Fun at Uncle Barry’s house |

Fun at Uncle Barry’s house

W hen the neighbor’s cat comes into my back yard, I stop whatever I’m doing and run outside to greet it, all the while making various “kitty kitty” noises that I would be mortified if another human ever heard. I pet the cat for three minutes, and then it goes on about its day, leaving me with the best moments of cat ownership and without the hassle of vet bills, furniture hair or litter boxes. The neighbor’s dogs are trained to stay in their yard, so I have to go to them in order to get my doggie fix. And I do. Almost daily. Five fetches with the tennis ball, and I’m good. And I never, ever, have to put a plastic bag over my hand in order to pick up something they’ve dropped.My wife and I are officially on the “No Kids, No Pets” program.So when the nieces visit from Hawaii, I get all the concentrated joy of “having” kids without ever having to, say, add a 16-year-old to my car insurance policy.Being an uncle is the best gig ever.Here are a few high points of their recent two-week visit.* Nicole, 16, doesn’t know how to drive a stick shift. I decide that I should teach her and sister Lauren, 14, (who’ll need to know soon enough) the benefits of the standard transmission. Making our way to the empty gravel parking lot, I deliver the following instructions: “OK, give it lots of gas and then let the clutch out really fast. See? That’s called peeling out. Do that a few times, and then we’ll work on mastering the donut.”* NICOLE (while dragging downloaded MP3 files into the trash of her Mac Powerbook): “Where does it, like, go when you put it in the trash?”BARRY (thinking that perhaps this is an opportunity to share some geek knowledge, but suspecting that Nicole isn’t asking for a lecture but merely making a rhetorical teenage remark): “Do you really want to know?”NICOLE (remembering a visit two summers ago, when she made the mistake of asking, based on some summer reading assignment, the difference between sarcasm and irony and had to then endure both an explanation and a constant series of examples from Barry, which managed to eat up about half of her vacation): “No!”BARRY (not really caring if she meant it or not): “Well, first you have to understand how a computer stores information. Inside of your Powerbook is the hard drive, a circular piece of metal spinning around at an incredibly high speed, which …”NICOLE (slowly inserting iPod earphones and cranking volume wheel all the way to the right): “Uh huh …”* As an uncle, I feel a responsibility to teach values. So when her mother is out shopping and Lauren asks if she can have a beer, I tell her “absolutely not.” “I only have three left, so you’ll have to split one with your sister. Just don’t tell.”This, I figure, is a good way to teach two powerful lessons at once – that “wrong” is a nebulous concept, one in which not getting caught plays a big part, and that sharing is good.I like to think of myself as a living Sesame Street episode.* Speaking of wrong – downloading music from the Internet is wrong, illegal and immoral. Which means that if you only do it a little bit, it’s OK. The nieces took to my wireless broadband connection – their first exposure to such technology – with real gusto, quickly harvesting every song they have ever heard of.This didn’t bother me at first, as I love introducing others to the awesome power of technology. But paranoia set in when I realized that their downloading frenzy, and I don’t think “frenzy” is too strong of a word, would be reflected on my Internet account.They’ll be safely back in Hawaii by the time I have to explain to the federal judge (and the press) that it wasn’t ME downloading Madonna, TLC, Vanilla Ice, ABBA and The Village People, I swear … it was the kids. IT WAS THE KIDS!* I am available for baby-sitting. Call me.Barry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Mondays. His e-mail address is, and his very own Web page is at

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