There are a couple boxes of pampers stacked next to Juniper's crib. Last Sunday she woke up from her nap and played sweetly in her crib for a few minutes. She hopped over to the diaper boxes and pointed directly at a little picture of Elmo on the box, and said, clear as anything: "Elmo."
"Holy fuck Wood, did you hear that?"
"She just said E-L-M-O."
"Have you been letting her watch Sesame Street while I'm at work like that woman you know from playgroup whose German husband doesn't want their kid watching TV but she lets the kid watch it all day anyway?"
"No, I swear. She's never seen Elmo on television or anywhere else as far as I know."
"Don't say that name, you'll encourage her."
"Where did she learn it?" asked Wood.
"Elmo!" said Juniper. "Elmo, Elmo, Elmo."
Don't get me wrong, I harbored no illusions that Juniper wouldn't be stricken with inevitable adoration for that self-narrating mangy-red-haired orange-proboscised muppet. One could easier cheat the grim reaper than avoid the dreaded Elmo. Still, I didn't expect it so soon. Wood and I sat around trying to figure out where she could have learned it:
"When she was about eight months old I let her hold an Elmo doll that my secretary has in her cubicle," I offered.
"I think there might be an Elmo book on the shelf in the YMCA's daycare," Wood speculated. "I know they read her a Barney book once."
The thing is, I don't really think anyone needed to tell her who he was. Elmo has simply found his way into the collective unconscious. Children are now born knowing his name; they just wait for their lips and tongues to be capable of saying it.
I am a lawyer. At least, I have been, and will be for the next few weeks or so of my life. This is something that I haven't written much about, primarily because it's boring. Despite hundreds of hours of television research over the course of my life telling me that lawyering is exciting and dramatic, in reality the only exciting thing about being a lawyer is the indigestion you get from the 17 cans of diet coke you consume every day. It's a grand illusion, television lawyering. I wonder if the same is true for detectives and surgeons: the only other two professions with at least 4-5 prime time shows devoted to them each network season.
"When kids apply to law school promising to do public interest, the admissions officers just laugh," writes one of our readers. And it's probably true. Everyone enters this game ready to pursue justice, to defend the weak, and to change the motherfucking world. Everyone envisions themselves the next Clarence Darrow, but the vast majority will end up like me, sitting in an Aeron chair in a nice office overlooking some big city somewhere trying to look busy while wondering why a voice inside them begs them to quit, begs them to do something else; eventually some suppress and even laugh at that voice, because it, unlike the law firm lords and masters, can't provide the security of a six figure salary. Occasionally you meet a law student in an interview who tells you some bullshit like, "I'm really interested in mergers and acquisitions," or "I've always found corporate transactions fascinating" and you stare at him like he just told you that he's really interested in licking mud-encrusted emu testicles, and so you say, "Don't bullshit me, Keanu. You're just here for the money."
I made a lot of money as a lawyer but I could never really figure out why. What was I doing that was so valuable? Defending some company that got sued, I guess. Some other lawyer decided to sue that company so that company came to me to defend it, and we lawyers all huff and puff a lot and the company pays me and then eventually gets sick of paying me so it pays the lawyer who sued less money that it was sued for and then we all shake hands. It strikes me that this whole industry is little more than sanctioned racketeering.
Last Friday my mentor and the partner who has assigned the bulk of my work took me out for lunch, and after some talk, while picking at a cool hunk of salmon draped on a bed of potato-crab hash I told him I had to resign. My voice sounded hollow, dull and distant when I spoke, he sat there stunned and silent, and I went on and explained, saying the things that anyone who reads this blog already knows. There was a tremendous pressure in the front of my face, between my eyes, and I felt tears in those eyes, and I rubbed my cheek. The partner reached across the table and gripped my hand, and he looked at me with tear-filled eyes and said, "James, you know I care about you. You know that, right?"
For four years I have been "James" at work. That's not what Wood calls me, or what my parents call me, but it's what my resume said when I applied and it's what everyone has called me when they saw me in the law firm's halls for the last four years. I know when I'm at home and someone calls my cell phone asking for James, it's about work, and my head goes straight to where it needs to be to talk about work, because when I'm home and spending time with my baby, I don't want to be James. I don't want to think like "James" at all when I'm home.
There is that famous quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne: "No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true." I looked at the partner, who has been a father figure to me trapped out here on this coast so far from my family, and we gushed on and on about how much we've enjoyed working together and all the good we thought of one another. I realized this man was one of the truly great people I would meet over the course of my life, and I held him in a reverence I'd always saved for my most dazzling and brilliant college professors. Had I been lying to him all this time, or had I become truly bewildered as to who I was? We spoke of a future that I pretended, for his sake, to want: a future much like the path he had taken, or as close to such a future as I could get, having just that hour forsaken the path that would have led to exactly where he was.
I have never been good at quitting jobs. Even the Russ job. I never really give a damn about the company, or the job itself, but what I care about are the people who have come to depend on me. In some ways my entire life feels like a desperate effort not to disappoint anyone.
When I got back to work I just stood in the empty elevator bank with my back against the wall and I listened to the whistling of air and elevator hauling people up and down 28 stories. I've worked a thousand days here. Six thousand times or more those elevators whistled me up and down. How could I let myself become such a duplicitous fuck? I sat there and listened to those elevators long and long. I went back to my office and looked at the pictures of Juniper, my engravings of John Brown and Walt Whitman, my photos of Clarence Darrow and Charlie Chaplin on the wall. My feelings towards myself softened. In the end, it is good that what I will miss about this place are the people, and not just the paychecks. Some other sap will come along and get my office and my Aeron chair and he'll bill hours and realize that these are good people and this is a good place to work. And maybe he'll stay, and maybe he won't.
And I'll be somewhere else. With Juniper. Change isn't always easy, but it is necessary if you can't suppress the yearnings deep inside you, if you haven't yet fooled yourself into thinking you know exactly who you are. All I'm really sure of now is that I'm not James.
Carl is the Rottweiler protagonist in a series of textless children's books where a child's mother repeatedly leaves her in the care of the dog, Carl, for several hours before returning completely unwaware of the madcap adventures and zany hijinks that have taken place while she was gone (stuff like, "oh snap! Carl got into the jelly again!"). I've looked at these books with Juniper so many times I am banging my head against the cardboard out of boredom, such boredom that I began to wonder what a Carl book would be like if the baby's mother was a hobo:
Last night Wood and I set our signatures in blue ink on the freshly-delivered contract for our new 3-bedroom, 1470 square foot home in downtown Detroit with central air and a finished basement and a garbage disposal and a dishwasher and a full-sized washer and dryer. As the ink dried, the sound of trumpets echoed from all around and the walls of our tiny one-bedroom apartment rattled violently and the sheet that we've hung between our bed and Juniper's crib to keep her from gesticulating crude mammary gestures at us all night fluttered as though a strong gust of wind had ruffled it, and the apartment-sized washer/dryer combo that have been the bane of Wood's existence cowered in the corner of the kitchen, jiggling the doorknob to the fire escape, and the stuffed animals, all those goddamn stuffed animals whose depraved nightly inter-generic orgies have caused their number to swell to the thousands, and all their bizarre hybrid progeny, they whimpered in fear that one day soon they would be confined to a closet or a bedroom and no longer allowed to graze freely on cookie crumbs throughout our living room, and finally the hardwood floor of that very room (in the very spot where my mother-in-law has slept during each of her sixteen visits) opened up into a fiery, roaring maw of Charybdis from which resonated the cackling of Moloch in Pandaemonium and the barking of hellhounds returning to the womb of sin to gnaw at her entrails. . .
I put a rug over it and assured Wood that now we were going to get out of this hellhole for good.
Remember little Billy Grosspietch, the three-year-old kid who liked to breastfeed his doll "num nums"? Well, in about 27 years, little Billy is going to be draped in an afghan, drinking a steaming cup of tea and talking about his problems to a room full of people and he's going to look across the circle of afghan-draped tea slurpers and see young Graysen June, a towheaded chap who liked to suck on Barbie's tits when he was two years old. What will the name of this support group be? "Children whose mothers sent pictures of them to Mothering Magazine and whose middle school classmates found the pictures by googling their names."
Check out the closeup:
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit this question to you: how intimidating can a tattoo parlor possibly be when it has enough toys in its lobby to entertain a seventeen-month old child for two hours while her mother gets stuffed with ink under a screeching needle upstairs? I love that my wife was more intimidated by the prospect of getting a tattoo from a hipster queercore punk rock star (literally) tattoo artist than the neo-nazi redneck on parole who did her last tattoo. Everything went just fine, and the tattoo is beautiful.
Maybe Wood will post a picture later today.
I'm still waiting for the day to come when I'll wish she was younger. It's like a refrain with us: she'll smile or say something or scoot along the ground in some woeful imitation of running and Wood and I will look at each other and say I don't want her to grow up---this is the perfect age. Then a couple months later we'll say that same thing again. Often I'll see someone else's baby in some earlier state of infant evolution, and I'll think, God I'm so glad Juniper's not that age anymore. That age is no fun compared to this one. It gives me some hope that we will never see the day where we'll wish she's something she's not.
The last few days were full of such superlatives; for example, we were sure that Monday was her sweetest day ever, watching her cling to Wood's belly at the beach in Santa Cruz, afraid of the water, watching her slurp down a milkshake and shriek along the sidewalk of Pacific Street, parting waves of admiring old ladies with each step. But then we said it again yesterday while she romped around the sculpture garden outside the De Young Museum rushing us with kisses and then hiding from us, giggling behind trees in the Shakespeare Garden. With two days off work I was able to spend four full days with Juniper: four days without her clinging to my shins while I hunt for my keys in the morning, no need for those hard byebyes. She's laughing so much these days; she's showing us that she has a sense of humor and she plays little jokes that she finds absolutely hilarious. She's talking so much more, finding words for the things she wants. Wood remarked that it must feel so powerful to suddenly find yourself able to ask for something and then actually get it, to say "ca-ca" and have two crackers appear out of nowhere to fit snugly in two hands. My favorite thing about this Juniper is the way she responds to your voice when you ask any question: she nods with such baseless certainty. "Juniper, are there monkeys in those trees?" [vigorous nodding] "Juniper, don't you think that Heath Ledger is only marrying Michelle Williams because she got knocked up?" [nod, nod] My favorite thing to do at the end of the day when I come home from work is to sit with her in the tub and ask her about all the things she did that day, and have her look up at me with those big brown eyes and nod in answer to every question.
Despite her overeagerness to affirm, it is clear she does understand so much more than she can say. I love watching her think, watching her "twist the shapes of thoughts into the stony idiom of the brain." I get so absorbed in her words, I whisper and repeat them in her ear on long walks. I am so eager to converse with her, her every correct answer to my mild interrogation feels as powerful to me as it must feel for her to get what she asks for. "What does the bus say, Juniper?" Vroooooooooooooo. "Which way to the ducks?" [she points] While walking down our street and she suddenly says "leafs," I'll lift her high above my head and she reaches her arms up into the boughs and branches of the trees and she shrieks as the fleshy blades and the petioles tickle her palms. "Again," she tells me, as we draw near a gingko at eye level and I stick my nose into her neck and she giggles and the gingko leaves run along both our cheeks.
I remember years ago when I first moved to San Francisco I went out for sushi with a friend and during the entire meal I was distracted to dumb wonder by a father and his teenage daughter eating together at the next table on a late Sunday afternoon. This should say something about what kind of 23-year old I was, to sit there and fantasize about some future meal with some imagined daughter of my own who would want to sit and have sushi and talk with me when she's sixteen, to laugh and talk about important things or things that weren't important at all, but more importantly to sit across from her and hear her voice and hear her shade and knit anew the patch of words we've gifted her, to sit and marvel and gasp at the wonder of this thing that's sprung from me.
Just when you've spent an hour sitting with your daughter by a pond in Golden Gate Park, resting under the ferns and feeding the ducks among the lilypads. . .
. . .and it's so idyllic you half expect Ellery Channing and H.D. Thoreau to float past on a punt discussing the virtues of wanderlust. . .
. . .and you're struck with a sudden sense of mourning for this park, its beauty and and its giant presence in your life and the life of your child, and how much you will miss it when you move. . .
. . .then suddenly a mangy rat will scuttle out from its den of filth and snatch up the last crumb of crust that your baby has tossed out to her friends, the baby ducks.
And you'll tell her it's a mouse.