Friday, November 26, 2010

Inventing the Parachute


G.B. Stern said, “The optimist invented the airplane and the pessimist, the parachute.” Himself, who is not only of the glass half empty persuasion but also confident that it teeters precariously close to the edge and will inevitably crash, break in slivers that will be stepped on leading to infection and fatal sepsis, is headed for Ireland. As usual, he has a number of books to deliver and undoubtedly a number to receive. Propose checking a bag at your own peril. Because a purse is so essential and sometimes woman’s lib works both ways, in airline-speak it is referred to as a “personal bag” and even though this connotes tampons and sex toys and Preparation H, he is entitled to tote one, in addition to a carry-on. He worries that due to the Thanksgiving holiday permission to carry a personal bag on International flights might be rescinded. I threaten to confirm this Thanksgiving Penalty Policy at the airline website. He agrees to carry Spuds’ small messenger bag.

Even with the controversial personal bag, it is clear that the lunchbox size case he usually carries is going to be too small to contain obscure tomes and cool weather garb. We have a number of other bags that could probably meet carry-on criteria but I know he will deem them too large. I see some nice backpacks on-line and convince him that this might be a good anecdote to the weight of the books. He also requests some long underwear which is a specialty item here in SoCal. He freaks out when I tell him the closest retailer, Patagonia is in Old Town Pasadena. PARKING!! We find a fifteen minute spot on the street and Himself makes Spuds sit in the car to feed the meter again ONLY IF NECESSARY. The transaction is a quick one.

We don’t eat out much and my chances are better when I can tie it into an errand, when we are “out anyway.” Sometimes we go to Whole Foods because Himself likes the fish and chips, cheap beer that meets his standard, plentiful free parking-albeit in a subterranean lot that aggravates him-and no tipping is necessary. The kids and I have eaten a couple of times at an amiable Thai Vegan place. It meets some of Himself’s criteria, being reasonably priced and I recollect that the service is affable enough to temper his grudging of gratuity. The deal breaker though is the lack of a beer and wine license. I telephone and ask if we may bring wine. I don’t want to say beer because, although the particular bottle in question costs more than most plonk, beer sounds low class. There is a moment of hesitation and then it is agreed, we may bring wine.

We hungry and winded from our Patagonia sprint. The parking lot is quite full. The car ahead of me takes the last good space. Himself sighs. He is leery about parking but I have no memory of ever in the last 20 years giving up on a destination because we are unable to park. The restaurant is crowded and there are people waiting for tables. Himself rolls his eyes. Waiting for a table is right up there with parking and checking luggage. The host relocates a couple though so that he can join two tables and accommodate us. He asks if we want ice for our beer. Himself twists the cork from the Belgian ale and it explodes violently and soaks both of us, the floor and table. About six ounces of beer remain in the quart bottle. He grouses about this and the dry cleaning bill and I don’t mention it to him that I leave a 30% tip, as recompense for our stinky sticky mess.

I am given detailed instructions for ministering to Brother Juniper, a bonsai that arrived from Chris and Bob at the time of my mother’s death. Himself, who I have never known to name plants before, has taken a shine to it. I have never given much thought to bonsai. Sparse, carefully composed Japanese floral arrangements, like bonsai have always underwhelmed me. My aesthetic is more rooted in the Latinate and I like my flora more in your face. Big bunches of it. Because the tree is a gift from dear friends and because Himself is so enchanted by it, I pay it a visit on the deck. It is more than just a sprig of cypress thrown in a pot. It is an exquisite and perfectly realized diorama, a slip of forest and while I still bring home a gaudy bunch of flowers every week, through his eyes I see the delicate fineness of the bonsai.

The quality of family life hinges on acquiescence and compromise. With Himself gone, approximately 25% less of this is required. I presume that when I am absent they eat without napkins and put Tupperware containers right on the dining room table. If they use the dining room table. When Himself is gone we have a veritable orgy of one a.m. trips to Chinatown, not recycling and watching even more crap TV than we do ordinarily, down to Jersey Shore and Dancing with the Stars.

Spuds and I discover Bait Car. On one level it is funny in a Candid Camera kind of way. The police take to the meanest streets, in what I gather are exclusively black and Hispanic neighborhoods, and perform an elaborate charade to convey that a car is being left unattended with the keys available. The rouses are cunning and clever. A guy is picked up for a DUI and the cop, distracted by the arrestee fussing with his partner, leaves the car keys on the roof. An ample black officer pounds down the street in high heels screaming into her cell phone. “You can come get your own god damn car!” There is a camera inside the car. The vehicle is controlled by remote and those unable to resist the temptation find themselves locked inside when the car comes to a dead halt. Some argue that this is entrapment but it really isn’t because there is always clearly the choice not to take the car. It’s worse than entrapment though. It is terrible to indulge our appetite for the prurient by inducing people to be bad. A much less cynical and practical use of these resources would be an inducement to be good. I guess that wouldn’t make for very good television though.

Spuds and I go to see the newest Harry Potter at the Vista Theatre. The Vista was originally Bard’s Hollywood Theater when it opened in 1923. It was a porno theatre through much of the 60s and a first rate revival house, I believe a member of the Landmark Group in the 1970s. It is where Himself and I saw our very first movie together, Dead Ringers, a real date night flick where Jeremy Irons plays twin gynecologists, one of whom is a sexual sadist. The Vista is one of the last single screen theatres left in town and a real ornate beauty. The 5th Harry Potter is a loud mess except for some clever art direction and a gorgeous animated sequence reminiscent of the silhouette animation of Lotte Reiniger. I love the Vista and it makes me sad that my kids largely see films in shopping mall multiplexes. It is a treat to be there with Spuds and we even splurge on the fresh popcorn with real butter.

It is nice not to have to cook Thanksgiving just this once. The puppy Oprah has made the house look even more squalid and we still have the ongoing problem of Rover’s excessive shedding. We’ve made a bit of progress with Oprah’s destructiveness by keeping her amply supplied with bones and rawhide chews but her deportment is a work in progress. We are seated at the dining table and Oprah stands, two paws on the table. She watches the food action and listens to the conversation. Himself and I, beaten down by bad dog behavior, ignore her. My young adult son glowers at us and then goes into perky self help voice, telling the dog, “It’s just fine that you do that. Yes, it’s perfectly ok.” He seems to be the most acutely aware of how unsuitable we are for company and is relieved that his father’s absence resulted in our invitation to Scott and Julia’s.

The kids are all a dither about the new Kanye West album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I love a lot of Graduation but Kanye is so obnoxious, what with replacing his teeth with diamonds and all, I am indifferent about the new recording. I agree to give it a listen in the car on our way to the valley, something else we wouldn’t have been able to do with Dad around. I have listened to it now about 2 ½ times now and I suspect I will not be as enchanted with it as I am with Graduation. But it is groundbreaking and West’s musical lexicon grows more and more sophisticated. There is a really filthy diddy performed by Chris Rock that the kids skipped. I’ve heard it now and henceforward will skip it myself. I still think Kanye is obnoxious and this record is crude and vulgar but parts of it are complex and beautiful enough perhaps to give the anger and crudeness context.

Scott and Julia have a short guest list, Richard and me and the boys. We all remember other Thanksgivings that were marred by family crap and are happy to be in the easy company of old friends. Richard remembers that my mother was always eager for desert, immediately followed by clean up and get rid of the guests. He always notes that hers was the only Thanksgiving from which he’d left the table hungry. Mom would rush the meal at my house too and while the guests were just tucking into second helpings, she’d try to clear people’s plates. We remember her squawking “Layne, do you have a cake server?” and Richard and I always use this line when faced with dessert. I bring some vegetarian gravy to Julia’s and there is a conundrum about serving it and the real stuff. Richards accuses, in a stage whisper, “She only has one gravy boat…” The second gravy is served in a pyrex measuring cup and how fine it is to be in a place where this is fine.

Just before sunrise, the air is cool I roll over to Himself and wake to realize he’s gone. I grab the cats but under the warm covers they purr too loudly for me to get back to sleep. I think about what good cats they are and if there will be other cats for us. I have fun with the kids and enjoy a Thanksgiving with dear friends of many decades but I am thankful Himself doesn’t have to travel more often than he does. He returns to home turf on Sunday and while he will probably never find a place to park again in his whole life I am certain that the thought of our good cats and the tiny tree on the deck and our cluttered funky life will inspire a bit of optimism.

Shabbat Shalom

1 comment:

Fionnchú said...

I peck away from ATL. See you soon. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday...even vicariously. Xxx me