The entire show will be about the mothers of famous criminals. Cameras will follow us around for five weeks, and the film crews will be permanently in our houses. I’ve already sent in a packet of photos of Peyton from when he was a boy. Peyton’s crime wasn’t as spectacular as some of the other mothers’ sons, but it’s really the best story because it’s so inexplicable. My house, the house he grew up in, is very nice and comfortable, and he looks so happy in the photos I sent them, especially in that photo from his first day of school, when he’s wearing that little plaid suit and a bow tie. Denny, the producer, called me up and said they wanted to use that photo in the show’s opening credits. I think they’re going to play that old Clapton song, Born Under a Bad Sign over a photo montage. I told Denny that they should also use a picture of Jimi Hendrix with his guitar on fire, since I told Peyton that his dad was a member of the Experience. That was back in 1988, when Peyton was fifteen and pestering me about it. I guess that’s what started the whole thing. Peyton got a big poster of Jimi with the guitar on fire, even though I told him that his dad wasn’t Jimi, which should have been obvious, since he isn’t black. For awhile Peyton had an afro that was just like Noel Redding, the bassist’s, big and bushy.
I owe my appearance on the show to that German man who set all those cars on fire in L.A. He did it for his mother, you see. They tried to get her for the show first, but of course she’s being extradited. Denny said, very casually while we were on the phone, “Well, you know she was stealing rent checks. And got a boob job she wouldn’t pay for.” I could hear the regret in his voice.
“I have seven daughters,” I said. “And only two of them have the same father.” I didn’t want him to think I was second best. “I have pictures from my wild days,” I told him. “I was a groupie. I slept with Gene Simmons.”
“Is he the father of one of your daughters?”
“It’s never been proven,” I told him.
My daughters are jealous, of course, even the ones who pretend not to be. My second oldest is a periodontist, and she pretends to be above all of the excitement. She likes to wear her white lab coat when she comes over, just to remind the rest of us that she’s important. But she was as worked up as any of us after Peyton got arrested. She camped at the house with everyone else during the week of the trial. And I bet she’ll be dropping by a lot while the TV crew is shooting. She’s already done her pre-interview with Denny. All of my daughters have.
“He just always wanted to be famous,” my youngest tells Denny over the phone. She’s been living with me since she dropped out of grad school. She sleeps on the day bed in the sun room, and I can already see the shot they’ll get of her, rising and stretching in the morning sunlight. “Mom was always talking about all these famous guys she knew, and he just wanted to be worthy of her love, you know? He tried playing the guitar in this band, but he’s really not a rock n’ roll type. More Apollo than Dionysus, if you know what I mean.” She pauses, nodding her head, and says, “Well, he liked books. And he was always really careful about things. And he wore these wire rim glasses. He looked like an engineer, even in high school. But you know what? He told me once that he wanted to be a writer. And I said, ‘What will you write about.’ And he said, ‘I’ll write an autobiography.’ So I guess he knew that he had to get famous, somehow.”
They’re going to interview him in prison, of course. I go to see him and we sit at a table in the visiting room and I ask him, “What are you going to say to them?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “Just that I was very angry, I guess. My counselor says that most arson is committed by young men who are angry.”
“You’re still angry, right?”
“Not even a little bit?”
He looks around at the cinderblock walls of the big room and sighs. “I guess I grew up in here.”
“I heard that Jeffrey Dahmer’s mom is going to be on the show.”
He shakes his head. “She’s dead. Besides, I hear she was a great mother.”
“How do you know that?”
“I asked Denny during the pre-interview.”
“You asked him who the other moms would be?”
He looks at me and light flashes off his glasses. “Yes. Didn’t you?”
“He said he didn’t know yet. I guess that was awhile ago. So who are they?”
He shrugs. “No one big. Just other small fry, like us.”
I stare at him, then I catch his hands and grip them hard. “Peyton, we are not small fry.” But I leave thinking about the other women who could have been on the show, wondering if TedKaczynski’s mom is still alive, or Amy Fisher’s. I get into the car and have a moment of doubt when I’m starting the engine, thinking of all of those cars that Peyton burned, and how one of them had a small dog in it, sleeping in the back when he set it on fire, and how I felt when I first saw it on the evening news, before I knew that the arsonist was Peyton. The dog had barked and barked inside the burning car, and a man had stood outside of it, desperately trying to spray out the fire with a garden hose.