If you're not angry, then you're not caring hard enough.
Dads are expected to bring certain skills to the table. They range from Assembling Toys On Christmas Eve to Explaining The Infield Fly Rule. Some skills are inherited expertise. Others are ingrained upon our manly DNA. And there are those you simply have to learn on your own.
I have yet to learn how to speak to nine-year-old boys.
On the surface, this appears to be an easy skill to develop. After all, the topics up for discussion are rarely quantum physics. A nine-year-old living in Southern suburbia leads a charmed existence of Little League baseball games, sleep-overs, PG movies and the occasional firefly hunt. Their range of expertise lies somewhere between knowing the secret alter egos of major superheroes and double-digit division. They easily succumb to hyperbole and baseless psuedo-facts. For example, a “trillion-jillion” is a real number in my son’s mind.
And yet, I can barely hold a conversation with my son, let alone with a group of his friends. I find myself instantly lost in a cyclone of non sequiturs and obscure references.
“Who would win in a fight between Chop Chop and Trigger Happy?”
“Charlie said that his skeleton is made out of steel.”
“That’s probably not –”
“Could I defeat Mr. Monopoly in a game of Monopoly?”
“Well, son, his name is Mister Mon–”
“What if the umpire runs out of baseballs?”
It goes on and on, a million breathless bursts of disjointed exclamations and queries without answers. My wife, on the other hand, has mastered the lingo. Sometimes, it appears that she and my son speak half-telepathically, as if important chunks of the conversation are delivered unheard to me.
“I’m just with him more,” says Mrs. Angry, which is true. Still, I’m around enough to be competent in nine-year-old, if not fluent. Yet, there are times that I may as well be living in Russia than in my own house. I want to be the cool Dad! I want to be well-versed in the subjects my son values: Bakugan, Battleship, scooter-riding, etc. Why can’t I just force myself to relate?
I was just as incompetent at speaking to nine-year-olds when I was a nine-year-old. I’m not suggesting I was a philosophical genius trapped inside a child’s body. I’m claiming the exact opposite. When I was nine, it seemed all my classmates had already lived a lifetime of worldly experiences. They had fired rifles, seen boobs, uttered curse words, and driven a four-wheeler. I was still amused by the supernatural elasticity of rubber bands.
Kids are even more advanced now. Hand a child an iPad, and they immediately know what to do with it. Today’s teenagers are downright spooky. I observed a few in action at the swimming pool last year. Cool. Charming. At ease around half-naked members of the opposite sex. When I was a teenager, I was a Weird Al Yankovic song tethered to a Slinky of unstable hormones. These teens looked smooth and polished, as if ironed onto the perfect fabric of reality.
Speaking to nine-year-old boys may never be part of my Dad Skills Set. I can still re-string a weed-eater or tell you who won the 1985 World Series. Perhaps when my son turns ten, we’ll understand each other.
SON: (incredulously) He committed suicide?
ME: (hesitant) Uh….hm, (shit) well they’re not sure…uh…yes.
SON: He killed himself?
ME: (adopting Dad pose) Son, some people are so sad that they become sick and confused. It’s terrible, but some people can’t think of any way to feel better than to end their lives.
SON: (pause) Did he stab himself in the heart with a knife?
ME: What? Son? NO! Why would anyone stab themselves in the heart with a knife!?
SON: Some people stabbed themselves with swords in the Bible.
ME: Let’s see if Sponge Bob is on.
It’s when moving from one house to another when you realize how worthless your possessions are. For example, while emptying my DVD cabinet, I re-discovered that I am an owner of a copy of the Halle Berry horror movie Gothika.
How could this be? I might have owned the world’s only copy. The only other people who I could think might own Gothika was my mother-in-law (who buys every movie no matter what) and a vengeful David Justice. Then I remembered.
Technically, I didn’t buy this particular copy. I had rented it. But then somehow I had lost it, and I ended up buying a new Gothika DVD and mailing it back to Netflix. Later, I found the rental. Instead of tossing it like a Frisbee into the trash, I buried it between The Cutting Edge and Sense and Sensibility.
I do remember looking forward to watching Gothika. It starred the before-mentioned Halle Berry, who had just come off her Oscar winning (and boobie-revealing) performance in Monsters Ball. Co-starring, inexplicably, was Penelope Cruz and a pre-Iron Man Robert Downey, Jr. Do you like Charles S. Dutton? He’s in Gothika, too.
When Gothika arrived in theaters in 2003, it joined a fraternity of new-age horror films featuring almost A-list actors: The Ring, Dark Water, The Grudge, The Others, and Identity all came out around that time. It was cool to star in horror movies! So long as the script featured a psychological edge and no nudity, you could almost pass these flicks for films.
Except, that was the problem. There was too much psychological edge. There were too few boobs. There wasn’t anything to cheer for. It wasn’t enough for the villains to be evil. They had to have motive! It wasn’t enough that the heroines were stacked. They had to have PhDs! All of these shortcomings are painfully glaring in Gothika.
For example, instead of a young nurse, a high school cheerleader, or a sorority girl, Hallie Berry plays a super-serious psychologist who surrounds herself with super-serious psychologists who work in a super-serious insane asylum. It’s not that I don’t buy Berry as an intelligent, pant-suit wearing professional. It’s just I liked her better when she was a stripper in The Last Boy Scout.
Miscasting isn’t Gothika‘s only problem. Like nearly every horror movie in the early Zero’s, Gothika‘s source of mystery is a ghostly, long-haired apparition that jolts along the screen in herky-jerky movements. Also, we’re half-led to believe that all of this is happening in the heroine’s head – the standard red herring to distract us from the obvious villain.
I’m probably not giving much away when I reveal that the villain is Charles S. Dutton, whose depravity includes (but is not limited to) kidnapping young women, putting them into S&M suits, and having his strange way with them before subjecting them to grisly dispatch. All of this, by the way, is revealed in a hectic flashback that requires about a minute’s worth of film. Eli Roth is not amused.
Gothika, as it turned out, became only one of several poor role choices for Berry after and around Monsters Ball. She was Catwoman. She was a Bond Girl. She flashed Hugh Jackman in Swordfish. She tried and then abandoned a Cajun accent for X-Men. Maybe Gothika was perfect for Halle Berry after all.
Like many movies in my DVD collection, I’ve viewed Gothika once and I don’t plan to view it a second time. But instead of hurling the movie into the same trash heap with Barney the Purple Dinosaur, Thomas the Train Engine, and The Shirley Temple Classics, I put Gothika in the moving box and sealed it shut.
Maybe it’ll become a classic.
The pressure to come up with a fresh and original birthday wish for 500 people became too great a burden. How many times could I insist that the birthday girl “save some booze for the rest of the city?” Was telling a 30-year-old “happy 40th!” even funny the first time? I found myself typing “Good Work!” on many a birthday boy’s wall. It had to stop.
My wife’s Happy Birthday Facebook Policy is a good one. She just types “Happy Birthday” and adds enthusiasm. (“You rock, girlfriend!“)
“Why can’t you do something like that?” Mrs. Angry asked me as I groused miserably.
On my birthday, I received my allotted share of good birthday wishes. I liked the ones that held personal meaning. But most were a quick “Happy Birthday!!!!!” or the dreaded “HBD!” (Come on. You can’t be bothered to type it out? FU.)
One year, I literally sat on the toilet on the evening of my birthday and replied to every single person who wished me a happy birthday. I exited the can with numb legs. I appreciated the people who took the time to craft something unique or amusing. Even the “HBDs” and multi-exclamation pointed “Happy Birthdays” made me happy. I noted those who failed to acknowledge the day, wondering what I did to make them hate my guts.
In retrospect, I’ve come to believe that they’ve simply adopted the policy I’ve only recently made my own. It’s a pain in the ass to wish somebody a happy birthday. That’s what Hallmark is for. It’s a tough job.
After our marriage, Mrs. Angry insisted on writing “Thank You” cards to every person who had given us a wedding gift. “You have to help!” she insisted. I counter-insisted that if I should be made to write thank you notes, then I should get to write them in my way. As it turned out, my way was a mess of puns, non sequiturs, and crudely penned illustrations. And while I only managed to add six or seven notes to Mrs. Angry’s dozens, I think those who received one of my thank you’s enjoyed it over the standard “Thank you for the table setting. We will treasure it always.”
Every morning, I check my Facebook account and see that another friend is enjoying his or her birthday. Instinctively, my hands go to the keyboard and I begin to pound out a bad quip or a friendly insult. But then I remember that I wrote the same thing to another birthday boy last month, and I feel a little depressed.
Your birthday shouldn’t depress me.
I didn’t create The Angry Czeck so much as I was just filling up time. I had just submitted my resignation to my employers, and I was languishing in that weird “two-weeks notice” period where management was (to my minor disappointment) rapidly phasing me out. Nobody is irreplaceable. Not even me.
“Why don’t you try writing a blog?” a soon-to-be ex-coworker suggested as I awaited my tenure to come to a inglorious close. A blog smacked of “journal writing,” which was a romantic idea to me, but one I never followed through on, no matter how many pricey leather-bound journals were given to me. I shrugged my shoulders and continued to “file share” music.
But my co-worker didn’t give up. She sent me a link to one of the half-dozen blog sites and said, “Do it.”
Sure, okay. I perused the digital fields of what looked like a job application. The first field, “Blog Name.” Since I had no intention of seeing the blog live past my mild curiosity, I let my fingers do the typing.
A-N-G-R-Y [space] C-Z-E-C-K
Right away, I realized I misspelled “Czech” but so what? Who would see it? I punched ENTER and moved on to the next field.
The first entries for The Angry Czeck were mostly outlets for unabated cursing. Every blogger is his own Andrew Dice Clay. I wrote a profanity laden post on cell phones and later a blue-tinged parody of steroid use. Neither post was particularly well written, researched or insightful. It didn’t matter. Nobody was reading it.
When I left Memphis for Knoxville, the Angry Czeck suddenly became more important to me. It became a channel to speak to the friends and family I had left behind, but without actually having to speak to them (“indirectly” is my preferred form of communication). My posts became longer. More thoughtful. Even better researched. I captioned photos. I illustrated cartoons. I paid the $10 yearly fee for a vanity URL. I created gimmicks like The Year Under Bitter Scrutiny. I pledged at least one post a month, which I honored religiously until I pledged two.
Even that wasn’t enough. The years gathered and so did the Angry Czeck outlets. I begged an art director to create a logo. I opened an online store for Angry Czeck brand t-shirts and coffee mugs. I opened a Facebook fan page. I developed a Twitter account. I had the site professionally redesigned. My only restraint was politely declining a vanity ANGRY license plate from my mother-in-law. I claimed that my fidelity to the Angry Czeck required complete anonymity.
Except everybody knew I was The Angry Czeck. I could feel my freedom evaporating. I started posts only to delete them for fear of offending someone. I began to consider my reputation’s future. Would a post come back to haunt me?
Still, I craved a platform to speak without consequence. I tried a second blog (Don’t Provoke The Hippo) that only lasted a few months. I created a fake Twitter account. Then several fake Twitter accounts. I was addicted.
Somewhere along the line, the Angry Czeck got lost.
I grew tired of arguing. I became weary of being introduced as “The Angry Czeck” at parties. (My sister-in-law once said, “You’re that stupid Czeck guy?”) But even so, I continued to pound out posts, even if I was feeling more and more like a slave than a writer.
One evening, I was perusing the Angry Czeck’s Facebook page when I found a comment from an old grade school friend regarding one of the quips I post on the page about once a day. I forget the post, but I remember the comment: “This is the first funny thing you’ve posted here ever.”
I had probably posted more than a thousand items to the fan page. Among these, I had scored one chuckle with this guy. One. Was this the Angry Czeck’s legacy? A single laugh among a cacophony of one-liners, essays, and diatribes?
The comment shouldn’t have bugged me, but it did. I began to question the worth of the Angry Czeck. I had founded him on the principles of rancor and hate, but those feelings had left me long ago. I wasn’t angry enough. I wasn’t caring enough.
This is my first post in months. By now, I probably lost most of my regular readers, which numbered in the dozens. Which means now might be a good time to break take him back out of the box. I can’t promise two posts a month or even one, but maybe I need the Angry Czeck. Perhaps AC is the edge in me that makes the other 90% of me passably interesting.
If so, then a post every 1.5 months should not be too much to ask.