It’s around 4 o’clock on Good Friday as I write this, and I was at the mall an hour ago. I had to go get tickets for Titanic in 3D at the IMAX. Yeah, seriously.
I was talking to a 24-year old, Chris, on the phone as I pulled into the mall parking lot. Chris is like our kid who we can send home to his dad when we’re done playing with him. We’re like grandparents that way, except my wife and I are far too cool to be grandparents. Far too young, too. (Don’t do the math. Seriously, don’t.) As I pulled into the parking lot with Chris talking to me over the bluetooth so everyone could hear, it was like rolling into Disneyworld over spring break, New Orleans during Mardi Gras, Hooters during a NASCAR event. To paraphrase a bumper sticker I once saw: One cannot shop if one cannot park. It was that kind of packed.
The mall’s wall-to-wall cars took me by surprise. On Good Friday at 3 o’clock? Not to be too sanctimonious about this, but isn’t that pretty much exactly when Christ was dying on the cross? I hate to burst the Religious Right’s bubble, but unless trying to find a size 2 polka dot pollover at J. Crew is part of the twelve stations of the cross, our status as a “Christian Nation” might be on the block.
So as I drove across the lot, AKA Disneyworld West, I watched kids running in and out of the entrance to the mall. Teenage kids, little kids, toddler kids whose parents really should have put a leash on them, all jacked up over a day off from school and a holiday coming up that Chris said people give gifts on now. (I would have liked Easter a whole lot better as a kid if presents were involved. Instead, I got candy – I never really got into candy. I preferred pie, sometimes cobbler, but really pie. And before candy came the obligatory Easter ham with butter sauce and raisins, since, of course, nothing says “Jesus died an excruciating death” like pork with raisins. But to quote my brother, Jules, from Pulp Fiction, “I just don’t dig on swine.” Ditto candy. Easter sucked.)
Back to the parking situation. I eased my van around the front of the mall near the multiplex but couldn’t find a spot, so I kept driving, trying to avoid kids and an old guy in a scooter. (Interesting fact about scooters: Manufacturers only make them to last around a year, since most people who end up in one die within 13 months. Remember that when you’re relegated to a scooter. Time is limited. Get your will in order. Have one last 8 or 9 minutes of really great sex. Eat some pie.)
As I was coasting down the mall driveway searching for a parking space, I found myself watching this little blonde girl of 6 years or so spinning herself around on top of one of those yellow concrete posts meant to keep terrorists and drunk soccer moms from plowing into the mall after a tour at a terrorist training camp or Happy Hour, respectively. And as I watched that kid spin on the concrete post, it reminded me how one of the failings in my life is that I never got around to being a dad.
That dad thing has come to bite me lately. One reason is that I’m an only child. I’m it. No more Leona or Bubba – and no more me, for that matter. My family’s DNA train is coming to the end of the tracks. I’m the caboose. That’s come to haunt me. I’m not sure why, since I think that the adults kids become are only partly defined by genetics. But it still bothers me. A second reason that I’ve been bitten by the dad thing was represented by that little blonde girl and by the packed parking lot on a Good Friday afternoon:
The kid. Everyone should have a memory of their little girl playing outside the mall or on a swing or with the dog. That’s what makes the time one marks here tick. Without it, the clock stands still. Life moves on, but not for you, at least not in the same way. (I realize not everybody believes this, but I do, and this is my blog.)
And then there is that Good Friday thing. Besides the little memories, the stuff that parents remember that, objectively, should be unmemorable, at the heart of parenthood is the reason for Easter, Christmas, and every other holiday within the Christian calendar that, despite my potty mouth, I believe: That a father loved his children so much that he became frail like them in order to befriend them and die for them so they wouldn’t have to die themselves. That is parenthood. And that selflessness is what I see in my friends who have become parents that I do not see in myself. And without the catalyst of a child, how do you ever muster enough of a connection with the world to sacrifice your life for another? How do you become like your maker?
And that, if not a decent parking space, is what I saw at the mall today.
So I was laying in a bed a few minutes ago. It’s early for me to be in bed, 12:15 AM. I’m a night guy, always have been. My mom says that I was born at one in the morning and haven’t been to sleep before that since. I’m 51 years old.
Anyway, I was in bed and had a headache. I was horny, too. But we’ll save that for later. Back to the headache. I don’t get them often. My wife feels the need to correct me anytime I say that by telling me that I get them more than I realize. She’s wrong. I rarely get them. So I’m laying there knowing why I have the headache tonight. It’s the tequila. No, it wasn’t a bender. It was the Margarita I had with my TexMex at dinner. I used to do a half dozen shots with beer and then fall asleep happy. Not anymore. One shot (like they put full shots of tequila in Margaritas at TexMex restaurants) and I get a headache a few hours later. And that’s not taking into account how lousy I felt before bed, before the headache, before I got up to take two baby aspirin. Did I mention I’m 51?
So I get up and I take the aspirin (I had to look up how to spell aspirin for this post. That’s how rarely I take them – wife!) and I decide to look up what a full dose of aspirin really is. Was two baby aspirin more than a single dose of regular aspirin? Yeah, I know, but what do you want from me? I had a shot of tequila tonight. Back to my ordeal: In quest of knowledge, I hit Google and typed in Bufferin and clicked on a WebMD link. Interesting.
The above link said that there was a manufacturing issue at the plant up in Lincoln, Nebraska. The glitch affected low dose Bufferin. I had noticed that an inordinate number of the aspirin in my bottle were split in two, and so I read on. I always read on. Hypochondriacs do that. The rest of the article said that the ingredients in baby aspirin and Excedrin may have been mixed up. Also Bufferin and GasX. The Bufferin and Excedrin I get. But Bufferin and GasX? That’s kind of weird. And then there was the possible mix-up of Bufferin with NoDoz. It’s 12:18 AM. Ever seen the description of NoDoz? Let me help:
“A safe and effective way to help you stay awake and alert.”
Did I mention what time it is?
Now I’m a liberal, but a liberal with a sense of reason: Big corporations make big money for a few really rich guys while they toss us peasants some change. I get that, and I’m okay with it. I’m even okay with there being a ruling class who controls us like puppets like some of the preppers believe. As long as they give me a decent wage and health insurance and 2-3 weeks a year of paid vacation, their controlling my Pinocchio ass is a win-win I can live with. But if they’re going to screw up my baby aspirin, then I expect a goddamned phone call when they realize what they’ve done to tell me to bring my GasX-laden NoDoz Bufferin back to the store for a refund and a replacement that won’t keep my ass up all night. And they’d better not tell me they can’t, because if they’re my puppet master, then they’ve got the skills to trace my phone number down by the credit card I used to buy their product at Walgreens. Just to be clear: As an obedient puppet, I do not expect to have to read about this shit after I’ve taken the medicine three months after the notice went out over the Associated Press. Do we all understand each other?
PS: The good folks in Lincoln also mixed up my Bufferin with Percocet and morphine and other opiate painkillers. Of course, maybe those will counteract the NoDoz. (However, I’m unsure what their effect will be on the GasX.)
I was just reading about how China has turned the Water Cube from the Olympics into a family water park.
I grew up during the American boom. I’m one of those Boomers. And as we were growing up, America was growing into the world’s Powerhouse. Man, we were the bright and shining star back then. We owned it, Baby. We had Disneyworld and we built the world’s baddest cars and tallest buildings and, hell, we even went to the moon. Our middle class was the envy of the world. Everybody wanted to come here. And, frankly, they would have been fools not to have wanted to be here. Our blue collar guys worked their asses off, but in return they were able to buy a decent house, have two cars (one new), maybe a boat or a small vacation house where they could go during their two weeks vacation and that slurry of federal holidays. Their kids could go to college and their wife could stay home and take care of the place while Dad took care of the finances. That was America when I was a kid. It was a rockin’ place.
Fast forward thirty years. Hello!
So I was reading about that Chinese water park. And then I found myself looking at the New York skyline without the twin towers. And that made me think about Dubai and the world’s tallest tower there and how we don’t have that honor anymore and how I don’t think we’re in the mindset anymore to be the tallest, baddest, most daring, most exciting and coolest nation in the world. We’ve become too petty to do that, be that, want that. Meanwhile, China’s hacking our computers (both government and private), is building 300 MPH trains and doing shit that, frankly, while it’s not going to the moon, is pretty damned trick. They’re the new smart kids, and they own half our debt. And they don’t care what we think or what we do, they’re running with the goals they’ve got, everybody else be damned.
The British used to be the bad asses. It was said that the sun never set on the British Empire. Now look at ‘em.
I don’t think America is going to be great anymore. It’s not because we’re in debt up to our eyeballs. Debt can be gotten rid of with some smart choices and decisive action. And it’s not because the Chinese outnumber us something like 5 to 1. No, the reason that we’re not going to be great again is because we hate each other. Conservatives hate Liberals and Liberals hate Conservatives and we don’t care what happens to the country as long as we either 1) get our way or 2) screw over the other guys. Meanwhile, the Chinese are cranking along as one nation not under God, indivisible, with a little liberty and really no justice at all. But, frankly, since we sold our nation to the highest bidders sometime (or consistently) over the past thirty years, I’m not so sure justice is something we have here, anymore. And liberty is pretty useless when you can’t find a job, can’t afford to send your kid to college so they can have a better life than you, and when you hate your fellow countryman. And as for God, well, talking up God is merely lip service when we’re bombing innocent Muslims because someone with their mantle killed a bunch of us one day and now we’re scared of them – and so we kill them, you know, because that’s what we should do, partly because of where they live, but mainly because of the God they worship.
Maybe we deserve to have the sun set on us. After all, children need their sleep.
The bright white dirt felt hot. We had nothing like it in Michigan. Our dirt was dark brown and moist. But like everything on the old Texas ranch, this was dry to the touch. It blew easily in the wind.
I was a small child, not short but thin. My hair was closely cropped, per my father’s dictate, and dark blond. Granddad and Grandmother’s ranch had been my mother’s childhood home. There was nothing around it, just land and rumors of neighbors and friends. The house was small by modern standards, but felt large and airy to me then. It had two bedrooms, one where my grandparents slept and one where Mother and I slept. Our room was big with two double beds and banks of windows on two walls. The breeze they offered kept us cool at night. When we weren’t sleeping, we were in the living room trying to watch TV when there was nothing on it but snow, or we were in the kitchen. The Kitchen smelled like fresh farm eggs and produce. It was old and comfortable and somewhat dirty, not in an unclean way but in a human way that smelled of nature and not Clorox or Windex.
Mother and I spent evenings on the front porch snapping peas listening to stories about people and relatives who I didn’t know. There was comfort there that reflected the happiness my mother felt in the presence of her family. Yet they seemed so different than her. She was lively and animated. They were reserved, and their laughter seemed to come less easily.
Granddad was in his eighties for as long as I knew him. His quiet demeanor was gentle. I loved him and trusted him. I completely trusted him. He was my mother’s father and my grandfather and I knew that he cared deeply for me, but still I struggled to understand him. He was different than the people I knew and so much older in so many ways, but still powerful.
Granddad was a tall man that reached above six foot, and lean but strong with large bones and thick muscles that seemed to have diminished little with age; his strength of movement spoke of his years on the ranch. To the touch, his skin was hard and dry. To the eye, it was blotchy and red. And he smelled of the old west. A thirty-second degree Mason and a Baptist deacon, he was soft spoken, but neither bashful nor timid. Just quiet with an unwavering spirit. My brief exposure to him assured me that he spoke honestly and directly whenever was necessary, and yet kindly and thoughtfully whenever allowed. His laughter was as proper as his demeanor and his smile when it came. His smile still seems extraordinarily large some forty years later.
Grandmother was the soft matron to Granddad’s strong lean build. She was around my mother’s height, five foot four, and generously filled out without being what most considered large. She had a series of short stiff whiskers on her chin and her hair remained in a bun in the day. At night, her gray hair fell far down her back and Mother stood with her at the vanity in our bedroom and brushed through it as they talked about Aunt Jean and my cousins. Those nights with Grandmother’s hair were tender mother and daughter moments that even then I sensed the value of.
Grandmother was even less vocal than Granddad. And so despite our visits, which were brief (less than a week each year) and few (there are less than a half dozen in my memory), most of what I know of her I know through my mother, who spoke of Grandmother’s keen mind and how different her life would have been if women of her age had gone to college then like they do now. She told, mostly through anecdotal stories, how Grandmother was strong and loving and gentle toward her two daughters. She had been extraordinarily beautiful, as well. I saw a picture of her as a young woman, and she was as striking a woman as I had ever seen. In addition to her beauty, she had been a good woman. Mother made sure I grasped what decent people they both were. But she didn’t have to tell me. Their goodness was evident.
Rochelle, Texas, is on few people’s maps. Around a hundred people lived there back then; a general store, a gas station, and a school and a church, too. There wasn’t much to notice when the two-lane highway took you past the old mostly empty buildings, what few there had been. But that was where my mother’s life began and so, in a very real sense, where my life began, as well, where I inherited half of what formed me; in some ways, Rochelle comprises more than half. The funny stories came from my dad’s side of the family. The measure of the man I’ve always wanted to be comes from my mother’s side, and it is encapsulated in Granddad and Grandmother and the ranch they built through hard work and sacrifice, strong ethics and relentless drive, and the daughters they raised to be good women during very hard times, one of them my mother. How lucky a son I have been.