The Gift of Laughter

One of the benefits of spending so much time at home during the current COVID-19 situation is the amount of time I get to spend with my family.  Every night, and the bulk of every weekend I have quality time with the whole family, and for that I’m grateful.  In spending so much time together, we’ve had the chance to explore board games, video games, TV shows, movies, books, arts & crafts, music and so much more.  In doing so- we’ve come to a greater understanding of our individual preferences, and how to find a middle ground in doing things we all enjoy.

Often on a weekend night, we decide to kick back and watch a movie or TV show.  When thinking about my personal suggestions, I guess I’m not surprised that I often recommend some sort of comedy.  Whether it’s showing a clip from a Netflix stand-up special, a classic Saturday Night Live skit or digging into the archives of the essential comedy classic movies.

Now while I’d like to share an anecdote here that we’re slowly making our way through all this classic SNL, Belushi and Chevy Chase movies- that is most certainly not the case.  While I’m sure we’ll get there in small doses over time, this is just not happening.  From what I’ve shown thus far- it’s hit or miss.  After several viewings of Belushi’s “cheeseburgah, cheeseburgah, cheeseburgah, cheese”, and Chris Farley’s “Van Down by the River”, they finally got it.  They have an appreciation for Jack Black, Will Farrell, Adam Sandler and a bit of Eddie Murphy, but not much else.  Showing them Seinfeld stand up… bombed.  Mike Myers ‘Coffee Talk’- crickets.  When suggesting movies like ‘Airplane!’, no luck.

I’ll gloss over the fact that so many of these classics are now just flat out old.  I’d assess that the rough historic range of the comedy classics spans from Animal House- 40 years’ish to Hangover- 10 years’ish old.  While the kids can appreciate some of the better older movies, they much prefer brand new releases.  So I have to play my cards wisely in picking “Dad’s old movies”.

But what’s really getting in the way- is that what we thought was funny back in the day is so incredibly politically incorrect for this day in age.  While I still consider “Blazing Saddles” absolutely hilarious, I admit that the way Mel Brooks (and screenwriter Richard Pryor) portrayed race has no place in today’s world.  Airplane!- super offensive.  Revenge of the Nerds, not much better.  And since I like to think we’ve raised our kids to accept diversity, by no means do I want to go backwards and encourage these horrible values we grew up with.  But I’m still torn, because I will forever consider these movies as the treasures that they are.

The next issue I’m struggling with is that they’re super inappropriate for kids.  What was with the 80’s?  I mean when my kids were tiny, I figured Mr. Mom would be the perfect entryway to introduce the brilliance that is Michael Keaton.  But when reviewing it online, I completely forgot about the sub-plot where Martin Mull tries to shack with Teri Garr on a work trip.  And do I recall that Ann Jillian tries to seduce Keaton too?  And that’s PG-rated stuff, but when we get to the real classics, it presents a much greater challenge.  Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Risky Business, The Hangover- oh my.  Like I said, I’m sure some day soon we’ll get there, but they poured it on pretty thick back in the day.

So what does this all mean to me?  Why do I have this tendency to lean towards comedy?  Whether it’s recommending movies for the family to watch, or when I pick something for myself?  What does it mean to have this deep archive of stand-up, SNL and movies? 

What I realized is that this tendency comes from one of the greatest gifts my family and friends gave to me as I was growing up.  This is the gift of laughter.  Right, wrong or indifferent- when I think of my childhood, I think of cracking up as we quoted classic movie lines.  We saw every comedy classic as soon as I could recite “A-B-C, 1-2-3”.  Back when my sisters were my babysitters, I’d stay up for the cold open, monologue and fake commercial on SNL right until the garage door went up and my parents got home on a Saturday night.  I’d watch the edited versions of Animal House and Caddyshack every year when they were on TV, it was like a special family event.  I saw all the comedy classics- no matter what rating in the theater as soon as they were released.  Blues Brothers, Vacation, Stripes, History of the World, Fletch, you name it. 

I would be constantly quoting and referencing the canon of comedy classics with family- both parents and sisters, family friends and my closest buddies.  So I thank you Mom, Dad, Liz, Amy + Steve for introducing me to the world of Belushi, Murray and Chase.  I treasure the days of literally crying as we quoted “Vacation” with good friends- like the Krasseks, and watching these classics countless times at the Manelis house.

I don’t have to remind everyone that we’re stuck in a very trying time with Coronavirus, our current political situation and a planet that’s falling to pieces.  We’re confined to quarantine in the house most of the time, and life often feels like Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day”.  It’s challenging to find a way to escape the monotony of this current period- and there’s no end in sight.

But I was lucky enough for my family and friends to give me a superpower a long, long time ago that wards against times like these.  That superpower is the ability to dig deep inside and find the comedy in all of this tragedy.  And for that I am eternally grateful.

A Day at the Arcade

I took my 8 year old daughter mini-golfing and to the arcade the other weekend.  Our mini-golfing was chock full of laughs, thrills, tears, nail-biting PGA-level putting birdies and aces all in the context of Africa-hot ‘Valley’ temperatures, but it was really the arcade that I thought was worthy of remark.

So I have an 8 year old and an 11 year old, and if you’re a parent that’s gone through raising children in their younger years, you’ve probably spent many a weekend at Chuck E. Cheese, bowling, or in this case- the mini-golf arcade.  The consistent racket that pervades these fine gaming institutions is the pay-by-token and reward-by-ticket methodology. 

To enjoy this entertainment, you don’t pay with traditional currency.  You have to go to a special currency exchange machine to convert your US dollars to arcade tokens, or in the futurist state we now live in- a special card loaded with tokens.  The fun began when I inserted my credit card to fund the token card transaction.  After waiting 5 minutes, the machine projected a message saying, “Kiosk is currently unable to dispense cards.  Please see attendant for assistance”.  I hunted down an arcade employee from the prize stand, who proceeded to crack open the token card vault only to find that the token cards were all mashed up together, preventing its ability for dispensement.  5-10 minutes later, she cleaned up the mess and hallelujah- gave us the token card, our gateway to good times.

In determining the amount to invest in the card, I typically run through some mathematical gymnastics to determine how much I should waste spend.  I usually look around the arcade, expecting to see some Pac Man and Space Invaders consoles valued at $.25 per round, circa 1984.  Then I’m always shocked when I look around only to find a 10-foot virtual reality Pac Man, machine gun-based Call of Duty and ‘claw for crap you’ll never win’ all valued at an average of $1.50 – $2 per round.  But this time was different.  To my dismay- there were several games valued at…  $5 a pop!!!  And what might you ask would warrant such a price tag?  Let’s just say, an upgrade ‘claw for crap you’ll never win’.  This time- the crap available to win is my daughter’s favorite..  LOL dolls.  Hook, line, sinker.

So low and behold, we wander around the arcade for what amounted to approximately 8-10 minutes, given 20 bucks only got my daughter 10 games at the historical price point, and 4 games at the newly obscenified prices.  She had some fun, won some ticket credits.  Badda bing badda boom.  Arcade time is done.

But once the arcade time is done, then comes the parents’ most dreaded part.  The picking of the prize.  I swear, it goes the same way every time.  No matter what kid, what venue, I’ve never seen even the slightest deviation.  Here it is..

  1. Parent shares total value of tickets won with child (“Johnny, you have 75 tickets”).
  2. Child enters meditative deep thought state about potential life-changing prize.
  3. Kid randomly asks about prize completely outside the universe of possibility (“Dad, how much is the X Box?”  “Johnny, that costs 17,530 tickets.”  Parent’s thought:  If we came here EVERY frickin’ day for the entire summer, we still wouldn’t get that damn X Box.).
  4. Kid asks about prize just a hair more than the tickets they have (“Dad, can I get the rocket shooter that’s.. 80 tickets?”)
  5. Parent plays bad guy denying child of the rocket shooter.
  6. At the 5-minute mark while still waiting for child to choose the prize, parent starts to lose sanity.
  7. Parent clarifies to child that they have 2 choices:  1) Spider Ring or 2) Pixie Stick.
  8. Child has deep contemplation about the pros and cons of Spider Ring -vs- Pixie Stick.
  9. Parent knows that the Pixie Stick is just about the un-healthiest, sugar infested candy available, but caves to win back 5 additional minutes of life and finally convinces Johnny to get the Pixie Stick.
  10. Parent and Child leave arcade with the mini golf score card, the little green pencil, $20 less dollars in wallet, sunburn, and a Pixie Stick.

Kids getting a new iPhone as they enter Middle School, is the new Bar Mitzvah.

As my 11-year old graduated from Elementary School last week, a new tradition was brought to my attention that I was not previously aware of:

Before a child enters Middle School, apparently, they need to get their own iPhone.

While this took me a bit by surprise, I’ve come to realize that this is now a natural law of how the world works.  I wasn’t thrilled about the financial implications of this new rule.  Yet it did help me grasp Apple’s close-to $1 trillion valuation, so that’s a plus.  I also ran some calculations to help cost justify the iPhone expense, by comparing and contrasting it with the ‘Call Waiting’ feature we added back when I was a kid in the 80’s, and that helped even more.

But once the dust settled, I came to an even more ground-breaking realization:

Kids getting a new iPhone as they enter Middle School, is the new Bar Mitzvah.

I know this may sound ludicrous, but let’s think about it….

When a Jewish boy turns 13, he has all the rights and obligations of a Jewish adult.  And as crazy as it sounds, society now deems the iPhone as the true delineation between child and adult. 

Child = borrow Mommy or Daddy’s iPhone to play ‘Crossy Road’ during allotted screen time.

Adult = have your very own iPhone to Text, Facetime and post to Instagram.

Let me break it down.. 

Old Tradition of becoming an adult-> Bar Mitzvah.  

New Tradition of becoming an adult -> Get iPhone.

Take a look…

  • Preparation / Study – Old days- learning the Hebrew language, educating yourself on the Torah and memorizing your Torah portion.  New way- researching which iPhone model you want to get.  New or hand-me-down?, iPhone 6 or 7, or the new XR or XS?  How much memory do you really need?
  • Haftarah / Bar Mitzvah Speech – in the Bar Mitzvah days, it was customary to chant the Torah reading, and then share your thoughts on the Torah portion in a speech.  Today’s equivalent is earning the right to read the incredible revelations found on your Facebook Feed, and then Liking, Sharing and maybe even making your own personal Post.  With today’s technology, this is no longer limited to just sharing with your synagogue, you can now share it with the whole World Wide Web!
  • Party – this used to be a big, expensive ordeal requiring you to rent a fancy room with a DJ, caterer, photo booth and the like.  But in today’s age- all you need is an intimate gathering to unwrap that white iPhone box, and start setting up your iOS device.
  • Mitzvah Project – Letting your little sister play ‘Crossy Road’, now that’s a good deed.
  • Gifts – duh..  getting your frickin’ iPhone!

Now for those of you that are keeping score at home, you may have noticed a slight discrepancy.  Kids typically enter Middle School at age 11, but technically- the minimum age requirement for Social Media is 13.  Ah ha!  This is one more argument linking the Bar Mitzvah age of 13 to the age one truly becomes a full-fledged adult and officially get the keys to the holy grail, Social Media.  The age in which one is finally entitled to walk the halls of Facebook, Instagram -and- Snapchat. 

That is the true indication that you’ve made it.  You are no longer a child, you are a bona-fide adult.  You will follow the terms and services of the Social Media platforms.  You will be a member of the Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat community.   You will text incessantly with your friends.  You will Facetime for no reason.  And when it’s all said and done, while you may no longer be welcome at your local temple..  there’s always the Apple Store at your local mall.