Uncle Shrek

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I got a voicemail from my mom a few weeks ago saying she and my 2-year-old niece, Lindsay, were calling to talk to Shrek because Lindsay wanted to tell him that she had pooped in the toilet. None of this made any sense to me, of course. Had my mother’s early-onset senility caused her to dial my number thinking it was that of a cartoon character? Did she know she was calling me but somehow think that I WAS Shrek? It was troubling, not least because apparently crazy Mom was babysitting Lindsay, and who knew what kind of trouble the two of them might wander into. It was like a cat babysitting a monkey.

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A cat babysitting a monkey.

As it turns out, my mother is completely sane and in full possession of her faculties, and my panicked phone calls to nursing homes were premature, although I am hanging on to the pamphlets they sent just in case. My brother and his wife have been listening to Dr. Phil, the noted hillbilly TV psychologist, and he said a fun reward for kids in the potty-training process can be to let them call their favorite fictional characters to share the good news whenever they have a success. You get friends and family to pose as the characters, of course; it’s only over the phone, not in person, and children are gullible and stupid.

The kids only get to call their beloved animated friends when they go in the toilet, though. When they go in their pants, they have to call Satan.

So under this system, many of my siblings had already been called upon to act as Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Aladdin, and assorted other Disney characters with whom Lindsay is intimately familiar. Now she had branched out and requested Shrek, and Mom figured I was the man for the job.

“Lindsay went poopie in the toilet, and she wanted to tell Shrek about it,” my mom said when I called her back.

“Uh-huh,” I said. “So I just have to do a Shrek voice?”

“Yeah.”

“All right. Put her on.”

Lindsay came to the phone.

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Lindsay has exciting news for the inhabitants of Far Far Away.

“Hello?”

At first I was concerned about imitating Shrek properly, but then I realized something Mike Myers realized long ago: Shrek’s only distinction is that he has a Scottish accent. He sounds exactly like all the other Scottish characters Mike Myers has ever played — indeed, like every Scottish person I’ve ever heard speak. Shrek isn’t a character; he’s a dialect.

Armed with that knowledge, I plunged ahead.

“Hello, Lindsay?” I bellowed in my best Scottish accent, which isn’t very good but which is close enough.

“Hi!”

“This is Shrek! D’ya have somethin’ t’tell me?”

“I went poopie.”

Now, this was not news. She had gone poopie many times before. I had seen her do it. She was burying the lead, as we say in the news business. So I prompted her.

“Where didja go?”

“In the toilet!”

“Oh, what a big girl you are! That’s great!”

“Yeah!”

She seemed very pleased to be talking to Shrek. But a conversationalist she is not. Having gotten the business part of the phone call out of the way, she didn’t know what else to say. Still in character, I improvised.

“I never go in the toilet. I always just go poopie in the swamp!”

This seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing for Shrek to say. If I were dressed as Shrek at a Dreamworks theme park, and kids wanted to talk to me, and the subject of poop came up — which it totally would, if you’re talking to Shrek — then I would tell them I poop in the swamp.

But Lindsay didn’t seem interested in my revelation about her beloved swamp-dweller’s bathroom habits. She just said “Yeah!” again. Come on, Linds. Would it kill you to add something to the conversation? When I’m talking to her in person and the conversation dries up, I can fill time by honking her nose or making a funny face, but those things don’t really translate over the phone. What I should have said here was, “Be sure to buy my new movie, ‘Shrek the Third,’ on DVD Nov. 13!” Again, that seems like something Shrek would say. Really, I should be writing for these movies. He’s an easy character to write for.

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Shrek: deeply interested in your toddler’s bowel movements.

That was pretty much it. She handed the phone back to Grandma and I went back to my regular speaking voice. (I didn’t think my mom wanted to talk to Shrek.) And let me just point out that my brothers and sisters have gotten off easy. How hard is it to talk like Aladdin or Cinderella? They just have regular voices! I had to do an accent for mine! I’m just glad she didn’t ask me to put Donkey on the phone, because I don’t think I can do his voice.

I kind of like Dr. Phil’s idea of having fictional characters congratulate your children for fulfilling the basic requirements of human hygiene. We already lie to kids about the existence of imaginary beings such as Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny, and Eskimos, so why not let them think cartoon characters are real, too? And not only are they real, but Mom and Dad have their phone numbers! That’s gotta earn you some Cool Points in your toddlers’ eyes — except I guess little kids probably don’t understand the concept of phone numbers, and they’re not going to remember any of this when they get older anyway. But still: For one brief, shining moment, little Lindsay thought that Shrek cared about her defecation habits. It’s heart-warming, isn’t it?

By the way, when I poop in the toilet, I call Jack Bauer.

I noticed a parallel between my mom calling me wanting to talk to Shrek and kids e-mailing me wanting to get in touch with Raven-Symone, but I couldn't find a way to work a reference to that into the column. Just know that the thought did occur to me.

Oh, and when I call Jack Bauer, he always gets angry because he never gets a chance to go to the bathroom at all, as you know if you've watched "24."

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