14 3 / 2012
Boy Meets World
I am a jaded, cynical soul. World-weary even. I am weary of the world. That’s a terrible thing to admit about yourself, but there you have it. The world, after all, is a big place. There’s quite a lot of stuff in it to be weary of, much of it laudable. Bees, dogs, socks, velcro, tree-frogs, lolcats, piñatas, microwaves, Beyonce, skateboarding pets, people called Gary, metamorphic rocks, large hadron colliders, Lionel Messi’s left foot, wasabi flavoured Kit Kats, season three of Mad Men, chicken nuggets that look like George Washington, the angry trombone solo on Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out”… you get the gist.
As impressive as all that stuff is, however, none of it really gets my pulse racing anymore. I suppose part of this is a natural consequence of growing up. As I rapidly close in on middle age, there is a dwindling supply of new things for me to discover. I’m not saying I’ve experienced everything the world has to offer, but I do worry that I’ve done most of the good stuff already. I’ll never fly in a plane for the first time again. I’ll never build my first snowman again. I’ll never fall in love for the first time again. And I’ll never listen to Daft Punk’s Homework through a hallucinogen-smudged fog at a friend’s house party in the summer of 1997 again.
How long before I’m scraping the bottom of the experience barrel? I’ve never eaten an artichoke before, but I don’t hold much hope that it’s going to change my life. It would have to be a seriously amazing artichoke. Are artichokes ever amazing? They don’t look like they would be.
Even the things that you’re supposed to acquire a taste for later in life leave me underwhelmed and uninterested. Whisky? Meh. Jazz? Do be serious. Golf? Excuse me while I lose my shit. Is that really all I have to look forward to? Sipping sock-flavoured brown water in a clubhouse with men wearing tartan trousers discussing back pain to a soundtrack of atonal saxophone abuse. Is it any wonder most men go insane after they turn 40, hopelessly chasing new thrills, new cars and new girlfriends.
The glimmer of light amidst this rather depressing catalogue of ennui is of course, Albert. Not that he’s particularly amazing or anything. He isn’t. (The most exciting thing he can do right now is sit up on his own, which is only moderately more exciting than golf.) However I am very much enjoying being able to see the world afresh through his eyes. Even the most mundane objects suddenly become absurdly awesome in the presence of a baby. I like to walk around the house picking random things up and showing them to him. “Here, look at this. It’s a BANANA! Never seen one of those before, have you?!” And it will blow his mind. Not for him the weary cynicism of his father. No, he will hold that banana like an alien artefact, inspecting every square inch of it. He will put it in is mouth, shout at it, dribble on it, bash it on the floor – basically whatever he can to extract every ounce of information from its inscrutable, yellow mass. This game can carry on for hours. “Look, it’s a colander!” “Holy smoke, a doorstop!” “Fuck me, an empty yoghurt pot!” In Albert’s world, empty yoghurt pots are amazing. Imagine how exciting his life must be.
You get the biggest bang for your buck, however, with mirrors. Hold Albert in front of a mirror and you can practically see his brain melting. First he recognises your face in the reflection and gives you a big toothless smile. Then the penny drops and he slowly cranes his head up to look at you in real life. When he’s convinced you’re not an apparition his attention will shoot back to your doppelganger in the mirror, mouth agape, eyes wide. “What sorcery is this?!” I like to imagine him thinking. Only then does he realise there’s a second person starring back at him – himself. This realisation can elicit vastly differing reactions. Sometimes he’ll smile. Sometimes he’ll furrow his brow. Sometimes he’ll reach out and try and smack himself in the face. I don’t know if he recognises himself or whether he just thinks his dad is hanging out with a really small, bald bloke with drool issues. “That’s you, Albert.” I always say. “What do you think?”
I would give anything to find out the answer to that question. What an incredible thing it must be see yourself for the first time. Perhaps I’m crediting Albert with more self-awareness than is strictly possible at his age but imagine taking that tiny step towards understanding, not just your place in the universe, but the very nature of your own existence. That’s got to trump every other experience on earth. I should eat an artichoke though, just to be sure.
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