We sit down to the expanded energy footprint we have bought, and we unwrapped the hamburger and cheeseburger, free the toy from its plastic sack, open the box and take out the fries, open the plastic bottle and insert the plastic straw through the plastic top of the sprite cup, and go through the comestibles. Ah, two catchup packets. Adam tries to open one of them, but I lend a hand, finally. He’s getting the hang of the knife and fork business, and easily strips the paper from the straw, but opening those sacks that have been carefully pre-perforated for easy opening, with the arrows pointing to the appropriate place to grab, still evades his tool sense, his understanding of affordances. I am thinking, as I always think at Old McDonalds, how can all this stuff be so cheap? Adam takes a satisfied look at the table, turns to me, and says, “thanks, my distinguished pal.”
Adam is now five and 10 months, and he has been learning all about linguistic affordances, in both English and French. Of course, part of that is understanding words and grammar. But it also means getting your tongue around catch phrases. Which proliferate, the age of YouTube.
My distinguished pal. Did he pick this up from Bugs Bunny, or Scooby Doo, or Tom and Jerry, or the horror shows – tales of the cryptkeeper, the Haunting Hour, Goose Bumps – that we, his permissive parents, have allowed him to see? I don’t see the harm, although when he sat at the table at his grandparents’ house a few days ago and said that he wanted a motorcycle, a black helmet, sunglasses like a movie star, a black shirt with a skull on it, and to join a motorcycle gang, I had a few qualms. The gang reference came from Scooby Doo. Adam thought the whole point of the gang was to roll up your t shirt sleeves so that you showed your shoulder. He thought that would be a hilarious thing to do. I had to agree.
My distinguished pal. When I was young, it was of course an unrelenting stream of tv – old movies, rerun tv series, cartoons. And I still, in an age where I am definitely past my sell-by date, remember some of them. I remember, for instance, Newton, the Centaur, calling out for Herc Herc Hercules. I remember seeing a gangster move with James Cagney, at the end of which he died, clutching his stomach and moaning, is this the end of Rico? I must have died like Rico a hundred times, over chairs, on sofas, in the dining room, in the living room, in the back yard. Each time was as fun as the first time.
Every life is full of muses. We just don’t recognize them, or trace their obscure workings and wendings as they sink into our lives. My distinguished pal.