Chicken Soup for the Pedophile’s Soul

Mr. Warren Summers, ChickenSoupInmate #5381

Terra Haute Federal Correction Complex

Terra Haute, IN 47808

Dear Mr. Summers,

Thank you for your continued interest in Health Communications, Inc. Regarding your inquiry into our decision not to purchase your book, Chicken Soup for the Pedophile’s Soul, allow me to address a few of your specific concerns:

  1. First, while it’s true your manuscript speaks to an underserved, potentially lucrative niche market, we’re not convinced that “Jack Canfield’s formulaic gold mine,” as you put it, is appropriate for this particular segment of the literati.
  2. Second, our attorneys advise us that it would be a felony merely to allude to chapters four through eight, let alone to publish them.
  3. Yes, even in Bangkok.
  4. Though we appreciate your frustration at incurring significant research-related expenses, it has never been our policy to offer unsigned clients an advance against bail and/or court costs.
  5. Finally, we realize that your deposition from case no. 345-87-L, “W. Summers v. the Jefferson High School Varsity Chorale,” was forwarded to us in error; it will be returned forthwith.

Again, thank you for your interest in Health Communications. Although we politely refuse to accept from you any further written correspondence, phone calls, or email, we wish you much luck in your future literary endeavors, as well as with the Indiana state parole board.


Mitchell Jenkins

Associate Publisher

Health Communications, Inc.


This piece originally appeared in the White Shoe Irregular.

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A Stranger among Us

file0001362503108My daughter is Wink Martindale. She wakes up fluttering near the edge of nirvana, and her mood surges steadily upward from there.

Naturally, her father and I are horrified.

It’s not that we don’t enjoy our daughter Sadie, it’s just that we don’t know where she came from. Obviously not from us. We aren’t terribly joyful people. While the optimism train was pulling out of the station, we were back at the terminal trying to buy Excedrin.

When our first daughter, Anna, was born, she didn’t cry; she brooded. She was pensive, reserved. Exhibited a hereditary disdain for all things giddy. She was one of us. Then a few months ago, our second child, Kathie Lee Gifford, pranced into our lives, and the world lost its comforting shade of grey.

It had to be a hospital mix-up. A “switched at birth” scenario would explain how the Addams Family ended up with Strawberry Shortcake. This Disney character couldn’t be ours. Surely our real baby was off by herself somewhere, wearing a black Onesie and reading The Little Golden Book of Sylvia Plath.

But, no, the nurse insisted that Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm belonged to us, and not to the Cleavers in the next room.

We spent an entire month blaming Sadie’s first smiles on gas. Alas, they were genuine. The hours I’d spent listening to Pink Floyd during pregnancy had proven fruitless; I may have been comfortably numb, but yummy yummy yummy, she had love in her tummy.

Even Anna, who understood that life was fraught with doom, couldn’t change her.

Not that she didn’t try.

During those first few weeks, Sadie became her Waterloo. If anyone could cram a healthy dose of reality down the baby’s throat, it was the Gloom Nazi. She could reduce Barney the Dinosaur to suicidal despair. But despite the legions of pacifiers flushed, bottles dumped, and naps interrupted, Sadie remained undeterred.

Our perky little genetic blip began to de-ice the winter of our discontent, like it or not.

Maybe Sadie does share a gene or two with her father and me. I recall my relatives toasting each other one Christmas while proclaiming their heartfelt love toward their fellow man. Of course, that was the same year my sister and I were sent to 7-Eleven for another carton of Camels and some more Stroh’s. And come to think of it, Jack Daniels was usually the guest of honor at holiday get-togethers.

Obviously, Smith family euphoria stems more from J&B than DNA.

Then how about the in-laws? Smiles don’t exactly gush from their old black-and-white photos, but no one ever said 1930s Eastern Europe was a fun place. My three siblings-in-law seem content. Could they be the missing links in this genealogical mystery? Nope. Like the other buds on my husband’s family tree, they were miserable, colicky babies.

So Sadie’s a fluke. Mother Nature mixed 23 chromosomes from me with 23 from my husband, threw them in the crockpot, and then wandered off while the whole mess boiled over. Nine months later, I gave birth to a tiny goodwill ambassador from Planet Dopamine.

We should bottle her. People could toss out their Lexapro and take a teaspoon of Sadie instead. She’s gentle enough to use every day, and the only side effect is a sudden urge to hum show tunes.

On the other hand, with all of her infectious charm and enthusiasm, her calling may be elsewhere. After all, that Brooklyn Bridge is just sitting there, and eventually they’re going to need someone to sell it.


This piece was written a long time ago. Sadie is now 17 years old and as freakishly sunny as ever. She tries to be surly every now and then, but she’s not fooling anyone.

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Club Med


It may be invasive and uncomfortable, but it’s still the highlight of our trip.

Who knew colonoscopies could be so relaxing?

Of course, it helps that my sister, Rachael, and I aren’t the ones being violated. Instead, we’re waiting in recovery as our stepfather, Marty—high as a kite and eerily tolerable—comes down from the meds after letting his doctor get to fourth base.

We’re back in Ohio for the first time since our mother’s death, and with six young kids between us, this afternoon in outpatient surgery is the only real break we’ve had in a decade.

Not that it’s my first trip to the hospital during this visit.

We’re on vacation, after all.

The other day, my husband, Ben, suffocating from boredom after just two nights in Toledo, decided our year-old son’s blonde ringlets somehow weren’t masculine enough.

“He looks like a girl,” said Ben, as I folded Sam’s hand-me-down lavender footie jammies and put away his My Little Pony figurines.

“He needs a haircut.”

“Really?” I replied. “Because I’m not sure that’s the only thing undermining his manhood.”

Undeterred, Ben gathered up my only male heir and took him to Dale’s Barber Shop for his first-ever trim, convinced they were minutes away from creating a precious father-and-his-girly-son memory.

What could go wrong?

Quite a bit, apparently.

An hour later, Ben returned with a nearly bald pygmy bleeding from one ear.

“What happened?” I snapped, while scooping up the midget skinhead formerly known as my third born.

“Well, Dale’s not as young as he used to be,” Ben explained, pressing toilet paper against Sam’s head to stanch the flow.

“And his tremor isn’t getting any better.”

Busy calculating how long to withhold sex from my husband for turning our baby into G. Gordon Liddy, it took me a minute to notice Sam’s elbow.

His floppy, shouldn’t-bend-that-way elbow.

“Oh, my god! What’s wrong with his arm?” I yelled, by now planning to go ahead and install twin bunks in the master bedroom.

“Well, he does seem to be favoring it a little,” Ben replied sheepishly as he hoisted Sam’s now-dangling limb back up to an acceptable angle.

Sam, concentrating on the please-don’t-sue-me lollipop Dale had given him, didn’t seem to be in any pain, so we figured whatever had happened wasn’t particularly urgent.

Nauseating, yes. Life-threatening, no.

Still, this was vacation, so we bundled Sam into the car and headed for the local ER.

Two hours later, we had our diagnosis: Nursemaid’s elbow.

“It’s pretty common in toddlers,” said the earnest young doctor who didn’t seem like the type to call Child Protective Services.

“Little kids’ elbows can pop out of place really easily, so if you somehow pulled on his arm recently”—such as earlier this morning, when Ben had swung a delighted Sam around the yard, I didn’t interject—“it could’ve caused his joint to dislocate.”

Trying hard to forget the words “pop” and “out,” I got woozier as the doctor went on.

“Here, let me show you how to twist it back into place if it ever happens again.”

Preferring to rest my forehead on the exam room’s nice, cool tile floor instead, I ignored the rest of the demonstration and vowed to be fitted for a Loin Taser on the way out.

“Well, that wasn’t so bad,” Ben sighed as we drove back to my stepfather’s house.

“You’re right,” I conceded, watching a now-sleeping Sam holding his Dora the Explorer pillow with two working arms.

“And at least we’re done with the hospital.”

Which brings me back to today’s colonoscopy.

“Good news!” says the earnest young doctor reviewing Marty’s films. (Say what you will about Ohio doctors, they’re all young and earnest.)

“His colon is clean as a whistle, and you can take him home now. He’ll probably live to be 100!”

Or 50 years longer than most of our relatives.

“Are you sure you don’t need to do anything else?” I say, stalling for time. “Because we’re not in any hurry.”

Still high on fumes from five straight hours with no one fussing, puking, or otherwise oozing on us, Rachael and I are hoping to spend a few more minutes in this most sterile of Club Meds.

“No, really,” the doctor replies. “You can go.”

Well, crap.

But as we leave, I mentally promise to be there the next time a friend, acquaintance, or guy who knows a guy who knows a guy needs a ride to the hospital, no matter how repulsive the malady.

Retinal scabies? Sphincter goo? Uvular psoriasis?

I’m your girl.

Who couldn’t use a vacation every now and then?

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Ragnar Relay Washington, DC


What’s better than tackling a 193-mile run? Applauding others as they tackle it!

That’s what you can do Friday, October 4, when the Ragnar Relay Washington DC, kicks off at Rocky Gap State Park in Flintstone, Maryland. Barring any blown hamstrings, runners—working in teams of 12—will finish the following day at National Harbor in Prince George’s County.

Members of each team will cover varying lengths of the course nonstop throughout the day and night; support vans will be on hand to provide water, Band-Aids, munchies, and pep talks.

The mega-relay series—started in Utah and named for a gutsy Norse king—is about more than calluses and camaraderie: Proceeds from this year’s Ragnar Relay Washington DC benefit Back on My Feet, a nonprofit dedicated to helping the homeless learn important life skills and gain self-confidence through physical fitness.

So whether you’re a wannabe athlete or just looking for something unusual to do this weekend, consider stopping by the starting line at Rocky Gap on Friday or the finish line at the Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center on Saturday (start/finish times are staggered).

Cheer on the runners as you begin mentally assembling your own group for next year’s event. By then, you’ll be ready to jump in with both feet.

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Gerbil Surgery?

It’s not that we paid for two rodents’ surgeries.

It’s that both procedures were elective.

“The mass on Herbie’s abdomen is a benign cyst,” said the vet while holding my daughter Sadie’s beloved 8-ounce gerbil.

“If we put him under anesthesia, we should be able to remove it, stitch him up, and send him home within a couple hours.

“It’ll cost about $200, but I expect he’ll make a full recovery.”

She explained all of this with a straight face.

I looked around for the hidden camera.

Anesthesia? Stitches? Hundreds of dollars?

I wanted to lean over and whisper, “You know we’re talking about a gerbil, right? A creature just slightly above goldfish on the pet-disposability scale?”

But then I glanced at Sadie, who was standing in the exam room with us and looking expectantly at me.

She’d heard the vet’s words: Herbie wasn’t going to die from his cyst. (His horrible, disgusting, bleeding cyst.) He just needed a minor procedure. An absurdly expensive minor procedure.

Which we ended up green-lighting.

(Here’s where I add that we’re not even close to being wealthy, but what we lack in funds, we more than make up for in suckerhood.)

“Don’t they make new gerbils that look like the old gerbil?” asked my sister when I told her how much we’d spent to heal a pet that we’d bought for 10 bucks.

Yes, they do, but I couldn’t bring myself to let Herbie suffer and die from something treatable, not to mention tell my 8-year-old daughter that while they could make him better, we weren’t going to let them.

Love—of kids and animals—is a strange, fiscally unsound thing.

Happily, surgery was a complete success, and Herbie went on to live a rich, full life…for another four months.

That works out to $50 a month for all you English majors.

Which is why, when Sadie came to us—after an appropriate mourning period—and asked for another beady-eyed, long-tailed pet, we opted for something sturdier.

A rat.

More like a small, plague-carrying dog than a rodent, Jeepster soon became a wonderful companion for our daughter.

Until his easygoing personality began to change and he started nipping at Sadie (who begged us not to get rid of her “baby”).

Back to the veterinarian we went for some guidance.

“Well, male rats can turn aggressive as they reach maturity,” explained the same sincere vet. “Neutering him might make a real difference.”

Neuter a rat?

Neuter. A. Rat.

Another glance at my daughter, another round of anesthesia. Another embarrassing, ridiculous reach for my checkbook.

Another chapter in the cautionary tale that is my life.

On the bright side, Jeepster would now be sterile. So there was no danger of us becoming rat grandparents.

Which was a relief. Imagine how much an entire litter of vermin could end up costing.

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