Harry emerges from the garage holding a plastic ninja sword and a purple tube of bubbles.
“Daddy, we’re going to play spies.”
“But I’m mowing the lawn.” (We have an old-timey mower not powered by gas. Very cumbersome, but relatively quiet.)
My son steps in front of me, shoves the purple tube of bubbles into my midsection. “You’re playing. Your name is Tiny Max, and my name is Eric the Diamond Ninja Spy. Let’s go to headquarters! They have a serious mission for us!”
He takes off running, and after I trip over the lawn mower and bruise my shin, I jog, reluctantly, after him. He climbs atop a white door that leads down into the storm shelter/place where our HVAC unit is. The door is covered in pollen, and I say:
“Eric the Diamond Ninja Spy, might we postpone this serious mission until after hay fever season? I’m feeling a bit stuffy-nosed.” The only reason I started mowing the lawn in the first place: to get a reprieve from setting up another obstacle course for the lad, and then have him tell it isn’t anything like American Ninja Warrior on TV.
“Silence,” he says. He swipes at me with his ninja sword, but my reflexes aren’t what they used to be and I get hit in the ribcage.
“Harry, you’re going to Time Out now.”
He whines, pouts, calls me a jerk, and all I can think of hitting the road Woody Guthrie-style, thumbing it across this great country of ours and never coming back. But I love the kid, and one of my longterm goals is to not be an asshole. So, instead, I gently drag him to his bedroom and shut the door.
“Four minutes,” I say and set the alarm on my iPhone. Within ten seconds, I hear him playing, his Lego ninjas embroiled in yet another dangerous plot involved lava, flying knives, and a missing skateboard.
The alarm sounds, and I open the door. “You’re free. Apologize for hitting me with the sword, please.”
He makes a witheringly condescending expression reminiscent of the one John Houseman made in these famous Smith Barney commercials: “They make money the old-fashioned way, they earn it.”
“Daddy, it wasn’t me who hit you. It was Eric the Diamond Ninja Spy.”
“You’re Eric the Diamond Ninja Spy.”
Shake of the head. “I’m Harry.”
“You’re Harry and Eric the Diamond Ninja Spy. Apologize or you’re going back to Time Out.”
“I’m sorry,” he says chucking a handful of Legos over his shoulder. He stands up and sprints toward the door, accidentally (on purpose?) giving me a dead leg as he passes by. “Come on, Teeny Tiny Max, we gotta get back to headquarters.”
“What happened to Tiny Max?” I say jogging after him as he kicks—literally kicks—open the front door.
Heading down the steps, he yells over his shoulder: “You’re old so you’re getting smaller and smaller. Now come on!”
We recover our weapons—at my insistence I’m given a red tube of bubbles in lieu of purple—and we run over to a blooming dogwood tree in our front yard. Harry/Eric the Diamond Ninja Spy points up at the tree and says:
“We’re here to see the Wise Old Monkey. He’ll tells us where the gold glitter bombs are hidden.” He pokes me in the leg with his plastic sword. “Go up there, talk to him, hurry!”
I climb into the tree and speak to a tree limb covered with black ants. “Wise Old Monkey, these glitter bombs are quite dangerous, and we need your help disarming them. The last thing we want is for Harry Daddy Silly City to get covered—again—with glitter.”
“What did he say, Daddy?”
I tilt my head. I nod. I cup my hands as if I am about to take communion. I pretend to take a bite of something and wince. “The Wise Old Monkey says we must both eat from the Sandwich of Knowledge. It tastes terrible, he says, but it’ll give us vital information as to the whereabouts of the infamous glitter bombs. Here, quick, take a bite.”
Harry chomps down and spits on the ground. “Ew, gross. Nasty. Thank you Wise Old Monkey, but we have to go find these glitter bombs. Daddy, get down! Let’s go!”
I stay put.
“Daddy, now! We’re running out of time! There’s asteroids heading to our town, and we have to be there to ninja kick and ninja punch them before they destroy the bakery and the Play Zone and all the houses!”
“My name’s not Daddy,” I say. “It’s Tiny Max.”
“No, your name is Teeny Tiny Max. Now come on, Teeny Tiny Max, before I barf.”
“Why do you have to barf?”
He drops the sword, falls like a marionette whose string has just been cut. Laying in the grass, he squints up at the sun.
“Why are you going to barf?” I ask again.
“Because the Sandwich of Knowledge had bleu cheese on it,” he says. “I stinking hate bleu cheese.”
Fortunately, he recovers and we go onto to find and disarm all “sixty ninety eighty million” glitter bombs and destroy the asteroids falling from the “lava sky.”
Having saved Harry Daddy Silly City, we return to the Wise Old Monkey, who rewards us with a candy bar from the Tree of Sugary Delights.
“Teeny Tiny Max,” he says glaring at the imaginary candy bar I hold out for him, “you know I don’t like caramel.”
“Tell it to the Wise Old Monkey.”
He snatches the imaginary candy bar and starts climbing up the tree. “I will,” he says. “I stinking will.”