Monday, July 26, 2010

and Spooky Evenings

Speaking of games…

So I had a big birthday this summer, one that ends in 0. I needed some new toys as a salve to the onset of middle age. What does a middle-aged grad student need? A new weight bench!

My son was at a sleepover, but my daughter was extraordinarily interested in the big box sitting on our porch. She kept asking when I was going to open it and offering to help. And she really was helpful. First, she helped me haul all of the little pieces from our front porch into the basement. Then, I had asked her to remind me to take the box cutter back inside and she did. Then she insisted on cleaning up all the packaging materials herself – sending me inside.

The motivation for her diligence became apparent when she asked, “Daddy, what are you going to do with the box?”

It was a pretty big box, I could see her point so I gave it to her to play with.

The boxes were about six feet long and maybe a foot and half wide so she tried to make bunk beds – but I vetoed that plan since they were only cardboard. She pretended they were canoes and built the inevitable fort.

When her brother came home the next night, things got really interesting.

Their camp includes a magic unit, so my son is constantly trying out card tricks on us. The immigration cycle in America is a tremendous thing taking us within a few generations from working class to professional to charlatan. It isn’t exactly full circle, more like a death spiral.

Besides card tricks he is learning Houdini style escapes. So, he would lie in the closed box (with his hands “tied” up) while his sister would pile objects on top of the box. He would free himself, burst out, and we would time his escape. Then it was GoofGirl’s turn to make great escapes.

Then it got weird…

They played cemetery. One would lie in the box, eyes closed. The box was almost closed, with only the head exposed. The unboxed sibling sat beside it and wailed. They even found another flat piece of cardboard to prop up and use as a tombstone.

Are we becoming the Adams Family?

Saturday Afternoons on Mars

My son long played these terrific games within games. But GoofGirl didn’t. I wasn’t worried. She is a super-smart, funny, clever girl who draws elaborate pictures and tells funny stories. She may in fact be playing very creative games – but saving it for her friends.

Still, I was pleasantly surprised on a recent Saturday afternoon when GoofGirl told me to pretend I was Barack Obama. We try to keep the Jewish Sabbath which restricts possible activities tremendously – no TV, computers, or driving anywhere – so summer Saturdays get looooong and Mama Goof was taking a well-deserved and much needed nap, so anything to kill some time and buy her some peace.

She wanted me to pretend to be the President, visit her room and bring my family (not my real family, but Sasha and Malia).

My son got into the act as my Secret Service agent. He loaded up his Nerf pistols and put on his Nerf vest, like a bulletproof vest.

(Quick digression, I remember some pretty weak Nerf weapons as a kid that broke, jammed and had no range – his are really cool, have real punch and are tons of fun. We’ve spent hours chasing each other around the house with them. I confess, that just as I enjoyed throwing Nerf balls at his head when he was two, I really like plugging him with Nerf darts execution style.)

We went up to my daughter’s room, he knocked on the door and she told us to come in. My son did a quick sweep looking for assassins and announced in his deep serious voice: “Ladies and gentleman: the President of the United States.”

My daughter and son stood and I entered the room. I tried to channel SNL’s Fred Armison imitating Barack Obama as I introduced the first family and told my daughter what a lovely home she had. My daughter played with the imaginary first daughters while my son looked around nervously and tapped his pretend earpiece.

Then my daughter dismissed the first family and told me to stay (I didn’t want to be all pedantic and tell her that one did not tell presidents what to do.) She ran downstairs grabbed some newspaper, pointed to an article and told me I had to read it. (She can’t read yet.)

“I am very busy being the President – can you tell me what it says,” I asked.

“Yes, the person who wrote this article is a robber. He steals things, but he is also a writer and he writes that you are the robber and people believe him. You need to stop him,” she explained earnestly – she seems to think rather highly of the capabilities of writers.

“Well, what do you suggest we do about this?” I asked, still trying to sound presidential.

“We need to stop him because he is making people think you are a robber.”

“How should we do this, can we take pictures of him stealing things?” I proposed.

“I could shoot him!” my son/bodyguard interjected.

“We can’t take pictures of him – he’s too sneaky,” my daughter said.

“Well, what if we tell him there is something extra valuable at the museum. We know he’ll try to steal it and then we can catch him.”

The little Goofs liked this plan. So I sent my son/bodyguard to inform my staff to issue a press release.

The little Goofs escorted me to the museum (downstairs in our living room) and prepared to catch the robbers.

Then it gets weird
At this point, since I was still the President, I couldn’t help fight the robbers because Presidents can’t get hurt (my kids know that vice presidents are not to be trusted). So I sat in the corner and may have fallen asleep while my kids karate-chopped imaginary thieves.

I awoke with a start.

“The truth is, I’m an alien,” I heard my daughter explain.

“Me too, we are both aliens,” GoofBoy added.

“Are we still in the same game, am I still President?” I asked.

“Yes Mr. President, and you need to come with us to Mars,” GoofGirl ordered.

“OK. What do you eat on Mars?”

“Cookies, pizza, whatever you like – just like on earth, but better.”

“What do you do for fun on Mars?”

“Well,” Martian GoofGirl began, “We have swimming pools, and playgrounds, and Hello Kitty.”

“Allright, let’s go!”

My son piloted the spaceship and my daughter held my hand so I wouldn’t get scared on the long spaceship ride. We got to Mars, which looked a great deal like our kitchen. Sure enough, we found cookies.

“Congratulations, you are the first earthperson to visit Mars,” GoofGirl announced.

“Wow, but you said you had Hello Kitty and that’s from earth?” I queried.

“No, Hello Kitty is from Mars, we send it to earth,” my daughter explained patiently.

That seems plausible.

My wife came downstairs, yawning and stretching.

“Did you sleep well,” I asked.

“Okay,” Mama Goof replied.

“Well, I’m wiped. While you were out, I had to fight robbers and go to Mars.”

In our house, this is not unusual.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

High Flying Pies

So I can't cook, no question about that. I can make sandwiches (grilled cheese, PBJ, turkey with extra mayo), I can make a good omelette, and I can apply heat to frozen food. But I can't actually cook. But when I was in high school I worked at a pizza shop and I learned to toss a pizza. I wasn’t good at tossing pizzas. I worked with guys that were like the Meadowlark Lemons of flour, juggling multiple pies with a single finger. I was a serviceable pizza-maker, a gentleman’s C. My pizzas came out okay. The one time when I tried to do something flashy I ended up losing the pie in the ceiling fan. (I regularly earned the honor of cleaning the grease trap for my failings – but for this one I got to clean the employee bathroom.)

As a consolation, my son thinks is absolutely hilarious.

This semi-skill comes in handy every once in a while. At a make your own pizza party, while the other parents tugged and yanked on the dough I methodically kneaded it, worked out the bubbles and gave it a few quick tosses. The other parents ended up with oblong pies, shaped more like driftwood or lava. My pie was roughly a circle with even thickness throughout. The other parents looked on – impressed.

GoofBoy looked on with pride, “My dad’s really good at tossing pizzas. One time when he worked at a pizza place, he tossed it so high, it went into the ceiling fan!”

He didn’t know about the part where I had to clean the bathroom.

Monday, July 05, 2010


I have a terrible sense of direction. I cannot remember a sequence of more than two turns – inadequate for navigating a typical suburban maze. When people tell me about their favorite restaurants, cigar shops, or bail bondsmen I nod politely unable to process their description of the location. Shortcuts that are in the public domain are mysteries to me. I can’t risk alternate routes because one wrong turn and I will be lost and forced to start a new life on the first cul-de-sac that has parking.

I have compensated with Google Maps, resulting in piles of paper in the passenger seat. But for my birthday I was given a GPS. The gift coincided with our recent trip to LA. While some basic geographic awareness of where I live has penetrated my brain, I remain hopeless in the endless sprawl of LA.

LA natives are of little help with my problem because they can rarely agree on which Freeway to take. I’ve seen friendships fractured in debates on the virtues and failings of the 101 vs. the 5 at different times of the day. In LA, Freeways are like the stock market. Everyone thinks they have an angle that will put them ahead - and everyone is wrong.

I set up the GPS, typed in the destination coordinates, and a no-nonsense women, (perhaps my elementary school librarian), began giving me instructions. It was divine. I didn’t worry (beyond the usual vicissitudes of driving in LA). Usually I clutch the wheel in one hand and my directions in the other, frantically checking signs to make sure I hadn’t misread something and missed my turn. With GPS, I just drove and turned when the librarian told me to. Nothing could have been easier.

But then I felt strange, oddly lightheaded. I had read that reliance on GPS could lead parts of the brain responsible for directional sense to atrophy. Mindlessly driving I could feel my hippocampus shrinking.

I took a deep breath – based on my native navigational talents I didn’t have much of a hippocampus to begin with. What I felt was the lack of stress, something so profound that it became a source of stress in its own right.

GPS grew on me. Besides reducing stress it looked like the navigational computer in the X-Wing fighters in Star Wars. As I drove I kept whispering to myself, “Stay on target, stay on target…”

In fairness, I do this all the time. Except when I’m whispering to myself, “Almost there, almost there.”

Of course Luke Skywalker only destroyed the Death Star after turning off his navigational computer and I bet he had a monster hippocampus.