THE RICK MOODY ARGUMENT
It's the fourth of July and I'm driving Harvey's car to the movie theater to pick up Meredith and her friends Rachel and Hannah. Meredith's idea is to do a little driving before the fireworks. She's got her permit; she's fifteen. I can be a nice mom, so I tell her yes.
Then, while I'm cruising south on Dodge, I hear the word boys drift out of the radio and my internal radar starts to beep. I turn up the volume, and sure enough, some woman is reading that Rick Moody story, one of my very favorite stories, the one where boys enter the house.
It's not a long piece, and I guess that if I lift my foot off the gas and drift, maybe I can drag out the trip to ten minutes. Maybe I can hear the rest of the story. Once Meredith's in the car, she'll put up a stink, turn to an oldies station or search for a tune by Cold Play. A story? Out of the question in front of her friends.
I keep a far distance from the cars in front of me. I don't rush the yellow lights. When I pass the high school, boys are going to a wedding. When I turn onto Church Street, boys are carrying their brother home. It's a good narration, though I wonder why a woman is reading it. There's a musical background that jars me – I want each word that I've read before to peal like a bell in my head. But I get used to it and enter the story. By the time I'm going east, boys are going fishing. As I cross Ridge, and see the train trestle ahead of the cineplex, boys are carrying their father into the house. I'm choked up, and boys exit the house before the girls see me, before I park in the loading zone.
It's not until I see them in the rear view mirror that I hear the announcer. There's a new Rick Moody piece after the station break, and Moody will read it. It's from a performance taped in Chicago. A performance I wanted to attend, but that night was my writing group. I couldn't skip; they were doing my story.
So this is my second chance. That's when I decide to ask her indulgence.
I start: "I'm sorry. You have to let me." They're piling into the car and Meredith waves away my words like flies. But a few light on her ears: Bennington, friend of Amy Hempel's.
"It's okay," she says. Amy Hempel might be what does it. Amy Hempel is a beautiful and mysterious picture on a book jacket.
That's when other words start to register. Vomit, and waking my mom, and kids calling me a fag. Moody says vomit like he's tearing its page from the dictionary and wadding it up. Hannah starts to laugh. Meredith's lips are pursed like she can't quite decide: Am I humiliating her? Making a good impression?
We've got two miles to Rachel's, and Moody's progressed from vomit to girls to baseball. When we cross from Evanston to Skokie he goes from birthday presents to Long Playing records.
Do you know him? I say no, I've only spoken to him once.
Is he really gay? Hannah asks.
Is he cute? They want to know.
Yes, I say. And I tell them he plays the guitar.
We're pulling into the driveway when he mentions Smoke on the Water, and I sense reluctance as Meredith's friends slide open the van doors, as they climb out.
"Thank you," they say over Rick Moody's voice. "Thanks for the ride. Goodbye."
Then we're left, just the two of us, in an aging minivan with Rick Moody. He's riffing on rock and roll, on what it can mean, what it can say. But the cultural moment is over. Meredith's indignant. "I want to drive."
It's true; I said she could. But I want to hear Rick Moody. If she drives, I kill the radio. Those are my rules – no radio, no cell phones. Can I stretch them? Make readings an exception? Draw a line between narration and music? I flash on all the precedents I've regretted for years.
When she was three: "But Grama lets me have Fruit Loops."
At 7: "But at Sarah's, we stay up til midnight."
I foresee the next year of driving, arguing about the radio, But you let me listen to Rick Moody.
I can't bear it, the thought of the Rick Moody argument. I can already see my daughter poking at the radio, hunting for a better station, tuning out a pop song, changing CDs – and inevitably, answering her cell phone and skidding into a ditch.
But you let me listen to Rick Moody. Not defensive driving.
I unbuckle and open my door. I circle the car to the passenger side. She takes over and adjusts the mirrors, making the images overlap. She's shorter than me, so she drags the seat forward. As she shifts into drive I only hesitate a few seconds before I reach over and turn off the story.
There's no time to mope. I'm saying stop at the STOP, go at the GREEN. A soccer ball lolls in the street. "Don't kill that kid," I say and she laughs. It's a short ride home and she does a good job. Nine months til her license. She stops at the curb, is pleased with her progress.
She's singing in triumph. Smoke on the water. She turns to me as she sings it, and smiles an orthodontically-enhanced smile. When did she learn that? Maybe it's Rick Moody. Then she keeps singing. Fire in the sky. Maybe it's the fireworks – a song that gets seasonal radio play, is aired on the fourth of July. Hell, maybe it's in the water or it's genetic memory. Or maybe it's just being 15.
She still has my keys. I watch her hop up the porch steps and unlock the door. She's singing. I'm watching her enter the house.