written November 24, 2012
This will be an easy day, I thought. Just seeing a simple movie, while visiting home with my girlfriend May during Thanksgiving, I thought…
Sonya my sister then hopped into the room, having a question about a famous black comedian from Peoria she didn’t know (Richard Prior), which continued into the following car wreck:
Sonya: You know what? There’s this really famous homeless man in Peoria. He has a Facebook page, and you can like him on there. He kills rats to eat them for food. [Sonya’s phone rings]
May: Let’s go get coffee! [Imploring Eric]
Eric: What was that! It’s like she wants to be friends with Charlie Kelly from Always Sunny… [Eric and May go into the kitchen. Eric’s Dad now appears on the stairs]
Dad: You better come down here. I have lots of questions for you. [Eric snaps, running away in anguish. May find him gurgling and in the fetal position on the living room floor. Sonya and Dad follow.]
Eric: She was just talking about a homeless man that paints his face and kills rats!
Dad: Guy that kills rats? What about killing snakes? You could split a snake down a middle. That’s what we used to do in Vietnam!
Sonya: You weren’t in Vietnam!
Dad: That reminds me of a joke. She’s going to like this [Pointing to May]. There was this little colored boy–
Eric: AAHHHHH! [Eric’s finger appears, pointing at May] Press record! Remember all of this!
Dad: RAT now! [laughs]
Dad: I got a couple questions for you… when are you going to help me with taking leaves out of the eaves?
Dad: Don’t you want to do some manly things with your dad, clear some eaves?
Dad: You know, Abraham Lincoln would have done it.
May: Not with his dad.
Eric. Yep. Abe hated his dad. True.
Dad: Well, him and Tod would have done the eaves together. He would have said, ‘Come on, Tod, let’s go.’ They would have gotten in done. Did you see dirty eaves in Springfield? No you didn’t! And Martha’s cooking while they’re doing, a nice big meal.
Eric: Who’s Tod?
May: Or Martha.
Sonya: Eric, did you know you’re wearing a Jordan’s Mobil shirt? Did you not bring bring enough clothes with you, because you definitely didn’t bring that from St. Louis.
Eric: [Resigns himself to a slumped form on the couch]
Dad: So… I got a question for you, being the historian… So, when did God decide to give the land to the Israelites?
Eric: That’s not history. It’s a politically motivated story in the form of a fable that was written thousands of years ago. That may have been the objective, journalistic gold-star of the Iron Age, but these writing are the past. A fascinating past, but you and I know too many people’s hobby is to kookily divine the present and future with these parchments.
Dad: That’s not how we learned it of course, as a boy in church. They’d tell me, “It happened!”
Eric: Yeah, I can see that. Some version of the conquest of Canaan story happened. But I can’t tell you much about it when it goall supernatural. I’ve thought of it all like Spider-Man comic books. Stay with me here. Now, Superman lives in Metropolis, and Batman fight crime in Gotham, right? They aren’t real cities. But Spider-Man, his story takes place in New York City. But is it the real New York. If you got there you don’t see him. But, let’s imagine that, 2,000 years from now, artifacts of the East Coast are unearthed of our culture, long-since forgotten. If Spider-Man comics are being read millennium from now, yes, it might be a bit understandable that they might wonder if the superhero had been real, because they knew New York City was a real place. But A doesn’t prove B, you know what I mean? And the Old Testament is something like this. …Look, it’s just stories, meant for people long since gone. We’re going to see, with the Civil War movie-
Sonya: Ahh! This is going to be about the Confederacy, or war, or something?
May: It’s more going to be about Lincoln and the ending of slavery.
There was more, much more, to the bizarre conversation. Dad wanted me to tell him exactly when God had given the Israelites the Promised Land. Still smarting, I said it was all stories, with originally political aims bent on re-branding mythical-historical tales bent on politically re-branding one tribe over another. I wasn’t sure if he was asking when did it all “happen” (1200ish BC), or when it was written down and codified (500’s BC during the Babylonian exile). Oh well, soon it was time to get ready for the movie Lincoln.
Okay, so this is what happened. May and I drove separately after it was questioned whether there would be enough room in the Buick. We showed up at the Grand Prairie cinema well before Mom, Dad, and Sonya. Mom bought May’s ticket, much to her “visitor”-status chagrin. Mom, I could not help but notice, was actually wearing a smattering of lipstick, a collared shirt, and nice looking loafers. My heart lifted and sank simultaneously, Mom obviously very much looking forward to this big family outing.
When I guided our little band into the theater, five adjoining seats could not be found. I quickly guided us all to the middle. Mom, I could not help but notice, Within seconds, however, we see Dad creeping back up the stairs for a higher seat. Then Mom and Sonya began to question the wisdom of our location, fretting of “sensory overload.” “Eric, do you mind if Mom and I-“
“Just go, Sonya,” I say. May was shocked at the speed to which we dissolved into different sections of the theater. I found the film just as mesmerizing as my first experience, free to notice the rich detail and bewhiskered background actors. More than our splitting up before the previews, May was nearly aghast at my Dad leaving for “about 40 minutes” of the film. “Does this always happen?” she asked, amazed. Sheepishly, I said yes. “I took a walk and got some popcorn,” Dad reported. May and I tore ourselves away from the family as diplomatically as possible, heading for the exit.
Instead of trying to race home, May suggested we stop at a near-by Starbucks. She sensed I was distraught or upset. In truth I wished such things would go better, that once in a while we, my family and I, could be normal in public. It’s more depressing to consider that this grip is slowly slipping. Just after the about recorded conversation, Mom pulled me aside to ask if I noticed Dad’s memory, and ask I would talk to him (he presently does not think he has a problem). May indicated she felt inundated with situations, drama, and emotions she had never before confronted.
Over latte and blueberry score I tried to work out my cramped feelings, of a simple, loving, yet estranged family, all clearly wanting something more from life and feeling loss, yet content to try very little. For the moment, wallowing in drama, I wondered that I must also be a strange limb as well. “Not at all,” May said, rebuffing the idea. I didn’t really feel too bad, it was actually quite normal and even bland by some events’ standards. I suppose we were just feeling worn down by the energy it takes to decipher Carlsonese.
At the certain point, however, I knew it was my job, responsibility, to do their many good works for me justice. I began to relate, with a reminiscing smile, stories of my parents as I once knew them, when I could only look up to them. Of wanting to come home from camp than remain, and my Dad successfully challenging me to ultimately return; of wanting a voice recording to remember my Mom throughout the endless trip to Platteville, Wisconsin. I was aware, I told May, that I was running the risk in these writings and recordings, of coming off too dismissive and cold to them. And they deserved some good things said as well. Warmed not only by the drinks but by the memories, we set off once again for Elmwood, and a dining experience at the quaint, quiet Hick’ry Stick. I had to jump, though, when a customer from across the room was heard to say “Let me ask you a question…”
The long day ended with May and I browsing listed homes, and investigating instructor jobs in such bustling burgs as Stillwater, Oklahoma, then Topeka, Kansas, and Cochran, Georgia. We were silly with weariness, deciding to call “Shazam!” after sneezes. Laughing also at the thought of moving to Stillwater, and discovering your next-door neighbor is a Westboro Baptist, moving to a small recluse town for work after May’s long doctoral toiling was suddenly beyond a joke. Employment was one more stone to be placed on May’s back in the moment, and when I retired she remained awake until one, writing.
The fourth chapter of my bumpy trip home continues to go sideways with “A Simple Trip.”
The opening chapter of this story, “The Burden of Heavy Ornaments,” can be read here.