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King Dad

In The 60's on June 23, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Insert Trumpety King Song Here. Do Do Do Doooo!

In our household, circa 1968, there was never any question as to who the boss was. My father ruled the roost, and if you didn’t like it- you could lump it. There was none of this current day conferring with the kids about how they felt, or what they thought, or  any of that ‘warm, fuzzy crap’ to quote the man himself. The bottom line was: Dad paid for everything, was the biggest, strongest and (definitely) loudest, and was therefore The King. End of story.

Though it often felt unfair, particularly when he was handing down verdicts against us personally ( “You’ll eat it and you’ll like it-or I’ll give you something to cry about!’) we also had a deep-seated desire to please him. 

I’m Bob. The King of Four Muffin Lane.

One of our family rituals was the ‘School Report’. This took place during dinner (served at 5:30 on the dot-or else!) and was a game wherein my father would randomly call out “School Report!” and my brothers and I would throw our hands up in the air in a fury, waving, panting and squirming in our chairs.

“Pick me! Pick me!”

 We were frantic with the desire to be chosen. Once the words “School Report’ were tossed out-usually towards the end of the meal, my father would drop his fork onto his plate with a clank (having scarfed down a giant T-bone rimmed in fat and cooked in butter or perhaps some mammoth pork chops, the shape and size of the state of Florida) and dab his mouth with a harvest gold cloth napkin.

He’d scan the table, looking at the three of us, a mischievous glint in his eyes. This was a man who loved being in control and having our undivided attention. The anticipation from our end was unbearable!

Then: Boom! He’d point to the kid he deemed the winner, the groans of the ‘losers’ echoing across the table, two faces with lower lips jutting out far enough to host a perched bird.

The winner would sport the ‘how do ya like me now?’ grin, sometimes adding a thumbs up sign, or sticking out a tongue, infuriating the two losers even more.

These dynamics would elicit a “tsk, tsk. Oh…Bob!” riding on a sigh from my mother, who was not a fan of dinner time competitions.

My father would ignore her completely, then say ‘Shoot!’ to the winner, his index finger a fake pistol. The ‘winner’ was now to ‘report’ on what happened at school that day.

Though it was off the cuff and unscripted, we certainly wanted to impress Our Father the King, but as many a stand-up comic will tell you- improvisation isn’t quite that easy. Add this to the fact that you now had two instant, very bitter hecklers wishing you to fail, and you’ve got all the makings of the quintessential tough crowd, the kind comedians turn to legend. (‘School Report’ was responsible for an approximate 40% increase in family fights during the years it was in effect, according to recent studies.)

On any given night the game might go something like this: Rob wins. Negative vibes emit like radon from both David and I, funneled directly at Rob. Rob scrunches his face up at us, clears his throat, and  begins:

“Today….in school….we…ummmm…..had….ummm…math….with numbers…and ummm….I wrote numbers…..and….ummmm……”

 You have got to be kidding me! I would think. This kid can’t tell a story to save his life, and someone has to step in.

“That’s so dumb, Robby!” I’d say, truthfully.

“Lisa! Zip it!” my father would roar.  

Rob might attempt to kick me under the table, but can’t reach. Air kick! What a fool!

“Simmer down and wait your turn!” my father demands, a no-nonsense glare coming my way.

Being stripped of a voice and humiliated, I puff my cheeks out like a blow-fish, hold my breath, place one elbow on the table, drop my head into the crook, and let the air out of my pursed lips like a leaky tire. I could get an Academy Award for my conveyance of disappointment.

My father helps Rob along:

“Did you have recess?” he asks. 

“Yeah!” Rob says ‘…and Timmy Shoales fell off the swing and was bleeding!” I have to admit, this kind of gets my attention, but I credit my father for punching up the script, not Rob’s ability to tell a story.

“It was his nose!” Rob says “and his knee! and his…over here!” Rob points to his own chest. Ut oh! Now he’s going all  Michael Bay on us! I hope my Dad reels him in soon or this tale is gonna be all special effects and no story. 

‘Secret’ Formula

“OK!” says my Dad to Rob, having had enough

“Good Job!” and he claps. A pity clap.

“Now. Lisa! Bam!” he says, pointing his index finger at me.

I’m on!

I, too, start by clearing my throat. I  tap the olive green tablecloth and ask: “Is this thing on?” and wait for laughter that doesn’t come. 

“Samantha!Cut the Malarkey! We don’t have time for jokes!” my father growls.

This always gets me. I mean- even the best joke usually takes what? Ten-twenty seconds? And let’s say it’s super funny (which is what I strive for) then, including the laughter, people- we’re looking at maybe- what? a minute, minute-ten at the most? So, really-don’t we in fact have the time? I’m not just referring to jokes either, but other stuff parents say there’s no time for. It’s hard for me to imagine that we’re cutting it that close so consistently! Is all I’m saying. But whatever.

It says ‘No Time For Jokes’ on the back. Also: Made In Japan.

“OK….” I begin…

‘Today in school Krissy was wearing the best peace sign t-shirt, which she got at Caldors, just in case anyone wants to know.” I look directly at my mother, who knits her brows and frowns. She recognizes a shakedown when she hears it.

“Becky said we shouldn’t have to do the ropes in gym, so me and her and Renee signed a paper about it- but Lara wouldn’t sign it because she can get to the top. Mrs. Baxter in the library said a bad word (I mouth ‘Damn!’) when Todd Taylor brought in a worm, while I checked ‘Stuart Little’ and ‘The Cricket In Times Square’ – and then Todd dropped his library book on the worm and it turned into like 50 worms!” I exclaimed. “It was soooo icky!” 

“Alright That’s enough” says my mother, “Or I’m going to upchuck”

 “Oh for godsakes- it’s fine!” insists my father. 

“Yes, Bob, it’s fine!…We have one story about a child bleeding out, and another about smashed worms! What’s next? Murder?” says my mom.

“Well- let’s SEE!” says my father,turning towards my little brother.

“David? Whatch ya got?” he asks.

It looks like I’ve been Kanye’d. No one’s gonna let me finish! And I had killer knock-knock jokes lined up!

“Yo, Lisa! I’m really happy for you. Imma let you finish but David put his coat in the cubby by himself!

David is only five, in kindergarten and doesn’t really understand the “Hunger Games’ type stakes he’s up against. Every night he acts like he doesn’t know ‘School Report’ is going to happen. You can tell by the quality of his ‘stories’.

“I put my jacket in my cubby all by myself” he says – and practically gets a standing ovation by my parents.

“Oh, that’s great!”

“That a boy!” says my dad- whistling. “Good job!”

This is because he hung a jacket on a hook! Not even a hanger. A hook!

Had my parents had Zippo lighters at the table, they might have held them high and called for an encore. Then David could have stood up, leaned over in a bow, tied his shoelaces and sent the parent crowd into a frenzy!

Regardless of story, the younger you were, the more you got congratulated on everything. And I was the oldest. I put such effort into my school reports -cherry picking the best-of’s from the day, but it wasn’t exactly appreciated.

It’s hard to be a headliner, when you’re surrounded by openers who think they’re the draw, and the kind of management that sends everyone onstage willy-nilly. Still, I kept giving it my best shot, and every once in awhile, it was like magic. Like Carlin in the 7o’s, only not a millionth as good. 

 

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