Monday, March 4, 2013

Considerably Cooler Than Yow

Daughter: No schools get money by getting all the kids to give them theirs. 


Before I say anything else I wanted to mention that on Friday I made the rookie mistake in telling my wife - who had just told me she thought her hair might just be closer to the side of crazy rather than sassy - that she looked like Helena Bonham Carter. Who I happen to think is delicious. My wife happens to think she's physically abhorrent. A reminder that compliments, even when sincerely intended, can be received as if you've spat in someone's face.

That comment above was my daughter's response to me explaining why their is a Gatorade display in her school cafeteria. I was explaining that schools make money by companies making contracts with them to sell their stuff. Vending machines and that sort of stuff, generally. But - for some reason in this case - a refrigerator that only has Gatorade in it. But after I finished explaining that she told me that no - school get money by getting the kids to give them all their money. I can't tell if that's a healthy dose of skepticism or a rallying unionist cry to support teachers. This being the US she's bound to fall on one side of that divide at some point.

Today I took my son to a nearby indoor playground. The three times we've been before he's played with the same little girl and another young boy who showed up. Actually that's not entirely true. The first time he vacuumed the entire place while his sister bossed the little girl around. But the last two times it's pretty much been my son and this much younger girl showing each other toys but not really actually playing together. I don't think I put this up before so here's a quick look-see at the inside from last week.


Today though we were there alone for 45 minutes before anyone else showed up. Add the place was an absolute state. I'm assuming there had been a party over the weekend. And by party I mean 150 ecstasy-fueled lunatics who tried to cover every surface with as many piles of toys as they could. The guy who works there was happily sitting at the front desk playing Angry Birds when we got there and seemed in no hurry whatsoever to clean up. My son managed to unearth a huge train - about the same size as his torso - from under the filth and set about running it around the place for three quarters of an hour.

At which time two independent families showed up. One was a little girl - around 3 or 4 years old - with her mother and presumably her mother's friend. The other was Batman. Before I get into that I wanted to mention that I know that a lot of parents take their kids to things so that not only their kids can have fun but also so that they can have a break. But the second the kids were in, their shoes were off and running around all three of the other adults stood glued to their smart phones (the now legendary photo of this parenting technique is here). Which isn't awful in itself. But it was really weird to hear the robotic, insincere, parroting of parental phrases offered up to their nearby kids that didn't involve them looking up at them at all. So the little girl would say, "look at me Mommy!" and the mother very much didn't - but did say, "Oh look at you! Yay!!" to her. The other two adults did much the same for the ten minutes that my son and I remained. Except their platitudes and, "yes honey!" remarks were more false for entirely other reasons.

This is because the child they brought was dressed from head to toe as Batman. He was also massively overweight. The sort of overweight where all boys of that age (presumably four-going-on-five or he'd be in school) look identical. I don't know how a child can overeat to that degree at that age and I'm certainly not judging the kid. The reason that it's important here is that the sheer size of him was quite intimidating to my son and the other little girl. More so because he was playing in character as Batman. Except a very loud, angry Batman. Who then proceeded to throw toys around like a deranged, drunken bear out of the top of that toy firehouse above. It was the sort of obviously not acceptable playing that even managed to snap the mother of the little girl out of her phone-induced haze and loudly ask her child if she was okay. By which she meant to make the point to the parent of Batman that he was being far too aggressive. Proven to be a completely valid concern when he burst the bouncy castle by jumping around in it in such a violent fashion that you'd be forgiven for thinking that somehow a local pony had somehow become trapped in there and was trying to get some sort of stable footing. Which was when my son and I left for fear of our own saftey. Seemed like a good time. My son had effectively taken to sitting next to me at this point with an judgmental furrow on his brow and was telling me that the boy had broken the rules. Add neither Batman or his parents seemed to give a toss at all.

Moving quickly on though - I have a strange dilemma. I mentioned to my daughter on Saturday morning the idea that something was, "cool". She's obviously heard the notion of coolness quite a lot by now. She asked me to explain what that actually means. I gave her some general description of what it means at which she just said, "so you might as well say it's just things that you like then...?" Which isn't it at all. I like all kinds of things that are most definitely not considered cool (oddly the first two things that I could think of are watching Jacques Pepin on PBS and how nice my nostrils feel after sniffing a Vick's VapoInhaler). That doesn't convey something imbued with an inherent sense of something astounding that makes you hair stand up. I thought of a few other things off the top of my head and Googled them. I thought of Miles Davis (Solea might be the coolest thing ever blown through a trumpet) and Lenny Bruce (again - this is achingly awesome and not at all like his standup). After rifling through a bunch of different musicians, comedians and random things I noticed that quite a lot of them had something in common - that being smoking. Not exactly the angle I was going for.

After a quick brain reboot I came up with a single iconic moment in my brain that I thought was undeniably cool. That being Indiana Jones doing this -:

  

But that devoid of any context is all kinds of wrong. A white, American man shoots an Arab on camera without any regard at all for the consequences - just so he can get on with running off with artifacts he's stolen from under the noses of other white people stripping the Third World of their treasures. I think it's safe to say that movie pitch (get the American to gun down the Arab hilariously!!) would result in a quick call to Homeland Security. Obviously I didn't show her that. I happen to think Indiana Jones is absurdly cool but that GIF could be about how cool imperialism, guns, chin-scars or waxing your chest is. None of which are cool at all. As an aside it took me a long time to realize that my considering Indiana Jones, Han Solo and Deckard from Blade Runner was actually a latent homo-erotic fancy I had for Harrison Ford.


After rethinking again weirdly what kept popping up in my brain was Belgium. Yeah - I know. But it makes perfect sense. Apart from the ridiculous amount of awesome music. Or the fact that Stephen Fry thinks it is the coolest place on earth (and thou shall not question Stephen Fry). Or that Stella Artois is Belgian. Nor is it the fact that surrealist wallpaper, Tin Tin or the strange quantity of chocolate/cream drenched waffle-filth cuisine all came from Belgium. And it certainly isn't the suspiciously popular mixing of stone-wash denim and lace. It's more that it sits between the pretentiously self-aware France and nervously apologetic Germany. It's almost invisible because of this. But to those in the know it mixes the best of both worlds, but with a humbleness and a healthy does of not giving a toss whether you like it or not as well. Which is another reason why Norway is the finest place on earth.

In the end I though settled on this Fantomas video. She's seen it before and absolutely understood what I meant. It made her feel instantly alive and desperate to dance. She felt in her bones that it's cool. Not only because it's something irreverent and that they genuinely don't care if it's popular or not. But that they just adore doing what they do (a pretty good indicator) and can do it really well and because it's at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Which is cooler than pretty much any other festival going. I later asked my wife and she essentially rounded back to the notion of not giving a flying fig about what other people think about what you're doing (after telling me how she heard an old NPR piece on how coolness was adapted into mainstream white culture by pilfering from other cultures). Which skirts dangerously close to vapid arrogance (without any actual merit for that arrogance) and people who spend a majority of their lives solely inside of sweatpants because they don't care. 

Kind of like a huge Batman bursting a bouncy castle.

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