Thursday, February 21, 2013

Oscars Come And Go, But "Gigli" Is Forever

It can't really be that bad, can it? (Yes, it can.)
It looks like Ben Affleck is primed to consummate his return into America's hearts this Sunday: "Argo," his third project as a director, is the front-runner for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Though Affleck himself was not nominated for either Best Actor or Best Director, I think we can agree that a Best Picture win would be a win for Ben Affleck first and everyone else involved second.

I've written about Ben Affleck before ("Ben Affleck Suffers From Drew Barrymore Disease"), and even after seeing "Argo," which was a good movie even with him in the lead role, I stand by my appraisal of his strengths: he's best in supporting comic roles, and his mid-aughts downfall was the result of Hollywood trying to squeeze that square peg into the round hole of a dramatic leading man. ("Argo" works with Affleck in the lead largely because his character listens a lot more than he talks.)

Affleck's career was in a downward spiral thanks to a string of missteps including: the unwatchable comic-book adaptation "Daredevil"; trying to follow Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford into the Jack Ryan franchise with the crappity "The Sum of All Fears"; a string of forgettable action thrillers ("Reindeer Games," "Changing Lanes,"); and the leading role "Pearl Harbor," one of the worst big big blockbusters ever aggressively marketed to the moviegoing public.

But it was his pairing with then-ladyfriend Jennifer Lopez in "Gigli" that really turned his career into a crisis. The movie got universally bad reviews and people still joke about it to this day -- it's the go-to shorthand for "bad movie." But has anyone other than movie critics ever actually seen it? I haven't seen it. Have you seen it?

I'm curious: what went wrong here? "Gigli" was directed by Martin Brest, who is responsible for one of my favorite movies ever ("Midnight Run") and a bona-fide all-time classic ("Beverly Hills Cop"), both comic crime films, which if I'm not mistaken is what "Gigli" is. With Ben Affleck playing to his strengths (light comedy) and with a beautiful costar whom he apparently had some kind of chemistry with offscreen at the very least, why did this movie turn out to be such a disaster? Is it really even a disaster, or did people just pick on it because they disapproved of his relationship with J-Lo, or because he had worn out his welcome before this? Is this one of those movies people just didn't understand? I didn't love "The Big Lebowski" the first time I saw it but it has since become my favorite comedy ever. Could the same thing have happened with "Gigli"?  

Strap in, folks, 'cause we're about to find out!

0:02 -- The movie opens with Affleck, hair combed straight back and wearing a bowling shirt (to indicate "knockaround guy"), threatening a man he has apparently bound, gagged, and stuffed into a commercial dryer. The jaunty music indicates it's supposed to be funny, and I guess if could potentially be, but it isn't. Instead, there's some wannabe-Tarantinoey speculation about what a human body would look like and weigh if you could remove all the water from it. I have no idea what this has to do with getting the money (Affleck's apparently muscle for a loan shark or something) or being threatening, but when he closes the dryer and starts to turn it on, the guy gives in and says he has the money.

0:04 -- Affleck goes to see his -- Supervisor? Boss? Dispatcher? What's the correct term in the underworld? -- who apparently conducts business on his feet beside a Los Angeles sidewalk cafe, and immediately corrects him pronunciation of his name, which happens to be the title of the movie: it's not "Jiggly," it's "Jeely." ("It rhymes with 'Really,'" he explains. Really.) Here we have the first avoidable problem with the movie: the title is hard to say. Not many of us would look at the word "Gigli" and say "Jeely." Why not just title it "Larry" or give Affleck a different last name or give it some generic crime-comedy title like "First Things First" or "Bad Penny" or whatever? But also, why does this other guy pronounce Gigli's name phonetically? When would he ever have had an opportunity to see it written down? On his W2? And if he only ever calls him by his last name, wouldn't this conversation have happened the day they met?

0:05 -- It seems Gigli only got half of what the guy in the dryer owed. Five minutes in and we're already seeing that this hardened criminal has a heart of gold in there somewhere. What an original premise! I can't wait to see what they do with it.

0:06 -- This thing is moving fast: Gigli is given an assignment to kidnap a "psychologically challenged" relative to someone making trouble for his boss in New York. I can see the pitch now: it's "Rain Man" meets "Midnight Run!"

0:09 -- Turns out "psychologically challenged" was a euphemism for "retarded." The retarded kidnap target, Brian, is babbling about "Baywatch" just like Dustin Hoffman babbled about "ten minutes to Wapner." Gigli gets him out of the halfway house or whatever by promising to "take him to the Baywatch." And to think I was kidding about the "Rain Man" thing.

0:11 -- Gigli calls the boss to say he's got the retarded kid. "Already?" the boss asks with mild surprise. This exact same scene was also in "Midnight Run." The fact that "Midnight Run" is one of my very favorite movies does not keep me from noticing that this director is blatantly (and badly) stealing from his own movie. I wonder if Brian is about to jump out of the car or somehow give Gigli the slip?

0:13 -- Back at Gigli's apartment, Gigli struggles to keep the kid quiet. The doorbell rings, and -- enter J-Lo! J-Lo, may I be the first to observe, is very pretty. She wants to use Gigli's phone, because the phone company has not showed up to connect her new apartment. What year was this movie made again? 2003? Didn't everyone have cell phones in 2003? Anyway, she uses her feminine wiles to persuade a reluctant, if intrigued (J-Lo is very pretty) Gigli to let her in. I'm calling it right now: she's also trying to kidnap the kid. The angry moustache cop from "Beverly Hills Cop" who was also the rival bounty hunter in "Midnight Run" -- that's who J-Lo is. Although J-Lo looks much, much better in a midriff-baring blouse.

0:17 -- I guessed right. Louis (I guess that's the boss' name) sent J-Lo, who tells Gigli "Louis said you were a fuckup but I'm amazed how much of a fuckup you really are." How did I possibly see that coming? I guess I've just seen too many movies. Which is to say, I've seen movies. Anyway, she's there to watch Gigli, because the retarded kid kidnapping caper is just too important to leave to just one contractor. Unclear why they didn't just give J-Lo the job in the first place.

0:20 -- Ben Affleck allowed himself to be filmed telling Jennifer Lopez that he is "the sultan of slick," "the rule of fucking cool," and "the original straight first foremost pimp mack fuckin hustler original gangster's gangster." Character choice or no, that is awful dialogue delivered poorly, and there is not a woman alive, much less one of J-Lo's caliber, who would ever allow herself to be touched by a guy who had ever made this speech. I feel like I need to take a shower before going on.

0:21 -- Whatever sympathy Glgli may have earned by only taking half the money at the beginning, he loses and then some when he starts physically taking out his frustration on the special-needs kid. Lopez and her bare midriff quickly intervene. Why is this movie named after such a jerk?

0:23 -- I can't place this accent Affleck is doing. It's kind of a Brooklyn fused with Chicago kind of thing, a little of both and not enough of either. If he's doing an accent, why not go with Boston? We know he can do Boston. It's funny when he does Boston. What is this? 

Proven seduction technique: talking about your cock
0:24 -- God help me, is this thing going to be Affleck and J-Lo bantering about sexual politics? Affleck's character seems to be getting dumber with each scene, and telling J-Lo "In every relationship there's a bull and there's a cow. I'm the bull and you're the cow" suggests that that pattern is going to continue.

0:29 -- So it looks like the rest of this movie is going to be about Affleck being a buffoon. His character doesn't seem to be very smart either.

0:31 -- After posing down in the bathroom mirror and rehearsing threatening imaginary J-Lo with sexual mayhem, Gigli puts on his sexiest silk bathrobe and slides into his bed next to the actual J-Lo. She drops the bomb: she's a lesbian. Wha-oh! I guess there's no possible way he can persuade her to change her entire sexual identity by the end of this movie!  I can hear the pitch: "It's 'Rain Man' meets 'Midnight Run' meets 'Chasing Amy'!" Which Ben Affleck was in! Fool Ben Affleck into starring in a totally implausible lesbian-curing love story once, shame on you. Fool him twice...

0:34 -- Christopher Walken arrives, playing a cop. Will he electrify the movie and kick it up to another level (which in this case would bring it up to "almost watchable") like he did "True Romance"?
0:35 -- No, no he will not.

0:36 -- Walken expositions that Brian is the younger brother of a federal prosecutor. Then he starts talking about wanting pie, and then he leaves. He stumbled into the scene like he was shooting a different movie one stage over and got lost on his way back from the bathroom, and left the same way. What am I watching? What am I doing here? What am I doing with my life? There's no purpose, no plan, just a pointless live-blog of an unambiguously bad movie. I'll be back in a minute, I have to go have an existential crisis in the bathroom.

0:40 -- I just noticed: Brian is the lost groom from "The Hangover." More talk about "the Baywatch." It's starting to occur to me that while he directed them, maybe Martin Brest did not write "Beverly Hills Cop" or "Midnight Run."

0:45 -- After J-Lo uses reason, intelligence, and feminine charm to defuse a confrontation with some young toughs, Gigli breaks their computer over his knee and says "Suck my dick dot com" as they're leaving. We're not even halfway through and my strength is flagging.

0:47 -- J-Lo starts trying to psychoanalyze Gigli, much the way Charles Grodin asked De Niro "Why aren't you popular with the Chicago Police Department?" over and over. This movie is like a beat-for-beat porn parody of "Midnight Run," censored for broadcast TV. Except that Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin had a lot more sexual chemistry.

0:51 -- Gigli, J-Lo, and Brian drop by to see Gigli's mom for no good reason. Mom fawns over J-Lo's beauty, and, when told she's a lesbian, keeps hope alive by getting J-Lo to admit she's been with men before. Wait, what? Might Gigli cure her of her lesbianism? Only a movie that understands nothing about human sexuality would be so brazen. 

This part actually isn't so bad with the sound off
0:53 -- If this whole movie had just been two hours of J-Lo practicing yoga in silence, it would have gotten much better reviews. But it even messes this scene up by making it the setting for another "you're not really a lesbian" discussion, with Affleck discussing, at painful length neither amusing nor insightful, the penis and its capacity to satisfy.

0:57 -- J-Lo's rebuttal is not as sexy as it's clearly meant to be, but she's still doing yoga, so it's tolerable. Let me rewatch this scene with the sound off. Yeah, much better that way. Hold on, one more time just to be sure.

1:00 -- Louis calls with orders to send Brian's' thumb to his prosecutor brother, to intimidate the prosecutor into dropping charges against some boss back in New York. It's been about 25 minutes since anything resembling a plot point happened, so this is a welcome development. Gigli, reasonably, does not want to cut the thumb off. Will J-Lo cut the thumb off? She's supposed to be the super-competent one, right?

1:02 -- I guess it's going to be a running gag: Brian likes to be read to at bedtime, and Gigli doesn't own any books, so he reads from the grocery labels. First was Tabasco sauce, now it's toilet paper. That doesn't sound hilarious? I guess you have to see it.

1:04 -- When they went to bed in the last scene, J-Lo's hair was wet. Now Gigli wakes up and J-Lo is in the shower. Who showers before bed and then first thing in the morning? Will J-Lo be revealed to have crippling germophobia or something? That would be a lot more interesting than the movie to this point.

1:07 -- J-Lo's lesbian girlfriend arrives to make jealous drama and, in a jarring tonal shift, slit her own wrists with Gigli's kitchen knife when J-Lo breaks up with her on the spot. Is this a comedy? I thought this was a comedy. There have to be easier ways to show that being a lesbian is not without its difficulties.

1:10 -- J-Lo doesn't want to cut the thumb off either, saying she didn't sign up to be a brutal thug. Forget the thumb: What, exactly, is kidnapping a retarded kid if it's not brutal thuggery? Why are either of these people professional criminals? Why am I watching this? Why are you reading about it? So many questions.

1:11 -- It is the thumb that will provide our heroes common cause to unite against the boss and eventually let Brian go. They agree not to cut it off, and in the course of the discussion J-Lo manages to not only raise the image of blowing Gigli for 22 hours but to make it sound totally unappealing.

1:13 -- Looks like they're going to cut the thumb off a cadaver in the morgue and send that to the prosecutor. Hilariously, Gigli saws it off with a clear plastic knife while Brian recites "Baby Got Back." How long do you think before Justin Bartha (who plays Brian) took this movie off his reel? A month? A week?

1:17 -- A heartfelt monologue from Gigli about how heartbroken he is that he can never have this amazing woman who he met the day before yesterday. Is he getting through? Is J-Lo going to give him a chance, even though he's the kind of guy who doesn't own a single book and relates to women in cow-bull metaphors and calls himself "the rule of fucking cool" and uses a plastic knife to cut off a thumb, even when he's standing in the middle of a hospital?

1:17 -- Is there really 45 minutes left to go in this movie?

1:19 -- It's weird that this movie pretty much assassinated Jennifer Lopez's movie career, because while she is hardly Meryl Streep in it, she's far from its biggest problem. As a matter of fact, she's about the only thing it has going for it. This performance is not all that far away from her turn in "Out Of Sight" that made everyone (myself included) fall in love with her -- the problem is this awful, unreadable, unperformable script.

1:20 -- Wait, what? Just like that, J-Lo is attacking Gigli in the bedroom. What did he do to change her mind? That rant about how he can never have her? The time he roughed up the retarded kid? The time he threatened her girlfriend with a beating? I would think that his speech about the penis alone would cancel out any dubiously earned goodwill and then some. If I made that same speech to my wife of 12 years, I think she would be a lesbian before I got to the end. This movie is really weird.

1:24 -- So is Gigli being proven right, that nothing can satisfy a woman like a man? Sure looks like it. Although, in the afterglow, he's got his head on her shoulder and not vice-versa. Clever gender role reversal! And what better time to revisit the nonsensical "bull and cow" argument from their adorable first meeting? "Moo," moos Gigli, surrendering all that hard-earned machismo with a full 30 minutes left in the movie.

1:25 -- America's favorite new power couple leaves Brian in their hotel room for an emergency meeting with Louis.  En route, Gigli admits to his fantasy of getting away from it all, where he can be away from all the bad stuff, where he can be himself. That would be... I don't know, Palm Springs?

It's me! Hoo-ah! 
1:28 -- Al Pacino is in this movie? Oh, right, Martin Brest made "Scent of a Woman" so I guess Al owes him one. Based on Christopher Walken's cameo, though, I don't have much hope for the impact he might have here.  It seems he is the New York mobster whose freedom is in peril because of the prosecutor with the special needs brother. The plot of this movie is pretty thin gruel.

1:31 -- Pacino shoots Louis in the head! That's right: SOMETHING HAPPENED IN THIS MOVIE. It has to be a fluke, right?

1:33 -- In a bizarre twist, Al Pacino is now pointing out, in detail, the basic absurdity of the plot of this movie: that attempting to extort a federal prosecutor by kidnapping his retarded brother is really stupid. Someone had to do it, I guess. Anyway, that's why he killed Louis, and that's why he's about to kill the world's worst couple.

1:38 -- J-Lo talks Al out of killing them by promising (implicitly) to kill Brian. I say implicitly because she says they'll make sure he can never testify against anyone. Calling it right now: she and Gigli are going to move to a tropical island together and raise Brian as their own.

1:39 -- Maybe not; they're just taking him back to the halfway house. Charmed by his recitation of LL Cool J's "I Need Love," Gigli chooses this moment to offer him some life advice: confront your worst fears and good things will happen. I think that means he's about to confront Al Pacino. Or maybe admit that he's gay, as J-Lo was insinuating right before she jumped his bones.

1:41 -- If what he feared most was telling J-Lo he wants her to run away with him, Gigli just confronted his fear, and J-Lo cut him off and shut him down. Because, you know, she's a lesbian and he's not.

1:43 -- J-Lo tells Gigli to drop her off by the highway, and Gigli tells Brian it's time to go back to the halfway house. Brian is crestfallen by the prospect of parting ways with these two people who spent the whole three days they've known each other either abusing him or bickering with each other. I'm standing by my prediction: these three are going to go make a family somewhere. This movie has done nothing to make me imagine it would do anything any less dumb than that.

1:44 -- Oh, god. Driving down the beachside highway, Brian sees a movie shoot on the beach, lights and cameras and girls in bikinis, and starts whooping and hollering and bouncing in the backseat as music of triumph swells. That's right, he's finally at The Baywatch. Settling into what I increasingly believe will soon be their family roles -- curmudgeonly dad and indulgent mom -- Gigli doesn't want to pull over at The Baywatch, but J-Lo is all for it. Guess who gets their way?

1:48 -- On the beach, Gigli calls Brian's brother the prosecutor, and with that, the authorities are presumably on their way. So I guess they're not going to all go live together. But Gigli's heartfelt apology for being such a dick is warming J-Lo's heart. No one in this movie has done anything that makes sense, except for Al Pacino explaining how stupid the plot is.

1:50 -- Now Gigli wants to give J-Lo his car because he's trying to change his image. Wha? He's giving her his car? Is this something anyone would ever do, ever? At this point it would come as a relief if Gigli unzipped the back of his head to reveal that he is a space alien unschooled in the ways of human behavior. J-Lo gives him a kiss, jumps in the car, and disappears, and please god let that be the end of this movie.

1:54 -- Brian takes Gigli's advice and seizes the day and dances with a blonde in a bikini for the shoot on the beach, and as Gigli walks off into the sunset, J-Lo pulls up and finally tells him her real name, Rochelle, and offers him a ride, and the couple's romantic future is left ambiguous but hopeful. Roll credits thank god and pass the sedatives.

Holy crap. What a fiasco. I was hoping this thing was a secret classic, or at least unfairly maligned, but if anything it's even worse than its reputation. Affleck's character never comes anywhere near likeable, Special Needs Brian is a direct lift from "Rain Man," and the idea that J-Lo's character -- the only non-offensive presence in the movie -- would go for Affleck, even if she weren't a lesbian, strains even movie-logic credulity.

The plot, to the extent that there is one, is stupid, but that's not a necessarily fatal problem, as countless stupid-but-good movies have shown. The real problem is that nothing happens. There are no stakes. There is no excitement. Except for the five minutes where Al Pacino waves a gun around, no one is ever in any danger. Nothing happens. Would it have been difficult to make Gigli and J-Lo take Brian on the lam while pursued by Feds, or local cops, or a P.I., or rival crooks, or a pizza guy? Why, other than a confused 5-minute scene with Christopher Walken, are the police a complete non-presence in a crime movie?

And Ben Affleck. Oh my god. Though I have never loved him in dramatic roles, I've always thought he had a nice light touch with comedy but he is absolutely unwatchable here. Maybe it's just supporting comic roles he's good in? The character is horribly written, yes, but a bunch of warmed-over tough-guy mannerisms is not a performance, it's dinner theater De Niro. This one movie is enough to make me reappraise my whole opinion of the guy.

Good luck at the Oscars, Ben. Your Hollywood redemption is nearly complete. It seems likely that you will stay on top for many years to come. In time, the general public may even forget "Changing Lanes" and "Reindeer Games" and "Paycheck" (best bad-movie title ever) and see you only as a prestige filmmaker doing great work. They may even forget "Gigli." But that's only because they never live-blogged it. No matter what you do, no matter where you go, no matter how great your Whitey Bulger movie with Matt Damon turns out, I will always remember "Gigli." Like a veteran remembers Hamburger Hill, I will remember live-blogging "Gigli."

I will remember.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Our Son's Ethically Compromised 6th Birthday Party

Our precious, sweet, hilarious, infuriating little boy turned six last week, and now that he's firmly ensconced in kindergarten, with a whole new set of friends, it seemed like we should consummate all his new friendships the way little kids' friendships are consummated: with an invitation to his birthday party.

Of course, throwing a birthday party in Brooklyn (or any borough of New York City) is a little more complicated than the birthday parties I grew up with, where you invite eight to ten of your little buddies over to your (relatively) nice, roomy house, take a couple of whacks at a PiƱata and play Pin the Tail on the Donkey, cut the cake, open the presents, and call it a day.

To begin with, we ended up inviting 16 kids to Henry's party. When I went to kindergarten in the *ahem* late '70s, kindergarten was a half day: there was the AM class and the PM class (I was AM). If I formed any strong, lasting relationships in kindergarten, I don't remember them (other than the love/hate frenemy crush with a girl named Gretchen that would last until the 7th grade when my family moved to another city).

Whereas, Henry gets on the school bus at 8am and is picked up from the afterschool program at 6pm, so he spends ten hours a day at school, so he's forming intense attachments to the other kids, and has more close friends now than I do. It's great, I love it, I'm glad to see he likes the kids he's with and that they like him, but the reality of Brooklyn class sizes plus the reality of Brooklyn real estate means we just don't have the space to accommodate all these kids for anything other than a lineup. Initially, my idea for this birthday party was to invite a bunch of kids over and have them watch a movie on our big projector screen. Six kids we could do. Eight kids maybe. But as Henry's guest list grew to 16, my wife Jennifer pointed out the insanity of trying to throw a party like that in our own home. It's partly a matter of space, and partly fear of the raw destruction that many kids would inflict on the place, which is already a wreck even with the three of us there together for about two waking hours a day.

My wife tells me that this is what everyone does here: they find an outside venue for their kids' parties. Seems a little weird to me, but I don't want to be the one to clean up after 16 kids -- and I would be the one to clean up after them -- so, when in Rome, right?

We brainstormed a number of ideas for the party: Children's Art Museum! Bouncy Castle place! Ice skating rink! Gymnastics place! As we discuss it with Henry, he loves every idea more than the last one, a pattern that continues even when we go back to the top of the list. So we start to look at more practical matters like where the places are, whether they're subway-friendly (that strikes out the Bouncy Castle place), novelty (that strikes out the ice skating, as his best friend had just had an ice skating party a month before), and of course, financial reality.

That last one came into sharp focus when I looked into throwing the party at the Children's Art Museum in Greenwich Village, one of Henry's favorite places to go. I don't know why they call it a museum -- it's actually more of an art workshop, with various stations with materials and helpers leading different projects for the kids to do. Henry is really into making art (just what our family needs, another artist) so this seemed perfect, particularly the Clay Bar, where the kids make figures out of clay and then get to take them into a stop-motion studio and make a little animated movie with them. So I go to the website and find that an "Animation Party" for 12 kids can be had at the Children's Art Museum for the eminently reasonable price of $1,200 ($1,475 if you want it catered). Spoiler alert: we did not have the party at the Children's Art Museum.

We ended up going with the Little Gym in Brooklyn, which is a large room with brightly colored walls and about $400 worth of padding, plus a balance beam, a springboard, an inflatable trampoline, and a couple of other obstacles. My wife had taken Henry to another birthday party there a year or two ago and said it was great so, in the interest of not thinking about it any more (we had put this decision, and the attendant planning, off for far too long) and the fact that it was in the bottom two options price-wise, I quickly agreed, and when told that there would be a trampoline, Henry made it unanimous.

The guest list expanded when my parents decided to come visit that same weekend, though it looked like they might not make it when a blizzard prompted Delta to cancel their flight. It ended up being rescheduled, they arrived the evening before the party, and the next morning we all went out shopping: his grandparents and I took Henry to the toy store so he could pick out a present, and his mother went to the grocery store to get snacks for the party.

Hex Bugs Habitat, aka Greatest Gift Ever
We got back to the house and played with Henry's super-cool gift for a while, and as we did so Henry's head gradually sank toward the kitchen table. We asked what was wrong and he said he was tired and wanted to go to sleep, a phrase I had never before heard pass his lips.

He felt a little warm, but as he had missed school the previous Monday and Tuesday with a cold and fever but had already more than recovered, it didn't seem likely that he was really sick, so I told him to go take a little catnap, and I'd wake him up in an hour for the party. I figured I'd give him some children's ibuprofen -- aka the miracle drug -- when he woke up and he'd be right as rain.

Jennifer had gone to run a few last-minute errands and pick up the cake, so I'd be going with Henry and his grandparents by car service and meeting her at the Little Gym. When the hour passed, I called the car service and gently shook Henry by the shoulder.

"Time to wake up, buddy. Party time!"

"ijuststartedsleeping. iwanttosleep. letmesleepdaddy," he mumbles in a heartbreakingly tiny voice.

Also unprecedented. You wake this kid up, ten seconds later you're shouting at him to put something down or get off something. I touch his cheek with the back of my hand and it feels like a radiator.

In a flash I go get the children's ibuprofen and the thermometer. First I take his temperature: 103.6.


My parents are looking on with concern, and I start to panic. What are we going to do? Do fevers even go higher than 103.6? It seems like some kind of record. I can't take a 6-year-old with a 103 fever to jump on a trampoline, can I? I grab my phone and call Jennifer, who's at the bakery picking up the cake, and bring her up to speed.

"Oh my god," she says. "We're about to have a party for all his friends."

It's 2pm, and the party starts at 2:30. Way too late to cancel. My mom and dad taught me that it's rude to talk about money and what you paid for things, so let's just say that the party cost an amount that starts with "Six" and ends with "Undred." We are about to spend a lot of money for a kids' party that our kid can't come to.

Jen stops responding to my panicked noises because she's talking to the lady at the cake place. She explains the situation to the cake lady and the cake lady says, "You gotta take him there. The same thing happened to me. You gotta take him. He'll be fine." Jen repeats this advice while my mom is offering to stay home with him. The decision is made: we're going. We are not spending this kind of cash on nothing. I tell my folks to put their coats on.

Behold, the Miracle Drug.
A word about children's ibuprofen: it is amazing. I have never seen any drug, either therapeutic or recreational, have such a quick and positive effect as children's ibuprofen has on Henry when he is sick. He's only been sick a few times in his short little life, but every time it's happened we give him a spoonful of this orange syrup and 15 to 30 minutes later it is as though nothing is wrong.

So I read the label, see that as a 6-year-old he's now eligible for two teaspoons instead of one, and I sit him up and give it to him. Then he collapses like a rag doll. I prop him up against the couch and put his snow boots on (there had just been a blizzard) and carry him out to the stoop to wait for the car. When it arrives, I carry him the way the Hulk used to carry damsels in distress out of burning buildings -- limp, across both my arms -- and we all get in, the driver asks "Where you going?" and I say, "Brooklyn Heights."

"Hospital?" he asks.

The insanity of this situation hits home when I reply, "Birthday party."

The boy is a limp rag in my lap on the drive over, but I detect signs of life when I feel a slight change in air pressure on my leg; he farted on me. I whisper in his ear, "You just farted on me," and I see him suppress a smile. The wonder drug is working. He farts on me again and I whisper in his ear again and he smiles again and I start to think this might just work out.

By the time we get to the Little Gym, it's starting to seem like he's playing up the illness; he wants me to carry him from the car into the place. We get inside and I set him down and greet some friends of ours whose kid was invited to the party. I put him in a chair against the plate-glass window through which about 12 of his friends can be seen frolicking on the gym equipment, and continue talking with our friends while I take off his snow boots. We're still talking about the school where Henry's going for kindergarten -- their daughter is a year younger, so they're looking at schools -- and I look up and see Henry through the plate-glass window, doing a somersault off a springboard onto a big pad, and I see that everything's going to be fine.

And it was. The party was great, all the kids, including Henry, had a total blast. No tears were shed, no disagreements among the kids. Oh, there was one thing: the cake was kind of terrible. So even though the cake lady was right about taking Henry to the party, her cake was so bad -- oddly, it seemed like it had been baked and then dunked in a tub of water -- that we ended up throwing away the half that didn't get eaten at the party.

In closing, if there are any parents reading this who are horrified that we may have knowingly exposed your kids to Henry's fever, please understand that we did so reluctantly, with great faith in the Wonder Drug, and because there was a lot of money involved. In the unlikely event that your kids did get sick, please accept my sincere apology and, well, do what we do when Henry gets sick: try to look at it as a blessing.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Who Do I Root For In The Super Bowl?

I don't really have favorite sports teams. I'm not a huge sports fan to start with -- I find regular season games too low-stakes to pay them much mind, though I always tune in for the playoffs in pro basketball and the NFL. Like I do every year, I've been watching football for the last few weeks and am looking forward to watching the Super Bowl (the game, not the commercials or the halftime show) this Sunday. 

But it presents a small dilemma, because I don't know who to root for. Usually, since I don't have favorite teams, I always root for Drama. That is, whichever team is behind, I root for to catch up. If they catch up and get ahead, I start rooting for the other team. My primary desire as a spectator is for sudden-death double overtime Drama. 

But this year I happen to have connections to both the teams. I lived just outside Baltimore from 1985 to 1995, and I lived in San Francisco from 1995 to 2001, so both the Ravens and the 49ers have a legitimate claim to my loyalty. But from there it gets complicated. 

When I was a kid I was a much bigger football fan than I am now. My family lived outside Cincinnati from 1978 to 1985, and when I first tuned into football, when I learned the rules, it was during the 1981 season, when the Cincinnati Bengals just happened to go to their first Super Bowl where they played... wait for it... the San Francisco 49ers, led by an ascendant Joe Montana. Since it was 1981, and I was a little kid, I developed dual loyalties in my first season as a football fan: to the Bengals in the AFC, and to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC (the latter long since cured). After the Bengals beat the San Diego Chargers in what came to be called the coldest game ever played (people wore sleeping bags in the stands), the 49ers vanquished the Cowboys in the NFC championship game, murdering my dream of a Bengals-Cowboys Super Bowl. 

Through the first half it looked like the Bengals would win their first championship -- they led at halftime and had looked great throughout. But as history has amply recorded, it was Joe Montana's year, and he brought his team from behind to beat my Bengals and win the title. Best quarterback ever? No question. But I still never liked Joe Montana. Especially because, seven years later when the Bengals made it to the Super Bowl for the second and last time, they once again met Joe Montana's 49ers, they once again led at halftime, and they once again lost in the final minutes, largely because they could not score on a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line. (Nobody said being a Bengals fan was easy.)
In 1985 my family moved to Baltimore, and I'm sure I would have happily shifted my loyalty to the Baltimore Colts, one of the most storied franchises in the history of the game, but it was that same winter that Colts owner Jim Irsay moved the team to Indianapolis under cover of night -- the footage of the Mayflower moving trucks leaving Memorial Stadium was ubiquitous on local TV that year -- thus leaving my new hometown without a football team.
After I graduated from college ten years later, the Cleveland Browns' owner Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore, but with the stipulation that the Browns' name, colors, and logo (or lack thereof) stay in Cleveland, so the team was renamed the Ravens, and Baltimore once again had its own NFL team, just in time for me to not care about it at all because I didn't live there anymore -- I'd moved to San Francisco. (Also, the nature of the transaction never sat right with me. Cleveland was never a great team, but they had the most loyal fans in football.) 
As much as I loved living in San Francisco, I was never able to make myself a 49ers fan. My youthful dalliance as a Cowboys fan (I know, I know), coupled with their two defeats of the Bengals in the Bengals' only two Super Bowls, soured that deal. 
So who do I root for this year? I have to admit, watching the NFC championship game two weeks ago that this kid Colin Kaepernick is really fun to watch. Tall, lanky, very distinctive throwing motion. I'm happy that they finally went back to their classic Montana-era plain red-and-white jerseys, after years of experiments with ugly drop-shadows on the numbers and a drift into burgundy hues. (As much as I hated the 49ers, I always liked their uniforms.) Also, my Facebook feed is absolutely loaded with 49ers fans, to say nothing of my social circle -- I have at least five full-on San Franciscans coming over to watch the game. Then again, if you know any San Francisco sports fans you know that they are absolutely insufferable in victory. (See: 2012 World Series.) 
On the other hand, Baltimore is my hometown. I went to high school there, I went to my first rock shows there, I had my first dozen unrequited crushes there... it's got a special place in my heart. But, I keep flashing on the image from just before the AFC championship game of Ray Lewis ostentatiously bawling his eyes out, hollering about Thank You Jesus, and staring into the sky, and coupled with the big dance and the way-overdone eye black and the flamethrower entrances... I just can't root for that dude. And wasn't he the wheel man in a murder like 15 years ago or something? Plus, I absolutely hate everything about the Ravens' uniforms. I hate the colors, I hate the fonts, I hate the logo, and most of all I hate the numbers. 
Yeah no, I'm rooting for drama.