Alexander’s mother of “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” was a cultural icon

Writing sample for The A.V. Club editorial application. 3 of 3.

1972 sooth the release of Big Star’s #1 Record (featuring the nostalgic non-single “Thirteen”) as well as Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. But perhaps more emblematic was the publication of Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and its miffed-without-being-pessimistic child protagonist, who lives dormant in all of us.

In AatTHNGVBD, to checkered-flag the day with a kick in the groin, Alexander’s compatriots Anthony and Nick discover a Corvette Sting Ray car kit and a Junior Undercover Agent code ring in their respective breakfast cereal boxes. Alexander? Nil.

His devastation is warranted, though, because once, in the early 2000s, I scored a CD in my cereal box featuring Aaron Carter’s “That’s How I Beat Shaq” and played it repeatedly in my pink Hello Kitty boombox — which, as you can imagine, fucking slayed. Our boy Alex can’t partake in such youthful whimsy, because his cardboard contraption elicited only cereal. (Probably Wheaties.)

Later, at school, A’s teacher — who is clearly a tactless hack with little to no sensitivity that sharing one’s art is a vulnerable undertaking — misinterprets his creativity for laziness when he unveils his portrait of an “invisible castle,” thereby shattering the boy’s ego like Anthony’s Corvette car kit that Alexander would no doubt stomp upon if given the opportunity.

To escalate matters, our young hero is ousted in his ex-best-friend Paul’s relationship hierarchy by fuckfaces Philip Parker and Albert Moyo.

At least Alexander zings back with sublime catchphrases: “I hope you sit on a tack” and “I hope the next time you get a double-decker strawberry ice-cream cone the ice cream part falls off the cone part and lands in Australia.” How disarmingly specific! Using less than 140 characters …

The day elapses to include a cavity, foot shut on by a masochistic elevator, stripeless shoes, a weary father, nasty-ass lima beans, hideously unflattering railroad-train pajamas and a disloyal cat.

But the real unsung hero of this story is Alexander’s mother, who, rather than Grinch-patting-Cindy-Lou-Who-on-the-head-and-shunting-her-off-to-bed-with-a-drink, concedes to her son that “some (terrible, horrible, no good, very bad) days are like that.” MARVELOUS PARENTING MOVE, MA. Not gonna condescend you by promising a “happy ending,” asshole!

M(r)s. Alexander is a no-bullshit realist with a sharp eye and pragmattitude. Oh, you “accidentally” filled your free-n-clear plastic water cup with incriminating yellow lemonade from the soda fountain at a restaurant after your cousin Michael mistakenly did the same thing during a family lunch out? March over to the cashier and pay for it, motherfucker.

She shares Alexander’s cynicism but doesn’t revel in it. She’s practical, even philosophical. She ties her ponytail with an oversized bow and dons a flower-printed, collared sweater (as per Ray Cruz’s illustrations) because she’s a mother of three but, dammit, she knows how to take care of herself. And because it’s the seventies.

We are all Alexander. But Alexander’s mother is who we should all aspire to be.

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