Spuds and I will board a plane to New York during the first week of August. I will drop him in Annandale, spend a few days in Manhattan followed by a week in London with a girlfriend. The trip is booked way back before real estate negotiations go south and I am sure that everything will be completely sewn up before my departure. I am sheepish about going to London while in the middle of the great building farrago but everyone says I deserve to go and Verizon only wants $30 for a global data plan. I'm starting to buy in. Joe College asks what “ascetic” means and I want to blurt out “Dad, and after twenty-five years it's rubbed off on me.” I certainly am less profligate due to the influence of Himself's monastic inclinations but I do have a dozen pair of shoes, that my closet can't accommodate, annexed under the bed.
The day after I return to L.A., Joe College will pack up and take off for his junior year. We have his friend from school, a fabulous kid, staying with us for the summer. We all love him but observing him at the table it occurs to me that all he really likes to eat is meat and that he really hates fish. My kids aren't crazy about fish either but Himself doesn't eat any meat at all and Spuds won't eat beef. Often I end up making three separate entrees, and no matter what, there always seems to be something that someone doesn't like. My children are fussy. You reap what you sow.
I do enjoy the conviviality of the table and with our summer guest, we are all on particularly good behavior. Himself has the table set when I return from work which means that if I suggest we go out he can say, “but the table is already set.” I love to cook but sometimes the effort and the attempt to satisfy so many disparate palates is tiring. One night this week with the kids gone, I throw some leftovers together for Himself and eat a bowl of popcorn myself, sitting on the couch watching Colbert. The shape of things to come.
Towards transitioning less pathetically to the soon to be empty nest, I socialize a bit. When I go out for the second night in a row this week Spuds asks why I suddenly have a life. Nancy, my friend the flutist, and I head up to the Hollywood Bowl to hear what one of our fellow passengers on the Park 'n Ride bus refers to as “The Rites of Spring.” Nancy arrives to pick me up with a bag of stuff from Trader Joe's, including a salad for herself. She asks if she needs to grab a fork and Joe College is certain that TJ's salads come with forks. She is ravenous by the time we get to our seats. The salad has no fork. Fresh and Easy salads come with forks. NOT Trader Joe's. We are in the nosebleed area and the only open food purveyor is down at the bottom of the hill. The concert is about to begin. I would suggest that she eat the salad with her fingers but it is beets. Some Israelis are eating enthusiastically and yacking it up in the seats behind us. I ask if they have an extra fork and they present one from their overflowing picnic hamper.
After having eschewed the escalators to arrive at our high altitude seats, we resent having to stand for the National Anthem. You don't have to stand when there's a rock concert at the Bowl. You don't have to stand when the Philharmonic plays at Disney Hall. I'll probably get on some sort of government list but I hate the Star Spangled Banner. No one remembers the words which are stupid anyway and the melody isn't exactly a toe tapper. When the program starts the fork donating Israelis continue to chat and seem to crumple an interminable number of paper bags and seemingly Costco size rolls of aluminum foil. I blame Joe College for the incorrect lowdown with regard to the Trader Joe's fork because now that we've partaken of their largesse we can't tell them to shut the fuck up.
Unfortunately, there are other distractions this evening. Why would someone bring a newly ambulatory baby to an evening classical performance? The tike toddles up and down the dark steps and Mommy and Daddy takes turns calling her back and trying to chase her down. I feel guilty and politically incorrect with regard to my final complaint. A Tourette sufferer, whose vocal tics are mostly profanities, is seated several rows behind us. I mostly go to rock 'n roll concerts where this wouldn't be an issue and given the Israelis, struggling to converse with each other over the music, and the wayward baby, poor Tourette is actually the least annoying of annoyances.
My piece of several weeks ago mentions those phone calls in the middle of the night that start out with a wobbly “Mom...” and can throw even the most mellow and enlightened of us into apoplexy. Did my mere mention of this make it come to pass? This time, the shaky “Mom” is followed by, “I'm ok but I've been in a bad accident. My car is totaled.” I scream for Spuds to come with me to fetch brother but when Joe College pops out of the basement, I realize that it is not Joe College but Spuds stuck at one a.m. on the 101. I can't distinguish their voices from their father's either but Himself was sleeping in bed next to me so it was only a 50/50 guess. Joe College forcefully tells me to stay home and that he's better off handling it without me. I text Spuds frantically and then realize his phone seems to have died. Joe College calls, lost on the wrong freeway and then again to tell me that every freeway is closed. I find myself standing in front of the open refrigerator door, my historic source of comfort but I slam it shut. I pace. I text Joe College with instructions until he texts back “STOP!” Two hours later they return.
The next morning Spuds, who often watches Judge Judy with me, e-mails me the pictures he took at the accident scene to send to the insurance adjuster. There are a couple of things in my life that I wish I hadn't seen and these pictures are high on the list. I notice a huge bruise on Spud's knee and whisk him off to Urgent Care. The diagnosis is a torn meniscus and the prognosis is that given his youth it will likely heal without surgery. The doctor looks at the pictures from the accident and tells us that we are incredibly lucky. As I write this Spuds indicates the pain is gone. He is breaking down shelves and heaving films to the new office. There is only liability coverage so his beloved Volvo is a goner. We are waiting for the police report but based on the fact that the 58 year old woman who rear-ended him with a Corvette too new to be classic but not new enough not to be crummy, didn't have a credit card to pay the tow driver, we're guessing, no insurance.
I decide to post one photo on Facebook of the Corvette smashed underneath Spud's behemoth Volvo to encourage people to buy heavy tank-like cars for new drivers and to warn their kids against driving with a battery depleted cellphone. Seeing the photo there on my Facebook page reminds me about all the parents who get calls with much more terrible news. A childless friend writes that our experience is unimaginable. He adds that he freaks out if one of his dogs falls off the couch.
For the first time in twenty one years there won't be a kid in the house. I did have fun before I had 'em. I'm trying to relearn that. But despite the empty nest, there is no going back since the breeding that commenced back in 1992. I had no idea what I was in for. The love I have for the kids sometimes feels commensurate to the horror I experience as they navigate the world. I don't worry about myself much at all. Having kids though makes fatalism utterly untenable. I truly am seeing the up side of the empty nest but I never imagined 22 years I ago how inextricably and how permanently I will be on the hook regardless of the nest's physical population.