Friday, July 3, 2009

Miracles Off Season

Miracles Off Season
I am pissy with the 16 year old. I don’t like driving him around because when I was his age I had my driver’s license. I am asked for rush hour Silverlake transport and it seems stupid to me that he is the one who wants to go to Silverlake and I am the one who has to drive him there and then myself back, only to fetch him again the next day. I am sour and remind him that gas is more than three dollars a gallon again, but the sixteen year old has IPOD and djs a set combining familiar and new music, cunningly chosen for my eccentric listening preferences. This is better than any psychoactive drug, except maybe for untried mescaline and that new extra potent hallucinogen that requires users to don a diaper. I am sad when he gets out of the car and am tempted to ask him to leave the IPOD but I wouldn’t know how to work it and he wouldn’t leave it anyway.

Michael Jackson’s death and hastily thrown together obituary specials preempt my weekend prison shows. The spawn are watching an interview of Jacko waxing sentimental about his little boy sleepover parties. “It was so sweet. We’d tell stories. We’d have cookies. We’d listen to music.” “Yeah. Barry White,” deadpans the 16 year old. While channel surfing, I pass a clip of Farrah Fawcett, leaving a hospital in a wheelchair and obviously gravely ill, weakly fending off an army of paparazzi. How could you stand there with a camera? I am driven to the on-demand feature of the Independent Film Channel and call upon Spuds to operate the remote and the 16 year old to make well-considered recommendations for my viewing pleasure.

To soften the blow of the 16 year old’s summer school and the lack of a firm vernal itinerary for Spuds, I spring for them to spend a day, even cancelling Hebrew tutoring, at Universal Studios. I have purchased their tickets via the Internet but I am required to present my credit card and identification prior to their admission to the park. There is a great deal more traffic than I’d envisioned. Apparently the recession is not taking that an enormous a toll on local tourist attractions. There is confusion about where to leave my car to present my identification and I become confused, angry, profane and get nasty and shrill with the clueless parking attendants. The 16 year very gently points out how unfair it is of me to take out my frustration on mere employees and puts me in my place without humiliating or antagonizing me.

The 16 year old has grown taller and narrower and his face is more manlike. He shaves and his legs are hairier than mine would be if I didn’t depiliate. I have trouble distinguishing his voice from Himself’s on the telephone. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of current films and music. It is summer. He is 16. The giddiness of having elected our first black president is tempered as the economy teeters. Michael Jackson is dead.

When I was 16, Nixon was battling to suppress the Watergate tapes and Agnew was vowing not to resign. Tom Bradley was elected the first black mayor of Los Angeles. Salvador Allende was deposed and I was listening to Traffic’s “Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory.” Springsteen released "Greetings from Asbury Park" but wasn’t on my radar until years later and Bowie’s "Aladdin Sane" was appreciated only by my friend Kathy Bryan’s (a descendant of William Jennings) little sister who we thought was a hopeless weirdo.

I visit my mother and she is reading a Handy Man magazine about rain gutters and siding. She accompanied her caretaker to a large Filipino baptismal celebration in Riverside and a neighborhood Laker playoff celebration. Her appetite is good and she is friendly and social. The caretaker is surprised that she will turn 88 in November. If she remains quiet and refrains from applying eyeliner to her lips she appears to be a terrifically well preserved, perfectly coiffed older lady. When she was 16 in 1936, the novel "Gone with the Wind" was published. Hitler hosted the Berlin Olympics and Benny Goodman recorded "Stompin’ at the Savoy." The history of her 88 years on the planet mean almost nothing to her now.

The news and the music of the summer of 1973 are vivid. I did not attend summer school or do much of anything but wear out my vinyl albums and without conscious cultivation, grow into the sad but liberated condition of “stranger to my parents.” I recall how far away from my mother and father I fled that summer and I think about the sixteen year old there in the dungeon we call his bedroom. I know he is growing away from me down there but when he makes me chill with music I like or gentle confrontation or smart movies or tasteless jokes, I hope in some ways he is choosing to be closer and think that history may not be doomed to repeat.

Newly licensed at 16, I found my mother’s Pontiac up on the curb, sideswiping a fire hydrant en route to visit a boy I liked in Long Beach, despite being expressly forbidden to do so. I told my mother that it had happened in a parking lot but the first thing the insurance adjuster said, seeing the yellow scrapes was, “Somebody hit a hydrant.” The 16 year old swears he will get his permit this summer. Maybe I won’t mind driving him around for a few more months that much.

I drive home thinking that having written so glowingly about the superiority of the 16 year old’s relationship with me to mine with my own mother that it is probably inevitable that he piss me off. He returns and is furious that the four loads of laundry I have, after working a full day and preparing a meal, washed and folded, did not include certain garments that he hadn’t bothered to place in his hamper, and superior relationship be damned, I go off on him.

Sensitive to looming summer school for the 16 year old and inspecting rotted film for Spuds, I book two nights at a new hotel in Palm Springs at a very reasonable off season rate. We hit the road for our first family trip in more than six months in high spirits. I even stop and buy myself a Starbucks and Himself doesn’t flinch, even faced with the trifecta of things he hates: corporations, spending money and coffee. Apparently there has been an error in ordering and I am offered a free iced tea which Himself drinks happily, although he complains about his bladder for the rest of the trip. We stop at a coffee shop and true to old couple protocol, we share an omelet. The 16 year old notices Himself examining a vintage photograph before returning from his third trip to the men’s room and says, “Dad is going talk about that picture,” and we laugh so hard when the prophecy is fulfilled we don’t hear a word he has to say about it.

Before hotel check-in we splurge for a 3D screening of "UP." The 3D is cool looking but always makes me a little nauseated so it was a good thing Himself was with us because otherwise we probably would have gotten some popcorn or Red Vines. The first part of "Wall-E" and the closing credits are stunning but otherwise I have never been much blown away by Pixar stuff, mainly because the human characters are so disturbing looking, with their odd shaped heads and Kewpie features. I guess more realistically human animations would be even more unsettling. Maybe they’d be better off sticking to animals or fantastical creations. I like the talking dogs in "UP." The audio continues for the credits but the projection stops. The house lights never go on. We fumble our way out of the theater, disappointed to have missed the end credits, always charming on the Pixar creations. I point this out to the manager as we leave and am given four free admission passes. My family is always satisfied when I deal with such matters and even though I usually do it very politely, I’m afraid that they also think I am a pushy bitch.

The hotel is a hipster converted Howard Johnson's and while there are vinyl records and players in every room, it still resembles something out of "Touch of Evil." We discover that the room is not only incredibly tiny, it lacks the separate sleeping area that had been described to me when I reserved it. With children who stay up until 3 a.m. while the ancient parents are in a stupor before 10, this bodes big bummer. I hate the room and do not want to stay there. Like with "UP" it always falls to me to remedy the dissatisfaction of the whole. My family has grown reliant on me taking action on stuff like this but when I ask, “Do you want me to try to get another room somewhere else?” no one weighs in and they all just sit there looking hot and glum in the teeny tiny room. It weighs on me sometimes to be decider, remedy-er and bitch but I notice the built in narrow sofa thingie where two large teenagers are expected to sleep is about 3" from what is traditionally my side of the bed. I log onto Travelocity.

We stayed about six years ago at the Hyatt right in downtown and I remember that it, while stunningly ugly, is all suites. The website indicates the property is being remodeled but still the Auto Club rate seems an error, almost half of the bargain rate of the Tijuana channeled by cheap hipster joint we are crammed into. We arrive and it is as hideous as we remember and way gone to seed but the construction is mostly on hiatus for the holiday weekend, the pool is fine, the room is big and they throw in parking, Internet and a full (not continental!) breakfast. Unfortunately the free breakfast includes a pork product, reminding us all of the hackneyed Jewish dilemma joke.

Spuds is scapegoated by the larger two to visit the Palm Springs Museum of Art with me. Free admission Thursday nights! I point out a few Tamayos, some Ruscha, Motherwell, Bacon, Frankenthaler and Francis and Spuds decides he likes his art representational, although better not at all. I am pleased to find a D.J. Hall painting. Hall, a few years older than I am and a native Angeleno aptly portrays the California, peopled by women, of my childhood memory. Spuds gives it an obligatory glance and then makes it known he is ready for his dinner.

I buy Himself a beer at a liquor store because a bar would require human contact and greater expense. There is no bottle opener in the room. He walks down to the ice machine and there isn’t one there either. I tell him to call the desk and ask for a bottle opener and am ignored. He dicks with the bottle cap. I suggest again a call downstairs and this time the response is irritation. I retreat to my book but I hear him on the balcony with that friggin’ bottle and I crack and call the desk. I worry that he will actually get the beer open before the opener arrives and I will have wasted some poor worker’s time but I am lucky. He is stone faced and unappreciative when I open the bottle for him, even though I withhold noting that his effort to muster the right combination of brute force and ingenuity hasn’t made a dent.

It is strange to find myself with 2000 words with nothing about prison reform or education or Burma. I sit here amid loose plaster and broken light fixtures. It could be Bagdad but the room is big and there is a pool and bargain movie theatres. Not so long ago I would have been in a big snit about vacationing in such squalid conditions but for the summer of 2009 it is miraculous. A drive through Palm Springs and environs reveals a staggering amount of commercial vacancy. Huge shopping centers and blocks of previously prosperous shops stand vacant. I worry that our decision to leave town for a few days may be folly. I check my Blackberry constantly, aware of the fragility of the slight improvement and ministering to clients in places where it’s business as usual 4th of July weekend. The kids get miffed by this slavishness to work and burst out with things they know will immediately capture my attention like “poodle” (I love ‘em.) or “cotton candy.” (The vilest food in the world that they are forbidden to buy with my money.)

As I write this, the work week has ended for all of my customers. I want my children to strive more for morality and compassion than for their own personal happiness, although I did buy Spuds a children’s movie ticket he was too old for and told him to look short. I do hope my children grow to think more expansively than of their own personal satisfaction but also, that they remember how we stole a weekend away in the desert the summer that Michael Jackson died and it was all four of us together for a couple of days and we were very grateful. And happy.
Shabbat Shalom


Midgard Dragon said...

All of WALL-E was incredible, humans or otherwise. That's just a fact of life.

Fionnchú said...

No, all of Wall-E was not incredible, once the humans started talking and looking bloated, if no less so than any other Pixar flick.

Anyway, correction: I got the seal released for the beer and was working on the top's removal. I could not use the keys of my wife to help my leverage, as she did not let me use said keys. So, I thank her for her intercession and the beer. Amazing how warm it gets in a few minutes of desert heat even two hours past sundown. Cheers! xxx me

harry said...

In Washington State this week my great niece Reagan went on about the strong impression the pod-people in Wall-E made on her. She came very close to comparing them to her grandparents. She loved all of Wall-E and she, her father David, my Chris and I saw Ice Age III together on the Fourth, walking out in the bright sunlight has been decades since I saw a movie in the daytime. I see you in Palm Springs, (downtown, the real PS which has been shattered and tattered long before this Depression)... did you eat the pork breakfast?