Monday, October 5, 2009

I Want to Curl Up into a Memory

Every time my parents fight, I think back to all the times they've previously done so, and at times, it's a blur. There are specific jagged-glass moments I remember, explosive verbal sparring and loud voices that I was sure would not end well. But in these latest fights, at the end of last week and last Sunday morning, I've thought more about a moment in 2005, when my mom, my sister Meridith and I went to the Paseo Colorado shopping center in Pasadena while my dad went to some meeting related to his work, though how it related has long faded from my memory. We went to Gelson's, which there at least was a relatively tiny, yet significantly-priced supermarket, to get some things for lunch (The Gelson's in Encino is an equal shock in price-checking, but with more to offer, though I suspect with the area it's in, those who shop there don't worry about the prices). On the way there by foot, Mom told Meridith and I that she and Dad were done fighting. Days before, there had been yet another verbal battle that made our collective futures unknown. There are words and considerations related to those fights that I don't want to think about right now because of the near-silence of the house in this night, but they always cause great stress, even when doing one's damndest to ignore them.

I don't really remember the severity of that fight, but I do remember a cooling flood of relief when she told us that, so it must have been one of their worst. I think I had more faith in that statement than most other times they had stopped fighting, because I thought it would last. I hoped it would last. Naturally, it didn't last. There have been what must by now be hundreds of fights ever since we moved to Southern California in near-to-late August 2003. Some last only a few minutes; some, as you've learned, last for a few days. When Mom spoke those golden words, I wondered what had caused it to cease. I've always thought there might be some invisible, frayed string still holding them together, but then there are some details not suitable for this entry that make me wonder just how in the hell they've managed to stay together all these years. I've sometimes thought divine intervention caused them to stop, but God would have needed to pay attention all the time to make that happen. I always go back to the invisible string.

I know the fight will continue later today. Whether early in the morning, preventing me from falling asleep until Dad leaves for work, or later in the afternoon when he gets home, I'm not sure yet. Dad never seems to want to make an effort anymore to improve relations, not that he really tried before. Over the years, he's been downright vindictive, nasty, uncaring, you name it. But as before, I don't want to get into those parts right now. Rather, to push out of my mind whatever the possibilities might be today, I want to curl up into a memory. I want to go back to March 21st, my birthday, and one place in particular: The Buena Park Mall, formally called Buena Park Downtown.

We'd come from Downtown Disney, where we spent the day, and Mom asked me if I wanted to stop at the mall. Buena Park, adjacent to Anaheim and near Disneyland, is nice to visit, but if you lived there, you'd notice how depressed it looks. That depression actually gives it an advantage. It directly offers you whatever you might want without ostentation or fanfare, which was the case in this mall. Walking downstairs, you'll find one large store devoted to work uniforms for nurses, for chefs, you name it, they have it. Or at least they had it when I was there. There was a major clothing chain there called Steve & Barry's, which went out of business after it was revealed that they hadn't been paying their vendors, but they had incredible t-shirts. I lost count on how many "M*A*S*H" shirts I bought from there.

I quickly knew the reason I wanted to go to the mall, which was part curiosity about what was there now, but also because we passed by a storefront currently occupied by a liquidation company selling off books from a failed small chain. Huge discounts. I needed to go in. And when I went in, I froze. This was a long-sized store, with tables and tables of books piled on top, the price stickers firmly on the covers. As I discovered after scouring the entire store, not all the books seemed worthwhile. But when I walked in, I was ready to put a bed inside, my 46-inch widescreen TV, and continual transportation service to Disneyland. I felt such joy at seeing all those books that I didn't bother walking the rest of the mall, as my parents and sister did, preferring to look at each stack and see what I might want. Books for $3 and under. There had to be something there and there was, including a book of Spalding Gray's last monologue along with reminiscences by friends and fellow great writers, such as Eric Bogosian. I felt a small pang of sadness, knowing that these books would not be read more widely, but hey, I was there, and my brain was all that mattered. I would read them and that was good enough for me.

I loved being left alone in this makeshift bookstore. The only other person there was the girl at the register, reading something. Some other people walked in, two weren't impressed and walked out. I loved not being asked if I needed help, or not being able to immediately find what I wanted. I didn't know what I wanted. I would only know if I saw it. I considered a few literary anthologies, but there were many years of books for one particular title and chances are I'd just read them and possibly not get anything out of them. They were inexpensive, but my room was already filled with a lot of books, 80% not read. I wanted to give those unread ones a chance.

At one point, I saw "Here at the New Yorker" by Brendan Gill and my hands shot out reflexively and grabbed it. I love "The New Yorker" and had then wanted to read everything about the history of The New Yorker. I believed that one might have been up to the task of poring over part of the magazine's history through the experience of that writer working there. Still haven't read it, but I'll get there.

I spent what must have been at least an hour and a half there, to where we almost didn't get to Po Folks, a Southern style restaurant I grew up on in Florida. I wanted to go there for the country fried steak, red beans and rice, macaroni and cheese, the biscuits, and peach cobbler. Especially the peach cobbler, because we once got there near closing time and by the time we finished, they really wanted to be closed and we had to take home the peach cobbler, which is not advisable. It belongs with vanilla ice cream. Their vanilla ice cream. Not Breyer's. Not Ben & Jerry's. I'm sure it's not their own vanilla ice cream, but it blends well with the peaches.

To me, Buena Park is one of the most honest locales in Southern California. What you see there is exactly what you get. The people you meet there don't take on any airs. They are who they are. It's not exactly a matter of pride, considering the state of many of the neighborhoods in the area. I'm sure some live that way because it's all they have, only themselves, only their personalities, only their honesty. You work what you have. Buena Park Downtown feels exactly the same way, despite being owned by the same company that owns the Paseo Colorado. I prefer honesty over any other trait because you know where you stand right away. There's too little time to be had on earth to be any other way. The only time Disneyland ever achieves this state (not that it should be realistic, because it's Disneyland after all) is at night, when the trams take guests to the parking garage and parking lots. They're tired, their feet hurt, it's time to go home. It's been a swell time, but there isn't anything more. If you're ever on one of those trams, take in the gasoline smell emanating a little bit from the tram when it gets going and look around. Suddenly, this part of the Disneyland property feels exactly like Buena Park. It's the only time they firmly connect.

It's 48 degrees outside, and I'm still thinking about that temporary bookstore. All those wordy possibilities, all that excitement I relish every time I open a book. I doubt it's still there, but at least it gave me that immense pleasure when I was there. That's what I love.