exactly where it's supposed to go when the
outside quote is a question but the inside quote is not. "Or is the dog
making offensive emissions again?"
"Something I read," I say in great anguish. "Arrgh."
This time, I bang myself on the forehead with the heel of my palm.
"Oh," she says, and goes back to her crossword puzzle.
"Don't you even want to know why I bang my forehead and say
'Arrgh'?" I ask.
"Nice question mark placement," she says. "OKwhat did you read?"
"This," I say, pointing to John Rosemond's column on
child-rearing. "He says you shouldn't let your kids call adults by
their first names. We let our kids call everybody by their first
names. We did it all wrong. Arrgh."
"It seemed like a friendly thing to do," she says. "Why does John
Rosemond have a knot in his shorts about that?"
"He says it makes kids disrespectful to adults," I say. "We've
been bad parents. We've allowed our kids to become disrespectful to
"Our kids are adults," she says. "We can't do anything about it now."
"But the grandbabies," I say. "It's not too late to teach them to
"Not our job," she says. "I'm a laissez-faire grandma. You ought
to be a laissez-faire grandpa too, even when their diapers don't need
"We could encourage their adult friends to do what John Rosemond
says he does," I say. "When little kids call him 'John,' he says 'It's
Mr. Rosemond to you. When you're older and wise, you can call me John.'"
"That doesn't seem very friendly," she says. "I don't think our
grandbabies would work up much respect for adults who told them that."
"He says it in a 'semihumorous tone,'" I say, "so that the child
gets the point 'without feeling let down.'"
"Our kids would've found it wholly humorous if any of your scuzzy
friends had talked to them that way," she says. "They'd have laughed in
their faces. So would I."
"God knows I tried to instill respect for adults in them," I say.
"I told them not to beg for more gruel until the big people were
finished. I told them to take off their little hats, tug their little
forelocks and shuffle their little feet in the presence of our friends.
I made them sing 'O my Papa, to me you are so wonderful' before I gave
them cookies. But I let them call adults by their first names. How
could I, their own father, the patriarch, the alpha wolf, have been so
The Truth, Mainly
"You're blameless," she says. "You even told them to address you
as 'Your Blinding Magnificence.'"
"I've forgotten," I say. "How did they react to that?"
"They laughed in your face," she says, "and called you a Befuddled
Old Offensive Emission."
"Now I remember," I say. "And you laughed too."
"What could I do?" she says. "They were children of the Sixties.
Besides, I taught them to say it. It was fun. If I weren't a
laissez-faire grandma, I'd teach the grandbabies to say it too."
"Sure," I say. "Undermine discipline. Subvert the natural order.
"Freedom now," she says. "Power corrupts. Question authority. I
can talk in slogans as well as you and John Rosemond can."
"Look," I say. "John Rosemond is a psychologist. He must know
about things like this."
"If he thinks you get a little kid's respect by making him call you
mister," she says, "he confuses appearance and reality. He may also
think a new paint job makes a car run better."
"But he's a columnist," I say. "He couldn't be a columnist if he
didn't know a lot. Could he?"
She snorts again. Louder.
"I've known columnists who didn't know diddly-squat," she says.
"I've known one of them very well."
"Okay, Miss Smarty-Pants," I say. "If the younger generation isn't
going all to hell because they call adults by their first names, why
are they going all to hell?"
"Because," she says, "they don't know where to put the question
mark on quotes inside of other quotes. Sound the alarm! Appoint a
committee of control freaks! Write letters to the editor!"
She's got a bad streak of sarcastic insubordination in her. It's
not surprising though. She still calls her parents' friends by their
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.