A Fine New Year's Greeting
No one has written me a piece of hate mail in many months, but today, a reader decided to send my 2005 off right. It was a mean, but relevant letter, as good hate mail should be. I'll reprint it in full here, leaving off the person's name, because I'm polite like that:
"What happened to you? I used to read you a couple of years ago and you were very funny. Now you've turned into some suburban jew dad who drones on about your unnotable son and your neighborhood issues. What the fuck? Do all jews turn into their Uncle Ira's the second they start with the whole family sthick or what?
Nobody cares about Elijah, Neal. You do. That's great. Nobody else does. Get back to entertaining us like a good monkey - get the psuedo hipster cynacism hat back on and cut it out with the whole Mel Weinberg nice family guy act. It sucks. Like you."
OK, girlie. First of all, my neighborhood is about as un-suburban as they come, but that little mistake aside, there are some more important things to discuss . Maybe my voice has been a little long-winded and whiny in the past week, but, you know, a blog is a place to work out stylistic tics. Sometimes it takes a while to hit the right tone, and sometimes the tone changes based on the subject matter. Plus, I have a three-year-old, which can bring even the cockiest sonsofbitch to his knees.
That said, it's been at least a year, if not more, since I put the "Greatest Living American Writer" to rest. It served a purpose, the books capturing that voice exist, and people can enjoy or revile them as they see fit. Right now, my imagination, and my entire life, are taken up with parenting. Hipster, or "psuedo hipster" concerns fly out the window when you have a kid. Maybe not immediately, but it's a slow leak, and then, yes, sometimes you do end up sounding like your Uncle Ira. Maybe you're busy attending cool Chanukah parties in Brooklyn and adopting Judaism as a lifestyle accessory. Maybe you have no interest in the mundane details of family life. But I can guarantee that there are more people out there who can relate to a life like mine, "unnotable" kids and all, than those who share your program of bitter posturing. Now, on with the show.
Yesterday, I was waiting on line at AAA for my California auto registration papers, a humiliating experience in its own right. Then Elijah kicked me in the nuts.
"Goddamn it!" I said, while trying not to say more.
About 25 people witnessed this scene, yet another in a long series of ones where my control over my son is slipping away.
This afternoon, we had some friends over to hang out. They hadn't seen Elijah in a couple of years, and we were excited to show him off. He was in bed, shrieking en lieu of napping, when they arrived. When we pulled him out of bed, he immediately demanded that we all go into his room to play with him. When we refused, he started throwing his toys. Regina turned on a video so we could talk, but conversation comes hard when Carole King is singing "Chicken Soup With Rice" in the background. Carole King has never been the soundtrack to my life, and I'm not about to start now.
Still, it kept Elijah quiet. When the video ended, he put my sneakers on his feet and walked toward the back of the house. We considered this a fine kid activity until we heard a crash and a scream. Regina ran back and found Elijah saying "I broke my face!" He had not, in fact, broken his face, but she gave him an ice pack anyway, which he promptly pitched across the room. When I put the ice pack in the freezer, he threw himself on the floor and began screaming. We put him in his room. He came out again, screaming. This pattern continued for the next ten minutes, until our friends got up to leave. Then, looking triumphant, Elijah took the plate of macaroni and cheese that I'd just cooked for him and dropped it on the floor. At this point, daddy lost his temper, and shouting ensued, as it does a lot these days.
We understand that the boy is sad, and that he's confused and angry about the move besides. He tells us every day that he misses his friends in Austin. According to him, one little boy named Dimitri is "looking for me everywhere." He even told us that he missed our old coffee table, which we sold in a yard sale.
We've been trying really hard to make this move easier for him. He's been to museums and indoor playgrounds and bookstores and parks, ridden ponies, trains, and a carousel, and has been plied with lots of ice cream, cake, and jellybeans. Plus, since we celebrate Jew and "Christian" holidays, he now has a lot of new toys. We made it a point to give him the larger bedroom in the house and got him a cool new bed. Even after large misbehaviors like, say, when he pulls the dog's ears three times in a row after we tell him not to, we still sit him down and say,
"We know you're really mad at us for moving."
"I'm a little mad," he says.
"But you're going to like it here. There are lots of fun things to do, and you're going to have new friends."
"What new friends will I have?"
"You haven't met them yet."
"I don't want new friends. I want my old friends."
Christ, it's like a bad Family Circus Sunday comic in here. And then we take Old Yeller out back and shoot him on account of his rabies. That's how sickly-sweet the conversations feel sometimes. Then other times Elijah asks me for a bowl of broccoli, takes it from me, and dumps it in the trashcan. Suddenly, my sympathies wilt.
As far as his friends go, we've enrolled Elijah in a preschool. He starts on Tuesday, but we took him there three times last week so he could adjust. We got optimistic when he walked in with us and said, "this is where I'm going to have fun." That lasted about 15 minutes, until a boy threw sand in his eyes.
Does he have to flush a bar of soap down the toilet on purpose? Does he have to throw a shoe at his mother's head while she's driving him to a children's museum, of all places? Is it really necessary that he shriek like a dying animal every time we put him to bed? When he's good, he's very very good. But when he's bad, he's horrid. Did I just write that? Fuck it. I did.
And no, I'm not going out tonight. Babysitters are damn expensive on New Year's Eve. Like a good middle-aged Jew, I'm watching the Curb Your Enthusiasm marathon on HBO.