One of the potential problems with parenting – according to Nurtureshock, the excellent book I’m currently reading – is too many rules. Have a few rules with kids and stick to them, the authors advise. My problem’s not the rules imposed on my kid. It’s the rules imposed on me.
“No YouTube today,” says my wife Fitzsimmons as she leaves for work.
She’s right. I have to get a job, so that I can commit fully to the breadwinning section of Equally Shared Parenting. No more YouTube. No more showing ten-month-old Sam clips from Chariots Of Fire (the 400 meter final, with Ian Charleston throwing his head back – just writing it makes me want to watch it now), or the diplomatic immunity bit out of Lethal Weapon 2, or Eddie Izzard’s routine about Pavlov’s Cat.
That’s the problem with YouTube. I'm on the Jobs section of Craigslist and a great scene pops into my head (Romeo + Juliet, gas station) and I know I can find it within seconds. It’s a sickness, an addiction. Sure, there are some movies I can’t find (all the best Die Hard clips have been ring-fenced), but for every one placed off-limits by the scaredy-cat studios, there are ten classic scenes (take your pick between Jack Nicholson as Colonel Nathan R Jessep or Gene Hackman drinking a beer with the boys in Mississippi Burning).
The problem with YouTube, as I see it, is that Fitzsimmons has no imagination for wasting time. Having worked six years for a cable company with a TV on my desk, I have a sixth sense for a good scene. I can speak on the telephone, answer emails, cross-reference two online databases, and drop everything when I see an alpaca-clad Chevy Chase surrender in Spies Like Us.
But no, I will not YouTube. I will not even use the word, as verb or noun or elegiac regret. Sam will have to wait to hear the angelic voice of Edda Dell’Orso in Ennio Morricone’s score for Duck, You Sucker. He will have to search out antique Blu-Ray disks to appreciate bug-eyed Christopher Macdonald as Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore. He will have to glimpse fleeting scenes from The Natural as his own wife flicks channels, and wonder why the soundtrack seems strangely familiar.
Instead, I spend my morning with Sam playing with his basketball game, and looking out our back window at the rooks playing helter-skelter on the fire escape opposite our building. In the distance, a helicopter whocks towards us, coming from the Golden Gate Bridge. Sam looks up at it. “Helicopter, Sam. Helicopter.” His eyes are big and blue, his mouth open. The chopper zips past, oblivious to our rear window lesson in aviation identification. I wonder if he got a decent look. Helicopters are cool. Wouldn’t it be great if that was his first word. Hang on, I’ve got an idea.
I boot up YouTube. It’s okay, this is educational. Type in ‘helicopter.’ Various clips from airshows, then other sites from Huey obsessives. Find a two-minute clip of one taking off. Perfect. “Come and see this, Sam.” He’s not sold, comes over slowly. Wonders why we aren’t looking for birds, wonders when the whocka-machine’s coming back.
The clip is slow. The engine starts, the rotors begin to turn. Sam’s mouth opens. The blades whirl round, the sound not yet recognizable from the helicopter we saw outside. The engine pitch rises, blends with the beat of the blades. Ninety seconds. “Watch, Sam. Look at the tail.” The rotor at the tail is buzzing, the aircraft starting to judder on the H-marked landing pad. A hundred seconds, no movement. Sam looks across at me, as if to say, “What’s this clip supposed to be? Can’t we go back to The Matrix and Agent Smith interrogating Neo?”
Then it rises. Awkwardly, as if on strings. First tail, then nose. The helicopter levitates and Sam is rapt. It’s like mechanical sleight of hand. He is ten months old, has no knowledge of physics, gravity, or aerodynamics. But he’s spellbound as the craft rises into the air and swivels, dips its nose then flies away. “Not bad, huh?” Sam waits, as if this helicopter might come back. The birds are forgotten, he lives only for this new whirlygig. It’s not yet twelve, not yet lunchtime, while Fitzsimmons isn’t due back for at least an hour. Easily enough time for an Apocalypse Now clip.