Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Critical Mom's Guide to Boys and Cold Weather (The Scream, Part 2)

"You have to wear your leather jacket!" I yell, "it's going to rai--"  But he is already running down the steps and the foliage blocks my view.
"I've got it on, Mom," he lies, and I console myself with the thought that at the speed with which he is hurtling toward the tram stop, he will stay warm.  The perpetual motion son stays warm that way in weather that gives everybody else a cold; the older son has a little fat to fall back on, which, when I tell him a T-shirt is not enough under the cold clouds of North-Rhine Westphalia, he insists protects him.  No matter how many times he does get a cold he tells me this.  When I go out to the tram myself I see hordes of boys--always boys; girls seem to like to wear jackets--in T-shirts when I'm shivering in my scarf and sweater and wishing I had a raincoat too.   I did get some preparation for this situation years back when I was single and invited two young cousins to visit me in New York as part of their graduation present.  They hailed from a hamlet in North Carolina, a one-street job with a post office, three churches, and a drugstore ("Now don't blink!" their Mom had said when she drove me through.  One blink and I'd miss the whole town).  Before that Southern twang ever emerged from their adolescent lips, small town blasted itself all over the Upper West Side.  We came out of the subway at 110th and Broadway and before I knew it they were nodding, smiling and waving--I thought like returning dignitaries--but no, they were being polite:  back home you waved and greeted all your neighbors on the street.
"You can't do that here," I said, nodding in the direction of a floridly paranoid homeless man yelling in the opposite direction, "you don't know any of these people and a lot of them are crazy--see that guy?  NO, don't look in his direction."
"Yes, Ma'am," they agreed, but it was like my kid and his leather jacket.  They were just much more polite about defying me.  And when the temperature dipped to 45º F (7.5ºC) they went out in their T-shirts, worked out at the gym and got all sweaty, and walked back to the apartment, glistening in slowly freezing sweat.
"Oh, we're fine, Ma'am.  We do this all the time."  If it were only the rain and the cold and they didn't come down with pneumonia I'd heave a sigh of relief.  But that's only the beginning.  They wanted nightclubs.  I printed out directions and gave them cab fare and told them under no circumstances to walk home or anywhere else at two a.m., which was when I told them they had to be back.  Around four a.m. long after I'd repeatedly restrained myself from calling their mothers to say they might be dead, in they came with sheepish grins.
"We saw a guy get killed."
What?  Where?  They had emerged from the Red Parrot around two and decided to take "a little walk" in Hell's Kitchen, which was, in those days, still plenty hellish.  Into a dive they had gone, sat down and ordered a drink, when some predecessor of Tony Soprano had knifed a guy at the next table.  The guy had staggered out onto the sidewalk, bled all over it, and died.
This was my training, my practice run, for screaming at my sons.  Hadn't I told them to stay in cabs?  Hadn't I printed instructions?  Hadn't I made sure they had enough money?  Hadn't I--I was shrieking by now--warned them?  They nodded, smiled, yes-ma'amed.  After all I wasn't their mother.  I couldn't do a damn thing, and we all knew it.  But I thought they were scared enough to follow instructions, having apparently seen an actual murder.
The next night they did not come home at midnight; they did not come home at one, or at two, or at two-thirty or three . . .  Once again, I heard them tiptoe in around four, sat bold upright, and strode into the livingroom where they were trying to be silent as they thumped open the foldout.  Booze and cigarettes whirled around their startled-looking faces.
"Well, you're gonna kill us.  We was robbed." 
Robbed?   Uh, they had lost their wallets and one set of my keys.  Because, like, there'd been this gal on the street (What street?  You were walking on the street again at night?  Oh, only on Broadway near the house, they thought that was somehow all right at three a.m.)  And out of nowhere a woman ran screaming into their arms, saying her boyfriend was trying to kill her, help, help, and then of course the boyfriend flung himself into the fray and by the time the two bad guys had vanished, my little cousins--Hogarth would have loved to draw them--were just realizing their pockets had been picked.  A police car brought them home, after giving them a tour of the fleabag flophouse into which the robber had allegedly fled.  
The next night I took them out for Chinese food, and wondered if maybe they'd be glad to stay in North Carolina for the rest of their lives.  I was sorry they had had a bad time.
"Oh, we loved it!  We'll be back!"
My sons are ten and thirteen.  I do think they have the sense not to go to tattoo parlors--another adventure my cousins wanted that I did, as far as I know, nip in the bud.  I know that my sons hate the smell of pot and have been indoctrinated by their schools and by me and by their father not to take drugs.  But what other hell can they get into?  None, I tell myself--if only they would just wear those jackets when they go out.


  1. I love this story! Publish this in a collection of memoirs.

  2. Thanks! I see myself as a raunchier, atheistic version of Anna Quindlen . . .