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OG DAD #10: Milkaholic

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It’s been 43 days since Baby N came in for landing. Maybe too early to wax sentimental, but not, I hope, to revisit the particular weirdness of Mondo Maternito. On the heart-strings, man-enough-tear-up side, there’s the memory of how, seconds after birth, I placed my pinkie in my daughter’s hand and she wrapped her fingers around it. As if to say, I have no idea how I fucking got here, but is it okay if I hang on? And how, a minute after that, the RN slapped her in an ankle bracelet, like a low-level felon under house arrest. We were told that if we got within five feet of any of the exits, including elevators, alarms would go off.

I had wondered why there were uniformed policemen posted everywhere. Was all the security necessary? At that age – and by age I mean, like, nine minutes old – babies can’t even crawl. So what were they going to do? Poop their way to freedom? Why the tiny fascist hardware? The cops sat outside the same rooms every night and every day, for the three days I was in there. Mind you, I’m not even talking about the undercovers tricked out, no doubt, as pregnant women and, for all I know, babies – tiny mewling UCs, keeping an eye on the surroundings to make sure no one escaped. I figured the authorities allowed some convict to visit his newborn, and his handlers waited outside to make sure they didn’t make a run for it. That, or some America’s Most Wanted-type with a vagina had given birth, and they wanted to keep her on lockdown. Before deciding whether to give the baby to Social Services, Grandma, or Angelina Jolie.

Turns out I had it all wrong. They weren’t keeping the babies from escaping. They were keeping strangers from coming in and escaping with babies. Less than a month earlier, our nurse explained, a Texas woman tried to grab somebody else’s newborn and make it her own. Apparently her own had been lost in a miscarriage. A truly heartbreaking and made-for-Lifetime Network crime. Whose commission, apparently, resulted in Baby Ward vigilance. And in retrospect it’s good to know how vigilant. They’ve wiped out Planned Parenthood in Texas. So mothers don’t have to worry about wasting time with pre-natal care or abortions. They can just hunker down and wait till it’s time to enter whatever obstetric Fort Knox they find to snip their umbilical and send them on their way.

The post-natal lockdown was a bit of a jolt. But nothing compared to the of sight of my baby’s anatomy. Nobody told me, going in, that baby girls are born with genitals as pink and protruding as Nature Channel orangutan ass. I mean, they could have warned me first! For one bad minute, I thought my girlfriend may have been consorting with a hot primate.

These are the kind of happy memories that bounce around a guy’s brainpan after his six week old scoop of ice cream has been yowling non-stop for four or five hours. I’m spotting for E, who keeled over with a haunted look and plaintive plea to “please take over” what feels like a week ago.

Side note: when we left the hospital, 72 hours after the birth of Binkelstein, we were both kind of amused and creeped by the thick stack of papers the staff stuck in our hands on the way out the door – at least half of which dealt with the subjects of “depression and anger,” specifically the kind of anger that makes you want to ‘shake your baby.’ Included, along with the hotline numbers, are a variety of tips for dealing with this, apparently – and sadly – all too common urge. “Take a few deep breaths… Remember something that made you happy!” The ludicrousness of which, I have to say, you really can’t appreciate until you’ve been subjected to that ceaseless, brain-stabbing, accusatory squall yourself. Having been in Scream Therapy for a while now, I have to wonder why the ATF blasted non-stop Metallica down there in Waco, back when David Koresh was holed up with his Branch Davidian followers. If the Fibbies had just subjected them to a night or three of quadrophonic wailing infants, the whole sect would have run weeping out of the house, and the government could have avoided all the troublesome paperwork that comes with burning 71 men, women and children to death.

Tonight, our little Klaus Nomi started in around two, and Democracy Now – which comes on at six – is just about wrapping. Amy Goodman’s been interviewing Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the Weather Underground website, discussing rampant fires, heat waves and water wars, guaranteed staples of the future Baby N will inhabit. The future I inflicted on her. The Weather Underground is a group of progressive meteorologists who want the weather media to start mentioning global climate change, instead of fluffing the public with record heat wave stats, like global warming is some kind of Olympic Event, and we’re all cheering for another broken record. “Why, folks, this is the hottest day in Washington since Dick Morris broke his tooth on a hooker’s toenail in 2007!” Meteorologists like Masters believe their fellow weathermen have a moral obligation to discuss, not just the effects, but the environmental causes of  the new Toast Age we seem to be entering.

Normally, these brutal previews of Life on Planet Hotplate depress the shit out of me. Well, in all honesty, they do now. Before my first daughter was born, I’m not proud to admit, I used to secretly savor details of the sizzling dystopia to come – the more grisly the better. By 2050, most human beings will forced to crawl on their hands and knees in the dark and snort guano! What the hell, I’ll be well out of it. Once I had some skin in the game – in the form of a child for whose well-being I would eat my own face – all bets were off.

This morning, however, not even news of Inferno America can penetrate the aural fortress of doom in which Baby N’s vocal reaming has locked my skull. Talk about your cri de coeur! After three minutes my eyes water, after three hours my ears are bleeding. If she’s this inconsolable at a month and a half, I can’t help but think, what’s the rest of her life going to be? (I almost said she makes Yoko Ono sound like Doris Day, but only old fucks – who aren’t necessarily Dads – know who Doris Day is. Though a certain kind of obsesso old fuck will know that her son, record producer Terry Melcher, was pals with Charlie Manson. Dennis Wilson, of Beach Boy fame, brought Charlie by Terry’s house at 10050 Cielo Drive to play some tunes, in hopes Doris’s pride and joy would want to produce a Manson album. Terry passed. But by the time Charlie sent his Family out to 10050 Cielo Drive to make Terry pay for his taste, Melcher’d moved out and Sharon Tate had moved in. The rest is history. Some say Hitler started the Holocaust cause nobody liked his watercolors. Roman Polanski might be an Old Grand-Dad today if Doris Day’s baby boy had only liked Charlie’s singing. Then again, maybe it’s just that Mama Manson never breast-fed her pre-Swastika’d toddler.)

Que Sera Sera.

Worse than our dumpling’s heart-searing vocals, however, is the little Pain Hula that goes with it. Bink’s arms kind of flare from her sides, straight for the ceiling. Then she uncurls her fists, bangs open the preternaturally long fingers she inherited from her mother as though throwing two-handed craps. (As opposed to taking them, Huggie-filling being part of the newborn’s job description; which is a whole other bag of diaper candy.) All accompanied with out-thrust indignant lower lip and tear-filled how-could-you-be-so-uncaring-and-horrible eyes. At that age, tears don’t actually roll down their cheeks, their eyes just fill up, which somehow is even more poignant. Her message is clear: “I am in deep and inexplicable pain here! Do something! What kind of incompetent, loser parents are you!” Is six weeks too young for existential angst? Was Camus a cry-baby?

If, like me, you came up in a screamy household, you may have a special vulnerability to the sound of another human being railing at you.  When the human being weighs less than a pair of Bundt cakes, and you love them enough to sacrifice your entire being – beginning with your sanity, peace of mind, sleep hygiene, and will to live, in no particular order– the effect is devastating. Until you learn some kind of detachment – and where do they teach that? – it’s like having your soul deep fried and your thoughts scrambled every night.

If, also like me, you’re genetically possessed of a strain of guilt immune to logic or Dr. Spock – the famed baby-shrink Nixonites blamed for Sixties Era “permissiveness” (i.e. hippies), not the Vulcan – you will likely feel responsible for the desperate yelps emanating from your child.

Happily, there is a solution. Milk. All babies are milk junkies. That first taste of Mommy juice kicks in a high that has my daughter nodding and drooly within a mili-second of her first hit. If you don’t believe me, stand there and watch a screaming toddler’s eyes roll back in its head while it goes limp in the grips of milk bliss. As an ex-heroin professional, I’d be lying if I did not admit I’m slightly (and semi-embarrassingly) jealous every time I witness my little girl satisfy her cravings. When my first daughter was doing the very same thing, I was actually still shooting dope. Even then it weirded me how all of us are basically born addicted. Living from tit-rush to tit-rush, with a lot of nodding off, puking and howling in between.

I’m not talking just about out-of-the womb junkies, or crack babies.  I’m talking about you, little newcomer.  Just the way He, She or It made way you.

And there it is.  I’m Baby N and I’m a milkaholic…. Or, as her mother likes to say, “I’m more than a Mom, I’m a mini-bar.”

Needless to say, I am hardly the first person in the world to notice that babies are hope-to-die milk drunks. My late friend Hubert Selby used to talk about the Sugar Tit. How addicts were toddlers who didn’t get the pleasure medicine they wanted, when they wanted it. Or maybe they were born so extra-sensitive they needed it more than regular babies – which kept them babies. The world is just too much, man! Either way, as adult lushes and druggies they could do what they couldn’t do as infants: control the flow. Because, to quote The Hokey Pokey, that’s what it’s all about. Control. Babies don’t have any. So they scream. Some of us still do; some – occasionally  – just want to. Selby used to describe himself as “a scream looking for a mouth.”

The amazing thing, to me, is that we ever stop.

NEXT TIME: Adventures in Diaper Rash…. A funeral in Pittsburgh… Memories of sleep…

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Rumpus original art by Jason Novak.


Jerry Stahl has written 8 books, including Permanent Midnight, Bad Sex On Speed, and I, Fatty. His new novel, Happy Mutant Baby Pills, is now out from Harper Perennial. More from this author →