Saturday, September 21, 2013

For Keeps

             Having a kid will really change you. I tell you. This kid, he asks me the other day, “If less is more, does that mean fewer is greater?” 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 chess set. He doesn’t ever use the phone. But in the not-so-cruel and usual ways he’ll get going at it, well, there could’ve been something to hide. 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 sings nonsense stuff. Right away, I can tell. The trees aren’t moving like they used to. Streets are blind to it too. But what’d you figure with a kid like that? I tell him, “Life is just socks and underwear, Kiddo. Wash ‘em every week.” There are dinosaur shapes in the flowers.
            This kid, he makes me wonder about 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 trousers. The jokes I’ll never make come back to haunt me. And this kid? He worships all the sidewalks I’ve ever trod. It’s these things that get you. I spend too much of my time tied up in nonsense as it is. 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 avocadoes-- 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, almonds, maybe get him to try tomato-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 puts potatoes in the fridge and then eats them like apples. He uses lariats as belts, this kid. 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 sing and ride a bike. He swings husky and elated through my tossed indignation. 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, and ruins everything. I tell him, “Hey kid! Douse those lights already!” He just spins and spins on his toes. Sometimes he bows deeply at me when he’s done. His 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 things is better than hearing nothing.” 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 and constructing laminated robots from discarded vegetable boxes. I wear purple derbies in the glow of the TV. This kid gazes at me with gummy eyes. I can take it and I can’t. I tell him, “Your body makes cholesterol while you sleep.” He blinks 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 think you’ll understand it. But, this is the thing: I tell the kid something like, “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 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 go in the kid’s basement room and espy the kid all wrapped up in the throes of a luxurious tumult. Whispering loans me rainy 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 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?’”
            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. 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 wobble this way, 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.