Friday, July 28, 2006

Some of my cousins from Arizona came to visit tonight, which surprised me because there wasn't a family funeral happening in town. One might take my mom's family as an archetype of twentieth-century kin scattering, ironically bringing communities physically farther apart even as advances in transportation and communication should've theoretically made it easier for people to stay in close contact. Mom's family moved from a tiny town in southern Italy to a three-family house in Newark, with generations' worth of siblings and cousins living under one roof. I believe they had even more cousins in the building next door, even more in various houses on South Orange Avenue, and a veritable kinship forest throughout the Newark and New York environs. They were close, literally. I'm not sure what happened, but half the family shipped off to warmer climes before I was born and now they pretty much only come back when one of my many, many senescent relatives dies.

The situation has spawned some debate among me and my immediate family. The latter insists I'd be doing a disservice to myself not getting better acquainted with my Arizona family. I don't exactly disagree, but I do overflow with resentmet — Mom grew up with these people and knew them her whole life, and through her, Dad's been to their weddings and family vacations and Christmas dinners — so the whole pre-me branches of the family tree had a really fucking easy time getting all chummy since they didn't have to do it across three time zones. Just like I had a really easy time concluding that the Arizona relatives meant squat to me. My ingeniously self-fulfilling plan justifying how I repudiated them in my mind was that I'd wait for one of them to make like they're interested in me. They might come up to New Jersey, but there'd always folks from the pre-me era — last time, it was my uncle (really a second-cousin once removed), his wife, two of his daughters, his brother-in-law and the brother-in-law's family, a son-in-law, someone a daughter went to school with, and some random dude who just showed up for the food — and I maintained my beliefs that they didn't have the time or interest for me.

But anyway, this evening, there's my cousin and her husband and her baby and this long-ass Italian family dinner that starts at six and ends at approximately October. There's a lot of happy discussion about, uh, which roads go to where, and which supermarket stocks what, and the good-old days — the pre-me days. Like two hours of this stupid dinner was spent was spent with my uncle saying, "Remember how we used to go down to Long Beach Island? No, of course you don't! You didn't exist then! Anyway, now the whole area's being developed as luxury condos."

To be honest, the cousins who I once thought were snobbish at best and insufferable at worst actually turned out to be normal. I'd say they were cool, except somehow whenever I was around, the conversation hovered around one of two topics: "I can't believe you won't eat [insert food here]. What's wrong with you?" and "I can't believe you don't like babies. What's wrong with you?" (Remember when you in were in grade school and your teacher said you should be yourself and be proud to be unique? Yeah, that was a big fat lie.) Like, you'd tell these cousins — to be precise, Mom or Dad, who don't understand the concept of boundaries, would tell these cousins something like, "Jay won't eat salads. He pretty much only eats meat," and I'd invariably get this shocked look as if they found out I subsisted entirely on a diet of crushed glass, Vegemite, and urinal cakes. So I'm gonna say this once, and then I start strangling people: I don't like certain foods. Perhaps you like the foods I don't like. That's okay. There's probably some foods out there you don't like and I do. Again, this is okay. We live in a world where some jackass will eat boiled pig testicles for money, so I won't flip out when I hear you and I have different tastes. I'd appreciate the same courtesy. Thank you.

At least I'm not a vegan.

Now, about the baby. First of all, congratulations! You had sex! The Catholic Church must be so, so proud of you. And now a tiny, slimy blob slid out your vagina. What do you want? A medal? Go ask Darwin for one. This whole life reproducing thing has only been going on for the past four billion years, so I'm not that impressed that you were able to make a miniature you. I don't want to hold it, or touch it, or look at it, or give a rat's ass about it — put it in the incubator and when it's doing arithmetic and playing the piano and talking in complete sentences, then maybe, MAYBE I'll care. And that's only if those complete sentences have interesting content.

The baby itself doesn't bother me that much. I got annoyed when Grandma started making up excuses for why I wouldn't hold it, "He's afraid he'll squeeze her too tight," or something. Which of course, isn't going to keep the cousins from shoving the baby into my arms. Let's be straightforward here: I don't want to hold your baby the same way you don't want to hold my python. The only difference is that when you decline my offer to hold Bessie Sue there, I'll respect you enough to stop asking instead of giving you a lecture about how I didn't like snakes when I was your age but someday you'll meet a girl and what if she wants to have a family of boa constrictors slithering about her home, then you'll grow out of it.

I think we can all take a couple of hints here: I've hated kids, and especially the slobbering, self-shitting kind, ever since I was in day care and told my toddler peers that I didn't like babies and had to hear those little intolerant bastards remind me, "But you were a baby once." Really? You mean I didn't spring forth fully-grown and armored from my father's head? Thanks for the biology lesson, little kid!

Also, I'm calling your baby an "it," and an erudite optimist might think I'm just noting that gender is a cultural construct and defining the thing as a "boy" or "girl," "pink" or "blue" denies it agency to carve out its own sexual niche in society. On the other hand, I did call my aunt's dog by the proper gender pronoun... but then, I'm not one of those people who refers to my car as a "she." Maybe I'd put up with your baby a little more if it weren't, say, an attention hog, or needlessly using the resources of an already strained planet, or being raised by people who arrogantly think it's their place to get the rest of the world to reproduce. Sorry, Mom, that I'll never make you a grandmother, but on the plus side, I will get a dog that you can spoil.