Posts filed under 'Odyssey'

Odyssey 2006 Day 8

East Lynne, Missouri: 2:00 AM and the moon is so full I think it’s trying to climb in through the bedroom window. Two floors down a batch of hungry and competitive two day old puppies are squeaking into the night. We’re staying with a friend who lives about ten minutes from where I grew up. She’s built a glorious cedar 21st century techno log cabin in the woods; there’s Wi-Fi on the porch that overlooks a pasture filled with a herd of horses and cows. Inside, there are stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and Columbian Supremo coffee.

My friend’s dog had puppies the day before we got here, and chose a rather inconvenient spot; the babies are all the way underneath fourteen-foot deep wrap-around porch, up against the wall of the house – in other words, totally inaccessible. Sam set out to rescue the puppies, and was prepared to slide on his belly across all fourteen feet of dirt with about zero inches of clearance above his head… but then the puppies stopped making any noise and in a panic, we got out the hammer and pried off one of the floor boards. Turns out, the puppies were fine – just sleeping. There are eight of them, and they’re gorgeous, with little pink feet and tongues, and miniature baby features. The mother is looking a little dazed – she’s not very big, and feeding eight babies seems to be taking a toll on her. So we went to the vet and bought puppy formula to help the mother supplement her feedings. We had a puppy feeding party last night, where, somehow, all the boys ended up in the living room watching a car race and drinking beer, while the girls ended up in the garage, sitting on tractors, feeding babies with little bottles. Sam, in true form, wandered back and forth. I don’t think there’s anything cuter than hearing him talk about “baby puppies” with his French accent – unless it’s watching him bottle-feed a baby puppy while saying, gently, “come on man, eat!”

Tonight there are coyotes outside and puppies safely relocated inside, in the garage. At one point my friend’s boyfriend wryly observed that, in all likelihood, the puppies would have been just fine if we’d left them under the porch. Did they really need to be rescued, or did we just need excuses to pet puppies? To be fair, I should point out that the boys have been sneaking into the garage, one at a time, in isolation, to cuddle puppies…

Add comment September 9th, 2006

Odyssey 2006 Day 7

Rural, Missouri: Okay, that’s not really the name of a town but I wanted to write about an experience rather than a destination. We had our first sustained sunshine in weeks – maybe months – today as we drove across Illinois and Missouri. Rural Missouri is incredibly beautiful; thickly forested, layers of green on green, rolling hills. We played techno ambient music and I engaged in a little imaginative exercise – since we’re currently homeless and carrying everything we own, turtle-like, in our car, could we pull over here and set up housekeeping in the wilderness? With melodic bass gently vibrating the car, I imagined hours spent working as artists and writers, Wi-Fi on the porch and NetFlix in the mailbox, long hikes in the woods, the changing seasons, crisp white snow that stays white for months instead of hours, wood smoke… Then we turned off the MP3 player and listened to all of the local radio stations. Country music celebrating the war. Static. Country music about hardship and sacrifice. Static. It didn’t take long for me to fail my imaginative exercise, but I was stunned by what a difference the musical back drop made to my level of enthusiasm for an imaginary project.

There’s an experience Sam and I refer to as the “Grunge Elvis Phenomenon:” the last time we were in Las Vegas we walked up and down the strip visiting all of the different casinos. Outside of the Flamingo there was a middle-aged Elvis singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to a small crowd of avid listeners. We thought, “oh look, Elvis sings Nirvana” and continued on our way, never even thinking to take a photo. Of course once we left Vegas and started thinking about it, we really wished we had taken a photo. After all, anywhere other than the ‘Strip, our grunge Elvis would have been anything but blasé. We had a brush with the Grunge Elvis Phenomenon in Rural, Missouri too. We took a little winding road between interstates and went past some truly remarkable architecture: an old three-story farm house with a sign in the front yard advertising “Deli Sandwiches and Fresh Bait,” a completely burned out trailer leaning 45 degrees to the right, but with pristine white curtains swaying in the empty windows, and surrounded by jewel-bright greenery. Later there was a strange mobile home graveyard, with at least fifteen discarded trailers lined up next to each other, only kept upright by the support of other mobile homes packed tight on either side. It all made perfect sense at the time, but later the images became incredible, and I wondered how I’d managed to “make sense” of something I’d never seen before.

Driving past Columbia and Sam and I both gave the imaginative exercise of living somewhere other than California a second try. There was a gorgeous, ripe, full moon shining into the car and flooding the woods with pale light. The exercise worked… until we crested a hill and I saw a bank of clouds spread out below us and thought, for a split second, that it looked like the Pacific. Then my stomach clenched and I felt such a sense of excitement and relief… I think it’s gotta be California, at least for now.

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Odyssey 2006 Day 6

Valparaiso, Indiana: Visiting family on my father’s side, and I am finding it to be a bittersweet experience. I’m delighted because I see precious people, hear uncensored stories about my dad, and feel the weird pleasure of my own lifetime of memories of this place telescoping. I remember being a toddler here in memories that have an oddly photographic quality – they are still rather than in motion, in vibrant color, but often stripped of emotional content by time. I “remember” my dad being a little boy and a young man here from stories and photos. I remember coming here from far away for my grandparents’ funerals, and I “remember” these same funerals quite differently from the stories that other people, people who were grown-ups at the time, tell about them. When I’m sad, it’s because of the distance that our families build into their infrastructures. I see my dad and his four brothers creating their lives half a continent apart – they all get along really well, but they can go a decade without seeing each other. And, I see the potential for the same thing happening with my brothers and sisters. There are five of us too, and we’re spread out from Connecticut to Montana to Alaska. I see some of my siblings once a year, but I went four years without seeing my older sister whom I adore. Part of me thought/thinks such distance is unfortunate but unavoidable. But part of me knows that we’re replicating a family pattern. We’ve chosen to prioritize geography and individuality over the kind of deep connection that can only come from sharing the details, big and small, of each other’s lives lived one day at a time. I’d like to think that I could change if I wanted to; but I know I would never be happy living in Montana or Alaska, and I can’t imagine my family coming to live in California where Sam and I hope to settle.

The woman who checked us out of our hotel room had short, spiky dyed black hair, pale skin, a pierced eyebrow, dark eye makeup, and a bar code complete with tiny numbers tattooed prominently on the inside of her forearm. Why did she strive for an unconventional look (relatively speaking), only to invalidate the very concept of individuality with such a pithy, succinct, and permanent gesture? Was it ironic acknowledgement that individuality is always, already a commodity?

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Odyssey 2006 Day 5 1/2

London, Ontario: We’re staying in the best Motel 6 I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m a big fan of the Motel 6; I like that Tom Bodett will always leave the light on for us, I like that they’re simple and sufficient, I like that I can safely assume without doing any research that they will offer the lowest rate. I’ve come to assume that Motel 6’s across the country will have certain commonalities: they all smell the same, the furniture looks like it’s hanging on from a few decades ago, and if there’s a pool it’s outside in the middle of the parking lot surrounded by a chain link fence. But in Canada, the Motel 6’s are different… this one is brand new, and looks like a hotel. It’s well designed, with aesthetics in mind. Our room has a flat-screen TV, a bathtub with interesting architectural features like little benches and an extra-deep tub, and brand new IKEA hangers – real hangers, not the useless ones with no hook at the top – in the closet. And… there’s a real indoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi that actually look inviting! They’re surrounded by tastefully chosen red tile, smell faintly and pleasantly of cleaning chemicals, and offer the promise of privacy and relaxation. There’s a sign on the front desk promising that if I have any kind of problem during my stay, Motel 6 guarantees that they will find a solution within 30 minutes. What could inspire such confidence?

I notice a similar phenomenon after we leave and continue our drive across Ontario; everything is clean, everything is firmly middle-class, everyone looks like they live in the same income bracket. I’ve visited and even lived in Canada in the past, so while this is not intellectually surprising, it still shocks my eyes and some part of my brain to see such an even distribution of wealth.

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Odyssey 2006 Day 5

Niagara Falls, New York and Ontario: We left Lodi and wove our way north parallel to another of the Finger Lakes. We had to pull over twice, once to have a panicked car-check and then a quiet moment of mourning when we realized that we’d left the almond cake “to go” at our friends’ house, then again when we failed to intersect with the interstate. As we were hovering on the shoulder of a rural highway, map spread out over our knees, a local pulled up next to us in the road, rolled down her window, and asked if, by chance, we were looking for the missing I90. She smiled knowingly and redirected us, but even better than finding out where we were and how to get where we were going, was her demonstration of spontaneous kindness.

Niagara Falls was strangely breathtaking and banal at the same time; banal because I was seeing it for the first time without the swell of music and the drama that Hollywood films usually set behind and in front of the Falls, but breathtaking because they are awesome in the philosophical sense – there was both pleasure and pain in realizing my insignificance in the face of such enormous geological and temporal power.

After the Falls we loitered outside The Hard Rock Café where outdoor TV’s broadcast a hilarious montage of 80’s glam rock videos. Sam did his “I’m in a boy band” impression which never fails to make me scream with laughter, while lip synching to Mr. Big’s “To Be with You.” Imagine Justin Timberlake’s moves circa *NSYNC on the sidewalk, classic 80’s long hair and perms on the screen, me singing all the words because I still, frighteningly, remember them, and Sam singing “I understand nothing that he says…” in French. The wait staff came out to check on us after a while, and we ran away still giggling.

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Odyssey 2006 Days 2 - 4

Lodi, New York: Our harrowing departure behind us, we hit the road for real this time, and drove to the Finger Lakes Region in upstate New York to visit friends who shared their family, and their converted train station home with us for the weekend. The soundtrack was Jose Gonzales, the Swedish guitar player – new to me, but I am now aware of the large Jose Gonzales-shaped gap in my music collection – whose mellow and melancholy sound wove a perfect ambiance as we drove through the mist and state forests to visit local wineries, an epic herb garden, a lake with a (possible) secret passage to the Atlantic and a (possible) monster hiding in the deeps, and the best farmer’s market east of Olympia Washington (which I have not had the pleasure of shopping but I understand that it’s magnificent).

In between drives we observed and occasionally participated in sessions of extreme storybook reading with our friends’ two-year-old (HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!) and feasted on gourmet macaroni and cheese, chicken mole, omelets, stews, crepes with blueberries spiked with cloves, homemade peach ice cream with brownies and almond cake. Conversations ran the gamut, from parenting and renovating, to what it means to be a writer, thinker, artist and scientist. It felt good, having so recently deconstructed our own home, to be totally welcomed into another – like maybe our “home” could be a lateral phenomenon for the time being, defined by warmth and welcome rather than by geographic stability.

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