Monday, July 30, 2007

Brush with Evil

Speaking of baseball, my son asked me if the Yankees are a good team.

"Yes," I told him, "They are one of the all-time great baseball teams."

"Good," he said, "I like the Yankees. They're great."

I sat down and pulled him into my lap. I spoke gently, "As you grow older there are many things we will not agree about. But despite this, I'll still love you. I will love you if you decide you don't like your faith or prefer wine over beer. I will love you if you become a Trotskyite..."

"Like Pop?" my son interrupted.

"Right, like Pop. I will even love you if you decide to use PCs instead of Macs."

"What if I prefer the new Star Wars to the old ones?" he asked.

"Even then, as much as it would pain me," I told him, my voice still gentle.

"But if you become a Yankees fan," I continued, my voice darkening like a sudden summer thunderstorm:

"I will have no son!"

"Dad, I'm just kidding," he laughed, rolling his eyes at me. "I like the Orioles. Can we go to a game?"

"What spend forty bucks to see them, they stink."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Summer Afternoon

My son and I are playing catch. At six he can catch it often enough and throw it more or less to me. My wife bought him a starter glove and a hardball (not quite a baseball, but it makes a smack when it lands.) My wife dug my old glove out from somewhere, it hasn't been used in at least 15 years. The signature on it is Robin Yount (great Brewers shortstop back in the 1980s.)

I toss it to him gently, underhanded. Sometimes I forget myself and throw it a little too hard. I cringe, but he surprises me, cooly stopping it before it slams him in the face.

My daughter, for once, has relinquished the soap bubble pipe and is letting my wife create giant spheres. My daughter shrieks with joy as she chases them across our sun-dappled backyard.

Soon my wife and our children, who inherited her sweet blood, will feel the effects of the mosquito assault. Tomorrow I will wake up with tense shoulders and wonder if I need arthroscopic surgery (like Tommy John had back when I was a kid.)

But not quite yet.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Making the Most of Your Video Camera

Tip #1: Plan

If you want to get good videos of family activities, you need to plan. It may have worked for Goddard and Trauffaut, but unless you are a French realist, cinema verite makes for boring family videos. The children are guaranteed to not do anything interesting or amusing when the camera is on. Not only is the French realist approach to family videos dull, it is also hazardous. As you are trying to unobtrusively follow your children, staring at them through a video camera, you are likely to miss all of the obstacles on the floor of any child dominated home. The video – through your eyes – of your fall makes for terrifically honest filmmaking. It can also hurt.

On the other hand, pulling out the camera when the kids are doing something adorable is guaranteed to stop whatever they were doing that was cute. You will get a video of your children milling about listlessly, like people waiting for a subway, with your voice repeating over and over – “C’mon, sing “Woolly Bully” again – just one more time for Daddy.” A good approach if you want your family movies to resemble Last Year at Marienbad (94 minutes of enigmatic narrative structure…)

Seriously, plan a modest activity that is worth being filmed – a snowball fight, catch, a round of wrestling, or Mommy’s face when she sees the mess you and the kids have made.

Tip #2: Pan Out

The other thing to know about video cameras is that among a swarm of children, you may not be able to pick out your child (particularly if they are all dressed the same.) Consequently, you may inadvertently have a 20 minute close-up of some child you don’t know singing his heart out at the “Flag Day” concert. This will be extremely embarrassing for you, and devastating for your child. Do a lot of wide-angle crowd shots.

This will come out better than you think. On the little screen on your camera it never looks like you get enough of your kid, so you do a lot of close-ups. But that same image, tiny of the video camera, will be huge on a TV. Also, kids move around a lot in unpredictable directions, like Robert Downey, Jr. Trust me, pan out!

Also, just a heads up, videos of kids’ pep rallies (particularly when the kids are all dressed in school colors) can have a weird Triumph of the Will vibe – that is if the Hitler Youth fell down a lot and did the “Hokey Pokey.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Milestones: Father Goof's Birthday Thoughts

Father Goof just suffered through a birthday last week. It was a tough one as I have officially left my mid-thirties and entered my late ones. Then it is on to forty and middle-age. (Although I hear 50 is the new 40, I also hear 90 is the new 80.)

To cheer myself up I thought about what I've really achieved in my short (but, in the opinion of many, too long) time on this mortal coil. Two achievements stand out.

When you go to a supermarket and there is a sign by the produce scales that reads, "This scale is for produce ONLY!"

I did that. When he was an infant I would take my son to the supermarket and weigh him. Then for "fun" I would calculate how much he would cost if he were cucumbers ($10.36), tomatoes ($15.11), or shitaake mushrooms ($77.43).*

Now I know what you are thinking (assuming it isn't: those are great prices on cucumbers), "Why?"

I can't say I have an answer - although it was an excuse to get out of the house and take a walk and while I was there I also bought cookies. Anyway, I was firmly told to cease and desist. It probably didn't help that we played it like a little gameshow and I would try to involve other customers (I used a broccoli tree as a microphone.)

I think if it hadn't been for the gameshow bit maybe they wouldn't have cracked down so hard and other people could have used the scales quietly to weigh their children. I notice these signs at almost every super-market. So, sorry I ruined this for everyone, but now I can take my son to supermarkets, point to the sign and proudly tell him we did that together.

My other big accomplishment is more positive. When you go to a movie theater the doorman will dutifully inform you that "The Concession stand is straight ahead."

I invented that - sort of. In college I worked at the Loews Theater at Copley Place in Boston. Most of the guys wanted to be ushers because you could linger in movie theaters, sneak snacks of popcorn and soda, get high in the bathroom, and hide if any actual work was needed. Good points, but I wanted to help people. So I would volunteer to be doorman. When people came up, in addition to telling them where their movie was, I would announce, "The recommended candy for your movie is..."

And if pressed I usually had some rationale. And people would do it. I would suggest Toblerone as the recommended candy for "Look Who's Talking Too" (I believe I told them the nougat would counter-act the grating impact of Roseanne Barr's voice coming out of a baby) and people who had never tried anything more sophisticated than Goobers would suddenly become fans of more cosmopolitan Eurocandy.

I had an impact. I got people to try new things. By telling the customers there was a candy choice that would make their specific movie choice better - I made their movie theater experience that much better. I was more than doorman - I was a sugar sommelier.

One day then Vice President of Loews, Harry Goldwater (and yes we did follow him around muttering "...extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! ...moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

He thought it was a great idea. But of course the squares at corporate got hold of it and turned my creative, empowering idea into a bland reminder that there were calories to be consumed up ahead.

Still - I started it. Some small comfort as I begin my slide down the slippery slope...

* While writing this I called up to my wife, "Honey, what is the funniest vegetable?"

"I don't know," she yelled back, "Cauliflower? Arugala maybe?"

"Thanks, do you want to know what I'm doing?"

"No, not one bit." So you can see why I need to cherish what achievements I have, however modest.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Getting the Most Merry-Go-Round

Since Merry-Go-Round rides aren't free, you want to get the most for your amusement dollar. Think back to high school physics - think torque: "This force is defined by linear force multiplied by a radius."

So if you are on the outside of the Merry-Go-Round your kid is having more force applied, traveling more distance in the same time (i.e. faster) and just getting more fun overall for your $4.50.

On the other hand, if your kid is prone to motion sickness don't forget your torque. Sit the kid on the inside where he or she will be less ravaged by the vicissitudes of cruel physics, otherwise the Merry-Go-Round might make your kid torque!