OG DAD #19: The Scream


It’s no secret, the amount of crying you have to listen to when you have a baby is astronomical. Before this, my exposure to crying females was pretty much limited to those I was in a relationship with—along with the odd grieving aunt at funerals (in my family the women were screamers not weepers), or John Boehner. (Who, for some reason, I think of as a crying female—no offense to females.) Now, however, full tilt tot-wailing is such a daily part of my aural diet, I’m almost sort of within shouting distance of being able to deal with non-stop infantile shrieks. I won’t say I don’t notice it—but it’s no longer so nerve-peelingly unendurable. Unless of course you’re stuck in a car, rendered immobile by inexplicably dense, gluey LA traffic, and the 10-month-old your seed helped spark to life is unleashing an aria of under-one pain squalls, reaming her own lungs as if chained to a radiator in a Rumanian orphanage having her head shaved by beefy, rough-handed matrons who use babies as chow-hall hockey pucks and have no hearts.

El, by now, has mastered the art of pulling over and whipping N’s dipe off, scooping poop out, Bapy Wiping her ass and slapping a new diaper on faster than a crew pit at Nascar. Or is it the Indy 500? I was trying to snag a whole new demo with that metaphor, but in reality one of the two race-car drivers I could name is Dale Earnhardt Junior, and even that’s just because of the band Dale Earnhardt Junior Junior. (You have to wonder, were their lawsuits involved? Did the original Junior Dale demand the royalties from “Simple Girl?”) AJ Foyt never had that problem, though he had a cooler name.

The car thing is brutal because there is—literally—nowhere to go. The noise just bounces around in those four little windowed walls. It’s like being trapped in a portable season of American Horror: Asylum, all 13 episodes, compressed into one rolling hell-yowl, without Jessica Lange deranging from seat to seat. Lately El’s taken to riding in back of the Caddy, sitting beside little N, in hopes her proximity will dim the impulse to blow out the windshield with a single piercing my-parents-are-monsters note. One parent/neighbor with five month old twins actually suggested an adult car seat. Before the conversation, I didn’t know they had those. I’m still not sure the poor woman, clearly outgunned by a pair of chew-crazy under-oners, is telling the truth, or if she’s delusional. It happens. I haven’t taken the time to Google Adult Carseats (who has the energy?) but if they actually do have them, and they’d help put a damper on our daughter’s ear-bleeding screams we’d both hop in and buckle our crotch buckles. (Future headache for child: Dad’s got a Prius and a ten year old Cadillac, which makes him automotively revolting at both the Elvis and the Ed Begley Jr.  poles of existence.)

og GIFAll of the above, by the way, was written with a yowling child—my yowling child—in her crib five feet away. She’s not just screaming, she’s eyeballing me, giving me the pre-crawler Mad Dog treatment as she blasts bloody nodes off her factory-fresh voicebox. Has anyone done studies on the effect of non-stop eye-contact infant screeching? Are there PhDs on the subject? Did doctoral candidates with young children perhaps decide to focus on their own spawn and end up standing in front of the mirror playing with their own hair for hours on end and muttering Mommy sad instead?

Of course, implicit—unspoken?—in this OGD’s reaction to baby screaming is the simple fact that baby gets to scream, while Daddy doesn’t. Babies can scream whenever they want. They can also unburden their bowels and touch themselves in public with impunity. I’m not claiming these questionable privileges inspire jealousy—I mean, either one of those would be creepy for a man over fifty, right? I am simply saying, forget the random crapping and crotchy touches, I would fucking love to wail at the top of my lungs when life didn’t go my way. Who wouldn’t? I don’t even need a reason. Just once, I would like to curl up on the floor of a supermarket, perhaps in the housewares aisle, and unleash my inexplicable, keening grief, just howl like an endangered timber wolf with his paw caught in an trap somewhere outside Nome. (Or is it Gnome? I give up.)

Babies are like the sidewalk screamers who used to rule New York when I lived there in the 70s. Back then babbling and screaming out loud on the street still got you looks. (This was before cell phones.)  Now, what makes life even more worth living is walking into a store or restaurant with a high-decibel wriggler in your arms. It’s not just the accusatory head-turning—I get that anyway, from just being a dick my age with a cool young girlfriend and a tot in tow – it’s the impossible-to-avoid thought-balloons above each head, the ones that say, “What have you done to that poor child?”  “What kind of twist-case are  you?” or “Wait until I call Social Services!” og

What unifies them all is a level of self-righteous, hateful and bilious viciousness which—until I lately fathered a Diaper Diva—I saw only once before, in the face of a grandmother in a black-and-white photo spitting on the corpse of Mussolini, hanging upside down in a Milan Esso Station. I think the term I’m looking for is war criminal. Or the parental equivalent thereof. The implication being that if a creature is wailing so loudly, so relentlessly, with such absolute, soul-searing, desperate ferocity, then there has to be a reason. Though, as anyone who’s been around one can tell you, babies don’t have to have reasons. In that respect, they’re a lot like us. The difference being that it’s appropriate for babies to behave like babies. We don’t get to scream. Except on the inside. Like I’m doing right now. Like, I cringe to admit, I probably do for about a quarter of any given day. (Am I being wildly optimistic?) Until young N, who has just learned to wave—a dainty palm-and-finger waggle accompanied by a coy smile into her own shoulder—decides to cease roiling and wave at me. And then, of course, it’s like the screaming never happened. Like my heart and ear-drums aren’t shattered in fifteen different places. And all is well in the world.

I’ve died and been cuted back to life.

I mean, how can you not love the little fuckers?


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 →