For several weeks Joe College and Girlfriend-in-law are inert on the couch except for beer, and (although we have Amazon Prime and Netflix) dvd rental and (despite a full fridge) ethnic food runs. I throw away Styrofoam containers of rotting leftovers. I collect their detritus-bobby pins, books, sunglasses etc. into a basket for them to carry downstairs. After I nag them for a week the basket is taken to their room, from where, I presume, it will never return. My overused line of the summer is that the best cure for empty nest syndrome is having them come home.
I know the kids try not to get on my nerves. They are getting better at remembering to turn out lights and are pretty good about not stacking dirty dishes in the sink. I think the message about leaving the washer on “eco mode” has finally sunk in. I can usually find the remote and they know that the upstairs TV is turned to Judge Judy weekdays at four no matter what they are in the middle of watching.
I am asked to have a table and make a presentation at a professional event at the Skirball Museum. It is a very nice venue but a pain in the ass to get to during rush hour for just about anyone. I hate this kind of thing and am always relieved when I have a legitimate excuse not to attend. Usually it's vacation but even surgery is preferable. Being healthy and in town and noting that most of my local competition will be in attendance I relent. I do a rush order of some swag (which my children tell me is now called “merch”) and bake a big batch of cookies. I dig up an ancient demo reel and write up a little spiel about the advantages of dealing with a small family run business and ask Joe College to present it.
The event is the same day that Spuds returns from Detroit. I send Joe College to fetch him at LAX. There is a delay in the delivery of Spuds' suitcase and as usual, when he returns to L.A. he has to make and In 'n Out pit stop. I nervously wait for them to get home while watching news reports about the burst pipe near UCLA, spittin' distance from the Skirball. The kids get stuck in traffic and in a panic, I leave for the Skirball by myself. Fortunately the traffic is light and I arrive in good time. Spuds drives Joe College and Girlfriend i-l up to the Skirball so the boy can practice his presentation during the drive. Spuds pops in to say hi. He seems to have grown another inch or so and right in the middle of the big room filled with clients and competitors I hug him like I haven't seen him in two months. Which I haven't and he is a very good sport about. Maintaining a modicum of professionalism, I do not cry. Spuds reports that Himself has asked him to pick up some pizza on the way home and as usual, has calculated the price in 1980's monies so I slip the boy some green.
I've been running a film archive for so long that I am friendly with most of my competitors. There are only a handful of small libraries left and we're friends and stand together in competition with the big multinationals. All of the other small libraries are owned by people my age and older. Whenever I get a chance, I ask what they have in mind as an exit strategy. I, myself, think a lot about retirement. The response to this question however is always just a shrug.
We take turns at the table. My colleague John is friendly and easy going and enjoys meeting people whose names he recognizes from e-mails. Girlfriend i-l encourage people to “like” the new Facebook page she's created for the business. Joe College talks about film. He is happy. I know he is anxious about his post graduation life and as I watch him, knowledgeable and holding forth, I think perhaps he'll be my exit strategy.
None of us get a chance to eat at the event and when it winds up around 11, we're starved. Due to construction I miss the freeway off-ramp and end up on Ventura Blvd. I drive from Encino to Studio City. It's been a long time. There remain a few remnants from my childhood. The Sportsman's Lodge where I remember fishing for trout that the chef would cook for you and feeding the ducks with food purchased from a steel vending machine. Antonio's in Sherman Oaks still has the map of Italy neon sign. My uncle chewed out my aunt there once for letting me eat spaghetti when I was supposed to be on a diet. I was about six. The Casa Vega, at the corner of Fulton and Ventura looks the same and I presume the tacos are still hard shelled, everything is covered with orange cheese and the tortillas are served with butter. My mother and her alkie girlfriend used to hang out hopefully at the bar there, sucking down vodka mists.
I end up with the kids at Dupar's. I went there all the time with my mom and sister. Sheri and I ordered patty melts and fries with pie for dessert. Mom ordered just a side of date nut bread and ended up taking half of it home. Joe College goes for the patty melt and as an homage to Mom, I have the date nut bread and a salad. The date bread is dry like sawdust. It tasted much better when I'd snatch it from the refrigerator in the morning before Mom woke up. I am disappointed that the waitresses no longer wear old fashioned hankies fan-folded behind their name plates. Our server calls Joe College “Hon” and “Sweetheart” though and he grins ear-to-ear.
It is easier to talk in neutral territory. Joe College worries about being a dorm adviser and dealing with freshman crises. Girlfriend i-l is spending the semester abroad and many of his school friends will be gone too. The prospect of being a friendless babysitter in Redlands does not enthuse. Then, in May, he graduates and faces the same conundrum that I do. Perhaps it is no comfort to him that I have never ceased to perceive the same gigantic question mark and worry constantly about money, meaning and making a mark. Encroaching decrepitude is added to my own mix tape but this doesn't make the boy feel better about his own uncharted future. When I see him hold forth and chat up customers I think that maybe taking over my business wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. But when I think about dealing with rotting film, ever changing technology, taxes, payroll, insurance and negotiating contracts with hopeless, junior lawyers, it seems maybe a stupid idea.
The correlation of college graduation with some degree of adulthood is illusory I tell the boy. I guess this takes the heat off but also guarantees that you'll never feel like you think you ought to feel. Self contained and actualized. Ironically, the more I face my own pathetic neediness and uncertainty the more I get that this awareness is the benchmark of true adulthood. I guess when it comes down to it, we are all at sea. The future is merely flux and all we can do is let down our guard enough to fully love our friends and family. And keep them close enough to buoy and anchor.