Friday, February 5, 2016


It's the middle of winter, and all our standards have gone out the window.

In other seasons, we bike, read, swim, and play Sudoku.  But in February all we want to do is curl up on the couch, in the flickering light of some trash or another, with a bowl of pretzels.

Here's what we're staring at, slack-jawed, on any given night:

1. Animal Crossing. In this video game, the player (my son) is the mayor of a town of animals. He walks around, buys and sells things, and decorates his house. For a long time, I  tried to figure out the point of all this. Then it dawned on me that there is no point: The player is plunged into an existential nightmare of terrifying inanity, and that is all.

Heads bobbing, the animals interact with the mayor by chirping frantically, like gerbils on speed. The mayor goes from house to house, buying baubles from his constituents. To pay off six-figure debts, he is reduced to selling fish, insects, and his own clothes. On the upside, his house contains a jukebox, a bubble machine, and a replica of the Statue of Liberty, and the animal mafia have not (yet) broken his kneecaps for outstanding loans.

That my son can play this game for hours is perhaps the most disturbing development of my adult life. And yet, I'm hardly one to talk, because . . .

2. Married At First Sight. Three seasons into this "groundbreaking social experiment" -- in which couples are blindly matched by relationship experts, meet at the altar, and remain married for six weeks before deciding whether to divorce -- I've learned a lot about the dos and don'ts of marriage.

It is helpful to be a burlesque dancer who falls for a fireman on sight and instantly devotes herself to being the best wife in the world.

It is unhelpful to maintain a contemptuous expression at all times and then sign up for a TV show in which you are paired with a male stranger who will, inevitably, repel you.

For men, it is unhelpful to be (1) a psychopath, (2) a guy who, honestly, wants to keep living with his parents, and what's wrong with that? and (3) on this show, because unless you are the specific fireman mentioned above, your marriage will crash and burn faster than Bart Simpson in a soapboax derby.

Each season, the relationship experts -- one from Harvard! -- achieve the impossible, turning hopeful newlyweds into bitter divorcees in six weeks.

Almost every contestant would be better off getting a dog. Which brings me to . . .

3. Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3. If you put the worst dog in the world in the worst town in the world in the most unnecessary sequel in the world, you get Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva La Fiesta!: a film suitable only for seven-year-old girls whose families are in February Neglect Mode.

Passing through the living room to get a snack, I try to neither see, nor hear, nor speak of Viva La Fiesta!, though it's in its sixth or seventh run, and my daughter seems to know all the words. These days, Papi and Chloe may be more real to her than her own brother (off selling his shoes to a chipmunk for a candelabra) or her own mom (deep in a fug of schadenfreude).

I have resisted the knowledge that these dogs and their litter are now living at the Langham Hotel, and that Papi has been relieved of his homeschooling duties. I have blocked out the snooty chef and all the talk of one pup's Quinceañera -- though I have wondered whether my daughter could have a Quinceañera. If a talking dog can do it, doesn't that open the door, culturally, to anyone? Any human at least, who isn't just turning 15 in dog years?

In March or April, we will all peel our brains off the floor and resume living.

Until then, we're drawing the shades and hunkering down.

Don't call us. We'll call you.

(Image: Duck Hunt Video Game by tympsy (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

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