Talk about niche programming. From somewhere along a particularly narrow stretch of The Long Tail comes this, a video blog series in which a Hollywood guy with a darling little chin beard chats about the glories of kickball from behind the wheel of a tidy subcompact. It’s a movable talk show. About kickball.
It’s called the View from Home Plate, which is really a misnomer since it’s actually a view from a dashboard, where a kickballer known as Pigpen positions his Betacam for a self-produced rant about kickball. Episode number one was my favorite, centering as it did on a call to reduce the competitiveness in organized kickball. So speaketh Pigpen:
Amen, brother. In subsequent installments, Pigpen interviewed his girlfriend Kim (also a kickballer, and looking rather uncomfortable from her perch in the middle of Pigpen’s back seat) and chats about the exploits of his WAKA team, the Pregnant Cheerleaders.
Related juicy tidbit: friend of mine plays on a WAKA team in the Hollywood division and reports that one of her teammates is a bonafide celeb: Brandon Routh, the guy who plays Superman in Brian Singer’s “Superman Returns.” Seems he’s a dedicated infielder, tho he did have to sit out a few games recently because of an injury. Boo hoo, Man of Steel, boo hoo!
08.30.06 Guest Blogger Gaga for Streetplay
In an effort to expand the number of voices on this blog (and to improve my too-often piss-poor posting frequency), I’ve asked a few kindred spirit rejuveniles to toss me an occasional Guest Blog. Couldn’t be happier that first to jump at offer was none other than the Guru of Fun himself, Bernie DeKoven. Here are some of his thoughts on the New York-based kidgame collective Streetplay:
There’s a lot of reminiscing going on about how kids used to play back in the days when kids were kids. It’s a good kind of reminiscing, a sweet nostalgia for the inventiveness and irrepressible, undeniable spirit of play. Unfortunately, we almost always follow those moments of wistful wonder with the conclusion that kids nowadays just don’t do those kind of things, and neither do we.
Streetplay is a faith-restoring site - restoring our faith both in our memories of childhood, and in grown-uphood itself. Streetplay’s collections of photographs documenting actual kids in actual play, here, and around the world, yesterday, and today, provides us with incontrovertible evidence of the ubiquitousity of the playful spirit.
Then again, there’s the nostalgia part. Surely you didn’t forget those long summer afternoons playing Stickball? And who could forget Halfball? Or, for that matter, Skully? Reading about those games, seeing the photos and film clips, even if you never played them, is a journey into the past, present, and what can easily become your personal future of fun. It not only documents what we used to do, it reminds us that we can still do those things, that we have a heritage to pass on to our children and children’s children. And our children, and children’s children have a heritage to pass on back to us.
This is a remarkable site. Rich in depth and detail, preserving and nurturing a wealth of rock solid invitations to play. It is free. You can help support the site by purchasing cool stuff from their store. There are no advertisements. A genuine gift to us all.
08.29.06 Ball Pit (Formerly Sweet Spots)
Herewith, your semi-regular helping of shorts and briefs and assorted rejuvenile tidbits:
• Crazy-smart, super-articulate blogger Michelle Klein-Hass wrote a terrific response to my rumination on rejuveniles and lifespans, and expands on the why’s and wherefores of the rejuvenile impulse on her blog. She also contributes to a podcast called Cartoon Geeks and a site called Toonmag. Count me deeply impressed.
• Did you know the average man burns 582 calories in a single game of kickball? Or that women shed 357 calories? That’s almost enough to cover a single chocolate peanut butter cucake from Joan’s on Third… Statistics culled from story today on Illinois kickball scene in Rockford Register Star.
• New York rejuveniles, especially those with kids of their own, will find plenty of tips for good times in this weekend service story in New York Post. Get the 411 on local dodgeball games, roller rinks, spelling bees and kiddie food emporiums (Only in Gotham could you find eateries specializing in mac-and-cheese, flavored peanut butter and cereal).
• More news-you-can-use for New York rejuveniles in Time Out New York, which just did a package on “avant-nerds,” their name for hipsters with a taste for the bizarrely childish. Among the upcoming avant-nerdy attractions: concert series devoted to video game music, the Williamsburg Spelling Bee and a group of sci-fi geeks who wage versions of capture the flag using plastic lightsabers. Cool.
• The normally quite conservative Washington Times (are they still owned by the Moonies?) did an uncharacteristically hip story titled “Playfully Adult” about the book and within-the-beltway rejuveniles. Proof that the rejuvenile impulse is not exclusive to progressively-minded “avant nerds”: profile of 49-year-old skate rat who also happens work for Utah Republican Orrin Hatch.
08.25.06 Rejuveniles and Lifespans
How long do you expect to live? When you imagine your death—at 30 in a fiery car wreck or at 90 in a comfy bed surrounded by adoring grandchildren—does this change how you live your life now?
Most people I suspect don’t give much thought to their eventual death. It’s upsetting. At the same time, our general expectation of how long we have left to live is a powerful influence on the choices we make and how we see ourselves. When we feel time is short, we tend to stop circling around and plop down in the available chair.
All of which helps explain one of the big “whys” of the rejuvenile phenomenon: Why are so many adults now acting like kids, whereas adults of 30 years ago leapt into fully adult roles the first chance they got?
I’m asked this question a lot, and mostly I talk about the role of the media in shaping identity and our response to an uncertain and anxious world. But one big factor that’s easy to forget is lengthening lifespans. Adults today can expect o live a full 30 years longer than they could a hundred years ago. Notwithstanding an anvil from the sky, environmental collapse or nuclear catastrophe, our lives appear to keep getting longer. Futurists quoted in a story on rejuveniles by Orange County Register reporter Jane Haas this week said some of today’s babies will live to be 125.
With the endpoint so far off in the distance, it’s no wonder so many of us are choosing to stay in formation and reject pressures to plunge into the permanent. Our increased lifespans have led developmental psychologists to rethink textbook lifestage categories, proposing that adulthood doesn’t even begin until 40 and that people between 55-75 are best described as “middle aged.” According to this new developmental thinking, you’re not “elderly” until you hit 95.
Then again, perhaps such projections are too academic to have any real effect. What do you think? When do you expect to die? Are you more of a rejuvenile because death seems so far off?
Posted at 9:28 am in 2 Comments
08.23.06 Twilight Rejuvenile
Figures Rod Serling would’ve mined the rejuvenile meme 40 years before the idea occurred to anyone else.
A 1962 episode of Mr. Serling’s The Twilight Zone is startling in its foreshadowing of the rejuvenile phenomenon. “Kick the Can” stars Ernest Truex as Charlie, an elderly occupant of the Sunnyvale Rest Home, which Serling describes as “a dying place for those who have grown too stiff in their thinking.”
Looking out his window at a gang of kids playing in on a wooded hillside, Charlie formulates a theory: “All kids play those games. The minute they stop playing, they grow old.”
And so, in a gambit reenacted more recently by the adult champions of kid games like kickball, tag and rock paper scissors, Charlie attempts to recruit his fellow codgers into a game of kick the can, or at least a quick run through the sprinklers. He’s rebuffed and told he’s “gone sloppy.” “Face it, you’re old,” a peevish friend hollers. “You’re used up!”
But Charlie is undaunted, rallying his housemates with the declaration that kid games hold magical power:
You can guess what happens next. Charlie leads a group outside and starts up a game; when his pal goes looking for him, he discovers the old folks have vanished and been replaced by a mob of go-lucky bambinos.
It’s all played as high drama and arch surrealism, as if adults playing kid games was so fundamentally bizarre it might actually tear a hole in the veil of reality and reverse the aging process. Of course now that we’re living in a world where adults are free to rediscover kid games, we’re confronted with a more mundane but interesting realization: play won’t turn us into kids again, but it might just make us more playful adults.
It’s no wonder, then, that Steven Spielberg chose this episode to remake for the dismal 1983 feature film adaptation. Spielberg is of course a rejuvenile titan – he’s right up there with Walt Disney in his ability to create entertainment that crosses the generational divide (or as critic Robin Wood describes it, “surrendering to the reactiviation of a set of values and structures my adult self has long since repudiated”). It’s interesting, though, how forgettable Spielberg’s take on “Kick the Can” is now, and how badly his rejuvenile epic Hook turned out – seems he got into trouble with a direct, on-the-nose treatment of the forever-young ideal. When it comes to making rejuvenile entertainment, it might just be you’re better off creeping up from the side (E.T.) or practicing a little razzle dazzle (Indiana Jones)…
BTW, does anyone actually know how to play kick the can? Is it any fun?
Posted at 9:57 am in 2 Comments
08.17.06 Sweet spots
The first step, they say, is acceptance. I admit it: I simply can’t keep up with all the developments on the rejuvenile frontier.
I’ve come to dread opening up my ongoing file of potential blog topics – it’s overflowing with media updates, stray anecdotes left out of the book, and cool little odds & ends that variously capture the rejuvenile spirit. It’s simply outrageous I haven’t written about cupcakes until now. And how could I have remained mum on neoteny, or treehouses, or video games? Criminal, I tell you.
I might give all these topics their due if I didn’t have other stuff to attend to (high on my to-do list: #1) take care of three kids, #2) reconnect with shell-shocked TV producer wife and, oh yeah, 3) write next book). But in the meantime, it seems clear I need a more expedient way of distributing these goodies.
Thus, welcome to sweet spots, a recurring section of short little descriptions and links. (Is that name too cutesy? Maybe I’ll take a cue from the Weeds theme song this year and change the title every week. Trinkets? Free Prize Inside? Snack Time? Clean Your Room? Anyone?)
Anyhow, here’s a few spots that are sweet:
• The Lovely Mrs. Davis is a kindred spirit, work-at-home mom, and grade-A rejuvenile with a fine ear for quality kid music, classic kids TV and other assorted media pleasures. I’m thrilled she got in touch, and further grateful for her tips about kid music blogs Spare the Rock and Zooglobble.
• The Contra Costa Times published a terrific piece today on the book and Bay Area rejuveniles, including the incomparable Richard Tuck.
• Chicago writer Rod O’Connor wrote a wonderful feature for the front page of the Sunday Style section of the Chicago Tribune last week on the book, including some nuanced analysis and great profiles of local rejuveniles, including a guy obsessed with electronic football (remember that?).
08.16.06 The Cupcake Press Speaks!
In a world of vast uncertainty, here’s a rock-solid guarantee: spend five minutes scrolling through this Blog and your salivary glands will start squirting like a SuperSoaker.
Five minutes more and a weird rush of dizzy expectant energy will begin rushing from your tummy-region to your fingers and toes. Five minutes more and you’ll be scrambling for your car keys and heading toward that fancy new neighborhood boutique bakery that’s doing an astonishingly brisk business in… gourmet cupcakes. You know the one – Sprinkles (Oprah’s choice in Bev Hills) or Magnolia (The West Village shop immortalized in SNL’s “Lazy Sunday”) or Love at First Bite (the Berkley boutique famous for its strawberry strewn Pretty in Pink).
With its vivid close-ups and gushing captions, Cupcakes Take the Cake (motto: “all cupcakes all the time”) is the Hustler Magazine for the cupcake crowd. Authors Rachel Kramer Bussel, Alizinha and Nichelle are hot n’ savvy New Yorkers who serve up the most exotic and gorgeous kiddie deserts ever devised – from the junky “care bears cupcake” that would cause conniptions in a four-year-old to a sublime “green tea, lavender and honey bombe” (pictured here) suited for the most urbane chowhound.
The charming Ms. Bussel recently contacted me with questions about how the surge in popularity of cupcakes relates to the rejuvenile phenomenon. She posted a transcript of our interview today… A quick excerpt:
08.14.06 Rejuvenile on Weeds
Shameless product placement tonight in the premiere of season two of the Showtime comedy Weeds – look for a copy of Rejuvenile in an opening scene.
How, you might well ask, did a semiserious nonfiction book about the changing meaning of adulthood end up in a cult comedrama about a suburban widowed pot-dealing mom?
Chalk it up to Hollywood nepotism – Weeds was created and is executive produced by my wife Jenji Kohan. Which also explains why I was the music supervisor on the first season (check out the soundtrack here) and appeared as a bear hunter in the pilot (I shot a real rifle! And spent some quality downtime with a brown bear named Misty!).
Notwithstanding all the personal connections, it’s an amazing show and is only getting better this season. Look for some fantastic plot twists, some great new music (including covers of the theme “Little Boxes” by Elvis Costello, Death Cab for Cutie and Regina Spektor) and at least three or four more appearances of that familiar yellow book. Here’s hoping some of the Weeds faithful join the ranks of the rejuvenile!
08.06.06 Minigolf, Seriously
My recent whirlwind tour of kidgames included one stop that wasn’t mentioned in my Salon story about adult players of rock paper scissors, tag and the like. I spent the last day of the trip in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina hanging out and playing with a few top players in the U.S. ProMiniGolf Associaiton.
Of all the games in my lineup, minigolf scared me the most. Less informed souls might think it unreasonable to feel anything but scorn for a sport so lightweight that none other than George W. Bush chose it to showcase his worthiness on his first date with Laura. But I knew better. I knew top players on the pro miniature golf circuit are so good they count it as a setback if they don’t hit a hole in one – on every hole. I knew that top European competitors, players like fearsome Swede Hans Olofsson and Czech wunderkind Olivia Prokopova, travel with padded humidors packed with temperature-controlled balls of various spin, bounce and firmness. To these masters of minigolf, the sport is anything but child’s play.
And now I was facing Chris Carpenter, the course record holder on what is known as “the Augusta of Miniature Golf.” Sure, Carpenter wasn’t on the level of those formidable Europeans, who favor the more rigidly standardized “putt-putt” form of minigolf, which is played on concrete and composite with nary a windmill or garden gnome in sight. In America, home of the more fanciful “adventure golf” variation, the purses are much smaller – prizes at the big competitions rarely exceed three or four thousand dollars – and the top players squeeze tournaments in between their day jobs and family obligations, staying in cheap hotels in small resort towns. Superstar Tom Dixon is a long haul truck driver who arranges his routes around tournament dates, while champ Matt McCaslin is a bartender at the Olive Garden.
Most competitors don’t mind at all that their most fierce showdowns take place in places that look like garden-variety tourist traps. The Hawaiian Rumble sits on an extravagantly tacky strip of highway 17 and features a three-story gurgling volcano, a parrot cage at the entrance and paintball target practice out back. I’d do well, however, to look past the “eye candy,” said Bob Detwiler, owner of Hawaiian Rumble and all-around booster of professional, grown-up miniature golf. I was about to play, he said ominously, the same 18 holes that punished top players twice a year at the Masters and U.S. Open of Miniature Golf.
“This is not a silly game,” he insisted, prompting solemn nods from Chris and Dominic Munafo, a “young gun” in two-tone golf cleats recruited to round out our party of four. “People don’t take this as seriously as they should,” agreed Chris. “Totally,” said Dominic. “Make no mistake: this is an incredibly challenging game.”
As I laid down my ball on the rubber pad at the first hole, I said a silent prayer that I could somehow avoid looking like a complete retard.
And then a funny thing happened. My first shot rolled down a dip, banked off a corner and dropped, unbelievably, in the hole. Even more unbelievably, none of the pros managed the same trick.
I went on to hit two more holes-in-one and a bewildering succession of par-twos, my focus undeterred by the deafening roar of Harleys over the hibiscus on hole six and the splattering of an overflowing waterfall on hole sixteen. I only had one truly terrible hole, and that I blame on Bo the groundskeeper, who really should have fixed that dislodged brick on hole thirteen that some goodamn fool child had kicked out of place. Even with that blunder, I finished one stroke behind Bob and six behind the course-record holder Chris. And I beat Dominic.
I could hardly believe it. I’d held my own against a trio of pros, and actually finished ahead of a rising young star! All of which would have been way more exciting if Dominic hadn’t proceeded to ruin my fantasy by immediately falling into a deep mope and telling me how badly he felt about his performance, then taking me back to his family’s roadside ice cream parlor, proudly showing off an autographed photo of Vana White and talking at length about his so-far frustrated dreams of riding miniature golf all the way out of this town toward bigger and better things. When I looked down at my pink-headed putter and hit a shot, it was a goof. But when Dominic took a shot, he pictured himself as his hero, fellow leftie Phil Mickelson: “Every time I’m out here I’m thinking of Phil, lining up a putt on eighteen against Tiger Woods,” he said, eyes downcast as he shared his secret passion. “I’m not really athletic, but at least I can do well in this.” To Dominic, miniature golf is a dream of greatness. And today, I’d helped diminish those dreams. “I guess I just got nervous,” he said sheepishly.
08.03.06 Like Father, Like Son
It’s been a profoundly weird week, what with the coast-to-coast heat wave, the escalating crisis in the Mid-East… and the crackup of a certain Malibu movie star. As much as I’d like to keep my head down focused on all things rejuvenile, I’m compelled to take a quick break from such crucial matters as kickball tournaments and adult pajama parties to add another two cents to the frenzy surrounding Mel Gibson’s D.U.I. freakout.
Mel didn’t talk to me directly, but a month before my story appeared, he went on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show to complain about “a media attack” on his pro-Christian message. He capped it with a direct message to yours truly: “You can pick on me,” he said. “But like, if you start picking on my family while I’m out of town, get ready.” The appearance was followed by threatening letters to me, my editors and my father from Mel’s lawyer, a celebrity litigator nicknamed “Mad Dog.”
The ensuing brouhaha mostly left me mystified. When all was said and done, Mel made his millions and became a hero to conservative critics (See: Dennis Prager, Peter Boyer, Michael Medved), who defended him against charges of anti-Semitism and begged tolerance for a filmmaker who had, according to the official line, had a mid-life reckoning that left him happily sober and tolerant for people of all faiths. His public appearances, however, told a different story: appearing on O’Reilly and later with Diane Sawyer, Mel appeared just as unstrung and unstable as the wild-eyed cop he played in the Lethal Weapon movies.
So which was it? Was Mel a man of God whose canny manipulation of the media ensured his message of salvation reached the widest possible audience? Or was he his father’s son, a bitter and conspiracy-addicted loony tune?
Three years later, we have our answer. Deputy James Mee’s police report on Mel’s drunken tirade sounds like a page ripped from one of Hutton’s anti-Catholic screeds, a hateful blend of grandiosity (“Fucking Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world”) and street-thug aggression (“You motherfucker, I’m going to fuck you”).
I’m hesitant to play along with the mass schadenfreude now fueling the unfolding psychodrama, but a few points seem to have been lost in the current frenzy. The most important of which is this: Mel and his father are not Catholics. While his handlers have expertly positioned Mel as a hero for red state churchgoers, traditionalism is an outright rejection of any deviation from the strict Catholic liturgy. To many traditionalists, the Catholic Church is nothing less than a hive of idolatry and the fount of a worldwide conspiracy in which the Jews play a prominent and nefarious part.
These sentiments are clearly echoed in Mel’s D.U.I. encounter with the cops. As hard as his defenders try to write the episode off as a drunken rant, Mel’s rantings weren’t plucked from thin air. They’re regurgitations of words Hutton Gibson uttered lo those many moons ago in Houston: “The deliberately trashed our faith,” he told me. “What they did to the mass is pure evil. This couldn’t have happened by accident. It was a Masonic plot backed by the Jews.”
According to Gibson, the conspiracy has played a part in everything from the Civil War to the Holocaust to the 9-11 attacks. Here are a few excerpts from my interview transcripts:
Crazy stuff, absolutely, easy to write off as the fever dream of a fringe-dwelling crackpot. But the real question was, and is, how much of dad’s hateful theorizing rubbed off on his most famous son? I never assumed that Hutton spoke for Mel, but it’s worth noting that Mel never repudiated his father’s remarks and danced around the matter in presumably more sober public appearances.
In any case, Mel is now in rehab and his publicist Alan Nierob (ironically, the son of holocaust survivors and a congregant at the Temple where my kids go to school) released a statement this week begging forgiveness from the Jewish community. I sincerely hope this latest attempt to clarify and correct his religious views is sincere. Somehow, though, I think we learned more about what really matters to Mel from Mee than Nierob.
Posted at 10:25 am in 2 Comments
08.03.06 Rejuvenile Vacations
USA Today did a snappy piece last week on “rejuvenile vacations” – that is, holidays designed to unleash the inner kid. Part of me worries about the cross-generational phenomenon described in the book being reduced to a travel-agency package-deal buzzword (“Doris! Book me one of them rejuvie vacations in Boca!”), but it’s certainly true that vacations are often the only time adults shed their grown-up selves and let themselves enjoy activities they loved before they “grew up,” be they sipping fizzy florescent drinks or building sandcastles.
So yes, by all means, rejuvenile vacations. On the extravagant side, you’ve got your ultimate pajama parties and your “sleepover suites” complete with pink décor and karaoke machines. You can also go all-out at a place like Camp GetAway, a weekend camp in California’s San Bernardino mountains especially for women seeking a break from their jobs and husbands for a week racing canoes, flinging toilet paper and, in a vast improvement on the summer camps of yesteryear, massages and margaritas. Or you can finally fulfill teenage Rock God dreams at a fantasy camp where adults jam with grizzled rockers and hang out for a week at recording studios and nightclubs.
I myself am heading to a summer camp in Vermont next week that includes a terrific program for kids and simultaneous activities for parents. Thus while my three kids hike through the woods or ride the banana boat around Lake Champlain, my wife and I might be out skeet shooting or mountain biking or doing arts and crafts. Then we all get together and bounce on the trampoline. It’s pretty close to heaven.
What do we get out of such silliness? Hopefully we return to our normal adult routines refreshed and loosened and enlivened. Hopefully we find ways to maintain that energy when we get home. Hopefully we have the sort of fun that doesn’t distinguish between our adult and childlike halves, with the adult doing the work and the kid having the fun. Because that’s a recipe for low-grade schizophrenia, or at least majorly un-fun anxiety. It’s worth remembering that despite the talk of unleashing inner children and reclaiming the joys of childhood, rejuveniles don’t actually want to be kids again. We’ve just finally grown up enough to appreciate all the stuff we missed the first time around.