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I’ve never understood canopy beds. It escapes me what a girl enjoys by having a cloth roof stretched over her. After all, there’s already a plaster one sheltering her room. Yet my daughter Chloe insisted; it was what she most wanted for Christmas, nine months ago. My wife told me we should be grateful that we were able to cater to our only child’s whims. Please, she murmured into my neck, Santa always rewards the nice boys. At the time, I thought it was kind of tacky for a grown woman to promise a man sex if he indulged her child, but these days even a hand job would make me shout like a revival minister.
Chloe stirs beneath the covers when I kiss her forehead. She wants to know why Mommy isn’t taking her to school. Today is Mommy’s special meeting, I tell her. I’m not sure she knows what rally means. Oh, she says, and begins to dress. She’s still too young to find her parents embarrassing. In a couple of years, the eye rolling will begin. It will be Mom and Dad, not Mommy and Daddy. After that, Bitch and Loser. I’ve warned Lorna about this, that the last thing we should do is squander our credibility with Chloe’s friends, but she insists her crusade against Miley is God working through her. It’s not enough to protect our own daughter, she said, we must fight for all the children. [private]
Chloe emerges from her bathroom ready for the day. She’s still young enough to completely blot out, like an eclipse, any information that scares or confuses her. I might as well have told her Lorna was headed to Mars. As I follow Chloe out of her room, I glance at the patch of wall once home to a Hannah Montana poster, still a shade darker than what surrounds it. The sunshine pours through Chloe’s window every afternoon. Lorna had wanted to force Chloe to destroy the poster herself. I had to literally shake her to dislodge that lovely idea.
Lorna has converted our den into the MAAM headquarters. Picket signs, posters and buttons fill the room. I must fight the urge to rig an election. My wife dreamed up the slogans her minions will shout today at noon in front of Best Buy. (Lorna lacks the courage to picket Wal-Mart.) When I imagine my petite, pixie-haired wife yelling NO TRAMPS IN THIS TOWN and MILEY CYRUS IS A VIRUS alongside her homely, middle-aged compatriots, I can’t compute how all that drive, beauty and compassion has been funnelled down to cheap alliterations and cheesy rhymes.
Chloe asks Lorna what’s worse, a tramp or a slut? My wife’s eyes pop and she sets down the tape dispenser, kneeling before our daughter. That’s what parenthood demands of you: living life on your knees. They’re both very bad, Lorna tells her. I smirk and say they’re synonyms. After I send Chloe to the car, my wife mumbles that no one likes a smart-ass. I remind her that she liked them enough to marry one.
For the past three years, my wife and I have watched the MTV Video Music Awards ostensibly to determine whether it was suitable for Chloe. Thus far, the answer has been no. Lorna bristled against the usual things: profanity, sacrilege and rampant bawdiness. My complaint, however, was that I didn’t want my child to allow this shit inside her head. Yes, they have money, fame and (presumably) fun—but look how they squander it. The pregnant sophomores sneaking smokes behind the Stop-N-Go were better role models.
During the most recent one, Lorna fought back giggles as drunken celebrities bopped about the stage. During the commercial, I reached around and cupped her breast. We’d missed our weekly sex night that past weekend because her folks were in town. I was thrilled when she played along. You’ll be the presenter, Lorna sighed, and I’ll be the young, gorgeous singer. Oh, sir, where’s my award? She grabbed my crotch. Ooh, I think I found it!
Sometimes I love my wife.
When Miley emerged from the giant metallic teddy bear, her tongue darting this way and that like a bullfrog’s, I couldn’t help thinking she must really know how to suck a dick. I then calculated in my head whether she was old enough to inspire such thoughts. While a chorus line of midgets in bear suits pretended they weren’t dying of shame, Miley stomped and snarled. A silver bustier, its bodice emblazoned with a cartoonish happy face, endeavoured to create cleavage that simply wasn’t there. Lorna’s eyes narrowed, she brought her forefinger to her lips. Pam took Ava to one of her concerts, she said. She added that Pam no longer fears hell.
Miley strutted down the catwalk where a man who was my age and dressed in that black-and-white striped leisure suit from Beetlejuice awaited. She ground her ass against his crotch, cockteased him with a foam football finger and, of course, gyrated her tongue as if she had a tic. After the performance ended, I couldn’t decide what I’d just seen: failed sexiness, a satire of sexiness, or some dumb kid desperate to prove to everyone—anyone!—that she is a bona fide adult. I chuckled. Maybe Chloe would get a kick out of this… ten years from now.
The tears streaming down my wife’s face stunned me. How could she be upset by something so ineptly done?
Look what those music executives have done to her, she said, lip trembling. Convinced her she has to be a whore so they can sell more records. I gently reminded her that no one says records anymore. She zipped to her feet and started to pace before the TV, strategizing how she could raise an army of outraged mothers to help her stomp Miley right out of this town. Mothers Against Allowing Miley, she blurted, chin raised and palm flat against her forehead, as if receiving a holy vision. I was floored. You’re calling yourselves MAAM? As in, Yes ma’am, we’re not backing down, she announced. Her body stiffened, shoulders back and head high despite the fact no one could see her but me. So, I asked, will MAAM still have its apostrophe?
Some little girl went missing a couple of weeks ago, so kids must take the bus or arrive with a parent, no walking. This gives me the chance to have a conversation no parent should ever have with his child. As I idle in the drop-off lane before the elementary school, I explain to Chloe that she might hear some asshole kids say bad things about her mom. Chloe wants to know why; she always wants to know why. There are only two or three minivans ahead of us, so I hurry. I tell her that when you’re passionate about something, it scares people who aren’t passionate about anything. They’re jealous, I say. They want Mom to be more like them. Chloe sniffs and puckers her mouth. I don’t want Mom to change, she says. I like her the way she is. Her voice catches. I’m scared shitless she’ll start to cry.
Pam saves the day. I roll down my window after she raps on the glass. She asks me, in that perky squeak of hers, if I’m looking forward to the rally. I grimace and nod. We’re at the front entrance, Chloe is collecting her things. I turn away from Pam to kiss my daughter goodbye, but Pam bends over and nearly stuffs her head inside the car. Hey, shy girl, she calls. Don’t you wanna say hi to me? Pam’s daughter, Ava, used to be friends with Chloe in kindergarten. Lorna and I put a stop to it when we caught Ava flipping up her dress for every boy she liked. That would include most of them. Pam still pretends the girls are best buds. Chloe calls out goodbye, to both of us, and slips out the door. When Pam won’t budge, I consider informing her I’ll shove her head between my legs, and force her to do what Lorna won’t, unless she respects my personal space. I never got to kiss my girl goodbye.
I’m going to the rally of course. Lorna would be crushed if I skipped out.
Betty is there when I return home. She gossips, she fusses, and she tidies the room despite knowing it’ll be a mess again in under a half-hour. While loading me up with picket signs, she informs me that we might have thirty protestors today. Channel 10 might send out a camera crew. Lorna clicks her teeth and shakes her head. Perversion this flagrant gets attention, she says. Betty nods solemnly and gazes at me until I nod, too. After a few minutes, the jeep is loaded. I ask Betty to take off, and we’ll meet her there. She doesn’t budge until Lorna insists everything is fine.
A camera crew, I say through clenched teeth. My boss might see this. Lorna asks if he’d be willing to donate to our cause. Printing stores are no better than bandits, she says. Before I think better of it, I tell her everyone at my office thinks she’s a nutjob, a bored housewife with nothing better to do than tell junior-high girls who they can and can’t listen to. Her gaze drifts out toward the bay window. Out front, Betty’s car horn bleats. Lorna asks if it doesn’t make me feel sort of giddy. We’re working together, she says, a real team.
The night Lorna and I witnessed Miley’s epic fail on MTV, I listened faithfully to her vow to purify her town, checked on a sleeping Chloe one last time, and then stripped off my clothes and plopped on our bed, arms crossed behind my head. Better late than never. When Lorna emerged from the bathroom, however, her head listed to the side and she folded her arms around herself as if chilled. I asked her what was wrong, knowing it didn’t really matter—sex night was once again postponed. In case there was any doubt, she was wearing her white ankle-length cotton nightgown with the print of tiny pink daises. It’s the closest thing to a chastity belt J.C. Penney stocks.
Lorna eased onto the bed, hesitantly brushed my foot. She looked at me like a dumb dog needing to be told it’s had enough dinner, any more chow and he’ll get sick. She asked me what I’d do if Chloe’s boss demanded she dress like a whore and simulate sex with a man almost twice her age. She explains—carefully, deliberately—that as long as naïve young girls are being exploited for men’s financial gain, she didn’t feel right imbibing sensual pleasure. My birthday is in two weeks, I reminded her. It’s the only day of the year Lorna lets me take her from behind. She slowly shook her head. It’s not about us anymore, she said.
At Best Buy, I draw the line at carrying a picket sign myself. When Lorna begs, I lie that my boss doesn’t allow employees to openly affiliate themselves with any political group. Who knows? Maybe that’s actually true. Betty’s estimate was too optimistic. Instead, ten to twelve protestors, all women, march back and forth in front of the store, chanting but forever sidestepping the actual customers who never step aside for them. The event’s chief characteristic is how uneventful it is. She hasn’t shared it with me, but I have no doubt Lorna has a speech prepared. I check the parking lot for any media. None, thank God, but a few smart-asses take pictures and videos with their iPhones.
Lorna mounts a grey plastic milk crate that looks a bit shaky, even though my wife weighs less than 120 pounds. We keep places like this in business, she says. If we don’t buy a certain product, they’ll stop carrying it. That’s Business 101. So what these brave ladies and I are protesting today is not Best Buy or any of this town’s fine stores. No, what we object to is you, the consumers who pay hard-earned money to keep professional sluts like Miley Cyrus in business. Shame on you!
At that moment, a glass door bursts open a few feet away, and a burly salesclerk guides an enormous television out of the store and onto the pavement. Lorna loses her train of thought, gets flustered. I can tell because she’s fluffing her hair. She used to wear it much longer, and she hasn’t broken the habit yet. Finally, the salesclerk manoeuvres the set through our measly picket line. Lorna clears her throat and sorts her index cards.
Pam’s wail shatters the gentle chaos outside the store. Everyone, my wife included, stares at her, alarmed. Pam clutches a cell phone, still pressed to her ear. Finally, she yanks it away and looks dumbly at it. A few of the women, including Betty, ask her what happened, cautiously offer their hands. Some pervert took Ava, she cries. She followed some pervert off the playground. Oh, my God! Oh, my God! She gapes at Lorna, her mouth so wide, you could fit a universe inside it.
If I lose my baby because I was here doing this bullshit that doesn’t matter, you will never be rid of me! You understand that, you crazy bitch? Maybe if you had a dick inside you once in a while, you wouldn’t care so much about Miley fucking Cyrus!
The protest disbands immediately after Pam’s outburst. Betty agrees to clean up alone. I wish I could tell you what my wife is thinking, but I can’t bring myself to look at her.
We keep the news about Ava away from Chloe. We decided it was best to wait and see if the girl turns up in the next day or two. We don’t wish to frighten her. Tonight, Lorna and I sit together on the couch, watching some singing competition programme. One season, Christina Aguilera is a little pudgy, the next she’s lean. Which Christina would greet me this year? That’s all the suspense I need from TV.
At the commercial, we begin to talk. I had so much left to tell everyone, Lorna says. People need to know what’s happening to these girls. I stroke her cheek with the back of my hand. I can’t remember the last time we’ve been this physically close while awake. I know what I want from her, but I’ve forgotten how to get it. She balls her fists in her lap. Maybe no one cares, she says in a small voice. I take her by the chin and turn her head toward mine. I care, honey. And all those girls you’re trying to save? They’d thank you if they could. Lorna smiles. I’m relieved that’s all she needs. We hold hands and wait for the programme to return. She doesn’t mention Miley again the whole evening. The house feels larger. [/private]