IS YOU IS/IS YOU AIN’T? by Michael Canfield

Jeremy Lyon @ 01-11-2004

Ladies and gentlemen, we present “Is You Is/Is You Ain’t?” by Michael Canfield. Super babies. Ninja action. Alcohol. Entertainment. What more need I say?

[ IMPORTANT NOTICE: This story is NOT covered by the Creative Commons License that covers the majority of content on Futurismic; copyright remains with the author, and any redistribution is a breach thereof. Thanks. ]

Is You Is/Is You Ain’t?

by Michael Canfield

I got my first break as stunt-double for the top goodie on Super Comix Babies. For the third season the producers cast me in a recurring role. Before the series ended its seven-year run, one or two scripts even revolved around my character. You always remember your first job fondly, I guess, but the public remembers me — if at all — for my own series: NinjaBaby. Two films spun-off from it — New York NinjaBaby and NinjaBaby II: Back to the Womb — made good money at the time. Back to the Womb is still considered important for the first use of an in-vitro actor, Tommy Baker, who played me in flashback sequences. Tommy came to a bad end; it’s a tough business. Good friends burned-out early: drugs, depression, suicide. I’m luckier than most. NinjaBaby fans tell me the movies sacrificed the grace notes that made the series a classic. I don’t know. I can tell you that when we produced the original series, we called it shit.

I won’t kid you, the main reason I contracted to upload this biography is the money. I want a way out of my baby body — expensive surgery. Thank you for buying this link: even if you don’t like what I have to say, you’ve helped an old actor out.

I’m told the public will not buy a starbio uplink unless there is a tragedy involved — and a triumph.

How’s this:

I live in a crib in a public care ward. I don’t think the folks who come in to window-shop for orphans know I’m bio-engineered and not a real baby like the others warehoused here, row by row. If ever a couple expresses interest in buying me, the ward sales-director steers them away to another crib. Salespeople are good at control. They don’t want a bio-freak becoming a tourist attraction in the ward. They’d chuck me out if they could, but it’s state-run so they have to keep me. I’m on a waiting-list: re-engineering surgery for the destitute. Been on it fifteen years.

More tragedy?

I’ve regressed. I used to be able to carry myself on my DuraBone limbs — but the way they attached the muscles in those days didn’t work well. The skeleton is still strong, but the muscles weren’t meant to last fifty years. Now I flail my arms and legs like a regular baby. That’s irony, I guess. I keep my spine-uplink cable under blankets where folks won’t see it. This is my sole connection to reality, the salespeople never bother to pick me up every couple hours like they do the babies.

Okay, my second marriage. Everyone wants to know, or so indicate the polls taken by you who’ve come this far in the story. I’ll give you the inside dope.

For all you men in mid-life crisis out there, listen to this: never buy a trophy wife. Rent or lease, if you have to — but never invest. Believe me, I know.

Jilly had everything an oral-fixated baby actor wanted. In fact she had the pair.

The polls have surged; you want a sex scene — right now — but let me build to it.

I loved Jilly. Happy together in the beginning,I forgot mixed marriages always fail. Jilly had no bio-work at all, completely human. Pretty rare back then, before the universal ban on cosmetic bio-enhancement. Years ago, when we met, she would have been considered more freakish than me. I liked it. Sex-sports like infantilism used to be called fetishes, and Jilly had a fetish. she bounced me on her knee while I goo-goo goo-ed and drooled, which she liked. She’d suckle me and we both liked that.

You know, this never occurred to me until now, but I hated myself after we did it — the same way I felt years later doing public appearances at shopping malls and sports-vehicle shows. Folks could toss me in the air, or football me back and forth. It made them happy, didn’t injure me, but I still felt cheap.

Forgive the image to follow: at the time I met Jilly I had a big head. I couldn’t go out in public without a mob forming, and no matter how much you believe you’re desired for yourself — women attract easier when you’re famous.

Jilly checked coats at HolyHellPalace. I walked into the club on Emmy night past a throng of fans and paparazzi. The show’s publicist had arraigned coverage, renting several important journalists to interview me and tape dinner before going on to the award ceremony. That meant eating Gerber’s baby food, though I preferred sushi — but hell, the sponsors had always treated me great and it’s my job. I never appreciated prima donnas, always believed in working hard. The public made me and they deserved everything I could give them.

The minute I saw Jilly — short skirt, long eyelashes — I accessed my financials via spine-link and calculated the cash to buy out my first marriage contract. I liquidated some holdings to make up the sum and sent an instruction to my law-bot. The bot sent it on to my first wife’s rep. When I reached the coat-check booth I had the divorce decree on file. Irreconcilable differences: I wanted the hat-check girl, and my first wife didn’t want me to have her. Follow the word definition links above, and you’ll find poets called this “love at first sight.”

Jilly’s bangs touched her eyebrows. Her lips pouted above a round, dimpled chin. The way her mouth opened — searching — trapped me. The uniform didn’t hurt either: stiff collar snapped around a long neck, fishnet stockings under a petticoated mini.

I ran over and latched onto her calf. Holding tight, I did a flip, bringing my legs up in a scissor-hold around her knee. From there I did a perfect curl, catapulting myself into her arms — flawlessly recreating the attack NinjaBaby made against CyberShogunMama in a highly-rated episode. On the show, of course, the attack ended in Mama’s decapitation.

The crowd went wild. They didn’t have to — reaction to my unrehearsed moves could be morphed in on the signal’s way to broadcast — but they dug it. A great ego boost for me, I’m a born ham.

I took Jilly home that night. We went upstairs and let her hold my Emmys. As I recall, I won fifteen — not a record, but respectable. There’s a feeling I never get anymore: the feeling that if a good thing happens, you deserve it. Belief in your own greatness seduces you.

Jilly batted large, innocent, eyelashes at me and I basked in the attention. I was a big star, remember. Beautiful girls belonged to me.

I can still see the look on her face when I went to the cabinet and poured a scotch.

“Is it okay for you to drink?” she asked.

“It’s never okay for anybody to drink,” I said, downing it.

“I can’t stop looking at you,” she told me. “You’re beautiful.”

I winked. “I’m a regular guy.” I didn’t believe it. I’d worked hard for stardom.

“I want to pick you up,” she said. “I want to hold you. Will you let me?”

I nodded.

We held each other all night, laying together talking, opening up. I reveled in her purity, her innocence. She told me her simple desires. “I want a big house,” she said. “A big house with a yard and a fountain and lots of room for kids. Is that corny?”

“No, kiddo, it’s the American Dream.”

“I want to be a great person. That must sound stupid to you. You meet great people every day.”

I told her it’s a lonely business, and I’d never met anyone in it who could hold a candle to her.

“Do you like me?” she asked.

I told her I guessed I did. A lot. Then I told her the one thing she needed to know before making a commitment to me.

If you looked, I suppose you could’ve found a doctor to outfit adult sex organs, but not if he wanted to make it in show business. Most actors shelved their sex drives anyway. It’s a tough business and you don’t want to get sidetracked dating or supporting a family when you start out. A baby actor has to consider what to cram in a twenty-inch body that needs to walk and talk — not to mention tumble and kick. Something must go. People ask me if I’m bitter. Not at all, I figured I’d add on later, when the time was right.

Therefore, though I do get a woody now and then, love always meant more than the physical act to me. Holding, cuddling: from those things I got what I needed, and any woman with me had to accept that. Jilly understood.

We kissed and she squeezed me; we held each other tight. How could I not love her?

My next public appearance, Jilly carried me in, cradled in her arms.

We bought a hillside mansion and moved in at the end of the month. Jilly even became a minor celebrity in her own right, with a cosmetics line. The tabloids loved us.

The media falsely portrayed me as the only baby actor with an adult-sized wife, but as I found out later, Jilly never grew up.

Never having experienced puberty, or physical changes of maturing, I relied on my manager/mother to tell me about these things. She used to say you keep an image of yourself at a certain age and carry it through life no matter how old you get: an emotional age, if you will. She told me she always thought of herself as late twenties.

I’d put Jilly at emotional age sixteen.

She couldn’t handle the fame, the fortune. I think she would have had trouble in any marriage, even without the extra baggage.Picture our trendy Beverly Hills mansion: non-automated, non-wired — old Hollywood. To folks in the business then, the height of coolness meant living with no home media link-ins.

Picture me and Jilly sitting down to breakfast. She liked to put me in the high-chair and spoon my eggs. At first I thought it was fun, a little honeymooners game, and honest to God, it never occurred to me we had headed down the wrong path.

Now picture exactly when the trouble began.

I used to do charity events — all actors have to — and I’d often appear at fund raisers for a group called Children Against Family Abuse. It’s a subject I cared about deeply then, as I do today. I brought Jilly along to a rally. For the first time, she experienced my public surrounding me. I remember that in the group of regional chairkids, fourteen-year-old girls predominated. The kids filed up the platform steps to the dais, bringing their posters and little NinjaBaby dolls for me to autograph. Like kids anywhere, they got jumpy so close to a TV personality. I did my best to connect with each one and keep the line moving, but they kept coming, and the line grew faster than I could move kids through it.

The ones in the back got anxious, and stood tip-toe, leaning on the kids closer in, to try and get a glimpse. This pushed the whole crowd forward.

We never appeared without a strong security contingent, and I’m sure to this day they could have handled the crowd if Jilly didn’t do what she did.

Being so focused on working the group, I missed Jilly’s anxiety signs that in retrospect I should have noticed. She told me later she convinced herself the crowd would surge forward and trample me. It didn’t do any good reminding her my bio-engineered body could withstand a Humvee driving over it, as the show’s fans no doubt remember from several episodes.

Anyway, love being love, Jilly screamed at the kids to back up, which made those at the rear strain harder to see the commotion. She sprung and scooped me in her arms, bundling me away.

A guard — and he should have known better — must have mistaken my wife’s panic for an assassination or kidnap attempt. He leaped and tackled Jilly as she tried to descend the dais by forcing back the kids standing on the steps.

The kids stampeded.

I can’t apologize for what security did next. They fired shots and through a miracle no one died. A miracle. The guards farthest away fired first, forcing a rush up the stairs. Never built to hold a hundred kids, the stilts snapped, the platform collapsed.

I ended up under piled children, trapped beneath Jilly’s unconscious body. Her heart beat against my ear, her chest cavity squashed so flat no air could get in. I could do nothing for her right then. I left her and crawled up through screaming kids, reaching the heap’s apex. The security force had circled, rifles poised. Too often, security fires into the crowd when a public appearance turns ugly.

Emerging from the pile-up, I encountered a horror show: parents surrounding security, who surrounded distraught, wailing adolescents — all one moment away from breaking out into violence.

I acted fast.

Now I’m no hero, and I won’t lie to you and say I didn’t have my career viability in the back of my mind when I did this, but publicity issues aside, I didn’t want anyone getting killed.

I’m equipped with powerful lungs, because a baby actor has to wail on cue, and keep it up take after take. My voice carried though I’m not a singer by any means.

I sang the one song I knew would resonate with everyone in the crowd: the NinjaBaby theme.

Who’s the kid with kung-fu kicks?

NinjaBaby, NinjaBaby.

You know the words.

The crowd responded to me, and started, by twos and threes, joining in. Some held hands.

Ambulance sirens in the distance whined nearer.

The press treated me as a savior, and our summer reruns shot up the ratings chart. Jilly spent a little time in the hospital. When she came home everything changed. The whole thing had ratcheted my fame notches, and Jilly had a hard time with it. She hated my career.

“Why do you have to do publicity?” she asked. I was trying to pack for a tour to Australia and Indonesia to promote the show there. “You’ve already got the top-rated action show in the world.”

I couldn’t explain the number one spot didn’t hold itself; you slipped if you stopped trying harder. Jilly didn’t care.

“Your place is home with your wife,” she said. “This should be enough for you. I should be enough.”

“You are enough for me.”

“Then don’t go,” she said. “Please.”

I didn’t listen. I didn’t understand her needs.

When I came home a month later, I found Jilly had bought an East European baby. She sat in the kitchen, wearing a white terry-cloth robe. Through the window, sunlight shone in her hair. She nursed the child.

Jilly glared my way, defiant. She’d never bothered to get lactating implants for me.

“Who have we here?” I said.

“Scott. I’ve named him Scott.”

I nodded. I couldn’t face her right then, so I went off to get cleaned up from my flight. Afterward, I still didn’t want to see her. I poured a scotch from the decanter in my study, lit a Churchill, and spent the next hour on the rear balcony, thinking.

I felt old.

The sun set and I went back inside. I found Jilly in a spare bedroom, which she’d had turned into a nursery. She stood at a crib, rocking the baby. She didn’t see me in the doorway, watching her.

“How could you bring a child into our home without discussion, Jill?”

“You’re never here anyway,” she said. “You have your career, I don’t have anything.”

“That’s not true. You have your own career.” I meant the cosmetics line.

“It isn’t enough. Work is enough for you, but I’m not like you. You think if something is right for you, it’s right for everybody. I’m not you, I’ll never be you.”

I went over and took her hand. “You should have talked to me. I feel like you did this to hurt me. You can’t use a child for that.”

“Don’t send him away,” said Jilly.

I always thought I’d do a kid when, and if, I retired, never sooner. I figured I had two choices: divorce Jilly, or start a family.

“Pick me up so I can see him.” She did, holding me out over him. Scott, huh?” Scotty. Scooter. “He’s a fine-looking boy. Quiet, though.”

Jilly smiled and looked down at our son. “He’s sleepy. Look at those tiny eyes squished shut. Isn’t he the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen in your life?”

I couldn’t help remembering times, not so long ago, when Jilly looked at me that way.

That week I went to work on what I did not yet know would be the final season of NinjaBaby. You never see the end looming — not when you’re on top. In hindsight I can tell where the whole thing unraveled. The tremendous success NinjaBaby received, and the over-saturation of imitators, drove the baby-character concept into a well-deserved, long-delayed grave. The audience wanted anthropomorphized animals now. We added a wise-cracking panda to our cast in a blatant but half-hearted attempt to win back ratings; it failed — too little too late.

Being the most famous baby actor in the world I got the brunt of the backlash, and I didn’t work in the next three years. A skit on a comedy show had dingoes tear apart a NinjaBaby-like character. “Kill NinjaBaby” buttons and stickers appeared, and every hack-comic used me to punch up a lagging set. I started to drink in earnest.

Actually, I attacked drinking the way I had attacked my career over the past decade. Some people drink because they hope it’ll make things easier. Me, I drank to live.

Jilly raised Scooter.

I watched her — a fine and doting mother — hold his little arms up as he took his first steps, feed him, bathe him, and decipher his first word. It wasn’t “da-da.”

I never claimed to be cut out for fatherhood. Still, in hindsight I’ll always regret I didn’t take a hand in it when I had the chance, not that Jilly ever asked for help. I faded into the background now that she cared for a real baby.

The latest ratings for this link have come in and I’ve lost half the audience since the near-tragic charity appearance. Polling info shows the remaining audience wants me to get to the breakup.

Here goes:

I loved the kid. Jilly, if you’re logged on somewhere, I hope you know that. I say it now, because I couldn’t say it then.I don’t even remember how it started. I’m sure Scooter had done his run up and down the hall act the entire afternoon, getting in everything; the house formed a veritable obstacle course for our curious munchkin.

Taller than me, already on the way to becoming a man, he had those big blue eyes and that golden hair: mother’s special boy.

I can’t help but wonder what you thought of me by then, Jilly, if you thought of me at all: certainly not as a father to Scooter or a husband to you — maybe as a drunken lout stumbling through your lives here and there.

My muscles had already begun to degrade. I worked out — when I could remember to — with a rubber ball to keep the strength in my grip. The leg exercises, I’d pretty much abandoned, content to crawl to the bottom shelf of the liquor cabinet — but I needed my hands to be able to lift a glass.

Anyway, Scooter was three by this time, and not the most unselfish of children. He liked balls — any round thing at all, in fact — and I remember having to chase him all over the fuck because he stole my rubber reflex ball every chance he could.

I don’t remember where in the house you were that moment, but you couldn’t have gone far; you never went far from Scooter.

He grabbed my rubber ball and ran with it: a game to him — maybe he’d no idea what the effect on me would be — I don’t know, but it pissed me off.

I hollered for you, and called him a little shit, and he hauled ass. Like I said, my legs didn’t work well anymore, but I did keep after him until he either tuckered out or forgot he meant to keep away from me in the first place.

I closed in enough to yank the ball from his hand.

He cried. He let loose a wail. In retrospect I can see how it must have looked to you, Jill, and I offer the weak excuse of drunkenness. Plus, it was my ball.

He figured, with me half his size, he could do anything he wanted and get away with it; he grabbed the ball back and pushed me down.

Crawling forward, I rose up. I smacked him so hard it knocked him clean on his butt.

You came in then. You screamed. You screamed like I had hit you yourself and you knelt to gather Scooter in your arms. You bent around to shield him. I tried to get past to see if I’d hurt him but you wouldn’t let me.

Jilly, it was the booze. I never would have done it except for the booze.

I tried to apologize; I tried to make you open up your arms so I could see him. You wouldn’t allow it.

That night you left me and took our son away.

Jilly sued for divorce but I blocked it; I held all assets in my name. On paper, I even owned Jilly’s cosmetics line. I ordered a law-bot to gum up the divorce any way possible; it found a hell of a good one. Jilly had bought Scooter through the company, which meant he belonged to me as an asset. Jilly technically served as mother only as long as she remained my employee. She terminated that employment the day she left me.

The custody battle hit the press. Jilly and I both sold our versions to different outlets, and I achieved celebrity again. With story lead-ins set to appear — “Baby Abuses Son” in her version, and “Trophy Wife Separates Toddler Father & Son” in mine — how could I avoid achieving fame again?

I dumped whatever money I hadn’t drunk yet into the custody battle. My lawyer-bots instructed me to clean up my act, but I was too dissipated, and what little notoriety I’d regained I squandered nightclubbing and trying to jump-start my career. I didn’t even log into court for the final custody hearing. The whole country polled against me. More hated than ever, I wasn’t a fit father.

However, in the end I had the law on my side and Jilly never stood a chance.

I brought Scotty back home, then set down to resurrect my dismal reputation by starting work on a print autobiography.

Jilly came to see me.

I reminded her she didn’t have the money to buy visiting rights to Scooter.

“You told me once, that I shouldn’t use a child to hurt you,” said Jilly. “Don’t do that to me now.”

“You tried to take my son from me,” I said.

“You never wanted him. He’s mine.”

“My paperwork says otherwise.”

“The paperwork doesn’t matter. Scotty belongs with me. Please. I’ll do anything.”

“Come back,” I said. “Come back to me and start over.”

She shook her head, started tearing up.

“Excuse me,” I told her, “But I thought you meant business.”

“I’ll sign away my story rights,” she said. “You can tell any version you want and I won’t dispute it.”

That caught me. “I want your version ghostwritten to my approval.”

She nodded. “I don’t care what people think,” she said. “That’s more important to you anyway.”

I had a tell-all published under Jilly’s name. In it, she took the blame for my alcoholism, the divorce, hitting Scooter, world poverty — everything that occurred to me. The first edition sold out in a week-end, but follow-ups did poorly. Like critics said when we added a panda to NinjaBaby: such a cynical attempt to curry favor didn’t ring true.

So the world had to wait until today for the real story.

I heard somewhere Jilly took Scooter away and became a nurse, settling somewhere in Asia. I hope so — that would be nice for her.

I saw them once more. At least I want to believe I did.

A decade after the divorce I toured the Korean Peninsula with a few Hollywood has-beens: Barfy the Frog, The StormMonkeys, KarrotKat, some others. In the middle of our schtick I looked out across the crowded arena. A teenage boy: blond, with deep blue eyes, and tall as a tree, stood with his dark-haired mother. He had an arm around her shoulders, shielding her from the jostling crowd. A rare gesture, I thought, for a boy of thirteen or so to make toward his mother. Rare and admirable.

I hope it was you, Jilly, and our son. That’s the kind of man I want to believe he grew up to become; I expect he’s left you by now, to go off on his own, live his own life.

I wish there was more to say. I’m told I need to end with a cliff-hanger to hook you all into buying another uplink, but there won’t be one. This is the end of NinjaBaby. If you expected more you’re not going to get it here. It’s feeding time at the state-sponsored baby pen. Even after all these years, Gerber’s is still the number one mealtime choice for babies the world over. I eat it every day, though not for big bucks anymore. Prospective parents out window-shopping love to watch babies eat. Even though I’m not on the block with the real kids, I’ll mug it up for them.

I may not have much to offer now, but I’ll wave my arms, kick my legs, and do my best to give the folks a show.

###

[ IMPORTANT NOTICE: This story is NOT covered by the Creative Commons License that covers the majority of content on Futurismic; copyright remains with the author, and any redistribution is a breach thereof. Thanks. ]

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One Response to “IS YOU IS/IS YOU AIN’T? by Michael Canfield”

  1. Fred Ollinger says:

    Funny to see the comment board here because I was just thinking of this story today. I guess it had to do with the rivalry between the two babies, and the motivations for the woman’s marriage and subsequent divorce.

    Great story; this is truly a classic.

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