You ever see that Michael Douglas picture Falling Down? Where he’s got a flat top and glasses? And he beats dudes to death with a bat? That pretty closely approximates my inner life. I may be a dork; I may be in a short-sleeved dress shirt; but I am filled with avenging fury. When you impede me, in my mind, my glasses are spattered with your blood.
What I mostly want to do is pry the spine out of each asshole that makes modern living such a clot of hassle-prone misery and vexation and beat them into a wet, chunky pile with it.
If it came to my attention that the devil himself was gonna be at like the Aragon or Park West, and he was gonna eat a basket of puppies, I’d think about buying a ticket. I would. I would think about getting a sitter, and going to watch the devil eat puppies.
So. I get it. The allure. Of destruction.
But even though destruction has a visceral appeal that you feel at the very root of your nad-satchel, it wields no real or lasting power.
I have borne witness to creation. I have been present for the birth of my children.
It is cliché I realize to speak of childbirth as miraculous. Which is true, obviously, but is also an idea that has grown so thumb-worn that it has ceased meaning anything.
And however miraculous it may be, childbirth is completely disgusting. A more sickening spectacle you could never hope to see. It is a punishing test of vaginal endurance comparable to shitting a toaster oven or squeezing a double-A battery out of your tear duct.
But then after all the suffering and horribleness that brings a mother’s body to the very brink of destruction, there is this person.
A caterwauling person slathered in womb-snot and clotted placenta, it is true, but a person such as the world has never seen previously. This person, wriggling in protest, is distinct from all other persons before or since, a lion-hearted little person unique among the seven billion on this planet residing, and unique among all persons yet born – but for me, this singularity is not the full measure of the power and majesty of this event.
The FULL weight and wonder of the thing is this:
When my son was born in 2001, he knew us already. He reached toward us from across the room where the nurses were weighing and cleaning him. He heard our voices and he reached toward us. I had been reading aloud to my wife’s belly for months before his arrival. He was like 40 seconds old and he reached for us because he knew us already.
Now. You may believe that what I take to be reaching was just some infantile conniption – but I will go to my rapidly advancing grave knowing that it was the dawn of his consciousness and that he was in his preverbal way attempting to convey that we were known to him and that he wished to be near us.
And then seven months later, the towers came down. I was clutching him in my arms as I watched the second plane plow into the second tower. And it was horrifying, obviously. But it was rendered more horrifying, or the horror was etched more sharply because of the yielding little body in my arms. There is a kind of weight specific to babies – a gelatinous helplessness, a boneless and witless heft. A baby is a like a goatskin bag of wine – if you don’t exercise care or your attention lapses, the bag will drop and burst open. But neither can you hold too tightly the bag – if you clutch it too fiercely, it will pop.
Holding your own baby, you grow conditioned to it, this hammocking action. This cradling becomes habitual and unnoticed by you, almost – your baby becomes like an appendage of its own – a fattened Popeye arm. But when you are holding that baby and you are witnessing the worst fucking thing that you have ever seen – that hammocking embrace becomes suddenly the most mindful and attentive thing you ever have done. It becomes the only thing for which you are suited and you feel as you watch this horrific thing that you never, ever wish to stop holding this baby. Because it is all you know to do.
In the years intervening, people have often asked me: “Dude. Why are you such a combative dickface who is totally ripshit all the time?”
As much as anything – the awfulness of my family history, the quagmire of my years squandered in drink, the unbearable shittiness of people and their unrelenting campaign of assholery and willful ignorance clearly meant to grind us all down – it is that moment.
That baffled and powerless moment where I held my fat-legged son and watched the end of the world – because it was in that moment, I see now, when I resolved to fight my way toward believing that this fat-legged little person, and all the others like him, was more potent and lasting than the column of fire and the shards of steel and the screams of the fallen.
The victories in this fight are fleeting, and only for skirmishes. Victory in the campaign will never be mine. Victory in the campaign will elude me forever. But my choice is to fight, or to succumb. And that is no choice at all.