Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Calm Thanksgiving, A Busy Thanksgiving, Maybe a Perfect Thanksgiving

Let's see what the two-dog, four-person Aronsky Thanksgiving will have:

- A smoked turkey sent by Greenberg Smoked Turkeys in Tyler, Texas, currently taking up an entire vegetable bin in the refrigerator in its opaque white paper bag. We ordered a turkey from them last year, too, and it's really good. The smoked flavor isn't just on the surface; it's spread throughout the turkey, and the scent reminds me of my former downstairs Cuban neighbors in our condominium in Pembroke Pines, the nights they would smoke their cigars out on their patio, and we'd have to close every window near them, including the sliding door in my parents' bedroom, and turn up the air conditioning. It was annoying and inconvenient, but there are things one remembers just to keep certain places in mind, and aspects of those memories could lead to other ones not thought about for a long time.

- Stove Top stuffing, Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce, green beans with French's french fried onions sprinkled on top to remind me that vegetables can be good for me; candied yams (there's an off-limits bag of Kraft jet-puffed marshmallows in one of the lower kitchen cabinets expressly for that), and a 12-inch, round, decorated chocolate chip cookie, because the best pumpkin pie for holiday consumption is at Henry's Farmer's Market in Woodland Hills, and not only would it have been insane to go today to try to get anything from there ahead of Thursday, but Dad worked a full day at school, and it will be the same for him tomorrow, despite most other schools in the district knocking off early. My sister also found a box of Jell-O pumpkin spice pudding at Ralph's, and maybe she'll make that as part of dessert. I can't get my beloved pumpkin pie, so I'd like to have something pumpkin-related at the table. Doubtful I'll find pumpkin egg nog at Ralph's right now either.

- My parents laying down their verbal arms against each other. I'm not completely confident that the bad blood between them has been quelled, because there was that day a few years ago in Pasadena after a bad fight when Mom told Meridith and I that she and Dad were done fighting. Yeah, right. That lasted for about two weeks. But Dad is making an effort this time. Before dinner tonight, Dad actually sat with Mom in the bedroom and they talked. He sat next to her. They talked. She had some things to discuss with him, and he listened. Maybe there were some things she said that he might not have liked to hear---I wasn't in the room, and they were talking pretty low, so I don't know---but he didn't get defensive. He listened. Imagine, 26 years ago, if he had realized that he was out of his childhood household. He didn't have to embody his father's ways. He could drop his family's habits and learn to live better. All those years wouldn't have been wasted. I admit, though, that at least he's learning now. He could have remained steeled against personal change until he dies. We all want to get to Las Vegas. We all want to have a better life. I don't think Mom gave him an ultimatum, but maybe, just maybe, he's understanding how much good we want from these forthcoming new experiences. All the times we've moved have been because of his whims. It's time to enjoy ourselves every day. I'd like to see their marriage improve. It would be a startling, but welcome surprise. Tonight was a strong start.

- There will be Thanksgiving plates for Tigger and Kitty. Turkey, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce. Paper plates, but the sentiment is the same. They do so much for us that they deserve part of our feast. They're just as much a part of this family as we are to each other.

- I won't be working on Freelance Daily newsletters on Wednesday night for Thursday and Thursday night for Friday. Off on Thanksgiving Day, obviously, but also on Friday because how many Craigslist ads could there possibly be for freelance writers and other freelance writing-related positions the day after? This means that I need to haul ass on that book. I need to finish reading that James Dean biography, read that Carole Landis biography, and write constantly to make these two nights off, plus Saturday night, make a military Humvee-sized dent in my workload. However, it requires staying off the websites I don't need as well as the ones I use to stave off occasional boredom from this project. That will be the big challenge. But I should remember that I'll have a bigger chunk of free time during those evenings to get a lot done. I can do this. I really can do this. I can...oh hey, I haven't checked my library card yet to see what's come in for me to pick up on Sunday.

- I need to read. I've got Moby Dick, Don Quixote, the latest book by Deepak Chopra ("Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul: How to Create a New You"), because I need a new me; some books my sister checked out for me on her card, including My Booky Wook by Russell Brand, Hotter than That: The Trumpet, Jazz and American Culture, and The Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories. Plus, I've got three recent issues of The New Yorker I haven't read yet, including the latest, "The Food Issue", and dammit, I just want to get away from this droning machine. But not yet, because I need to read the James Dean and Carole Landis biographies at the computer. I took enough notes by hand, and spent so much time transcribing them that I don't want to do that anymore. I deserve that with these final two books.

- Movies. The 1997 TV movie adaptation of 12 Angry Men with Hume Cronyn, James Gandolfini, William Petersen, Jack Lemmon, and other acting luminaries. I've been curious about it for a long time and fortunately, the library still has VHS copies, one of which I checked out on Sunday. Coincidentally, the night before, I watched the original 1957 film on channel 5 (the CW), and didn't mind that it wasn't in widescreen. It's powerful, no matter the screen format. In the DVD player, I have A Prairie Home Companion from Netflix, which I put at the top of my queue after discovering the titular radio program and immediately becoming a fan of Garrison Keillor in writing and in hosting and voice acting. There are DVDs of the actual programs which were filmed quite a while ago, which are next after I see what this grand group of actors does. Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones, Virginia Madsen, Lily Tomlin, and Maya Rudolph are in it, and Lindsay Lohan looks like she actually focused on the script. I've also got The Taking of Pelham 123 from Netflix, the new one with Denzel Washington and John Travolta, just because I wanted to see James Gandolfini playing the mayor of New York City. To go from a mob boss to mayor of New York City is very impressive. It's like how Jeff Bridges went from playing The Dude in The Big Lebowski, to President Jackson Evans in The Contender. I love that kind of movie trajectory.

I hope all this will be Thanksgiving. A great Thanksgiving, our final Thanksgiving here in Santa Clarita.

Stand Up and Speak Up, Over 20 Years Later

My mother made the grave mistake of not looking out for herself, or standing up to my father when he was insistent on his own way. I heard about it last Sunday morning. I had only slept about four hours, probably succumbing at 6:15 a.m. to whatever my subconscious had planned. Not only is my subconscious an expert at creating dreams that sometimes totally confound me, but it has a radar to detect worrisome family sounds, such as my parents fighting. Mostly my parents fighting. Actually, that's all the radar detects, and I'm jolted out of my sleep.

I was pulled out of an unmemorable dream at 10:15 a.m. to the sounds of dual pasts being rehashed. I heard about Dad's family, I heard Mom lamenting how she didn't disregard her mother-in-law's advice to brush off much of what Dad says. I heard about Casselberry and Orlando again, Mom saying that we were happy there, but since Dad wasn't happy, we had to move to South Florida. We were happy in Casselberry. We were so close to Walt Disney World that we went there every weekend, and sometimes during the week just for dinner. A good number of the employees knew us by name, and many cast members in the parades at the Magic Kingdom always recognized us and sometimes stopped by right in the middle of their work to say hello. Orlando International Airport was where my love for aviation developed. I loved Stirling Park Elementary, which I attended from kindergarten to the first half of second grade, because the library was a rotunda. The middle of the rotunda was where the check-out desk was, down a few carpeted steps, and each set of wide bookshelves was in between the entrances to the classrooms of each grade level. We had a house. There was a tangerine tree near my window, a basketball hoop next to the driveway, a huge tree in the front yard that made me want to build a tree house. I also fell out of it once, right into the green-leaf plants around it.

I always wondered why Mom never stood up for herself, why she never made Dad consider her in his plans too. He was either transferred from the Orlando branch of Southern Bell (which became BellSouth, and then AT&T bought it) to a branch in Fort Lauderdale, or he had asked to be transferred. I don't know. Part of my understanding of Mom's timid nature is that she was raised by her grandparents, who I suppose taught her, through their day-to-day living, to never really question anything, never to wonder what might be good for her. She regretted not standing up to Dad to tell him that we should stay in Casselberry, so I, and soon my sister, could grow up in one place, and feel like we were home somewhere. She also had a job there that she liked, working for a heating and air conditioning company called Air Flow. She was rising within the company and at the time Dad decided we should move to South Florida, she was offered a promotion. Our family had money. There was no problem with that. Dad just wanted to leave. Maybe he didn't like the people in his office anymore. Maybe he somehow pissed off the people in his office. He's the type that strives to eventually take over wherever he works. Not take over in the traditional sense, but making sure that he has the dominant voice. He tends to make a lot of noise, overly expressing his opinions of what's going on, what someone might be doing wrong, what someone should be doing right. It has caused trouble for us over the years. He can't just sit down, do his job, and let pass whatever might bother him. That piece of bother could be gone the next week and it wouldn't matter anymore. I'm not saying he should be an automaton, embodying what crowds of anonymous workers represent. But maybe we wouldn't have moved around so much.

My parents' marriage has never been a two-way street. Only now is Mom finally realizing what she's lost over all these years, and, approaching 51 years old, she's beginning to speak up. Dad's done ok in many things, but none related to the important things, like his marriage. When we're at a store, whether it's Ralph's or Wal-Mart or Target or PetSmart, his cell phone is his preferred companion. He doesn't even walk near Mom. He'll wander off. Multiply those instances by about, oh, 24 years (even though they've been married 26 years, I can't be sure if it happened in the first two years of marriage too. I don't think I'll ask right now), and you can understand why Mom finally confronted Dad about these matters.

Then, last night, Mom was affixing a few tchotchkes to Dad's keychain, adding on to the square plastic thing he has that has a cartoon of New York City, and a few other things I've never really looked at closely. She couldn't find one particular piece on there: A locket or something similar that she gave to him in the days when their marriage was young. On one side was "Jeffrey" and on the other side was something like "From your loving wife." I wish I had paid closer attention to Mom when she told Meridith and I this story yesterday towards the late afternoon. Most important in the telling was that she had saved up her money to get Dad this thing to put on his keychain, engraved with that. It was not cheap. It took her quite a while to save up for it. When asked about its absence, Dad acted like he was looking for it on his night table. Eventually, the truth emerged: He had thrown it out some time ago. Yesterday, after coming home from work to Mom still in a sad state, and rightly so, he admitted to her that he had thrown it out to get back at her for some fight they had long ago. Oh yes, my father can be vindictive, just like his father was, and I'm making damn sure that trait never blooms in me.

I think Mom used to be a huge supporter of marriage. She hoped that I would get married, and my sister would get married. But also yesterday, she told us what I have been mulling over for the 23 years I've witnessed their marriage (years 1 and 2 of my life don't count since I don't remember anything): It's fine if you find someone you want to have a relationship with, but make sure you're happy first, make sure you have what you want in your life, what you want to succeed at, what satisfies you. For years, up to now, as I got older, to where I am now, Mom occasionally hinted that I should meet a nice girl and, well, you know the rest. I've never prodded her to understand and support my staunch belief that personal happiness should come first above all else (I'm not happy yet, but I'm working on it), but finally I've heard what I've always hoped to hear from her.

Granted, some aspects of personal happiness may be difficult if you're married with a few kids. I'm not there yet, and I'm not sure if I will be there. I know for now, after I finish writing my share of "What If They Lived?", I want to sign up for online classes from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I want my bachelor's degree in professional aeronautics. I want to work at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. I want to get to know Las Vegas. I want to find things there to love as much as I love the lobby entrance off one of the parking garages at Mandalay Bay, leading to a few restaurants off the casino, as well as into the casino. There are tons of books I still haven't read. I want to read them, or at least 3% of them. I want to write.....plays, essays, fiction, literary nonfiction, I don't know yet. I want to find out what I should be writing about. I want to find out what drives me and write about that. There are also tons of movies I want to see, likely equal to the number of books I want to read.

In that aspect of life Mom once hinted at, I think I'm genetically torn. My mother's romantic idealism wars with my father's indifference. Naturally, I occasionally dream about women. Before I began dating Irene, who was my girlfriend in 7th grade (we broke up amicably because she was moving to Naples, on the west coast of Florida, and even though we'd be only an hour apart from east to west coast, we couldn't be certain how often we'd see each other), all the dreams I had leading up to that day involved girls. A psychic mind? Only with that. But I don't know. Relationships take work. The only work I really want is at McCarran. I know there's compromises, and I don't think I could live with that. Right now, if I want to do something, I do it. If there's something I want and I don't have enough money, I wait until I do, and then I get it.

Maybe I'm ok as I am. Besides, I've already lived through 23 years of a marriage. Why would I want another? But maybe, just maybe....oh hell, there goes both factions again.

Mom knows that living in Las Vegas won't make up for what she, and we, already lost. But now there's a chance to plant ourselves firmly and let our roots break ground, dig into the earth, and keep us steady and unmoving (that is, no more looking at apartments, no more boxes, no more stress of that kind. We've moved 11 times. I want to be done with it). Maybe by then, Mom and Dad will figure out some common ground to make the rest of their marriage work, if they want it to work. And maybe I'll figure out what I want.