What started out as a bit of simple father-daughter fun got real in the blink of an eye. The blink of an eye being the amount of time it took for my daughter to beat me at our first game of Hungry, Hungry Hippos. The score was 13 marbles to 7. I was pissed. That shit doesn’t fly in my house.
My daughter had her lifelong dream fulfilled the day before when she unwrapped Hungry, Hungry Hippos for her fourth birthday. She’d been bugging me about it for months. Apparently the TV ad with plastic colored hippos devouring slippery little marbles got her really pumped. Now, here she was, sitting in front of me in her little princess pajamas clapping her hands and laughing. Not because she humiliated me, she didn’t even know she won, but because the chaotic cacophony of the snapping hippos exceeded her wildest expectations or whatever. “Yay! We both won!” she exclaimed. Her words were like salt in my wounds.
She wanted to play again, but I was like, “No, it’s time for bed. The hippos are tired.” She falls for that every time. All I have to do is ascribe feelings to inanimate objects and she goes for it without question.
While my little angel slept, I secreted the hippos into my closet and started to experiment. I was going to make my Hungry, Hungry Hippos game next-level. There had to be a better technique than manically smashing the lever as hard and fast as possible. It took me about fifteen minutes, but I stumbled upon a two-stroke technique that I thought might be a game changer. Gentle push down on the lever to make the hippo’s mouth open wide like a hippo you’d see charging an unsuspecting, doughy tourist wearing a fanny pack and unironic safari hat on some stupid show called When Hippos Attack, then a second push to make its head and gaping hippo mouth jut out to demolish all the marbles in its path. Boom!
About the time I was putting the finishing touches on the two-stroke technique, my bros started blowing up my phone pestering me to get in on their road trip to see Adele. Finally, I had enough and texted back, “Look, assholes, some of us have serious shit to take care of. I’m on the verge of something singular.” I love Adele’s syrupy sound as much as the next guy, but Hungry, Hungry Hippos comes first.
I put my blinders on and got back to work. Turns out smashing the levers as fast as possible is way better than the two-stroke technique. I figured this out playing game after game, sitting in the dark in my closet. I played all four hippos at once. One with my right hand, one with my left hand, one with my right foot, and one with my forehead. Yeah, I smashed away at the lever with my face for hours until blood started trickling down into my eyes. Sure, I could’ve used my other foot, but I’m not a cry baby. But you know who will be a cry baby? That’s right, my sweet baby girl. When she wakes up and discovers that her stubby little Vienna-sausage fingers are no match for my face.
There are no participation awards in my house. Awards are just for winners. So I had to make an award to present to the winner of the Hungry, Hungry Hippos cage fight that was going down in the morning between me and the apple of my eye. And I’m going to have to present that award to myself. Because I’m going to wipe the floor with her pudgy little face. And that award is going to look like those blue ribbons you get at the fair for making freaking pies except it will be all pink and glittery because my sweet-pea loves that shit. As I made it, I could already picture her fat little cheeks streaked with tears of shame as she watches me pin that sparkly-ass pink ribbon to the middle of my smiling, blood-streaked face.
I trudged up the stairs just before sunrise and sat down on the floor next to my heart’s bed. And here I am. Just sitting here. With the Hungry, Hungry Hippos on my lap, legs crossed on her Hello Kitty rug, staring into her sweet little sleeping face. Pressing down on the blue hippo’s lever slowly and ominously. Click, clack, click, clack.
“Wake up, princess. It’s time to dance.”
Illustration by Michael Tonn