Today was hilarious.
I like to kid myself that I’m moderately sophisticated. I’ve lived in Philadelphia, I’ve lived in the Washington, DC area. Our baseball trip has taken us to pretty much every major metropolis in the United States, and we’ve usually tried to check out something of the urban scene in each of those MLB cities. But the fact is, when you live in the country, your city skills tend to grow a little rusty through disuse. And when you’re over 50, and a certain… mental calcification sets in, you end up coming off not quite as swift as you had intended.
Ten years ago, that would have bothered me. I would have taken great pains to try to fit in, or if not fit in, at least not come across as a total hick.
Not so much anymore. Frankly, it’s a lot easier to just not care.
* * *
This morning The Knucklehead decided that after sleeping in (at which he has ninja-like prowess) he’d head back to Safeco Field to take in the Mariners’ day game from the cheap seats. I decided to check out the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, which intersects some of Seattle’s colleges with the LGBT quarter. I didn’t want to walk there from my hotel, and since I had planned to use Uber for a lift to a Seattle Diamonds game on Friday, this seemed like a good time to try it out.
Old dogs, as we know, do not easily acclimate to new tricks, so just downloading the Uber app on my phone (prior to leaving Pennsylvania) was a project involving much apprehension and squinting-through-of-the-bifocals at the internets. I wasn’t at all sure this was really going to work, and when I tapped my destination into my phone, I think I actually may have held it away from my body a little, like the phone might short-circuit and hurt me or something. Consternation turned to astonishment when my phone told me that my driver (Arif) would be arriving in his ride (a Prius) in about three minutes. I could actually see the little car icon thread the tiny streets of smart-phone Seattle, and when Arif pulled up in his Prius, astonishment turned to glee.
“Look!” I showed Arif, pointing excitedly at my phone. “That’s you! You’re here!”
“Yes,” Arif confirmed. “I am here.”
“THIS IS AWESOME!”
Ten minutes later, I’m dropped off at Broadway and Pike, Arif probably hoping he’s filled his Uber virgin quota for the day. And it only goes downhill from there. Because anything that strikes me as interesting or unusual, I’m snapping pictures of. And if you happen to be in the LGBT part of town, there’s plenty of both. Storefronts, the rainbow crosswalks, I’m capturing it all on my phone’s camera. Unabashedly, without even the attempt to look like I’m not doing exactly what I’m doing. And I’m doing this because it’s actually refreshing to be somewhere where it looks like the fight for civil rights is being won. And that makes me feel good.
It’s not like Seattle, or any other place is free of homophobia. But it’s cheering to realize that if homophobia makes its way to Capitol Hill, it’s going to get its ass kicked.
I spent the day strolling around, then dropping an hour or so drinking coffee, reading, people-watching, and dog-greeting at Porchlight Coffee and Records. Then strolling around a little more, then lingering over a long lunch and brews at Elysian Brewery. I was happy to be on vacation, happy for the change of environment. I didn’t waste a precious second of that trying to look cool, local, blasé, world-weary, sophisticated, or like I belonged. I didn’t try to appear anything other than what I am: a middle-aged, flabby, pale-skinned, fish-out-of-water tourist hick. I am a ridiculous, ridiculous man. I’ve learned that to be in on your own joke is to set yourself free.
Laugh at yourself. It’s liberating.
* * *
I’m telling The Knucklehead all about this over a burger dinner tonight, and he’s laughing with me, easily picturing papa meandering slack-jawed and giddy through the streets of the Big City. Laughter has always come easily with my son, and in the past couple weeks I’ve realized it’s something I’ve unwittingly taught him his whole life. Throughout his childhood I’ve told him dozens of stories from my own life of times I’ve felt ridiculous, usually to help him feel better at times when he might be self-conscious himself. And where I’ve used humor throughout my life mostly as a defense mechanism, I see him enjoying humor more for its own sake. It’s not that he doesn’t have his healthy share of insecurity, but without realizing it, I’ve helped him see the world as a fundamentally ridiculous place. To be always suave and self-possessed in the midst of that would be alien.
* * *
As our relationship has evolved, so has our humor. We started off great when he was a baby; it didn’t take much to get him giggling, and that infectious laugh of his would get me going, which fueled him even more: our first positive feedback loop. It’s true, as he got a little older, I had to endure the knock-knock jokes and their ilk, and I got to dread April first rolling around ever year (“Dad, look behind you! APRIL FOOL! Dad, dad, there’s a bug on you – APRIL FOOL!”). But as I got to telling him something funny that happened to me during my day, something silly I said or did, or something unintentionally hilarious in life if you just looked at it in the right light – he started doing the same with me. I never noticed it at the time (nor, I expect, did he), but a lot of his childhood was spent working out timing, vocal inflections, facial expressions, and the unexpected change-up that humor depends on. For his whole life, we’ve been each other’s audience, and we’ve both been working out material. He’s become a pretty funny guy.
As he’s gotten older it’s become even more fun, because we’re able to jump into “buddy mode” when the situation calls for it, without sacrificing the by-now established parent/child relationship. We’ve earned the right to let our guard down at times and relax around each other. And I like that, because it reflects a measure of trust.
Example: Monday night when we were at the Mariners’ game together, the Diamondbacks were in town, and there were little knots of Arizona fans clustered through the ballpark. Now, I have nothing against rooting for your team in an opposing ballpark, but the D-backs took an early lead, and some of the visiting fans were getting a little rowdy with that, to the point of gloating, throwing it back in the home crowds’ faces. Maybe it’s the introvert in me, maybe it’s the Scandinavian-American recovering Lutheran in me, but I found that to be… impolite. I believe guests in an out-of-town ballpark, as ambassadors for their team and its fan base, should behave as such: as guests in someone’s home. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s how I feel.
So we’re sitting there as the back-and-forth is escalating, and said to my son, “I think they should have Asshole Cam.”
“What?” He starts laughing. I like to think a while before I speak, so this topic is hitting him without any warning.
“Asshole Cam,” I repeated. “You find a group of people like them,” – I jerk my head over my left shoulder – “and throw them up on the jumbotron. Wait until they see themselves and start whooping it up and popping their jerseys. Then flash the words, ‘ASSHOLE CAM’ under them and let the rest of the ballpark let them have it.”
“I like that. Then when the home team ties it up or goes ahead, you put them back on the jumbotron and let the camera linger on them. Like for three whole minutes. Just an uncomfortably long stretch.”
Now I’m laughing, too. “Perfect,” I tell him. “I think we could pitch this idea to the Mets, or maybe the Phillies.”
Now he’s shaking his head. “Nope. The Cubs. You pitch it to the Cubs. The bleacher bums would love it.”
“Ooh, good one. But you’ll need a sponsor. You can’t just have ‘Asshole Cam.’ It has to be the ‘Miller Lite Asshole Cam’ or ‘Hardees Asshole Cam.'”
* * *
That’s kind of how it goes with us. If we don’t have anything important to say, or get a little bored, we try to make each other laugh. Work out some material. We play, but as play has its uses for children, it serves a purpose for older knuckleheads as well. It gives us an opportunity to feel out new territory in a non-threatening way. We’re beginning to relate to each other on adult-to-adult terms, but neither one of us is quite sure how to go about this, or at what pace. So, using humor, we play at it for a while. Break the ice for the man-to-man heart-to-heart talks we’ll be sharing all too soon.
And as we laugh over dinner at my “Bumpkin In The Land of The Gays” adventure, I’m hopefully reminding him that the ability to see and accept yourself when you are truly at your most ridiculous is healthy and sane. I think the best way to recover your dignity is to admit when you’ve lost it. And enjoy it.