Virtue & Mischief: The education of Abby


Once in a while I am reminded how poorly I have discharged my duties as a father, particularly as it relates to the cultural education I have imparted (or failed to impart) to my offspring. One such reminder occurred last week when I picked Abby up at the Greenville Junior High after her play practice. This spring’s production is titled “Zombie Nights.”

I pulled into the semi-circular drive in front of Memorial Hall that evening and idled the car along with a small cadre of other parents (from what I could tell, all moms) doing the same. After a couple of minutes Abby and her cohorts emerged, giggling and speaking with a level of animation and joy that made me a little jealous. She hugged a couple of her friends, waved goodbye, jogged to the car, and hopped in the back seat.

“Hi Abby! How was practice?” I asked, trying hard to match her level of energy and apparent joie de vivre.

“Great. We watched the video ‘Thriller’…I suppose to get inspired a little. It’s got zombies in it, you know?”

“Yeah, I’m aware of that. You know who directed that video?” I continued. “John Landis.”

“Oh, really? Who’s John Landis?”

“Who’s John Landis?!” I feigned intellectual disgust. “John Landis directed Animal House and An American Werewolf in London,” I continued, honestly reckoning this brief pronouncement would jog her memory and end the matter.

“Hmmm. I think I’ve heard of ‘Animal House.’ What’s it about, anyway?”

I looked in the rear-view mirror and scanned her face, searching vainly for a hint of sarcasm. Seeing none, I had to speak my mind. The poor lass’s cultural literacy was at stake.

“Abby, are you serious? Animal House? Please tell me you know who John Belushi was!”

She shook her head no, blissfully nonchalant about her ignorance. Worse, she appeared to be enjoying my simmering apoplexy, perhaps even contemplating provoking it further. I gave her a brief synopsis of Animal House and a Cliff’s Notes rendition on the career of John Belushi, then remembered my brief (and literal) brush with the aforementioned John Landis, an “encounter” I naturally had to share with my benighted 14-year-old daughter.

“You know, Abby, I went to Universal Studios in Los Angeles many years ago. It’s sort of an amusement park, and while there I went on the back-lot tour on one of those trams.”

“Uh huh,” she rolled her eyes, waiting for another boring tale emitted from the brain and mouth of her old man.

“So we’re rolling through the place and I look over to my right, and there’s John Landis walking either to or from his office, I guess, because he was deep in thought and carrying a brown leather briefcase. He was as close to me as I am to you right now. I could have reached out and mussed up his hair or yanked on his beard.”

“Oh. Really. Wow.” She was thoroughly unimpressed.

At this I remembered my additional brush with fame on the same excursion at Universal, and decided to go for broke. “So, anyway, I continued my afternoon there by going on rides and stuff. I was by myself, so I could do anything I wanted whenever I wanted [not like now, I thought silently]. I decided to get in a pretty long line for the ‘Back to the Future’ ride—I don’t know if it still exists or not, but it was one of those simulated do-hickeys, you know? Where, like, 20 people or so get into the same ‘car’ and you look at a screen while your ride jerks around and it simulates what a particular experience?”

“Uhh, yeah, dad. I get the picture.”

“So I’m waiting in line and minding my own business, spying on people the way I like to do—”

“Oh, yeah, I know what you’re saying, stalker-man.”

“So, anyhow, I start sp … watching people and then I see him, with a nice looking woman—I assume it was his wife—and a young girl, maybe ten years old or so.”

“Who?!” Abby asks, genuinely intrigued. “Who him?”

“Smokey Robinson!” I announce triumphantly. “Can you believe it? First I see John Landis walking to work, then I get on the ‘Back to the Future’ ride with Smokey Robinson and his little family! Amazing, huh?”

“Oh, yeah. Sure,” Abby replied with a hint of confusion. After a brief pause she asked with trepidation, “Dad?”


“What did Smokey Robinson direct?”

By Tim Swensen

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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