Where Neal Pollack Gets His Inspiration

Did this week's Timesian True Life Tale by self-styled Alternadad Neal Pollack whet your appetite for more of Neal's unique brand of rigorous introspection? You're in luck! We've obtained an early draft of Neal's next installment.

My son Elijah's teacher recently announced that his preschool class would be having a competition to see whose dad is the coolest. I immediately knew that I would win. After all, I am very hip owing to the fact that I know a lot about music, but I'm also very self-deprecating so I didn't want to make a big deal of the fact that I knew I would win. Two other dads were in the running: Dan Zanes and David Byrne, somehow. I was still going to win, but I needed to come up with a campaign strategy. I asked my wife for her thoughts.

"Baby, help me figure out how to assert my still with it-ness to a bunch of small children?" I said.

"I can't believe I married you. What the hell was I thinking?" my wife, Regina, joked. She's a kidder. Did I mention that I have a wife? My wife my wife my wife. We have a child, Elijah! Anyway.

"Maybe you could do something besides just sit around the house playing computer baseball," she mentioned.

By gum, she was right.

So I spent the next few hours procrastinating while I hatched my plan. I was going to show Elijah and his classmates that I was the coolest, yet most real and modest, dad they could ever imagine.

By the time I got home, I had an hour and 25 minutes to prepare for the Coolness Competition. I stumbled through a CD collection that has become more and more fossilized and scattered every week since the advent of the iPod era. I have an iPod, like the kids do! But among the broken jewel cases and the burned collections of Beck B-sides, I didn't find hard evidence of my coolness that I could be totally certain would make me seem awesome and rockin'. I mean, besides the burned collections of Beck B-sides. It's pretty hip that I have those, right? Hip and edgy. I barely had time to shower, shave, check my e-mail and play two games of computer baseball before I was almost running out of time. (See how I subverted my wife's authority? Wife wife wife.)

Anyway I decided at the last minute to make a collage about me. Kids are visual learners, and I figured I could find plenty of stuff just lying around that would make statements about my identity. I glanced down at my faded Sonic Youth t-shirt stretched tight over my not-quite-noticeable gut. Experimentally, I lifted its hem, so that the lower part of my stomach became visible. I noted that it was pretty hairy! Undeterred, I continued to look for material for my collage. Tentatively at first, and then with increasing firmness, I plunged my right index finger into my belly button and made a scraping motion.

My first try was fruitful: some grayish lint and what seemed like a possible cat hair. How'd that get in there? The cat hair, I mean. The grayish lint was probably from the faded Beavis and Butthead tee I was wearing yesterday. I took some scotch tape and attached both items to the posterboard. I was on my way.

My next scrape proved less worthwhile. I didn't even know what I was digging for at this point, to be honest. My finger emerged with just a fleck of dead skin and another little piece of lint, blueish this time. Still, it would have to be enough. What am I talking about? It would be awesome. After all, everything that comes out of me is worth noting. And everything that comes out of my kid? Well, doubly so. Duh.

"So," I asked Elijah. "What do you think of my collage?"

"I like to play the game with trucks," he replied.

"What's your favorite thing about it?" I asked, encouraged.

"What collage?" said my son. It was the most profound thing either of us had said since the last time we'd spoken aloud.

Dance Fever [NYT]