I have an acquaintance who has a clown/performance art/drag act called Fantasy Grandma. To say that I find it charming is an understatement. But maybe “charming” isn’t quite the right word. Maybe, instead, “comfortingly subversive.”
Fantasy Grandma takes all the trappings of the platonic ideal of a grandma, and makes it simultaneously absurd (grandma acrobatics on a walker!), accessible (be the grandma you want to see in the world!), and loving (need a grandma who thinks the world of you all the time and always has candy in her pocket? Fantasy Grandma is there for you).
For whatever reason, this absurd/accessible/loving imagined family member hits me in just the right place. I get the same feeling from Joe Pera’s stand-up, which plays like an Andy Kaufman routine that’s had all the malice removed and replaced with an uncanny valley representation of That Dad From a New England Small Town.
It’s also the same feeling I get from playing the mobile game Cribbage with Grandpas which, hands down, has eaten up the largest portion of my gaming time in 2019.
As one of my few cribbage-playing peers said to me, “The only person I know who plays this is you and my grandparents.” Its rules feel arbitrarily assigned: adding up cards to 15 and 31 is super important; there are terms like “his nobs”’ and “muggins” used in earnest; there are three rounds per hand, the first of which is called “pegging;” there an unofficial (?) tendency towards rhyming one’s score. In other words, is a perfect game for grandpas of all ages and genders, and exactly the type of game I wanted digitized and accessible while on public transit.
With many things cute on the internet or in games, I had a certain expectation that Cribbage with Grandpas would, at some point, experience a Pony Island moment, where something previously sweetly nostalgic takes a dark turn. But there’s no bit here, no sudden wink-wink to the audience. It never takes a turn to the uncanny. Cribbage with Grandpas is literally just a mobile game, where one can play cribbage against a customizable grandpa of the player’s choosing (hence the plural Grandpas).
The only times the game is interrupted is when your chosen grandpa occasionally asks you a question: how your day is going, the answer to a riddle, if the weather is nice outside, etc. The questions asked are based on your grandpa’s (again, customizable) personality and often recycled, but I found myself embarrassingly and equally affected each time I got a question from my grandpa, taking a moment to pause and internally respond. Did I actually eat today? I’d put down my phone and make myself a snack.
I named my cribbage grandpa Dimitri, after my maternal grandparent, who passed away when I was in middle school. I loved my grandpa, my дідо, but I was little and didn’t speak his native Lemko. I don’t know if he liked to play card games. I don’t know a lot about him, honestly. But I remember the moments of his warmth, and his propensity to hand my brother and I dollar bills when we came to see him, and hearing him sing in Lemko in the other room.
It’s the rainy season where I live, and I find myself in quiet moments opening up Cribbage with Grandpas and playing a few rounds. It’s a pocket universe, where there’s an older figure looking out for you, without judgement or any of the beautiful yet messy complications that come with being connected by blood or time or shared history. It’s a pocket version of a desired warmth, seen through a foggy glass. It’s absurd, and accessible, and loving. Also it's cribbage, with grandpas.