“When are they going to kill a bear?!”
Allen appears to have missed the point of “Meatballs,” but we'll get to that presently.
I have been on the road for much of this last eight weeks. A few days here, a few days there, ten days here, ten days there. As a result, there's been a lack of connection between me and my sons. That's been exasperated, of course, by the fact that we no longer share a primary residence, something that is new to all of us.
I know I'm not inventing the wheel here. Any parent who's gone through a divorce has had to figure out how to invent a new space for them to exist with their kids, whatever the situation is. My wife has an advantage, one that I specifically wanted her to have, which is the house that my kids have grown up in. I think they need some sense of continuity right now, and both of us being in new homes would be really difficult. They get to spend the majority of their time, and their school week, at the place that they've known at home for the vast majority of their lives. For Allen, there's never been anything else.
My apartment is in Burbank, and it's been designed to win the Overcompensation Olympics. I have an XBox One that is the source of endless fascination for the boys. They have their own bedroom with bunk beds, something they have both told me that they wanted for as long as they can remember, although, oddly, neither of them ever mentioned it until I put them in their room. They are allowed different privileges here than they are at home, simply by virtue of this being their place as much as mine. It is a boy's house, pure and simple, and when they come here, they are relaxed in a way that I'm not sure I've ever seen from them before.
That's crucial right now. My boys are my world. They are the most important people to me, and it is essential that when we come out the other side of all of this, when we settle into the groove that is going to define who we are as a family moving forward, we are all intact and healthy and ready to go. And that's not just me and my kids, either. That's my wife, as well. She's going to continue to play a major role in their lives, and her mother is an amazing person and her sister is an amazing person and they are great for my kids, and ultimately, it doesn't matter if we can't live together. We are going to be in each other's lives, through these kids, for at the very least another twelve years. And who am I fooling? Things don't end like that. You just adjust. The family reconfigures. You figure out the new way things work. Wounds heal. People mellow. Time rolls on, right?
Not yet, of course. For my family, everything is new and raw, and so when the kids came over this weekend, this marked the first time in two months where they've come over two weekends in a row. Now we're starting to see what a Friday or a Saturday or a Sunday feels like. I'm getting my head around it, and they're starting to push to see what they can do.
For Toshi, that means movies. For Allen, that means games. They're both competing for the use of the same device and the same screen, so I tell them that without an agreed-upon schedule, no one's doing anything. I'm not going to set it… they are. And so they do. It's great. I can hear the heated debates from the other room as they work it out, and I have to work hard not to laugh at the arguments the 6-year-old mounts to the 9-year-old and vice versa. Logic is a tortured thing in either of their hands at this point.
For Allen, “Minecraft” is everything right now. And I get it. When I watch him build his house and his gardens and his underground rooms peopled with wolves and escape hatches and jacuzzis just in case, he's looking for hyper-security right now. He insisted this weekend that my wife come by to see his “Minecraft” house. She spent ten minutes being shown around, and then he was content. She was allowed to leave again. He has become so much more physically affectionate and insistent about it that it's obvious he is just plain feeling missed, and when he describes the rooms in his “Minecraft” house, they are all rooms oriented around hanging out together. It is both enormously sweet and crushingly sad because I know he's hurting.
For Toshi, the adjustment is more difficult, and he's feeling it in school as well as at home. Toshi's seen a broader range of movies than most kids his age, but he's also seen a more carefully curated range of movies, and at age 9, he still hasn't seen an R-rated movie. There are kids in his class who have already had a full crash course in “Friday the 13th” movies and uber-gory action films, and there is a difference in the way they talk that leaves him somewhat outside a lot of their conversations. He's been feeling bullied, but he's also had a hard time discussing it with me. I get that. It can feel embarrassing to admit that someone else can make you feel bad, and we've never really talked about how to handle bullying. I could tell he still wasn't feeling ready to talk about it, so I made a decision on Saturday evening to show him a movie that might help him open up.
Tony Bill's “My Bodyguard” is one of those late '70s/early '80s gems where teenagers are treated with real honesty onscreen, and the Alan Ormsby script is the best thing he ever wrote. It tells the story of Clifford (Chris Makepeace), a kid who is making the jump from private school to public school at the start of his sophomore year. Almost immediately, he tangles with Moody (Matt Dillon), the school bully, over whether or not he's going to pay Moody the dollar-a-day protection money that most of the other kids willingly pony up. Clifford refuses, and Moody starts targeting him every day. There's another kid at the school, Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin), who is the stuff of legend. There are stories about him killing a cop or killing a kid or throwing someone off a roof, and whatever the truth is, Clifford can tell that everyone's more afraid of Linderman than they are of Moody. He approaches Linderman with an offer. In exchange for money and Clifford's promise of doing all of his homework, Linderman will serve as his bodyguard and get Moody to stop.
I know that Adam Baldwin's on everyone's shitlist right now because of his involvement in #GamerGate, but he does really lovely work in “My Bodyguard,” his first film. There are a ton of familiar faces in the movie, all shockingly young. Jennifer Beals and Joan Cusack are both in it, and the especially sharp-eyed among you might recognize Dean Devlin in a quick appearance. What I like most about the film is the way it gradually reveals the truth about Linderman and the way the film seems to say that you should always question appearances and never assume you know someone just based on how they look. The friendship that develops between Linderman and Clifford is well-written, and when there is finally a fight in the film, it's handled very realistically. The ramifications of violence are given a realistic treatment, and I like that they show that the fear of a fight is far worse than the fight itself. When the film ended, we had a long talk about Toshi's reaction to it, and it helped him open up and talk to me about his own experiences and feelings.
One of the things that I have always loved about film is that it can create a conversation about anything. I can't count how many times over the years I've had some of the best conversations of my life after a film, on all sorts of subjects. This would count as one of those, and it was great to see the weight sort of lift off of Toshi the more we talked. Eventually, we got past talking about the issues the film raised and got into talking about the film itself, and it was interesting to hear how much he loved the characters in the film. He had a million questions about the cast, and he was particularly taken with Chris Makepeace. It was already 10:00 by this point, time for bed, but when he heard that Makepeace had also starred in a film with Bill Murray, bedtime sort of went out the window. “Meatballs” went in the Blu-ray player, and we turned the night into a Chris Makepeace double-feature.
It's been a while since I've seen “Meatballs,” and I think it's safe to say I've never enjoyed the film more. The film's pretty mild-mannered, but it felt to the kids like the wildest thing they've ever seen. There were jokes where I caught Toshi looking at me, not sure if he was allowed to laugh or not, including what I'm fairly sure is the first time there's been an overt boner joke in something we watched together. Even though my kids have never been to summer camp, they seemed to get it right away, and they loved all the little running jokes, like everyone calling Morty “Mickey” or Tripper's PA announcements or pretty much anything involving Spaz. Again, though, Chris Makepeace communicated to Toshi in a very direct way. There's something so great about Makepeace's innate vulnerability, and the relationship he has with Bill Murray's Tripper is pretty great and charming.
There's a moment early on when Tripper pretends to be a counselor from Camp Mohawk, the rich kid camp from across the lake, and he talks to a local TV news crew about what campers can expect. He says that each of the campers is assigned their own bear to hunt and kill by the end of the season, and immediately, Allen turned to me, eyes wide. “They're going to KILL A BEAR?!”
I tried explaining the joke to him, which only made Toshi laugh harder. The movie wore on and they both had a great time. When the film was finally winding down, all of us sore from laughing, Allen turned to me and said, in all seriousness, “That was great, Daddy, but I don't get it. When do they kill the bear?”
So while “Meatballs” isn't a serious movie or an important movie, it actually felt important that we could spend that time together laughing like that, all of our current tensions and problems forgotten for a little while. The real world may have landed on us all again on Sunday, and I'm sure it will continue to do so for a while, but between opening up a way for us to talk about bullying and allowing us to blow off some necessary steam, Saturday night was a great reminder of just how valuable movies can be, and what a pivotal role they can play in the relationships we have with our kids and with one another.