The Zoo

The following is an excerpt from the final chapter of my book,

Rock, Meet Window: A Father-Son Story 


One summer day when I was eleven, Mom, Dad, and I had plans to go to the zoo. For the previous three weeks, however, I had been pilfering quarters from Dad’s change bowl and burying them in Mom’s flower bed next to the front porch (perhaps this was overly cautious). That morning, I’d decided to dig up my treasure and head to the Electric Animal and Screen Door— a video arcade located on the meager downtown strip in Delaware. It was filled with twenty-somethings gambling on games of Joust, Q* bert, and Frogger, their lighted cigarettes balancing on the edge, burning brown lines into the plastic casings.

Dad had forbidden me from going there, but it was seedy, and that made me want to go all the more. So I did, every weekend, and always under the ruse of going for a bike ride. Mom and Dad must have thought I was becoming such a wholesome boy, tootling around for hours on my turd-colored Schwinn. With little money of my own, I normally watched the older guys play, but on this morning, I had a couple pounds of dirty quarters stuffed in the pockets of my corduroy shorts.

When I arrived at 10 AM, there was a tear in space-time. Instead of watching others, I played the games now. At around 1 PM, while abusing the joystick of Dig Dug, I was startled by an aggressive tap on my shoulder. I whipped around to find Dad standing behind me. His face was red, hair slick from anger sweat. I immediately started crying— not out of fear (though there was some of that)— but more out of guilt. I wanted a do-over, to stay home and watch TV in the morning and enjoy the zoo as a family later.

Dad pulled me out by my elbow, picked up my bike, threw it in the back of our Plymouth Volaré, and drove us home in silence. On the front porch, I wiped the tear residue from my cheeks as Mom and Dad leered at me.

“So all these bike rides— every single goddamn one of them— you were really going to that arcade?” Dad asked. Mom frowned at me.

“No!” I lied. “Only some of them. And I only ever watched. I mean, until today.”

“I don’t care what you did there. I didn’t say you weren’t allowed to play video games. I said you weren’t allowed to go to that rancid place.”

“I didn’t know that!” I said, sensing an easy way out.

“Oh bullshit. You knew that. I don’t care about you playing video games. I don’t want you hanging around people with dirty T-shirts and hockey hair.” Dad paused for a moment, then continued, “Jesus Christ, it’s almost worse that you watched. Who watches someone play a video game? How bored do you have to be to watch someone do something that’s already boring?”

His anger turned to disbelief, which triggered his comedic imagination. “What is it that you do, exactly, while watching these guys? Do you talk to them? Tell them, ‘Nice move, buddy’? Get them sodas? Are you some kind of corner man for them? Jesus Christ, Jason.”

We sat in silence, each of us staring off into a separate distance. I think Dad felt adequately vented, and since it appeared to have been a hot, short fire, I didn’t want to reignite it by saying something stupid.

But after a few minutes, I summoned a measure of bravery and asked, “Can we still go to the zoo?” My voice cracked a bit. I wanted nothing more than for things to go back to normal. I suddenly hated that arcade, hated myself for going, and hated my bike and the flower beds for facilitating it all. I wanted to take a sledgehammer to a Dig Dug machine. I think Dad saw this, and after taking a moment, he broke into a smile. “Hell, yes. Let’s go to the zoo.”

I'm a contributing writer to Parents Magazine, GQ, Psychology Today and some others. My book, "This is Ridiculous. This is Amazing: Parenthood in 71 Lists" is available here Look for two more books in 2015: "Must. Push. Buttons (Bloomsbury Kids), and an as-of-yet untitled memoir I’ve appeared on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and “Nick Mom’s Night Out." I live in New Jersey with my wife and two sons and enjoy making them laugh more than anyone else.

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