Steve Martin had this bit a long time ago where he said that if you had a three year old kid you could play a dirty joke on him by talking wrong to him whenever you’re together. That way when the kid got to kindergarten and raised his hand, he would say something like, “Ma mambo dogface in the banana patch,” apropos of nothing. That’s pretty much the joke, and I find it funny because I think I have inadvertently played this trick on my kids.

One example of this trick comes whenever my three year old son wears a particular pair of pyjamas. They’ve got a space shuttle and an astronaut on them and my wife has convinced him the astronaut is a picture of Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut who made videos of himself in the International Space Station. However, whenever I put them on my son, I can’t help but notice the words “Spaceman” written just below the astronaut. And whenever I see that word “Spaceman” I can’t help but sing the first song on this clip from the BBC television show, the Office (start at 0:56):

My kids now know the song and sing it unironically with me. Only my wife’s reaction has made them suspicious that the song isn’t meant to be sincere. However, it’s difficult to explain to a three year old why a song like “Spaceman Came Down” is silly. Nevertheless, he know’s it’s silly just because of my wife’s reaction to the song.

A few days ago, I was riding the bus with my son back home from a shopping trip downtown. When we reached Hastings and Carrall street I noticed this man I’ve known for a long time from the neighbourhood named John waiting at the bus stop. My son and I were sitting near the front of the bus on the right side so I prepared myself mentally to talk with John. I hadn’t seen him in quite a while and am never sure of his mental state at any given moment.

I’m also never sure if he’ll even recognize me. About ten years ago, I remember having a conversation with another friend of mine who remarked how amazing it is that John is still alive. He’s HIV+, suffers from schizophrenia, and smokes crack every time he takes his prescription meds in order to “get his spirit back.” If he doesn’t die of AIDS or drugs, it could just as easily be from a drug deal gone bad or being hit by a car due to his perpetual state of quasi-oblivian. So I was mentally preparing myself for any type of encounter or even him not recognizing me. And then, when the doors to the bus opened, John snuck in the back door without paying.

I figured that the driver had had him as a passenger before and that John was likely not staying on the bus long enough to leave the neighbourhood so the driver didn’t care much. Sure enough, two stops later, at Hastings and Main, John got off the bus through the same door he came in on.

I watched him walk back and forth at the stop. He picked up an already smoked cigarette from the pavement and lit it. He took a puff and his cheeks caved in on his toothless skull. And then he looked right at me and his eyes lit up. He waved right at me and started talking really loudly. I waved back and said, “Hey John!”

“Who’s that?” my son asked as John continued to say something I couldn’t quite hear.

“Oh, that’s an old friend of mine,” I said.

“The one that does the Lego pictures?” my son asked, and I laughed out loud at the thought. I have a friend from high school who takes amusing and creative photographs of Lego people and posts them on his Instagram account. I’ve shown them to my son before and somehow he got these two very different people mixed up. It was funny to me to compare my straight laced friend from suburban Dallas to John on the streets of the city, but after reflecting on it, his assumption makes sense. I must have described my friend who takes the Lego pictures as “an old friend of mine.” And really, who’s to say that John couldn’t do something similar?


About azlewis

I'm an academic living in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. I also teach at a local seminary.
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