Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Raise your hands, now - how many people here have, at one time or another, eaten the sandbox?
"The sandbox game" is a classic Sesame Street sketch. Bert and Ernie are hanging out in their possibly-legal-in-Massachusetts-but-obviously-not-set-in-Texas apartment and Ernie tells Bert about a great new game he's invented. "I'll say 'I one the sandbox,' Bert, and you say, 'I two the sandbox' and so on," he says. Bert eventually says "I eight the sandbox" and hilarity ensues. It's classic Bert and Ernie; Jim Henson and Frank Oz at the top of their game. I've always loved that sketch, but unfortunately I've never gotten anyone to fall for it (my brother Joel obligingly claims to have eaten the sandbox every so often, but I'm pretty sure he's not actually fooled).
Which brings me back to last weekend. On Saturday several of us headed down from Waverly to Waterloo to enjoy a tasty steak dinner, and my little buddy Connor decided he wanted to ride with me (which I thought was interesting, because back when I still had my Cavalier he refused to ride in it. Apparently even at 5 1/2 he had a keener sense of what constitutes automotively uncool than I did. Or maybe he just didn't like purple). Connor's the closest thing I've got to a nephew - we're not related, but I've been around for his entire life, and I feel a certain affectionate protectiveness towards him that I imagine is somewhat uncle-ish. He's a couple weeks shy of six years old and has that age's characteristic conversational hyperactivity in full measure - for the first ten minutes of the trip I got a running monologue on what he thought about Sunday School and how long he expected his current pair of shoes to last and what he would name a particular field if it was given to him to christen ("Connor's Field") and some embarrassing slip of the tongue his dad had made that morning (alas, I didn't catch it exactly and Connor has no rewind button) and a recount of the path he'd taken chasing his aunt's dog around her apartment while a piano was being moved in. I responded with the occasional "oh, really?" and "wow - awesome!" and whatnot of that sort, but honestly I was only half paying attention. Then he mentioned that he'd recently taken a counting test at kindergarten and won some sort of acclamation for his grasp of ordinal sets in the low three digits and an idea suddenly occurred to me.
"Counting, huh? You're pretty good at counting?"
"What? Yeah. The teacher was talking about how we needed to learn to count backwards, too, and I was all 'whatever'. Then my friend said we should go play with the kickball and I..."
"Okay, but let's not actually leave counting just yet. Do you want to play a game, buddy?"
"What? Okay, whatever."
"Hooray! Here's the game - I'll say 'I one the sandbox' and you say 'I two the sandbox' and so on until we... run out of numbers, I guess."
There was a part of me that was trying very hard to point out to the rest of me that the sandbox game actually comes to sort of an unkind culmination - "Ha ha! You ate the sandbox!" might not be a Dr. Phil-approved thing to say to a 5 year old. I couldn't help it, though; the prospect of actually seeing the game work was too much to pass up. To his credit, Connor really was very good at the game, and 'twas only a few moments before I turned to him with a (friendly, I like to think) grin and said, "You ate the sandbox? Really?"
I was torn. The moment was all I'd hoped it would be (those who find that lame are welcome to start their own blog and only write about things that are actually cool. I'll be happy to link to it from mine), but Connor clearly wasn't impressed. He looked confused for a minute - sat with his mouth open, still ready to claim he'd tenned the sandbox and unsure what exactly had happened - and then sat back in his chair and was quiet. He didn't look sad, really, but he was certainly very subdued, which is a red-flag Something's Wrong signal with him. I was trying to figure out what to say to him and trying to decide how uncomfortable my chair in Hell was likely to be when he turned to me and said, "I've got a game now."
"Okay. How does your game wor..."
"I say 'I one the sand' and you say you two the sand and then we count up."
"But... that's just my game without the word 'box', buddy. You've got to change more than three letters. That's the rule."
"What? Oh." There was a long pause as he sat with his chin on his fist like a tiny little Thinker in denim. "Okay - here's my new game. I say 'I one the horse' and you say 'I two the horse' and we count up."
I was still unconvinced that the horse game was a sufficiently large departure from the sandbox game to merit it being called a new game, but I felt like I wasn't in any position to refuse. Connor took a second to count through to himself and make sure that starting on one would ensure that I was the one who'd actually eat the horse and then started things off. I hope that all of you have a chance to make someone as happy as I made him when I said "I ate the horse". I thought he was going to give himself a tiny little aneurysm; he had a victory dance and everything. And watching him dance I realized that I'd been owned by a five year old. Owned at my own game, no less. Sort of made checking "Fool someone into saying they'd eaten a sandbox" off my life accomplishment list seem a little less significant.
We had about 15 minutes of driving left at this point, and in that 15 minutes I think I was reminded that I'd eaten a horse about seventeen million times. Jim Henson's genius lives on, I guess. When we got to the restaurant, Connor ran up to his dad and said, "Okay, Dad - here's the game. You ate a sandbox and then... wait - how does it go?"
I can only hope that I've at least planted the seed and that someday Connor, too, will appreciate the sandbox game sketch for the genius that it is. Until then - hey, Joel! I one the sandbox...
Saturday, April 16, 2005
"Come and NACA my door"
That was the theme for the 2005 Northern Plains regional conference of the National Association for Campus Activities last weekend (catchy, although I got a little tired of humming the Three's Company theme song to myself. Next year's is something along the lines of "Swing your partner to and fro, off to NACA we will go," since it'll be in Cedar Rapids and Iowa is of course the center of the square dance universe). 1300 students and staff advisors from campus activities boards in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming came to the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minnesota to spend a four-day weekend being courted by performers. And had you been one of those students walking around the marketplace you might have happened past a booth for Central Standard Time, nestled in between booths for a company that provided clowns and clown gear and another that did booking for hypnotists and magicians - and maybe three, four booths down from Peppermint Records where you could book Storyhill. Imagining for a moment that you stopped to see what exactly "Central Standard Time" could do for you as a campus activities person, you would have gotten to talk to Matt and I, who would have struggled with trying to define how we sound (Simon and Garfunkel-ish was the comparison we used most often, although that's certainly not dead on (and more than a little presumptuous). Anyone with good ideas about how to describe the Central Standard Time sound to someone who's never heard us, please send 'em my way), asked you about the role acoustic music plays on your campus, offered you a promo CD, talked about how cool it is that said CD is dual-media, asked you to sign our mailing list, and wished you a pleasant weekend. Hopefully you'd have then immediately gone to find the other campus activities people from your school and told them they needed to - indeed, they must - book CST and do so quickly, although if that happened we never found out about it.
'Twas certainly an interesting weekend. Matt's and my expectations were ever so high going into it - we wouldn't have been surprised at all to leave Rochester with a dozen shows booked and confirmed. Indeed, we spent some time discussing what sort of limit we would set for too many shows so we wouldn't overextend ourselves. Pitiful, yes, but to our credit it only took us about half an hour to figure out how naive we'd been. Then we went through a period of despondence as we thought about the $1000 we'd spent to come to Rochester and not gain anything substantial from the trip, but we got over that pretty quickly, too, as we talked to campus activities people who seemed interested in us (particularly because we were there instead of an agent - there weren't many performers in the room) and took promo CDs and left contact information. So far we don't have a single show on the books, but we have over a dozen strong maybes, and we certainly don't need all of those to turn into shows - not even close - to make our money back. And next year people will remember us from this year and be more inclined to take us seriously.
And if nothing else, it was really neat to do such a "we're really a band" thing. Central Standard Time will never be a full-time job for Matt or me; neither of us are in a position to pull up stakes and tour nationally. Every time we do something band-ish, though, it's a little piece of my childhood dream of being a professional band-in-be-er (specifically, being John Lennon (no reason to aim low, after all)) coming true. I still remember when we recorded our first CD - no studio or processing or effects or anything fancy like that, just two mikes and two guitars run through a mixer into a DAT. I can barely stand to listen to it now, but it hardly ever stopped playing back in May Term '96. A couple of years later we played a concert on campus for 100 people. Horrible sound system, still quite an unpolished stage presence, but we were playing our songs and people were listening and clapping for us - it was one of the biggest rushes I've ever gotten. Last weekend we went to Rochester and met with campus activities people and networked with other performers and handed 'em CD's and referred them to our Electronic Press Kit and discussed fees and stayed in a really crappy hotel with a bed that almost took off one of Matt's fingers. It was a step towards a next step, and even if nothing comes it that's exciting unto itself.