—– with apologies to Helen DeWitt
Local hysterical-realist writer Donald DeLillo’s self-parodying novel, Cosmopolis, begins with an epigraph from a Zbigniew Herbert poem:
―a rat becomes the unit of currency
But of course the unit of currency of our particular Dystopia is not the rat but the blowjob. So let’s get that straight. Picture my Eldritch with one eye like a recalcitrant dial with a hand twisting around it; his big clean beautiful mouth agape; his gelled hair a graphic representation of its bearer facing a hurricane. But I am not shouting. I am speaking in a reasonable voice.
You can’t have a band called Vegan Rapist say I, Livia, to Eldritch her son. It’s so pathologically counterproductive that it’s like letting the air out of your own tires ten minutes before the Tour De France. Why would you do that unless you were a performance artist making a statement about self-inflicted failure? Okay, maybe that’s redundant and most failure is self-inflicted but shouldn’t the self-sabotage at least be a secret you need others to help you see? If the self-sabotage is so obvious, so not subtle, so not requiring outside observation or professional help to detect and remedy, if the act of self-sabotage is so obvious that the actual point of the action, as you decided to act it out, was, specifically, self-sabotage, what does that say about you or your motivations for anything, your relationships with anyone, your sense of yourself and the world? And me?
Eldritch is fourteen. He is a clever boy but he isn’t the prodigy I was hoping to make him.
Well you know Eldritch’s father was a brilliant and famous married literary critic but Eldritch is not much more than just an amateur critic, a run of the mill amateur critic, of his mother, me. Of which I’ve known too many. I know my son is disappointed that I am not hotter (not for Oedipal reasons but in regard to the matter of impressing his porno-fluent peer group) but the irony is this, that I spent my hotness (of which there was once a not inconsiderable fund) attracting (and gestating) Grade A sperm that soon became the squalling irony-dynamo Eldritch. Feed your lion cub pretty lamb and soon enough the lion cub is licking its adorable chops and demanding to see the pretty lamb again and resenting your inability (read as unwillingness) to present it. The pretty lamb is all gone, honey. Lamb go bye-bye! It is an eerie and alienating sensation to finally get Eldritch to make eye contact with his mother as a simple courtesy over the breakfast table and realize that all I’ve managed to do is unglue my son’s slimy inner eye from the 24/7 porn-a-thon of his prefrontal cortex for three short seconds of mediated recognition. Just long enough to ask Eldritch to please pass the butter. And then the fight.
Fourteen! What was I was doing when I was fourteen? I was doing homework for money. The homework of others. The homework of others in college. And I’m still at it, in a way, ghost-writing the twenty-chapter leather-bound memoirs of wealthy semi-literates who lost their virginity in boarding school at the age of fifteen, had “harrowing” scrapes with the gendarmes of Peru or Morocco at twenty two or twenty three and got their recreationally character-building pilot’s licenses somewhere around the milestone of forty. They pay me a third up front. I in turn feed Eldritch.
I feed, clothe, shelter and enable my son Eldritch, with his wholly acceptable IQ of 120/122. Nothing to be ashamed of. I paid for his top of the line Questlove signature Ludwig drumkit.
The bed sheets, pillowcases and footie pyjamas of early Eldritch were festooned with treble clefs and violins. Above his antique cradle was a Mozart-themed mobile trembling with die-cut characters from The Magic Flute, turning like a clever little clockwork solar system through my favorite Halt ein, o Papageno! und sei klug! bit from the opera.
When Eldritch showed no interest in the violin I switched to the piano at five and when Eldritch showed no love for the piano I bit my lip and tossed, very gently (un-stressingly) a rapid succession of French horn, clarinet, bassoon and trumpet at him. The sax was a no-go at the time; I wouldn’t even consider it; I mock my former self with an imagined toast of the inner cup of traditional hemlock. Before I knew it I was presenting Eldritch with attempted lessons in viola, cello, viola da gamba and cold-sweat last chance options of classical guitar; zither; bandoneon, koto and the fleeting sensation of miraculous last-minute salvation in the from-out-of-left-field brainstorm of harp lessons, two desperate weeks of that and furious rows and refusing to eat and suddenly Eldritch deliberately clutching the strings of Miss van Gezebert’s super-expensive instrument like the bendy bars of a cartoon jail with snot-and-SpaghettiO’d fingers, refusing to release until all lessons are called off forever. He was eight.
It was at the age of ten, on his own, at that perfidious private fucking school I divert fully a third of my total financial resources toward, that Eldritch picked up, with the joyous inevitability of a summering bee in an open can of Coca Cola near an open window at a school for the blind, the drums.
“What an amazing,” said the racist so-called music teacher at the perfidious private funds-sucking institution that has obviously conspired to destroy me, “natural aptitude!”
What was I was doing when I was fourteen? It was 1997. The Year of No Diggity.
I was a music video, every day, that’s what I was doing, I was a New Jack spectacle on the way home from school as low-riders with bodacious hydraulics heaved and juddered to shadow me down the low budget sci fi boulevard blasting No Diggity so loud and thick I could barely hear the slime of quips, demands, compliments, entreaties, curses, blessings, weather reports, financial statements and ribald poetry being heaved in buckets all over me. Every single day. I ran evolution’s ritual catcalling gauntlet and got drenched, a long-legged, fragile-jawed, doe-eyed gamine with a jet-black battle flag of hair and so much stuff up front that technically, I guess, I had a prow. The good ship innocence ironified: me. If people were as awful as we all seem to think they are I wouldn’t have survived to be writing about this agony now. Although how much of me has? There is more of me, yes, but perhaps it is rather less.
Eldritch, I am saying. Darling. Can you hear what I am saying? Please hear me rationally. You can’t have a band called Vegan Rapist of which you are the only member and we can’t afford to print up one thousand of these glossy full-color flyers to plaster them all over the neighborhood we actually live in with your obvious picture on them looking like a mug shot wearing the exact same outfit you wear every day that you’re going to go to the Kinko’s around the corner in to have these glorified Wanted Posters printed up. You can’t. For all of the reasons mentioned. Can you hear me? Why are you smiling?
Which of course reminds me of my father trying to explain to me why I shouldn’t wear a belly-button-exposing hot pink tank top on the subway. I can still see his lips moving under his Anwar Sadat mustache and his immigrant-brown eyes crying out like a drowner’s but all I could hear was my own inner Magic Flute, the Queen of the Night’s audacious interval-leaps and trills, the sonic analogue of ambition’s awareness of my body’s awesome power.