Vendetta

Ben and Jerry
Is it really a pint? The answer will ASTOUND you!

“It isn’t a pint.”

There are places where this phrase could be a matter of serious concern. In a hospital blood bank. In a bar. On a football field, if the referee judging the kicker’s performance has an inexplicable accent. But for my wife, it became drastically important in the grocery store freezer section.

“It isn’t a pint!” she repeated, vehemently. This was the most aggressive I’ve ever heard Erin act towards a pair of gentlemen she usually considers friends: Ben and Jerry. They’re an obscure couple, I know, so let me explain. Ben and Jerry are two hippies who started an ice cream company modeled after a pair of characters in Billy Crystal’s classic motion picture City Slickers. They make a good product, I must admit, but they’re not usually my first choice for ice cream because we live in Louisiana. Here, Blue Bell Ice Cream is readily available, and Blue Bell Ice Cream is, in the words of Sir Richard Attenborough, “Way the crap better than that other stuff.” If you live in one of those places in the world where there is no Blue Bell, allow me to explain how good it is this way: in 2015, the company temporarily stopped production and ordered a line-wide recall when a Listeria outbreak was discovered in some of its products. The vast majority of us would have been willing to risk it.

But back to Ben and Jerry — among their ice cream products is something called “Pint Slices.” These are essentially ice cream patties in hard chocolate shells, similar to Klondike bars, but without a marketing campaign that suggests someone might murder a Rabbi, for instance, to obtain one. Ben and Jerry’s marketing instead suggests that the “pint slices” are ostensibly created by “slicing up” their “pints” and dipping them in the “chocolate” shell. Now a “normal” person would assume that this is just a way to market their novelty treat and not meant to be taken literally. A normal person would point out that, were the ice cream in the pints actually sliced up, the slices from the bottom would be smaller than those cut from the top, and yet the three “slices” in the box are all clearly the same diameter. A normal person would not make a big deal out of this. A normal person would just eat them.

My beloved Erin is not normal. She is pregnant.

“IT IS NOT A PINT,” she insisted. “Look, I’ll prove it! How much does a pint weigh?”

“A pint is a measure of volume, not weight,” I said, after which she gave me a look that would make any reasonable bystander assume I had suggested she stuff her maternity pants with chicken fingers because nobody at that buffet is going to search the pregnant lady and I didn’t have anything to bring to work for lunch tomorrow. (This is not a mistake I would make twice.)

“Fine,” she said. “I’m going to melt these and then melt a pint and then I’m going to send the pictures to Ben and Jerry.”

“Okay,” I said, because I’m not an idiot.

Here’s the thing, guys: She’s probably right. Technically. If you measure the ice cream content of the three slices, it probably doesn’t add up to the same ice cream content as your usual pint of ice cream. However, that doesn’t mean this level of outrage is rational. Javert didn’t have this kind of dedication to bringing down Jean Valjean. I’m writing a musical based on this. The Phantom of the Creamery. Soft openings in April 2019.

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter if she’s right or not. I’m going to just be grateful that what she herself refers to as her “pregnancy brain” has chosen this relatively harmless hill to die on, rather than joining a mob of pipeline protesters, demanding justice for the children of Thailand, or trying to bring back the McDLT. I’m not casting aspersions on any of those other causes. I’m just saying that if it came down to it and I had to defend her honor, I’m pretty sure I could take either Ben or Jerry.

McDLT AddIn the meantime, I’m just going to eat my slice in peace.

POSTSCRIPT: After Erin read this, she rather emphatically informed me that the McDLT was STUPID because there was NO LOGICAL REASON WHY THE CHEESE SHOULD BE ON THE COLD SIDE, and that THIS is a hill she IS willing to die on.

I’m sorry I said anything.

You may have heard, Blake and Erin have a baby on the way, so he hopes you’ll allow him to remind you he’s got all these books and short stories for sale on Amazon, and suggest you follow his author’s page on Facebook.

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On bats, acceptance, and Adam West

get rid of a bombI have a complicated relationship with Adam West.

This is not to suggest I ever met the man, because I never did. Nor am I going to pretend to be greatly familiar with his body of work beyond the Batman TV series or other roles which were deliberately derivative or satirical of that series. I’m pretty sure the only acting role I ever saw him take where he wasn’t playing Batman, a Batman pastiche, or himself was on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I haven’t even read Burt Ward’s tell-all book about their time making that series, which would at least presumably offer a little more insight into who he was as a person. To me, and by no means to me alone, Adam West was simply Batman, full stop.

But it’s more complicated than that.

When I was a kid, like so many of us, I watched his Batman TV show. And as a child, I loved it. Yes, it was sometimes goofy and garish and sometimes the villain’s plots made absolutely no sense, but hey, it was still Batman. On TV.  This was in the 80s, remember, a time very much unlike today when there are a thousand comic book properties on television at any given time, and even more if you change the channel from the CW. It was great just to see Batman — or any superhero, for that matter — on TV in any form. It was pretty much all I required out of this show.

Then I made a tragic mistake, a mistake that so many of us make in our lives, a mistake that many of you have made, and that still others among you are probably going to make in the future.

I got older.

I was almost 12 when Michael Keaton’s Batman movie was released in 1989. When I saw that, it was a game-changer for little Blake. This was the Batman I wanted to see. This was the Batman I read about in comic books. He was dark. He was brutal. He made people fear him, and at that point that was the only Batman I wanted. It got worse when I read things like The Dark Knight Returns or Year One. Suddenly there was no room in my world for a light-hearted, silly. campy Batman.

Not only that, but I grew irrationally, unreasonably angry at Adam West and Burt Ward for several years for the way their portrayal of Batman and Robin had tainted the reputation of the character for so much of the world. When people who didn’t read comics, people who didn’t know any better, talked about Batman, they talked about the silly costumes and the goofy gadgets. Every time the news said anything at all about comic books, the headline was full of “POW!” and “BAM!” Not only was Batman being disrespected, but the entire art form of comic books was being dragged down and it was all Adam West’s fault.

I know. But bear with me, please.

Then after a few years of this, I did something wise. Something that some of you have hopefully done. Something that, unlike growing older, is by no means guaranteed for all people.

I got perspective.

It started with the works of Carl Barks and Don Rosa, rediscovering them in college. I saw the richness and depth of those stories, and I started to wonder why I had stopped reading them in the first place.

Oh yeah. Because they were Disney comics. And I, of course, was “too old” for such things.

I began to realize that just because something is appropriate for children does not mean that it is inherently without merit. Just because I liked something when I was younger did not prevent me from enjoying or appreciating it today. And so I re-embraced those things I loved — Disney and the Looney Tunes and the Muppets and more. And eventually, I went back and I gave Mr. West’s Batman another look.

To be fair, it’s still not my Batman anymore, but now I get that that’s okay. To be honest, it’s hard to define exactly which Batman is mine because there are so many different versions of him, and so many of them I enjoy. If I have to choose a single incarnation, on most days I’ll probably say my Batman was drawn by Jim Aparo and and written by Chuck Dixon. But that could change depending on which way the wind is blowing. There are so many excellent Batman creators out there, and so many great Batman performers, it seems absurd to limit myself to one. And what’s more, even those I don’t personally connect with, I can appreciate for their place in the mythology. Adam West may not have been my Batman, but I can appreciate the fact that he is Batman for so many people. I can appreciate that his Batman is entirely valid, just as much as Keaton, or Christian Bale, or Ben Affleck, or for that matter Will Arnett, and especially Kevin Conroy. All of their Batmen are as real as any other, and everybody is allowed to have as many Batmen as they want.

But that’s not just true of Batman, is it? How many people, over the years, have said that Lynda Carter was the one and only Wonder Woman? Up until last week, a lot more, probably. But as Gal Gadot has proven so beautifully, so effortlessly, there is absolutely room for others. Christopher Reeve was my Superman, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with George Reeves or Tom Welling or Dean Cain or Henry Cavill. There is room for these legendary characters to go beyond any one interpretation. There is room for everyone’s version, and somebody else having theirs doesn’t make yours bad. (This is not to say there are no bad versions of anything, of course, just that you need a more compelling reason than “It’s not the one I wanted” if you’re going to convince me that it’s bad.)

That was the most important lesson I think, that I learned from Adam West and Batman ‘66. There truly is room for everything.

Well, that, and that some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.

Ultrasound: No, honest, it’s not just a gray blob

Like most major events in life, having a baby comes with certain rites of passage: taking that first pregnancy test, buying the first baby clothes, the 432nd time you get up in the middle of the night to pee (even more for the mother), and so forth. Then, about halfway through this magical experience comes one of the big ones: the ultrasound.

This is not to suggest that they only do an ultrasound the one time. Erin’s doctor did one early on that he swore proved she was having a baby but that, for all I could tell, maybe just suggested she had swallowed a circus peanut whole. At 22 weeks, though, this was the big one, the one where you can start to make out body parts, organs, gender, and even — because we live in an age where having ice available in July is no longer the world’s greatest miracle — his head.

This is the plan, at least. A lot of it depends on the kid — how he’s positioned, where he’s curled up in his little Uterine Hotel Suite, whether he’s ready for the paparazzi to begin their non-stop assault of photography that will (for a first child) continue until the day when he does something that requires you to call the fire department, at which point, nothing is cute anymore.

Then there’s the other thing, the elephant in the room, the thing no parent-to-be wants to talk about but that all of us can’t help thinking about: what if something is wrong? What if the scan shows that our baby is in trouble, or won’t make it? I’ve had family and friends go through this, I’ve seen what it can to do a person, and after the year we’ve had, it was too terrible to contemplate. I didn’t say any of this out loud, of course. Erin was already nervous about the whole thing, and we have a strict rule about only one of us being allowed to freak out at a time, although frankly, it’s been her turn for a while now and I’m starting to get a little jealous.

Anyway, we got to the doctor’s office and the ultrasound technician slathered Erin’s belly with the blue ultrasound slime that is, of course, standard in these situations. She smeared it a bit, and placed the instrument against my wife’s skin. She began moving it around. And then we looked at the monitor on the wall, and there it was.

A blob.

A gray blob, to be precise. And while it was not substantially any different from a million other blobs I’ve seen in my lifetime, I could tell immediately that this one was cuter.

She moved the device a little, and we started to see the blob from different angles. Shapes appeared, and lighter and darker areas. The technician started to take pictures of the image and stamp labels on them from a drop-down menu, and I turned to my memory of high-school biology to try to fake comprehension of what was on the screen. “AORTA,” one image read, and I nodded and said, “Good, he’ll need one of those.” Another: “FOUR-CHAMBERED HEART,” to which I helpfully told Erin, “That is the recommended number.” I was just desperate to see something recognizable, but we’d already made plans to see Alien: Covenant the following evening, and when the technician pointed out what she claimed was my son’s spine, I couldn’t say for certain that we weren’t just watching a preview of the movie.

Eventually, she hit an angle where things looked a bit more baby-like. We saw his feet, which Erin declared were going to be big like his daddy’s. We saw an angle that confirmed the blood test that identified him as male was, indeed, correct. And then…

Then we had a profile image.

It wasn’t super-clear. It wasn’t like looking at a photograph. It wasn’t like it is in the movies.

But it was real.

20170518_144605We were looking at our son’s face for the first time.

Erin teared up. I squeezed her hand tighter. It was the most incredible moment since that day she first told me she had peed in one of our drinking cups. And then, as we stared at it, something else happened.

You’re going to think I’m crazy.

Then he lifted his arm and waved.

It was like, “Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. See you in September.”

I know what you’re thinking. First-time parents, kid moves his arm, we saw what we wanted to see and it doesn’t actually mean anything. But here’s how I know you’re wrong: this is my kid. And pulling that sort of Michigan J. Frog “You can tell everybody but nobody will believe you” crap is exactly the sort of prank I find hysterical.

Kid has my sense of humor already.

After it was over, the tech printed out some of the images for us, including the profile, and we then waited for the doctor. This was the nerve-wracking part. What if he saw something we didn’t? What if the gray blob was missing an important blotch? What if it had an extra blotch that wasn’t supposed to be there? What if something was wrong with our baby?

Again, I didn’t say these things out loud. Erin’s turn.

But the doctor came in and said the only thing that could have mattered: “Everything looks good. Let’s schedule your next appointment in four weeks.”

And then we took our first baby picture and we went home.

You may have heard, Blake and Erin have a baby on the way, so he hopes you’ll allow him to remind you he’s got all these books and short stories for sale on Amazon, and suggest you follow his author’s page on Facebook.