Jimmy Breslin, wild-man journalist, playwright, novelist and raconteur, is of course not typical of anybody. Still, before you read any further, hug your kid and say "I love you." You don't want to wind up agreeing with Breslin. He thinks his kids are lousy.
Breslin is not playing for sit-com laughs. He is not doing an Erma Bombeck, making little too-true jokes about running a household. He is as serious as I have seen him, and as uncompromising. "Kids," he tells television talk-show host Charlie Rose, "are your enemy."
Rose has been trying to get Breslin to talk about changes in his attitude toward women, hoping, perhaps, to tie the New Yorker's growing sensitivity to the women's movement and maybe to move from there to the death of ERA. Breslin isn't buying.
"Gee, I don't know what changes . . . I mean, I wound up a year ago inheriting a whole household. My wife passed away, and I've been running things, and I got an idea what kids are like. They're lousy, there's no question about it. There's no sense even being nice about it. They don't stand up. They're selfish . . ."
It begins to dawn on Rose that maybe this guy is serious, so he probes for specifics, which Breslin freely supplies. He's working on this important new book, he says, and:
"So I'm trying to write this thing, and I send a kid out to the store. Sixteen-year- old daughter. And she comes back with $150 worth of cake and cookies, and they're fighting about it in the kitchen while I'm trying to type. So I said, well what the hell did you buy that for, and she says 'That's all they had in the aisle I shopped tonight.' She only goes to one aisle, gets whatever's there and comes home. And then they get in a fight over what she brought home, and I'm trying to write the book, so I throw them all out of the house. They haven't done a kind thing in a year."
"Nothing. No. You'll find out. They are lousy. I'm not even kidding about it. It's true."
What really gets me about this depressing interview is that, except for the fact that it is so blunt and on television, it sounds a good deal like some of the things I've heard from friends. Their children are lousy, too. Selfish, insensitive, unkind, thoroughly rotten. Much of the talk comes from mothers, who spend more time with the kids. Fathers, seeing far less of their children, tend to be a little more charitable, or else blame the kids' rottenness on their mothers. But Breslin, having lost his wife, gets the full load.
"They must bring a lot to your life," Rose urges, trying to find an upbeat note on which to end the interview. "I mean, you lost your wife, and here is the link with the family . . ."
"Nope," says Breslin. "They don't bring a thing. They bring you $150 worth of cake when you send them to the supermarket."
"You're putting me on, come on."
"Say something nice about your kids."
"No. Not under pain, I wouldn't. You could torture me and I wouldn't say anything. You ask anyone out there if they truly like their kids."
Why does Breslin suppose his kids--all kids--are so dreadful? Again the answer sounds like one I keep hearing: today's children have it too easy, take their good life too much for granted and, as a result, place no value on anything--or anybody.
"This is a generation that never missed a meal," Breslin explains. "I mean, this country's gone many generations now that no one's missed a meal. . . . I went out and caddied. I went out and earned my way. . . . I was a much nicer fella."
"Jimmy, come on," Rose tries one last time, "they brought you joy. You remember holding that little tot. . . ."
"If I knew what he was going to produce later on, I would have held him a different way. That's the one shock of the whole thing, just how selfish young people--your own children--can be."