“How can you not know that?” Ajax said. He was 12 and belligerent when offended.
“John Mayer?” I asked.
“Now I am really getting pissed off.”
“How can you not know this? Everybody knows this. It’s Jack Johnson. J A C K J O H N S O N. He is the only person that sounds like Jack Johnson. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
“I’m sorry; I don’t particularly like Jack Johnson.”
“I didn’t say you had to like him. You just have to know who he is.”
We were driving to school and playing Name that Band to pass the time. I had been listening to music for a lot more years than Ajax, which should have given me a big advantage. But I didn’t like Jack Johnson and that was costing me now.
Ajax was disgusted. “That’s just wrong, Dad.”
There is something about belligerence and disgust in a 12 year old that sets my teeth on edge. I needed to take him down a notch.
We turned down a little street called Hermit Street. We always took Hermit Street even though it was a small street and the neighbors didn’t like morning commuters. They put lawn chairs and orange cones in the street to discourage us, but it didn’t work. We maneuvered around them like I was driving an obstacle course on a car commercial.
I needed to create some drama to give cover. There was on an orange cone in the street ahead. I maneuvered my SUV so that I clipped it on the side as we passed.
“Dad, look out! You hit the cone! Jesus! Dad. Watch where you are going.”
“Ajax. Jump out and put that cone back where it was.”
“You do it; you hit it.”
“Ajax, may I remind you that I am currently driving you to school.”
“You hit it.”
“Taking you to school.”
As he bellyached his way to the cone, I switched from the radio station to a playlist on my iPhone.
Ajax got back in the car. “Dad, that was stupid. I mean, just saying.”
“Thanks for the input.”
“You have to pay attention when you are driving.”
“Thanks for that tip.”
“You are almost as bad a driver as you are in Name that Band. And Dad, by the way, that’s pretty bad.”
“I am better than you.”
“What?! You didn’t even know Jack Johnson.”
“I could destroy you if I put my mind to it.”
“Put money on it?” He said.
“You don’t have any money. You’ll try to get me to give you money so you can pay me.”
“You are my father. That’s your job.”
“Let’s play for something meaningful.”
Alex was wearing his prized Hartford Whalers cap. I said, “if I win, I get your snapback.”
“No Way. Not this one. This is priceless.”
“I thought you were a beast in Name That Band.”
“I am beast, not a beast. Don’t try to talk like you know what you are saying. Cause you don’t.”
“Basically you are scared to go head to head with me.”
“What do I win?”
“What do you want?”
“You buy me any snapback I want.”
“Fine.” I said.
“First one to five unless we get to school sooner, then whoever is ahead.”
“Bring it on.”
I flipped the switch on the SUV’s audio system and caught the bridge in the middle of Evil Ways. “Santana!” I shouted. Double points!” We always awarded double points if you guessed the name of the band before any lyrics had played. “Two – zero”.
“That’s Bullshit!” Ajax yelled, but after the lyrics kicked in there was no way he could dispute the call though it did not prevent him from complaining. As he was whining, the first chords from Jay-Z’s “Young Forever” played. I sang out Jay-Z before Ajax knew what hit him. He tried to override my call by yelling Jay-Z louder than I did but loudness couldn’t make his call go backwards in time to precede mine.
By the way,” I said, “that’s double points too.” Four to zero. Nada. Nothing. Zip.” And then just to rub it in I added, “featuring Mr. Hudson”.
He didn’t like it, but I had him. He leaned forward in his seat and cocked his ear toward the radio to make sure that he had a nano-instant of a head start on the next song. However, this was my music on my iPhone.
I liked my odds.
The next song began. Before a bar of music had come forth I knew exactly who it was. Ajax did too, but it took him longer to shout “Kanye!” Than it took me.
“Six to zero, sport. I’ll take the Whaler.”
“No way. That wasn’t fair. Those songs were all your type of songs. I would’ve killed you on my songs. Double or nothing!”
“No way. I want the cap.”
“Come on Dad.” He pleaded.
I held out my hand to take the hat. We had pulled into the parking circle at school. He ducked when I tried to grab the hat. Before I could grab again, he pushed open the car door and was out of the car, holding his cap over his private parts and laughing hysterically. “Nice try Dad! Better luck next time!” And he was off, sprinting up the stairs and into the school building.
I yelled after him, “six-zero, loser” but he didn’t hear me and even to me it sounded lame. I wasn’t concerned, however.
It took him five minutes to come slinking back to the car. I had locked it and rolled up the windows. I made him knock on the glass for a while before I deigned to notice him. I rolled down the front passenger side window. He leaned in.
“Hey Dad,” he said. He gave me a big warm smile. “Just wanted to tell you that you are pretty good at Name that Band. For an old guy.”
“I am a beast!”
“I mean, who cares about stinking Jack Johnson, right?”
“I never want to hear him again. He is a jackass.”
“Ajax. The time has come. Don’t suck up. Just, give me the cap.”
“No way, Dad.”
“Fair and square.”
“No way. You can’t make me.”
“Actually I can.”
“How are you going to do that?”
I started to roll up the window.
“Damn it. You suck.” He scaled the cap into the car. “Totally.”
I grabbed the cap and put it on my head. I gave him a big smile. Then I unlocked the back door let him take out the backpack that he had forgotten when he ran off before.
“You suck Dad,” he said one more time as he turned to go to school.
I waited two beats until he was 6 or 8 feet from the car. Then I leaned to the passenger’s side window and yelled at him gleefully, “they were all from my playlist! Every one of them! Ha!”
His head swung around. But he didn’t have the look I expected. No anger, no shock. He was smiling. He mouthed something that I didn’t get and then he smiled some more. No anger. No recriminations.
I drove off wondering if he was becoming more mature, more good-natured. Maybe these years of belligerence were coming to an end.
I didn’t figure it out until I got home and took off the cap. It wasn’t the Hartford Whalers cap at all. It was one of his old little league caps, a dime a dozen; he’d switched it out on me.
And then it dawned on me what he had mouthed just as I was driving off: “Jack Johnson.”
– Jay Duret