Friday, September 14, 2012

Accentuate the Obvious

It's a Loma Linda week. My last appointment at the Implant Clinic at the School of Dentistry was comprised of a long photo session. My mouth was pried open with metal hooks and it seems like every one of my teeth was photographed from several different angles. Then I got to pose full face, smiling, pouting and baring my teeth for several dozen pictures. Anna, my lovely Spanish dentist is sensitive to my vanity and apologized for needing to take a number of photographs of me without my fake plastic front tooth. The Mammy Yokum series. This week each of my teeth is analyzed for gum recession and how profusely each tooth bleeds when poked with a sharp instrument. The patient in the next room blathers on in detail about his dental history including where each service was performed and what it cost. “That molar was crowned in Honolulu in 1973. It cost $600.00. Then in 1994 I had to have it done again in Tucson. That ran me almost a grand.” He attempts fruitlessly to explain to his dentist the meaning of the expression “third time's a charm.” My own dentist is quick on the uptake when I introduce her to the English expression “windbag.” “It's a good match,” she says. “That dentist is from Taiwan and he barely knows a word of English.” Other than dissing her colleagues and their patients, we talk about food, as I do also with Nick, my regular dentist. Anna, in fact is a hardcore foodie, having driven to Las Vegas and back in a single evening for what she reports was an outstanding dinner. Nick is very eager for Anna to call him. Not to discuss my treatment plan but so she can tell him the name of the restaurant.

I schedule some extractions for the end of the month. I will be unable to wear my fake front tooth for a couple of days so I will be hiding out at a motel in Redlands with Joe College ministering to me. Anna also drops the bomb that after the actual implants are placed I will be unable to wear fake tooth for at least two weeks. Seeing that I am starting to blubber she promises to try to figure out some sort of fake apparatus that won't interfere with the implants. If that fails I'm considering going Muslim for a couple of weeks.

Dismissed from the dental school I text Joe College to warn him that I'm on my way to campus. I arrive to find his room spotless. Last year's roommate's mom sent a maid down from Pasadena every week but apparently the boy is now managing on his own. The dorm itself is incredibly funky, built in the 1920s and last renovated in the 1970s but there's a good vibe. Most of the kids keep their doors open and wander amiably in and out of each others rooms.

The boy chooses a Thai restaurant that's not particularly good but it's the designated establishment for taking parents. We had an up and down summer due chiefly to the boy's under-occupation. Now however something about being with him, on what is now his turf, improves the quality of our interaction. We are far from the scene of his childhood and free of this baggage there is a pleasant ease between us. My soon to be 20 year old son is an adult, albeit a young adult. I feel no compulsion to parent him and can sit back and just enjoy who he is.

Joe College takes me to place that makes ice cream on the spot using liquid nitrogen. Redlands, utterly instant mashed potatoes, canned gravy and Republican during my tenure there, now has little pockets of hipness. Lest I think it's San Francisco, the boy takes me to the largest thrift store I have ever seen. It's the size of several football fields and well organized. We are both thrift store aficionados but the huge array of merchandise is sad and charmless. The cavernous store evokes the Redlands of my college years and also the essence of the true Redlands, despite the liquid nitrogen, as it is now. There are still blocks of lovely Victorian and 1930s Spanish houses but the orange groves of my own college years have been bulldozed and replaced by acres of identical stucco homes, many now in foreclosure. The boy keeps his eye on the clock. I drop him back on campus and he trots off on time for his afternoon class with my leftover ice cream.

The next night Himself is working. Spuds has a hard schedule and I think he needs a little midweek treat, my rationale for being too lazy to cook dinner. I read on Yelp about a Georgian restaurant in Glendale and we both study the menu online and decide to give it a shot. It's in a strip mall but there's a colorful paint job and lots of folk-art. The only other party is a group of middle aged men who get up between courses to go outside to smoke in the parking lot. The place is run by two middle aged men and a young waitress all of whom are either using their cellphones or smoking in the parking lot when not directly involved in serving food. The waitress teeters on impossibly high heels. She hands us the menus and asks if I speak Russian. “No.” “Armenian?” “No.” She looks annoyed. “Is that OK?” I ask. “Yes. OK,” she says without much conviction. “To drink?” “Diet soda?” “No.” “OK, just water then.” Spuds asks, “Coke?” and she shakes her head. One of the men seems to have a slightly better command of English so I verify with him that there is absolutely no soda. I think about explaining that soda has a huge profit margin. I also think about offering to teach them English. I think a lot of stuff but I've learned to keep my mouth shut.

The food is actually delicious although Spuds gets his entree about twenty minutes before I get mine and he gets my rice and I get his french fries. We are given some complimentary potato salad which I command Spuds not to let me eat much of so he polishes it off dutifully. Spuds notes that the menu is written in flawless English so we think maybe that there are English speaking employees on duty for the more busy weekends. The waitress is flummoxed when I attempt to pay in cash and I can see through the window to the kitchen that there is high tension with regard to making change. Some would probably have found the whole experience crazy making but Spuds and I aren't in a hurry. The enjoyment of the food for us is actually enhanced by the authenticity. Five miles from home but it feels like we've spent an hour in Georgia except for there I imagine people can smoke inside restaurants. So it's kind of the best of both worlds.

I elevate myself from empty nest morass with the realization that my time with the kids will improve in quality as it diminishes in quantity. My other epiphany as a new Jewish year begins is that after six years of writing here religiously it is time to redirect my energies. I love this format and can't imagine abandoning it all together but I'm going to reduce my postings here to once a month. I've proven to myself that I have the self discipline required of a productive writer. The blog is a fantastic format for me because I can sort stuff out. I'm able to weave together disparate ideas into weird sense. Now it's time for the final purge necessary to complete a full length manuscript that's been dogging me for nearly two years. Then I hope to use what I've honed by blogging to take on some more focused non-fiction essays. Plus I have a couple short stories outlined. And of course there's the novel which I'd better get started on while I can still form cogent thoughts.

It always surprises and delights me to tell someone something and get the response “I know. I read your blog.” It's those folks who read weekly, or even once in a while, who make me feel becoming a real writer is within my reach. Next year at Rosh Hashanah Spuds will be away at college. I hope by the time he goes my immersion in writing will fill some of the gaps left by my transition out of the hands-on mom phase of my life. I can't imagine ever not missing the kids but I will always be buoyed by knowing how much fun it is to be with them now that they require less full throttle mothering. It's time to really write now that I can't use the kids' neediness as an excuse not to.

It is strange to think about not posting here every Friday and returning home eager to read Himself's response. Often people intimate that they enjoy Himself's comments more than the blog itself. “It's so obvious how much he loves you,” they say. In a time of transition this brings me back to what is constant and solid. The house will be quiet and I might become so frustrated by a spate of rejection letters that I retreat to re-runs of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. I have let myself down so many times and even after posting at least 1000 words every week for over six years I still don't entirely trust myself to persevere. But even if my grand writer's life I envision doesn't come to fruition, I am loved obviously.

Look for the first of my now monthly posts the first week of October. May you be inscribed upon the book of life for a good year.
Shabbat Shalom and L'Shana Tova

Friday, September 7, 2012

Turn on Future Street

After more than twenty years of marriage Himself and I have a list of subjects we know better than to talk about. I usually don't broach these topics here at Casamurphy either. Knowing the political predilections of most of the mutual friends who read this, I protect Himself from their censure. However, because it is a good illustration of our half empty/half full dichotomy, I will provide a single example. I am watching a program about the ease with which automatic weapons can be purchased from unlicensed dealers at gun shows and the attenuate carnage that results when these guns are smuggled into Mexico. Himself has sequestered himself in his office during the recent heatwave. It is the coolest room in the house and as it is the end of his teaching quarter he has legitimate reason to hole up there. I guess a squabble is better than no attention at all so when he comes up for a snack, anticipating the response, I posit, “You don't really give a rat's ass about gun control, do you?”

I get the answer I expect. The culture is just too far gone. It won't make a difference. Outlawing weapons will just lead to a greater black market and probably even exacerbate the violence. I relent that this may be the short term result. But, I add that, despite the immediate consequences, at least giving lip service to getting automatic weapons out of distribution might serve to shape a vision for future generations. European countries with strict gun control laws experience far less violence than we do in the U.S. It's not like they don't have their own blood soaked histories, but a conscious decision was made to change the mindset a generation ago and it worked. He shrugs, finishes a tangerine and skulks back to the basement. He knows that his pessimism keeps me on my toes and that he'd actually hate it if my outlook were as dark as his own.

Bored, with the kids at the FYF festival and Himself sequestered in his office, I accompany a friend to see Robot and Frank Coincidentally, this film, as well as two novels I'm reading, “Arcadia” by Lauren Groff and “True Believers” by Kurt Anderson are all set in the not very distant future. All three works are too character driven fall into the category of speculative fiction but there are hints about what the world might be like a few years down the pike. In Arcadia, a character stricken with ALS uses a device that can simulate speech based on the movement of her eyes. In Robot and Frank, a robot replaces a home health care assistant. Both of these technologies are actually in development now and these fictions suggest how life improving these and other technological advances will likely become.

The two novels and the film also suggest that our dependence on technology will compromise the quality of human interaction. Himself would be all over this. Plus throw in invasion of privacy, identity theft and cyber-warfare. As stoked as I am about the promise of the new I admit I'm sometimes disturbed to find myself forgetting that Siri is not a real person. And when I ask her to find a nearby Von's Market the stupid bitch keeps trying to direct me to a bail bondsman.

My dad caressed his infant grandson's head and whispered, “I wonder what you will see in your lifetime.” The kids are totally nonplussed by advances in technology. My boys don't want to hear about black and white TVs and only seven channels. They mistakenly read a subtext of criticism, and complaint about how much easier they have it, into my awe at the modern world. In truth, I don't think they really have it that much easier. The economy was more stable when I was their age. Himself and I both applied to a single college to which we were accepted and subsequently attended. Now the stakes seem way higher and the process requires spread sheets and professional intervention. Our college educations pretty much guaranteed us work of some sort. My kids' educations insure them nothing but debt.

When there was nothing I liked on TV, I was too lazy to go outside and didn't have anything I felt like reading I was, for better or worse, alone with my thoughts. I complained about being bored all the time. My cousin and I had an exchange that was so frequent it became a comedy routine. “Whaddaya wanna do?” “I dunno. Whaddaya wanna do?” With so much stimulation available on immediate demand I don't remember either of my kids ever whining about boredom. They do have social interactions but don't have to aggressively seek them out because they connect via social media and have infinite entertainment options. Are they ever, I wonder, just lost in their own thoughts?

Given the polarity of their folks, my kids are coming up in the best of times and the worst of times. I think that ultimately technology will make the world a better place. Himself sees Armageddon around every corner. Like my dad, I wonder what the kids will see in their lifetimes. I worry for them. We both do. But our divided partnership is united in our sureness that no matter what, our kids are good. This fills us both with optimism. I drive down Cypress Avenue and need to cut over to San Fernando before it turns into Eagle Rock Blvd. There are two streets where it is easy to turn. One is Division and the other is Future. Division is a little quicker but I always choose Future.