I broke character when I saw the coroners carrying a dead body out of my neighbor’s home.
“Holy shit!” I said as the two men hauled the body bag down the front steps of a house just three doors down from my own. Then I caught myself. “Hodor.”
The idea seemed beyond silly. The previous day I’d seen a picture on Facebook of actor Kristian Nairn, who plays the one-word-vocabulary character Hodor on Game of Thrones, working as a DJ. Apparently DJ Hodor is a thing, and I found the image so amusing I had to share it.
And, of course, the comments were all either “Hodor.” Or, “Hodor!” Or, “Hodor, Hodor, Hodor.”
I showed it to my wife and, being a big GoT fan, she laughed. “Who’s Hodor?” My son said.
For the next hour, “Hodor” became the word of the day in our house. My wife had been swearing more than usual about a sore Achilles tendon from karate practice, and my kids called her on it, and she started saying “Hodor” instead of “shit” every time she strained it.
I wasn’t serious when I posted on Facebook: “I wonder what it would be like to spend a day where the only word you said was, ‘Hodor’.” I wasn’t thinking about an article based on the idea, but then my friend Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity researcher in Ottawa, wrote: “Why wonder? Sounds like a good piece.” My profession is as a fitness writer, and Yoni and I read each other’s stuff all the time. He’d just given me an idea for an out-there story where the “exercise” was all about testing the limits of my marriage.
But I still didn’t think I was going to do it. It seemed too bizarre, even though I’ve used myself as a guinea pig in the past just to write about the experience, like when I collapsed at the finish line of my Boston Marathon qualifying run, or when I live tweeted running 10K through a blinding blizzard.
The next morning the first word out of my mouth was, “Cuddles,” used in the imperative. A few more words were uttered as my wife and I lay in bed, but when she got up to go to the bathroom her Achilles flared again and she said, “Shit … Hodor!”
And I thought, Why the hell not? My wife came back to bed and put in her earplugs for more sleep while I got the kids ready for karate. From the time my feet hit the floor, I was in Hodor mode.
“Hi, Dad.” My 15-year-old son came into the kitchen as I made coffee.
“Hodor.” He laughed. It was still funny from last night. Over the next half hour he was immersed in a video game, so we didn’t talk much, but I did reply with “Hodor” to two comments he made and it didn’t phase him. Then it was time to awaken his 12-year-old sister. “Hodor,” I said in a soft voice as I shook her awake. “Hodor. Hodor.”
Like her mother, my daughter is not a morning person. Daddy’s weirdness didn’t register. Later, when she finally dragged herself downstairs, she came up to me and said, “Hi, Daddy.”
“What’s with all the stupid ‘Hodor’ this morning?”
“Hodor.” I smiled.
“You’re weird. Connor, Daddy’s weird.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
My pre-teen daughter then went to check Facebook, Zuckerberg’s rules be damned, and a few minutes later said, “Daddy! Are you really just saying ‘Hodor’ all day today?” She’d seen the question posted in my status from the night before, and also the single word status update that morning. If she was on Twitter, she’d have seen my “Hodor” tweet as well; it was in a reply to Yoni, who’d tweeted something nice about my book, which he’d just finished reading.
“Hodor,” I said.
“That’s really annoying, Daddy.”
“Fine. I can be annoying too.” She started singing the Macarena. My son came into the room and lay in front of the fireplace. Ignoring my daughter, I went to my son, nudged him with my toe, pointed at the dishwasher full of clean dishes and said, “Hodor.”
Pointing at the dishwasher again. “Hodor!” My daughter had switched from the Macarena to Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” My son had decided he didn’t have to take orders from someone with a one-word vocabulary and steadfastly refused to do his assigned duty.
Frustrated, I got a glass of water and threatened to pour it on him. “Okay! I’ll empty the stupid dishwasher!” My daughter, annoyed that her singing wasn’t getting a reaction out of me, began to scream the Friday song into my ear. It hurt, and I got mad.
I took the water, which was only a couple of ounces, and tossed it at my daughter. She shrieked, got a glass of her own, and the entire situation rapidly degraded. My son was collateral damage, which pissed him off and made him refuse to finish emptying the dishwasher.
And that’s when I realized this was never going to work unless I changed tack.
The Hodor character is a gentle giant. He’s always eager to please, to help. He wants to be accepted. He is empathetic. I wasn’t doing any of that. To do the Hodor experiment, I had to become Hodor. Well, not completely, but I had to do the nice guy part.
So I stopped. Smiled. Opened my arms to my angry daughter and said, “Hodor.” She was cautious at first, then embraced me. I kissed the top of her head and softly whispered, “Hodor.” Then I went to my son and hugged him. He was less impressed, until I finished emptying the dishwasher for him. Then he decided this Hodor thing might not be so bad.
I pointed at the clock and said, “Hodor.” Time to get ready for karate, and time to wake my wife up. This was going to be interesting.
“Hodor.” I kissed her awake. She squinted at me and I handed her glasses to her.
“What time is it?”
“Stop being a dick and tell me what time it is.”
“Hodor.” I kissed her again and dashed out the room, grabbed my daughter and pointed her towards our bedroom. “Hodor!” I said. She went upstairs and explained Daddy’s current neuroses to her mother. “Are you serious?” my wife said.
This Hodor can drive, so he hustled the kids off to karate class. As we left the block I turned on the radio and “I was made for lovin’ you” by KISS was on. When Paul Stanley (who I’ve interviewed before) gets high pitched with his “I can’t get enoooouuuuugghhhh! AHHHH-AH-AAAAHH!” I sang along with “Ho-OOO-DOOOORRRR-O-OORRR!” and my daughter joined in from the back seat. My son looked like he was considering the survivability of leaping from a moving minivan.
We arrived at the dojo. Usually I’ll just open the back of the van and say, “Have a good class,” but I got out and into the frigid temperatures and helped them unload their equipment, giving them both big hugs and each a “Hodor.”
“I think I like Hodor,” my daughter said to her brother as she walked to the dojo.
The lights were all flashing red at a major intersection on the drive home, and one guy in a beat up old Caprice Classic didn’t understand what you’re supposed to do in such circumstances, and almost hit me. “He—HODOR!” I exclaimed. I had been about to say, “Hey, asshole! Watch where the hell you’re going!” But I quickly slipped back into happy Hodor mode and sang along with Neil Young. We rocked the free world together: “Ho-dor, Hodor, Hodor, Ho-DOR!”
I made it home and my wife was still in her bathrobe; I knew what that meant. What it meant is none of your damn business. She is a tolerant woman and was taking the whole Hodor thing surprisingly well. Hodor had a happy Saturday morning.
And no, there was no, “Ho-O-o-O-DOOOORRRR!!!!” I have some class.
We had a schedule to arrange, because we both had errands planned and needed to meet up at the Christmas tree lot at an agreed time. She laid out the entire plan and said, “Sound good?”
“Hodor!” I nodded.
But as I drove out of our cul-de-sac I saw the coroners and the body bag. I drove a little further then pulled over. My wife is a family physician and a caring soul. She needed to know our neighbor of 16 years had died. I broke electronic character and texted her the news.
The first stop was to buy a new Christmas tree stand. Nothing interesting happened, because the self-checkout had the shortest line. Nothing much exciting happened at the grocery store either, because the shortest line was the taciturn Asian man who always preferred not to chat. He didn’t bat an eye when I showed him a piece of paper with my rewards number written on it instead of reciting it aloud. I said Hodor a couple of times during the exchange, and it seemed to make no difference to him. It does kind of sound like “Hi there.”
Things went a little sideways at the liquor store, however. First, I looked at my list and saw rum was on it, and it made me realize I’d forgotten eggnog. Son of a Hodor I thought to myself. Then I chuckled. I grabbed the rum, wine and beer and went to the only cashier. She’s an attractive young blonde woman and we always chat. She looked at me strange when I showed her the same piece of paper with the membership number. Then: “How are you today?”
“Hodor,” I said, smiling. This elicited a look of confusion.
She rang me through and said, “Did you want your receipt?”
“Hodor,” I said and held out my hand.
“Uh, did you just say, ‘Hodor’?”
“Hodor.” I nodded.
“Oookaaayyy.” She drew it out the way people do when they’re questioning your sanity. I’d like to say I was having fun, but the reality is I was terribly embarrassed. My embarrassment had only just begun.
I picked up the kids. More hugs. More Hodor. Then off to meet their mommy at the Christmas tree lot. After some debate, we picked out a gigantic scotch pine. My wife went to pay and I was left to give instructions to the man with the chainsaw as to how much to buck off the end and how high up to clear away branches. I tried pushing my son towards him, saying “Hodor” under my breath to get him to take charge of the situation, but he said, “No, Dad. I don’t know how you want it done. You tell him.” He had an evil smirk. “Yeah, Daddy,” my equally smirking daughter said, “You tell him.”
What followed was not fun. Lots of “Hodors.” Lots of hand gestures. Lots of looks from the guy with the chainsaw like he wasn’t getting paid enough for this shit. I was tempted to go back the next day with a bottle of booze and an apology.
As we loaded the tree into the van my kids told my wife what had transpired. “Seriously?” she said. “God, how embarrassing. I’m glad I wasn’t there.” Mission Hodor was beginning to wear thin. On the drive home I vowed to be the best Hodor I could be. It was 2:00pm, and I was determined to last the day with my marriage intact.
As I hauled the Christmas tree out of the van and into the house, I saw my next door neighbor Hugo – who is both a Game of Thrones fan and always up for a chat – walking up the frozen street. I carried the tree faster, hoping to avoid him, but wasn’t quick enough. “Hey there!” he said.
“Hodor!” I said back. Like I wrote earlier. It sounds like a greeting. It wasn’t enough, however.
“Is Connor up for babysitting next weekend?” Great. A question. I’m not good with those today.
“Hodor.” I beckoned him towards the house.
“Did you just say ‘Hodor’?”
“Hodor.” I beckoned again. I carried the tree inside, Hodored my son to the door and felt that was enough conversation facilitation. My wife, getting more embarrassed by the minute, explained. “He’s doing some kind of stupid social experiment so he can write an article about it,” she said. Well, at least she figured out the article part. It was nice to be understood. I smiled and touched my finger to my nose. “Hodor!”
“Well friggin’ duh it’s for an article,” she said. “Why else would you do this?” Then she looked at Hugo. “The good part is that at least he can’t talk back.”
I grabbed my crotch in an exaggerated fashion. “Hodor.” Then I went into the kitchen and grabbed a beer and held it up to Hugo. “Hodor?” He accepted, saying, “I think I like Hodor.”
We had some challenges getting the tree up due to lack of effective communication; it was a big tree and a new stand. “You picked a helluva day to do this Hodor thing,” my wife said. Finally, we got things vertical and I got to work to make the house acceptable for my wife’s book club that evening. I knew she wanted a clean abode, so I kept myself busy with housework to distract her from the fact that her husband had lost his mind. The kids, however, weren’t cooperative, and that’s where things went off the rails.
I’d sent them upstairs to clean their bathroom, and for two high-strung kids a shared effort of scrubbing pee stains does not make for harmonious coexistence. They began fighting almost immediately, with wet cloths as weaponry. Hodor intervened quickly, but there was a problem.
Hodor was doing a better job of putting a cap on the teenage Chernobyl reactor than I could have. They were going all out, and I know I would have lost it and screamed even louder than they were. But all Hodor had was a soft voice and hugs. Alas, my wife didn’t know I was doing anything, and all she heard was children screaming while she was downstairs preparing for her party. I could sense her blood pressure rising from a floor away.
Finally, I did get things calmed down, got a three-way hug going, and facilitated more peaceful bathroom cleaning. For all my wife knew I’d been surfing the net and ignoring the entire meltdown. Fortunately, at dinnertime, while my wife was lamenting the entrance of Hodor into our lives, my daughter came to my defense. “Actually, Daddy did a really good job when Connor and I were fighting. He was super nice.” I leaned over and hugged her, although I think Hodor was beyond redemption in my wife’s eyes at this point, even if I had made guacamole for her party. She was concerned about how much I was going to embarrass her during book club. We had already been told to spend the evening in the basement watching movies.
A couple of hours later, while the discussion about not the book was in full swing, I came upstairs to use the bathroom and grab some snacks. Tracy, a massage therapist who’d I’d interviewed years ago for an article, said to me, “I was just talking about you the other day.”
“Hodor,” I said.
Before things went any further my wife lamented about her husband’s social experiment to the gathered. “I can help you hide the body,” one woman who I didn’t know said to my wife as I stood there, and I’ll admit that this annoyed me.
“This Hodor thing is just for today, right?” my wife said.
“I can’t tell if that’s ‘Hodor yes’ or ‘Hodor no’.”
Anger flashed in her eyes, so I nodded and returned to the basement to finish watching Wolverine with my son while my daughter played on her iPod. My son is not great to watch movies with. “What did that guy say?” is common, followed by, “What did that guy say when I said ‘What did that guy say’?”
He tricked me once, though, although the next day he said it was unintentional. The main characters were checking into a Japanese love hotel and my son said, “The dungeon, the nurses room, and the what?”
“Mission to Mars,” I said.
HA! Got you!”
“Hodor.” Since getting out of bed that made five words out of character. Later on I got my daughter into bed (my son had opted to stay up) and as I tucked her in she said, “I love you, Hodor.” She’d been the most accepting, probably because she likes Daddy hugs and doesn’t like yelling.
“Hodor.” I hugged her tight and went off to bed myself. My wife was still up with her friends, and I lay in bed and contemplated if I’d learned anything today. I’d discovered that my wife doesn’t like to be embarrassed, and who could blame her? I also learned that I talk too damn much. My job is to communicate, and I’m always spewing off opinions and directives either via keyboards or vocal chords. Hodor was a good listener, and I discovered value in that. I also learned that hugs are better to calm fighting kids than adding to the din. When coupled with more than a single-word vocabulary, I think it could be a good strategy moving forward. I committed to try.
The next morning I awoke and my wife lay asleep beside me. Feeling momentarily mischievous, I contemplated snuggling up and whispering “Hodor” in her ear, but opted for “I love you” instead.
She snuggled back and said, “I love you, too.” And everything was okay.
James S. Fell, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and AskMen.com. He is the author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada.