These holidays are never a simple proposition for me. There are far too many obligations to be juggled, too many conflicting interests to be navigated, between the one family that is relatively privileged, and the other that is not; and there are old, old disputes that still haven't been resolved within and between them for however many decades now.
Much as I love my families, I can't begin to say how often I think of disappearing from them. At best I keep a tenuous connection to them, having been raised almost entirely outside of their circles, ignorant of the languages and the cultures and the stories. But, as the first of my generation born in the States, and as the son of the current patriarch of the clan, even some of the uncles defer to me in matters that I scarcely know what to make of. Tonight I was supposed to be leading a Rosary prayer in memory of my Grandpa, but, thankfully, my Grandma's zealous friends chose to lead their own prayers in the dialect.
This night I remember what it was like to hold my Grandpa's hand as he died, and to carry my little cousins through the concourses of Aquino International Airport, and how lonely these experiences were, and still are. My uncles and I hover around the dinner table, little cousins scampering around everyone's legs, and put on brave faces around Grandma and the Aunts.
In other news, my housemate S. performs a hilarious impersonation of Isabella of Castile forcing the last Emir of Granada to give up the Alhambra, set to the music of Andres Segovia. (Isabella speaks with a pronounced Castilian lisp.)
I have enabled the anti-anonyspam defenses. Yes, it's true, even my patience has limits.
* * * * *
You have to sail across a channel on a ferry to get to Whidbey Island, in Puget Sound. Swathed in mist, the freeway slowly sprouts lanes blazing with strange signs and weird imprecations commanding commuters to line up for ferry traffic, strange in that such traffic was largely invisible up until the ferry itself was ready to leave. For much of the time, our van was rolling slowly through the fog in a spectral, desolate world. Larger signs, and skeletal archways loom suddenly, as traffic patterns diverge and then converge again, all haloed in feeble lights that somehow seem bravely vulnerable in the fog. And the water is grey and still, like a lake, except the Sound opens directly onto the ocean in the far north, and you can taste the ocean air carrying hints of spices and an archipelago far more vast than these mere shores. Seagulls stand on lampposts watching things, and waiting for the ferry.
The ferry itself is a massive, robust affair of steel and pavement, essentially a parking garage set on a boat hull. The dock supports a causeway, lined with riveted girders and wooden piles, and the lip of the causeway rests on the deck of the ferry, with the traffic lines and the seams of the paving lining up like the teeth of a zipper. Inside, heavily insulated ferry employees wearing watch caps and reflective surfaces quickly usher in the crowd of vehicles that suddenly materialized in the mist, and as the lines are cast off and the ramps are roped closed, a curious restiveness settles on me, and I know how seagulls feel when they reluctantly fold their wings and wait for the right wind.
The ferry sails so slowly and so steadily that the dull, thrumming murmur in the distance, and the slow progression of seascapes glimpsed through the open girders of the boat, are the only signs that the ferry is under way. The dock and the forested hills recede into mist behind us, and soon there is only the still water and the billowing fog. Beside us, the seagulls keep pace so perfectly in the air that they seem not to move at all, but rather it is the world beneath them that is slowly gliding past.
And inevitably you think of ferry literature, of Charon and his cold coins, the Moor's last sigh, hobbits scrabbling away from Ringwraiths, Egyptian crocodiles and Israelites hidden in the bulrushes, pale arms wielding magical swords breaking the mirror-surface of the water.
Ahead of me, Whidbey Island slowly resolves out of the stillness of sea and mist. Pilings and moorings heavily festooned with large reflective surfaces seem slowly to approach us, as though our ferry were the island anchored in the water, and the rest of the world were afloat. Ukiyo-e, the Floating World again. Dew mists the windshield and shines on our sleeves. The lights of the island are pale and clear. The trees are so thick that they melt into the mist, as though tree and fog were merely distinctions of shade on the watercolor canvas before us. As we arrive, the seagulls settle onto their lampposts, and wait for the next ferry.
* * * *
L. kind of looks like Tom Wilkinson, except L. is paunchier, he's got little hairs on the tip of his nose, and he's hearing impaired. Salt-and-pepper hair, and that open, forgiving, almost naive look about him, something so genuine and endearing that you're afraid just looking at him might ruin it.
He ranges about with surprising swiftness, and he grins like a six-year-old. He's quick to hold doors open, and to offer coffee, or muscle, or useful flatboards on wheels that can haul stuff. He has that knowing, ant's-eye-view expertise about the Boise School District, and even through the accent of his speech pathology, you can hear a kind of blue-collar, easy competence, a snap precision, like what sergeants, nurses and paralegals have. He savors attention and kind regard, the way a parched man savors water, and he's three years away from retirement.
A fourth grade class sits down with us after the morning crowd raucously departs, and L. stands with them, everyone drinking in the details of puppet repair, performance triage, life on the road. As usual, the kids are everything that makes this tour exceptionally magical; they are incisive, they are genuinely curious, they ask the strange questions, and the hard ones, and the easy ones, and they won't stop asking. L. shadows the group, ostensibly pushing a broom around, poking the puppets alongside the mop-headed boys and the prim little glasses.
L. easily finds excuses to hang around us as we take things down. We swap stories about schools and touring, we could be a couple of union guys in our heavy-gauge work clothes and our calloused hands on our hips, we crack wise and nod sagely and do all those grown-up papa bear things.
Pretty easily L. starts talking about retiring, how he's ready, how he's worked hard and done well by the school district, and the time is about right. And then he does what every kid does when they stick around and try to glean more and more from us after the show; L. shares his dreams.
He wants to see more of the country. He's been in Idaho all his life, hasn't so much as stepped out of the state. He wants to get a comfortable car, find a woman who likes to travel, and, God willing, see things he's only ever heard about. And he wants to learn how to play the guitar, except that he doesn't hear so well (and he says this without any shred of self-pity), so when he listens to the radio he just imagines himself playing along and that's almost as good. He fell off the roof of the school maybe twenty years ago, and only just now found out that there are a couple of broken bits in his neck that need to be fixed, and he knows how blessed he is, how much cause there is for him to live fully and with hope.
And I tell him that he can get earphones and an amplified guitar and still learn, and that his dream of wanderlust is a great one. Because this is all I can say without bursting something inside, because this is such a good man and I hardly even know him.
As we saddle up to leave, he impulsively grabs our shoulders and prays for us, perhaps the most truly Christian gesture I've ever experienced, and he does this without pride or prejudice, he does this with honest compassion. And now, I feel blessed.
I stay here when I'm in Boise because Elsa is a fabulous host and I get to sleep in a roomful of empty bunkbeds, with big picture windows opening onto the cold Idaho stars.
The Rockfish Grill in Anacortes make excellent beer, and a damn fine fish and chips, to boot. I even like the logo.
Boundary Bay Brewery in Bellingham poured the best pint of stout I'd had in a long, long time. God, I love alcohol.
David Millstone is a dedicated, powerful actor, a very smart and perceptive man, and a fine friend.
To break any incipient stagnation, I went for a run today in the horse pastures outside of Boise. The sky was broken, the daylight pale and limpid. Pairs of dogs loudly paced their grounds as I trotted past, not exactly spoiling for a fight but not shrinking from it, neither.
I kept coming to these desolate crossroads, mud and broken asphalt affairs dark and fresh from the rain, whose roads run straight along the compass lines as far as you can see. The emptiness, the chill of this season swiftly sweeping past me, the snow limning the mountains that could almost be clouds, so far away are my horizons--all of these things curiously and strangely warm me even as my ears redden and my fingers quiver. I can almost watch myself as I round the corners and plod past the staring horses, a speck of color on a black line in an empty landscape of fields, lightly speckled with farmhouses and the hesitating rain.
"Fair is too foul an epithet for thee...
With hair dishevell'd wip'st thy watery cheeks,
And, like to Flora in her morning's pride,
Shaking her silver tresses in the air,
Rain'st on the earth resolved pearl in showers
And sprinklest sapphires on thy shining face"
More as time and circumstance permit. Good night, and good luck.
- "Um, what does it, um, feel like?"
- "What movies have you been in?"
- "What's your favorite puppet?"
- "My Grandpa looks like that."
- "Do that again."
- "How much do you make?"
- "If the, um, the one. Where... the...?"
- "But how did you do it?"
- "Can I have that?"
- "Where are you from?"
- "How old are you?"
- "You look like my brother."
- "You're funny."
- "How did you do that thing with the thing and then the guy with the hair said that he, um, he wanted the other thing and then that guy said something and then you did that one thing?"
- "Where do you live?'
- "Can I touch it?"
- "Take me with you."