Having a kid will really change you. This kid, he asks me the other day, “If less is sometimes more, does that mean fewer can be greater, like if the love in love songs is not a countable thing?” This kid, he’s a real kick in the seat, let me tell you. Not paranoid at all or anything. Like a dusky stranger in Farewell Land, I guess. Shoot the genius who forgot to grow up, as usual. Steer him clear of the chore wheel, though. Give him a cane and a rifle, maybe a pewter chess set. He doesn’t ever use the phone, tells folks, “These fingers weren’t made for texting or tying blue ribbons on the sky.” But in the not-so-cruel and usual ways he’ll get going at it, well, there could’ve been something to hide, to cherish and take care of in the unrolled boulders of ascent’s toil. But, like I said, I’m a changed man now, so forget it. That kid’s got it made.
He points to things and asks about them. He garbles names and places. Right away, I can tell. The trees aren’t moving like they used to. Streets are blind to it too. But what did you figure with a kid like that? I tell him, “Life is just socks and underwear, Kiddo. Wash ’em every week. Kill some mosquitoes; pay some bills; chew your petals; make yourself useful.” There are dinosaur shapes in the bougainvillea.
This kid, he makes me wonder who it is I’m always pretending to be. A cartwheel of gesturing and posing, looks and likes, the small stuff tucked stiffly into my argyles. The jokes I’ll never make come back to haunt me in a harangue of botched punchlines. But this kid? He still worships all the sidewalks I’ve ever trod. On one lugubrious afternoon we hoofed it down to the local graveyard and wrote our names in the apron’s still-wet cement. I let go some wisdom: “Some say a cemetery’s just a sleeping place. Let’s nod off for a bit. Say howdy to snoozing’s cousin.” The kid scratches at his melon in all those messy tufts of auburn, and he then trills, “Bury my body, I don’t care where they bury my body, Lord, I don’t care where. Just leave my soul alone.”
It’s these things that get you. I spend too much of my time tied up in nonsense as it is. My hokey glamour sings fireflies their dreams while I fold blank checks into paper airplanes, kissing the windows steamy. A muskox has been smoking all of my cigarettes. Nothing here, with this kid, is included in the price of purchase. There are mislabeled discounts in the furniture of our teak surroundings.
Having a kid around, that makes you think. You start to wonder about steady conflicts, arisen tensions, baffled strains of contrariness, lost thoughts, mushy avocados — the real how-to of getting by. This kid I got, he wears safety pins in his shoes; he chews leather strips and spits the greasy black juice into a sippy cup. I want to start him on light beer, bitter-melon popsicles, maybe get him to try plum-flavored gum. But this kid, he’s dead set on being a thorn in my eye. He’s resilient about not being set in my ways. He’s got his own ways that he’s trying on for size. He makes lariats into belts. Rough as pig iron, this kid. Using the garden hose as a lasso, he drawls deep like John Wayne, almost purring stuff like, “I say riata. You say reata.” What’re you going to do with a kid like that? Keep him, I guess.
This kid, he taught himself how to croon and ride a bike. He swings husky and elated through my tossed indignation, telling me, “The shapes of buildings are just things to munch on.” Me? I throw most of our apples out the window in the general direction of passing cop cars from the safety of the bedroom. I hit the lights and lie low. The kid comes in, though, flicks the light switch and ruins everything. I tell him, “Hey kid! Douse those lights already!” He just spins and spins on his toes. Sometimes he bows deeply from the waist at me when he’s done. His mussed hair stands up like thousands of blowzy people singing the national anthem. He’s taken to wearing the living room curtains as a cape. I can’t run this show anymore.
I’ve got these dreams of sewing neckties together to make dresses. The dream’s volume is all the way down, but not muted. In the dreams I’ll talk to myself, say stuff like, “Hearing terrible things is better than hearing nothing at all.” One morning I woke to discover a giant fish tank at the foot of my bed. I do not own a single fish.
This kid, his heart squishes like sushi in the afternoons while I make sunlight bend with my mouth mirror. Sometimes he pretends to be enjoying my company. I’m glad we’ve still got these things. I’ve given up bathing. I’ve started listening to the noise between radio stations while constructing fake laminated robots from discarded vegetable boxes. I wear a purple derby in the glow of the TV. This kid gazes at me with gummy eyes, humming The Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness just above what’s got his breath bated. I can take it; and I can’t. I tell him, “Your body makes cholesterol while you sleep.” He blinks hard a few times and toes the carpet edge between rooms, mumbling, “Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think.”
I’ll tell you something else. And there’s a reason for it, though I don’t imagine you’ll understand it. But, this is the thing: I tell the kid, “Some screwball once said, ‘It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.’” And this kid, well, this kid, he starts shuddering. He makes a zygomatic mistake — something wriggling and supple. A twinge. A twitch. A bunching bordering on bundling of efferent and afferent nerves. I don’t have the proper balance to come through with anything else. This kid’s out for structure, or some sort of subtle death to it, maybe.
Doors are for being knocked on, sometimes late at night, while the kid flutters and swoons in his sleep. I think to myself, ‘As the doorknob turns.’ I sneak in the kid’s basement room and espy the kid all wrapped up in the throes of a luxurious tumult. Whispering loans me slicker traction to slip by on. I kneel by the kid’s Exiled-Napoleon canopy bed and duck my head below the wax-paper drapes. There are uncomfortable ramifications in the bungee springs of the felt mattress. My hands clasp velvet covers and coarse jute blankets. The kid turns but doesn’t toss. My voice trails on and off: “Remember me? I was doing headstands on The Charlie Rose Show. Droopy flies just floating and hovering around that oak table. And I’m singing, remember? I’m singing, ‘Hey, Mr. Tangerine Man, sell some fruit to me.’ Charlie doesn’t care what way I sit, or don’t, in that chair. Sometimes a sidesaddle way to it, with me: feet dangling off to one side, arms behind head in the most relaxed of all poses. I had a few cigarettes on me, and played toothpick games with one of them while Charlie interrogated me. Told him things like, ‘Charlie, hey. I’ve got a $19.95 blow-up doll with a hole in her inflatable head. I’m as cosmopolitan as a cachalot. What else do you need to know?’ Christ’s belt buckle and a nickel flute, I wonder what ever happened to that old Charlie Rose?”
I try to give the kid something, something like, “The lesson’s not learned while people disobey traffic laws. The same things keep happening differently. Just be kind. Help others. You are not such a big deal. That’s all you need to do in this world.”
I don’t — give it to him, that is. This kid will take it like he takes it, or leave it the same. This kid’s got sense.
And so, we hobble and wobble this way and that’a way too, here — alone and together, the kid and I — making it all up as we go.
And, just so you know, we wouldn’t have it any other way.