my parents have come to new york to visit me.
this is an interesting moment. frankly, there hasn't been a time when i was actually alone with my parents--just the three of us--when they've made one of these visits. in most cases, i'd travel to somewhere other than home to see them. and, for the most part, this other place was one of my siblings' current place of residence. that said, there was always company involved in any long-distance parental consultation. even still, for the last three years, coming to new york to visit meant visiting me and my sister (she recently moved). so, to get down to it: i've always had a buffer zone. by the transitive property, that also means that for most of my semi-adult life (if you can even venture to call it that), it's never been 'just the three of us.'
and that pretty much brings us to up to right about four hours prior to now.
here we are.
at this very moment, my parents are on an official visit here--to new york--on business from the familial consulate back in the Homeland. this single visit could have ramifications that echo in the eternity of reunions, reminiscing, and any awkward silent moment shared among family members... because we all know that everyone fills space with gossip.
that means you.
and, by 'you', i mean me.
that means, as an ambassador to this delegation, i must act like a statesman. And so, there is to be no awkward silence. Yet, inevitably, every now and again these conversational black holes manage to suck all the words right out of peoples' brains until they're left staring blankly at one another, which just makes everyone feel weird. Thus it follows that there must be a contingency plan for when such a moment does indeed arrive. Contingency plan: fill aforementioned awkward silence.*
*all parent-worthy 'filler' must be 100% natural. gossip-free.
what in the world do i have to say? current events: jon-benet ramsey, israel, and beirut. not your typical uplifting, witty-yet-appropriate small talk. you don't just have a chit-chat about missiles landing in haifa or dirty men in bangkok. that stuff only puts a sour taste in your mouth. that's what we call a Dinner Killer. i've got useless facts: water is most dense at around 4 degrees celsius, toilet bowls flush the other way around in the southern hemisphere, eggs are really really hard to crush if you try to squeeze them from their top and bottom most points. but that's all pretty much crap, which, when measured on the conversation scale, is well below 'gossip.' and so yields a 'negative, Ghostrider." after all that, i got nothing. i'm screwed.
well, this mental tail-spin starts to kick in right about the time we sit down for dinner. up until this point, there has been meaningful--but expected--conversation. things like:
'how are you?" or,
'how was your day?", or maybe
'what's goin on these days?" or perhaps even
'did you get that thing at that place like you were saying you wanted to do the last time we talked?'
in reality, it was all of those and a few more that were equally uninteresting/less-than-crucial. nonetheless, it's nice to share those details, especially with loved ones. at this point i'm thinking, "so far so good," conversation has been flowing well for a good...oh...say....17 minutes. about the time it took to meet them at the hotel and share a cab to the restaurant. mind you this has been intense one on one time; full parental focus. lockdown.
now, i freeze. two thoughts were developing simultaneously: one was traveling linearly along the path of the general discussion, anticipating upcoming questions and comments and preparing the mind accordingly. the other was a bit more hurdy-gurdy, planting a seed of anxiousness that feeds upon the awareness of the inevitable Lull. if they leave the cerebral cortex at about the same time, when will these two thoughts collide? i'll tell you: 17 minutes.
faced with this pileup and an ever mounting heart rate, my brain begins to shut off all non-essential systems. i'll let you in on another gem: when defcon 5 jumps off in your head, cognition is about the third to go. first you wet yourself, then you realize you can't smell the urine in your pants, then you can't remember anything after that. if you're lucky, you might be able to rig a jumpstart and manage to reboot. one thing that has worked for me in the past is liquor
w: "hi guys, welcome to Z. would you like anything to dri--"
a: "vodka soda." stat.
moments later that sweet, sweet nectar--the very same libation responsible for some of my most infamous undoings--is politely gushing over my lips and rushing through the spaces between my teeth. ah, that bitter-semi-sweet blend of a tasty russian vodka, a judiciously applied amount of soda water, and the hint of a lightly squeezed lemon. the effect sends serotonin rushing to my upper most extremity. the light-bulb flickers back on.
it's sort of like that experiment your science teacher would show in seventh grade. you're all dissecting frogs, some are doing it more precisely than others. you've gotten past the goo that lines their bellies. then you see that tiny little stomach, some other odds and ends. then, before you go for the brain (you know you'll do it), you see it. right there between those tiny little lungs. it looks like a slightly overgrown caper, and you wonder at how that little thing is responsible for powering this slightly larger little thing. that's when you hear:
t: "everyone, come over to my dissection tray!" the class hazily complies. finally, you're all gathered round.
t: "remember when i told you that we all carried a charge? well, now i'll show you how we need electricity just like our clocks do." as he's speaking, the teacher places two little clamps--one on either side--on kermit. teach flips the switch. then, ZAP; the little guy starts working. he's brain dead, but he's working.
well, i wasn't brain dead, but it got me working again.
surprisingly, i didn't really need to worry about the Lull or filler. things managed to just sort of take care of themselves. we talked about our family, my siblings and their various newsworthy activities, a little about life, and then just told stories. my parents talked to me about some of their experiences growing up. some funny ones, but mostly inspiring ones. i did my best to counter with tales that seemed equally well-aged.
looking around, i realized that it wasn't just us at the kitchen table in our house as it had been so long ago. we were in a restaurant. we were in new york. and yet, oddly it felt like home. dad finishing mom's sentences. mom telling me to get my elbows 'off the table.' all of the endearing little habits and favorite turns-of-phrase found themselves right back where i had remembered them. having my parents around made everything feel like home.
and as such, home wouldn't be complete without an awkward yet sentimentally meaningful gift. for chanukah, i used to get a right-footed sock on one night, and a left-footed one on the other. sometimes, i'd get tic tacs or post-it notes. once i got a box of number 2 pencils, followed by a notepad the next night. and, of course, there was always the little case of thumbtacks packed in the deceptively huge box. all of these gifts were, in and of themselves, pretty meager. their purpose was more for humor than anything else...and we always had a pretty good laugh at them. so much so that when it came time to actually need one of those gifts, the use of it wasn't simply evocative of its utility; rather, its use became swaddled in the memory of what it had once occasioned.
my parents came to new york to visit me. they gave me a toothbrush.