Yesterday I went into Seattle to meet up with an old friend. There are at least three people living in the area that went to college with me. I’m certain there are more (about 100,000 people went to college with me), but those three are the only ones I know here. I told myself it would be good to get out of the house, and he might know people who might know people, but the truth is he’s a doctor and the people he knows don’t really know the people who could connect me to a job in my field, and I knew that going into town.
The plan was I’d take care of Nate until 11:15 and then meet Soo at work to do the switcheroo. She’d take the boy and drop me off to catch the 11:30 ferry. Nate and I spent most of the morning in my car, he likes climbing over the seats, fiddling with the radio and, like all kids, loves to play with keys. Soo and I both have Volkswagens with those stubby black keychains, they include remote locks and have a long rectangular key hidden inside released by pushing a shiny chrome button. I spent hours (well, a lot of time anyway) with Nate as he learned to push that button to make the key appear. It was harder to load up the keychain. Holding down the button and pushing the key back into its hiding place. Its fun to watch kids figure things out (fun for the first hour anyway). Whether he’s climbing stairs or putting together a puzzle, opening a door or just recognizing familiar things in books, the look of concentration on his face is priceless (does this word now sound cheaper to you, too?). He’ll get frustrated, and sometimes he’ll start to cry, but eventually (after much trial and error) he gets it. The parental patience required is immense. Leaning over to hold his hands as he climbs up some stairs is cute the first hundred times, the 101st time hurts your back, you remember other things you need to do. I’m not complaining, honestly, I write this as a tribute to parents everywhere (the ones who resist the temptation to smack the little buggers around).
There are moments when I get more frustrated than Nate, and I want to stop and scream at the world. We’re alike in so many ways, I see myself in him constantly. I don’t know if that means I have the mentality of a toddler or if that’s just a normal parental reflection. Maybe we’re all just toddlers stuck in adult bodies. We want to crap our pants whenever the bowels move us. We want more and goddamn it we’ll cry if we don’t get it. We want to go outside now, NOW, not in five minutes, not when we get our shoes on, NOW. As adults we either have the power to get what we want or the knowledge that we will have to live with disappointment. Nathan hasn’t learned to accept this, and maybe we shouldn’t either.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of acceptance, believe that you are diminished, smoke the opiate of the masses (or swill the Budweiser of the buffoonery) and tell yourself you’re happy with what you’ve got, with who you are. I went out with a girl once who said she never wanted to be content. That’s pretty easy to say when you’re seventeen (don’t worry I was seventeen, too). At some point you just want to be left alone. Take your wife and kids and tuck them away in a gated community and forget about the rest of the world. Except if you successfully block out the rest of the world, the only input you’re left with comes from the internal you or those nearest you and, of course, TV. In most cases a perfectly satisfactory situation. I keep seeing horrific stories on the news, though, where this isn’t the case, where seemingly content domesticity has turned terrible. A man accused of killing his pregnant wife. A mother of three kills her two oldest boys, almost kills an infant, and calls the police to report herself. A young mother murdered by her husband (who is in the military) and then when the man dies (suspected suicide), HIS family receives death benefits (this story is disturbing on many levels). Maybe it’s just the way news is reported. These stories get repeated over and over again until it seems that the world is filled with such horrors, the anomalousness of them gets lost. We forget what a miniscule percentage of the population this is, the ones who snap. Or maybe we’re fascinated by them because we all secretly imagine ourselves snapping, as well. We feign disgust, but deep down inside we know we are capable of it, too. To admit such is taboo, it would pull down the veil, shatter the lie that we are all content, that we are happy and never have those bad thoughts or imagine those horrific acts. If the veil comes down you run the risk of being thrown into the camp that is “them” – the others, the failed.
I’m not entirely sure where this is coming from. To be honest, I’m wickedly hungover. I went into Seattle to meet my friend for lunch, but I knew it was just an excuse to get out and get loaded. Now, it’s early in the morning, I’m here hacking away staring at the gray mist of morning feeling about as cogent as a cloud. Do I need to do so every so often? Does everyone? Should I be concerned about it? I look at it as pruning. You snip off the old dead branches to let the new growth come in. Our shrubbery has been getting a good whacking lately, we go out and snip away, preparing for the burst of life. Spring-loaded shrubbery, a spring-loaded brain, a spring-loaded key, waiting to be opened, inserted into a keyhole to elicit new vistas. Too much? Have I overdone this one, gone too far? Maybe it was that last beer at La Piedra Cantina here on the island. I didn’t know the large was going to be THAT large, I thought your name had to be Helga to deliver a stein like that. I had met my friend at the bar at McCormick & Schmicks, or rather he met me. I was running through their beer list, literally, from top to bottom as it was written out in colored chalk on the board above the bar. I had a good head start by the time my friend showed up. He ordered a water and a bloody mary. He’d just woken up. He works those crazy 24 hour doctor shifts and had the next 48 hours off. We drank and ate and went to Fremont (which sucks now, according to the bumper stickers and regular patrons of the Buckeroo, a two pool table Fremont bar) for some low-impact recreating and continued frothy beverage consumption. By the time we needed to get back to the ferry, I had both a fairly good understanding of Fremont’s political factions and a good buzz going. I made the ferry and gave Soo a ring. Nate was still napping. The ferries are wonderful. People say Las Piedras Island residents grow to hate the ferries, restricted as they are by the schedule, forced to wait in line during peak hours, and otherwise just plain dependent upon it to get to civilization. I think that’s a bunch of rubbish. Any large floating vessel that has incredible views in all directions and five beers on tap is OK by me. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a lush. Yesterday was a bit of a binge and I’m paying for it this morning, but it’s a rare (and getting rarer) occasion when I’ve got my liberty, so I was going for broke. Besides, I didn’t have to drive anywhere, Soo was going to pick me up. She was home with Nate and had basically relieved me of my duties for the day. While relieving myself I realized how relieved I was to be relieved. It had been a long time since I’d been at large. The constant, albeit mostly low-level, stress of watching a small child wears on a man. All the near misses and odd direct hits accumulate in a reservoir of distraction, somewhere north of the bladder. Without a good flushing of the system every so often a person could get all clogged up. Forgive me, it’s early and my head feels like a lump of lead.
When I was about to arrive on Las Piedras, I called Soo again, but the boy was still asleep. “I could wake him,” she said.
“No just give me a ring when he’s up.” She couldn’t very well leave him napping to come pick me up.
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know, poke around,” I told her. I really didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought I might go to the book store or just walk down Winslow (the almost touristy main drag), but my feet seemed to take me of their own accord to La Piedra Cantina, where I encountered that really large beer. I’d always thought the cantina was much smaller, we’d been to La Piedra for dinner once and lunch once in our first two months, but had never ventured into the attached drinking portion of the establishment. It was downright spacious, and, AND, it had a pool table, a fact I filed away for future reference. I recognized the proprietress of our local diner holding court at a table of talkative cohorts. I eavesdropped a bit, but mostly I just worked on that beer and waited for the phone to ring. Some guy walked in and sat down next to me at the bar. He said not a word. The bartender brought him his drink. A few minutes later the phone rang. The bartender answered and then handed the phone to the man sitting next to me, again without a word. I wanted to listen in on his conversation, but just then my phone rang.
“He’s up,” Soo said.
“OK, I’ll meet you in the supermarket parking lot.”
“Where are you?” she asked.
“I’m at La Piedra Cantina,” I told her, carefully pronouncing each word.
Slight pause. “Will you see us?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll see you.”
I figured I had about 10 minutes to finish the beer and settle up. By the time Soo picked me up I was good and loaded.
“Hanging out in the local bar at 3:30 in the afternoon. You’ll get a reputation as the town drunk,” she jokingly chided me.
“I think I’d have to stand in line.”
“Really. A few regulars in there?”
“There wasn’t a shortage of people who appeared familiar with the place,” I said perhaps too sloppily.
“Yeah, well, maybe,” I offered.
“Do you see this, Nathan,” she looked in the rear view mirror and spoke to our boy. “Your father is a drunk.”
“An unemployed drunk,” I added.
“What are we going to do?”
“What ARE we going to do?”
What are we going to do?
Drink more coffee and watch “Bob the Builder,” that’s what Nate and I are going to do.