AS I AM WAKING UP, I hear a car move pass the house, its tires swishing, slushing, spitting – sounds that evoke a dentist’s office.
|Cooper and Carson in fauxhawks,|
one of those family
snapshots that will survive
the apocalypse to appear
in wedding videos and
“It’s not going to last long,” my daughter-in-law says. “It’s supposed to start raining. The mountain road is going to be pure ice.”
Up the mountain road, on this snowy day in the hometown of West Point, Highland Falls, New York, my son and his wife are opening a fast casual restaurant they have named American Burrito.
The boys, my grandsons Cooper and Carson, six and nine, respectively, sit on the sofa watching a television show amped with canned laughter. I wonder how someone is trained to insert canned laughter into a taped show, if he first undergoes a lobotomy to erase all traces of a sense of humor. The edited chortling was recorded years – decades – earlier. We are listening to dead people laughing.
I hear a young girl say a familiar line about popcorn balls.
“Didn’t we watch this show last night?” I ask.
“That’s what they do,” Lauren says. “They watch the same thing over and over. ‘Madagasar 3’? Four times in one weekend. They’ll be watching this all day.”
It was 7:30 a.m. They were in their pajamas. Max had left for the restaurant hours earlier. There was an absence of urgency in the house, what gothic novels call a preternatural calm.
“School?” I ask.
“They have a two-hour delay,” Lauren says, “because of the snow. I have to pick up more pinto beans and the new menus. You’re here. They might as well stay home with Nana.”
The eyes do not stray from “Good Luck, Charlie,” but the ears flicker like wild deer.
I am given instructions, shown the food, the controls for the electronics, the spot in the snow where the dogs can pee.
The dogs, two terriers in a sleepy heap, ignore me as Lauren leaves the house. When her Jeep rolls out of the driveway, they amble into the bathroom and pee on the floor.
Within seconds, a game of “Hedbanz” has begun and ended badly in a screaming ball of boys. The living room is awash in cards that say “I am a chicken,” “I am a unicorn.” A bowl of peanut M&Ms is scattered among them. The older dog eats them.
“Chocolate is bad for dogs,” I say, followed by canned laughter.
The television in the living room is left on, and we adjourn to nearby playroom, where a second screen looms over two camp chairs and two bean-bag chairs. The walls are covered with posters of extraordinarily buff men.
“Sit here, Nana,” Carson says. I lower myself slowly into a black bean-bag chair. We’re about to play a video game based on the World Wrestling Federation.
Cooper hands me a complex remote controller with a variety of toggle switches and buttons.
“I’m John Cena,” he says. “You can be The Rock.”
“What’s he doing with his fingers?”
“This is just like real life, Nana. That’s what he does in real life.”
“Is that a peace sign?”
The X-Box version of John Cena raises both arms, spreads his hands, and in each hand makes a circle with his thumb and his index finger.
This gesture triggers whoops and giggles from the boys, laughter that in no way resembles the scratchy cacklings of the dead that still underscore every line in the Disney program no one is watching.
“His fingers spell a bad word,” Cooper says.
“A-s-s,” says Carson. “And the circle –”
“I get it,” I say. “How rude.”
Suddenly, wrestling is over and we’re choosing college football teams, selecting uniform colors. I’ve barely mastered a flying headlock and now I’m a quarterback for Boise State.
“Select a play!” Cooper yells. “Hurry up!”
The only play in the list I recognize is a Hail Mary. I select it. I lose.
“You can’t do that without a receiver,” Cooper says, with slight condescension. How sad it must be to live life as me, someone who has Himmler, Heineken and Heisman in more or less the same brain cell.
“I’m putting on a show tonight,” Carson says. “Here’s your ticket. It’s not a real ticket, it’s a pass.
You’re getting in free.”
The show will be in the living room. In the remains of “Hedbanz,” a rehearsal takes place. Cooper composes the music -- piano, drums, guitar -- on an iPad.
Carson has changed from pajamas into the garments of a Mongol invader. He leaps onto the ottoman and sings an original song that has something to do with “stopping on the road in flames.”
The rehearsal continues. I explain apologetically that I have a column due to an editor in California in a couple of hours. I set my laptop on the coffee table. One of the terriers takes a fancy to me and sprawls over my right arm. Occasionally, she types something. Her soul mate, who is lying on my left foot, snarls. The M&Ms aren’t settling well with him, if one can believe the olfactory evidence.
When I finish, I read the column aloud for errors. Every time I say the name of one of the boys, there is laughter. Real laughter, for real life.
You can believe it from The Rock.