Monday, June 25, 2012

What I've Been Doing for the Last Few Months

I haven't written here since March.  This is because Robert and I were away for several weeks and I've been writing about our trip, hoping to end up with a book.
For many years, Robert wanted to ride his bicycle across the country, and we decided that this year--the year he turns 60--would be a good time to do it.  I was, by turns, excited about the trip (which I would make by car, acting as the slag wagon) and anxious about leaving my 92-year-old mother--newly diagnosed with dementia--behind.
What ended up happening was that 1) Robert succeeded in riding his bike through (most of) the country, and 2) I booked motels and helped plan routes and drove back roads looking for him when his tires blew and worried about my mother.
The book that is currently taking shape is part-memoir and part-travelogue.  It is also pretty personal, which is hard for me.  I've never written anything like this before.  Its working title is: Complicated Journeys: A Cross-Country Road Trip and Thirty-Three Memories of My Mother.
I thought I'd post a few excerpts:

Day 5

Quartzsite is just over the California/Arizona border, about twenty miles east of Blythe.  There is no denying the assumption that the people who live in Quartzsite think Blythe has too much going on and are opting for a less stimulating way of life.  The gentlemen who checked me in to the Super 8 Motel are non-natives: one is from Hong Kong, the other from Vancouver.  In Hong Kong, they tell me, they hated the crowds; in Vancouver, one of them was robbed.  With high gas prices, they are struggling to keep their motel afloat.  Many of the bicyclists who usually stay there have taken to camping as they inch across the country.  The man from Hong Kong looked aggrieved as he told me that he tried to phone the tour group that manages such trips, but no one would take his call.
Robert arrived around noon, ready to give up for the day after only three hours.  A slow, insidious incline and punishing heat took their toll.  He sat in the bathtub for half an hour, listening to the semis out on the Interstate.
I took a lot of car trips with my parents when I was a kid.  We drove to Carmel a couple of times a year, to Los Angeles occasionally, to Santa Barbara and the Grand Canyon and Tahoe and the Feather River.  My father loved to drive.  My mother loved the break in routine.  They both loved to listen to classical music on the radio, eat fast food (which they never did at home), and stay in motels.  My father was a doctor, but my parents traveled like people who had to watch their money.  It didn’t occur to them to do it any other way.
My mother complains a lot about her marriage, which ended in 1977 when my father died of a brain tumor at the age of 53.  She says mean things about him which may or may not be true.  When she says them to me, I tell her to stop.  It doesn’t seem fair to me that he isn’t around to defend himself.  He was a difficult, angry guy, but I loved him a lot.  I know my mother doesn’t remember about the car trips or hanging out in the kitchen drinking martinis once a week or how he called her “Dear.”  When I have tried to remind her, she has taken it as license to regale me with grievances, so I no longer bother.

Robert and I drove through town in the early afternoon.  It was 111 degrees.  We bought candied grapefruit at Daniel’s Jerky Store and took a brief walk through the Hi-Jolly Cemetery, where a plaque commemorates Hi-Jolly, born Hadji Ali in Syria in the 1830s, charged in 1856 with managing a herd of camels imported to assist in the building of a trans-Arizona roadway.  The federal government abandoned the project after some years, but for many years after, wild camels roamed the area. That is something I would have liked to see.
At lunch, reading the local newspaper, we saw an ad for a used-book store at the end of town, past the Family Dollar store.  I was sure it wouldn’t be open on a Sunday, but I was wrong.  Reader’s Oasis Book Store was open and patrons were poring through books on a “Free” table set up in the parking lot.  I joined them and immediately found a book called The English Scene, published in 1940 by The American Book Company, previously the property of School District #40, Yamhill, Oregon.  The book is a textbook, presenting “a general view of England and the English as seen through their own literature.”  Sometimes, something just screams your name.
I was marveling at this when the proprietor of the store emerged.  He was as tan as old leather, slender, with a graying ponytail extending down his back.  He was also completely naked, except for a black sock that he was not wearing on his foot. “Hey, can I smoke in there?” a traditionally clothed, middle-aged man clambering out of his car asked, and Naked Book Store Guy said, “Sure, ‘cause this isn’t really a building.  There’s no roof on it.”  He turned away from us to escort the smoker into the-building-that-wasn’t-a-building.  The cheeks of his ass drooped like coin purses full of pennies.
I wanted to look through more books, but the smoke put Robert and me off.  I went into the store briefly and handed Naked Book Store Guy a few dollars.  “It was on the “Free” table, but I had to give you something, because this is just fantastic,” I said.  He thanked me, but I don’t think he really knew what I meant.
We went to dinner at the Quartzsite Yacht Club, which is the only yacht club in the world built nowhere in the vicinity of a body of water.  It’s a bar with decent pub food and a dance floor and pool tables.  We asked the bartender about Naked Book Store Guy.  It turns out he is rather renowned.  His name is Paul Winer and, according to the bartender, he used to teach at “a big college in Connecticut.”  “Why did he move here?” Robert asked, and the bartender said, “To get as far away from Connecticut as possible.”  She said he is one of the loveliest people imaginable, and that he doesn’t mind wearing shorts in local restaurants.
Paul Winer has made me love this town.  It was 111 degrees here today, and I didn’t even care.  Paul Winer gives me hope for the human race.  Not because he’s a nudist, but because he’s himself, and people you’d think might object are perfectly fine about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment