“I still feel kind of disoriented,” my wife said, as we sat down on two of the dozen empty bar stools in the corner pub down the street from my parent’s home in the Chicago suburbs.
“I know what you mean. That movie was completely fucking…” I struggled to come up with the word as I struggled even harder to put my sorry excuse for a Nebraska driver’s license back inside my slowly deteriorating velcro canvas wallet with the cartoon basketballs on it. I had finally succumbed to trading in my Illinois ID and twenty six bucks for a Nebraska one the week prior. The real shit of it all was they didn’t just hand you your new ID like every other reasonable state in the union (Illinois and Pennsylvania), they printed you out a paper copy and then you have to wait for the real hard copy to come in the mail.
Our trip to Chicago couldn’t wait on Nebraska bureaucracy, so I was left having to explain to every single damn cashier, waitress, bartender, and bouncer in Chicagoland why I thought I could get away with using a printed out piece of paper to buy alcohol. For the most part, I was able to convince my inquisitors of my more-than-old-enough age and ability to buy beer, but it was becoming a greater annoyance by the instance as the long weekend wore on. It was completely asinine to be almost as old as Jesus when he was on the cross and be carded so hard everywhere. But it was even more idiotic that the state I now called home thought a black and white piece of paper would be acceptable identification anywhere east of the Missouri river.
With each weird look I got from one of the weekend’s beer gatekeepers, the urge to look them in the eye and say, “I have a one year old at home and a fucking full grown beard. If that’s not enough to make me legal for a beer, just kill me now,” grew exponentially. Instead, I sheepishly explained the utter absurdity of the State of Nebraska while trying to make my oldest-looking beer-thirsty face at least a dozen times over our five days spent outside of Omaha. The stocky forty-something with the thick South Side accent that had greeted us upon entrance to Jordan’s Pub, though obviously hurting for any customers willing to pay for drinks in his establishment, was no different in his confusion over my proof of age or his desire to immediately let me in. This whole license situation was making me a stranger in my hometown. Everyone looked at me with suspicion. My wife chalked it up to my beard.
Finally free to advance, we made our way to the back of the tavern to an “L” shaped bar. We eventually opted for two spots right in the crease of the upper case letter, after moving from our original bar stools because of the Professor’s aversion to the air conditioning vent above her. A Schlitz bar light flickered to our right as the blond bartender barely looked up from her phone call, her voice drowning out the conversation that the bar manager was having with the regular at the edge of the bar near the door. No one jumped to take our order so we scanned the scene, immediately regretting our decision, yet too far past the point of no return to walk away without at least one drink. Forgetting that I never completed my sentence, my mind drifted to the final scene in the movie we just saw as I perused the tall cooler to my right for something worth drinking. My wife cut me off before I could finish the thought or the sentence.
“Seriously, that movie was a mind fuck. I’m not even sure if this is real,” she said with a smile motioning to our present scene as I followed her gaze around the bar trying to use some Jedi shit to get the attention of the bartender.
“If this is a dream, you should just reach behind the bar and grab us a few,” I said.
“Maybe I can make the beer better while I’m at it,” she smirked. “That would make me the ultimate Architect, wouldn’t it?” she asked.
We had just come from close to three hours inside a dark theater watching Inception. The sun had disappeared while we were inside. Combined with the contrast of the outdoor heat and humidity to the cold air of the theater, the frenetic back and forth suspense ride that was at the core of the Summer blockbuster left us dazed and more than slightly confused during our walk to the car. The Professor was obviously disoriented, and, though sober, was driving like a cautious drunk as she maneuvered the Hyundai awkwardly of the parking lot and across town until we reached the bar. If there was ever a moment to get yourself grounded on some bar stools with beer, baseball, and post-film conversation, this was it.
Not helping matters on the dream vs. reality end of things, the place we had chosen was a place we had driven past a million times but had never gone inside. It seemed odd that we ever would go there, and even odder when we actually pulled into the empty parking lot. Aside from the one obvious regular at the front end of the bar, the dude that carded me, and the blond bartender on the phone, we were the only people in the place. It was Twilight Zone empty. There was no volume coming from the any of the three TVs and no music playing.
“Do you guys want another round?” the blond bartender finally asked a few minutes later after she put aside her cell phone.
Another round? What the hell was she talking about? We hadn’t even ordered the first round. Didn’t she just see us walk in? Oddly enough, she even started to open a tap and start up a pint before turning back around and realizing that she had no idea what we were drinking nor what we were going to ask for. We didn’t even know. Things were not getting easier for us. I was even starting to question reality now. I searched the walls for answers.
Across from us was a poor selection of draft beers, and a flat panel TV broadcasting the White Sox game. They were playing a west coast team, so we were able to see the first pitch despite our post movie timing and our futile attempt at finding a better place to go. To the right was a fridge full of domestic bottles, Hawaiian Punch, energy drinks, Smirnoff Ice, and tall boy cans. To the left of the television was a black board with specials announcing a free burger and fries with any beer purchase that wasn’t a domestic bottle.
Though not particularly in the bar burger eating mood, it was easy to see that my wife was mulling over the possibility, as was I. With a deal like that, I couldn’t believe the place wasn’t packed, loud, and greasy. However, our building excitement was quickly extinguished once our minds registered the fact that it was after the designated hours which were written in fluorescent marker right under the special. It was almost as disappointing as our beer choices. It all started to make sense. The more I surveyed the scene, the more I discovered that this probably wasn’t a weird dream after all. Nope. It was just a mediocre bar, the worst bartender of all time, and bad timing. We reluctantly started a tab, determined to make the best of our extremely rare date night.
“Maybe this is a dream,” I suggested, taking my first gulp from my High Life, and checking the time on my phone. “We’re up past ten on a Monday, we were just at a new movie that wasn’t on Netflix, in an actual outside-of-our-house movie theater, and now we’re at a bar,” I continued.
“With no kid,” she added.
“No kid!” I repeated. “Exactly! Let’s get a beer or two down before we wake up,” I suggested as I offered a toast.
It’s no exaggeration to say that being away from your kid for a night with your wife can feel like a dream. When you’re used to spending just about every waking second of every day with a fourteen month old, being on a date by yourselves can feel downright strange. Moving to Omaha and giving up that instant support system, and bullpen of trusted babysitters at beck and call, has forced us to do things with Jack, do them alone, or not do them at all. I never knew how much I took for granted the sweet, simple luxury of going out to the movies with my wife before our little guy came along. Now being away from him for the night bordered on the surreal. Hell, every second of my life since the midwife yanked Jack out of the Professor’s poor vagina has been pretty fucking surreal. Who needs movies when it seems like you’re living inside of one every day?
As the parent of a fourteen month old, most of the time I feel like I’m in a disaster movie. Think Twister, or better yet, Godzilla in a fucking onesie. Sometimes, it’s as if he’s King Kong, the Cloverfield monster, and the Stay Puft Marshmallow man rolled into one. Do you remember Rampage? The arcade game where you picked your monster and unleashed havoc on city after city was always my favorite growing up. I would pop quarter after quarter into that machine at the bowling alley while waiting for my parents: climbing buildings, eating helicopters, and chasing after helpless citizens. I never imagined that one day I’d be living it, and that I’d be one of the helpless citizens. Jackzilla is loose, and I’m left cleaning up in his wake of destruction. Over and over and over and over and over again.
Like most Summer blockbusters, it all started over the 4th of July weekend. Jack had just started walking. Sure, he had taken steps previously, but now he was doing it unprompted and for dozens of steps at a time. By July 8th, Jack was no longer resorting to crawling after falling. I was on the phone with my brother when it first happened. Jack walked from the kitchen through the dining room into the living room, fell, then got right back up and walked straight past me to my pair of shoes near the front door. He picked up the shoes, put them on his hands, then stood up and walked to the Professor’s home office where he used the shoe hands to knock an entire shelf of books to the floor. I was so excited, relaying the play by play and color commentary to my brother over the phone while filming it on a camcorder, that I didn’t even notice his new-found destruction technique. He was officially walking and I was beaming. I couldn’t wait to call my wife and show her the video.
By that Friday, he was walking around the Pizza Shoppe like he owned the place, and I had spent the past forty eight hours chasing after a cherubic tornado. It only took me a day before I knew why everyone kept telling me to “watch out when he starts walking,” and “don’t be in such a hurry to see him walking, and “use a condom.” Once again my own naivete as a parent came up and smacked me right in the face with a strawberry juice and drool coated meat paw. Then it went and knocked the books off the shelf again. Holy shit, man. I spent an entire afternoon picking up those same damn books and the fucking sign language flashcards that were on the shelf, which would scatter instantly throughout the room with each damaging blow to the bookshelf. I never did learn to put the flashcards somewhere else, and he wasn’t too keen on learning to obey my “no” commands either.
My wife and I have always been against “child-proofing” our house. Our theory is that if you teach your child to behave appropriately, you may have a few appendages broken off Beatles figurines, a couple of cracked dishes, and dozens of man-handled books all over the floor at first, but eventually you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches. We have no idea if our theory is correct, obviously, but, combined with our utter lack of desire to actually go about doing what it takes to child proof your house, that’s what we’re going with. It’s an easy decision to make for the parent that doesn’t have to run from and after Jackzilla for an entire day. I, on the other hand, have to play the role of reluctant yet empathetic hero locked into a one on one battle of wills with a cloth-diapered demon.
I’ll sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, sweaty from a nightmarish flashback of the day before. The monster, naked, stomping around clumsily, tipping over talking red dump trucks, launching a little yellow car over his shoulder, kicking a wooden airplane, and knocking over the books again. Everywhere he has been is marked with his presence, his scent, and his saliva. Animals lie motionless about the area. Food scraps are scattered ubiquitously. Cheerios are pulverised. Ringo is missing an arm and a head.
Then comes the noise. First, he opens his mouth wide, baring way too many teeth for a monster his age. He swings his baby blond monster mullet from side to side. Then he wrinkles his brow and unleashes a great roar. His screech is piercingly harsh, coming from the depths of his desire to communicate, paralyzing me with annoyance, and forcing my wife to run out of the house and go to work at any hour of the day. When he finds water, he splashes violently, drowning the little pirate guy and tossing his boat onto dry land, screaming all the while. Removing the beast from water after he is exposed to it, or saying “no” to anything for that matter, is apparently akin to torturing him, or at least taking his milk cup away before he’s finished.
He runs with a confused sense of purpose, despite not having entirely grasped the concept of walking or, more importantly, balance. This presents an entirely separate set of problems: furniture is knocked over, he slips repeatedly in the pool, he trips, he falls down, he bumps his head, he smashes his face into foot rests, he tumbles again, and again, and again. He’ll chase the dog until he ends up rolling down the hill in the backyard because he doesn’t quite understand downhill or uphill. And though he seems to be understanding more and more what I am saying to him, you never quite know if you’re making any sense to the creature or if it simply learns by its mistakes. He just keeps stomping, and tripping, and getting back up, and eating, and running, and tripping over the same object over again.
The falls he takes they pay stunt doubles to do in the movies. They leave me cringing at my sweet little nemesis’ pitfalls, but they don’t phase the cheeky monster at all. It’s really like babysitting my friend Tim when he’s walking zombie blacked out drunk. He’s blond. He’s half naked. He feels no pain though he falls down a lot. He knocks shit over, he headbutts people, he mumbles and moans, he eats with abandon, and you never quite know if what you are saying is getting through to him. He just keeps going, with no remorse for the wreckage he has sewn or the drinks he has spilled. He is pretty much unstoppable. Let down your guard, and the books will be on the hardwood floor again.
Lucky for me, I have a lot of experience with Godzilla. We go way back. All the way back to the fifth grade at Our Lady of the Ridge School. That October, I was finally able to host a sleepover birthday party. Five dudes, some pizza, Nerf indoor golf, staying up late watching my buddy Greg hump a pillow and pretending it was Christie Brinkley, and scary movies on VHS. The scary movies were key. The precedent was set at the other Jason’s legendary sleepovers the two prior years. At Jay’s house, we got to watch all the classics: Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Ghoulies 2, and Friday the 13th part 7. We would watch them one after the other as we drank generic Jewel pop till we puked while his Mom smoked cigarettes at the kitchen table.
The guys all expected something along those lines. It was practically Halloween after all! But I knew there was no way my mom would let that go down. I told her to get a scary movie, but there’s no way she was coming back with something rated “R.” She came home with The Return of Godzilla starring the Perry Mason dude and a bunch of frightened Japanese extras. My heart sank. The party’s trajectory took a sudden downturn. Lucky for me, we were a mere two hours away from Greg humping the pillow. Thereafter, nobody even thought about the movie. And though it was mocked, we did watch at least half of it. That’s all I needed.
I learned quick how to deal with a beast like Godzilla: you can’t. All you can do is run around flailing your arms and pray he doesn’t smash the important stuff. If that doesn’t work, you just beg for the kick and hope it’s all just a weird dream.