When I was a kid, in the 70s, I used to swipe my older brother’s Mad magazines. A lot of the humor was over my head, but that only added to the allure: This was a peep show into an unknown world, and I was lusting to grow up.
One Mad feature I did get, however, was the regular series by Sergio Aragones: “The Shadow Knows.” It was a simple cartoon of all sorts of folks in all kinds of daily situations, but their shadows behind them projected (literally) their true thoughts or motivations. Like this:
I grew up in a house where things that should have been said were usually unsaid, and so I spent a lot of time deciphering subtext. I thought Sergio was hilarious. But at the same time, in my secret world, I wished his shadows were real.
The other day my teenage boy was flipping through channels while I was parked on the couch next to him. He landed on a particularly funny part of Superbad—the scene where a fretful McLovin is attempting to use his new fake ID to buy booze while his friends Evan and Seth wait in the parking lot outside.
I had already seen Superbad, but without my son—also named Evan—beside me. The friendship between the Evan and Seth reminded me a bit of my Evan and a friend of his, so I asked him, after we laughed for a few minutes, if he had seen the whole movie, too.
Evan kept his eyes fixed straight ahead and answered in a measured tone, “Um… yeah.” He clearly didn’t want to have a discussion about Superbad.
Click. He switched channels. We sat face-forward and silent on the couch. He found an old episode of Mythbusters and so we watched that instead.
But for a split second, over my shoulder appeared a shadow on the wall behind me.
And there I was, a massive, nosy bloodhound – sniffing, snooping, peering into privacies and uncovering secrets: Do any of your friends have fake IDs? Have you guys ever tried to buy alcohol? What’s the equivalent of Vagtastic.com for you and your friends? Have you ever been at a party like that? Do guys really talk about girls in that way?
And there was Evan: trying his best to protect his turf.