Banana who?

I had horrible insomnia last night, so I decided to spend the afternoon with about 30 nine-year-old kids. Cuz that’s a spectacular idea when you’re overtired.

My friend Gina teaches an after school program in Cambridge. A lot of the kids in her program are the children of Harvard professors and other smarties. They’re more interesting than most adults. Still, I was nervous going over to the playground to meet them. I don’t spend a lot of time hanging out with kids, and the last time I was on a playground, I was eighteen and smuggling a forty.

I was a little early meeting Gina, so I called my brother-in-law Steve from a bench across the street from the park. It was pretty hard to carry on a conversation, as kiddie parks are kinda loud. Put it this way: the kids might’ve been having fun, but they sounded like they were being murdered.

“Are you at a playground?” he asked, almost immediately.

“Yup. I’m meeting my friend Gina.”

“So where are you?”

“Across the street.”

“Dude. You’re just sitting on a bench across the street from a playground? Are you looking at the playground?”

“Well, yeah.”

“You look so sketchy right now. You know that, right? Like the biggest, biggest pervert.”

Which only put a name to the feeling of unease I’d been experiencing. Maybe it’s the aftermath of the Michael Jackson trial, but it feels totally creepy to be hanging around a playground if you don’t have children of your own and aren’t an accredited teacher.

Finally, Gina showed up and I got off the phone and went over and met the kids. As soon as I had, I felt better. Especially when I met Noah, the Knock Knock Joke Guy. Noah was about eight years old, very solemn, especially when it came to his jokes. Apparently, he knew thousands of them. I only heard a few. This was his favorite:

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Banana.”

“Banana who?”

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Banana.”

“Banana who?”

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Banana.”

“Banana who?”

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Banana.”

“Banana who?”

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Orange.”

“Orange who?”

“Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?”

“Noah? I have never been more glad of anything.”

He cocked his head to one side. I had a weird moment, where I realized that he was imitating his Dad, who was a professor at the school, Gina had told me. It was a very grown-up, professiorial sort of gesture. I half expected him to call me “Miss Hubley” and demand that I make a sound argument on some point or other. Instead, he said, “Now you go.”

“Excuse me?”

“You tell a joke.”

“Oh, man. You know, I’m kinda old. We don’t really tell jokes so much, at our age. We mostly tell funny stories.”

So Noah told me a few more of his jokes. And then he told me some of his scary stories. By this time, I had decided that going to visit 30 or so kids on two hours of sleep was actually one of the best ideas I’d ever had, and I’d further decided to become Noah’s best friend and possibly to sue for custody, if it could be arranged.

After an hour or so, it was time for the kids and Gina to go back into the classroom, so I said my goodbyes and headed out. Noah opened the gate for me, after shooing several other kids away first. “This way, Jen,” he said, indicating the exit with his palm, like his father showing out guests at a dinner party.

“Thank you, Noah,” I said.

“Thank you so much for coming,” he said, gravely.

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