Cowpunk is a Real Word

Social D

For my birthday recently, I went to my first cowpunk concert. This was a shock to me on many levels, starting with the word cowpunk. Much to my surprise, cowpunk is a real word and not something my husband made up. You can’t really blame me for accusing him of inventing words in English since his family invents all kinds of words in their native German. German not being my native language, I innocently use these words with the general German-speaking population. As a result, approximately 74% of German speakers I’ve encountered since meeting my husband over 15 years ago think I’m completely nuts.

With the concert around the corner, I was determined to do some fact checking before dropping the word cowpunk in an effort to sound relatable….only to show up at work the next day with a broken nose and fewer teeth. Lo and behold, according to, cowpunk derives from the term cowboy-punk and is “a musical style combining country-and-western with punk rock.” Wikipedia goes on to describe cowpunk as “a subgenre of punk rock that began in the UK and California in the late 1970s and early 1980s.” Imagine what Johnny Cash would sound like on Speed, and you’ll get the general idea.

So how does one end up at a cowpunk concert? In my case it is completely related to my age. For some strange reason the older I get, the crazier my taste in music gets. I used to listen to only mainstream Top 40 music in high school and college. Sometime in my 30’s I switched over to alternative music and by my 40’s I found myself secretly head banging in traffic to really disgruntled people. (Clearly I have anger issues.) Along the way I also discovered Social Distortion (or “Social D”, as the fans say). For those unfamiliar with Social D, it is a punk band from Southern California that was formed in the late 1970’s and is still irate and going strong.

As my birthday approached, I looked for ways to distract myself from the reality of aging. I’m not debating that turning a year older is better than the alternative, but getting older is hard to swallow. These days my birthday is just another reminder that I probably shouldn’t have thrown out that Botox discount coupon.

I started looking for local events taking place on my birthday weekend. Last year we went to a comedy festival, which really helped take the edge off.  A few minutes into my search, I discovered that Social D was playing on my birthday at a small, local venue. Going to this band’s concert would certainly have a dual benefit. Not only would I fit in with all the outraged people (they were angry about social injustice and I was angry about wrinkles), but unlike a pop music concert, I wouldn’t be the youngest in the room. How can you feel bad about your age when the lead singer has 10 years on you? My birthday was starting to look up.

My husband was quickly on board with my suggestion. He was only vaguely familiar with Social D but likes alternative folk and country music. It was during this discussion, that he dropped the aforementioned cowpunk word on me. Apparently this is the more precise definition of the punk genre the band represented.

As we drove to the concert, I found myself increasingly curious about this cowpunk movement. For example, what do cowpunk fans look like? As I found out there are four categories of cowpunk concert-goers:

  1. Middle aged people wearing jeans and t-shirts, obviously hiding the fact that they like cowpunk (me)
  2. Young, retro, rockabilly girls who drink too much and pass out on your husband’s feet before the concert even begins
  3. Gray-haired, aging punkers with faded tats and reading glasses
  4. Random guy blasted back from the 80’s with a blue Mohawk and combat boots. Probably doesn’t deserve his own bullet point, but he was too entertaining not to mention.

Most interesting, however, was the band itself, who looked like they had just broken out of prison to play the concert. Despite the impressive neck and face tattoos, the 53-year-old lead singer is actually a vegetarian who skateboards and likes cats.

I had a great time at the concert and have been listening nonstop ever since to Social D on the way to my office job at a financial institution. In fact, I’m even considering getting a few neck tattoos so I can intimidate IT into providing me with better quality data for my PowerPoint presentations.


Survival of the Fittest – Elizabeth’s Revenge

Lady Justice

At my kids’ school each child in the classroom is given a “job”. It might be manning the pencil sharpener or keeping the supplies orderly. My first grader, Corinne, is the Light Monitor for her class; as the Light Monitor it is her responsibility to turn the lights on and off at the appropriate time.

On a side note, I have been seriously considering submitting a request to our Human Resources Department that we hire a light monitor at my company, since we never seem to have enough lights on and/or working in our offices. I think this may actually be the job of the Facilities Department, but since they’re busy trying to help the mailman figure out how to get us our mail without having access to our part of the building, they don’t have time to worry about things like lighting. (Now that I think about it, we also could use a “coffee monitor” to check bacteria levels in the coffee pots, which have survived several office moves and a few mergers without ever having seen soap.)

For the older kids, like Elizabeth, you have to “apply” for the job you want. You submit several applications and the teacher assigns you the role she feels you are most qualified for. Elizabeth was hoping to get an exciting job, like the classroom phone operator. While she didn’t get the phone gig, she ended up with something much better suited to her personality. She came home last week elated; she had been selected to be the class Tally Monitor.

A “tally” is our school’s word for a negative mark. For example, if you talk out of turn or lick your neighbor’s eraser, you get a tally. There are consequences based on the number of tallies one receives in a given day or week.

To understand the reason for Elizabeth’s delight at being selected Tally Monitor, you need a little background. In school, Elizabeth is a quiet kid, who listens to the teacher, does what she is told and tries to live a peaceful existence. When she entered public school in first grade, having gone to a private pre-school and kindergarten, her class size increased from 7 kids to 32 kids. She quickly found that her goals were in conflict with everyone else’s.

Public school, like life, is a jungle and social Darwinism is alive and well. Only the fittest survive and, as she observed, the fittest roll around on the classroom floor, eat their pencils and stomp on others’ lunch boxes.

Poor Elizabeth spent most of the year in shock, while we tried to teach her to eat pencils to ensure she made it to second grade. We worried constantly. She too had to push and cut in line like everyone else at lunchtime, or she’d always be the last one to be served the cafeteria mystery meat and would never have a chance to finish it before the bell rang.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth refused to conform to such behavior, and we finally gave up trying to teach it to her. By second grade, her shock turned to annoyance and by third grade she was indignant.

But now, in fifth grade, she has finally been given her chance to nail those brats, fair and square. As Tally Monitor you are the policeman, the judge and the jury. You give tallies and dole out punishment to the classroom miscreants. As you can imagine, it is a job which requires a deep understanding of classroom law and a true commitment to justice, both of which are ingrained in Elizabeth.

  • Talking during the morning announcements? Tally for you!
  • What, you have two tallies? Sit at the table during recess and write sentences! (Followed by evil laugh.)

Every day, she comes home and gives us her Tally Monitor “Smackdown Report”. Slowly but surely, every kid that frustrated her over the past 4 years is being brought to justice.

It looks like this will be a good year. Elizabeth has found a way to ensure her survival in the jungle. Maybe she can even convince the teacher to make the kid with the most tallies this month drink coffee from my company’s coffee pots…

College Admissions: Saved by Kenny G

Kenny G

I was recently talking to Elizabeth’s future mother-in-law, Joy, about the beginning of the school year. (If you’re wondering about my 10 year old’s engagement, see my earlier post “80’s Wedding”). We were brimming with excitement, because our kids were both entering fifth grade this year.

Fifth grade is pivotal in our school district, because it is the year in which our kids can finally receive free instruction on a musical instrument. The hope is that with only 7 more years until the college admissions process, your child will quickly stand out as a prodigy and, without any actual financial investment on your part, will excel to the point of being admitted to the college of your dreams (who cares what they want, kids don’t know anything).

Joy and I, like all fifth grade parents, were anxiously chatting about the instruments our children were considering. Elizabeth was dead set on the flute. Having tried some free violin lessons during summer school, she felt that holding the violin and the bow at the same time with two different hands was too complicated.

I respected her reasoning, since it was the same logic I used when I gave up skiing for snowboarding. I’m actually terrible at both, but I found that much more can go wrong with two skis controlled by two different feet. I came to this conclusion after a series of embarrassing mishaps, including falling off a rope tow into a ditch on a mountain somewhere in the Swiss Alps.

While I was fairly certain the violin would not send Elizabeth rolling down a snowy incline, I could image several hazardous scenarios involving her bow and some unsuspecting kid’s eyeball. Definitely too much liability.

Unfortunately for Joy, her son Dominic was seriously considering the eyeball-poking violin. Joy expressed concerned with this choice. Aside from the above-stated liability, there is an abundance of kids who play the violin these days and, let’s be honest, from a college admissions perspective, it’s hard to stand out a violinist. The path of least resistance was to take up a less popular instrument. The flute was a pretty standard instrument too. I wondered if I could get Elizabeth to play the french horn.

Joy broke it down for me: the easiest way to get a scholarship was with the saxophone. Forget the french horn. We quickly brainstormed on how to convince our kids that the sax was cool. I threw in my input. We could tell them they could become the next Kenny G. Not bad in theory, but Kenny G is dated these days. Or was he? Enter Corinne to the rescue.

Corinne had been eavesdropping, her favorite pastime, and quickly informed us that Kenny G is Katy Perry’s “Uncle Kenny” in the video “Last Friday Night” and, in fact, plays a mean saxophone on the roof of the house during the wild teenage party depicted in the video. She advised us to check out the video on YouTube. Anxiously, we complied.

Sure enough, Corinne was right. Kenny G was still making the sax look cool! We had what we needed to convince the kids and ensure their college admissions. Joy and I breathed a sigh of relief.

About 2 minutes into my relief, it slowly occurred to me that there might be another problem. Why was my six-year-old watching inappropriate Katy Perry videos on YouTube?! On the other hand, she was using YouTube to problem solve…

Hmm, maybe it was a draw. I can’t hide from the fact that I’m a bad parent, but at least my first grader is learning to resolve true crisis situations. If I focus on the positive, I might be able to sleep at night…at least until Elizabeth starts playing the saxophone on the roof.

First Day of School – My Epic Fail


The beginning of a new school year is full of unknowns. For instance:

  • How much homework will my child get? In other words, at what time do I have to start nagging in order for the homework to be completed by bedtime?
  • Will my child still be obsessed with becoming the Olympic tetherball gold medalist and resume begging me twice a day to install a tetherball court in the backyard? Everyone knows you can’t downplay the importance of home training for future Olympians.
  • Will the class bully give my kid the finger as a “back to school” greeting? Yes, this actually does happen. Just ask Elizabeth’s buddy Dominic who was the recipient of one such middle finger.

Yet, as I found out this year, the biggest and scariest unknown is whether I will be taken down by my own mental decrepitude on the primary school playground…and drag an unsuspecting first grader with me.

My kids were brimming with excitement yesterday, the first day of school. It was their opportunity to finally see all the friends with whom I had miserably failed to organize play dates during the summer. Furthermore, since they are still young enough to like to be seen with me, they love the fact that on this day and this day only, parents are allowed to accompany their children onto campus.

After the first day, of course, things resume to normal, which usually means pushing the kids out of the car without coming to a complete stop in order to make my 8:30 am meeting. This is the real reason I bought them helmets and knee pads a few years back; the scooters were just a cover.

Upon arriving on campus the first day, the protocol is to go with your child to his/her assigned teacher’s spot on the playground and line up in an orderly fashion. The teachers then make their way down their respective lines and introduce themselves personally to each child. I love this and find it to be a very warm and welcoming touch. This is, in fact, much better treatment than you generally receive when you start a new job in the corporate world, where it is not uncommon to spend the first two weeks spinning your wheels in a futile attempt to:

  1. locate the bathroom
  2. find a chair that’s not broken
  3. determine how to effectively gag the person who whistles loudly outside your door all day long
  4. obtain access to a computer so that you can meet the deadlines you know you’ll have if you can ever figure out who you report to

Because Elizabeth had to go to the upper grade playground for her meet and greet and Corinne had to go to the primary grade playground for hers, Thomas and I decided to divide and conquer. He took Elizabeth, and I took Corinne. Taking Corinne’s hand, we made our way to the appropriate line and took our places. Soon after, I saw a familiar face approach and take the place in line behind us. I turned and gave Connor a big smile and warm greeting.

Now, Connor is a shy boy who cried every day last year when his mom dropped him off at kindergarten. Since it appeared that his mom had ditched him this morning to accompany his little brother to pre-K, my maternal instincts took over. I peppered him with compliments, telling him how brave he was and commenting on how much he had grown over the summer. When it was clear that I had managed to coax Connor out of his shell in a matter of minutes, which was record time for this kid, I beamed with pride.

It was right at this point, where Connor and I had established a true rapport and were ready to face the day united, that I heard Corinne shout out excitedly in the other direction, “Hi Connor!” I turned my head and, sure enough, the real Connor had arrived.

I looked back at Fake Connor. Fake Connor looked at me. We both took another look at Real Connor. It had all become clear to me. Halfway through my conversation with “Connor”, Corinne had asked me who the kid was that I was talking to. I brushed off her silly question, because it was obvious that she had suffered summer amnesia and forgotten what her classmate looked like. But it was I, not Corinne, with the brain decay.

Once the truth had set in, I bowed down in utter defeat and asked Fake Connor to identify himself, for his sake and mine. He shook his head in true, first-grader pity and told me his name was Cody, and he was new to the school.

As Karma would have it, I ran into Real Connor’s mom a few minutes later. She had in fact ditched her son to take his brother to pre-K. After a quick tallying of pros and cons, I decided to reveal the morning’s prior events to her before someone else ratted me out. After all, I could not be certain how many witnesses there were to my mental downfall, or if Cody was inclined to keep this little misunderstanding to himself. Besides, I was also fairly certain that Corinne could not be trusted with such sensitive information.

As I gave Real Connor’s mom the play-by-play, she laughed sympathetically. However, I could tell she was simultaneously wracking her brain to figure out which medication she should suggest to me.

I think I would have preferred it if she would have just given me the finger.