Volume 3, Issue 89: It's Just That Simple
"In my head, the time didn't make a ripple."
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When I was a kid, Christmas was wonderful, but Christmas break was most decidedly not. Christmas, after all, was just one day. Christmas break was three weeks long. On Christmas, you got to open presents. On Christmas break, you just did chores. My father wasn’t going to let me sit around and watch television all day, which meant every day was packed with responsibilities, from shoveling the driveway (ours and those of elderly neighbors), to washing the car to sweeping out the garage to gathering firewood to burning the trash (I know burning trash is an environmentally irresponsible practice that has been justifiably banned but I have to say there is no better chore to give a preteen boy than to put a sack of stuff in a barrel and burn it). There was no “break” over Christmas break. There was just my dad, giving me stuff to do. And he was a lot tougher about it than my teachers were. I relive those Christmas (and summer) breaks every day as an adult: I will never feel any work is done quite right until Dad approves.
One Christmas break, a couple of months after my 13th birthday in 1988, I was in the backyard, wearing long underwear, two coats and gloves that were bigger than my arm, breaking cement off old pieces of bricks so we could reuse them, when Dad came out from the garage. He had a funny look on his face.
“Hey, try to get done by 3 p.m.,” he said. “If we’re done by then, we’ll watch ‘Geraldo.’”
This was a strange thing for my father to say. The only thing my father watched on TV were Cardinals games, Illini games and “M*A*S*H*.” He certainly wasn’t one to watch tabloid television. Today Geraldo Rivera is known as another of the weird old guys on Fox News, albeit the one with the best abs, but in 1988, he was the host of “Geraldo,” a syndicated daily panel show that sort of was the transitional program between “The Oprah Winfrey Show”/“Donahue”-type shows and the “Jerry Springer”/”Sally Jessy Raphael” gleeful trash that was coming. (I actually wrote my junior high end-of-year Enrichment English paper on Tabloid TV, focusing mostly on Morton Downey Jr. I strove for high art, even back then.) His “Geraldo” show was ostensibly about “issues,” but it was really just people on opposite sides of an issue screaming at each other, which is to say it was probably ahead of its time.
I had no idea why Dad would want to suddenly watch “Geraldo,” a show I had presumed he despised, and I definitely didn’t understand why it was so important to do so that specific day. When I went inside for a bathroom break, I grabbed the TV Guide—ask your parents, kids—and looked up the synopsis for that day’s program.
GERALDO (3 p.m. WCIA). Talking to your children about sex. Geraldo brings in experts to discuss the right ways to introduce your children to the birds and the bees, and how to educated them without scaring them away.
I am not sure I have ever worked more slowly in my life. I stared at my calculator watch as it approached 3 p.m. like a man facing the gallows. This is how this was going to happen? Geraldo? I was 13 years old, which means of course I was absolutely certain I did not need any sort of sex talk even though I had absolutely no idea what sex was or how it worked. (A friend’s parents had told him sex was “like a hug, except it takes longer and you’re tired afterward,” which I suppose is true.) But whatever I did or didn’t know, I sure as shit didn’t want to sit with my Dad watching Geraldo as he explains it to me.
At 2:55, Dad came outside.
“You done?” he said. “Show’s about on.”
“Nope,” I said. “Sorry, I’m way behind. Don’t have time. Sorry.”
He looked over my shoddy work and shook his head. “Oh well,” he said. “You can finish it tomorrow. Come inside.”
I slouched my way toward the patio door as “Taps” played. I took off my boots, unpeeled my layers and poured a glass of milk. My dad took something out of the microwave. “Jeez, Dad, you made popcorn?”
We sat on the couch and I wondered if there were any way I could hide between the cushions, or, if I got a running start, I could crash through the front window and run screaming into the road. Dad sat in his E-Z chair, tossing popcorn into his mouth with a big grin on his face. I was doomed.
Then the show began, with a warning:
THE FOLLOWING PROGRAM FEATURES VIOLENCE AND STRONG LANGUAGE. PARENTAL DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
It turned out that the TV Guide had been wrong. This was not an episode about talking to your kids about sex. It was that episode of “Geraldo,” then one where where there was a massive fight and people started throwing chairs and punching each other. Geraldo ended up getting his nose broken, and it launched a national conversation about Tabloid TV that ended up on the cover of Newsweek.
Dad hadn’t wanted to talk to me about sex. He just wanted to watch Geraldo get his nose broken. “Yeah!” I yelled, and Dad said, “Right?” I walked to the kitchen, got a small bowl, walked over to Dad and filled my bowl with his popcorn. Then we sat and watched and laughed and laughed and laughed.
A few months later, my mother tried to talk to me about sex by making me watch a “Nova” special about it. All I remember from the special was an extreme closeup of the moment of conception that had all the eroticism, warmth and emotional depth of a ship docking at a space station. It was super gross. When it was over, she came into the room and asked me if I had any questions, and I said no and ran outside as fast as I could.
I took the boys to see The Eternals on Thursday. The movie is not good: It’s a little shocking how awful it is, not just because it’s directed by Chloe Zhao (Nomadland, and, even better, The Rider) but also because it’s even boring and terrible at doing the Marvel movie things that studio usually has a base level of competence for. (It feels like one of those movies where a lot of small good ideas added up to one very bad one.) One thing I love about going to movies with kids, as someone who writes and talks about movies semi-professionally, is that they cannot hide their feelings about a movie while they are watching it. By the end of The Eternals, they had slumped so far down in their seats they were nearly on the floor.
But there is one thing different about this Marvel movie: There is a sex scene. Now, this is the most chaste sex scene imaginable: Two superheroes (who have zero chemistry with each other) lie on a dark sad beach, in the missionary position, and there is a mild implication that there might possibly be the slightest bit of light thrusting happening, maybe. It is as sexy as making toast in the microwave. But it is still a sex scene, the first one I’ve ever watched with my kids, and when it happened, I looked to see how each of them were reacting. Wynn, the younger one, was eating his candy and watching the movie like nothing different was happening, but William, who will turn 10 in two weeks, looked like someone had just set a puppy on fire right in front of him. He covered his eyes, he turned the opposite direction of the screen, he groaned like someone had punched him in the stomach. Without meaning to, I chuckled, and he glared at me—actively angry. I whispered an apology, and then, when the scene ended (and it mercifully only runs about five seconds), I said, “OK, you can look back now, it’s over.” He peeked his eyes out, saw the coast was clear, and returned to the movie. I have not brought it up since.
We are not at the point yet where we need to have the conversation. He is still not quite 10. But it is coming. He’s in the fourth grade, and there are fifth graders who already have “boyfriends” and “girlfriends,” who are already professing their love to each other over text, as if being that age and figuring this shit out wasn’t tough enough already. (The children in this house are not getting a phone until at least the seventh grade, and while emerging puberty isn’t the first reason why, it’s in the top five.) After fifth grade comes the madness and horrors of middle school, without question the most confusing and disorienting time in any kid’s life.
That is coming, and it is coming fast. He turns 10 in two weeks. The first decade of this child’s life has been, I think, a success. He is happy. He is engaged with the world. He smiles and laughs and has friends and studies hard and cares about things—wants to take the world in in big huge gulps. But the first decade is easy. The second decade is the hard part. The second decade brings with it all those scary changes and conflicting emotions and primal urges and thoughts you don’t know whether to be ashamed about or not and all the big decisions—all the thorny, hairy stuff. I don’t know how to warn him about what’s coming. I don’t know what to tell him to prepare him. I don’t know what I’m in for myself over the next decade. I can just hope he’s in a safe enough space to be able to navigate everything’s that’s going to get thrown at him. Was I? Was anyone?
I don’t know what’s in store for him, and his little brother, as they approach this part of their lives. You can just be there for them when you need them and leave them alone when they don’t. I don’t know if they’re prepared. But I’m pretty sure I’m not.
I can only hope there’s a moment where we can pause for a second, take a break from all that’s in front of us, of the world dissolving and rearranging itself every second, and just eat some popcorn, watch Geraldo get his nose broken and laugh and laugh and laugh.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
Almost All Your Complaints About the World Series Are Wrong, New York. Most of them are because you are old. (I am also old.)
The Next Seven Fanbases Desperately Desiring a World Series Title, MLB.com. Congratulations, Braves, you’re off this list.
You Can Just Ignore Trump, If You Want, Medium. It’s good for you. It really is.
So Your Kids Have Been Vaccinated. Now What? Medium. Legitimate question I think!
Your Friday Five Lists for November 1-5, Medium. Trying yet another Friday rubric.
My World Series Game Six Preview, MLB.com. This is the third-oldest of these.
My World Series Game Five Wrapup, MLB.com. This is the second-oldest of these.
My World Series Game Four Wrapup, MLB.com. This is the oldest one of these.
New podcast launch! It’s LZ Granderson and I, talking about sports, politics, culture and how they all intersect. It’s called “The Long Game With LZ and Leitch,” it comes out every Wednesday, and I think you will all really like it. And they’re actually promoting it! Look, they even made me a baseball card!
This week, we discussed The Chop, Joe Biden’s apparent lack of interest in sports culture and how you deal, if you’re, say, a Blackhawks fan, with the moral failings of your favorite teams. Please subscribe, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. And let me know what you think of the show.
Grierson & Leitch, discussing “Last Night in Soho,” “Antlers” and “The Souvenir Part Two.”
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, we recapped the Florida game and previewed the Missouri game, though I was not actually there for that taping because of a Little League game that took three hours.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“The Case for Climate Reparations,” David Wallace-Wells, New York. Read everything DWW writes, all the time.
GREAT MOVIE THAT’S NOT AVAILABLE ON STREAMING
Mississippi Masala, directed by Mira Nair. Featuring one of the great forgotten Denzel Washington performances, Mississippi Masala just had a revival at Lincoln Center in New York, but, uh, I don’t live in New York anymore and didn’t get to see it. It’s a wonderful movie, one that Hunter Harris did a terrific interview with Mira Nair about last year.
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
These are all headed your way, if you’ve been waiting for one, finally. I am officially 100 percent caught up.
Write me at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Die All Right,” The Hives. The Hives! Remember The Hives? The lead singer of the Hives is now on a Swedish game show. Huh! I really love this song, and it popped up on my playlist toward the end of the half-marathon a couple of weeks go and came very much in handy.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
We survived Halloween, which is really all you can ask from Halloween.
Have a great weekend, everyone.