Decoding Cody

I write this respecting my agreement that Cody's stories belong to him, and you can't just take them and pretend you made them up. He's only eight, so he doesn't understand copyright, but he has decided that I am his attorney. So just watch that, "Oh, I made that up before Cody" kind of bullshit. One story opens with a family under assault from external forces, as you might imagine. "They are exterminators," he explains, "and there's an army of insects coming to get them." He told me about that one before he went off the record.

"I have to get somebody to draw the pictures," he says.

"You could use a computer," I suggest, "and multiply a few images into an army."

"No. That won't work. There's all kinds of them, and they've got all kinds of different weapons. I need an artist to draw the pictures for me."

Cody is not the kid with easy instructions. I first met him a few years ago on a basketball court, when the ball hit him in the face. He was crying so I picked him up, and his mom and a couple of other women were discussing this. Not discussing that he was hurt, but that he didn't mind my picking him up. "Cody's afraid of men," one of them said.

My thought was, "He'd be an idiot not to be afraid of men, wouldn't he? Have you read the news today?" But I just felt that sense of mild inflation that comes with being a special case. And lately, as more lines of definition outline his developing identity, I begin to see that Cody and I have a similar strategy for how to approach the outside world. "I'm going to write books," he said, as we were going through Prescott Valley on our way to the Cherry cutoff, and over to the Interstate.

I thought about all the books I have tried to write, including the one I'm trying to write now, even though I have always ended up being competent only with shorter work. "I am too," I said.

"I know that."

The thing I've noticed about this boy is that his preoccupation with a rich internal life is interpreted by people who don't have one as a lack of attention, because he's not paying attention to them. But I watched him shut my mother off like changing channels. This irritated the old woman, who cannot get around without a walker, and who wanted to engage the handsome child. The old man, who has himself perfected the art of ignoring her when in her eagerness to engage she extends out of her body and hangs in the air as a phantom, paid the exchange no mind.

"He doesn't even look around when I talk to him," she said.

Cody closed the blinds and would not look at the sly apparition demanding attention. He was studying something inside and the story was taking shape, the way the Singing Detective shaped his movie under the influence of his fevers, and of his personal history growing upward from repressed instinct into metaphor, like dreams that have escaped from the cage of forgetfulness.

But I'm getting ahead of myself because we're just turning off at Dewey when by some unknown mechanism Dewey the dog intersects our location. "Scooby bit the tip of Dewey's ear off," he said. "I want to sue him."

"Sue Scooby?"

"Sue my brother. Scooby's his dog."

Dewey is from one of those families where the gene pool is playing life for comic effect, but Dewey is more fortunate than some of his siblings. There was a Shar Pei involved in this act of creation, and a Daschund. When I first saw the pictures of the litter I thought they were doctured. There were pups with this big wrinkled Shar Pei head attached to a fuel tanker on absurdly stubby legs. They looked like the dog in "The Mask" after Milo donned the trickster god, Loki's, mask and transformed into a Toon Hound. By comparison, Dewey has a more normal face, but the trauma of having comic relatives makes him mean sometimes, at least to other dogs. But because he's stuck with a small dog body he gets his ass kicked.

"How much were you thinking of suing him for?"

"I don't know, maybe five dollars. Maybe twenty."

"There are several things to consider," I said, "like pain and suffering, and the cost of reattaching the ear."

"I think Scooby ate it."

"Then there's reconstructive surgery involved. I'd go for the twenty bucks."

"Twenty bucks for surgery? No, more like two hundred. I could just sue him for what he's got. And I could sue my sister, too, because her dog might have been in on it. His (Dewey's) nose was chewed up too." He was warming to the idea now of how much money can be made by having a good lawyer. At some point he assumed I was going to act as his attorney in the matter. I only learned that yesterday when his mom told me he had referred questions about his case to me.

I kicked in the supercharger and pulled around a garbage truck as we climbed the hill up Cherry Highway into the valley. The population keeps expanding, and the grasslands across the valley keep giving way to construction. Years ago I flew over this terrain with a bush pilot and we watched the herds of antelope moving through the golden grass. Now they keep declining as their range is surrendered to the demand for more and more living space for people. Cody was debating whether to tell me about a story he's working on around Halloween.

He said I shouldn't tell anybody about it. When I started writing this I was going to just put it under common copyright as his story, but that's the thing about planning to break your word with a kid; when it comes down to the deed itself, you have to respect innocent trust. All I can say is that it is built over the Frankenstein plot to some extent, and involves stealing candy. Did I say too much?

We discussed possible twists and turns in the plot of the story for twenty miles, like Japanese businessmen making light talk before getting down the the business of the pending lawsuit, which by now he had agreed should include everybody else in the household. "You have to go after the parent corporation," I explained.

The olds were surprised to see the kid with me. I hadn't told them he was hanging with me that day. His mom said he was feeling left out because his brother was working for me several days, making money to buy himself a BMX bike so he can do trick riding. My dad is almost ninety, and concluded that he liked this kid. He was especially impressed that he already knows the art of shutting out what he wishes to not be bothered with, and engaging what appeals to him.

We gathered up some tools and a lawn chair for the old man and went down to where the sprinkler line was broken and water was bubbling up from under the ground. It was beneath a tree, so that it was hard to get down to the broken line without navigating some big roots. I worked around all but one of them, which I was forced to cut before I could get a little saw into the space.

When we'd dug up the line and located the break, we went to town to get the parts needed to repair it, and some food from the Basha's deli. "What's your favorite food?" I asked.

"Chicken," Cody said with enthusiasm.

"Good choice. It's an unfortunate man who doesn't like chicken." He'd told me earlier that he cannot understand people who don't like broccoli, because he likes it a lot. So I added in some pasta salad with broccoli and cauliflower in it.

Later, after the chores were done, he fell asleep on the drive back to Prescott. Ondar was singing in Tuvan style on the stereo. In, "Where has my Country Gone," Willie Nelson was translating the words, "Where have you gone, my people? Where have you gone?"

The grasslands sprawl dry and empty toward the horizon, with no rain in the forecast, the water table dropping ever lower as we get less snow on the mountains, the songbirds disappearing, taking their songs to some undisclosed location, the bees disappearing, the trash plants gaining increasing advantage. The child sleeps, ensconced in an alternate universe of his own design, and I wonder what the future holds for him. Maybe the insects will come for the exterminators, just like he imagines, in a world out of balance.

Posted: Fri - June 22, 2007 at 11:12 AM