Posts Tagged 'Family'

Waiting in Line

The father ahead of me kept glancing toward the back of the store while Sandy scanned his items. His son stood at the back of the cart looking at the vast number of purchases.  I waited to buy toothpaste, facewash, some cereal (the alternately healthy-sweet Raisin-Bran Crunch and Cinnamon Toast Crunch), a 12-pack of Cherry Coke Zero and a traveling toothbrush holder for the trip to North Carolina tomorrow night for Josh’s wedding. I admit, my supermarket line choices have always been suspect, at best.

I had this issue, too.

The father to the son: “Tell her we have to go. Doesn’t she know that? Tell her we’re already up here paying for things.” This kid who’s maybe 13 whipped out his cell phone to deliver the message. Progress. When I was his age, I’d have had to go searching for my mother through the aisles, inevitably distracted by some basketball cards or the magazines – I remember an affinity for Sports Illustrated for Kids – and by the time I’d returned to the check-out line, my parents would be standing there waiting for me now, my mother having found whatever towels or salad-dressing or unappetizing food I didn’t want to eat that she’d been looking for a minute ago.

The father seemed really impatient, and I felt kindof sorry for the boy, in his black-white-and-red basketball shoes/blue basketball shorts/slightly-different-toned blue LA Clippers t-shirt. He’d clearly dressed himself in as close to an actual basketball uniform as he could. His unfashionable insistence on preserving the mono-chromatic symmetry of short-and-jersey made me feel a particular kinship with him. He was probably frustrated by anything that kept him from playing basketball, but that could be a nostalgic projection, too. The father picked out a three-pack of multi-colored Fruit-of-the-Loom boxer-shorts from the conveyor belt as it inched forward in tiny spurts. “Not these,” he said to Sandy, like she’d sneaked them into the pile. He handed them to the boy. “Go put these back. Just put them…anywhere.” I wondered if he coached the boy’s junior league basketball teams or if he was the kind of no-nonsense father who thought sports were a waste of time. I didn’t see where the boy put the boxers.

Up walked the mother and she immediately started loading the mountain of the store’s filled official red-on-frosted-white plastic bags back into the cart. She looked at me like it had been a really long day already, and it was only about 3:30, which the father announced like they were behind his official-and-implied-but-probably-unstated schedule. “I’m sorry about all this,” she said.

“No, it’s fine.”

“We just had a fire and we lost everything, so.”

“Oh no! You know, I used to work for an insurance company. I used to handle this type of thing all the time.”

“Oh yeah?” she said and kept loading bags, while the father asked whether that was the particular clothes iron they wanted to get or not. The boy had been looking at the trinkets they always have near every checkout, I think he knew he had been relieved of duty now that the mother had come. He came and stood at the side of the cart. “We even had to buy him a new PS3,” she said. “We’ve never bought this much stuff before.” The total was something around $324, and I’m not sure if they bought the iron, which the father said was either about $49 or else $79, I don’t remember.

“How’d it start?” I asked.

“We don’t know,” the mother said, her eyes searching. “The fire department just said it was accidental.”

“Is your insurance company taking care of you?”

“Yeah, they are! They gave us $10,000 today to start. The fire happened yesterday. We’re staying in a hotel, now.”

I’d heard her exact tone so many times before, working for insurance companies. Few situations feel more helpless than a massive fire. It’s a little different when they know the cause. There’s a sense of understanding, that there’s a defined reason for what happened. The fuse-box shorted or the toaster malfunctioned while the children were using it or it was a grease fire or someone left the candles burning near the drapes. Having a reason starts to restore a sense of control over your life, it gives you a picture in your mind of what went wrong and what you can, if nothing else, hope to avoid in the future. I can’t imagine how infuriating not-knowing would be, I’ve just heard it over-the-phone. On April Fool’s Day of 2008, back in Kansas City, I handled a five-level house-fire in a claim that went on for over a year. The cause of the fire was highly suspicious, and the owner kept trying to get us to pay to remodel his whole house, instead of rebuild it. It was a total fucking nightmare of estimates and revisions and multiple contractors and unending contents and storage units and revisions and supplements and finally, when he kept asking for more money and extended deadlines, my supervisor and I made the guy and his contractor come into our office, sit down, and explain to us what he’d done with the money we’d already paid him. It was one of the few times me and that particular supervisor were in complete agreement. He was a nice guy, though.

“Good, I’m glad they’re treating you well,” I said.

The mother smiled and loaded the last of the bags. They conveyor belt slid my things forward, and Sandy scanned them. I haven’t done insurance in almost a year, but tomorrow I have an interview for a full-time position with a company I was a temp for, for eight months last year. I saw the family-of-three in the parking lot, and I almost went over to them to remind them to keep all of their receipts and to be as detailed as they could possibly remember on their contents list. They were almost done loading everything, and the father was hurrying them along and already getting in the car, himself, so I let it go. I hope everything works out for them, and I hope the boy gets to play basketball again sometime soon.


Never Go Home

Student hit by a car; killed.
Not an original headline, but keep reading. There is something about the death of young people that is incongruously fascinating.  In sophomore or junior year, a kid from my high school got in a car accident on a narrow road just outside town. He and I got in a fight in 7th grade, during a PE football game. He was a pretty cool guy, though. Philip was his name. Anytime someone dies – be it celebrity or a person I knew or just someone I heard about – I have the same silly thought: what movies were they looking forward to that they’ll never get to see? It’s a projection of my own interests, sure, but the larger question is the same. People have hopes and dreams and goals. Even if they didn’t have anything so grand, what tiny things were they looking forward to? Maybe looking forward to seeing a friend who was coming into town, maybe a baseball game they were going to get tickets to.  What if that very day, they’d decided to eat at their favorite restaurant that night? And then they’re dead.

Falling From the Sky

Falling From the Sky

This is a macabre entry, but it’s going somewhere. After 19 months in an apartment, I’ve moved home for a short time. Solitude is a precious commodity, so simply having to engage in continual conversations is a chore for me. Worse: my father is testing new phones at our house, so all week he’s been calling from his cell phone to see which phones are working. They aren’t all ringing at the same time, so he swaps them out, hoping a new outlet will solve the problems. The ringing comes in waves, along with his commentary and ever-changing hypothesis for success. It’s annoying.

In summer, the basement’s the coolest part of the house, so Dad and I camp out there, usually a baseball game on, and both of us on opposite sides clacking away on our computers. Mom punctuates with intermittent questions from upstairs. She yells something down, he yells something back. Stifled muffles all around, which they infer as a signal to yell louder. Dad is doing freelance investigations for insurance companies right now, and here is where the teenage death comes in. Since I was a kid, we’ve had these ethical, insurance claims dilemmas. He’d draw out diagrams for my brother and I, and we would discuss who is at fault.
We’ve been discussing the following incident: Two early-20’s college students and their professor are on their way back from some band-related school event. Driving back, they get a flat tire. They change the tire and keep going. A little while later, they get another flat tire. With no second spare tire, they spend a while patching the second flat and proceed. Two miles down the road, the patch gives way. They get off the highway and find a tire center. But it’s Sunday, and the tire place is closed. They call the local police and ask for help, but the police say there’s nothing they can do, and if the group hasn’t found a solution by morning to give them another call. They call a few tire companies, all of whom are closed on Sunday. They even speak to one guy, but he won’t come help them. It’s 6pm Sunday evening. They’ve got cell phones, so they’re calling people trying to figure something out. At 7pm, a car stops and offers to take them to Wal-Mart, 30 minutes back the way they came, to get a tire. The professor goes and the students stay, since there are valuables in the vehicle. So off he goes. Two hours go by and the professor isn’t back yet. The students are milling about on the roadside, and one of them, a foreign exchange student with no family in the country, gets out his trumpet and starts playing. He’s walking up and down the road, just passing the time. It’s 9pm and he’s wearing a black shirt, walking on the narrow side road playing his trumpet. In his statement, the other student noted that sometimes our trumpet player closes his eyes while he plays because he gets nervous. The sound of the trumpet probably blocked out everything else, including voices and approaching cars.
And it was in this way that a 23 yr. old foreign exchange student from the Czech Republic was hit and killed by an unassuming 20 yr old who was driving home from work.
Consider also the following pieces of information.
–The professor said that the closed tire center had some tires laying out. He counted four which would have fit his van. He thought about taking one and leaving his information so he could pay the owner later, but he thought it would be a bad example to set.
–The student said that the two of them got annoyed and hungry, and it was out of that frustration that the Czech student got out his trumpet in the first place. In photos of the exact location of the accident, a McDonalds can be seen in the background. It was less than a mile away.
–The 20 yr old driver said that he saw one person on the side of the road in a white shirt. Since the road was narrow, he moved away from that person, effectively accidentally swerving into the other student.

There are stories of coincidence and chance, of intersections and strange things told, and which is which and who only knows? And we generally say, “Well, if that was in a movie, I wouldn’t believe it.”

Talking with Dad he said, “The whole thing is a series of unfortunate events.” True, though this seems far too dark for Lemony Snicket. It seems more like something out of “Final Destination.” That such events should unfold as they did, each seeming in a way to produce the next, building slowly to a crescendo, and then tragedy. And so many questions bubble to the surface. If the students were hungry, why not walk to the McDonald’s, or the gas station, the sign for which can also be seen in the pictures. They were two hours from home, but they waited in the same spot for three hours. They had cell phones, why weren’t they calling the teacher asking him where he was? What was the teacher doing that took him so long? Why did the students walk on the narrow road when the tire station had a large driveway right there?
This is a situation that seems built purely of variables. If just one thing had been different, the outcome could have been avoided. If the group had taken a different vehicle or made sure the van was in good condition, or not gone to the event at all. If they had decided to come back any day but Sunday. If they had stopped at the Wal-mart after the first flat tire to pick up a new tire. If they had all gone to Wal-Mart together after the second flat. If they had stopped the van someplace other than a narrow side road. If the students had gone to get something to eat. If the white shirted student had suggested that the trumpet player not walk in the middle of the road. If the trumpet player hadn’t closed his eyes. If the 20 yr old had taken a different road home from work. But of course, if any of these circumstances were altered, wouldn’t it just create a new series of potential accidents and mishaps?
magnolia7They say that everything happens for a reason. I’ve never really liked that sentiment. It seems providentially saccharine and utterly simplistic. And anyway, how does that work here? Does tragedy have a purpose in mind when it occurs? Or does the purpose come out of the process of dealing with the tragedy? I guess the answer depends on whether you believe that God is malicious or loving. Be aware, as with most things of import, there is a right answer and a wrong one.
And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that this is not just “Something That Happened.” This cannot be “One of Those Things… ” This, please, cannot be that. And for what I would like to say, I can’t. This Was Not Just A Matter Of Chance. Ohhhh… These strange things happen all the time.

All in the Family…

I was genuinely, wonderfully surprised tonight. In so many ways. It was nice. My family had a (8-days-after) Birthday Party for me. Mom made Italian Shells (delicious!) and there was birthday cookie cake w/ ice cream. I gave them some presents I’d gotten for them in Toronto. And then it came time for my presents, an experience I’ve come to face with assumed disappointment. I gave my mother a list, assuming that none of them would be unwrapped by me. It was, honestly, a list of things I’d decided to postpone buying until after I got back from vacation, or else had been looking for for weeks without success.

So I unwrap, and there they are. The Office: Season Four – easy to find, just hadn’t bought. Next one: Wall-E action figures of Wall-E and Eve. I had looked for these things EVERYWHERE and had no luck. Had been in the Disney Store at least 5 times, in various cities (including Toronto). Now the two join Clyde Drexler, Alan Rickman (as the Sheriff of Nottingham), NEO, and Jack Sparrow on the wall above my computer. And I am happy. Finally: Rushmore, Criterion Collection – once again, UNFINDABLE by my searches, I had even discussed its rareness with a fellow movie-fan. My parents found ONE SINGLE copy at a movie store and snatched it up. That they even went looking for it was amazing.

More surprises: At my parents wish, we watched “Dan in Real Life,” which got decent reviews, and has Steve Carell, so what the heck. Delightful. Not a brilliant, life-altering movie, but a movie that feels like a warm blanket in a mid-October rainstorm, when it’s good and pouring. It’s about family, and populates its movie not with overblown types, but a truly organic feeling mix of people. It is so relaxed, you feel like you’re watching a real reunion. One you could rewatch and rewatch. A movie that inspires not rapture but eternal fondness. 

Now the good stuff: It was like my family decided to be the best versions of themselves this night. Dad left his awkward comments in his other jacket, and decided to join in the conversation. Mom told engaging stories about helping people at work, and asked great questions about Toronto. Both were eager to actually discuss the movie afterwards. Older Brother, heretofore known to equate an opinion with a shrug of universal indifference explained what his favorite type of movie was…and why (and though it is miles away from me, I was too taken aback to mind much). Younger Sister ended the night quoting from Fahrenheit 451, a quote I happened to love as well. She retrieved the book, we thumbed through it together, and then read a selection for my mother. 

These are small things, but for someone who must admit that he is often ready to leave about 30 minutes after walking in the door, this is one of the best nights at home I’ve had in about a year or two. 

Final miracle: My mother had been trying to get me a ticket to see This American Life host Ira Glass in St. Louis, going so far as trying to reserve me a $120 seat+party afterwards. And here’s the thing. She didn’t get me a ticket (which is for the best, as I likely won’t be in the state at the time), but her effort did inspire her to go online and listen to the show…which she really enjoyed. A better gift, I cannot imagine.

It Has Come to This

May 2018
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