Chicago, Illinois

Normally when you travel, you have the sense of everything being new. Every moment you’re on edge a little bit, taking in all the unusual sights and sounds. That’s a lot of what makes travel fun, I think.

When you go home this is not the case. Everything is just normal. Just like it was. You sometimes have to pinch yourself to remember this is an aberration, because you so quickly fall into the old grooves. It doesn’t feel like a vacation, it feels like regression.

We went to see Second City (the famed Chicago sketch comedy troupe). They were good, as always, but they decided to do political comedy, which is always hard. The best was the improv at the end — they did a whole series of scenes on the theme of “libertarianism” (libertarians are a lot like criminals, it turns out) and that a very rapid game of Freeze.

The bathroom is about as far away from the theater as any I’ve seen (you have to go up and down three separate staircases and then double back and so on) and on the way there was a display set up by Northwestern. In the middle was a LCD showing The O’Reilly Factor and surrounding it were six or so other LCDs, each grabbing a word from the closed captioning and doing an image search and displaying the word and the image.

I ran back from the bathroom so I wouldn’t miss Bill’s “Most Ridiculous Item Of the Day” and it did not disappoint. Bill talked about the five-year old girl in Florida. She was playing with jellybeans and did something wrong — as kids do, Bill, author of The O’Reilly Factor For Kids! (no joke), explained — and the teacher had to take the jellybeans away. The girl got angry and started crying and kicked the teacher in the shins. The police were called and they handcuffed the girl and and took her away in a cruiser.

I was a little puzzled. I had heard this story on a liberal weblog and indeed it did seem ridiculously unfair to me. Maybe Bill agreed with me for once? But no. That, it turns out was not the ridiculous part. Handcuffing five-year-olds is perfectly fine.

No, the ridiculous part is that afterwards the mom complained, saying, according to Bill, that her daughter was “never going back to that school. They set my baby up.” “Ridiculous!” Bill laughs. “They set my baby up,” he repeats, chuckling. Man, can you believe it? A mom upset that her five-year-old daughter was handcuffed and arrested. Doesn’t she know that government never does anything wrong? Oh man, how ridiculous.

O’Reilly continues to amaze.

The next day I go to get a haircut. I’m wearing an O’Reilly Media tshirt with the The cute animal on the back, but just the word O’REILLY on the front. As I sit down, the barber says. “Oh, you like O’Reilly?” “Yeah,” I say. “Oh, my husband does too.” Cool, I didn’t know her husband was a programmer. “He has all the Fox News shirts.” Oops.

Other people in y place might have tried to correct the misimpression, but it was too late for me to back out now.

My plane leaves this evening and I have something downtown in the middle of the day, so I thought I would go see my cousin Avery, who I love dearly, in the morning. But apparently Avery’s preschool (in the basement of a Church) won’t allow students to be late and won’t allow visitors, so there’s no way I can see Avery. Aargh.

The thing downtown takes much less time than expected so we race back to Avery’s house. Avery, it’s worth noting at this point, is only a couple of years old and has rather bossy parents. Before I went away to college, he used to come visit my house, and I loved to just sit with him. We might play with toy cars or draw on my whiteboard or go to the park or pay a car racing videogame or visit the Sesame Street website.

I just loved being with him. Whatever they do, kids are just so incredible. I can never understand how people can be so mean or bossy to them. They’re such amazing creatures. Even when Avery was a baby, I remember I’d just sit and stare at him, his little hands grabbing at a mobile or something. And apparently Avery liked our time together too, playing with someone older who respected him.

He was devastated when I said I had to fly away to college. He repeatedly insisted he was packing his bags and coming with me. (I almost entertained the idea.) And my mom says that whenever she sees Avery he asks about me.

So it is against this backdrop that I walk to his door, grinning widely. Avery’s mom opens it and points me downstairs to the playroom. I walk down. “Hello?” I say. “Anyone around?” Avery walks out from the bathroom, stunned.

He shows me his new RC car and gleefully drives it around the room banging into things. I suggest we take it outside. We do, but then he gets a better idea and takes me to the garage. He takes a pedaled car and I take bike with training wheels and we race off down the block, him getting way ahead of me (training wheels add a lot of drag, I guess).

He gets tired out by the corner and gets out “to get some air”. He stands, adorable, one arm up against a treetrunk. Then he sits down on the back of his car and tells me to sit down on my bike.

He tells me about all the special features of the car. One button turns the car upside down, just like in James Bond. Another makes it go faster. “You mean it has those things that shoot out the back?” I ask. “And the front!” He replies. I laugh but decide now is not a good time to explain Newton’s Third Law.

He asks about college and I have to explain to him that I’m going back tonight, I just flew out here to visit him. He looks heartbroken. “When do you have to go?” he asks. “I don’t know,” I say, “you’ll have to ask my mom”. “When is your plane?” “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask my mom.” “Well, when was it last time?”

When we’re called back to the house because I have to leave, he begs me for a little more time. I wish I could grant it.

As we drive away, I think of him and begin to cry. Perhaps he is the one person I truly love.

posted March 26, 2005 08:09 PM (Education) (3 comments) #


Stanford: Stop Hiring Me
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Stanford: Feats of Memory
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Stanford: Spring Break
Home: Spring Break
Stanford Interactive: What classes should I take?
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Stanford: Taxonomies of Love
articles: the finest of the short nonfiction form


Hi Aaron,

I understand about how you feel about Avery. My Nephews mean the world to me. I used to live in Australia, just about a 2 min drive away and I wouldsee them almost every day. One day a few years ago I moved to London, and it was easy at first, seeing/doing so many new things. Each year i visited and it got harder to leave. But now I am in Australia visiting, as my brother in law/Their Father passed away, so its so hard to leave them. I work nights so I get to see them after school. But soon I will go to live in Spain, so I have to say another heart wrenching good bye. I pretty much cry when I leave Australia and I think in 2 weeks time will be no exception.


posted by Mark Ellul at April 1, 2005 01:38 PM #

Your O’Reilly T-shirt experience happened to me in the IKEA warehouse in Emeryville. “You like O’Reilly?” asked the warehouse guy. “Bill O’Reilly?” he added.

“No,” I said, “O’Reilly technical books.”

That information was to his mind as water is to a duck’s back.

“Bill O’Reilly?”

“No, I would never wear his T-shirt.”

“Oh, I’m on the other team,” he said in parting. “I’m a Republican.”

posted by fred at April 2, 2005 09:39 PM #

You should try wearing an O’Really shirt next time.

posted by James at April 5, 2005 01:53 PM #

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Aaron Swartz (