…Just to pass the time away…

We pulled off the highway in the dark high dessert sometime close to 9pm into a dirt lot that has a stone edifice in the middle with a plaque on it. He still doesn’t tell me what we’re doing here. I figure he has to pee. Then he turns around and talks to the back seat:

” Hey kid, you wanna see some stars?”

“Yesstttthhh” with a deep nod. He has been awake for a while, “reading” books and eating snacks.

We must be miles and miles from any large city, because the night sky is doing that thing that makes it look like there might be more stars than emptiness. Mr. Eagle scout knows all the constellations of course, and the kid loves to point at things so it’s a great little time we are having – pointing up at the little pearly specs and naming them – telling him the old stories behind all the shapes. The warm wind blowing our voices away. How can it all be so fragile and so magnificent? How is this one blue and that one yellow? What is the damn meaning behind all this?

Nothing or everything. We are nothing or we are everything. We are either the center of the creators attention, we have paths, purpose, and a personal relationship with a great magnanimous and omnipotent being OR, OR, OR…. we are a product of happenstance. Here by the shear willpower of our ancestors to keep producing. Evolution shaved and wittled us down into these upright animals that will find any way to make our own existence more leisurely.  I am only here because my stout celtic ancestors were smarter, meaner, luckier and hornier than all the other families in the area.

A product of luck and carbon molecules.  I prefer this theory because it makes me feel more interesting and yet, more like nothing, so much less to worry about when you know that your life is really nothing at all. You aren’t “straying” or “obeying” or having to ask some one else for guidance. Because It doesn’t matter. We are smallest specs of nothingness gone in a blip. It’s just a ride. And so far, I really enjoy this little ride. If I need guidance I just ask myself. And myself is a great guide. I have a very sweet little ride right here with this Eagle scout and this baby monkey. I wouldn’t trade it for anyone else’s. The best we can work towards is feeling happy everyday in little ways, and everything I have is of my own making. Nothing is bequeathed me by the grace of someone else. Everything is either luck, choice or hard work. I like that but it’s surely not a philosophy for everyone, it’s just mine. I always get like this when I look at stars.

We are made up of the same dust that’s in that star and that cactus, and that stone, and that plaque that says something about these dudes that came out of the Mojave on horseback at this very spot. They spent a whole year traveling together, looking for that great golden California promise, and parted ways. That’s it. Just a couple of dudes, younger than me,  that said goodbye to each other right here after going on a trip together. Now there is a little river stone chimney here that smells like urine. What strange, strange creatures.

I can hear the power lines before I see them. Almost directly above us, buzzing. Carrying light back and forth across empty miles of nothingness and sage. Power – to have power, to need power – the human condition is –

“Hey, peanut or plain M&Ms…?”

“Um, shit…plain.”

We pile back in the car and sing “I’ve been working on the railroad” for the millionth time until the kid falls asleep. Then we can enjoy our M&Ms without sharing and listen to LotR on tape. I don’t need to say it, but I will, life is good.

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Mall Thoughts.

You know how some days are harder than others, but you still feel like a complete dick for complaining?
We go to the mall. I have to distract him with a cheese stick while I strap him against his will into a stroller so I can return a dress and buy instead, a practical pair of pants. On a whim I stroll us through the Urban Outfitters. I immediately want to scream “fish out of water!!!” But instead I pretend I’m shopping for my ‘younger sister.’ I take in the vacant stares of the nice 17-year-Olds folding pairs of cut-offs and think:
Two years ago I had a collection of native American print inspiried crop tops just like the rest of you… now you look at me with ’embarrassed for you’ face as I apologize and peel off the granola bar bits that my toddler flung at your stacks of $80 ‘refurbished vintage flannel ‘  from 1997. Guess what? I probably gave that flannel to  goodwill in 2001.
… now if you’ll excuse me I’ll go push my demon spawn around the excrutiatingly curated displays of muted jewel-tone ironic forest animal sweaters at Anthropologie where my  leather flats and “art teacher” blouse  and I feel right at home… *le sigh*
someone needs a pretzel….

Prepare for Landing

There is a dip and a pull, like a hand tugging at the root of your tongue.

Good evening ladies and gentleman, we will be arriving at Burbank, Bob Hope Airport in about 30 minutes, the temperature is 75 degrees and the time is now 8:12 PM.

The lady next to you is still pounding Chardonnay. Her kids are draped across the seats, asleep, clutching stuffed armadillos.

We took the kids to see the Alamo, spent the weekend in Dallas. Their dad never showed up.

You nod and say how cute they are. Even though they spent the better part of the past 3 hours throwing pretzels at each other and scream-laughing.

You tell her about visiting your old friends from highschool, how one of them has two baby boys and her husband is in Afghanistan. You can’t relate, you tell her, but you would do anything for her, and the kids of course. You can’t imagine how hard your friend has to work just to keep it together, just to get up in the morning. She is the strongest, most brave person you know.

The Chardonnay lady confesses that she has never been so lonely as she was this weekend.

Flight attendants, please prepare for landing.

You wonder what it is about strangers, and airports, and honesty. You just nod. There isn’t really anything you can say to this lady. What do you know? You could be her in 15 years. It could be you, a single mom, chugging chardonnay and lecturing some girl in an airport about birth control.

The funniest thing happens when you visit old friends. It feels as if you were never apart. But now, everyone is older, with babies, and husbands, and houses. Then there is you, with less direction and fewer belongings than when you started. You’ve got your back pack and your suitcase, headed west to start over….again. But you always knew you would be the last one to grow up. No surprises.

The dirty martini you had for dinner is starting to make its comeback. You slip on your headphones and hum along to distract. The sun is gone but there is still a light blue glow to the sky. Little houses and buildings spread out in neat rows lit by tiny dots of golden street lamps. You are close enough to see people running around a lit baseball field. Miles and miles of people living in rows. The cars on the freeway are fireflies going in red and white rivers to and from the neighborhoods.

You are coming home. If home means the place where you grew up, than yes, you are coming home. But home is subjective. The place where you grew up is all stucco and cars and hair dye. When you think about it, you never felt at home there. That’s a lie actually, you always felt at home there when you would sit around your friend’s porch shooting the shit and drinking wine. But that is because of the people, not the place. You have to be reminded constantly that you don’t have to identify with the sprawling malls and car dealerships and endless track-housing. Just because you are from there, doesn’t mean it defines you.

But you can’t knock the beaches. The long wide yellowing beaches. Combed and filled to cosmetic perfection. The good people of LA and Ventura County stuff their cars full of colorful plastic furniture and wait in long smoggy lines to get in to the baking parking lot so they can drag their spawn across a quarter-mile of tar-hot sand, to sit in the salt stinging sun and play in the half-ton waves. The water curls and pounds the shore in variations ranging from pale white-blue to deep murky evergreen. And that smell. Like the beginning of the world; salt and decay and mud. Carbon-based life dying and being born at the same time.  But that’s the landscape, it has not home. Maybe the beauty of the place is too important to you, no, it just means you are a romantic.

You find a bench next to a planter in the pick up lane of Bob Hope airport. You drag your giant blue plastic case over to be your foot rest. You lean your head back on the smooth concrete and close your eyes, it smells like jasmine and gasoline. You bum a cigarette from some thin snarling lady and start counting the number of Mercedes verses BMWs that appear. You try to guess who belongs to which car. Then a dusty grey pick up truck appears around the corner and two giant bodies unfurl from the doors and start galumfing towards you. This is home, two big hugs and four man-arms to lift and shove your baggage in the back.  Your “little” brother makes fun of you and then you make fun of his hair. Your Dad makes un-funny jokes and sound effects the whole way home.

You are back at square one again. Life could be compared to a lot of things but the game Shoots and Ladders seems to be the most passive metaphor; you’ll take it.

The next morning you sit at your mother’s dining room table scaning The Ventura County Star and drinking excessive amounts of coffee. You try to write but it is as if there is shredded cotton filling your head instead of a brain.  Your brother tumbles down, grabs the jug of orange juice and a glass and posts up on the couch. You discuss future plans lightly. He is currently paying rent in Montana but has been traveling around working for Transworld on a contract basis and trying to keep Mom out of his hair.

“I’m trying to write,” you say, “But I just can’t, I don’t know what it is.”

He turns and says “I know, it’s like every time I come here it’s like a black hole of creativity.”

You nod. Yep.