A few years ago, we got Dante a DVD about earth science, from a company called Rock ‘N Learn. He watched this video a number of times, and lucky for us, we found it entertaining as well, mainly because two of the three main characters have ridiculously exaggerated accents. There’s Terra, the earth, whose Noo Yawk accent is just a few shades off Fran Drescher. Then there’s Marko, a pencil with an enormous bow tie, who speaks with an Italian accent that, if anything, is a few shades beyond Luigi Risotto from The Simpsons. The third character is a bland fifth-grader named Kevin, with whom they no doubt think the kids will identify. Little do they know.
Dante immediately incorporated these characters into his pretend play, assigning parts to each of us and himself. (The fact that the video focuses on a trio surely didn’t hurt.) At first, there was some fluidity to who played who, but he quickly settled into definite assignments, and they’ve had real staying power. I mentioned over a year ago that he loved to play Terra (though he doesn’t attempt the accent.) He still does that, every day. I like to talk in the exaggerated Italian accent, so when I’m around, I get to be Marko, which leaves Kevin for Laura to play. When I’m not around, she’s my Marko understudy.
The play has shifted somewhat, though. Before, the main focus was on how big and powerful he was, and there were lots of elaborate explanations of all the basic functions in his life — bathing, eating, sleeping, etc. — and how they work when you’re the size of a planet. In particular, he liked to emphasize that his bed is actually a “lava bed”, and that Marko has to wear a special suit in order to withstand the temperature on it. That’s all still there, but I don’t hear about it as often anymore.
Now, the play begins with a ritualized opening: “Hiya, Marko!” To which I respond, “Hiya, Terra!” (Alternate opening gambit: “Hey Marko!” “Jeyyyyyyss?” [That’s Marko’s way of saying “Yes?” — I’m not shy about incorporating Hank Azaria Puerto Ricanisms into my Italian accent.]) From there, he launches into an explanation of something he’s “invented.” Which is to say, some toy of his, or some mechanism around here with which he’s currently fascinated. (Like the vacuum.)
The current fascination is Mouse Trap. My sister gave him this game for his birthday, and like many a kid before him, he has no interest in playing the actual game, but he loves putting together the contraption. And what he loves even more than that is to teach me about the contraption while I play as dumb (and deaf) as I can.
DANTE: Hiya Marko!
ME: Hiya Terra!
DANTE: Let me tell you about a Rube Goldberg machine I invented.
ME: A Judy Goldman routine?
DANTE: [Laughing] No, a Rube Goldberg machine.
ME: What is a Ruby Golden machine?
DANTE: It’s a very complicated device to achieve a very simple purpose.
ME: Question. Why not build a very simple device to achieve jour very simple purpose?
DANTE: For fun! Look, here’s the box.
ME: I am sorry to tell you that jou have the wrong box. That box says “Mouse Trap,” not “Rude Iceberg Machine.”
DANTE: [Laughing] Mouse Trap is what kind of Rube Goldberg machine it is.
ME: [Lowering my voice] Do jou have a mouse problem in jour house?
DANTE: No, it is just for trapping little plastic mice.
ME: The mice are not alive?
ME: Then for what do you need to trap them? They are not going anywhere!
DANTE: [Choosing to ignore the question, as is not uncommon] Let’s put it together and watch it go!
Then he’ll put the pieces together, explaining to me how they all work. Now, keep in mind that at this point he has explained Mouse Trap to me at least fifteen times. He has asked me to “reset” — i.e. pretend to forget everything he’s told me — so many times that now the request is implied within “Hiya Marko.” So he teaches me yet again. It is imperative that I entertain myself during this process, in order to avoid the otherwise crushing boredom that would accompany it. Making jokes and being silly throughout is not teasing — it’s self-defense!