Yesterday I wore a tail for a few hours. It started in the morning when my older son, Jack, not wearing any clothes, as is his wont, walked out of the bathroom with a long strand of toilet paper hanging out of his butt. He’s a couple months shy of four.
“This is my tail,” he said. “You get a tail too, Daddy.”
“I’m not sticking anything in my butt right now,” I said.
“My tail! My tail!” Jack hollered. It had fallen out. “Mommy, stick my tail back in!”
“OK,” she said. She was dazed from being sick for the past few days. Halfway through the process, kneeling, she said, “Why am I always dealing with butts? This is my whole life now. Jack, things aren’t supposed to go up your—”
“Daddy, put a tail up your butt!”
“No more putting things up butts!”
You have to also picture throughout this exchange the high-pitched yowling of a screechy woodland ogre. This is the general conversational style of my younger son, Exley, who’s a little over ten months old.
“But, Mommy!” Jack said.
“Eeeyyaaooowl!” Exley said.
“Holy God!” I yelled.
“I’ll give everyone tails!” my wife yelled. “But not up butts! That’s it!”
She tied a rope around Jack’s waist and fastened another rope to it. She looped the belt from a bathrobe around a belt loop above my butt. Jack and I ran up and down the hall a few times with our tails flying around. The younger boy crawled after us yowling. Eventually the yowling turned to crying and I picked him up. Jack got bored without me in pursuit and took off his tail. After a lot of bucking and crying, Exley fell asleep. I eased him down into the bassinet. I noticed that I still had a tail on. I started taking it off and then I stopped. I would be walking to the beach with my family later, then to the grocery store. I’m 47 years old. I was going to do all that with a tail? Out there in society?
“Why are you wearing a tail still?” my wife asked as we walked to the beach.
It was a fair question. I looked like an idiot, surely.
I can’t really explain it. I’m losing my mind, probably? More specifically, I’m excited about my book coming out in a couple of weeks, but I’m also terrified. I don’t remember being this scared when Cardboard Gods came out. Maybe I was. All I know is I’m overwhelmed by anxiety. The process of writing a book for me is one saturated almost perpetually with doubt, but then right at the end, aided by exhaustion, the doubt abates a little and I get this feeling that what I did was OK, that I did the best I could, that I wrestled with whatever was inside me and got it down onto the page in some kind of an artistic form or whatever. This feeling goes away, and the words that were once so close to me go cold on the page, and I can’t make heads or tails of what I’ve done. So I worry that this book will be the door I’ve always worried about, the one that opens to the suggestion that even my best effort is the work of a fraud.
This is the general feeling of fatherhood, too, I’ve found: continual fakery. This is perhaps why yesterday for several hours I wore a tail. On the beach, on a playground, waiting in line to buy bread and beer and wintergreen Trident at the grocery store. Fuck it: Here I am world, the fool, the fraud. For the first time in weeks I felt great.
Which brings me to this great moment in bench-sitting. It was in June 1999. Bobby Valentine was tossed out of a game as the manager of the Mets and shortly after the expulsion reappeared on the bench in the most ludicrously flimsy disguise imaginable.
There are days when you can’t lose. When just sitting on the bench is a victory, even if on the bench you’re a fool, a fraud. Yesterday was one of these days. I sat on the bench by Lake Michigan with my son for a few minutes and watched the swift little waves bash into the shore and beyond that the wide water stretching to the horizon and felt no pain and when I got up to follow Jack to a playground my tail, just briefly, got stuck in a gap between metal slats. One little tug before I was able to go on, a grown man wearing a tail, free.
To be continued.