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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Raise your hands, now - how many people here have, at one time or another, eaten the sandbox?

'Twas an interesting weekend. Matt and I played our first concert in quite a while on Friday night (which was a post-worthily interesting event unto itself; I'll either post separately about that sometime soon or put it off until it seems like there's no point and never get around to it (ah, the blogger's dilemma)) and I got to see my first cantate worship service on Sunday morning. This post, though, is about the sandbox game.

"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...

I truly believe that Bert and Ernie are one of the great all-time comedy duos, destined to be remembered as fondly as Abbot and Costello, Hope and Crosby, and Cheech and Chong. I'm sure it was their friendly/antagonistic dynamic that inspired the Ronnie/Old Bean relationship. (Wow, in one sentence I've gone totally pretentious and confused 99% of your readers with an extremely obscure reference.)
I had no idea such deep and meaningful conversation was going on in the car behind us, then ahead of us, then behind us on our way to the yummy, too much food, late lunch. I too have very fond memories of Bert and Ernie and the 'I ate (8) the sandbox' game.

Carrie D.

P.S. I thoroughly enjoyed the concert!!! Hope to see you guys again soon!
John - I'm quite sure that my readership can't be broken down to a 99/1 ratio. You probably confused the person in Australia who checks this blog every day, though. Hello, mysterious person from Australia! (OHHHHHHH!!!!!) No, no - AustrALia. (Oh. Shoot. Ulp!)

Carrie - You know Connor and me - we're just a couple of profound fellows. I wonder if he spent the rest of the day playing the sandbox game (or perhaps the horse game) with his family.

Hope to see you soon again, too. Friday's movie night here in Coralville - come join us for the HHGG premiere, if you like (I assume that's still on, John?).
And speaking of ratios, I two-and-one-sixth the sandbox.

I'll be there with my towel at the ready.
Charlie, I like it when you let us peek into your twisted mind every so often. Making the poor child eat a sandbox, indeed! Hrmph. ;-)
There were several pleasing turns of phrase in this story that are sticking with me: conversational hyperactivity, automotively uncool, Connor has no rewind button, a tiny little aneurysm... actually, on another linguistic note, I keep noticing that a lot of what makes Charlie-talk so distinctive are the lovely adverbs.
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