T is for Tasting Neon

If raising my son were a job, I would have quit when he turned sixteen. When people ask me how old he is I roll my eyes and say he just turned asshole.   The teen years have been so challenging, I find myself staring at photos of him as a toddler to remember that I still like him.

I know teenagers are supposed to be obnoxious. It is their job to shit in the nest in order to fly off on their own, but Aidan’s pile seems steamier and larger than most.

The only connection that has remained constant between us is our shared love of music.

My own love of music started young. While my friends were spending their allowance on lava lamps and Sassoon jeans, I spent mine on albums. I started playing guitar at seven and attended the High school of Performing Arts for bassoon, schlepping the twenty-three pound instrument to midtown every day from Staten Island. I received a music scholarship to college and even when I didn’t play anymore, music became the soundtrack of my days.

When I was pregnant, I played classical guitar every day, not because I was one of those Mozart moms that believed my child would end up a prodigy, but because it made me relax.

Never one to follow the straight line anywhere, Aidan was born a month early. My husband and I felt wholly unprepared and stared at each other each night when, at 6pm Aidan would scream so loud, I could see his uvula quivering in the back of his throat. The only thing that seem to calm him was music and so I would sink into our cheap Jennifer convertible and listen to Dave sing Danny Boy changing the words to Aidan boy.

By the time Aidan was cruising around the living room, it was clear he had inherited my love of music. He would stop at our giant 1984 speaker and bounce in time to the Gypsy Kings. His eyes would widen each time he heard music and his first attempts at talking sounded like song.   Since I lived in Park Slope, I took him to the heavily trademarked Music Together class where exhausted parents and caregivers would shake tambourines to the simple and catchy songs that would haunt my dreams for years.

On Aidan’s second day of Kindergarten, Aidan’s father was killed at the world Trade Center and for the first time, our world became quiet. Even though our home was filled with friends and family for months, I never put the stereo on and when Aidan asked me to sing Danny boy each night, I could only whisper the song for fear of crying in front of him.

A year later, we moved to Staten Island where the public school offered Aidan a violin. Within months he wanted to play the guitar too. I dug up my old Classical Martin and brought Aidan every week to a small music studio above a pizzeria where the smell of garlic mixed with the sounds of missed notes.

On long road trips, I sang in the car to the classic rock stations in the passing towns. I would pay Aidan a dollar if he could guess the band in the first few chords. He was almost always right and used his money to buy CD’s.

By sixth grade, Aidan formed his first band “Tasting Neon”, a motley crew of eleven-year-olds from Mr. Morton’s homeroom. At 4pm every Wednesday they piled into Aidan’s room plugging in amps, banging drumsticks and looking for picks. I served Oreos and helped tune guitars but they seemed more interested in arguing about what their logo should look like.

“Hey guys! “ I said finally knocking on the door. “Why don’t you learn one song before you plan your tour?”

By spring of that year, they knew one third of “Paint it Black” before deciding to break up.

“How come?” I asked but Aidan just shrugged.

A few days later when I was picking Aidan up from school we passed Julia, the bassist from the band. She was tall for her age, with thin braids that hung like willow branches.

“Hey Aidan!” she said waving frantically offered a surly hello. I cringed remembering my own desperate attempts at getting boys to like me which mostly involved blue mascara and a curling iron.

“How come you’re not friends with Julia any more?” I asked when we climbed into my car, Aidan tossing his backpack into the backseat.

“I dunno,” he said and I sighed hoping Aidan wasn’t becoming one of those too cool guys that I dedicated endless pages of my diary to. The more emotionally distant the guy was, the more I seemed to like him.

That night when I was tucking Aidan into bed he said suddenly, “You know why I don’t like Julia anymore?”

“No.” I said pretending not to be curious.

“Cause she shoved her tongue down my throat and I almost threw up.”

“Did you tell her you didn’t like it?”


“You should tell her how you feel.” I suggested.

“Nah,” he said rolling over, pulling his Ugly Doll into his chest.

That summer, I began taking Aidan to concerts. We started at the band shell in Prospect Park and then progressed to Madison Square Garden, Radio City, the Beacon and the Bell House.   We fell in love with Jack White from the White Stripes, sang along to OKGO and laughed at Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords. I had to ban mid week concerts after Aidan failed a math quiz the day after we saw the “The Who” at the Izod Center. The math teacher at Brooklyn Friends said nothing when I stupidly explained why.

I bought Aidan an Ipod for his 13th birthday, the year he started to smell. I tried hard to avoid any Shakespearean pitfalls gently nudging Aidan toward adulthood in spite of my secret wish to cover him in bubble wrap.

I put on Crosby Stills and Nash when I taught him how to do his own laundry, the Smiths when I showed him how to make eggs and bacon and the Pixies when Aidan emptied the dishwasher, his face now hidden under a long curtain of hair.

In the secret solitude of the car, Aidan played me Led Belly blues followed by Jack White’s version. I, in turn, played the old blues song “You Need Love” that Led Zeppelin covered as “Whole Lotta Love”, a song I would turn up in the car until Aidan and I were screaming the chorus, our head’s bopping in time to John Bonham’s driving drumbeat.

I regaled Aidan with stories from the high school of Performing Arts where our orchestra played with Dizzy GIllespie at Carnegie Hall and with Zubin Mehta at Avery Fisher Hall. He was particularly intrigued with my concert adventures when I snuck into the The No Nukes Concert in Battery Bark and cut school to stand in front of the Dakota and light a candle for John Lennon.

Aidan’s rebellion started small at first. Wet towels dotted the floor and he left trails of socks around the house the way Hansel and Gretel left breadcrumbs. More often than not, the socks turned out to be mine, stretched and useless from the occupation of Aidan’s now sized fourteen feet. He left lights on all over the house and wrappers on the floor and I had to hide my Iphone headphones so he wouldn’t take them. He started staying up late, listening to music in his room that was now covered in Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix posters.

By eighth grade, Aidan’s hair began to curl, a slight mustache lined his upper lip and I found out I had breast cancer.   During radiation I dragged him to auditions for LaGuardia and Talent Unlimited where he played Heart-shaped box on my old guitar: I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black. My therapist insisted that it was normal and foretold that Aidan’s rebellion would be dramatic because of the closeness we shared.

For his fifteenth birthday, I took Aidan to see the Raconteurs at Terminal Five, a giant new venue on 56th street. The concert hall was standing room only and I quickly realized I had made a huge mistake. Not only was I too old for the young crowd but Aidan was too young. By the time the opening band came on, the place was packed, pot swirling in the beams of stage lights as Aidan and I were pushed toward the front by tattooed, bearded, twenty-somethings.

“I know what that smell is” Aidan said nervously tucking his hair behind his ear watching the fedoraed men around us with what I can only describe as awe. I cursed myself for having brought my son to the seventh ring of hell. Why accelerate this ride any faster than it was already going? I wanted him to experience his adolescence without the smoky haze of marijuana that I did. I am still famous at high school reunions for being the girl who made one of her bassoons into a bong.

It was music that saved me.

My first boyfriend took me to see Pharaoh Sanders at the Blue Note and Herbie Hancock at the Village Vanguard. I can still hear the harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel and Elton John echoing across Central Park as wide and far away as the future.

By the time the Raconteurs walked out, Aidan and I were so close we could see the design on Jack White’s snakeskin boots. His playing mesmerized me, his skin so white I felt as if I could see right through him. He looked like Edward Scissorhands and played like Jimi Hendrix. Aidan was equally transfixed and as I watched his profile, so similar to his father’s, it took my breath away.

After about an hour, Aidan tugged on my shirt to show me that Jack White’s finger’s were bleeding from playing so long and hard. I couldn’t look away until I caught, in my periphery a glimpse of the bearded man next to me. His head was tilted back as if in ecstasy until I realized he was peeing on the floor.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I screamed, rousing him from his trance as he scrambled to put his appendage away.

‘I didn’t want to lose my spot” the man slurred, his hat shadowing his face.

“That’s disgusting,” I hissed.

As I moved away from the spreading puddle, I noticed Aidan was no longer next to me. He had moved back few rows, pretending not to know me.

It was our last concert together.

Halfway through freshman year of high school, Aidan cut his hair, took down his Nirvana posters and his feet grew so large, I had to special order his shoes.

“You could float Cubans here in that shoebox.” I joked but he didn’t think I was funny anymore and he didn’t like my music anymore either.

Now when I played Joni Mitchell at dinner he rolled his eyes.

“They should play this to people on death row.”

A weird tension lodged itself between us. He wore his headphones in the car and spent hours staring into the mirror, taking showers and murdering people on video games.

By sophomore year, Aidan was listening to what he called underground hip-hop music. In the morning he greeted me with a “What up”, his pants slung so low, he walked the way he did as a toddler with a full diaper.

He liked to rap and he spent hours making up rhymes slicing the air with his hands.

“You don’t know how to show to me

I’m cutting rhymes like a vasectomy,

Next to me…”

He started coming home late from Union Square Park where he participated in rap offs and announced that he was finally not embarrassed to live on Staten Island because Wu-Tang Clan formed here. On a rare school morning, he’d play me something he liked, sticking one of his headphones into my ear.

“I call her thunder thighs with the fatty swolla

Only mess with high rollers, do what daddy told her

No matter the city she with me to do the thang-thang

Work in the coochie, hooptie chitty chitty bang bang

“That’s very sexist,” I mumbled, handing back the headphone.

“It’s part of the language of rap,” Aidan said.

“I like the beat” I said carefully, but Aidan wanted to argue. Next to playing guitar and rapping, it was his favorite thing to do.

“But that’s the language of the hood. It’s not derogatory, it’s mimicking the culture of the rappers before them.”

“But there are great rappers out there that don’t have to insult women to make their point. It’s promoting a stereotype,” I countered. We argue until I am rendered silent out of sheer exhaustion.

In the car he continues to play me Notorious B.I.G, Earl Sweatshirt and MF Doom. I like some of the songs, especially the ones with samples of old cartoons and songs from my past.

In Junior year, Aidan got a girlfriend and started making beats on his computer. He even sold some of them to rappers and used the money to buy lamb gyros off of food trucks in Chelsea who knew him by name.  “Aidan, where have you been? Lamb over rice? “

When I went to clean out the last of his toys, Legos and star wars figurines he had been collecting since he was four, I found a bong and empty bags of pot. I called my sister and she laughed at my panic saying, “we were way worse and oh, if you find a vaporizer, I need one of those.”

By Aidan’s senior year, my hair turned completely white and I started taking Xanax.  Aidan’s eyes drooped from fatigue and pot smoking and swarms of friends arrived on the weekends, filling my foyer with giant shoes, the music so loud the windows shook in their frames. For Christmas he wanted an album and a turntable and I had to show him how to put the needle on the grooves in between songs.

I went to endless meetings with his teachers, his tutors and therapists. We spoke in a secret language of letters: ADHD, SAT, PTSD, ACT and GAD. By the time Spring Break came, I took him to JFK to go to DR.

Aidan was taking off his giant sneakers to put in a box on the security line when an angry looking airport employee sidled over looking at Aidan’s sweatshirt.  I felt my back tense.

“You man. You into MF Doom?”

“Yeah, he’s dope.”

You see the Beef Rapp?”

“Yeah, that was mad good, but track 5 on Doomsday is sick.”

“Yeah yo, check that Vinca Rosea sample…”

They went on and on this way, speaking a language I no longer understood, a language that I hope will help him fly away from me… or at least get us expedited through security.

7 thoughts on “T is for Tasting Neon

  1. Vin Anzelone

    Weird the long showers are a new concept,however it seems my son has a skunk in there sometimes?The new pot reeks!!


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