Patti Lynn has an epiphany on the Sixth Avenue bus. She calls me from the street to tell me about Plan 9. It suddenly occurs to her to say, “Why not? We can have a baby whenever we want.” But, what’s cool is, if we get down to work right now, the baby will be born on our anniversary. On June 16, it’ll be nine years to the day since we met at 18 W. 18th St. and four years to the day since we got married at 18 W. 18th St. So if we time it right, the baby will be born on June 16, too. I ask her if she thinks we could have it at 18 W. 18th St. Have sex? Or the baby? Either. Both. Though it’s very dusty.
So, she calls it Plan 9, nine months to go, nine-month countdown to June 16. Plan 9 like Ed Wood’s movie, Plan 9 From Outer Space, voted the worst movie ever made, about aliens and zombies and other incomprehensible things. The perfect launching pad for a baby that will grow up surrounded by paintings of criminals and stuffed dead things and Patti and me.
In mid-September, we light votive candles. We drink Dewar’s. We play John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (They Say It’s Wonderful, My One and Only Love, Dedicated to You, You Are Too Beautiful). Plan 9 is launched.
My job: to produce two milliliters of semen. That’s less than half a teaspoon and at least 40 million sperm. Of these, at least 50 percent need to be moving vigorously, two percent must be moving forward and at least four percent should have a normal shape—an elliptical head and a tail to provide the thrust they need. I think I can manage that. I must remember to rinse the teaspoon when I’m done.
Two weeks into Plan 9. In passing, Patti tells me she’s got her period. She says we can try again, that maybe we can aim at my birthday, Sept. 4, for a due date. My brain mutters: But that’s my birthday. Now some stranger’s going to share it with me.
I don’t mean that. Really. Really.
We spend a weekend in Atlantic City, primarily to check out an antique toy fair. We buy a ceramic doll’s head that dispenses string through her Cupid’s-bow lips, a pair of quilted velvet seat cushions, and a three-foot-long mounted pike to add to our taxidermy collection. Normally I shy away from stuffed fish, preferring furry beasts and feathered friends. I already own a skunk, a woodchuck, a black squirrel, a bear, a fox, five deer, two pheasants, a quail, and a chicken. No Emperor penguin. But there is something about the size and ferocity of the pike and the brass medal thumb-tacked to its backboard that makes me have to have it. Surprisingly, no one else seems as interested.
After we finish haggling with the vendors, we ride on the boardwalk; a bony man in a thin black overcoat schleps us up and down in a wicker pushchair, past shacks piled high with T-shirts and cotton candy. Then we go back to our hotel and enjoy ourselves and several drinks in the black Jacuzzi.
Having children has always been a tradition in my family. My parents had one. Their parents had a couple apiece. My great-grandparents had a bunch, too. We’ve been doing it for as far back as anyone can remember. Fortunately, Patti Lynn comes from a similarly reproductive tradition.
I’ve read the book. You fall in love, you get married, then conceive, deliver, and live happily ever after. In my family, you may not follow that sequence slavishly, and you may repeat some steps while omitting others, but my existence is proof that, genetically, at least, I have the technical wherewithal to produce a child.
Soon after getting my first microscope at 15, I fouled a slide with my own ejaculate and saw at least hundreds of tadpoles wriggling about. And once I was in college and in charge of my own undergarment purchasing, I traded briefs for boxers, partly because Jockey shorts made me look like a six-year-old or a would-be gay model, but more because I’d heard that briefs would jam my scrotum right against the inferno of my post-adolescent bod, slow-roast my offspring, and bump me from the Mandelian slugfest. Boxer shorts, on the other hand, my friend Henry had earnestly assured me, allowed the natural scrotal elevator to gingerly hoist and lower them, so regardless of climatic vagaries, my boys would always be ready to go.
Still, unlike so many of my friends, I’ve never accidentally gotten anyone pregnant. Never had that upsetting phone call or uncomfortable teary chat, never had to sit in a Planned Parenthood waiting room, never wondered if random, anonymous children looked enough like me to maybe be some progeny no one had gotten around to introducing.
In my endless quest to freak myself out, which I laughingly call “being on the safe side,” I look up causes of male infertility in a physician’s desk reference. I go to the Barnes & Noble on 18th & Fifth and learn that if those veins I’d been coddling in my boxers were enlarged or blocked, they could be could rejiggered with something that sounded excruciating and exotic, a vasoepididymostomy. If it wasn’t my veins, there were many other pleasant reasons for shooting blanks: hypogonadism (low hormones), cryptorchidism (undescended testes), gonadotoxins (hitting the bong or the sauce so hard you fry your balls), or hypospadias (the hole at end of your dick isn’t at the end of your dick).
More prosaic causes included mumps, syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, or torsion. (I had a friend in college whose nickname was “540,” earned when he was kicking for extra points during a JV football game and managed to pincer his scrote between his thighs and rotate his own balls 540 degrees. He has lived to reproduce.) Apparently, the signs of congenital problems include difficulties with smell, impaired sight, or nipple discharge. Sniffing, squinting, and checking my shirt for wet spots, I stagger out of the store, my hypochondria severely inflamed.
Patti comes home late because she’s been working on a shoot for a children’s clothing catalog. When she left her fashion forecasting job a year ago, I was a little ambivalent about her setting out on her own as a fashion stylist. I am much more conservative by nature than she is, and so the idea of not having a steady paycheck and having to call up people and sell them my wares is all a little daunting. But PL seems to love it and to be good at it.
She loves shopping for clothes, calling people up to rent props, assembling all the bits and pieces to create a story that will photograph beautifully. She’s also good at finding common ground with strangers, so people quickly fall in love with her and want her around. She’s getting a good roster of regular clients now and wants to protect her reputation for always being there when she’s needed. Lumbering around with a big pregnant tummy probably won’t slow her down, and these days babies seem quite trendy, the ultimate fashion accessory.
On the other hand, PL tells me the fashion world is full of people who are jealous and weird. For instance, she often doesn’t wear her wedding ring when she goes out on jobs. She has this theory that if people know she’s married, they’ll figure she’s not really committed to her work and not really willing to put in any self-sacrificing effort and work insane hours. I tell her that’s a good thing and she can get home early, but she just glares at me. She goes on to say that if people know she’s married they’ll pay her less, figuring that she isn’t really dependent on her day rate, as her hubby can foot the bills. I shrug and jingle the change in my pocket.