It's Tuesday night, and I'm alone in my apartment for the first time in four days. It was nice to spend that kind of stretch with the boys after being at Sundance, and every day, we had things to do. There was a Super Bowl party, our first together, and an all-media screening of “The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water,” as well as a play date with their buddies Dash and Beck.
There was also always, though, a constant pressure to watch something. It's not from me, either. They are voracious, and now that they've got their own shelf of movies that they haven't seen but are allowed to see at the apartment, they are always in the middle of some negotiation with me about what they're going to watch and when.
Lately, they've become infatuated with the idea of the double-feature, and I've learned that the best way to handle that with them is to program very different films that are paired. By creating a sense of contrast, both films end up causing reactions, and the conversations the next day or even between the films can be a blast. Recently, they had two very different double-features, and both ended up feeling like significant experiences.
We were driving to my house one afternoon, and we had to drive across some railroad tracks, which inspired a conversation about what would happen if the car stalled out on the tracks while a train was coming, which led to a conversation about “The General,” a film that we've watched together at least a half-dozen times now. As I drove, the boys kept chattering on about trains and how they could destroy something, and it made me think of a film that I'd put on their shelf at the start of the year. So it was that when the boys asked me to show them a double-feature, we started with a mid-afternoon screening of Rob Reiner's “Stand By Me.”
The film plays like a dream to little boys, and from the moment they realized what was happening, my sons were totally focused on it. I have a theory about kids watching kids on film, which is that they will always watch something that is about kids who are slightly older than themselves, but that getting them to watch something about kids younger than themselves is harder. There's something aspirational about it, and the kids in “Stand By Me” seem like they're much older than my own boys, although it's really only a three or four year gap. They smoke, they swear incessantly, and when they hear tell of a dead body, they decide to hike across the county to see it for themselves.
One of the things that must feel like science-fiction to my kids when they watch “Stand By Me” is the notion of kids heading out on their own, without any parents. That simply doesn't exist in the Los Angeles where my kids are being raised. Even within the suburban neighborhood where they live with their mother, they are never sent outside unsupervised and neither are their friends. When the kids walk to the home of their friends a half-block away, parents on both ends of the transaction stand outside, watching, making sure there's a visual hand-off so everyone knows where the kids are for every single second they are awake. I know that in my own childhood, I had freedom that my kids will never know, and it is sort of heart-breaking. And, sure, you can say we're over-protective, but a few years ago, there was an honest-to-god stranger kidnapping in which a couple of men took a pre-teen girl out of her bedroom in the middle of the night that took place less than two blocks from the room where my own kids sleep. It's not the same world that it was when those kids walked across Castle Rock, and it never will be again. As much as it's about confronting mortality and that moment where you transition from the freedom of childhood to the burden of adulthood, “Stand By Me” is a memorial to a way of life that is gravely missed. Many of the experiences that made me who I am took place away from adult supervision, in that private land of childhood with its own rules and mores and customs, and there are no equivalent experiences that kids today have. Even when my kids are here with me, they are always under my direct attention and care. There's no place they can go where they would be completely alone, truly unsupervised.
The boys laughed at a lot of the movie, and the Lard-Ass Hogan sequence was greeted by shrieks of horror and joy. There was a moment where Toshi recognized Corey Feldman and we ended up having to pause the movie while he explained to Allen who that is. After all, “The Goonies” is a film that Toshi loves, and both of them had a very memorable encounter with Corey Feldman at a trampoline place in Northridge. Toshi was really impressed by Feldman's work in this film and told me afterwards that Teddy made him sad. “I don't think Teddy's gonna work out,” he told me, as succinct a summary of the character's future as I can imagine. I'll confess that I forgot just how profane the film was. Even Allen, who is six and currently fascinated by swearing in a way that only little boys can be, turned to me halfway through the film and said, “Daddy, they say too many bad words.”
But the film is so smart, and so moving, and so right on in the values of friends and freedom that I felt good about the screening. Afterwards, there were some questions. “Daddy, what does it mean when he said to suck his fat one?”