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My Life in the Times

Sour Eggnog: Allegations of Child Abuse

Local authorities scramble to investigate allegations of abuse on Christmas morning.

GREENBROOK, Ill., Dec. 26, 1977—Normally, the Christmastime Warner household would be awash in the sounds of small children chattering over their presents and the scents of home-cooked turkey with giblet stuffing and mashed potatoes.

All of these things were indeed in attendance at the Warner home this Christmas, setting the stage for traditional holiday fun, but there was one uninvited guest: allegations of child abuse.

The allegations come from John Warner, age seven, the youngest of the two children of Michael and Sue Warner.

“I didn’t get Pong,” young Mr. Warner reported.

“He’s right,” his father, Michael Warner Sr., replied. “He didn’t get Pong, and he knows why.”

Pong is a cutting-edge, highly sophisticated video-game console in which games such as tennis and racquetball are simulated on a standard television screen. The Pong “light bars” are manipulated by a user using a “paddle” to deflect the white, square-shaped “ball” back and forth. Successfully deflecting the ball past an opponent’s light bar, wins one a point. The name comes from the delightful, hardly annoying noise the ball makes when it strikes the light bars. Gaming and toy experts see Pong as potentially revolutionary.

“Really, the boundaries are limitless,” commented Gary Lobedel, an industry analyst. “Who knows, someday the light bars might have color, or the ball could be round.”

Young Mr. Warner feels as though this revolution has marched on without him and, for that, his parents deserve punishment. He sat in the living room, surrounded by shards of torn wrapping paper, the toys he did receive scattered around the room. A stuffed Snoopy doll rested halfway in the fireplace, its bulbous snout covered in soot. “Everyone has Pong,” he said, sniffling back tears. “Everyone but me.”

When it was pointed out that his cousins, who were visiting the Warner home for the holidays, did not receive Pong, and instead had opened a bounty of sweaters and wool socks, Mr. Warner scoffed. “They’re poor.”

“Seriously, the kid has his own room, and they bought him a drum set! His parents may be crazy, but you can’t say that they don’t love him.” An informal neighborhood survey found that six of 10 children under the age of 12 had received Pong for Christmas or Hanukkah. (In a separate abuse charge leveled by Mr. Warner at his parents, he accused them of mistreatment by not being Jewish, because, “They get Christmas for like, eight days.”)

Phyllis Wilcox, president of Parents Unusually Concerned about Everything (PUCE), sided with Mr. Warner’s parents. “The only things my kids get for Christmas are bruised knees from giving thanks for baby Jesus. And they’re better for it. It’s highly unlikely that they’re going to grow up to resent my overzealous parenting style that seeks to shelter them from any element of the ‘real world.’ If my daughter ran off to New York at 13 to join a cabaret strip show, got pregnant at 15 and died a junkie’s death at 19, I’d be shocked.”

Authorities are also unsympathetic to Mr. Warner’s case. The Illinois Department of Child and Family Services released a statement following an investigation by a caseworker. “We saw a loving home with more than adequate parental supervision. We mean, seriously, the kid has his own room, and they bought him a drum set! He’s seven years old! A drum set! His parents may be crazy, but you can’t say that they don’t love him.”

In fact, a New York Times investigation has actually uncovered that John Warner was originally going to receive a Pong console for Christmas. However, the game was returned when it was discovered that Mr. Warner had been caught snooping throughout the house for Christmas presents prior to the holiday. According to an anonymous source close to the family—who asked for his identity to not be revealed because he’s Mr. Warner’s brother—he even went so far as to open some already-wrapped packages, which proved to be his undoing.

“He tried to tape them back up, but this is a kid who can barely tie his own shoes. Wrapping a package? Forget about it.”

Mr. Warner was located in the TV room, watching an episode of ChiPs—the one where Ponch goes undercover as part of a roller derby team. When confronted with the allegations against him, Mr. Warner refused to comment, instead opting to burst into tears, and claim that he “hated everybody” before grabbing his Snoopy doll and storming upstairs to his room.

Sue Warner seemed nonplussed. “This happens every year. He’ll come out soon. We have pumpkin pie, with whipped cream. The smells make it up the stairs.”


TMN contributing writer John Warner’s first novel, The Funny Man was recently published by Soho Press. He teaches at the College of Charleston and is co-color commentator for The Morning News Tournament of Books. More by John Warner