In sixth grade, decisions are not all that elementary


The kids went back to school the other day, thus ending a two-month period during which the house took on all the calm of Saturday night in Tijuana.

Look, you can mark me down right now as favoring the concept of year-round school. In fact, I'd favor a bill requiring kids to put in a full day in class and then two or three hours on a loading dock before they're allowed home in the evening.

My wife keeps whining that our kids are too young to be wrestling refrigerators into the hull of a freighter.

But as long as they're making union scale and aren't too drowsy to do homework, I don't see what the big deal is.

Anyway, since he's now in sixth grade and extremely cool, my 11-year-old has decided he wants an earring.

Naturally, he does not want a simple tasteful stud. Instead, he wants one of those huge hoops that make you look like Blackbeard looting a British frigate off Tortuga.

"So can I get one?" he asked at dinner.

As we have always had an open and honest relationship, I decided the best course of action was to lie.

"Let me think about it," I said.

"That means no," he said gloomily.

"Not necessarily," I said.

That was another lie, but by now I was on such a roll that there was little chance of anything truthful coming out of my mouth.

Telling the truth is vastly overrated anyway. I remember stumbling into the house at 3 in the morning many years ago and facing a withering look from my wife, who didn't even have the decency to be asleep.

To make matters worse, the little busy-body demanded to know where I'd been.

"Shooting pool at Ed's house," I said, which actually happened to be the truth.

"Don't give me that," she said.

I was very tired at this point and needed to get to bed fast, before I passed out right there at the foot of the stairs.

So I said OK, OK, and made up this wild tale about a night of debauchery at a cocktail lounge, culminating in a police raid and an embarrassing booking downtown.

She stared at me for several seconds. Then she said: "That wouldn't surprise me" and went to bed. Ever since, lying has been almost second nature to me in many situations.

Getting back to the new school year, this is also the first time that the 11-year-old gets to ride the school bus, which is an education in itself.

School buses still work on a strict hierarchical system. The nerds and suck-ups sit up front while in the back you have the thugs with the shaved skulls, glue habits and lone Marlboro tucked over one ear.

For the kid uncertain about which faction to join and wishing to take a wait-and-see attitude toward both nerdiness and thuggery, I recommend the middle of the bus.

So it jolted me when the 11-year-old announced after the first day of school that he sees himself becoming a regular in the back of the bus, where the thugs have thus far treated him with civility.

He also met a boy back there named Curtis who chewed the foam rubber padding off one of the seat backs and then -- here's where it really gets interesting -- swallowed it.

This made a huge impression on everyone. Even some of the nerds drifted back to see the damage until the driver, a real killjoy named Dottie, made everyone return to their seats.

Thankfully, my daughter is only heading into third grade, where most of the kids are not yet ingesting polyethylene-based


Rather, she said the hot topic of conversation on the first day of school was the summer cult hit "Free Willy," which involved the rescue of a killer whale and is rapidly becoming the "Gone with the Wind" of the 7-year-old set.

Of course, as a parent, I'm looking forward to Back-to-School night, where you go to your kid's class and squeeze into those little chairs and desks that have all the legroom of the Apollo 7.

Then as the teacher explains what a wonderful year she or he has planned for your kid, you sit there with a frozen grin, trying not to notice that you've lost all circulation in both feet.

Forty-five minutes later, it dawns on you that your shoes will have to be cut off with an X-ACTO knife, as your legs have swollen to the size of bridge piers.

Then again, that seems a small price to pay for the relative tranquillity that has re-visited your life, at least during the day.

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