Friday, December 27, 2013

The Corporeal Fallacy

Joe College is accepted for a creative writing program in Salzberg Austria. He receives a well meaning note from my stepmother reminding him the Hitler was Austrian and admonishing him not to wear the Star of David medal that he inherited from his grandpa. Even if the Nuremberg laws were still in force, there would be little cause for concern. The piece of jewelry is huge and gaudy and I presume the boy would rather appear in a bustier and feather boa. The Mogen David would probably be worth a few shekels melted down but Cash for Gold would likely present an ethical conundrum for the boy. Perhaps a solution more passive in origin may have come to fruition.  I suspect the medal has long been lost.

More and more though, Joe College has defied maternal expectations. A passport is required for his journey. I print out the renewal forms, a copy of his baby passport and instructions on getting passport photos and a passport appointment in Redlands. He procrastinates for several months and arrives home for winter break and schedules the process at our local post office. My children have picked up where their summer sleep schedule left off. They are shuffling around, eating and playing video games when I get up at 5:30 in the morning and waking up and making coffee when I return from work in the afternoon. I am not working on the day of the passport appointment. It's in the morning and I inform him that he'll have to wake himself up. “Of course,” he snaps. “I'm twenty one years old!” There is no stirring on the morning of his appointment. Even though I promised myself I wouldn't, I yell down to the basement to make sure he's in motion. Then, it occurs to me, there's no way he would have remembered to get the photos. I work myself into a genuine froth about this and go round and round about how to play it. Should I send him to the appointment anyway, and let him suffer the consequences of not following my meticulously rendered instructions? I decide to spare the wear and tear on his old car. “Do you have the passport pictures?” “Yeah,” he responds. He is bearded in the photos. And handsome. And a man. A man who has it together enough to have gotten the photos.

I feel like an asshole. When I was the boy's age I'd graduated from college and lived relatively independently. The world however was less complicated to navigate then so I really have to be pushed to the boiling point to throw this in his face. We're going to live longer than our parents did so maybe our kids staying young longer is just natural evolution. Plus, the younger the kids seem, the younger I feel. I guess the boy can't win. I want him to be an actualized independent adult as much as I want him to always be the first baby I ever loved.

The boy asks if he needs his birth certificate and I confidently tell him that the copy of his old passport should suffice. I wouldn't want to trust him with the original passport and birth certificate anyway. For all of meticulous adult-ness I can be remarkably stupid, and inexplicably stubborn about it. Anyway, the passport appointment is indeed rescheduled. I will however make it a point to retrieve his old passport and birth certificate from him the instant he gets home so I can return them to my orderly files. You never know.

When we are in England, we are asked at every museum we enter, “Are you over 60?” My response is likely more indignant than warranted. I'm not sure if it's the gray hair of if they just ask this of everyone who doesn't have acne. When we return to the U.S. there is a miserable customs line. It is finally our turn and the agent looks at our declaration and passports and then at us. “Honeymooners?” he quips. If he wasn't a federal agent, I would lose it completely. The “tee hee hee Granny and Gramps making whoopie” subtext is so obnoxious I want to throttle him.

Little Penny, born almost a year ago on her great great grandpa's birthday visits with her parents. She is an incredibly cheerful soul, the least angst-y baby I have ever seen. She is walking now. The family resemblance is by now is pretty watered down but I can still see it. Penny toddles through the house remarkably agilely. My sister Sheri, gone now for over a decade, had just a brief glance at her daughter and barely knew her granddaughter. Sheri will never know her great granddaughter Penny at all. How sad this loss or actually, and perhaps even sadder, the never having had. But I am grateful for the worthwhile-ness Penny, her mother, and grandmother confer upon my sister's sad sad life.

This is my last entry of the year, another year of change.  My company is celebrating its 50th year in 2014.  I have relocated and now it feels like my own.  There are floral curtains and a pink paisley chair.  The last of my dad's practical (ugly) furnishings are hauled to the junk yard.  His copious hand written notes are being transcribed and shredded.  I'd stored some of my mom's belongings at the old office but there is less space at the new place and another couple boxes of my mother's life are relegated to the dumpster.  A floor lamp I've always loved becomes the focal point of our redesigned bedroom.  My dad's collection of celebrity stills and 1950s animation cels decorate the new office.    As I purge myself of their possessions perhaps my parents die a bit more. I remember both of them now by those objects I love best. When I look at their grandchildren, great grandchild and great great grandchild I sense their life eternal and so my own.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Awkward Unison

Joe College returns for Thanksgiving break with Roommate and Girlfriend. I am able to indulge my daughter envy when Girlfriend ecstatically accompanies me to the downtown flower market at 6 a.m. Additionally, she masters the piping bag after a brief lesson and produces a tray of charming girly hors d'oeuvres. Spuds returns from Bard on the first night of Chanukah. There is bad weather on the East Coast and I am frantic that his flight will be canceled. I envision him spending Thanksgiving curled up on the floor, using his backpack as a pillow, at  JFK. I log onto the Jet Blue website a zillion times. His flight is delayed. Finally after an hour the website indicates that his flight has flown. I've had a week long cooking orgy. Roasted tomato soup, potato latkes, homemade applesauce and Nutella donuts are served and the menorah is lit at 10 p.m. when Spuds arrives home. The next day, it's Thanksgiving for 20 guests. Last year my stove was broken and I cooked the meal in a tiny convection oven. About an hour before the turkey was done, a fuse blew and we had to farm out the components of the meal to be warmed at the homes of friends and neighbors. This year the old stove has been replaced with a yellow enameled Italian job the size of a Fiat. In addition to the Chanukah grease fest, a Thanksgiving feed is pulled off hitch-free the following day.

Spuds' visit home is a brief one and at eighteen his first trip home since August entails places to go and people to see. Our time together is limited. Joe College and his crew head back to Redlands and I repack (unbidden) Spuds' backpack. Himself and I are leaving for London ourselves the next day. After a couple of frenetic days Spuds and I loll on the couch and channel surf to kill time before we drop him at the airport. . We happen upon Denzel Washington's FLIGHT. The crash sequence is harrowing and beautifully edited. Spuds notes, “We probably shouldn't be watching this,” but we are both too inert to change the channel. It has been one of the best Thanksgivings I remember. I love having a house full of jocular enthusiastic eaters. However, being sprawled on the couch with Spuds by the glow of the TV is the moment that the whole Thanksgiving raison d'etre really sinks in.

I have chronicled here previously a wondrous week spent in London during the summer. Himself and I learn that some WW1 paintings by Stanley Spencer from the Sandham Chapel are being displayed in London. Himself is not a spontaneous person and motherhood has pretty much beaten that quality out of me as well. The decision however is made in about fifteen minutes and a flight is booked for the following week. Stanley Spencer served in Macedonia and then later at a mental hospital that had been partially re-purposed to treat wounded veterans. The themes of the series are nearly mundane. Orderlies mop the floor of the hospital. Soldiers rest and water their horses at a fountain. The central alter-piece mural has not been removed from Sandham but it is projected at the London show. The war is over. Soldiers, resurrected, rise from their graves. There is no trace of horror in any of Spencer's work but the banal tableaux evoke what has gone before. The exhibit is aptly titled Heaven in a Hell of War and is a testament to survival predicated by steadfast belief in a comforting God.

We visit Heaven in a Hell of War twice and also my old favorites (The Tate and the Victoria and Albert) and the new to me (Courtauld, Museum of London and The Museum of Transport). We see a mediocre play (Mojo) with a great cast and also The Curious Case of the Dog at Midnight which blew me away during the summer. I note in August and also during our recent visit that The Apollo is particularly funky, even by London Victorian era standards and am shaken to learn of the ceiling collapsing in the middle of a performance so soon after our own visit. We take a brief train trip to the village of Cookham where Stanley Spencer lived and worked. We spend several hours in a tiny gallery and chat with the enthusiastic curator. Many of these paintings are landscapes and small glimpses at domestic life.  My favorite is of a couple searching through a chest of drawers.  Their bodies in awkward unison navigating a tiny space. Tea and scones are taken at a twee tea shop and we take a walking tour of the church, bridges and gates depicted in Spencer's paintings. I gorge on Kendall Mint Cakes, Wine Gums and Marmite flavoured Twiglets. Indeed, this is the upside of the empty nest. The icing is the spontaneity of a pilgrimage to indulge our mutual love for a wonderful painter and Anglophobe Himself's admission that London is, despite his hostility toward the Brits, pretty damn swell.

Rover, to everyone's surprise, has outlasted his car. Mechanic Jimmy pronounces that after 200,000 miles, the wagon is DOA and not even worth selling. It is donated to charity. I clean out the detritus of twelve years. The kids' old school assignments, chargers for ancient cell phones, and CDs that are thrashed from frequent play and a decade in a hot car. Both of my kids learned to drive in the old Volvo. It made countless trips to the cabin we retreat to in Felton. A pop-up trailer was hauled up Highway One to Big Sur. Spuds puked copiously through its open window on an immoderate New Year's Eve. I purchase a new tiny Volvo named Blueie over the summer but hold on to the the old wagon exclusively to transport, the sheddingest of all dogs, Rover to the office. The wagon's upholstery is ripped to shreds and the passenger door won't open from the inside. Even the headliner is thick with Rover's white shed. The door handle is gone, the radio erratic and the air conditioning hinky. Still, filling a carton with all the old junk it's amassed makes me wistful. I've solved the Rover dilemma by proffering my beloved, pristine Blueie to Himself to use on the two days a week her reports to teach and his Volvo, less-old-than-the-wagon-but-less-new-and-way-less-cool-than-Blueie, has been commandeered for Rover transport. I drove that wagon longer than any car I've ever owned and take enormous pleasure in driving its replacement. The carton of its contents remains in the trunk of Himself's car. Himself will get on my case about it undoubtedly but as happy as I am to have the new car, there is something that saddens me about sorting through the contents of the old one.

The day we return from London I head off to Loma Linda for the second of three necessary oral surgeries the precise nature of which I tune out because I am squeamish. I am forbidden any solid food for three weeks and my face swells up like a pumpkin. I have a black eye and a huge black bruise at my jawline. I am so stoned after the procedure that I'm not sure whether my dentist actually told me that she's gotten engaged to be married or if I've hallucinated this. I am afraid to ask her the truth for fear that she'll withhold drugs for the third surgery. I look at my scary self in the mirror and suddenly feel less guilty for having traveled and upgraded vehicle and kitchen appliances.

Joe College is back home for vacation. He watches movies in his underwear and drinks a lot of beer. Girlfriend is in Florida. I return home and find him shaven and dressed. I ask why he's all dressed up and am informed that he has been Skyping with Girlfriend. Tonight Spuds returns although his vacation is truncated due to a January freshman seminar. I fill the cupboards with food the kids like even though I'm still on the soup and mashed potato diet. Fortunately, my return to solids coincides with Jewish Christmas. Himself is balking about seeing Wolf of Wall Street and Joe College is complaining about my choice of Chinese restaurants. The swelling has gone down. I can cover the shiner and other bruising with concealer. I've lost back most of the weight I gained by gorging on British crap food. The kids will be here for a while. Rover snores in his bed. I'll get around to going through that carton of crap from the old Volvo. Compromises will be made regarding Jewish Christmas. I will never experience atrocities in Macedonia but I know my doggy's days are numbered.  I am still honing the appreciating quality over quantity thing with the kids and it is painful still when they leave. Table debates about film and food and music grow less frequent.  I know though that the sprats, like me, will drop anything for a concert, meal or movie. Sometimes I can persuade their father to do the same.  Losses and joys and infinite tiny resurrections.