Once again, I have failed to produce another Park installment in a timely manner. The Grand Scheme of Things involves letting these posts fly on Sundays. It is now Tuesday evening, late, practically Wednesday, and I am just now sitting down to free-associate. (Of course, the three previous sentences greatly improve on last week’s effort, wherein I simply never sat down at all.) But at least this time I have a moderately-acceptable excuse, one that goes beyond my normal put-it-offs like “I just ate three buckets of biscuits and gravy and I must now nap or die” and “oh, look, there’s an episode of Will & Grace that I’ve seen less than fifteen times”.
For my birthday weekend, I went back home to visit the family. Some of you will smile wistfully and envision a flock of people who vaguely look alike gathered around a crackling fire and warbling lovely tunes about the joys of DNA transference. Others of you will gasp in horror and immediately lock your doors, lest such madness invade your own Fortress of Solitude. The following reflections are sprinkled about somewhere between these two compass points. And here we go…
ONE. The Discomfort of Departure.
Even though we travel quite often, I am never comfortable leaving my house for any measurable length of time. I like my house. I like being in my house. If I’m not here, making sure that tactical operations run smoothly and no one touches things that they shouldn’t, things can go terribly awry. I don’t like awry. I don’t like being awry. If I can’t intercept issues as they arise, the entire planet could plunge into darkness and there will never be singing again.
As such, it takes me approximately three days to secure the premises, pre-departure, whereas other people spend a mere fifteen seconds walking out the back door, throwing their suitcase in the car, and then driving off, never giving anything a second thought. I give everything multiple thoughts, obsessively. I check all locks, even those that have never been unlocked in twenty years. I make sure that things that should be put away are put away, and things that should be readily accessible are readily accessible, should one of a billion possible calamities arise and we frantically call a nearby friend to come fight the Evil and they end up needing accessories. I even clean the bathrooms, so that burglars can relieve themselves in comfort before they abscond with the silverware.
Yet despite my neurotic thoroughness, and the photos on my phone documenting the security of the domestic zone from a variety of angles, I spend the first hour of any road trip worrying and fidgeting and envisioning something happening in the house that will one day be made into a horror movie. It’s all I can do to keep from looking over my shoulder, fully expecting to see flames shooting into the sky from the general vicinity of my neighborhood. I really can’t relax until we get far enough away that things are no longer in my control, and then I shift my neurotica to my next issue.
TWO. The Death Spiral of the Drive.
I realize that many of you have not had the lovely opportunity of driving between Dallas and Tulsa, so let me break it down for you: It sucks. Mightily. The land is flat and there’s nothing to look at, period. Granted, I’ve made the drive many, many times over the years, so naturally I’ve already seen just about everything there is to see. Which is nothing. Every once in a while, there will be a slight shift in the bland scenery, like an old barn that has finally fallen down or a new tractor store has opened up next to the Dairy Queen in one of the tiny, cookie-cutter farm towns. Other than that, there’s really nothing to mark your progress besides the increasing intensity of the smell of conservatism as you plunge deeper into Oklahoma.
THREE. The Familiarity of the Food.
Memories come in all forms, but taste and smell are the most immediate and most pungent. There’s nothing like digging into a beloved family dish that you’ve dug into so many times before, especially when all the diggers around you are the people you cherish, even the diggers that annoy you. Love is in the air, every smack and every belch.
Then again, there are also those unavoidable dishes that nobody relishes except the misguided soul who annually slaps that wretched mess together. I’ll take a bite or two out of respect, because you’re actually a lot of fun when you’re not in the kitchen, but girl, you really need to turn the page in your cookbook. Life’s too short.
FOUR. The Breech Birth of Selecting a Movie.
Back in the day, and this might come as a foundational shock to some in the younger crowd, if you wanted to peruse a movie as a family whilst sitting in the living room, your choices were this: You either watched the single movie that was playing on TV, at a regimented time, or you didn’t. End of story. Now? With the satellite and the streaming and the on-demand and the DVDs and the infinite digital copies on a tiny little memory stick, a typical family has access to thousands of movie choices, 24 hours a day. This should make the movie-selection process a breeze.
It doesn’t. We now have so many choices that many of us have become too picky, too accustomed to getting exactly what we want, too limiting. Somebody has already seen it. (So.) Somebody has never heard of it and isn’t interested. (Can you take off the blinders for two seconds?) Somebody doesn’t want to watch anything scary. (Yet you came to this family reunion?) Somebody has never cared for Chevy Chase. (That would be me.) We can’t watch an R-rated movie because of the kids. (Why are they still up? It’s 11 o’clock at night. Send their little asses to bed.)
The resolution? Designate one person to pick the movie and then nobody questions it. (This makes it just like it used to be. There was only one choice.) If you want to watch it, fine, settle down and get comfortable. If you don’t want to watch it, then go back to what you were doing five minutes ago, huddled in the corner with Cousin Sally Mae and gossiping about everybody else, before some fool interrupted the binge-drinking by hollering “hey, let’s watch a movie!” Done.
FIVE. Random Thoughts About the Things That Were, in Which We Get a Bit Maudlin, but Happily So.
Everything just seems so much smaller than it was. Distance and time revises.
On that corner, there, used to be a restaurant, where I met a boy who liked other boys, and certain questions were finally answered.
My old high school is now gone. Despite the mixed feelings about my attendance there, all the pain and hope of long ago, it does something to you to realize it’s now an empty lot. I was brave there, once, forced to be strong. A door has closed, minimizing, erasing.
My favorite record store, where I practically lived when I was in my late teens and early twenties, flipping through the vinyl offerings with religious fervor, has moved. It used to be in a converted house near the University of Tulsa, all funky and eclectic and, most importantly, non-judgmental. Thirty-plus years later, it’s now in an ugly metal building miles away, the vinyl is limited and over-priced, and nobody remembers the house.
We used to swim in that pond, heedless of the danger, carefree, smiling.
The younger family members are getting so big, and the older family members look so… tired.
Life is a cabaret, old chum.
This shifted landscape is where I coalesced, cultivated the seeds that became the words I harvest now.
I must keep writing these things down, before the tide replaces all the sand.