Until about six weeks ago, we had planned on hopping in the car tonight to begin an epic family trek up the coast. We need to be in Lake Tahoe by Sunday at 2:00 PM because we are attending our first family camp with Pact. More about that later.
The idea was to meander up the coast, stopping when we wanted, wherever we wanted, playing it all by ear. We were going to pack snacks. We were going to play car bingo.
We were going to sing songs and have bonding family time, creating memories that Ruby would cherish for the rest of her life. Of course, that is the ideal version. The reality could have involved threats of pulling over and letting mama out of the car immediately so she could walk home. And in fact, this is likely closer to the reality, since, as luck would have it, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation chose this very weekend to close ten miles of what is arguable the busiest freeway in America, the very one we would have needed to take to get to our destination on time (and don’t believe that photo in the article for a second; the 405 rarely looks that barren).
So serious is this closure, that the DOT has, for the last six weeks, been begging people who do not live in Los Angeles, not to come and telling those that do, to stay home. The closure of this freeway will impact every other freeway in surrounding the general LA area. Which is why we ended up buying overly priced plane tickets. Although, they were less expensive than the divorce that might have resulted from any attempt to drive under these conditions. And fortunately, we’ll still have what is supposed to be a two-hour drive. Bingo, anyone?
If you’ve ever taken the I-405, then you know well the impulse to want to stab yourself in the face. And you also understand what that means for anyone needing to get anywhere this coming weekend. It means something like this:
Meet our exchange student, Lucile.
Isn’t she adorable?
She arrived last night, swirly-eyed and seemingly in shock after a very long day of travel that included and excruciatingly long lay over in Houston, of all God-awful places. Of course, if you have to go to Houston, the airport is probably your safest bet.
We took Lucile for a quick dinner, brought her home, let her shower and sent her to bed. Today, I initiated her with a quick zip through the hallowed halls of Target because I absolutely had to go there. And I will say, she looked completely freaked out when she stammered, we don’t have anysing so beeg like thees!
Just wait ’til the child sees Costco.
I got her the hell out of there, and took her to an independent grocery where I let her pick out some things for the house. We also ordered deli sandwiches to take with us to the beach. And while Target presented to my new daughter-like person the quintessential gluttonous America, Windmill Farms offered authentic American hospitality when the guy behind the sandwich counter announced to everyone in the general area that it was Lucile’s first! Day! In! America!
His patriotism overfloweth.
“She’s here from France!” he said. (It’s my fault; I’d told him this after having to explain mayonnaise to Lucile while he watched in amazement). We giggled as I tried to steer her away from the bent-over, curmudgeonly lunchtime shoppers who were beginning to surround us, enamored as they were by the novelty of Lucile. “My son just got back from France!” yelled a little old Jewish lady in our direction as we made a bee line for the check out. They were all staring, moving toward us like the un-dead. I thought we might be eaten alive. Or, at the very least, I thought they might try to pet the poor girl. Again, we had to make our escape.
After we dropped the groceries at home (Lucile helped carry the bags into the house without me asking; dear lord, her parents raised her right!), we met my friends and the student they are hosting for an afternoon in Coronado, a place that Lucile said matched her imaginings of Southern California exactly. What didn’t match was the water temperature. At 61 degrees, this is not her Mediterranean Sea. Still, she seemed very relaxed and happy.
Everything—even a pristine SoCal beach—is better in French.
There I was in my car, hands on my steering wheel at 10 and 2 just like I learned in driver’s ed. way back in the last century. I was minding my own business when I heard a story on the radio about a new policy being implemented by Ryanair, a (despicable) European budget airline.
When, oh when, will I learn to ditch NPR once and for all? It’s bad for my heart.
People: Ryanair is about to start charging it’s customers to use the loo on some of its flights.
I’m back from a most spectacular gallavant across the pond and let me tell you that, amazing as this might sound, I didn’t die from fright. I was riding the Metro in Paris all by myself on day two, nearly imploding from fear, when I realized that, from the outside, I probably looked completely competent like everyone else on that train.
Right then, I decided to embrace the fake-it-till-you-make-it method, unwound from my ever-tightening fetal position and recorded a woman playing an accordion between stops, which is a totally fantastic recording that I desperately want to share here, but which despite trying, I cannot embed, which has resulted in a certain amount of swearing and the throwing of one semi-soft object across the room, which in turn resulted in an argument with my husband about how much longer he is going to keep his goddamned handle bar mustache. I adore run on sentences but am not a big proponent of facial hair.
Anyway. About my fear.
On the morning of New Year’s Eve, I woke up in my own bed for the first time following a week of hedonism in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike the lurching gray skies I’d left the night before, cheery sunlight poured through my curtain-less French doors forcing me to be happy-happy. Unable to sleep—what with all that garish light—I resolved to purchase window coverings at Ikea, like, yesterday, and then stumbled to the bathroom where I was confronted by Kate Gosselin in the mirror. So much for happy-happy.
The brunette doppelganger stared back at me for three heartbeats, and then I ran, horrified, back to bed and dove under the blankets, where I decided to stay until 2011. Forget reality, I thought as I alternately licked the palm of my hand and then used it to smooth down the back of my hair. I’m not coming out. Certainly not looking like this.
It was a solid plan, the beginnings of which I executed with precision until I began to suffocate beneath the down quilt. Gasping for air, I threw the blankets from my head. And wouldn’t you know it? There in the room was all that blasted sunlight forcing me to look directly at my life. Knowing I’m going into the New Year with a haircut only slightly less offensive than fur lined Crocs adorned with Christmas charms isn’t terribly reassuring.
I’m not normally the kind of person who’s afraid of much—other than rats and heights and earwax—but I’ve never been so afraid of any year in all my life. “Terrified” sort of gets to the edges of it. “Petrified” comes a little closer to the center. But it’s a schizophrenic kind of afraid because it’s punctuated by excitement and thrill and possibility. Like standing atop the Leaning Tower of Pisa in a rainstorm, it’s vertigo unlike any other.
At some point in twenty-ten, as I learned it’s to be called, I am going to turn forty. Good lord, doesn’t that look hideous? F-O-R-T-Y. Ack! The numeric version doesn’t look much better. Forty is so scary that even a giant Quarenteñera won’t completely take the edge off (I’m looking for a DJ. E-mail me). Out there, a specific number of months and days from right now, I’m going to be this  much closer to societal irrelevance. And that isn’t even the worst of what’s on the 2010 agenda.
At some point this year, I’m going to lose my job. Now, to those of you who love to hate me: Don’t throw your hats into the air just yet. I’m not talking about this gig, though I’m guessing a pink slip from CityBeat isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. I did have a dream the other night that my editors canned me and though I cried and begged, promising not to swear so much, they opted to hire Josh Board (The Reader’s “Party Crasher”) instead because they felt his grammatical ineptitude and interchangeable uses of there, their and they’re were more authentically indie.
No, my lovelies, I’m talking about losing my day job, which is bureaucratic and important-sounding but which I quite dislike. It’s the kind of job that doesn’t define who I am so much as it provides a safety net (i.e. insurance) for who I am in my real life. It’s a sort of background hum to everything else, the necessary evil that allows me the perks that matter. It’s the devil I know and were it not for the perfect storm of events, he and I might have continued our dance indefinitely with me cuddling up to him, taking his paycheck and resenting every minute.
Once I got over the initial holy-crap-I’m-going-to-lose-my-job shock and spent a night caressing a bottle of Maker’s Mark—while intermittently yelling at my proactive husband to quit trying to solve my damn problem and please just feel sorry for me for 30 seconds!—I was able to see the opportunities laid out.
OK. Not really. I have no idea what the hell I’m going to do with the rest of my life. But I do know what I’m not going to do with the rest of my life, which, in and of itself, is liberating. And ghastly. Sort of like my morning apparition.
And since things happen in threes, something else is taking place this year that I hadn’t anticipated: I’m having a baby. Aw, just kidding! That joke is so 2009 (see the April Fools edition). Screw that. Nooooo babies.
Seriously though. What does every unemployed almost-40-year-old wife / mother do? She goes to Italy, of course, to conquer her real fears.
That’s right. I’m hocking the wedding ring and attending a writer’s conference on the Amalfi Coast. I am going solo, across a continent and an ocean, to a country whose language I do not speak, to interact with people I do not know but who I deeply respect and who think, just maybe, I am not a fraud.
Did I mention I’m going by myself? Alone. Nobody else. Just me: The girl with the deepening crows feet and no job; the girl who knows only what she doesn’t want to do; the girl who has never been solely responsible for the rent check; the girl who has never lived alone and who is very rarely alone even when dreaming; the girl who will go to a conference with laptop in hand, feigned confidence and a quiet prayer flung to Vesuvius or Etna or Stromboli that she isn’t unveiled as a fraud.
Those bed covers look mighty appealing. Yet, given the choice of suffocating in the safety of bed or putting it out there to have my breath taken away, the decision is clear.
As Donald Rumsfeld once said, “[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
My sentiments, exactly. Bring on the unknowns.
But first, I need to make a hair appointment.
(As published today in San Diego CityBeat.)
This picture was taken by my friend Jamie using her Nikon D300 while she was here on vacation with her family. All I can say is it would have been way cuter if she’d used a canon 40D. But whatever. You have to work with what you got, right? This will have to suffice.
We’re off to San Francisco for five days of entertaining our little Nikon-captured roommate up there. This person who resides down the hall from me can pour herself a bowl of cereal now. By that I mean, she can get it out of the child-proofed cupboard, pour it and put it away, sealing the open bag with a bag clip. She can access the bowl even though it’s on a shelf above the counter, retrieve, pour and put away the milk. Helping herself to a spoon is baby talk by comparison. And the kid can clear her dishes when she’s done. Without being asked!
But with Candyland, a matching game, a plastic dolphin, two barbies, a pair of underwear and a terrycloth swimsuit cover-up, the child cannot for the life of her pack a suitcase. To say this makes me feel needed is an understatement.
I’m beginning to think I’m the only one left on the planet who isn’t completely engulfed in panic over The New Flu Pandemic. Don’t get me wrong: There are things about it that are disconcerting: Like everyone else, I don’t want my kid to get sick and I don’t want to get sick.
Admittedly, when I’ve allowed myself to dwell in that cordoned off yet inventive place within my head, I’ve managed to create a number of dreadful future scenarios that mimic José Saragamo’s Blindness. An all-encompassing outbreak of anything is not something I’d like to experience. Unless that outbreak is people being overwhelmingly kind to each other for no fucking explainable reason whatsoever, in which case, I’d be licking handrails and shopping cart handles and eating my daughter’s dropped raisins off the bathroom floor at the zoo. Which is huge for me because I hate raisins.
CNN ran the following headlines on their website tonight, in this in exact order:
- Specter move puts Dems close to magic number
- Face mask demand surges, but do they work?
- Regular flu has killed thousands in 2009
- Why has swine flu killed only in Mexico?
- Why swine flu scares us
- CNN answers your swine flu FAQs
- At least 4 die in California tour-bus crash
I glanced over this list of fear-inducing headlines and couldn’t help but wonder how many of the four victims of the tour-bus crash spent their last days/hours/minutes/seconds fretting about the Swine Flu. Using all the people I’ve spoken to since Sunday night as a sample size from which to extrapolate data, I’d hypothesize that at least three of the four now-deceased passengers were consumed with worry. My point being, what’s the point?
The way I see it, there really isn’t much we can do about this situation besides wash our hands a lot, stay home if we get sick and not eat mishandled raisins off the damp tile floors of public loos. Oh, and don’t go to Mexico.
Poor Mexico. My heart is breaking for Mexico.