- Ted & Debbie (Photographers)
As we manuver around curves in the roads visited only once a year we pull into our campsite that at this point seems like home. Everyone knows what to bring and where to set up their tents. Some faces are missing because of lifes responsibilities. I’m feeling those commitments and pressures even more this year but know this trip is important. I don’t know what else to say, but there’s a feeling when the wind blows through our campsite and everyone who is busying themselves with backgammon, bow and arrow making, tidying up, playing music, or relaxing, and we all look at the trees together and feel happy.
Time stops or at least slows down a bit when you pull off to the side of the road. In this case time goes backwards to a place where there were no sidewalks, stickers that you sent away for and cars that fit in the palm of your hand.
I’m up early to catch a flight to Miami. I can’t tell you how many worn Doug fir steps there are as I walk upstairs. In the dark my barefooted toes grasp and cradle their well-rounded nose like I’m hanging 5. The upstairs where the boys sleep is a mess. It reminds me a plane crash site littered with clothing, books, Legos and electronic debris. There’s more memory, data and power in their bedroom to rival the early Apollo program.
The air is heavy with sleep. I hug and kiss each of my boys and whisper I love you and listen to mom into their ears. I get to Henry who’s 14 going on 15 and sleeps in our old king size bed. It’s actually Sam’s bed but he’s away at college. I go to my old side of the bed and stretch over to where Henry is sleeping. He’s sweating while I give him a hug and we give each other a weird high-five knuckle handshake. I tell him not to worry about school and that everything will be okay.
I think of myself at 14, learning how to surf, listening to music that I’m still listening to today and the Miami Dolphins.
I’m sitting in the new Marlin Park on the former site of the Orange Bowl watching 2 teams I care nothing about but loving the sport. I think about my team, The Dodgers, about wins and loses – it doesn’t really matter. I remember sitting in this very place during a Monday Night Football game Uncle Bob took me to. We parked on the lawn in front of someone’s house. – The Dolphins playing the Benagals or the Bears. A time warp hits me like this Mojito I just slurped down like an Icee from the 7-11 on Oakland Park Blvd.
On the plane I’m listening to Dylan, blending the spirit and the real world together like nobody else can ever do.
Henry who is just 14 but looks a lot older. I try to catch myself using the word “just”- it diminishes it keeps it small but really he’s just 14. May You Stay Forever Young.
I’m in Ojai with Henry with some of his Pali High tennis team members and coach. We’re staying at the Hummingbird Inn room #1. My newly washed car is parked 12 feet from where I’m writing this. Henry lost in the 1st round yesterday. As he was walking on the court before the match he turned around and told me sheepishly, “Dad, I kinda don’t want you watching my match today.” I said no problem, drove away and treated my Volvo to the best car wash this side of the Mississippi.
I drive back to Henry’s match. In the parking lot his coach and 2 team members are watching Henry play. I know he split sets 0-6, 6-3, I got a text at the car wash. He’s hitting the ball well and moving around the court with the air of a winner. His opponent is talking to himself and whacking the ball into the backstop after a blown shot. I ask one of his team mates what the score is and he says, “I don’t know, we just got here.” His coach yells to Henry while holding up his hands and wagging his fingers in sort of a universal “What’s the score?” sign language. Henry holds up 2 fingers then 5 fingers. He’s losing and his opponent is now serving for the match. Game over, they shake hands and Henry comes over to us. He’s not upset. He says he played a really good match. His coach tells him that this is the best he’s ever seen him play, you seem to be getting used to your new strings and considering the kids higher ranking…
Coach says it’s time for the best burritos in California. Henry tries to sit in the back seat of my car, something he always does when he doesn’t want to talk. I tell him to get up front; you’re bigger then me. He sits next to me and asks, “Hey dad, did you get your car washed?”
Later that night, Henry is in bed. He has ESPN turned down low on the t.v, just how I like it. We hear a chirping sound coming from the bathroom. He asks me what that sound is. I tell him it’s a cricket. “How do they make that sound?” he asks. “With their legs I think.” I’m basing my answer from ‘A Cricket in Times Square and Pinocchio. We say goodnight and go to sleep to it’s song. In the morning, it’s leaf blower day here at the Hummingbird, next to the desk on the floor in our room I look down and see a cricket with one leg. His other leg is next to him but he’s still alive. I think of the cricket from last night and how can I help him now. How did he lose his leg? I take his picture and gently pick him up and put him in a safe place behind my surfboard propped in the corner.
Dinner is over. There’s confusion about clearing the table, doing the dishes, taking out the trash, covering the fish so the raccoons don’t eat them, doing the counters and sweeping the floors. The arguing takes more time then the actual chores. Simon asks Debbie, “when you die can I have your jewelry?” He wants to keep them in a box to remember her by. There’s was something so sweet, honest but brutal in his question.
Silently, Sam walks in the front door. He’s been playing tennis and he smells. His spring break from Grinnell is almost over. His visits have been almost ghostlike, appearing and disappearing at times in Jacob Marley fashion as he jingles my Volvo keys and puts them on top of the green cabinet. I’m envious of his recent hauntings of coffee shops, record stores and restaurants. I wasn’t prepared for how much I was going to miss Sam when he went off to college and having him back for this break sometimes makes me stop and think to myself “are you really here?” There’s a sense of dread as the day he has to go back to college approaches.
On the way to the airport, we talk about surfing baseball and coffee. I ask him if the front breaks were squeaking when he drove the car yesterday. He says, “no, not really.” It’s small talk but really part of the bigger picture. His leaving creates an imbalance and emptiness inside of me that’s hard to pinpoint. It’s like losing a limb but seeing that limb hanging out of the window of a car going by in the opposite direction on the freeway.