Today’s post is a sequel to last week’s and that’s all you need to know. You’re smothering me.
Sometimes, the adults in a boy’s life offer him worthy guidance and a stand-up behavioral model. Sometimes, they tell him the devil is brainwashing him with Pokemon. This is a story of the latter.
A professor in a comedy class once told me that critics usually favor comedy movies starring “childlike” leads over movies with “childish” ones. Childlike characters are adults who are in some way innocent or naive—think Steve Carell in The 40 Year-Old Virgin or Seth Rogen in his one movie you don’t hate. Childish characters just plain act like little kids, throwing tantrums and getting boners in public—think anything involving Adam Sandler, or, if you’re a hundred, Jerry Lewis.
Most of the comedies that your friend who drinks nothing but filtered water and Earl Grey call “guilty pleasures” are childish ones, and most movies you see because Esquire called them “hilarious and achingly real” only to discover that they’re dramas about beautiful sad people who make a sarcastic reference to a writer you’ve never heard of every 40 minutes are childlike.
The manchildren of Mannheim Baptist Church were about as childlike as watching Sideways with all of Paul Giamatti’s lines replaced with fart sounds.
There were three in total: Phil, Gene, and Jay. Phil was the most interesting, the most likable, and the one I have the most stories about. I have so many, in fact, that he’ll get his own post somewhere down the road. For now, I’ll tantalize you with these:
- he owns nearly every special edition Pepsi can released in the past quarter century,
- one day in his thirties, he rode the American Eagle roller coaster at Six Flags Great America twelve times in a row, and
- he devotes a week each year to watching his VHS copies of every Godzilla movie available in America.
Gene was just fucking crazy. He filled every Midwestern mama’s boy stereotype you can imagine—living in his aging mother’s basement, wearing a floppy tweenage bowl cut, bragging about mostly imagined athletic prowess (in karate no less), steadfastly refusing to get a job or girlfriend. He was a living bad Danny McBride character.
Out of all the Men of Mannheim, Gene was the one I looked up to the most, because that shit’s awesome to a nine year-old. Once, when I was five or six, I asked my dad where all his toys were. I couldn’t comprehend that adults have Frasier and tennis leagues and heroin, a whole different entertainment language than kids. Gene, though, spoke my language, of Super Nintendo and play-fighting and prayerobics.
Of course, guys in their early thirties who relate perfectly to elementary schoolers because of their shared interests are horrible role models. But he had the same wide-eyed sincerity in his love for Christ as us kids, so they slapped a badge on him and let him teach AWANA. (This one, too, is another post. Shit this thing is crashing. Save it!)
Okay. Every guy I’ve told you about so far pales in comparison to Jay.
The more seriously a manchild takes his idiotic behavior, the funnier the situation is. By that metric, few people I’ve met are as funny as Jay Liotta. Jay was Ray Liotta’s uber-Christian cousin and looked so much like him that, despite his rough hands and cheap clothes, people screamed at him when he refused to give autographs. He had the same poofy black hair, the same acne-scarred cheeks, and, of course, almost the same name.
The only reason any of that’s funny is because of his livid insistence that it wasn’t. Do not compare Jay to Ray, his Hollywood cousin living in sin, or he will be very angry, regardless of how often he deals with that comparison. Sadly I can’t give you a firsthand account, but I can extrapolate one. Picture a JT lookalike screaming “I told you, I’m Dustin Timberlake!!” at a bunch of terrified seventeen year-old Illinettes, then date the reference by two decades and you get the idea.
Even that wasn’t the funniest thing about Jay Liotta. The funniest thing was his insane, hate-fueled crusade against Pokemon.
Let me take you back to 1999. I’m in fourth grade, Pokemon is the most popular thing to happen in my lifetime, and Jay has been coming to Mannheim off and on for a few months. In an effort to involve him more in church, my dad invites him over for dinner. Before he arrives, my dad takes my brother and me aside and says, “uh, hey boys, you know how I told you Jay is Ray Liotta’s cousin? Do me a big favor and don’t mention that tonight.”
I only remember one thing about the dinner. Jay put on his most serious “I’m-not-Ray-Liotta” face, then read aloud, verbatim, a chain email about the evils of Pokemon he had printed out. “You and your kids need to hear this, Paul,” he began. “All across the world, children are becoming hypnotized by a Satanic Japanese cult called Pokeymon.”
Being a combative little shit, I interjected immediately with “PoKAYmon!” My dad shushed me with Hurt Locker urgency. I feel bad for him in this story. The poor bastard was forced into a precarious middle ground: on one side, a lunatic, on the other, an enraged half-person yet to learn that not everyone responds to his logical little tirades.
Jay “Not Ray” Liotta was just getting started. “Children are taught to imprison demons into Pokeyballs, and are rewarded for lording over as many demons as possible. They are urged to ‘catch em all,’ leading wars between their demons and other demon lords.”
“That’s not how it works!” I could see the panic in my dad’s eyes and I did not care. Pokeintegrity mattered too much. “First of all, you’re a Pokemon master, and second of all, they’re not demons, they’re little creatures.”
“Uh, okay, Peter, how about we don’t—”
“ACTUALLY (ed: my favorite word, 1996-2003), ‘Pokemon’ means ‘pocket monsters’ in Japanese, and just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s hypnotizing anybody—”
This is the point where any ordinary adult would avoid picking a fight with a fourth grader. Jay Liotta was no ordinary adult. Jay Liotta was a damned maniac who yelled in my face that I had been brainwashed by the secular Jap media and I was meddling in evil magic.
That is the point where any ordinary child would get scared of the big mean man screaming at him. I was no ordinary child. I was a stubborn asshole who kept the fight up for a solid five minutes until my dad gave up and banished me to my room.
I still think I would’ve won. Fuck that guy.