There’s not enough potato salad in the world to comfort a seventeen-year-old enough to get him to go to a family reunion or holiday gathering without receiving scads of grief. Your rearview mirror will be chock full of withering looks. His earbuds will hiss each of the hundred-eighty miles, round trip.
So you think you can dance him into brighter venues, happier sauces for the soul, and you say: Hey, kiddo, today we’re going to see some art.
Withering look. Tiny thumps of Jay-Z beats.
Rauschenberg? Diebenkorn? Josef freakin Albers? Marble nudes, nipply mademoiselles on forested swings, heads on marble blocks, murder and mayhem in fabled Athens?
“Mocha when we’re done,” he snarls quietly. Perhaps too quietly. This kid is getting too refined for the sake of his own java intake. He must be bored.
“Are you bored?”
“Don’t change the subject. We don’t have to go. But if we do, you’re buying me a mocha from the café when we leave.”
He’s already thinking about leaving and we haven’t even got there. Typical. You pick out this guy’s Halloween costume with him and he will turn and ask are you thinking about Christmas yet.
There’s busload of screamy kids from a downstate public elementary. You can forget that a kid has knees the size of golf balls until he falls at the foot of a Rodin and yells bloody hell for someone to staunch the sizzling gore. Then he gets up and tries to wipe his hand on a Burgher of Calais. Now you’ve really got somebody screaming. Code red in the sculpture garden!
Weaponry in the kitchens of rococo France appeared to be a slew of gauzy shirts and seducing stares. It wouldn’t feed any of these Franz Hals dudes. They look too crazy to fall for seduction. This kid with the bandaged knee has got a guard shadowing him all the way through Europe and into the American woodsy portraits.
The kids like the Native American stuff until one of them does the woo!woo!woo! war cry and a wilting teacher has to smilingly shut it down. That’s offensive, he seethes to a kid whose T-shirt reads: DUCK DYNASTY: IF YOU’RE TOO BUSY TO HUNT OR FISH – YOU’RE TOO BUSY!
My kid is not a fan of rednecks. Gay teens don’t often mesh well with their towheads. He’s had it up to here! with them, he says. And we saunter (you can saunter in a museum, by the way) into the Modern Art section, where you usually find a bushy-haired college girl filing her nails with a dragon’s claw. Today it’s just a sauntering security guard and an old man who’s fallen asleep on a bench in front of Franz “Amirite or Amirite!?” Kline.
“He’s lazy,” my kiddo mutters.
“Shhh! He can hear you,” I say, feeling teachery myself now.
“Not the old dude,” he sighs. “This painter here. The one who only does black lines.”
You were right, Franz!
If I had a nickel for every time we stood in the monstrous doorway that leads in/out of a postmodern gallery and bickered. Me defending all the antichrists and abstracts and deconstructivism, and he just frowning like he does and pulling out his phone to check his messages.
“Can we go now?”
Not until we scalp us a tiny towhead, I’m thinking. But you can’t say that because security guards are paid as much to listen as to look.
The guy working the coffee bar near the gift shop is wearing a vest, a stylish fedora, and a beard that looks like he sprinkles pepper on his face and neck. Hipster. Me and my kid don’t like hipsters. (We, he doesn’t. He sorta loathes them. I got no beef with the beatniks of this world.)
“Y’all ready to order?”
His voice is not what we expected. What happened to Southern people looking Southern? Was it R.E.M. who did this to us? Truman Capote? One of Reba’s shows?
“One moca and one … what’s your cheapest coffee?”
I know this makes his soul recoil within his bone marrow so I love doing it. I also enjoy fishing for change like change is all I have to pay with and NOW I CAN’T FIND IT! Or frowning at my credit card. I can hear him suck in his breath when I look dubiously at my Visa.
“House,” the Jason Mraz-looking dude says. But he says it like hice.
So we sit in some empty space-age white chairs – like a pair of dobby droogs – and sip our tasses of joe. Me and my boy! Like we know what we’re doing now, being veterans of chiaroscuro and negative capability. We sit and watch the schoolkids dart through the big glass double-doors (always tempting fate are these kids) and churn in a controlled melee toward their bus in the parking lot out there. A security guard is walking toward one of the bathrooms with a plunger. Our young les amateurs d'art did not depart without leaving a symbol of their agony and ecstasy for this refined pavilion of contemporary culture.
“That’s nasty,” my son mutters.
“You did it.”
“I know. It was just as nasty then, too.”
So now we’re off, out into the fragrant spring sunshine, full of jitters and now-what-do-we-do angst. He pops his earbuds in and I can hear the shrill hue of notes from Florence Welch, the one with all the machines.
“That was nice,” I say to him, nonetheless.
He nods a little. Maybe to me, maybe not.
“We should do it again before you go off to college somewheres.”
He nods a little. Maybe to me … probably to me.
Causes Sean Jackson Supports
PFLAG, Amnesty International, AA, Catholic Social Services