Friday, June 7, 2013

State of Grease

Spuds attends the prom with a breathtakingly beautiful girl. We rent the dinner jacket and shiny shoes and order a corsage. He stumbles upstairs bleary-eyed the afternoon following the soiree and mutters that it was OK. I decide not to press the subject. I gave up long ago trying to access my children's inner lives but I imagine that all the hubbub has raised expectations sky high, into unrealistic territory.

I attend a going away party for a younger friend who's moving far away. I pick up another friend on the way because the neighborhood is a notorious parking challenge. We park several blocks away and I stagger up a hill carrying a giant cake I've spent most of the day assembling. After oral surgery I am instructed to refrain from solid food for three weeks. The post operative instructions also prohibit carbonated beverages. There is no mention of alcohol but the dental school is affiliated with the Seventh Day Adventist faith and perhaps booze was not even in the lexicon of the author of these post op admonitions. I know beer is lightly carbonated but someone helps me figure out how to operate a keg and I have a few sips as an anecdote to social awkwardness. I polish it off quickly. I am unable to figure out how to operate the keg so I pour a bit of wine into the same cup. Meat revolves on a huge spit and guests line up for tacos. I know the hostess and the friend I arrived with. There are a couple of people I'm acquainted with casually but none well enough to glom onto while they are in the middle of a conversation. I ask my passenger if she can find another ride home and sneak away. I forget where I've parked and wander the hills for about half an hour until I find my car. The prom Spuds attends is under the aegis of his date's school and not his own. He only knows a few of the other kids. Prom is held on a small yacht. I castigate myself for being unable to find my car and am relieved to be cocooned there with my own thoughts when I finally do. I wonder if Spuds felt like I did at the party and his only viable escape would have been to swim.

I don't remember feeling uncomfortable in social situations years ago but there are so many other things that I forget I cannot aver that I was not. Most of my business is now conducted on-line and I have grown far more comfortable with written communication. My kids are derisive about my use of social media but for me there is often a warm and fuzzy feel without the complications of face-to-face interactions.

Three weeks ago, prior to the scheduled surgery, I eat a last meal of turkey burger and onion rings at a brew pub in Redlands. I subsist mainly on yogurt and Trader Joe's Parmalat soups. I never thought in this lifetime that I would be sick of ice cream. I fantasize to the point of drool about that turkey burger and am determined to head over to Redlands, right after my stitches are removed and I'm cleared for solids, to revisit the meal.

The surgery is evaluated as a success, sutures are snipped and I am give the greenlight for solid food. I head to Redlands and sit at the bar. I order the lunch I've been dreaming about. The man next to me has an erudite conversation about beer with the barman. I almost chime in to get some recommendations for Himself but I sit quietly. The burger arrives and it is beautiful with caramelized onions and oozy cheese. I bite in and instead of the deliciousness that I'd anticipated it is salty and mealy. The onion rings are panko crusted but I suffer from an emollient sensation, a coating of grease in my mouth, for hours.

I drive through Redlands and it is clear why Joe College refers to the denizens as “townies.” I think about my dentist who has come all the way from Spain for an intensive study of implant surgery at the Loma Linda school. She was expecting the Southern California she's seen in movies. Loma Linda on the map is less than an hour from L.A. but traffic is not factored in and even with an empty freeway, it is a universe away. La dentista must be surprised to see un-ironic mullets and cheap tattoos in what she'd expected was one of the most sophisticated places on the planet. A haggard sunburned man in a wifebeater stands on a traffic island maniacally attempting to direct traffic. A woman struggles with a toddler, two backpacks and a shopping cart. Homeless is my quick-read but perhaps this isn't the case. I know some people who would have pulled off the road and asked the woman if she needed some help but I do not.

I wish I could say that problems due environmental concerns pertinent to the sale of my office building that distracted me last week have been resolved. This week however, I find myself better educated and even more confused. I listen to a Podcast of On Being, a radio broadcast about spirituality. I am obsessing about building inspections and lease options but I figure the cadence of the chill voices of the enlightened will at least calm me a bit. Maybe my low opinion of myself for coming so unstrung about a real estate transaction and driving right past a human being who is most likely in trouble, of the sort and gravity I will likely never experience, will improve by at least giving lip service to matters spiritual.

The traffic on the 10 is thick. I suck on horehound, trying futilely to dissolve the greasy coating in my mouth. The list of tasks I need to complete when I return to the office is a mantra until the podcast captures my attention. The interview is with poet Christian Winan. Winan's mother, at age fourteen, witnessed the murder of her own mother at her father's hand. The grisly story catches my attention but it is Winan's acknowledgment of his mother's boundless capacity for love, and the strength in particular of her love for him, despite the experience of unthinkable trauma that makes the endless loop of real estate worries finally stop. Winan was raised in a small town in Texas where life revolved around church. He reports not meeting anyone who even questioned Christian doctrine until he attended college. Details spill out in the interview and I am unable to really ascribe an order of events. I know that Winan drifted away from Christianity and found his way back. He is a father of young children and the current editor of Poetry Magazine. Several years ago Winans was diagnosed with a rare and incurable form of cancer. He has undergone a bone marrow transplant which promises no cure but perhaps a period of remission. I don't know about the connection between diagnosis and renewed faith but Winan expresses that by definition God can only really exist outside of our consciousness.

The belief that there is a God beyond our realm of imagination does not necessarily confer serenity. It is not my lack of belief or lack of adherence to practice that causes confusion or disappointment. God is not a source of constant comfort. The notion of comfort or even constant is too human in scope to apply to a God that can only be described as ineffable. And even ineffability is a human construct. I am at the top of the trail I walk every morning. The hills are still green. Below, traffic hums on the Arroyo Parkway and people are eating breakfast. Boring proms, messy real estate deals,greasy burgers and social ineptitude have no relationship to faith or orthodoxy. I stand on Kite Hill most mornings as the day begins. People push the snooze button, pack lunches, watch the Today Show as I take in the city below me. God is when I stop expecting.

1 comment:

FionnchĂș said...

Sorry about the keg and the party. I can relate to being stranded. Once I had to go to Chicago for a business dinner as part of a large meeting and we were all bused to a big boat in Lake Michigan off Navy Pier. My one night in from the suburb where we were kept and worked to death day and night, and I watched the city pass, unable to leave the boat where I recognized but two people and them only by vague name and face. The vista was lovely, but the time was endless on the voyage, as my attempts to make small talk died off and I had to eat my dinner among strangers. I found unclaimed name tags left over from a Russian party and wore one that said "Lev." Nobody noticed.

Nice remarks about Wiman. I wonder what he sounded like? Well-timed too. I reviewed his book by request, as initially I felt it wasn't my type. However, the editor chose me and I worked hard to write a fair review. I posted it on FB where a non-believer replied how he sensed my attempt to be scrupulously open-minded to Winan's own ambiguous but ultimately affirmative, in a hesitant, existentialist manner, type of post-modern search. Another skeptical FB friend, however, doubted that W. had ever left behind God. Both may be correct.

Imagine my surprise the following week to open the New Yorker to find a long article about the book and the author, a poet raised in West Texas who never quite left his faith, but left it behind far enough that its retrieval over two decades later, as he faces cancer's sentence, impels him to look at it again. I look forward to your return to food and perhaps more about the Inland Empire, aka Valley of the Dirt People, through your eyes. The older I get the more my thoughts return to see the places I saw as a child, now unrecognizable. We all travel far from our early home, in more ways than one.
xxx me