Late for the Airport
The Cross Island Parkway
Our flight to San Francisco takes off in under an hour, but here we were, the three of us, bouncing along a foggy Cross Island Parkway with a stuffed trunk on route to John F. Kennedy Airport.
Eyes closed, I was half-asleep and sunk into the backseat like a full-grown baby. Maybe I was low on juju, no doubt blind to the grey sky, but at least mesmerized by the cadence of rubber tires thumping on asphalt. Since I was a kid, bumpy roads always knocked me out. And it didn't help that Danielle and I were up, almost all night, stuffing half-broken suitcases with who knows what. We were too wiped out to drive. Thankfully, Pearl offered one of her many motherly services.
"Maybe you can... hurry the fuck up?!" pleaded Danielle from her front-seat nap.
My wife was nervous. Her mother Pearl was rambling at the wheel again, distracted from the task at hand. Our timeline called for aggression - those kinds of maneuvers you'd see from basically any New York taxi driver - the slide, the swerve, the skid - the moves my grandfather pulled when rushing the lawyer, the kid, the soon-to-be president Nixon (true story), who was ten minutes late for a court hearing that one random summer day in 1960-something - but my mother-in-law? She was in no rush. She was on cruise control in the right lane at 49 miles per hour raving about Juneteenth and how the concept of time zones should be abolished.
Our giddy-ups and our soon-to-be forgotten words got sucked out the windows, sucked back to feed the roadside trees with a dose of anxiety.
The parkway really does sounds aggressive when you're right in the thick of it - the honks and the shouts, the cranked music and cracked engines, the cries of an ambulance and a mother after a Honda Civic pileup - but from just 500 feet away, where the three of us live together in perfect harmony, if you sit in the dog-piss backyard, close your eyes, and meditate from the red-and-white striped TJ Maxx lawn chairs, the nasty hissings of the Cross Island orchestra blend together into a white noise that can easily be mistaken for a peaceful river.
Our journey down this winding stream of frozen tar fell short on inspiration. It was littered with LED signs that blinked "COVID Tests Available." Under the grey sky was a Super 8 motel, covered in fake Venetian roof tiles, and swarming with unmasked rabbit-humans, recently woken from hibernation and looking to fuck anything with legs. Antennas, Mitsubishis, painted white lines, and lamp posts droned on by. Architects call this "junk space." It's that incoherent chatter between FM radio stations, neither music, nor silence.
But where Danielle and I were headed, up into the high mountains of north California, we'd find the real rivers, and lakes, and those beautiful forms we've only ever seen through computer wallpapers. We'd confirm if the hidden meadows on the backside of haunted Indian mountains exist! (And whether or not they're flooded with chakra-hungry panthers of the fifth dimension.) When legends and crooked geology scare developers from building casinos and tree houses, it creates a void, giving hotspot-pilgrims a taste of absolute silence, making their ears ring like a broken Intel processor, triggering an altitude-induced factory reset, making them vulnerable - defenseless from fresh visions that will assault their minds like machine-gun Twitter wisdom.
We're overdue for a vacation.
The Maze of Exit Ramps
Pulling in to the basin of JFK, we all sat up straight and cut the chit-chat and daydreaming. A bendy concrete maze lays ahead of us. We missed our morning ritual, but the fear hit us like a 200 milligram straight shot of caffeine. The three foot thick slabs, the weight of June heat, and the slick green signs littered with shapes and words in all tongues - these forces came together and sung a mystical yet raunchy energy vortex into existence, the kind you only find in the Tri-State area. It scrambles GPS signals and leaves drivers butt-naked, relying on Mapquest print-outs stuffed in glove compartments, or even worse, their primal instincts, which always grind down to whines and grunts and finger points that wiggle in the sun.
One wrong turn here and it's game over. Point blank, the dream's dead. If not California sunlight on park benches, then we're stuck in New York stench, looped back and piped in to our blue-light existence, where the edges between days melt together and the feeds never end (the feeds never end!). It was time to focus. It was time to tune our senses.
"You got this, Pearl?" With a straight face and the thickest New York accent you've ever heard, she confirmed. There's not a corner of a borough she hasn't seen.
So much of our mental bandwidth was tied up in squinting and sense-making, that none of us even registered the mysterious object that buzzed right past our windshield. It looked like a bird, but more like a plane without wings, made entirely of glass and graphite. Was it sleep deprivation? Centripetal force? The Holy other? Regardless, extra-terrestrial life, and even the idea of Contact itself, was insignificant compared to the miracle that we actually made it to the airport with a fighting chance.
The Sidewalk of Departures
From the outside at least, a post-pandemic Terminal 8 looked just the way it always did, with cars and taxis slammed to the curb, and stretched out arms of loved ones echoing departing words. Pearl jumped out for one last goodbye. ****I hugged her, told her I'd miss her, reminded her to walk Dobe, begged her not to re-arrange the furniture upstairs, and with a smile, pleaded her not to burn down the house again.
Pearl is a very sweet mother-in-law who believes in me, but she’s also a closeted arsonist.
Danielle and I often wake up to the smell of black eggs and the fire department knocking on our door. They know us on a first-name basis, and like me, they love Pearl's arugula salad. I don't bring this up often, but Pearl's been dealing with random and unpredictable episodes of amnesia since the start of the lockdown. We moved in just over a year ago and it's been a trip of a year. Believe it or not, the fires and the memory gaps are unrelated. Pearl's taken down her fair share of New York City real estate, far back into the 1980s (at least her best friends apartment). That's what I've heard based on family legends and fuzzy recollections. I've learned that when Amensia and Arsony come together in a single roommate, you live life on your toes, and every little errand turns into a game of Russian Roulette where you just never know.
Something hit me as I stood under the red, white, and blue American Airlines sign. This trip to San Francisco, this big adventure ahead, is the first time we're leaving Pearl alone for this long. Ten long days. It should be fine, but I've accepted that everything could be gone - the brick house from 1948, with the upstairs addition for the eventual newborn, and the original back patio with the jalousie windows, and all the things in the basement that channel old memories and spirits, like the Civil War furniture, the reels of ancient family history, the ten thousand rare cups, and dishes, and forks, and the teapots no one ever uses, not forgetting my childhood drum set packed up in boxes - it could all ignite, like a match in a California brushfire, as Pearle tends to the sunflowers in the backyard while Dobe sips probiotic lemonade from a rock bowl.
I've planned accordingly. All my gadgets and all my instruments are insured. My files live in Akashic cloud servers, probably somewhere in the Bay Area, guarded by Dobermans, vulnerable only to catastrophic sun flares. And my wealth? I parted ways with gold bars, and bonds, and under-mattress lunch money. My nest egg is fire-rated, in the form of 24 word cryptocurrency pass-phrases, like "bingo bongo polly wog pitter patter suck mucker sugar flute mountain frog golly bolly squeegie slug glowing pug latte glomo starch bang bang bang" - indecipherable and un-hackable non-sense is hand-inked onto duplicate sets of water resistant card-stock, and tucked away in Hickory trees scattered across the United States, nowhere near the Cross Island Parkway, with the hope that even Johnny Appleseed himself is permanently caught in a YouTube vortex.
This whole daydream of house fires and crypto-babble happened in the course of a hug.
Danielle gives long amazing hugs that freeze time and delay flights. That was my first impression of her, back when we met in that renovated horse stable called Education Hall. I remember wondering, way early on, what it would be like to have her as my wife. Danielle and Pearl's hug lasted a long peaceful moment, before the eastern sun rose and shooed us, on our way, off the sidewalk, to the center of a metal bird, that would hurl across the plains, over the Bay, and just short of the Pacific Ocean, where we were hoping to rediscover what it's like to really live again.