Friday, December 19, 2014

Henry Miller's iPod


So I was helping Mom set up her new iPod, which meant I had to be at her computer, and that’s when she made me read her blog. Before I could escape she’d clicked an icon on her desktop, and the blog came up. I looked away from the screen fast, twisting my neck as far as it would go to look up at her.
“Jeez, you’d think I was asking you to walk the plank. Can you at least feign enthusiasm?”

“I’m just a 15-year-old guy, Mom. What do I know?” Seriously, I accidentally read some of her stuff once. It was about women’s sex fantasies. I couldn’t even look my girlfriend in the eyes for days after that.
“You’re online all the time and when you’re not, you’re reading, thank goodness, and you’re a good writer. Just take a look, and tell me what you think. It’s short.”
Mom thinks I’m brilliant–mature and all that crap–but I have my limits.    

“Is there gonna be stuff about sex?”
The crease between her eyebrows deepened. “Interesting you should ask that. According to my tracking stats on who reads the blog and where they come from, most of my hits seem to be for phrases like pubic hair, masturbation or hot mother-in-laws.” She looked out the window and tapped her cheek, perplexed. “Why is that, I wonder?”
I slapped my forehead. “Did you use the word masturbation in your blog?” No kid should have to ask his mom that.
“Doesn’t everybody?”
She laughed. I looked toward the door of her office, calculating my getaway. She’d decided to be a writer and this small attic space was the only place in the house where she could do it. Mom loved it in here, but I’d have to squeeze past her to get out. Helping her with her iPod was one thing, but reading her blog was asking too much.
I took a deep breath and spoke slowly so she’d understand. “You must have used those words–pubic hair, masturbation and mother-in-law somewhere in your blog.” My voice cracked like an 8th grader’s, “Hopefully not all together.”
Mom got all snobby. “I don’t know anything about mother-in-law’s masturbating,” she said. “I assume they masturbate, and if they don’t I hope they soon start, but what does that have to do with my blog?”
I stared at her, trying to keep my head from exploding. No telling what I’d see on the computer. I raised puppy-dog eyes to her and pleaded, “I have homework. Can I take a look later?”
“And I didn’t write about mother-in-law’s and pubic hair, either, in case you’re wondering.” Defiant, she raised her chin and looked out the window again, probably thinking about how masturbating could change the lives of countless mothers-in-law. Seriously, she’s like that. My friends love her, so I guess she’s cool, but not really.
“Just read my latest entry,” she said.
It was a flash about an affair a woman (I wonder who?) had a million years ago with some old fart while she was in college. Years later when she’s also an old fart and he’s somehow still breathing they talk on the phone and she fantasizes about their former sex life.
“Nice.” I stood to leave. She backed up about a millimeter and I had to lean backward in order to skinny past her, making me trip on the chair leg and bump into the filing cabinet. I don’t know how she works in this dump.
“Wait a minute, will you, and tell me what you think?”
I rubbed my shin trying not to look at her. “Again, Mom, what do I know?”

“You’ve read Tropic of Cancer,” she said, “more than once.”
Mom and I have argued about Miller’s writing. I like him. She doesn’t. She probably thinks I read him just because of the sex, but I don’t. Miller was having an adventure in Paris. The sex just happened along the way.
“That’s different. Henry Miller wrote actual books.”
Her smile collapsed. I felt like shit, but, well Miller was an artist, doing the dude thing every chance he got. I planned to live like him someday starving for my art in some attic somewhere. I would update Henry Miller. He probably had horny chicks surrounding him nonstop. I bet Anaïs Nin could load and unload his iPod like a pro. My face felt hot. Mom was staring at me. I still held her iPod. I dropped it on her desk and wiped my hand on my jeans.
“Do you have a fever?” Her hand felt icy on my forehead. “You look flushed.”
“It’s hot in here. I gotta go.” She moved the back of her hand to my cheek, all standard operating procedure. Next thing she’d want to take my temp and discuss whether I’d had a bowel movement recently.
“What keywords should I use?” she asked instead, apparently no longer interested in my health. “C’mon, you know everything about computers.”
“I don’t know everything. I’m surprised ‘sex with old farts’ isn’t a popular search phrase for your blog.” I edged closer to the door.
“That wouldn’t be good,” she said and stared at her computer with a worried look, like maybe it could write her sex stories on its own. Then she looked at me and smiled. “Unless, the searcher was an old fart agent or publisher.”
I was almost at the door. “Agents and publishers probably have special porn sites only they know about.”
She laughed. “Yeah, and maybe if you’re published in The New Yorker they might give you the password. I think I can expand this piece and use it in my novel.”
“Yeah, Mom, keep plugging. It’ll happen.” She settled into her chair and studied her manuscript. The sun slanted in through the dormer windows highlighting dust motes circling her head, and I thought of Miller again, cigarette smoke curling around his head, poor and happy writing in his attic.
I was out the door and pounding down the stairs, Miller’s sexual escapades and Mom’s story alternating in my brain. At the bottom I looked up to the attic. The echo of her keyboard clicks flowed into me like the soft beat of rain on the roof of a Parisian garret.