Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tell Us A Made Up Story

Almost every night, for about the past six months, as my sons are having their evening snack, my six-year-old says, “Dad, tell us a made up story.” At first I enjoyed the nightly request—even looked forward to it—but somewhere around month two it started to become increasingly difficult for me to come up with a new story every night. At this point, it’s darn near impossible.

One of the issues is that my kids are ridiculously attentive to my stories, so I can’t just recycle stories I’ve already told them, because they’ll call me out on it. If I swap out a bear for a lion and tell a similar story to one I came up with a month earlier they’ll stop me three sentences in and practically boo me out of the room.

They want something new every time so, in an effort to come up with spontaneously new material every night, my stories have become increasingly bizarre—squirrels playing miniature golf, grapes that want to leave the produce aisle behind and see what it’s like in the cereal aisle, a superhero whose only power is that he could literally eat anything (guns, cars, houses, etc.).

About a week ago they specifically requested a scary made up story. I started to tell them a story about an evil wizard. I wanted to make him sound ominous, so I called him “The Evil Wizard of the Manu Ginobili Forest.” Since they know nothing about basketball and had never heard of the longtime San Antonio Spurs player, his name struck fear in their hearts. Every time I mentioned it (and I mentioned it dozens of times, because let’s face it, it’s just fun to say “Manu Ginobilli”) they seemed to shudder. It clearly left an impression, because the following morning I observed my four-year-old playing with his action figures and saying, “Manu Ginobili” over and over again whenever referring to the bad guys.

Most of the stories I come up with are completely plotless. It’s just me free associating without any shred of a story arc. Eventually I peter out after five or ten minutes and say, “And everyone lived happily ever after. The end.”

Really, the stories are not very good at all and yet they keep on asking for them. In fact, they prefer to hear a ridiculous, rambling story from me than one of the hundreds of children’s books sitting on their shelves. (By the way, stealing the plot from one of their books doesn’t work either. They call me out on that as well. “Wait a second dad, that’s just Curious George with a kangaroo instead of a monkey!”)

Oftentimes I wish I had my own dad’s ability to spontaneously tell great stories. More than that, I wish he were still alive to tell stories to his grandkids, because he was truly a master storyteller. I can’t honestly say that I remember any of his stories since it has been decades since I heard one of them, but I do remember the joy I felt listening to him tell them. His stories never failed to make me laugh.

And as I write this it makes me wonder if he had the same thoughts back then as I do now. Maybe he also thought it was a chore to constantly come up with new stories at the spur of the moment. Maybe he also thought his stories weren’t very good. And maybe his stories were every bit as ridiculous and rambling as mine.

But maybe none of this really matters. Maybe all that matters is that kids simply like to hear their dad’s telling stories even if their dads aren’t Dr. Seuss. So I’ll keep on telling them, and I’ll comfort myself in the knowledge that one day, years from now, my sons will find themselves in the exact same predicament as me.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dodging a Pizza Bullet

For the most part, I don’t think that I’m a jerk. Then again, most jerks probably don’t think they’re jerks, so who knows? Point is, in my everyday dealings with people I am generally congenial and polite and usually go out of my way not to be offensive. This is why on the rare occasion when I do act like a jerk, I catch myself off guard.

Today I took the day off from work and caught a movie. (“Argo.” Very good. See it.) Prior to the movie I was looking for something to eat when I spied a pizzeria a few doors down from the movie theater. Originating as I do from Bensonhurst, I’m generally skeptical of pizzerias in Arizona. In the 18 years that I’ve lived in the desert I’ve managed to find a couple of good ones and I generally stick to those. But today, I was nowhere near my regular pizzerias so I figured I’d roll the dice on the one in front of me.

I went in, strolled up to the counter, and took a gander at the various pies on display under the glass. Most of the pies looked like they had been sitting out for a while. I was about to leave when I noticed that at the end of the counter was a Sicilian pie that looked pretty fresh.

“How can I help you?” asked the man behind the counter, who had a good eight inches and 150 pounds on me.

“Let me get one of your squares,” said I.

“It’s called Sicilian pizza,” he said.

(At this point it’s very important for me to point out that the above statement was said in the friendliest, most polite tone imaginable. He was clearly saying this simply to inform, not to enrage. Somehow my brain didn’t catch that significant difference.)

“Yeah, I know that’s what it’s called,” I said, barely able to contain my snarkiness.The man looked at me, mildly bemused, and asked which piece I wanted. (Again, nothing but friendly on his part.)

“I’ll have a corner,” I said.

“Here, let me give you the biggest one,” he said, turning the tray to get to an iPad-sized piece.As he walked over to the oven to warm my slice, I stood by the counter and found myself getting more and more agitated that this guy thought I didn’t know what Sicilian pizza was. I could not let it go.

He came back to ring me up and suddenly I found myself talking.

“I’m from Brooklyn,” I tell this guy who looks like he receives a pension from the NFL. “I know what Sicilian pizza is. I only called it a square because out here I assume that most people on the other side of the counter don’t know what it’s called.”

It was toward the end of my statement that I had a minor out-of-body experience. It was as though I was looking at myself mouthing off to this man who could easily reach across the counter and pound me into pixie dust, and I was helpless to stop myself.

He smiled at me, and for a split second I thought to myself, “So I guess the end comes in a pizzeria. That seems fitting.

“Would you like something to drink with that?” he asked, as pleasantly as one can imagine.

“Um…uh…I’ll have a small lemonade,” I stammered.

Then he gave me my drink, I paid, and I sat down to wait for my slice. He brought it out to me a few minutes later and I took a bite. To my utter delight it was absolutely delicious. One of the best Sicilian pizzas I’ve ever had. I was overjoyed. But the truth is I’ll never know if it really was that delicious, or if it simply seemed that delicious because everything tastes better after you’ve cheated death.