OG DAD: Lick the Sofa and Die


My fear, as a late-in-the game dad, was that somehow I’d end up in diapers before my baby was out of them.

(The title of this nightmare is “Two in Diapers!—The story of an older gentlemen and his l’il newborn as together they head to Costco for discount disposables.”)

Irrational, I know. But so is life. Which is why I should not have been surprised when, after the arrival of our little Pampers-stuffer, this semi-tormenting vision was actually made flesh. Only—weirdly enough—not by me, and not so tormenting. Instead, one special morning I looked up in time to see my girlfriend, still freshly savaged from the happy pain chamber known as the delivery room, step into the bedroom, hoist up her Honk If You Love Satan tee-shirt, and shriek “Check it out!”

With that, she let loose the kind of cackle only sleep-deprived moms and Charles Manson can get away with, then flashed what—for lack of a better term—can only be described as the jumbo mega-nappy she was wearing right in my face.

Seriously. I still remember the shock:  staring at a package bigger than Johnny Wadd’s—there’s a visual!—product of the ice pack and industrial-size feminine napkin she was forced to rock between her legs as a result of the twenty-five-stitch post-birth taint damage.

Happily, the wounds are healing nicely—slightly faster than my psyche—enough so the new mom can get back on the horse (literally) and ride for a couple of hours. And trust me, horse-riding is not a genital region-friendly experience. I’ve had no taint stitches whatsoever, yet the one time she got my sorry white ass up on a nag and smacked it on the flank, I felt like I was being rabbit punched by a ball-hating hobbit until the thing stopped trotting. (My own taint, thanks for asking, was probably black and blue for a week, though there’s no way to make that official without a hand-mirror and pulleys, and I’m not that mechanical.)

Back in babyland, I’m struck by how insanely fast our little space invader seems to have grown. It’s as if someone stuck a bicycle pump in her sweet little ear and started pumping. Her head, which started off tiny and pointed, has morphed into spherical perfection, and her hair, already plentiful at birth, has grown out in a full-on, old-school Wendy O. Williams mohawk. I would have adored her anyway, but that wet-finger-in-a-socket haircut—Jesus!

I have, I realize, missed half her life—having been off to LA, New York, and Cannes trying to remain a going concern and finance this little wonder-nugget. I left on Day 8 and returned on Day 20. This, no way around, makes me kind an absentee father. Nothing, however, will roll up the red carpet faster than that first splash of tot-vomit when you pick up your little bundle of joy. (Or bundle of goy, in this case; since I’m purebred East Coast bagel and mom’s the Southern blonde. One wrong move, and this child will grow up serving deep-fried lox.)

Needless to say, I’m in heaven, hanging out with Mother and Child. Listening to the maternal nothings my girlfriend whispers in our little one’s ear. Like just now, as she’s suckling young Binkelstein, I can’t help but eavesdrop:  “You little monkey! I’d love you a lot more, if you didn’t keep kicking me in the tit.” Talk about life-affirming! It’s almost as good as watching her, in nothing but bulging diaper and flip-flops, using one hand to breast feed baby while swatting Texas-sized flies into bloody mist with the other. (How this is sexy, I’ll leave to Dr. Freud—or Dr. Ruth—but why question a good time?) Of all the gifts I’ve given the mother of my child, none has made her as happy as this flyswatter. Flies are the bane of her existence. I think she’d have actually preferred a .22, but it’s a small apartment, and there’s always the danger of ricochet.

Anyway… Everything was pretty much aces until I made the mistake of picking up a New York Times that was propping up a flea-market chair in our living room. Then—good-bye piece of mind, hello domestic terror—I read an old Nicholas Kristof column, How Safe Is Your Sofa. And life has never been the same. I mean, I know our homes are no longer our friends, that toxic killers lurk in every corner, and that Monsanto has probably destroyed more lives than Bin Laden, The Taliban, and Scott Walker combined. But still, when I read about the unregulated flame retardant Tris that coats my couch—result of an arcane congressional money slog that starts with the Tobacco lobby and ends with gusts of PCB-adjacent petrochemical helldust puffing out of the sofa and causing everything from lower IQ to diabetes to God knows what kind of toddler cancer—that was it.

Thanks to deregulation, a massively uncontrolled carcinogen—think of it as At Home Agent Orange—was even used in nursing pillows, the manufacturers of which were under no compunction to even mention that the stuff was an ingredient. Having purchased both a nursing pillow and a new sofa—on which, it gives me hives to admit, I proudly ensconced mom to be while awaiting for her water to break—I find myself sitting here wondering when, exactly, the medical anomalies will start to show. “We’re not exactly sure why your little girl’s developed brain goiters and umbrella jaw, Mister Stahl. Did you by any chance purchase a sofa when she was in the womb…?” (And thanks to “tort reform,” right wing-ese for “You’re fucked!,” we couldn’t sue if we wanted.)

Toxic post-womb medical problem-wise, it’s a goddamn jungle in here. And I haven’t even mentioned Johnson & Johnson’s beloved baby shampoo. Their slogan is “No More Tears!” which feature the ever popular tot-fucking chemical combo, 1,4-dioxane, your friendly neighborhood ‘likely carcinogen,” along with quaternium-15, a chemical that releases the preservative formaldehyde. So basically it’s no more tears—until the day your kid starts belching embalming fluid and burns your eyebrows off. But then, you’re the one who’ll be crying, so the slogan still works.

Not to go all crypto-Luddite here, but Holy Moly! Once you have a newborn—the most innocent, needy, ridiculously vulnerable creature in the world—it’s impossible to escape the sense that to live in 21st America is to occupy some kind of boundary-less biosphere of corporate death-fumes and profit-driven child-sliming side effects. But unlike, say, Obama’s kill list—forever targeting the “Number Two Man” in Al Qaeda, an organization which seems, oddly, like those Hollywood vanity production companies where everybody is listed as “Vice President”—it’s impossible to know precisely who to target for the Carnival of Cancer into which all American babies are—ready or not!—aimed and fired.

Don’t get me started with the other possible side effects, like the one that makes girl babies grow up and start menstruating at eight. Apparently pediatricians are seeing more of these all the time. (Probably the hormones in milk. But I’m still not going to let toxic love seats off the hook.) Whatever, the prospect of my daughter being raped by some pedophile freak, dropping out to give birth in third grade after being denied an abortion thanks to President Romney, then becoming a grandmother at 15, after the same thing happens to her kid, and the two of them have to take jobs to pay for childcare—more potential drippage from a government-shrinking Republican Tomorrow… it’s all just too heinous to contemplate. (I can already hear Foster Friess, crackpot Tea Party zillionaire and Santorum booster—remember the Santorum campaign? feels like centuries ago!—advising little girls to put Gummy Bears between their knees if they don’t want to get pregnant.)

Then again, it’s not like everything in America is bad. I’m thrilled that we have enough food for 60% of US babies to grow up obese. Speaking of which, is it a rumor that Burger King has started a Hoverround drive-through lane in Alabama, for the convenience-minded too-big-to-get-out-of-a-chair crowd? If so, forget Facebook—put your money in electric wheelchairs and retire young. That’s what I’d like to do. Except for the fact that I’m too old to either die young or retire that way. Plus which, if I didn’t have writing to keep me busy, I’d be off tracking down household toxin-foisting, child development-compromising lobbyists and congressmen. Sneaking, say, into the home of Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow, the world’s largest manufacturer of Tris, then dragging him back to my house to lick my couch at gunpoint until his eyes bleed and tumors sprout in his brainpan like toadstools after rain. Not that any of this will make my child any safer. But it might make daddy happy. And everybody knows a chipper parent makes for a chipper baby.


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 →