Jackson and I are back home now, and that was one hell of a trip we took to Grandma’s house. I had a major awakening concerning some old familial mind-fucks that I’m not going to sum up just yet, but just as I swung between the extremes of either utter silence and despair or the simple camaraderie of kitchen table gallows humor, I had the fun of watching my aging mother swing between being lovely and chipper and lucid or being utterly disoriented at the sight of her three adult children at the foot of her bed and why did we keep rolling her over to wash her butt? Madam, I’m sure you’ll agree with the rest of us who prefer to breathe air in which the parts per million of Citrus Magic outweigh the underlying bouquet of Gorilla House in August when we say that personal hygiene benefits everyone.
Speaking of funk, last month my little family spent two weeks in New York City and boy howdy! We know whereof we speak when it comes to the aromas of humanity. Shall we begin our little tour back in time? Do lets.
Jackson can be seen here twirling one finger next to his temple, the international sign for “You’re crazy and I hate you for embarrassing me like this. I’m only forgiving you because you bought me this delicious pretzel.”
Hey, aren’t orange and blue Mets colors? It’s these partisan paint jobs that tear our communities apart, I’m surprised an outraged Yankees fan hasn’t taken up arms against this blatant act of paintular favoritism.
After we got off the ferry we headed toward South Street Seaport to show Jackson the big boats. After a couple of blocks, Jackson reverted to a lifeless infant, raised his arms toward me with a pitiful expression, and cried, “Picky.” “PICKY?!” I shouted. (Whenever he wants a piggy back ride I pretend that he’s asking for the practical equivalent of a balloon ride over the North Pole. Then he laughs because he likes to be teased, and then I push him into oncoming traffic. No, just kidding, I usually give him a piggyback ride first.)
Of course, most six-year-olds aren’t getting carried around on their mother’s back like baby bonobo monkeys, thus setting off a dumbfoundedness bomb that triggers disbelief in every fourth adult within a ten block radius. My brother-in-law took a direct hit:
“Can you imagine Dad giving us piggyback rides when we were six?” scoffed Uncle Stinky.
“Walk!” yelled Jack, imitating their father.
“Keep up!” yelled Uncle Stinky.
“Indian file!” yelled Jack.
“Yeah, well, this is the only exercise I get these days, humping around a forty-five pound kid.” My reply fell on deaf ears. Really, though, try it. After a short time your rippling deltoids will speak for themselves. (It’s kind of creepy in a How to Get Ahead in Advertising way at first, but you’ll get used to it.)
Anyway, I had to put Jackson down to take a picture of that building up there that you’ve already scrolled past, the one with all the numbers on it. At first glance I thought it was some sort of seventies New Math metric system calendar, or maybe a bold social commentary on a social ill that then got cleared up during the Koch administration, but it turns out that it’s actually fairly straightforward clock. Of course, twenty feet down the street Jackson asked me to pick him up again so I swung him around onto my back with one burly arm, despite the inevitable upswell of sarcasm. Someday when Jack and his brother are withering away I’ll do handsprings into their hospital room, hoist a nurse on each arm, and say something . . . witty.
As we reached South Street and I awoke from my narcissistic fantasy, the four of us found a nice sidewalk restaurant and a table with some shade. After everyone ordered, Jackson and I walked down to the water to look at some of the boats up close. I am always impressed with giant anchors, and Jackson was impressed with a bulldog who had collapsed flat onto the sidewalk, limbs akimbo, and was panting as though suffocation was imminent. Because I have a bulldog of my own I know that these flat-faced dogs have trouble processing enough oxygen and when it gets hot they can collapse. But since I’m not a judgmental asshole, I just went up to the guy holding the dog’s leash and said, “Hey! Can we say hi to your dog?” The guy shrugged. Jackson let the dog sniff his fist, then gave it a tentative pat on the shoulder. “We love bulldogs, we have one at home,” I went on like some sort of desperately friendly tourist. “Is your dog male or female?” The guy shrugged again. “I forget,” he said. You know when you get to that point with someone who doesn’t want to be bothered where you can either cut him some slack and take off, or you can press the point until he’s forced to give you a straight answer? “So what’s your dog’s name?” I persisted. The dog panted. The guy looked at me for like a minute and then finally said, “Clementine.” Jackson gave the dog one more pat, which she acknowledged with a little lick to his hand before returning to her desperate bid to breathe. “Thanks!” I said to the guy and we walked off.
I gave Jackson a green iPod shuffle for his birthday and put 54 of his favorite songs on it. Here he is introducing Uncle Stinky to some of the highlights of his collection, including Blue Oyster Cult, Pink, and The Beastie Boys (clean version). To his enormous credit, Uncle Stinky was totally down with everything Jackson played for him.
Naturally, after I loaded this photo onto flickr I got a comment from the admin of “Random Butt Cracks” asking me to add this photo to their group. I declined. It seemed like sort of a heartless request.
So after Uncle Stinky went back home to Queens we decided to join the humanity in Union Square watching this group of Brazilians play Capoeira.
Maybe a dozen fighters stood in a circle clapping and chanting while two of them would come into the center and show off some moves — lots of high kicks and ducking and low leg sweeps. A couple of the guys were really strong and you could tell they could kick someone’s ass if need be, but they kept it friendly.
People were crowding so close around their circle that the fighters didn’t have a lot of room to flaunt their stuff, but they managed. This is also about the point where the betrayal of The New Lady Shoes that I had insisted on wearing because I thought I could magically will them with my mind not to give me blisters became acute. and would ultimately lead to Jack declaring, “You know why I love you so much? Because you’re so fucking stubborn.”
Jesus, it was 1,000 degrees out and all those people were wearing LONG PANTS. Also, gorgeous there in the middle gave me the stink eye for taking her picture. Sorry, Gisele, I know you’re part of the group and don’t want to be singled out for your looks, but I’d already taken pictures of everyone else! It was just your turn.
If you go to the Central Park Zoo, you will probably try to take a picture of the amazing polar bear tank, but you probably will not succeed in capturing how ravishing is a polar bear who swims straight at you, rolls over, pushes off the glass like an Olympic relay racer, and paddles away.
I guess if that face hole were appropriately child-sized, instead of big enough to pass Beatrix Potter’s coffin through, some joker would go and get his head wedged in there and they’d need two firetrucks and a sledgehammer to get him out. So the hole is made too big and humanity is once again saved from itself.
Speaking of being watched, this is the empty light fixture above the bed in Grandma Susan’s apartment; it looks at you in wonder as you lay there scratching yourself and trying to decide between Sports Center or the Best of the Robin Byrd Show.
At some point I insisted that everyone put their clothes back on and we caught a train out to Alice’s house. I took exactly four pictures while we were there and Henry and Jackson were complete blurs in three of them. So this is the picture where Jackson was sitting still, saying, “Henry, my Mom is taking a picture.” Henry, sensibly, ignored me and continued to instruct Jackson in the many destructive uses of Matchbox cars. Then I put away my camera and went to sit in Alice’s extremely pleasant back yard with her and Jack and Charlie the dog and drink beer. Then Jack took over the kitchen and shooed Alice and I off to the charmingly named Bottle King for more wine. The rest of the evening was a blur of pork and pinot grigio. Later, Jackson crammed himself into the guest room’s queen-sized futon with Jack and me instead of camping out on the floor like a normal person, and I awoke after six hours of fitful sleep with a monstrous headache and a surly demeanor, which no doubt made me a less than pleasant houseguest that morning. I’m pretty sure Alice forgives me, if I used the memory wiper correctly.
We also spent a few nights up at Grandma Susan’s condo in Connecticut, where it was hotter than Satan’s barbecue but people were still putting on their long pants (!) and browsing the tables at the town library’s annual book sale, where I picked up several good children’s book and had a nice chat with illustrator Vickie Chess, who signed one of her books for Jackson but respectfully and firmly declined to be photographed.
Then we went to get ice cream. I
need to remember that ice cream in hot weather is kind of a drag; Jackson’s was all melted down his arm before he knew it, and the whole thing ended up in the trash. Then we had to buy a bottle of water just to pour it all over his hands, and because we only had a couple of napkins he ended up wiping everything all over me.
Holy pig-in-a-blanket, this post is getting long. Still with me? Back in the city the skies opened up while we were strolling around midtown after a delightful matinee of The Lion King. We bought three umbrellas, then said screw it and went to sit on the library steps until the storm let up. Jack, the business owner, took the opportunity to check his messages. Someone somewhere was fucking things up, but there wasn’t much he could do about it, 3,000 miles away. Also, this is the last photographic evidence of those $200 sunglasses on his head, which an hour later were lost in a force-five gale outside of Penn Station.
Staying dry, staying fly, and watching the world go by.
Pretty much the worst street pretzel I’ve ever had, most of which ended up being “saved for later” in my bag, with some unpleasant consequences.
The cheapest Yankees tickets we could get were for a game against Toronto. I got stuck sitting next to this knowledgeable but truly enormous man whose elbow kept jabbing me in the sternum every time he took a picture of the field with his expensive camera. He was talking esoterica with his buddy on the other side, and I suddenly felt like such a chick pulling out my camera to take a picture of Derek Jeter coming up to bat.
This kid had an incredible mouth on him. Seriously, he was bellowing. And then of course Matsui hit a home run and the place when apeshit and Jackson started crying and trying to crawl inside my shirt. Yankee stadium is unbelievably loud for a wee, delicate Yankees fan at his first game who wanted to go home in the third inning.
We left in the seventh inning, which was fine, the Yankees were winning and Jack was happy to have taken Jackson to Yankee Stadium before they tore it down. This is the new stadium they’re building basically right next door. Luxury boxes, whatever.
An old family friend, Jack Wolf, gets the 411 on how to beat Kirby Squeak Squad. He used to write for TV Guide and knows about 8,000,000 more things about television and movies than you do. Jackson was partially named for him and he’s always doing nice things for Jackson, like buying him a subscription to National Geographic Kids, and I am really happy I have this picture of them together.
Okay, so one day not during this trip to New York but during the one I just took last week to Denver to see my mom? I took Jackson and his thirteen-year-old cousin, John, to the movies to see Underdog, which was terrible. Not even the shrewdly cast and excellent bad-guy team of Peter Dinklage and Patrick Warburton could save this boring, boring, boring film. However, there was this one scene between fucking Jim Belushi and the kid who played his kid, and the kid realizes that he doesn’t need to push his dad away, they can be friends.
And I’m kind of pissed that this profound personal realization came on the back of such a trite, B-movie vehicle, but there it is. I saw that my father had been so suffocating and controlling that the only defense I ever had was to push him away; then I began to use withdrawal as a way to control my own situations, and for safety’s sake I kept everyone at arm’s length. And then six months ago I ended up in therapy trying to figure out why I felt so distant from everyone in my life and had this weird heavy feeling in my chest all the time.
So after the movie I took the kids back to grandma’s house, and my brother, Tim, asked me how the movie was and then we talked. It felt sort of weird and uncomfortable at first, to be standing in my parents house having an open conversation and expressing honest opinions, but I did it, and it felt good, and I could tell my brother was digging our new connection.
Jackson: “You said a bad word!”
Jack: “I know I said a bad word, motherfucker!”
Anyway, that heavy feeling in my chest has since lifted. So yay for several things, one being the timely application of therapy, two being able to move through the death of a parent with renewed understanding of myself and our relationship, and three having forgiving, perseverent family and friends.
Finally, on our last weekend in NYC, I told Jack that I needed a grownup day for myself to try and see some New York friends, and he agreed to take Jackson over to Uncle Stinky’s and they’d meet me later, around 7:00, for dinner. So I made a date to have lunch with my friend Pam and then walk up to MoMA, which I hadn’t been to in like ten years. We ran into Philip on the street and shanghaied him into coming along. Opinion was divided on the Richard Serra exhibit. Personally, if you’re looking for threatening mass and scale, I kind of preferred the anchors at the seaport. Philip thinks Serra’s a scam artist. I think Pam was leaning that way, too, although discussing it later with my friend John, who believes that Serra’s a genius and that no one else creates such visceral forms (or rather, forms that make you scared to get too near them in case they fall on you and kill you), I had to admit that my reaction to Serra’s work was exactly what the artist wanted.
Thirty minutes of Googling later: it’s a Damien Hirst.
I made it back downtown and met Jack and Jackson at 7:00 on the dot at the playground at Union Square, where Jack told me that this little guy had just taken his very first steps that day, at ten months old.
Then we got big, fat Ray’s pizza and went home.