Tuesday, January 20, 2009
A Boy Named Pizza
They were obsessive. Every morning, every night, breakfast time, dinnertime, in the car, in the tub, everywhere...
"Dad, can you tell us another story?". J-Dawg was four, A-Roq was three. I was flattered, in a way; this must mean my stories are pretty good, I thought. But other times, staggering in mentally exhausted from the studio, I would sometimes think, What am I, Hans Christian Andersen? I need some peace - please!
But I figured that those enchanting days wouldn't last, and so I always tried to indulge my two little boys. I was a pretty new dad - not the grizzled veteran I am now (:P) - and hell, I was enjoying the adventure. So I was always on the lookout for new story ideas - in the paper, in magazines, on TV. I'd get an idea and adapt it so they would understand.
Sometimes the stories were true; most of the time, I would invent stories, about little boys with a pet dinosaur, or performing some heroic mission as a soldier, or sailing off in search of lost treasure. I remember one story series from when J-Dawg and A-Roq were six and five, which I entitled "The Silver Dragon". It was about a boy who became the assistant to a samurai warrior in medieval Japan. The boy's master was the most fearsome warrior in the whole army; but then the master fell desperately ill and couldn't fight anymore. Knowledge of this would cause the army to lose heart, and their enemies to gain confidence, so it had to be kept secret. The master tried to get better, but only got sicker, with the army continuing to send messages for him to come and help them.
Fearing death and worried about the fate of the army, the master finally came up with a plan. He had seen his assistant's devotion and intelligence. In fact, the boy seemed very special indeed - the master had never seen his equal. So he decided there was only one way to help the army: teach his young assistant all the secret tricks to being the ultimate samurai swordsman, and then send the boy out wearing his armour (disguised as his master) to fight in his stead.
Each night, the story advanced; it just seemed to write itself; and J-Dawg and A-Roq, along with T-Bone, who was just getting old enough to understand, would listen in rapt silence as the master taught his pupil everything. "To be fast, you must be slow"; "to be strong, you must be weak"; "to succeed, you must fail": the master would always start his lessons with a contradiction, but would then go on to explain just what he meant, and how it really made sense.
Finally, one day as the boy sparred with another servant, the master realized the boy was ready. End of the story is, the boy goes on to be a hero, and becomes known as the "The Silver Dragon", etc.
But that was not the most successful story I ever came up with. It was one night, after dinner, when the boys began clamouring for another story, another story, another story...I just couldn't think of anything else. I'd exhausted every last story idea I had floating round in my head, and I was totally blank. And then I remember very distinctly, just starting yet another one with no idea where it would go:
"Okay, here's another one. Once upon a time there was a boy named..."
And in that split second, a word came out:
"...there was a boy named Pizza".
I remember the look on the boys's faces. They were suddenly dumbstruck, their eyes wider than ever in excitement and anticipation. Total silence.
Wow. Maybe I have something here...
"Pizza was five years old, with red hair and freckles. And....um....Pizza was a very, very naughty boy".
I glanced at them. A-Roq sucking his thumb, eyes still wide, J-Dawg, riveted gaze...
"One day, Pizza went out to the garage where his dad was working on the car. All of a sudden, the phone rang. Pizza's daddy said, "Okay Pizza, I have to go get the phone. Make sure you don't touch anything in here. Just stay right there and I'll be back in a second. Okay?'"
"'Okay', said Pizza".
"Pizza's dad walked through the door and into the kitchen. Pizza was now all alone in the garage...and he started to think about how cool it would be to drive a car around all by himself. 'I can hardly wait till I grow up', he thought to himself".
"And the more Pizza thought about how cool it would be to drive, the more he wanted to sit in the front seat of the car and pretend, until finally, he decided that it would be okay if he just snuck into the front seat, just for a second, to pretend to drive the car. So he opened up the door and slipped in. 'Vrrrm vrmmm!', said Pizza. He moved the steering wheel back and forth. He had seen his dad turn the car keys a bunch of times, and decided he was going to pretend to start the car just like him."
"But.....just as Pizza put his fingers on the keys, he sneezed; his hand shook and he turned the keys by accident - and the car started!"
The boys remained rapt.
"And then Pizza got super scared. Maybe he was going to get in trouble. So he tried to turn the keys so as to turn the car off, but as he was fiddling around, he accidentally knocked the car's gear shift into reverse! The car started going backwards! Pizza tried to put his foot on the brake like he'd seen his dad do, but by accident, he put his foot on to the GAS! And the car suddenly jolted backwards and smashed right through their garage door! OH NO!"
By the end of the story, Pizza had smashed over fire hydrants, driven off a bridge, been chased by sharks, gotten hit by a passing freighter, got taken to a hospital where he disobeyed the nurse's instructions by hanging out the window to look down below, whereupon he fell into the back of an open garbage truck and was then deposited at the city dump covered in rotting slime, had to walk home freezing and injured all night, had broken his left arm, bleeding lip, and all because he hadn't obeyed his dad (subsequent stories would include mom).
I finished the story with Pizza lying his bed with a cast on his arm, bandages around his head, with a black eye, with his mom and dad saying, "Pizza...we love you, but you must remember: when we ask you to obey us, it's for your own good. Please be a good little boy now, and go right to sleep. Please don't try to walk around - your leg is injured. Call us if you need something, but whatever you do, don't get up and try to walk around".
I stopped talking.
About five seconds passed. And then, all hell broke loose.
"DAD CAN YOU TELL US ANOTHER STORY ABOUT PIZZA WANNA PIZZA STORY DAD PLEASE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT DAD PLEASE TELL US ANOTHER PIZZA STORY CAN YOU TELL ME A STORY ABOUT PIZZA PLEASE"
And as God is my witness, I was hounded by those two for like the next, I would say, three solid years, for more Pizza stories. It never got old (for them anyway). It was really the same story over and over: Pizza's mom or dad would ask him to do something perfectly sensible, his curiosity would get the best of him, he would decide it was okay to disobey, one thing would lead to another, and by the end of the story, he would have been grabbed and taken away by gigantic eagles, been framed for a bank robbery, captured by Malaysian pirates, drafted into the Iranian army, would have crashed a motorcycle into a train, slipped down eight flights of stairs and knocked his teeth out...and J-Dawg and A-Roq's appetite for cosmic retribution for disobedience (or maybe I should just say, their appetite for perversity) seemed limitless, and we ended up spending hours laughing at how ridiculous the stories got.
And now, a decade later, my little boys Sno-cone and Trixta, six and three, continue to pester me to tell them Pizza stories (my little girls aren't as keen on Pizza stories...).
One day, maybe I'll write up a few and pitch them to a publisher...but then, it's hard to believe I'd ever get anywhere. What school librarian would ever recommend books about a really bad boy who winds up strapped to the outside of a submerging submarine, or being trampled by a herd of goats, or falling down a manhole into the city sewer?