Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Hat

Sorry for the lack of posts this week. We’re in the middle of our yearly Spring Break excursion to Costa Rica. I’ll have a couple posts once I shake all the sand out of our clothes.

In the weeks leading up to our trip, I was determined to avoid my yearly barf-a-thon from sun exposure. It was me against my Irish/Polish/German skin.  I was determined to prevent the life giving Goddess of Sol from befouling my ivory epidermis.

Step one? Shades. I briefly worked on The Oakley account, so I had a few pairs of half price sunglasses hidden in the tiny shoebox that contains last Rick-only items in our house. I picked out a big, oversized pair with bright purple lenses.

Next? Sun-proof shirt. I wanted something I could wear to the beach and the pool and had a cool name like “Rash Guard.” I don’t particularly like the feel of wet clothes, so I went a size up, so I’d have room to breathe.

And the final piece of my arsenal? The hat. Since I barfed into my last hat on the plane ride back from Mexico, I felt like I needed to upgrade past my usual Bears baseball hat with the factory added distressed look. I searched high and low, and after combing the internet for a full seven minutes, I decided on a replica of the jungle hats our armed forces wore in Vietnam. If it worked for the thousands of men sent to their deaths for a vague anti-Communist agenda, it would work for me. Besides, if some of Costa Rican locals mistook me for a Marine Sergeant on leave with his family, would that be so bad?

We arrived at our beachside paradise shortly after noon, so we had time to hit the pool before dinner. We all raced to put on our swim gear. I was excited to put my sun stuff to the test. Since I had more stuff to put on, the rest of the family waited patiently on our little patio. I made my grand entrance.

I often wondered if I would loose my sons’ admiration slowly over time or I would suddenly and dramatically become uncool. The look on their faces showed my uncool had arrived with the force of a hurricane. I looked at my reflection in the sliding glass door. I was so violently dorky looking that no amount of detached, ironic reverse psychology could save me. I looked like a 1980’s computer programmer mated with a non-Indiana Jones archeologist.

“It’s…it’s for the sun,” I protested. Diana averted her eyes so she could maintain some kind of marital-obligated attraction to me.

We went to the pool and I fumbled with the water toys to complete my look. Two fashionable gay men stared agape from the swim up bar. I hid in the water, lamely batting at the swim shirt that had filled with air to give me the appearance of having oversized breasts.

Oh, and I threw up the next day from too much sun.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Baby's First Batman

This is kinda cheating. But today’s post is actually ripped off from a little piece I wrote for The A.V. Club. The very nice editor Gwen Ihnat asked me to screen the 1960’s Batman movie for Elijah and Luca. The results are below, but if you want to see all the other writers’ stuff go here:

Baby’s First Batman

My sons are into superheroes, but not in the dangerously obsessive way of their father. And until recently, they had very little exposure to Batman aside from Legos. This was a parenting oversight that needed rectifying stat. Without Batman, how would they know how to behave if I was ever murdered?

The question of who should be their first cinematic Cape Crusader plagued me. Michael Keaton? Naw, too “Mr. Mom.” Val Kilmer? Too bloated. George Clooney? Too nippley. Christian Bale? What, do you want them to have nightmares?

I opted for the campy, hammy Adam West of the 1966 “Batman” movie. West may be derided by fans who want their Batman brooding and covered in synthetic muscles, but he’ll always be my dark knight. His ethics are clear and his Batmobile is the coolest. Besides, he’s responsible for one of the greatest Simpsons moments ever.

“Batman” was produced following the first season of the popular television series. It was written and directed in bright, cartoon style by two of the series regulars, Lorenzo Semple Jr and Leslie H. Martinson, who seemed intent on taking nothing seriously for its entire running time, which I loved. My sons were another story.

At first glance at the Blu-ray box, my sons declared it too old fashioned and refused to sit for the screening. But after a quick negotiation involving unlimited root beer, we were underway.

Following opening title cards soberly honoring both law enforcement and strangeness, my sons sat stone-faced as The Joker (Cesar Romero), Penguin (Burgess Meredith), Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether) bickered and cackled their way through lunatic plots to kill Batman and Robin (Burt Ward) and hold the United Nations-esc Security Council hostage.

They frowned at classic gags like Batman’s hyper convenient shark repellant, the impossible dehydrator gadget that turned people to colorful dust, and my personal favorite: Batman attempting to throw of an oversized Looney Tunes style bomb over a dock, only to be impeded by nuns, baby ducks and a marching band (“Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.”).

My boys openly disapproved of Lee Meriwether and Burgess Meredith smoking and covered their eyes during the 1960’s style sexuality (Bruce Wayne really wanted to screw Catwoman). They were particularly disturbed by Robin’s nude tights.

At one point I stopped the movie and said, “Guys. You do know this is supposed to be funny, right?” Out of pity for their old man, they laughed unconvincingly at the Riddler’s nonsensical riddles and the Cold War references throughout the rest of the film. I caught the same “Let’s just get through this, shall we?” look on Caesar Romero’s face when he had to deliver a particularly cringe-worthy line.

My sons ended the night play fighting each other in front of the TV, using the “Pow” and “Thwack” moves from the movie’s climax. I felt this was a major victory, but my younger son clarified, “Dad. I’m being Lego Batman. Not the one from your movie.”

Hip Hop Performance

I’m not sure why you project your insecurities onto YOUR children, but I do it so I’ll have little carbon copies of myself running around.  It comforted me to know my anxieties and character flaws will live on for generations in little mini Ricks.

Imagine my disappointment to learn my sons are actually independent people who like things other than pre-prequel Star Wars and Wilco albums between the years 1996 and 2004.

This whole Hip Hop dance thing is the clearest example. Unlike virtually every other activity we’ve forced them into, they simply love Hip Hop dance class. They look forward to it every week. They talk about it constantly. And they break out into little dance moves spontaneously around the kitchen island while I’m cooking.

When Diana announced the boys would be participating in a big dance recital at the local high school, I seemed to be the only one who felt the need to have a panic attack. They were pumped.

I tried to figure out why they weren’t panicked about the performance without making them panicked about the performance.

“Isn’t the idea of dancing in front of a bunch of people terrifying? Don’t you want to die?”

On the night of the event, I drove to the high school filled with dread. Not for the boys, but because I was worried about making my way to the auditorium without an altercation with some teens.

I found a seat next to Chris, our neighbor dad, whose daughters were also hip hop enthusiasts. He wordlessly handed me the nights’ program. The kids’ performance would take place in the intermission of a huge talent show of twenty-eight acts. Twenty. Eight.

The worst mistake I made that night was counting the number of acts. While watching spoken word poetry or uncomfortably sexualized teenager dancing, I would shout in my head, “Get off the stage Number Eight! Get off the stage Number Eight!”

Around number ten, Luca came crawling over the audience to lie in my lap. I wondered if this would happen. I wondered if Luca would contract some kind of stage fright and make me take him home. I felt conflicted. I didn’t want him to be scared. But at the same time, it comforted me that my anxiety would live for another generation.

“Hey buddy. Are you scared?” I said. “It’s ok to be scared. In fact, we can go home right now and play Xbox. You like Xbox, don’t you?”

“No Dad, I’m not scared. I’m bored,” he said flatly.

Irritated by his lack of Hamannness, I forced him to go back and sit with his dance troop or dance posse or whatever they call it.

When the moment finally came, it was marvelous. They were a sea of bright green shirts, flopping their arms and legs to the music. The crowd gave them a standing ovation and Marcus was called out by the MC as being a positive force in the community. The moms in the crowd all fell in love with him all over again.

And the very second they left the stage, I pounced on them and dragged them to the car to head home.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Minecraft vs Minecraft

A few weeks ago, I was cooking dinner when Luca slumped over our kitchen counter. He whined, “I’m bored.” A light jab.

I countered with a flurry of attacks. “Well, why don’t you play with the literally hundreds of toys in your room? Did you know there are children in the world who have no toys? Zero.” He was against the ropes.

Luca said, “But I want to play with you! You never play with me. The last time you played with me was, like, last Tuesday.” Down goes Hamann! Down goes Hamann!

So I’ve been making an effort to avoid the above. But whenever I ask Luca what he wants to play, he suggests Minecraft. Which is a brilliant way to get me to give him more screen time.

Minecraft is a video game where you can build things if you want to. Or mine things if you want to. Or fight things if you want to. Or just sit there shooting off fireworks if you want to. I hate it.

I’ve taken to reading some of Luca’s Minecraft books on the side in a vain attempt to understand even the concept of the game. Deep within one of the treatises about fighting cubes of slime (yes there are just cubes of slime you have to fight) I found some blueprints and instructions on how to build castles. Ooh. That sounded fun.

For three weeks during a high school architecture course I thought I would become a builder of magnificent structures, High-rises, office buildings, art deco Pizza Huts.  But then I decided to follow my dream of making things people DVR past.

I carried my plans for a beautiful seaside Asian dojo to the basement and I joined Luca in the virtual 8-bit ish world. Via split screen, we each walked around the weird, blocky, somewhat disturbing Minecraft world.

I told Luca I was going to build my dojo and he was welcome to join me and maybe we could live there when it was done. Luca demurred and wandered off. This still counted as playing together, so I got to work.

It was fantastic. Setting down block after block. So many straight lines. I felt like I had found my calling: Quietly following directions. 

Every once and a while would stand back and smarvel at my growing structure.  Occasionally I would see Luca’s character at the edge of my screen. He was busy with something. Digging. Placing things. Digging. Placing things.

I asked Luca what he was up to.

“I’m putting TNT all around your building.”

With as much effort as I was putting into my dojo, Luca was digging trenches all around and underneath my dojo and filling the holes with hundreds of red boxes of digital explosives.

“What? No. You can’t blow up my dojo. I was going to use this as my special meditation place. I was going to fill it with digital cushions and some digital dream catchers.”

Luca assured me, “Oh dad. I’m not going to blow it up now. I’m going to wait until you are done.”

I put my controller down and went upstairs. I couldn’t bear to watch my creation exploded. According to Luca, it was glorious.

Thursday, March 3, 2016


Last night, I waited in Luca’s bed while he conducted some mommy business. He came back in and excitedly jumped into bed.

“Dad. I have something important to ask you. Mom said it was up to you.”

I got ready to approve a trip to the toy store or a Sunday movie or putting the final nail in the no screens during the week rule coffin.

“Can I have a baby sister?”

I asked him to repeat himself. Then I asked him again. You really want a sister? Where in the heck did this come from?

“I think it would be so cute. I promise I’ll feed her and change her diapers and play with her all the time.”

Rather than get into the mathematics or physics of having a baby at 43 years old, I tried to play to his selfishness.

“You know, our house isn’t big enough for another baby. You’ll have to share a room with Eli. We’ll also have to probably throw out half of your toys. Probaby all of your toys.”

Didn’t care. He was totally up for it. He was also ok with waking up in the middle of the night and most likely being her fulltime caregiver in 4 to 6 years. I punted to Diana. With the most dad statement in the history of dad statements.

“Go ask your mother.”

He came back a few seconds later.

“She said we could acopt one. We should name her Phoebe.” Diana was officially messing with me.

I tried to explain to him with our busy schedules, we couldn’t ACOPT a baby. Plus, I would not name my daughter after the least attractive “Friends” actress. I offered to buy him a female dog (sorry Grover) or a female hamster. Or a female Transformer.

“No. Dogs and hamsters die too fast. I want to acopt a baby.”

I offered to sign us up to volunteer at a hospital or a orphanage or even convince my friend John to dress his baby son up as a girl and let us watch him/her for a weekend.

Nope. He wanted to acopt a baby girl and that was it.  I rolled the dice and said, “Okay. If that’s what you want, tell mom I’m fine with it.”

A few seconds later Luca came back crying. Diana told him it wasn’t going to happen.

I looked like a real hero.