I’m one of those implausible Parlor Trick Prodigy characters so popular in the ’80s and ’90s and early 2000s, a narrative trend driven mainly, I guess, by the vastness of Yuppie Self-Regard, which extended to the delusional misapprehension that the children of the very finest Yuppies stood a very good chance of being geniuses, given the proper (expensive) nudge. You know: Suzuki violin lessons in kindergarten, preceded by speakers hooked up to CD players playing Mozart blasting the (pre)occupied womb. Does having a Chinese nanny the first four years help? My mother never missed a trick. People like her liked reading stories about children like the child she hoped I would be. She read her Everett, she read her DeWitt, she studied her Foer. She hosted a 36-hour battle of arduous labor while re-reading the Everett and fingering pretentious Coptic prayer beads. The womb triumphed at the top of the 37th round and spit me out in an auguring caul. Mother wanted a freak to dandle and diaper, desperately, and she got one.
I could be five but that might be pushing things; that might make me less, rather than more, cute, because it might make me seem monstrous, like the character Billy Mumy played in my favorite ever episode of the Blu Ray box set of The Twilight Zone. I’m sure you know the episode I mean.
I am ten. Don’t ask me how you’re privy to my thoughts. It’s a convention we wink at. Should I have a pretentious name? I like “Phineus” but it’s already being used by a fading semi-celebrity of little interest to geniuses of my rank. Different spelling, I know. The two forms of the name are etymologically quasi-congruent homophones. The Celtic version is of little interest. This doesn’t mean that I’m about to show off my showstopping (Wiki-boosted) knowledge of Ancient Greek because I can’t. Neither can I juggle while riding a unicycle. Phineus had done for him what Oedipus did for himself.
I have very little knowledge of Greek, German, French, Gullah, Basque, Polari, Farsi, Mandarin, what have you, because my kind of genius encompasses not only brilliance but maturity, as well, and I’m not about to waste a week or a year, as a non-Immortal, acquiring a parlor trick designed to impress hoi polloi (no detectable offence intended). Parlor Trick Prodigies are not so rare and soon become useless to everyone and, most of all, themselves. Can you see what I see? Can you hear what I hear? The pitiless clip? The dolorous soundtrack? The elephant’s graveyard of tiny Parlor Trick Prodigy ribcages, poor kids who mastered Trig while teething? Impressive until one hits one’s late teens. Then what?
Maybe my name is Polari.
Any real genius with hominid roots Groks the meaning of Life the very week of the moment the body first prepares, hormonally, to unveil it.
I mean it. Black holes, heat death: what’s the point? What is the notion of “progress” but a trick of the Ruling Classes to spur the lower orders to generate enough engineering talent to one day produce a reliable therapeutic protocol for “immortality”… to benefit the Ruling Classes alone? If you were a ten-year-old genius (possessing ultra uncanny maturity) you’d know this. As it is, I’ll have to ask you to trust that I am correct. “Progress” is a sham. “Progress” became a non-starter, Philosophically, the day after indoor plumbing became a given in the developed (no scare quotes, since indoor plumbing is the only achievement that confers that status) world. After indoor plumbing there’s nothing to look forward to but the long, long tail of diminishing returns. Pharmaceutically deranged Warlords with incomprehensible weaponry… week-long, spring-like summers… a phenomenally savage global competition for potable water (iridescent as groundwater will become from the blending residue of the gigatons of eerie aerosols released by unmarked aircraft in the stratosphere for generations) as the next really nasty ice age descends. What’s there to look forward to, logically speaking?
I stipple graphic beards on my face with exceptional skill. Who’s that in the mirror?, the imaginary chanteuse inquires. Toulouse Lautrec.
I build my own platform shoes from the corkboards to which my mother thumbtacks famous citations. Quality craftsmanship.
I don’t care for citations.
I don’t care for the higher math of concrete parabolas.
I care for drinking orange-flavored Tang in green glass tumblers of cold milk in a moving automobile in Autumn (no idea why but I don’t need to know why in order to enjoy it immensely).
I have this thing for the internally-illuminated gold of the skin and inertial chests and hoiking salutations of girls from the north eastern Levant. Also the chilling shine of crude-oil coifs and hazel-as-the-mists-of-time irises and cloudy incisors. Also their short legs and garlic breath and fragile, hirsute forearms. After extensive research I prevailed upon my mother to shop at a fancy fish truck in a farmer-free “farmer’s market” and I waited until the coast was clear and holed up in the Kleenex-scented “study” with a Biblical bowl of cold raw clams in order to practise cunnilingus and gasp Fatima and ferry my perceptions across the Lethe of euphoric paresthesia. No visible discharge from the olive pits I call testes, yet, but a giggling swoon followed me back up to my room like a lunchmeat fart on a tether. My steering-hand was red as a rose. Not that I always follow the relationship advice I glean from 4Chan…
Where was Mother at the time? Mother was safely outside in the garden with Fatima our nanny.
Ah, I hear you think: the plot thickens.
The last time I saw my estranged father I was a senior in High School (9 years old) and he just showed up, very much as Hades was known to, not to kidnap the teacher but to insult her. Not that he addressed her directly.
He edged into the room through a barely-ajar door and said to all the teens present, with a Waspish, palsied, pipe-smoking gesture, “Ignore what the so-called teachers tell you, children, or this is how you’ll end up: teaching subjects you don’t really understand, to kids who don’t really care, in exchange for a paycheck that doesn’t really cover an adult’s expenses.” Then he scanned the room and added, “Which one of these kids is my issue?” Finally spotting the obvious beetle-browed nine-year-old, in the back right corner, distant as the greatest diagonal unit anyone there could have travelled to take his hand, he said, “Ah.”
“Why didn’t the teacher eject you from the class in a white-hot rage?” I asked him, eyes on the delicate damage my pointed tongue was doing to the ice cream. I have never tasted ice cream made from dairy products.
“Oh, I’m the town lunatic, Polari. Hasn’t your mother told you? What would normally be a grave insult coming from the mouth of a banker or x-ray technician or even an itinerant boxer’s illegitimate daughter’s drug connection… becomes amusing when it comes out of me.”
“She was smirking a little, wasn’t she?”
“Oh, I couldn’t see her. I was transfixed by the slouching spectacle of futile youth arrayed before me.”
“Am I futile, father?”
“Is this story?”