Fast Motion, Minus 10
All of my boys, Jimbo, Adam, Jon, and now Kaleb loved to wrestle with me as kids. We developed props, sounds, and rules to fit the times. With Kaleb now it ranges from Spiderman to Bionicles and mutant ninja turtles. The tools and rules of play war vary greatly between generations, and they each tell something about what was happening in society at the time. This story chronicles some of the father and son "wars" between Jimbo and I, and to some extent, Kris.
In the sixties, when Jimbo was a young lad, world events were dominated by space and missiles, and the fantasy and comic world saw its introduction of robots and bionics. Television and movies were still extremely limited, by today’s standards, in special effects, so special symbols and props were used, with much of the special effect left to the imagination of the viewer.
One of Jimbo’s first TV heroes was Batman, played in a campy fashion by …………….The Batmobile was cluge of a machine, and the best the special effects guys could come up with for turbines allowed the smoke to drift slowly upward from the exhaust. One needed a lot of imagination. When Batman would fight the bad guys, stars and large letters, like "BAM" and "WACK" covered the screen to denote the fist of Batman striking the Joker. The music led the action, with the BAM being sounded out with cymbals and with the Batman song rising and falling with the action. When Batman was in trouble, the music gave him the added power needed to escape the throws of a death dealing villain. Batman would be in serious trouble when suddenly the music would appear, "NANA NANA NANA NANA NANA NANA NAN……….BATMAN!!" and you would know that Batman was about to perform a miraculous escape and win out once more.
In my fights with Jimbo, to identify with Batman, we emulated the music in the same way as Batman to signify that the singer was about to zonk the other guy. Jimbo would seemingly be struggling hopelessly with me, the Joker, when suddenly he would sing out, "NANA NANA NANA NANA NANA NANA NAN ……….BATMAN!!" and launch himself like a missile towards me.
Four to six year old kids don’t understand that, unlike on TV, serious damage can be done to either the launcher or the launchee with such action. It is strickly up to the parent to anticipate such an act and do something to prevent either he or his son/grandson from getting hurt. Fortunately, precursors like the Batman song provided an advanced warning and usually I could provide enough cushion to render the attack harmless to both us, while at the same time appearing to be in great pain as a result of the act. Oftentimes, accidents occur and head gets banged against the floor, or even a bloody nose results, hopefully, that of the dad. When the head or nose is that of the young one, he is totally unforgiving and immediately accuses the father of hurting him on purpose. And then as soon as the tears subside, he is again ready to hurl himself like a missile at the father, already having forgotten the possible outcome.
On occasions when Jimbo would get hurt in games with me, he would immediately become angry with me for so "thoughtlessly and intentionally" hurting him, and he would come again for revenge with the one goal of hurting me at least as bad as he had been hurt. With this attack he would sing the Batman song with even greater vigor, calling upon its power to insure that he would win out on the next attempt. He had forgotten that the song was only part of a game, and he relied on it even more. Handling this situation without someone getting hurt was even more of a challenge, and sometimes I would have to call an end to the "fight". At that point, his attitude would change and he would promise to not get hurt again if we could continue the game. I have never understood why boys love to fight with daddies and grand daddies, but it is a fact of life.
I have the same challenge forty years later with Kaleb, and unfortunately, we don’t have the Batman song as a precursor. Kaleb will become the invulnerable Donatello up until the time when he slips and bumps his head on a table. At that very moment he returns to being a crying, sometimes angry Kaleb until I rub his head and quiet him down until the hurt lessens. Invariably, he insists on continuing and once again becomes the invulnerable Donatello.
In Jimbo’s day, eventually, Batman was replaced by a new level of special effects in a TV program called the "The Bionic Man" or the "Million Dollar Man" featuring a fighter pilot who after a horrible crash had his body improved with bionics. He could run at high speeds, leap tall buildings, lift an automobile, and see telescopically like superman.
The challenge for special effects people was show a man running at 100 miles per hour, or swinging a fist so fast that a criminal would never know what hit him. To do this, they ingeniously slowed down, instead of speeded up the movement of the bionic man, placing him in slow motion, as though they had to slow it down to make it visible. With this was accompanying music that essentially instructed the viewer to speed up the motion in his mind. It worked amazingly well.
Eventually, Jimbo and I became two bionic men who fought each other in slow motion. We would determine who was winning by scoring hits. Doing this in slow motion presents an ethical problem if sorts. If, for example, I am taking a slow motion swing at Jimbo and he detects it coming in slow motion, it is a simple matter for him to quickly move an open hand in position to block the blow. To accommodate this problem, we developed a negative score, so if I felt that he had unfairly blocked my blow by moving faster than would have been done in the TV program, I would shout out, "Fast motion, minus ten!" This, of course was a source of debate, so, not having a referee, we rarely would up with meaningful scores.
The space program had become dominant news in Jimbo’s early childhood, and missiles became our tools of war. Jimbo would be sitting on the couch near me and I would launch a missile headed straight for his body. He would immediately call up his anti missile missile to take mine out. We developed various more or less predictable routines and played over and over again. Each of us knew exactly what was going to happen, but that did not prevent us from pretending that we could trick each other with a surprise attack. Somehow, knowing the routine seemed to draw us closer together in the game.
One of the stunts that I did over and over was the following:
"Okay, Jimbo, I am a peaceful nation. I am going to launch a weather satellite that will help all countries predict weather. Don’t worry about it, even though it will perch right over your country, it is strictly peaceful." After falling for this the first time, he always knew of the impending deception that was about to happen when weather satellites were launched. And, of course, he began launching his own weather satellites. We could spend hours trying to convince the opponent that it really was a weather satellite, and without fail, it became a nuclear missile as soon as the opponent looked the other way. Regardless of the number of deceptions, the "weather satellite" trick emerged again and again by both of us.
Our kids and grandkids give us this wonderful gift of allowing us to be kids again.
The reoccurring deception became an integral part of childhood play with both Jimbo and Kris and it morphed into a wide number of forms. It is really nice to have this intimate familiarity that can be played out in symbolic games. When they outgrew Batman, we developed another routine that took the form of a ghost story. When first told, the story went on and on for some half an hour. It worked best when told to someone standing beside the story teller. I would put my arm around Jimbo as the story reach its ending, which went something like, "And even today, the ghost of the man shows his presence by kicking people in the butt", and at that very moment I would kick him in the butt by swinging my outside leg up and behind us, while pretending to be unaware of anything unusual. At first, he would say, "AWWWWW I know that was you!" And I would vehemently deny it, and within moments do it again. As his understanding of the joke grew, he would follow along with the story or even initiate it himself and attempt to be the kicker before becoming the kickee.
Kris loved the routine so much that she graduated to the deliverer stage almost from the beginning. Today, forty years later, we still fondly share this routine just about every time we meet. Among other things, it gives us an excuse to hug each other, not that we really need an excuse.