Monthly Archives: June 2010

Guitar Hero

The other day, I read that they are planning on having some kind of “Guitar Hero” competition at Heritage Square. To be honest, I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. I mean, on the one hand it’s kind of nice to think about all of those pale gamers getting outside for a change—the infusion of a little vitamin D-laden sunlight might be just what they need to stave off a bad case of rickets. And then there’s the fact that an introduction to the outside world might be what it finally takes to let them know that the whole “bald + pony tail” thing is over.

But there are downsides as well. For one thing, getting them all together like that might encourage cross-pollination of the worst sort—the sort that leads to the patter of tiny little fingers across controllers—thereby extending the problem of gamers into yet another generation. And then of course, there’s the delusion factor. At some point, somebody will probably have to explain to them the painful truth: Dude—you’re not playing a guitar.

Not at all. Not even a little bit. Sure, you’re keeping time with the music, but then again, so is the guy who’s tapping his foot, and no one has ever suggested there be a “Foot Tapping Hero” (or even its counterpart: “Finger Drumming Saviour.”) So yeah, basically, “Guitar Hero” has nothing whatsoever to do with playing a guitar. And why? Because learning to play a guitar is hard.

At least it’s a lot harder than learning to play a video game. (Yeah, I know: “But what about all of the hand/eye coordination it takes to play video games?” Let’s be honest: that’s not hand/eye coordination—that’s thumb/eye. And really, unless you plan on someday getting a job as a professional channel surfer, excellent thumb/eye coordination is not the most useful skill to have.) But, as usual, I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s a lot harder to learn to play a guitar than it is to learn to play a “guitar-like” video game—and there’s a pissy little part of me (okay, a pissy large part of me) that insists on people recognizing that.

This is because both of my kids play musical instruments. Clyde plays violin, and Clementine, who has to take the most difficult, circuitous route to get anywhere, plays violin, viola, and double bass (that’s right: she plays instruments in three different clefs). This was by no means an easy feat: on Clementine’s part there were temper tantrums, death threats (both to me and to the violin), and extended bouts of sobbing and screaming, “I hate the violin.” On Clyde’s part there was a small little protest of “I don’t remember signing up for violin,” but for Clyde, any protest at all says a lot.

We kept on through all of the tantrums, though, because I believe that playing a musical instrument can teach you one of life’s most important lessons: how to deal with sucking. When you are first learning to play a real musical instrument, you suck at it for a long time. A really long time. And if you ever hope to to move past that stage, and become a real musician, then you have to learn to deal with that sucking and just move on.

Got that? Suck; work; get better; move on. When you think about it, those are some of the most useful skills you could ever have in this life.

Which is why I think it would be be nice if, instead of having a Guitar Hero competition—with fake guitars—there was one instead that featured real guitars, and real guitarists.

And if you need to justify it, remember this: there’s a lot of guitarists who could benefit from a dose of Vitamin D, too.

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GPS Me Not

Recently overheard: “When I have children, I’m going to implant one of those microchips in them, like they put in dogs, so that I’ll be able to tell where they are at all times.” Since, technically, I wasn’t in the above conversation—I was eavesdropping—I couldn’t point out to the person speaking that those microchips are really only good for identifying your pet, not tracking it like a migrating caribou. Of course, even if I could’ve, I probably still wouldn’t have said anything; deep down I’m afraid that that particular technology might not be too far away. Think about it: they already have an app to turn on your phone’s GPS and find out where your phone has been; I know this because when we got Clementine her cellphone (yes, we finally caved), the man at the phone store was halfway through the process of enabling her phone with this particular feature (all for the low, low price of $4.95 a month) when we stopped him.

“But why?” he asked. “With this feature you’ll always be able to tell where she is.”

Thanks—but no thanks. There are lots of reasons I feel this way. The first one is this: isn’t the whole point of giving your child a cell phone (besides, of course, to put an end to the nagging) so that she can call you and tell you where she is? I mean, I know modern cellphones come with all sorts of bells and whistles these days: they take photos, shoot video, store music, even surf the web, but don’t they also still function as a telephone? (I had the same argument about paying five bucks a month for roadside assistance. “But what if you need a tire changed in the middle of the night?” Well, if for some reason I couldn’t change the tire myself—say, for instance, I didn’t want to get my princess clothes dirty—I would then simply call someone. On the phone.)

My second problem with this service is that it doesn’t really promise to tell me where my child is at all: it only promises to tell me where my child’s phone is, and these are often two very different things. (After nagging us for a cell phone for a solid year, Clementine now typically leaves it sitting on the kitchen counter. Right next to our home phone. Who knows—maybe she thinks the old phone is lonely.)

My third problem with the whole idea of tracking my daughter is that I really don’t think that I want to know where she’s been. I might think I do, but I don’t. I know this to be true because I was thirteen once myself, and I am completely, absolutely, 100% sure that my mom was much, much happier not knowing where I was most of the time. In fact, not knowing has probably added at least ten years to her life.

My fourth problem with tracking my children is that I think it gives a false sense of security to both parties. It’s like putting those little arm floaties on a kid who can’t swim: the parents think it’s okay to run inside the house for a minute, and the child thinks its okay to go out “just a little bit further, and further, and further.” When it comes to kids, there’s never an answer quite as good as vigilance. And sometimes, there’s no answer at all.

The truth is, when it comes to kids there’s only one kind of chip that can ever put your mind at ease, and that’s the “common sense” chip. Unfortunately, these chips are very tricky to install: they can’t just be inserted under the the skin, but instead have to be planted as seeds and allowed to flourish on their own.

And I just don’t think there’s an app for that.

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Go Suns

We were watching the last quarter of what would turn out to be the last game of the 2009-2010 Phoenix Suns season (although we didn’t know that yet). The Suns were putting up a good fight, but it just wasn’t their night. Still, they kept on trying, and with thirty-four seconds left to play Phoenix starter Grant Hill made a valiant effort to stop the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant from scoring. He failed, but as he ran by the Phoenix bench Coach Gentry commended him anyway, saying “Good defense.” That was when Kobe, overhearing the remark, shouted out a comment of his own.

“Not quite good enough.”

And then it was all over, and the Suns were out of the playoffs. And yet, as I watched Steve Nash turn and applaud the crowd before he left the court—commending them for their effort—the loss didn’t seem quite so traumatic. Because I knew that, no matter how the game, or the season, ended, there was still one thing I would always have going for me: at least I didn’t have to worry about my kids growing up to become Lakers fans.

Look, I know that Kobe Bryant is a great basketball player. I, too, am in awe of some of the shots he makes, the seemingly effortless three-pointers from eight feet behind the line. And I know that he’s worked hard to get where he is. But while he may currently be the greatest player in the NBA, no one is talking about nominating him for greatest teammate, because, as far as teammates go, he’s pretty damn lame. And why would I want my kids looking up to that?

Charles Barkley (another Sun) once famously said, “I am not a role model,” and although I think what he really meant to say was, “I don’t want to be a role model,” the truth is he was. (And maybe even still is: after all, at least he told the truth about why he was in such a hurry to get home when he was pulled over for that DUI a few years back.) Like it or not, the fact is that no matter what Charles or anybody else says, kids are always going to look up to sports stars.

And I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. After all, something in our psyche must clearly be drawn to the idea that sports—especially team sports—parallel life, because the urge to use sports metaphors to describe real life problems is a universal phenomenon. And this isn’t only true in America, where we grow up on metaphors like “don’t be a Monday morning quarterback,” “down for the count” and “full court press.” In other countries (and sports) people talk about giving an extra effort in terms of “having a captain’s innings” or making a stupid mistake in terms of committing an “own goal.”

In my house, we use team sport metaphors as well. In fact, whenever I ask my kids to make any sort of a sacrifice (whether it’s going to the movie their brother picked out or sitting through one of their sister’s orchestra concerts), I tell them they need to “take one for the team.” And they do. Because we are a team.

Realistically, my son Clyde has about an .0001% chance of ever playing in the NBA. However, he has an almost 100% chance of someday being a part of some kind of a team. Maybe even a great one. Maybe even one of those rare teams where the players are so unselfish that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. A team like this year’s Phoenix Suns.

Why is why, even though Phoenix lost the Western Conference Final to the Lakers, they’ll always be role models in our house.

In other words: Go Suns.

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Macarena Redux

When my daughter was younger we needed to keep her away from the cleaning supplies under the sink. (For those of you without children who may think that we parents are overly worried about these things, just know this: the same child who turns her nose up at a glass of grapefruit juice because it is “too sour” will happily guzzle down a whole bottle of Pine Sol if given the chance. Don’t ask me why: I don’t understand why college students drink Jägermeister either.)

And so, to keep Clementine from doing Drano shots, we had a special trick. No, we didn’t put child locks on the cabinet. (We tried, but they—along with the toilet lock, the door jamb protectors, and the fridge lock, ended up completely defeating us. The only child-proofing device that ever worked for us were those little things you stick in the outlets so that kids don’t stick a fork in there. And yeah, if given the chance, they will also always stick a fork in there. Again, don’t ask me why.)

We also didn’t put a security gate up in the kitchen. (If you’ve ever fallen over one of those things in the middle of the night, you’ll understand why.) No, we had a much better way to keep Clementine out of the cabinet: the Macarena Monkey.

The Macarena Monkey was a horrible little stuffed monkey her grandmother gave her. It was motion-activated; whenever you got anywhere near it it would start to dance and sing the Macarena. It was completely obnoxious, and not just because it played the Brazilian version of “My Achy-Breaky Heart”—it also smelled terrible. The awful song, the terrible smell and the fact that it had been purchased at a truck stop all made me suspect that it had originally been part of some South American drug smuggling ring. (“See? After we remove the cocaine we can sell it.” “Who would buy such a hideous thing?” “Americans.”)

And yet, despite its questionable provenance, we loved it because it terrified Clementine completely: she would scamper away in fear every time she heard it. Which made it perfect for under the kitchen sink.

Of course, all of this was years ago; I’d actually forgotten all about the Macarena Monkey until recently, when I spotted a tiny little boy busily going through a cabinet and told his mother our old secret. She was intrigued by the idea of it, but questioned whether if had been the monkey or the song that had scared Clementine the most. It was an interesting thought: the monkey had been so awful that it had never occurred to me that it might just have been the song doing the dirty work all along. Then I realized that, in the years since, although Clementine has never shown any other distaste for monkeys, she still loathes bad music—and that’s when I saw the possibilities.

Let’s say I catch Clementine smoking out behind the middle school one day: all I’ll have to do is dance up to her singing “Hey! Macarena!” and she’ll be a nonsmoker for life. The same thing goes for high school. Forget about her ever getting the chance to “park”—I’m sure it will only take one time for her boyfriend to look out the car window and see me bouncing up and down to the beat, slapping my hands on my hips and shoulders, and that romance will be history.

And who knows? I might even still be able to use it when she’s an adult. It’s not like I have to worry about the Macarena ever becoming good (although I might have to worry about it being outlawed). So, if one day you come out of the voting booth and hear “Hey! Macarena!” don’t be worried. It’s just that Clementine has decided to vote Republican.

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