Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Machetes, Not Daggers

After my first divorce, I would drive up to the wine country on Friday afternoon (or, if I’d been able to force myself to go out chasing skirts after a hard week of processing the words of fools, Saturday morning) to pick up my daughter Brigitte, the light of my life. She had only recently celebrated her third birthday, and wasn’t at all clear as to why Daddy was living in a little studio apartment on Nob Hill, rather than in the big house in Santa Rosa. She called the little studio apartment “your [that is, my] house”. It took me weeks for me to persuade her to refer to it as “our [that is, hers and Daddy’s] house”.

On a couple of occasions, Mommy would deign to drive Brigitte down. Brigitte would be distraught at the thought of being left with me, and it would feel as though daggers were being plunged into my heart. It wasn’t only that my daughter didn’t reciprocate my elation in our reunion, but also that it enabled her mother, whom I’d come to loathe, to patronise me, to play the intermediary. She, Mommy, would assure Brigitte that she’d phone her in an hour to ensure that she was all right (as though there were some question about my taking care of her), and I’d want to strangle her right there in front of 1406 California Street more than I’d wanted The Sect — the second biggest band in Santa Monica — to choose me as their drummer back a million years before, when I was 19.  

I grew up with my mother telling me that she loved me much more than my dad did, and that my dad’s love wasn’t worth aspiring to anyway. On the night we brought Brigitte home from the hospital in which she’d been born, I’d held her in my arms and promised that I’d do better than that for her. But circumstances were forcing me to be my mother, to feel threatened by my child’s love for her other parent, to want, on a certain level, to diminish that love so that the scales would be more equally balanced. I hated myself for that, but every time my daughter, at what I was experiencing as a moment of peak joyfulness, whimpered for Mommy, I couldn’t help myself. It had been Mommy who’d refused to consider couples counselling, and Mommy, I’d managed to divine, who’d been unable to resist the siren call of the great wealth of a Swiss-born electronics mogul she’d served in the Sonoma art gallery in which she worked a couple of afternoons a week. The pattern would continue throughout my daughter’s childhood, to the point at which Brigitte  stopped speaking to me entirely 14 and a half years ago.

It's nearly Halloween. Oh, the memories. On the night of her fourth Halloween, I took Brigitte out trick-or-treating in Pacific Heights, the richest precinct of San Francisco. (The candy they handed out wasn't any better than in the grubbiest working class 'hood.) We were having a glorious time, but we had to return to...our house because Mommy wanted to take her out too. As usual, Mommy, who was incapable of punctuality (and who never missed a plane) had gotten A Late Start, though, and was her traditional 45 minutes late. Forty-five minutes that Brigitte and I could have been trick-or-treating. But that's who Mommy was. And Mommy was the one of her parents for whom my little girl pined implacably.

Swiss Electronics Mogul wasn’t much to look at, seemed to have no sense of humour, and spoke with a Swiss German accent. There is no less pleasant way to speak English. Though he seemed a decent sort, I hated him beyond my ability to express, as the thought of another man in my daughter’s life was nothing short of excruciating. One Sunday afternoon he drove down with Mommy, and parked across California Street in the parking lot of what has since become Trader Joe’s. As I watched the two of them walk back away with a delighted, relieved Brigitte between them, I was barely able to breathe for the pain of what I was witnessing.

No mere daggers, but machetes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

We Visit Mallorca!

In front of us in the jetway to the Thomson 737 in which we would fly to Mallorca was a young woman with one of those non-pictorial tattoos consisting only of text. Was it a favourite line from Shakespeare, or from the Bible, or from a Katy Perry song, or something one of the latter-day multimedia gurus — a Deepak Chopra, perhaps — had uttered on one of this appearances on Jimmy Kimmel’s show. We couldn’t make out what it said, as it was mostly obscured by her blouse, but were pretty sure it didn’t say, “Do not resuscitat” or “This space for rent”.

We couldn’t really understand why the young women hadn’t gotten it on her chest, or down one of her lovely arms. It wasn’t backward, so she wouldn’t have been able to read it in a mirror even if she’d been Linda Blair, circa 1973, and she demonstrably was not. If the idea of it was to reassure or enlighten another, was she not sabotaging herself wearing anything other than a halter top? Thus, it was in a state of minor (as in forgotten before we’d even reached our seats, and we were in the first row behind the cockpit) befuddlement that we began our annual October holiday.

Why do we holiday in October? Because, with chilly weather right around the corner, resorts drop their prices almost out of sight of where they were in midsummer. The problem being that sometimes the chilly weather beats us to a particular destination, and we wind up, as we did in Sharm el-Sheikh five years ago, spending most of our holiday huddled under blankets, watching the same nine news clips on BBC and CNN over and over until we’re able to narrate them along with the announcers.

The problem with places like Alcudia, the Mallorcan neck-of-the-woods where we were bivouacked, is that there’s hardly a trace of anything real. The streets are lined with souvenir stores selling brightly coloured plastic crap and restaurants called, for instance, Old West Tex Mex Steakhouse. (Which, I’ll grant you, is a big step up from those offering Full English Breakfast to those who can’t go eight mornings in succession without gorging on the flesh of murdered pigs.)

That said, I’m not sure that I dislike the plastic crap emporia more than I did those parts of Palma’s gorgeous Old Town lined with boutiques selling tasteful, overpriced designer crap bearing the logoes of all the usual suspects — Hugo Boss, Donna Karan, Emporio Armani, et al. I could never love anyone proud to wear a designer logo.

On our second day, we signed up for a tour called Western Encounter, only to be left behind at our first stop, the beautiful, tragic (because it exists only for tourism) mountain town of Valdemossa, in which Fred Chopin was said to have come from Poland in hopes of his consumption getting better. The tour guide said we would meet back where we disembarked the bus at 11:30. We were of course there at 11:25, as we’re that sort of person. There was no trace of our bus, the tour guide, or any of the misshapen old folks (most probably younger than your correspondent) with whom we’d ridden up from Alcudiam and we felt as though in an episode of The Twilight Zone. We finally managed to get home six hours later, after the bus we boarded in Porto de Soller managed not to hit any of the 25,000 cyclists who seemed so intent on slowing our progress through the mountains.

I will confess that, while in Valdemossa, the pretty decorative letter and number tiles for sale in every shop inspired me to propose that we name our little house (as many Brits do), and buy the pretty tiles to spell out its name on our front door. But Dame Zelda thought Slime Is the Agony of Water — Jean-Paul Sartre unwieldy, and at 1.30€ per tile, it was going to take a bite out of our lunch budget, so we sadly reconciled ourselves to continuing to think of our house simply as 49.