Inhuman Swill : Childhood
            
Excerpted from The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary by William Shunn, available now!

Two years earlier, my father and I were driving back roads somewhere east of Victorville in the California desert when he sprang a terrifying question on me. “Son,” he asked, “do you want to serve a mission?”

I didn’t know what to say. I must have fielded that question hundreds of times growing up, from relatives, family friends, or congregants at church, and the expected “Yes” was always my reflexive answer. But the look on my father’s face told me this time was different.

He wanted a truthful answer. I didn’t know how to give him one.

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What changed?

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You used to be such a sweet boy.
What changed?

You used to tell me everything,
Ask me all your questions.
You couldn't wait to show off
Your times tables.  At age three.
Which you worked out for yourself.
What changed?

You used to climb into my lap
And rub the buzz-cut fuzz
On the back of my head.
You used to ask the barber
To cut your hair
So it was just like mine.
What changed?

You used to show me your stories,
Talk about your friends,
Tell me what was on your mind.
You used to let me point out
When you were straying
From the straight and narrow
In deed or in thought.
What changed?

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75

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Donald William Shunn
Today my father would have been 75 years old, had he not succumbed to complications from prostate cancer nearly three years ago. I want to post something about the old man, but the closest thing I have to a remembrance at hand is the second chapter from the latest in-progress revision of my memoir. It's not exactly complimentary on the whole, but it does attempt to trace the trials my father went through trying to secure a better future for his family, which I believe he succeeded at—even if he died doubting it.

By the way, I was in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago and I hunted down the house in Highland Park where we lived until I was six. My mother had warned me that I really didn't want to visit that neighborhood, but since when have I ever listened to my parents' advice? Anyway, the neighborhood was just fine—quiet, even. The house, perched on hill on Aldama Street between Avenues 53 and 54, was much, much smaller than I remembered. And there were parrots squawking in a tall tree overhead.



In 1984 my father and I were driving back roads somewhere east of Victorville in the California desert when he sprang a terrifying question on me. "Son," he asked, "do you want to serve a mission?"

I didn't know what to say. This was something I'd never been asked before, at least not in a way that betrayed any genuine interest in how I felt. I must have fielded that stock question hundred of times growing up, from relatives, family friends, and people at church, and the expected yes was always my reflexive answer. But the look on my father's face told me this time was different.

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At last! A web site that proves I'm not alone in remembering that obscure but wonderful classic of lost '70s television—Cliffhangers! What? A television series that ends every episode on a cliffhanger? Unthinkable!

God, I hope some enlightened soul puts this on DVD someday. I didn't miss an episode of this as a kid of eleven, at least until my sisters won an argument about what program we were going to watch one night, and I'm still bitter about never having seen the endings of "Stop Susan Williams," "The Secret Empire," and "The Curse of Dracula." (Cliffhangers! was cancelled before "Stop" and "Empire" were concluded.)

I really thought I was the only one who had ever seen this show (which would explain why it vanished without a trace), and sometimes I wondered if I had only imagined it.

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The book of three

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I'm taking my first karate lesson tomorrow. I'm a little anxious.

I think the last time I had formal private extracurricular instruction in sport of any kind, I was about ten. The sport was gymnastics. The second week of class, I came off the uneven parallel bars and landing flat on my back. I couldn't breathe correctly for several minutes. That was the end of gymnastics as far as I was concerned.

Laura and I went to observe a class at Tiger Schulmann's last Saturday morning. Then we had to fill out a questionnaire to sign up for our introductory class. We were asked to choose up to three reasons we had for taking karate:

  • PHYSICAL CONDITIONING
  • WEIGHT CONTROL
  • SELF-DEFENSE
  • SELF-CONFIDENCE
  • SELF-DISCIPLINE
  • ATTENTION SPAN
  • MEDITATION
  • FLEXIBILITY
And so forth.

Staring at the list, I couldn't wrap my mind around all the choices. I could have marked every last reason and it would have been reasonable honest. MEDITATION and FLEXIBILITY I threw out early because they seemed like tertiary goals—they would come with the territory. I threw out WEIGHT CONTROL because, despite the fact that I could stand to lose some, that seems like a secondary effect of the more important PHYSICAL CONDITIONING.

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

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missionary
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William Shunn

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