These days we seem to forget it, or gloss over it, or simply flat-out deny it, but the fact remains: childhood is weird. It’s not all Harry Potter and birthday parties and 2-dimensional Raffi-style feelings. It’s loads more Brothers Grimm and Pan’s Labyrinth and Watership Down. Old Yeller dies, Shane doesn’t come back, young Christina Ricci wants to play I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours and it all feels distinctly not right.
But as adults, we naturally want to reinvent our childhoods as a primary colors affair and shove all the old weird feelings (and inconvenient visions and fears and introspectiveness) back down into shadows.
Then we encounter, in say, the Daddy’s Junky Music on Mass Ave this afternoon, a picture that somehow brings it all back:
Dig little brother on the left: first off, I doubt his parents were even born before Simon & Garfunkel‘s Bookends album came out, so how the fuck he is channeling parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme from across the generations? That’s the first obvious clue that this kid is not of this dimension.
Second, just feel for a moment my little man’s approach to the whole photo session. On the one hand, Little Sally Hollywood over on the right is just jazzed to have another photo job to keep Mommy stocked with enough Ritalin to keep her child actor career on an upwardly-mobile track. She’s got that ‘curious’ look down pat; she’s already thinking down the road to her 2pm ‘glee’ gig. But on the other hand, young Malkovitch over there is going all Lee Strasberg on this shit, as if to say “Sure man, we all live in this superficial ‘Shake n’ Play’ world, but truly, what does it mean to listen?” Isn’t that what’s at the heart of all this? Isn’t that the gripping existential question that wakes us up in the middle of the night in our sweat-soaked Spongebob jammies? What are we listening for? Some elusive confirmation that yes, we do the hokey pokey and that is indeed what it’s all about? To look into his eyes is to peer into the inky bottomlessness of our own longing.
Then, shocked and shamed by his unanswerable look, we turn the box over to find this:
Holy shit: who the fuck is this kid, anyway?? And why does his Hitchcockian stare bore holes into my soul? His laser-beam eyes are blazing straight through the falsehoods of my adult life. Now his pensiveness has morphed into an indictment, his insatiable questioning has trained its focus on you. Can you truly meet his gaze, brave and unashamed?