Dash held up two cans of Fizz Whiz. We always have seltzer, for two reasons. First, it’s a classic comedy prop. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, google the movie Three Little Pigskins.” In it, the Three Stooges are all dressed up like women. The best part is when Curly gets seltzer down the front of his dress and goes “Woo-woo-woo!” and then sprays himself in the face. Second, Dash’s dad drinks it like water (which, technically, it is), so we make sure we’re well stocked for him.
“Popcorn?” I asked.
“Check!” confirmed Dash.
We always have popcorn. Because, duh, who watches movies without popcorn? So with popcorn and seltzer taken care of, we were almost all set. There was just one final requirement.
“Is the doctor in?” I asked.
“Double check!” said Dash, brandishing not one but two giant bottles of Dr Pepper.
Not only was Dash’s dad, Gil, the coolest guy on the planet, he was a total pushover at the Safeway. Unlike Dash’s dad, my moms do not cave to my grocery store demands. Occasionally, if they’re feeling generous, they’ll get flavored seltzer. But at Gil’s house, the Dr Pepper flows freely.
“Nnn-okay, drop the beat,” I said nasally, doing my best impersonation of a dorky kid impersonating a rapper. “Let’s get this party started.”
“One sec,” said Dash. Then he yelled, “Dad!”
“Hang on, dudes! Be right there,” Gil called from upstairs.
“Dad, we’re starting without you!” Dash replied. We often had to resort to this kind of deception.
“Hold your horses!” his dad called back.
“Gil, hurry! I can’t hold him off much longer!” For Gil’s benefit, I stage-whispered, “Dash, don’t do it. Don’t start without him.”
“Too late!” Dash yelled back, cuing up the first video clip. Adam Sandler stared back at us with a triangle play button on his nose. Dash and I both started to fake-laugh maniacally as if we were about to pee our pants over what was on the screen. We paused, listening to see if his dad took the bait.
Still no Gil.
“Close but no cigar,” I said.
“All right, proceed to phase two,” said Dash.
I nodded. On a silent count of three, we both shouted, “Guess he won’t mind if we put on an album!” That almost always worked. Even Dash wasn’t allowed to touch Gil’s vintage comedy record collection.
“Really, you don’t think he’ll mind?” I continued loudly.
“Nah, he loves it when we pull records off the shelf and put them back in the wrong places,” replied Dash.
“Records? I thought these were Frisbees! Catch!”
“Good one,” said Dash, cracking up.
“But, Dash!” I added. “I was just eating peanut butter out of the jar with my hands. Shouldn’t I wash them first?”
“No, it’s fine. Just wipe them on a record. He’ll love that!”
“Dudes. You don’t have to yell. I’m right here.” Gil stood at the bottom of the stairs, holding bananas and Jiffy Pop. He was wearing his weekend uniform: a Chase Corporate Challenge 5K T-shirt and gray sweatpants. He had perpetual dark circles under his eyes, and even though he didn’t have a beard, you could always sort of see the stubble on the bottom of his face through his skin. He also had really hairy arms like a gorilla, so whenever he wore T-shirts, we made monkey noises to mess with him.
“Ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo!” I said. Because monkey arms plus bananas. Dash quickly joined in, grabbing a banana from Gil and peeling it. He took a giant bite, then grinned big while scratching himself and jumping around like a monkey. Gil plunked down the popcorn, tossed me a banana, and brandished his like a sword, challenging me to a duel.
“There’s something I ought to tell you,” he announced, dramatically pausing to switch his weapon to his other hand. I chimed in, quoting The Princess Bride, “I’m not left-handed, either!”
Dash laughed, then pointed his half-eaten banana at the tinfoil dome of the Jiffy Pop. “Hey!” he complained. “I thought you were going to let us fry the brain.”
“Forgive me, master,” said Gil, shifting gears and lurching toward us. “I thought you merely wanted to . . . eat brains.”
“Brains! Wah-ha-ha!” I shouted, abandoning my banana sword and staggering toward him, arms out like a zombie. Dash tore into the puffed-up foil and we both grabbed big zombie handfuls. The popcorn was coated with lots of bright yellow fake butter and maybe even fake salt. It tasted like my guinea pig Spud’s salt lick. It was awesome.
Dash’s dad saw what was happening and kind of dove between the two of us. “Dudes! No zombie popcorn hands on my keyboard! Or peanut butter,” he added, giving me a wink. “Back off. I’ll drive. Okay, fasten your seat belts. Let’s get our SND on.”
That was our cue, so Dash and I chimed in and together we all yelled: “Live from the basement, it’s Saturday night!”
SND is this game we made up. It’s like SNL--as in Saturday Night Live, but with a D for “dudes,” obviously--played as a team sport: me and Dash versus Gil. We take turns streaming video clips and riffing on them, awarding points based on who makes who laugh and who finds the best stuff the other team hasn’t seen before. Dash and I are undefeated.
Gil hit play and Adam Sandler began strumming his guitar and singing the Chanukah song: “Put on your yarmulke / Here comes Chanukah / So much fun-ukah / To celebrate Chanukah.”
Dash and I munched popcorn, spewing it a bit as we sang along. Before long, we got to our favorite verse.
“ ‘Some people think that Ebenezer Scrooge is,’ ” sang Dash.
“ ‘Well, he’s not,’ ” I jumped in. “ ‘But guess who is?’ ”
“ ‘All three Stooges!’ ” all of us crooned together.
I’m not sure if it was the singing or the salty popcorn, but my mouth had gotten really dry. Which meant that while Dash’s dad was cuing up the next clip, I had to chug lots of Dr Pepper fast. Which of course led to another SND tradition:
“Iddle-biddle baby burp,” mocked Dash. He struck a pose and let loose. “ERRRPPPP!”
“That was sort of like a burp . . . only smaller,” I countered before chugging more soda and decimating him. “ERRRRRRRRRPPPPP!!!!”
“Noah Cohen!” said Dash, doing his best impression of Mrs. Moseley, who was our fourth-grade teacher. “Always say, ‘Excuse me’ when you pass gas!”
“Well, excuuuuuuuuuse ERRRRPPPP-me!”
Dash is better than me at a lot of things. For example: soccer, kickball, all sports period, being liked by girls. But I am by far the better burper. I also know more comedy routines by heart, even though by all rights he should because his dad is kind of the comedy king. Don’t tell my moms, who are mostly awesome, except in the junk food category, but there are times when I would love to trade places with Dash so Gil could be my dad.
“Wait a second . . . hang on . . . BRAAAAAAAPPPP!” I cut loose again, strategically aiming my blast at Dash.
“I’ll spot you knuckleheads twenty-five extra points if you can go without belching for one minute,” said Gil. “Besides, I think it’s still my turn.”
“Sorry, sorry,” we said. Back to the serious business of SND. Gil cued up the lobster scene from Annie Hall. Which is my favorite Woody Allen movie, and one of my favorite movies of all time. Even Dash says there’s something weird about that, since most Woody Allen movie fans are my moms’ age or older.
“Awesome!” I said.
“Dude, you are an old soul,” said Gil appreciatively. In this scene, Woody Allen is trying to cook lobsters, but they escape behind the refrigerator. Annie Hall is laughing, but Woody is totally freaking out.
“ ‘Talk to them!’ ” I said, doing Woody’s line in my best Woody voice. “ ‘You speak shellfish!’ ”
“ ‘Maybe if I put a little dish of butter sauce here with a nutcracker, it’ll run out the other side,’ ” added Dash’s dad, beating me to Woody’s next laugh line.
When the clip ended, we gave Gil fifty points and I knew what had to come next. That’s the best part of SND--when you get in the zone and just start riffing on comedy bits, having one lead to another and another. Kind of like a bar mitzvah DJ on a really good night. “Ooh! Ooh! I call Sleeper next!” I suggested, ready to go on a Woody Allen roll.
“No, ‘Chopper Four’!” said Dash. Dash gets tired of the classics faster than I do.
“ ‘Chopper Four’?” asked Gil.
“Sklar Brothers,” I told him. “You know, they do that bit about how television news teams go nuts when they get a new traffic helicopter.”
“ ‘Chopper Four went down mysteriously in the Hudson River . . . and Chopper Four was first on the scene. Coincidence? Or Chopper Four?’ ” barked Dash, quoting the clip.
“ ‘Chopper Four!’ ” I added, doing the same. “ ‘The way we see it, we’re twice as good as Chopper Two.’ ”
“Yeah, dudes, I know,” said Gil, wrapping one hairy arm around Dash’s neck and giving him noogies. “You’ve only made me watch it, like, chopper-four-dozen times. I’m not giving you guys any points for it.”
“ ‘Chopper Four!’ ” we both screamed, sounding just like the Sklar Brothers.
“All right, all right,” said Gil, hands up in defeat.
“ ‘Chopper Four!’ ” we yelled again triumphantly.
Gil poured himself some seltzer. He chuckled a couple of times at “Chopper 4,” but then he slid his chair back and took his cup upstairs. We hit replay when it ended and watched “Chopper 4” twice in a row (“Chopper 8”!). When Gil didn’t return, we test-drove a couple more videos to figure out what to wow him with next. Gil loved it when we showed him new stuff, just like we--okay, I--loved it when he showed us old clips we hadn’t seen.
“Dad, you coming back?” Dash called upstairs.
“You dudes go ahead,” said his dad. “I’m taking a break.”
There was still one unopened soda bottle, so I grabbed it and held it up in front of my face. “It is verse zen ve feared,” I had it say in my best mad scientist voice.
“Doctor, is there nothing that can be done?” said Dash.
“Yah,” said Dr Pepper. “Zee patient appears to be suffering from . . . lame-o dad-o max-i-mo zyndrome.”
“Dr Pepper, didn’t they take away your medical license?” Dash accused.
“No! I am ze greatest doctor in all of hee-story!” For emphasis, I tossed the bottle up in the air and caught it. Then I launched it to Dash like a football.
“Ah,” said Dash, “so you flew here from Europe? How was your flight?” He tossed it back to me.
“Not bad,” I replied, backing up and shaking the bottle before tossing it back. “Except for ze turbulence.”
“Oh yeah,” said Dash. He caught it and shook it some more before sending it skyward. I missed and it hit the ground again, rolling under Gil’s chair. I grabbed it and shook it some more.
“No! I can’t take ze pressure!” I said, taking our skit to its inevitable conclusion. “I’m scared I might--”
“Incoming!” yelled Dash, diving for cover under his dad’s desk as I unscrewed the cap, drenching both of us. I fell down laughing, landing in a puddle of Pepper. Dash began to slurp the fringe at the edge of the rug for comic effect.
“Maxx! Gross!” I yelled.
Maxx is what me and Dash call each other. It’s from one of our earliest forays into comedy: a sketch we called “Mr. Maxx,” based on the name of a clothing store near us. We performed it whenever we had an audience of, say, more than one person. Me and Dash were the stars, with my big sister, Enid, and Dash’s little brother, Pete, in minor roles.
The sketch would start with me and Dash and Pete offstage (at my house, this meant in the kitchen). Enid would walk on, dressed as much like a grown-up as possible, and pretend to wait for a bus. Then I’d walk by her wearing a hat. Enid’s line was, “I love your hat! Where did you get it?” I’d respond, “Mr. Maxx!” and walk off. Then Dash would walk on and she’d compliment his shirt and ask where he got it. “Mr. Maxx.” We’d then do it again and again, naming different articles of clothing, until audience members threatened to leave. “Nice tie!” “Mr. Maxx!” “Nice pants!” “Mr. Maxx!”
Finally, we’d push Pete onstage. The joke depended on him wearing nothing but a diaper. “Hey,” Enid would ask him, “what happened to all your clothes?” Pete was then supposed to deliver the punch line: “I’m Mr. Maxx.”
Hilarious, right? There was just one problem. Pete was a baby, so he never got it right. Instead, he’d realize he was the center of attention and start giggling. Then he’d pull off his diaper and run in circles, yelling, “Naked man!” Not the kind of sophisticated humor we were aiming for at the time.
In the four years since the dawn of “Mr. Maxx,” Dash’s and my comic sensibilities have definitely evolved. That said, we still appreciate the inherent genius in, say, turning a soda bottle into a mad scientist or a banana into a sword. Some might call it screwball or goofball, but I think that shows a lack of imagination. The way I see it, if Gil didn’t outgrow that kind of stuff, why should we?
Even so, I confess that I was a little nervous the morning after the Dr Pepper explosion in Gil’s office. We hadn’t seen him since he “took a break” the night before, and even though we did some mopping, the basement was, well, I think my moms would probably use the word “disaster.” Dash and I woke up late and shuffled upstairs, only to find Gil in the kitchen wearing his sweaty running clothes.
“Morning, dudes! Who’s ready for breakfast paninis à la G-Force?” Grinning, Gil slid the sandwiches off his George Foreman grill and onto our plates. Dash’s dad uses what he calls his G-Force for pretty much all of his cooking. I gotta say, it’s pretty versatile.
“Bacon and eggs on waffles?” asked Dash, inspecting his.
“Hey, don’t yuck my yum,” said Gil, which I’m pretty sure he picked up from my moms. “Ketchup? Hot sauce? Maple syrup?”
“Sure, sure, and sure!” I said. Dash passed me a glass full of leftover semi-flat Dr Pepper to wash the food down. Gil raised his coffee cup and toasted us with it, then turned his attention to the Washington Post.
In other words, it was a totally typical post-sleepover morning. If I close my eyes, I can feel how warm and sunny Gil’s kitchen was. I can smell the waffles and bacon and coffee. And I can remember how happy I was that I had nowhere to be for hours and that after breakfast we could pick up right where we left off showing each other comedy clips.