This past Easter, my sister gave birth to a tiny little baby girl, making me an uncle for the second time. Everyone was pretty happy about it – I mean they were happy that my sister had another baby, not for me becoming an uncle again. Really, becoming an uncle takes absolutely no effort. It’s not like I assisted in the child birth or even encouraged her to get pregnant. No, I sat around my apartment washing dishes and suddenly I was an uncle. That’s pretty dope. I wish other things worked that way. For example, if I could sit around and do nothing and suddenly become an astronaut or a bass player, I feel that my life would be more interesting.
Being a “good” uncle is a whole different story. In truth, I’m a pretty piss poor one. My oldest niece is about 2 1/2 years old (which makes her Korean age 17, because, if I’m not mistaken, they calculate their ages the same way dogs do), and I haven’t even met her yet. I would like to be able to say that I was in Korea the whole time, because that would make for a decent excuse. The problem is, I wasn’t. For the first year of my niece Abilene’s life, I was bummed out and depressed in Charlotte, living in an empty room and staying pretty focused on other important things, such as working on my OkCupid profile and finishing The Wire. Now it’s 2 1/2 years later; I’m in Korea, Abilene has a sister, and Stringer Bell is apparently fighting aliens with Charlize Theron.
Seeing that becoming an uncle takes no real skill or dedication, one would think that being a decent uncle would consist of continuing along that same path. Au contraire, my friends. To be a good uncle, one has to do things. I have no idea what these things are, but I would guess sending something on birthdays or holidays would be a good start. So around Christmas time, I went and got some gifts to send. I bought a toy lizard and a hat that looks like a sheep and an ear hoodie. I also bought a toy called “Hamtalking.” Yes, Hamtalking. Despite what you may first think, it has nothing to do with food. It is not a pork product that talks. If the Koreans decided to make a toy with that as its premise, given their tastes, they would probably make a chatty can of Spam instead.
No, Hamtalking is a little toy hamster that speaks. On the box, the hamster is pictured with a girl and they appear to be saying things in Korean. That excited me. How awesome would it be to send something that spoke in a different language? What a nice cultural learning moment it would be. Sure, maybe she would be happier with a Cabbage Patch Kid (they’re still popular, right?), but later in life she’d realize that a Hangul speaking rodent is much cooler.
Before I realized it, February rolled around and I hadn’t mailed the Christmas presents yet. In all honesty, it was mostly because my anxiety has gone through the roof and I didn’t feel capable of dealing with the Korean post office. Anyways, a Korean friend came over to my apartment to visit, and she saw Hamtalking sitting there. I told her about my niece and how I wanted to get her a present that spoke another language.
“It doesn’t speak Korean,” she said. “It has a recorder inside of it, and it repeats whatever you say.”
“Shit!” I moaned. “Really? I get it. It’s speaking Korean on the box because it’s conversing with a Korean girl.”
“Exactly,” she said, and then, in a moment of inspiration, she came up with a brilliant suggestion. “Hey! Why don’t you take the hamster out of the box, talk into it, and record a message for Abilene. Then you can mail it to her and she can hear your voice.”
“It would be almost like meeting her!” I exclaimed. “I can say hello and everything and it’ll be just like introducing myself…only through a hamster.”
I thought it was brilliant. Granted, there was some risk involved. I realized that this would be an unorthodox move and might lead to some confusion. I pictured my sister walking up to Abilene and holding out the hamster in front of her, “Here, Abilene…it’s your uncle.”
She would look at it, confounded, as my sister played my recorded message. “Hi Abilene,” it would say, and then she would start freaking out. “Ahh! Kill it! Kill it!”
My sister would have to calm the hysterical girl down. Then, years later, when I would finally meet her, I’d shake her little hand and say, “Hi Abilene,” and the sound of my voice would instantly give her a flashback to the horrifying talking animal. She’d start screaming and scratching at my face, baffled by my shape-shifting and assuming that it took me so long to meet her because I was running in a wheel.
As it turned out, Hamtalking doesn’t work very well and I wasn’t able to record a message to my satisfaction. In addition, my girlfriend has pointed out that the Christmas presents, currently going on five months tardy, kind of suck. A toy lizard? A sheep hat? An earhoodie? She and I are going to the store today to pick up some things that will hopefully be more in line with a little girl’s tastes.
I figure I can afford to be a bit eccentric because I’m an uncle. Isn’t that how uncles are supposed to be? Besides, it’s not like uncles get any prepping for the role. There’s no training at all. It’s not anything like becoming an astronaut, or, for that matter, a pet hamster.