Mother Knows Best

A night on the town with Mom means talking about Jacko, Dabney Coleman, and pedophilia

My mother has just left, and I am now in what's called the "puppet period." The puppet period occurs after a parent you haven't seen for a while has come to visit. As soon as you drop her off at the airport, wave goodbye, and drive away, you look down and realize something quite profound: You are sitting with your legs spread, your right foot on the gas, your left foot pulled neatly up at the base of your seat, your hand resting on the gearshift like you were at a nail salon -- Jesus Christ, this is exactly how your mom drives. You loudly exclaim, "Oh jeez!" and attempt to switch positions, only to realize that your mom says, "Oh jeez!" when she realizes she has screwed up but is sort of amused by it. This continues usually for three or four days until the last vapors of her visit are gone and you have returned to ignoring the fact that you are a carbon copy of someone else.

I have my mom's sense of humor, her nice eyebrows, and her love of British mysteries. But I also have her same impatience with men, her oppositional defiance disorder (ODD), and her distaste for the films of Dabney Coleman. All of those things came to a head last week when I tried to get her to go to a leather bar with me for this column. (If you're wondering about that last part, hearken back to Coleman's bondage gear in Nine to Five.)

"Assless chaps, babe," I said to her with a smug grin.

"Katy," she said back sternly, with her hands on her hips and trying not to laugh, the same way I do when I am attempting to mean business. "There will be no assless chaps in our evening. No. I will hear no Sylvester on this night."

She wasn't into the idea, which is sort of the point, but when it came right down to it, taking my ACLU-supporting, Bush-hating mother to a gay bar wasn't exactly intrepid.

But being ODD, I knew I was going to have to come up with something to drive her crazy. Hopefully something that would come to me over a drink and snack at a nice, Mom's-in-town bistro.

I took her to Fillmore and Clay, to the bar at the Fillmore Grill. This place is pretty much it for bars in the immediate area. Fortysomething ne'er-do-wells with fat bank accounts like a little salmon with their beer, so generally will go out to dinner alone rather than enter a pub.

That said, the Grill is sort of a secret retreat for me. The music is generally a CD mélange of interesting old jazz or bossa nova that hasn't been played to death, the TV is always on, and the bartenders love to talk to you about whatever. The serf in me somewhat resents the income of most of the patrons, but generally it's a welcoming place full of down-to-earth people, just the kind of joint to take a Midwestern mom who was paying to. Awesome, now I could try the prime rib and get one of them I-talian fizzy waters.

It took about five minutes after we sat down on the stools and ordered a drink (wine for me, Pimm's Cup for her) to figure out what would push her enough to send her over the edge. CNN was on the TV, and the Michael Jackson trial was being covered. Awww, yeah.

"He's going to jail," said the well-scrubbed man eating the pork loin to our right.

"You think so?" my mom replied, all sheepish. This is her way of saying, "OK, tell me your opinion so I can say the opposite when you are done." But I wasn't going to let it go that far, because I had something up my sleeve that was sure to take her focus off her debate with a man in an expensive watch. I would bring up something that drives her crazy: my friendships with pedophiles.

For some reason this really gets her goat.

It began about two years ago, when I decided to start hanging out in a pedophile chat room on the Web, thinking there would be a great story in it. It was sneaky, but hey, they were pedophiles, I thought, so who cares if I lie to them about being a reporter. Well, another thing my mother, myself, and Jesus have in common is our ability to view underdogs without judgment once we get to know them. After a year in there was up, I was astonished to learn that there are pedophiles who never go near children, there are pedophiles who kill themselves once it sinks in that they are attracted to children, and there are pedophiles who are trying to work with mental health professionals to get things sorted out before they offend. In short, the word itself doesn't immediately mean "child molester." Are many of them child molesters? Oh, yes. They are teachers, coaches, and camp counselors, trust me. But some people with this tragic attraction are not abusers.

No one has been interested in hearing this, especially not my mother, who is worried for my safety. "Don't worry, Ma," I say to her. "They don't know where I live, just my name and phone number." This usually sends her into a mock stroke, her face contorting like an astronaut's in a wind machine. Brings her down every time.

Old Michael Jackson footage was on the TV screen, with him standing next to the blotted-out face of his accuser in the Bashir documentary. "There are a few things I know about pedophiles," I began to say.

"Katy," she said, the same way she'd said it above.

"They put children on pedestals, they fall in love with children. They surround themselves with children's things and toys in a Neverland of 'innocence.'" But she didn't want to hear my unique insight on the trial. All she heard was, "My daughter likes pedophiles."

I have a theory about the children of '60s-generation parents. We can't shock them by dying our hair purple, or dropping out of school, or using the f-word. We can only shock them by A) being racist, B) being Republican, or C) sympathizing with pedophiles. I think I picked the least repugnant of the three.

I eventually dropped it, because it's one thing to get my mother going and yet another to change her mood entirely. I like her fun and goofy. Instead I brought up the time she had raging diarrhea in a Stuckey's bathroom in Toad Suck, Ark., while a line of waiting cheerleaders traveling to a competition heard her misery loud and clear.

"Katy," she said, sternly.

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