Forgive me if I’ve said it before, but now that I’m working dad duty without heroin I can see why I needed it. It’s not just the pressure of dealing with the responsibility and commitment, it’s the never-endingness. The specifics: like having to be at the pre-school at 4:15 p.m. to pick your toddler up and get her in the car and get home without smashing into a utility pole. And getting her in the car seat without pinching the flesh of her torso into some Social Services-worthy flesh wound.
And, question for study, am I alone with my obsesso car crash fantasies while muling my two-year-old through the streets of Los Angeles? The thing is, you can’t space. Forget mindfulness. If I one-pointedly focus myself into the rear end of a Dodge Ram going eighty-five on the Hollywood Freeway, it’s going to hurt as much as if I were texting and changing my playlist and talking to my hand agent. (Have I mentioned that I’m blessed with the hands of a Maine fisherman, and make a decent side living modeling them for moisturizer and tuna ads? Not important.)
Of course, even if we make it home, we’re not safe. My house was apparently designed to kill children. This is evident at once by the sheer drop from the wooden deck to concrete and cactus below—easily accessed by any two-year-old with a will and a chair. And that’s just the beginning. Instead of a backyard we have a thorny hill. Climbing up and down it are uneven wooden stairs, with great irregular gaps in between the steps, perfect for snapping a pre-three femur like a popsicle stick. I could go on, but you get the point.
Our house is toddler death trap, yet no one’s ever come by to check it out. By contrast, I had to endure a thorough inspection from a sullen, judgmental woman named Hepler before I was allowed to come home with my first rescue dog, a six-year-old black Chow-Shepherd mix found tied to a parking meter on Skid Row. Thankfully, the Department of Parental Worthiness has never showed up for a tour, so here we are.
Afterthought: Can we return to the matter of texting and driving? Everyone reading this should stop immediately and hit Netflix to watch Werner Herzog’s scarifying little doc on the subject, From One Second to the Next. It won’t make you stop your drive-by typing, but at least you’ll know how absolutely fucked the consequences of doing so are. You think you know what heartbreak and tragedy look like? Enjoy. Even if I’m not sporting a Baby on Board sticker in the back of my car, I am, much to my own daily surprise, sporting a baby.
George Carlin called “Baby on Board” the three most puke-inducing words in the English language. And it’s not like the stickers, started in 1984 by some marketing genius who deserves to be strangled, actually make a difference… Said genius, Michael Lerner, claims he invented them because he was driving his nephew around and cars were flying by so aggressively he thought the notice of precious life inside his death-box would slow things down. Of course it’s stupid, but that doesn’t mean Mr. Lerner can’t now afford a private island crawling with babies who look just like him. Which reminds me, I once travelled to Tetiaroa, Marlon Brando’s private Polynesian island, for a magazine story, and saw a dozen young, beautiful natives who sported the Godfather’s face. And that was before I took the LSD. They really were his brood. This was, in fact, the last time I dropped acid, though the melting features of the little Brandogangers were less disconcerting than sitting at a group dinner and hearing Don Corleone, who ran the island as a resort for rich Europeans, complain about the price of New England butter.
My first and only chance to talk to the greatest actor of his generation, and New Zealand butter-thieving turned out to be pretty much the alpha-and-omega of his worldly concerns.
Then again, Brando had a lot of mouths to fill.
This essay appears in Jerry Stahl’s new book, OG Dad, a collection of his Rumpus column along with new, previously unpublished installments. OG Dad was just released by Rare Bird Books on Father’s Day, June 21st.
Rumpus original art by Max Winter.