The Ballad of John Rider TainJoel Stein
“Is it five o’clock yet?
“Not yet,” I tell my three-year-old son, Laszlo.
“Tell me when it’s five o’clock.”
“I have a meeting.”
I know he has a meeting. Because he has a meeting every day at five o’clock. I’m required to attend these meetings. This annoys me for two reasons: 1) I hate meetings. 2) It is humiliating to be the only non-stuffed animal participant.
Laszlo’s are similar to every meeting I have ever been to, in that nothing gets accomplished. But they are better, since Laszlo believes every meeting should begin by handing out two cookies to every participant. They are pretend cookies, but I appreciate the thought.
They’re also better because they are very short. For a while they were about his book, which I suspected was bullshit. I don’t think he even had a book deal, but was simply jealous that I had just written a book. But I sat through the meetings, nodded and ate my pretend cookies anyway.
But lately the meetings have gotten more specific. They are about John Rider Tain. For those of you not familiar with the tale of John Rider Tane which is everyone on earth besides Laszlo this is how it goes:
“John Rider Tain was in a covered wagon. Then everyone leaveded. And that’s the whole story.”
Being a good employee, I immediately went and googled John Rider Tain. Nothing. John Rider. Nothing. I tried John Ryder, John Tain, John Taine, Johnny Train, Rider Tain. Could there be a John Rider who goes on a train? No. A John Tain who rides horses? No. John The Train Rider? Nope. There was Johnny Tremaine, the Revolutionary War kid’s story and Wikipedia insists there was an obscure 1948 DC comic about a Mormon named John Tane, but neither seems plausible. Especially because Laszlo can’t read.
I asked his teachers at preschool if they has read the class a book about John Rider Tane, and they gave me the look a person gives when someone asks them if they read a book about John Rider Tane. They hadn’t even gone over covered wagons. Or, apparently, how to conjugate the verb “leave.”
I would have ignored this, as I do with most aspects of parenting, but Laszlo brings John Rider Tain up constantly, and always in a detail-rich way that makes me believe this is a real story he heard somewhere. We’ll see a horse and he’ll say, “Those are just like John Rider Tain’s” or he’ll see a picture of John Wayne and say, “John Rider Tain wasn’t in the desert. He was on grass.” When he was strumming a tiny guitar, he told me he was singing about John Rider Tain, and when his cousin Declan started singing about John Rider Tain too, Laszlo yelled at him: “John Rider Tain didn’t have a dog!”
I have, through incessant questioning of Laszlo, learned that John Rider Tain didn’t have a beard, was an adult, had no wife or kids, rode trains, lived before cars and never went in a castle. When I ask Laszlo how he learned of the legend of John Rider Tain, he’ll only say that it’s both a book and a movie.
I checked the Autry Museum, which is in L.A.’s Griffith Park right next to a Farmers’ Market where we sometimes take Laszlo to weekend breakfasts, to see if they have an exhibit for John Rider Tain that he overheard someone talking about over French Toast. The special exhibit at the Autry is: How The West Was Won By… Michael Jackson.
I’m not giving up, but I’m accepting that I’ll probably never know where Laszlo got the Legend of John Rider Tain from. And that the older he gets, the more of these things there will be. Some he won’t even tell me about. I can’t know about, no less control, all the things that influences him. Which is only going to make him more interesting. If I want to learn about him, I’m going to have to attend a lot more meetings.
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