Long ago, in the Before Times, I was dating a woman with a very young daughter. I had not yet gelled as an artistic entity, and was in the process of learning that I’m really not cut out to be a father, even a surrogate one. This became apparent on two occasions. Both were attempts on my part to make a connection with a kid. Both failed hilariously.
The first was the purchase of a “children’s book”. I spent hours at Books-A-Million (down the block from Media Play) hunting for just the right one. It had to be colorful, clever, and not condescending. I refused to buy anything “kiddie”, on principle. It had to be something that enticed, thrilled, and sparked the imagination, like the books I read in my grade school library.
Finally, I found one. It was written and drawn by someone I had the utmost admiration for. It had a unique story, told across big colorful pages. It was clever in its humor. I took it to the cashier, went home, and called my girlfriend on the landline to tell her how awesome I was. She was skeptical, and asked to review the book before gifting it to her daughter.
I was hurt, but I capitulated anyway, and let her see it.
I got a talking-to, and the daughter never got the book. It’s about a worm, who hates his life and won’t eat his dirt because there’s a hair in it. Father Worm goes on to explain the origin of the hair; the scalp of a maiden who ate a poisonous mushroom and decomposed on the forest floor. It’s very funny, just like The Far Side, but my girlfriend at the time didn’t think so, and she complained of a “secret message” in the back that was especially egregious. Then she stayed mad for a while.
Confused, I opened the soon-to-be-regrettably-returned book and hunted the offending message. I have to hand it to Gary Larson; it took me a while, and it completely slipped past me until then.
On the back page, was a large illustration of a writhing pile of worms, all grinning wide-eyed at the reader. Their long bodies spelled out three words: “SEE YOU SOON”.
I think that’s hysterical, but it might keep an 8-year-old up at night.
My second attempt at connecting with the daughter was the moment I realized I’m more Walter Matthau than Tony Curtis. It involved a video game called “PaRappa the Rapper”, and much anguish.
See, before the book, I made a vague stab at connecting with the kid through the only real way I know; toys. A Transformer, duh. Due to the era, it was a Fuzor Silverbolt. But this felt too easy, so I moved to books, and when that failed, back to video games. As a “parent”, I have the ethical spectrum of a drunken Oompa-Loompa.
I had many grand times with my old PlayStation, playing Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, and Destruction Derby. I figured it would be a great method of bonding with a child, like my dad did with me, and Space Invaders on Atari 2600. All I needed was the right game. Something without death, big tits or terrifying monsters.*
[*Once, I was playing Resident Evil 3 and reclining comfortably on my back, when the Nemesis burst through the wall. I let out a legitimate fear-gasp so loud it made the neighbor’s dog start barking. Just a deafening, belch-like “DJEEEEEEHHHHHUUUUUUP”.]
I thought PaRappa the Rapper would be the bridge of acceptance with the daughter. When it comes to raising kids, I make an excellent lawn dart.
PaRappa is a “rhythm game”, which means you hit the buttons on the controller in time with symbols on the screen. Dance Dance Revolution is the next and more popular incarnation, using a footpad as a controller. But with PaRappa, the player needed to know the buttons on the PlayStation controller by their symbols, and have the ability to push them rapidly while looking at the TV screen. I could do this, so I blithely assumed an 8-year-old girl could do it. I was a dead man.
Against the mother’s wishes, I dragged my PlayStation over to her house and set it up. I was fully confident that the daughter would be immediately charmed by the colorful “paper” characters; the game’s visual gimmick was that the people were all flat. Surely you’re familiar with Chop Chop Master Onion, and the greatest video game rap song of all time. Right?
You could listen to that by itself, it was classic from the get-go. However; draw your eyes to the top margin of the video. That’s where the symbol cues appear, and that’s what you have to watch to win the game. Not the wonderful characters from Masaya Matsuura and Rodney Greenblat, which every kid would rather watch. There’s a moose driving instructor who sounds like Queen Latifah, for crying out loud. Not only that- her rap is rooted in a sample swiped from Can!
And here I was expecting this kid to ignore all the cool stuff, and push the right buttons at the exact right times. Looking at these videos, I wasn’t even playing it properly; I didn’t know you could hit the buttons repeatedly, and I only hit them once, on cue. I was terrified of fucking up, because then you had to do everything over again. That’s not a game, that’s a psychological experiment. I nearly burst a blood vessel in my brain trying to beat the final freestyle level, “I Gotta Believe”.
My doom was sealed. I had handed an impossible video game to a child; one that dubs you “AWFUL” if you mess up. I might as well have screened beheading footage. Did such a thing exist twenty years ago?
In any case, I made the kid cry, and got another talking-to about the evil influence of PlayStation. This is why I stick with hamsters, as far as nurturing a living thing goes. They’re very difficult to offend, and they can’t play video games or read about worms in the first place.