Its own reward

Our lives have truly been the landscape of a zombie invasion. It turns out that the zombie craze is no passing fancy; sure, in the scheme of things it’s merely a phase, but it’s proving to be one with some real staying power. Things got more serious when Arlo discovered a YouTube channel featured by the “Plants vs. Zombies” iPad game in which he’d been engrossed for weeks. The channel belongs to a boy named Ryan Phillips, a.k.a. Tewtiy (he’s actually 22, I think, but Arlo calls him a boy, so that’s how he’s known around here). His platform is livestream gaming, where followers can watch him engage in gameplay while sending in messages, and these recordings are uploaded to his channel for asynchronous viewership. The kid is actually rather adorable, with his signature red shirt, blue bow tie, and gravity-defying blonde bangs culminating in a kind of a cartoon version of himself as his online persona, and his videos are pretty great. He only offers family-friendly content, and his gregarious personality paired with a healthy approach both to the material and to the process of playing video games themselves provides entertaining substance and refreshing perspective. I vetted his videos and gave Arlo the green light to enjoy them.

And enjoy them he did. It was his version of watching a spectator sport, and he talked to Ryan while he watched him on screen, encouraging him, congratulating him on successes, sharing disappointment at setbacks, and celebrating euphorically when hard-won victories against the waves of zombies were achieved. The videos were truly a source of delight, and Arlo fell head over heels in brotherly love with him. Naturally, he wanted to communicate with his newfound matinée idol, and he asked countless times if “the boy” could come over for a play date. He wrote him a card saying that he wanted to start a club with him, complete with illustrated plants and zombies, and begged me to send it, so told him I’d look the kid up and see if I could get in contact.

Guys, I did my best. I trawled the internet (not to be confused with the verb phrase “troll the internet”) and found his Instagram account. I wrote him a private message, explaining the situation and asking if he would mind sharing an address where I could send this very important piece of fan mail. I told him that Arlo adores him and thinks he’s a superstar, and I shared the idea that Arlo had for us for Halloween: he would dress up like the Snow Pea plant from the game, and I would be a Conehead Zombie (I’d need a pylon to wear on my head for this). We would buy some jumbo marshmallows, paint them blue, and he would throw them at me. “That would be efic!” said Arlo, when we landed on this plan (he thinks the word “epic” is pronounced “efic”, and no one is correcting him).

A week passed with no response. Arlo was adamant that we try again, so this time I found his email address and wrote a similar message conveying my son’s worshipful opinion of him and thanking him for keeping his channel family-friendly and ultimately fun. Crickets. I searched again, using clues from his videos (his father’s name is Stephen, for instance), trying to unearth a mailing address or any other outreach method, but failed to turn up any leads. Still, Arlo persisted in his desire to make contact, so we thought about creating Arlo’s own YouTube channel and trying to link Ryan’s channel somehow–anything to get his attention. Brian said, “We could structure it as a spin-off paying homage to “the boy’s” channel, and in the description we could say you’re his #1 fan.” Arlo said, “No, I don’t want to say that, because I wouldn’t want all of his other fans to feel bad.”

One thing’s for certain: Ryan is really missing out. I know a great friend when I know one and, as evinced by his response to his dad about fandom, I can’t think of a person more well suited to the act of friendship than Arlo. We no longer refer to Ryan as “the boy” because Arlo started calling him “my friend who doesn’t know he’s my friend”. If we’re to believe Emerson, who said in his “Friendship” essay that “the only way to have a friend is to be one,” then Arlo sure got that right.

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