Tuesday, October 10

Vignettes

I. Journeys: One of the things I love about road trips is imagining, at every point along the trip, what life must be like for the people living there. We passed through several mid-sized cities, a couple of big cities, and countless little podunk nowheres on our way to Florida. I think about my time growing up in a tiny town and how we had to drive at least 30 minutes to go to the grocery or to school or to anything, and how the remoteness shaped my attitudes toward country and city living. And I wonder if it's exactly the same for people living in remote, podunk parts of Alabama and Georgia. What do they do? What are their dreams? Do they watch the same awful television and root for their local high school football teams? Do they have misfits who want to run away? Do they take blurry photos of their pets and the way the light filters through the trees on their street? Do they resent people living in cities for being uppity? Do they wonder about podunk living in Tennessee?

It's surreal, coasting along an interstate and peeking over the treetops and seeing roofs and yards and cars parked nearby. Who's in that house, and what's he doing? Is he sitting there, scratching his elbow, munching on roasted peanuts, watching a game show rerun from the '70s while dreading going to the dentist tomorrow? What gives his life meaning? Where will his journey take him?

All my life I've thrived on the notion, true or not, that I'm different from everyone else around where I grew up. Implicit in that assumption is the idea that my differences make me better. It has been a tough and interesting process figuring out that that's absolutely untrue. My life has no more or less meaning than anyone else's. I've made choices that have taken me out of my hometown and away from a lot of things I think would have been toxic for me, but I'm not nearly as far away as I'd hoped I'd be by now. And the rub? I'm not sure I'll ever be able to move far away and leave my hometown totally in my past. There are places I want to go, and they are far, far away. But the people I love are too strong a tether. I don't want to have to rely on planes and multi-day roadtrips to see my family. But I constantly wonder if that's just an inevitable part of the path I've chosen.

My journey has brought me here, to a point where I'm obssessed with meaning and wondering if it's life's great red herring or what. And what a ridiculous luxury to be able to think about the meaning of things. There are people who are so busy trying to survive that meaning barely factors in. I recognize the irony. But again, it's paradoxes like that that really make me love the idea of journeys and how they are all so special and unique, even if they're ordinary and boring and unremarkable. Like mine and everyone else's. Our journeys shape our worldview, and our worldview shapes our journeys. There is no meaning without context, no context without meaning. Everything that is is for a reason.

My challenge is to accept that everyone's journey is different and meaningful.

We all make impossible choices. We all screw up and put people out on a limb for us.

We're all traveling somewhere.

III. Secrets: My grandmother -- my last living one, if you're counting -- told me some family secrets Thursday. She is a historian and has been involved in the publishing of several local history books, and she has self-published some family history books too. She told me that my great-grandfather had a younger brother that he accidentally killed with a baseball. Grandaddy was 18 or so and his brother was 8 when the accident happened. Grandaddy always did have quite a pitching arm. The family practically covered up the existence of this child after his death, and no one was allowed to speak of him. Thursday was the first day I had ever heard of him. Thursday was also the day Grandmaw told me that my great-grandmother's father had fathered an illegitimate child with a woman in town, so we are related to a family that my great-grandmother always hated and considered white trash. I also learned that my great-grandmother's father probably died of syphilis instead of typhoid, as everyone was told.

II. Differences: My sister has blonde hair and blue eyes. She is unbelievably manic and outgoing. Just like my dad, she will strike up a conversation with anyone within shouting distance and exchange life stories within ten minutes. She hates silence and fills it with whatever words she can find: From road signs, songs, funny-sounding phrases. She calls her husband every two hours or so. She makes sudden loud movements and noises to get everyone's attention. She is silly. She will make a stink to get her way. I am sullen, quiet. Prone to staring out the window. I make people mistake my contemplativeness for melancholy. I don't talk to strangers. I enjoy silence. I will let people run over me.

We were raised in the same house, by the same people.

So weird.

III. Country music: I generally hate country music, but I can make exceptions when hanging out with the family. When we're in their element, I don't mind sitting through a few country videos or a few rounds of country radio. It's actually sort of entertaining because it's new to me, and -- despite what I said up there about all journeys being meaningful -- I get a good laugh out of a lot of it. Yeah, I'm a jerk.

Sitting at my sister's house before embarking Thursday, a Kenny Chesney video came on. My sister's husband said, "There's old homo! I can't believe it, he's hugging a woman!" And, my tongue resting between my teeth, I started wondering just how long it would be before country music gets its first gay superstar. I mean, it's inevitable, isn't it? I'm just curious who it'll be. (I suppose it's possible that it's already happened and I missed it.)

IV: Jews: One of the nephews -- I won't name which -- non-sequitered during the car ride down to Florida: "I don't like Jews." Which obviously took me aback, but also made me chuckle a little (that sounds bad, but I have a dark sense of humor), because I didn't realize that anti-Semitism had taken hold in my hometown; our racism tends to skew based on skin color. So I asked him if he even knew what a Jew was, and he said no. Which is kind of a relief, I guess. Because he was obviously just parroting something he'd either heard on TV or from some ignorant moron at school. Or at home, which is even more depressing. So the other nephew chimes in with a definition of "Jew": Someone who's from Israel who Hitler wanted to kill. So I launch into my stock tolerance speech, wherein I explain that it's wrong to hate people or treat them badly based on the color of their skin or their religion or where they're from. (We haven't gotten to the anti-homophobia speech yet.)

V. Divine Comedy: We were getting ready for bed Thursday night at our cheap motel, and I managed to find "The Daily Show" on the TV. Patrick said he didn't like that show -- or "The Colbert Report" -- because they made fun of God. Sunday we were prowling through a $1.99 store, looking for cheap crap, when Casey came to show me the rubber ID bracelet he planned to purchase. It said "Jesus." He said he couldn't find his name, so he decided to get Jesus instead.

VI. TV: My sister won't let the nephews watch Aqua Teen Hungerforce, but they are allowed to watch that idiotic "Yo Mama" show. All weekend they offered up "your mama" jokes to me, all preceded by a caveat: "This is not about Grammy (my mom), but your mama's so fat, she didn't cut the cheese, she ate it!!!"

VII. Skittles: Casey has a small bag of Skittles and he has offered to share them with his mom. He holds one out. She opens her mouth and he feeds it to her. She bites his fingers and laughs. He shakes his hand and says ouch, laughing. She wants another, but she won't take it from him unless he feeds it to her. She bites him again. They laugh. Her smile is so real and sweet and funny and the way she looks at her son and the way he looks back is so amazing. Casey tries to feed her another Skittle but it drops on the floor when she goes to bite it. More un-self-conscious giggling. Moments like these, I think it'd be great to have a kid to share silliness with.

VIII. Clouds: Leaving Atlanta, going west on I-20 toward Birmingham, the sky is impossibly blue and the clouds are thick as steaks, floating immobile. Sights like this make me wish that I could paint because I would paint nothing but clouds. I watch the planes taxi overhead and think, There are worse ways to spend the day than soaking up the sun, tripping on Benadryl, watching the sky.

IX. Road Rage: I-65 North, just out of Birmingham, we slow to a crawl and then a stop -- creeping for more than an hour in a huge traffic jam. Going five miles takes more than sixty minutes. We are more than halfway home and I am sick as a dog and we are grumpy and cramped and ready to get home and into our own beds. After we pass the ostensible cause for the jam -- which was construction work being done to a RAMP, not even the interstate itself, so why did they have us all merge into the right lane? -- my sister goes heavy on the gas and starts cursing everyone around her and willing them to get out of her way. We are in the fast lane, doing 74, passing an 18-wheeler, when some large truck barrels up behind us and impatiently starts flashing its lights at us. (This is apparently the custom in Alabama when you want someone to get out of your way. To all Alabama drivers: EAT ME.) We continue passing the 18-wheeler and move to the right lane. As the truck passes us, my sister says, "This is not the greatest education for my children, but..." and she flips the truck a big, fat bird. The truck cuts us off and puts on its brakes right in front of us. My sister starts flashing her brights off and on at the truck's backside. I plead with her to chill out, as my head is throbbing and stressing out about some jerkface Alabama driver isn't going to help us get home any faster.

The Recap: It is 10 or so when we pull into my parents' driveway. I dart out of the car and into the house, loping in my doped-up state toward the bathroom for that delectable post-trip piss. When I come back outside to get my bags, I find my sister and nephews regaling my mom with trip tales about sharks and cyborgs and dinosaurs and superheroes, and we slowly load up our arms and make our way inside, where we sit at the kitchen table and I watch and listen as the kids -- who'd been asleep just half an hour before -- are wide-eyed, busy spinning our shared experiences into stories for the people who hadn't been there.

And that's, I think, what I wanted to give them the most. The stories.

3 Comments:

Blogger TVonthefritz said...

"Sitting at my sister's house before embarking Thursday, a Kenny Chesney video came on. My sister's husband said, "There's old homo! I can't believe it, he's hugging a woman!" And, my tongue resting between my teeth, I started wondering just how long it would be before country music gets its first gay superstar. I mean, it's inevitable, isn't it? I'm just curious who it'll be. (I suppose it's possible that it's already happened and I missed it.)"

I know of a certain country music singer who likes getting sucked off in gym locker rooms. Details at 11. And don't fret, too badly. Back when Cleve Francis had videoes on CMT, my uncle would go, "there's old nigger." God bless his heart.

Wed Oct 11, 12:51:00 AM  
Blogger TVonthefritz said...

No wonder your blog is award-winning. You're an inspiration to us all. You're like Toni Morrison, only whiter and more pissed off.

Wed Oct 11, 12:56:00 AM  
Blogger theogeo said...

Fritz, thanks! Now spill. It's Tim McGraw, isn't it? Oooh, or Darryl Worley, the dude from my hometown? Please say it's so!

Wed Oct 11, 10:20:00 PM  

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