Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Today's Rave: Random Stories

My boss has a gift for storytelling, and he hones his craft by telling stories about himself, the same ones over and over and over again.  I am so lucky and happy to have this job that I don't mind one bit.  "You know, years ago," he'll begin.  His remarks are always a valuable lesson in business or human nature or how to be a mensch.  Often he'll preface them with something like "You know, years ago, when I first started this practice . . ." or "It was November of 1963  . . . " and off we go.

You know those word ladder puzzles where you change one letter at a time to turn one word into another word?  My boss plays a similar game with ideas, even though he doesn't realize it.    He begins with one thought, and little by little, with no real conscious understanding of what he is doing, ends up somewhere else.  And by "somewhere else," I mean "light years away from where he started."  

We are in a staff meeting to discuss the progress of various audits.  My boss looks at the agenda and notices that we will be discussing the Smith case.  The file number is 1812.   He inhales deeply and leans back in his chair.   He matches up the fingertips of each hand and brings them to his lips.  Looking at the ceiling and then off to the corner of the room, he is lost in thought.  I check my watch.

"1812, 1812.  Yes.  Isn’t that interesting.  That reminds me of history class my sophomore year in high school.   The War of 1812.   Do you like classical music?  You ever hear that piece?  I think it's Tchaikovsky.  Or is it Stravinsky?   No.  <long pause>  Stravinsky wrote 'The Firebird.'  I think that's a ballet.  I don't know anything about ballet.  <long pause>  I hate ballet. "

(I nod with understanding.  It's not for everyone.)

"Where was I?  

(I point to the client file.  Staff meeting.  Case status.)

"Right.  The War of 1812 Overture?  The one where the cannons go off.  What was up with that?  Anyway, I heard this piece once at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium.  Back in the day.  You know, years ago, they used to have classical music concerts.  God.  This would have been--wait, how old are you?"

(I dutifully tell him.  For the third time.  Today.)  

"Right.  Well, this would have been the year you were born. 1963.  I was in middle school.  And my school, Herbert Hoover Middle School, you know it?  This was back when it was still called 'Junior High.'  Stop me if I've told you this before."

(I would never.)

"In any event.  See what I did there?"

(So proud.   I taught him that.)

"We were kids in junior high--excuse me--middle school.  Whatever.   And we would come downtown for these events the Symphony would do, Concerts for Kids."

(I try to contribute to the narrative.)  "They still have those, my kids go all the time."

Undeterred, he continues.

"Years ago, God, I guess it would be . . . . <very long pause>  . . . .  I guess twenty years now.  Has it really been twenty years?  There was this promoter by the name of Bill Graham.  Big deal in the music industry, brought lots of bands to San Francisco, worked almost exclusively with the Grateful Dead.  You know that band?"

(Yes.  Vaguely familiar.)

"Yeah, I remember when I saw them at the Cow Palace.  What a great name for a concert venue, huh?  The Cow Palace?  Remind me to tell you the story behind that one some time."

(Mental note.)

"So this was in  . . .  <longest pause so far>  . . .  1970.  Forty years ago. More.”

He stops and smiles wistfully.  Helplessly.  "Long time ago, huh."

I smile too.  Encouragingly.  But I can't resist the impulse and I tap my watch with my pencil.  Ever so slightly.   Tick-tock.

He continues to smile.  And looks down at the files in front of him.
"Okay.  I guess we should get started."  

I have hurt his feelings.   I want to make it right.  Before I turn to my spreadsheet, amid the rustling of papers,  I ask him, “What should we do about lunch?”  He smiles and waves his hand airily.  “Let’s get some sandwiches and go over some stuff.”  I nod.  He’s appeased.  More stories at noon.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Pomp and Circumstance

She hadn’t known she would be getting an award.   “Mom, I got an invitation, but idk what’s really going to happen.”  She says the letters. Eye. Dee.  Kay. I want to jump up and throw my arms around her when she does that.   Because she knows it’s funny.  My kids are so cool.  You’re probably going to say it’s because they have a mom like me.  But you’d be wrong.  It’s because my kids are so cool that I even stand a chance.  

Even though she is reluctant to have me there, I go anyway.  I know she must be winning some kind of award or she wouldn’t have gotten an invitation.  When she does, she will feel sheepish that she told us not to come.  

The Senior Awards Night event is being held in the theater.  I wait in my car until after almost everyone has gone in.  If I slip in late, I don’t have to sit alone waiting for it to start.   I will stand in the back. Happy just to stand there. Not taking up a seat.  Easy escape if necessary.  All the way at the back means there is no one behind me.  I take up no space and no one sees me.  There is nothing to see.  I am not here.

I might get through this after all.  The ceremony continues, award after award is announced and bestowed.  The degree of mawkishness varies.  The severity of my scorn ebbs and flows.  The lacrosse scholarship gets visible lip curling.  The first in his family to go to college gets a nod of respect.  Past and present are swirling together.  I got lots of awards in high school.  National Merit Finalist.  Outstanding Achievement in Music and Theatre.  But it’s not about me now.  It’s about my daughter.  Who has gotten here through her own choices.  What she valued.  No one else’s expectation of her.  Except that she please herself and do her best in equal measure.  That’s what we’ve always said.   Sometimes I envy her for the way she is being raised.   Is that irony?  I'm never sure.


“You’ll be fine.  Really.  You will get through this and then you can go home and have an enormous drink.  And chat with me. You are going to be fine.”  

She reads the text surreptitiously.  This is the part she had been dreading.   The graduation ceremony is not in the theatre.  It’s on the football field.  There is no wall to back up to, no sneaking in late, there are no lights to dim.  It’s the other parents she wants to avoid.  Always comparing herself to them, finding herself lacking.  Turning that inadequacy into scorn.   Easy to do from the safety of her car.  But now it’s time to get the mask on, time to nod and smile.  She used to be good at this, working a room, mingling, small talk.  But as she’s gotten older, she’s drawn herself inward.  The inner voice she used to try to shake off, to drink away--she doesn’t tap dance for it any more.  She listens to it, and that voice is calling bullshit.

“Okay.  But will you text me?  Maybe around 6:20? 

“I don’t know if I can, babe, but I’ll try.”

Okay.  At least someone out there knows what she’s up against.  Strangely comforting that someone she doesn’t really know is out there to help her.  Better than trying to rely on those around her.  Even if she could get their attention across this chasm, even if she wanted to, she’s pretty sure they wouldn’t understand.

They are not late, but not early enough to get a good seat.  She spies a row of clearly empty chairs.  Not about to play the awkward “is this seat taken” dance.  Of course the seat is taken, dear.  We were smart enough to get here early.  Rules like “no saving seats” don’t apply to us.  She settles in and tries not to look around.    Busily begins to peruse the program.  Her phone buzzes vigorously in her hand.  Her blogging buddy.  He jokes with her the whole way through Pomp and Circumstance.  Elgar's Earworm.  She remembers made up lyrics from long ago.  My reindeer fly sideways, your reindeer fly upside down.  She stifles a giggle and opens the next message.  Suggestive phrases that make her smile.  Industriously, she texts her replies.  She realizes that she has missed the excruciating opening remarks and gotten halfway through the diplomas.  Why didn’t she know about this decades ago?  She looks at her phone and reads.  Hold the phone in your lap and I’ll text you at random intervals.  Call me and let it ring, she replies.  She used to chide the kids for this.  No texting at the table.  But Oh Em Gee, she thinks.  This is awesomesauce.

She looks up suddenly to see that the ceremony has concluded.  People begin to mill around, looking for their graduates, stopping to hug and shake hands. People she has known for decades now seem unfamiliar and hostile.  She strides off purposefully, looking into the middle distance, pretending to be on a mission to find someone who doesn’t exist. Stopping at the goal post, she looks at her phone again.  This time she is reaching out to a real person.  She wants to see her daughter, her graduate, the reason she has sucked it up and done visualization and doubled up on her meds and texted her way through the ceremony.  

“Where are you?”

“I’m with Kelsey and her mom.  Look for the huge sign her boyfriend is holding.”

Almost done now.  A few arduous photos where the tension of this ordeal will play on her face despite her attempts to relax and smile.  A few more hugs and handshakes.  Deflecting the questions about work and life.  Mutely nodding at the insistent reminder that they must get together soon.  Almost done.  Like the dentist says right before he drills for another quarter hour.  

With relief, she sees that they are back at the car.  Going on rote must have blocked out that last few minutes.  The graduates have left for an evening of festivities.  Her son and daughter are eager to go out to eat.  Her husband wants to get home to catch up on the ball game.  Thank god for DVRs.  She starts the car.  “I thought that was very nicely done,” she says.  Mentally pats herself on the head.  And the phone in her purse.  Is that irony?  She is never sure.


I hear stirring at my daughter’s door.  God bless her, she just got up. The school has an all-night party for the graduates and they stay out till 5 am. It's to keep them from going out drinking and driving after graduation. The side benefit for me is that I neither have to throw nor attend a party of my own.  Ell Oh Ell.

Just listening to her talk about the party is energizing. She has such an engaging way about her when she tells stories. Her laugh is infectious. I keep tearing up and blaming it on allergies. But she is too intuitive for that. She watches me try to shake it off and smiles ruefully at me.

I sit with her and watch her eat. She tells a hilarious story of the hypnotist's show that was part of the evening's entertainment. I try to soak up as much of her as I can. I had been anxious and agitated all day. Sometimes Klonopin has a wicked backfire. But then she got up and made herself eggs florentine for breakfast at four in the afternoon.  She set herself down in the middle of everything and told her stories and wove grace throughout the house.  I relaxed for the first time in 24 hours.

There is an open house tonight, given by a friend's parents. We are meant to attend in the loose way that open house invitations are issued. Bless her, she knows before I even prepare what I am going to say. "I know, Mom, it's okay."

And I say "If it were really important to you, I would suck it up and figure out a way to go and I would enjoy it. If you really want me to. Please tell me and I will."

And she said, "No. Mom. It's not that big a deal. I don't even know who else's parents are going. Maybe no one. I'm not worried about it."  And she looked at me with benevolent understanding. I guess I taught her that much. The child mothering the mother.  Is that irony?  I'm never sure.