That was a lie, of course, at least as far as I was concerned. I couldn’t possibly co-exist with four other people (three of whom I didn’t live with) and not have one of them get on my nerves – but it’s entirely possible the problem is mine (too prickly, petty, over-sensitive to personal slights, etc.)
I opted to spend several days alone in the condo while the other four explored the island – partly because I had a writing assignment due, partly because I craved solitude. Some people can’t stand to be alone; I can’t stand to be with people for extended periods. Unless I get a requisite amount of solitude, I turn testy and obnoxious – given that I get on my own nerves, it’s safe to assume I get on everyone else’s nerves too.
That said, this was one of our last “young, unencumbered” vacations. J had just turned thirty and we had one child, not three; the three of them were single but wouldn’t stay that way for long. If they did, indeed, get on my nerves, I don’t remember why; only that we had a great time.
The Sea Cat might’ve been a problem even if I hadn’t forced a healthy breakfast down my family’s throats – but for sure, that decision turned merely disgusting to dire. Like my sister Joyce, I’m neurotically phobic about vomit – I get nauseous if I see or hear it in films and, yes, “Monty Python and the Meaning of Life” is completely out of the question. And that scene in “Bridesmaids” sent me running, too.
Consequently, even though a responsible parent and considerate traveler would’ve initiated clean-up, I couldn’t even look. When the kids lost it, one after the other like dominoes falling, I curled into a fetal position. Luckily, J had a stronger stomach and received aid from a compassionate stranger in military uniform. Nobody died. That’s the kindest review I can give our voyage.
Due to the above circumstances, no photos document this segment of our journey so I’m illustrating today’s blog with fun things we did in England before we boarded the Sea Cat.
That summer, the Rowells rented a house at Lake Tahoe and CD and I spent a lazy week lounging by the lake. CD was eight and a half months old (those half-months seemed to matter back then).
J enjoyed what – in retrospect – can only be considered conservative gambling. Before he played the first chip, he settled on an amount he was willing to lose and stuck to it, no matter what happened.
That wasn’t good enough for someone with my Midwestern roots. The concept of gambling was – and still is – an anathema. Spending real money for what will probably amount to “nothing” violates my core values. Watching J do it – with our money – created unbearable anxiety and made me intolerable.
I hovered over his shoulder while he played, snatching every chip he won and stuffing it in my pockets on the theory that if he lost the rest, my stash would pull us closer to even. Not surprisingly, my oversight dampened the fun for him, (apparently, today such chip-snatching is against house rules).
My tolerance for games of chance – for any ambiguity, actually – is considerably lower than J’s, which explains why he’s a trial attorney – a profession in which no verdict is ever guaranteed – and I write fiction, where I control the ending.
My family camped a lot – a lot – on our bi-annual drives from California to Iowa and back. My sisters and I were jubilant on the rare occasions we stayed at a motel, especially when they had a swimming pool – at the time, an almost unimaginable luxury.
We had the ritual down. Daddy and Momie pitched the tent and organized the campsite. Janet, Joyce and I ran wild through the campsite, usually role-playing games like Lewis and Clark or Annie Oakley.
Of the myriad national parks we camped in, Craters of the Moon is most vivid in my memory which begs the question – does it take a disaster (okay, maybe not a disaster – but serious pain for my previously unscarred 13-year-old self) to make something memorable?
This was the only occasion on which we broke camp before we slipped into our sleeping bags and raced back in the direction from whence we came. Twenty-two dollars seemed like an enormous sum. I can still remember the dusk light. I still have a scar on my left knee.
This crazy exploration was my first and only opportunity to do something like this – I wouldn’t consider it in Los Angeles but the risk seemed marginal in Graettinger, Iowa.
This type of adventure holds enormous appeal for me. I’ve read novels based on groups of kids exploring abandoned buildings. That’s why it’s so disappointing I don’t recall a single thing we saw inside the Hawkeye Apartments (and naturally I didn’t make notes about that). Let’s call this Missed Opportunity #1,
Missed Opportunity #2 was not choosing to fly with my Uncle Gilford in his small crop-duster plane.
Missed Opportunity #3 was my total inability to water-ski. I think the problem was that even though I witnessed my sister Janet gliding across the surface of Lake Okoboji, deep down inside I did not believe it was physically possible for water to support my weight. It was my lack of faith, not my total lack of coordination, that doomed me to failure.
In keeping with my soon-to-be-standard practice of quitting any activity that I stunk at, I never attempted to water ski again.
In those days, John was such a workaholic that on the rare occasions we did go somewhere for a vacation, his first order of business was to get sick – what I refer to here as the Maui Syndrome. On this particular trip, there was an alternate explanation. On his thirtieth birthday – which occurred a few days prior – John resolved to quit smoking. He did so successfully, cold turkey, with the aid of copious quantities of alcohol. (Giving that up would come three and a half years later.)
I’m embarrassed to confess I continued to smoke for a few more years, which surely must have been torture for John – especially when enclosed in a car. Mea culpa. I should’ve signed up for Smokenders sooner. In 1982, you could still smoke without being a complete pariah but that would change shortly
This was one of our final young-and-free vacations. The friends we travelled with were all unattached as was Mitch. Malcolm and Maya were married but no children yet. J and I left our five-year-old in San Diego with his grandparents (which he loved).
The summer after this I’d give birth to our daughter and the summer after that we’d have our second son. Our single friends, almost en masse, would marry and have children of their own. A new cycle of family-oriented (read child-oriented) vacations would commence. I don’t mean to sound critical – those family vacations hold some of the sweetest memories of my life.
It would be years – eighteen or twenty, really, around the time the kids are all off to college – before we’d vacation with adult friends but now it’s got an entirely different quality than those young-and-free days in 1982. We don’t run up and down mountains anymore (truth be told, I never did) and concessions must be made to health. Bathroom stop are more frequent (almost like traveling with a toddler!) and we no longer talk, smoke and drink until 4 AM about our lives because we all tire more easily. What will the next phase be like? All of these eras have their moments. In my life, I’ve loved them all.
Last year I wrote about one of the most magical days of my life, carnival in Venice on this same trip to Europe. Carnival in Munich was somewhat less spectacular. I was there with my sister Janet, her soon-to-be-husband Jim McCann, and brother-in-law extraordinaire Matt Rowell. I can’t recall why John didn’t go to Munich with us – he had a less than wonderful time back at the Sports Chalet in Austria where we stayed – a solitary dinner in a cabaret, surrounded by Germans laughing uproariously at jokes he did not understand.
There’s only so much eating and drinking one can stand, particularly when you’re the only one in the group who doesn’t drink alcohol. I really felt like shopping and Jani – with her razor-sharp sisterly instinct – said that proved that I was too consumer-oriented. Maybe she had a point; it bothered me shopping wasn’t an option. The fact that all the stores were closed – totally inaccessible – made the merchandise in their windows that much more attractive.
I didn’t carry my camera that day, but Janet was always ready to shoot. Alongside the furious little boy hurling himself in the snow, there were scenes and still shots of startling beauty. Jim suggested Jani shoot a bicycle posed against the Munich city scene. We both subsequently enlarged the shot and it still hangs in my home. Simple but so evocative.
Trains– especially trains at night – exert their own magic. They suggest so many stories to tell. Quite apart from their mood-inducing creative energy, the ease of public transportation in Europe – subways as well as trains – makes me long for the day it covers more ground in Los Angeles. In recent years, I discovered LA does have a Metro and the Red Line stops across the street from the Pantages Theater, my most frequent Hollywood destination. It’s so much easier than driving and parking in Hollywood, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
For John’s 30th birthday, I threw him a genuine surprise party (with a little help from my friends). I’ve never done it for anyone else and no one has ever thrown one for me. I’m not sure how I’d react. Given my social anxieties, probably not well.
There were a few logistical hiccups. We were leaving for Hawaii in a few days but – to avoid going to work – J told his boss, MPR, he was leaving today. I couldn’t advise him against this without spoiling the surprise even though – since I’d already invited his office staff including MPR – everyone knew he lied. Fortunately, they had a sense of humor.
The party lasted well into the following morning, as most did back then. Turning thirty was a big deal. Only yesterday “Don’t trust anybody over thirty” was a catch phrase. How could people as young as us turn thirty? What happened to our twenties?
Decades later, thirty no longer sounds old and the question is different. What happened to our thirties, our forties, our fifties? Before long, we’ll know what Paul Simon meant when he sang “How terribly strange to be seventy.”
I don’t feel like I’m fifty, let alone sixty, so I can’t possibly contemplate seventy. I doubt I’m alone here. Almost everyone my age eventually says something like, “I know I don’t look my age.” I assure them it’s true even though it’s patently false and they do the same for me. In my mirror, I don’t look my age either but it’s meaningless. In my own eyes, I never will.
J doesn’t seem to age either, at least not until I see him – or myself – in photographs. There, the truth is revealed. Sometimes I don’t spot myself at all because I’m looking for someone younger. Sometimes I wonder how my mother snuck into the picture. Why are photos so much crueler than the mirror? Someone out there knows the technical reason. Maybe they can also explain where my thirties and forties went.
It’s exciting when a script goes out for casting. The Helios Movie of the Week, “She Led Two Lives,” ended up starring Connie Selleca. The project I was about to travel to Texas to research didn’t get made. A disproportionate number of research trips took me to small towns in Texas, probably because a lot of stories ripe to be turned into TV movies occur in small Texas towns.
These were heady, exciting times but some of my weaker diary entries. Today’s entry reads like a call sheet. Mentions of J and my family are cursory, I didn’t record any adorable things the kids said or profound observations from my dad. In retrospect, I wish I’d filled these pages with personal anecdotes and quotes from my family instead of tracking blips on the radar of my career.
This leads to a bigger regret – I wish I’d spent more time with my children when they were young instead of obsessing about my next writing assignment. The writing doesn’t matter much now but I’d give anything for a few days with Chris, Sam and Alex when they were thirteen, six and five. (Maybe not thirteen, that was rough.) In my dreams, they’re always five or six.
Before I feel too guilty or too sorry for myself, I should add that I was lucky. I wrote at home, not in an office, and I could make my own schedule. To all intents and purposes, I was a stay-at-home mom who could volunteer at their school or scout troop, pick them up if they got sick in the middle of the day etc. Maybe I took all that time for granted and that’s why I didn’t value those years enough. I hope to do better when and if I have grandchildren.
This wasn’t my first – or last – fantasy about taking drastic measures to escape my life. I didn’t follow through on this brilliant plan or any of the others which didn’t stop me from devising new schemes to start over someplace else whenever I’m overwhelmed where I am.
Before my wedding, I thought about hopping a plane and disappearing in Sweden (because I took Swedish at UCLA, as if that would do me any good.) Thank God I lost my nerve – or regained my senses – and showed up at the church on time. Sticking around and seeing things through was always the right choice.
The fantasy of running away – starting a new life with a new name – is probably impossible in our high-tech surveillance-happy world. Even if I could, there’s no reason to believe my new life would improve on the one I’m living. As the saying goes, wherever you run to, you take yourself with you.
And of course, “myself” is the problem. The only way to change my circumstances is change myself. It’s an inside adjustment, not an outside one. I didn’t know that in ’69, as I sank into a bottomless clinical depression. I find solace in the fact that no matter how much I wanted to leave this life, I stayed – and you know what? It got better.