I came from Chicago a little over a month ago.
I drove across the country with my mother.
Chicago gives up its beloved hard, as my friend Michael Slefinger says. This was evidenced in my case by flight cancellations stranding me in Atlanta overnight before finally meeting up with mom in Florida the next day, followed by the pair of us driving through a five hour long lightning storm, which lasted the entire time we were in Alabama and Mississippi. I could have told the weather that I had no desire to linger in Bama or Sippi. It needn’t have bothered making threats.
It started once I took over driving. Mom was re-reading “The Chosen” after an heroic six hour stint behind the wheel. I drove us across a two mile bridge spanning the Northern Gulf, at the end of which was the densest storm I have ever seen.
‘We’re driving into God’s fist, mom.” She looked up.
“Yes, it seems we are.” And she put her book away.
At first it was only all the water on Earth. Torrents. Full force gale. At one point we drove in an underground tunnel that had a foot of water on the bottom (my worst nightmare is being trapped in an enclosed space under water – that was fun). My mother has been both a nervous driver and passenger for a number of years now. She had the bad luck to receive the news of her own mother’s death while driving. That, coupled with a congenital dread of getting lost, has made car contact at best a chore and at worst a panic-stricken nightmare. I know that the storm was worse for her than me. I was almost happy about it. I sure as shit wasn’t going to see any Gulf Storms in LA. Bring it, Jesus.
So he did. With bolts of pink lightning on all sides.
Anyone familiar with Wolfgang Peterson’s film adaptation of The Neverending Story will recall the various obstacles the child-warrior Atreyu faces in his quest to save Fantasia. One such trial involves Atreyu walking between two enormous Sphinxes. Anyone passing who does not “feel his own worth” shall be obliterated by lightning shooting out of the Sphinxes’ eyes. Facing a five day trip to Los Angeles, and feeling all the doubt, regret, and exhaustion of the last 24 hours keenly, I couldn’t help but feel like I was passing between two malevolent sky cunts hell bent on my destruction. Thank God Forrest was on the scene.
“Just so you know, I know how your brain works, and this isn’t a sign,” she said, as she white knuckled the door handle. “LA is going to be just great.”
At one point we’d thought we’d been hit. There was an enormous flash of coral to our left, and the car was pushed over by the simultaneous BOOM. Mom screamed and I did the cartoon gasp of one thrown into ice water. It wasn’t enough that I had to leave my best friends and city and lover. It wasn’t enough that AirTran got to bend me over a table in Atlanta. No. I had to get hit by fucking lightning.
Los Angeles, you better be paved with platinum and good times, ’cause I will drown a bitch.
After nine hours we arrived in Metarie, LA. Never been? Don’t worry about it. It’s a place that exists solely to make you wish you were in New Orleans. Our first hotel was a Days Inn hidden behind a projects. It had its own IHOP attached, and as we pulled up a cop was wrestling a 12 year-old boy to the ground in the lobby for stealing eight dollars.
“Mom, how much was the room you reserved?”
“Yeah, we’re eating that and going to the well-lit Holiday Inn.” $70 was way too high for an evening of rape and car theft.
“Fine with me. And why don’t you book the hotels from now on.”
Mom and I drank dinner, a double scotch each, giggling at how well we travel together, and hoped for easier days.
It’s a miserable sensation, thinking you may have made a grievous error in judgment, one that could very well condemn you to years of unhappiness, and know you have a week of driving to contemplate your own stupidity while Texas smirks at length and burns. Honestly, had our second day not ended in Austin and Michael Slefinger, I might have broken down completely outside Houston.
Michael? Michael and I lived together for the better part of three years. He answered a craigslist posting for a roommate. He wore fake glasses. I made tea. We have had high opinions of each other ever since. Michael is one of those rare creatures it’s always a pleasure to see. Explaining his enchantment is difficult, because it sounds so general. He is witty. He is brilliant. He is good. He is 5 feet and 7 inches of analytical thinking and Motown minutiae. His rage is a long-distance runner, methodical and unstoppable, ever-conscious of its final goal. He is a dark flame, hollow cheeked and slim, with smirking black hair. He reads slowly, but with depth. My dream job would be writing things that he says out loud: plays, television, street corner philosophy, whatthefuckevah. It has been said that there are three completely charming men in America: Barack Obama, Tom Bergeron, and Michael Slefinger. If he has ever been at a loss, there are no witnesses yet living. He is the friend to hold onto. I will know him all my life, which leads me to believe that somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good. If he were relegated to using only two words, they would be, “You’re welcome.”
Also, the precious imp’s an agent of upheaval. He picked up and moved to Austin last December. He threw everything he owned into a jank Jeep, shot winter the bird, and drove 19 hours non-stop to a city that promised only a job interview. Surely he was the man to talk to on Day 2 of a five day journey to the West. (Also, when in Austin, do check out his work in The Encyclopedia Show). Aside from that (ever since they fought over who would carry his luggage after he went through surgery and he lost), he worships my mother. He’s not alone, she’s liquid sunlight, but I’m especially keen about the two of them becoming a united front. I feel as though they could solve things. Or, at least, create a better class of dinner party.
Mainly, it was to check in with a person I respect who bet everything on a risk with no guarantees and came out the other side better for it. You cannot have faith until you have a religious experience on Earth. Similarly, you cannot trust that you will land on your feet in desert country until meeting up with someone thinner than you who landed just fine.
And he was, is. We had a lovely dinner and I was reminded of the opportunity being presented. I go not to praise Los Angeles but to bury it. Chicago is not going anywhere. Erica Weiss will be curating our theatre careers with the efficacy of Tom Hagen. Ryan Duke will be joining me as soon as he’s able.
So, with all this in mind…quit yer bitchin’, Parrish.
The last three days were shockingly easy. Mom and I do travel exceedingly well together. She drives first shift, I take second. She has an uncanny ability to locate the finest hole in the wall lunch locales. I book a mean $80 hotel room. Texas was wide, and empty, and beautiful, like a smoldering moon that turns the sky ultramarine. We alternated between mix CDs and listening to “Eat, Pray, Love” on mp3. “Eat” was surprisingly enjoyable. We turned it off during “Pray” and never made it to “Love”, both of us agreeing that Elizabeth Gilbert is kind of a whiny bitch. We stayed in Las Cruces, NM (“the crossings”) and Phoenix, and passed all the other cities with pertinent names. And, finally, after nearly 40 hours of driving, she dropped me shaking and ill at my new doorstep.
I can’t emphasize enough my mother’s importance in my life. When I was a hideously unpopular kid and I called her my best friend she hugged me and said, “I love you, but I’m not your friend until we’re both adults.” When I was a repressed high schooler bound for Chicago she hugged me and said, “Don’t call us more than once a month. Start smoking pot. Don’t bring home anyone under thirty.” When she put the keys of my West Coast car in my hand and jumped in a cab, she said, “You’d never be able to live with the ‘what-if’ if you didn’t do this. Erica will be fine. Just tell her that you’re on a two year deployment and Los Angeles is safer than Afghanistan.” She cried haltingly all three times, but she said what was necessary. If I am very lucky, I will have half my mother’s kindness, and half her spine. I will say half of the necessary things she has said. I will never have her runner’s legs, but I can work on the well-placed comments.
The cab whisked her away, and I was alone on Park View Street, a darkening lane of palms and hills.
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