Welcome to another post inspired by The Plottery and their fun July writing prompts that they posted on their Instagram account, @the.plottery! This prompt reminded me of childhood games.
“Write a short story where the characters don’t come of the couch the whole time.”
Sounds like my mornings. I get up at 4, grab a cup of coffee, my book, and my journals, and plant myself on the west end of the couch until 9am.
That’s not technically true. I get up for more coffee, to use the bathroom, do my yoga, and close the curtain when the sun comes streaming in to blind me, but essentially, I am planted. This is my spot. The cushions have become formed to the curve of butt and the arm has an indent where my elbow rests.
But my short story…more of a creative memory. It happened. I have pictures. But maybe it didn’t go exactly this way. Where shall it begin? On the couch, the same place it will end up.
The floor is lava! The couch has always been a place of refuge and entertainment. There were four of us, my brother and I and two of our younger cousins, spread across the giant, L-shaped sectional in the living room of our grandparent’s house. We’d been swimming at the community pool all morning. Grandma made us sandwiches and we ate them with tropical punch Kool-Aid and potato ships at the kitchen dinette counter, where spills and crumbs were easy to clean up. Grandpa turned on the big console tv in the living room and instructed us all to relax a while.
As an adult, I can see exactly what this was now. Two older adults, four young and wild children. THEY needed to rest, not us. The hope (the same hope I have held on to with my own children) was that they had worn us out in the pool and fed us. Now, in the name of all things holy, maybe we’d settle into the couch and be quiet a while.
My grandma said that she needed to “rest her eyes” a bit. “Watch your shows. No horseplay. And stay on the couch.” And then she and grandpa headed off to their bedroom for a nap.
The peace lasted at least a few minutes, maybe even past the first commercial break, but then we got antsy.
My youngest cousin was the first to move towards the edge of the couch, but my brother stopped her. “Grandma said stay on the couch!” She shot a look, that look, right into his eyes and lowered her foot. “Don’t even!” Her brother grabbed her arm, and she began to tear up. The wail was coming. It would be loud…grandma would hear for sure…not acceptable.
My brother, ever ingenious, lifted the cushion next to him and threw it to the ground beneath her feet. Her brother released his grip and she landed on it. They all looked at me and grinned.
Being the oldest sucks. I’m supposed to be in charge, keep things as the adults want them to be. But how is that fair? I sat there silently with my arms crossed. This is not what she meant.
Another cushion flopped to the ground beside the first and in moments a lily pad arrangement took shape across the living room floor. They were hopping from one to the next, running across the bare couch, and back onto the floor again. Giggling quietly all the while.
At first, this only began while commercials were running. Once a cartoon came back on, everyone fell silent, like a game of red light/green light. At the next commercial break, they were at it again. Temptation to play along overwhelmed me and I joined in.
Every once in a while, someone would land a little too roughly. It was trick to silence our running and falling feet in a mobile home. The floor and foundation aren’t that solid like a foundation house would be and the walls are thin to save space and weight. Each mildly loud giggle or tumble would cause us all to freeze in place and wait for the “all-clear,” no sounds of movement from the other room.
I’m not sure how long we went on like this, but at one point, while we were all happily skipping around the room from one couch cushion to the next, one of my cousins froze mid-step and we all piled up behind him, pushing him forward and landing in pile…at our grandpa’s feet.
There he was looking down on us, hands clenched in fists at his hips, those few wisps of hair standing up on the top of his balding head. He didn’t say a word. My grandma came in the room seconds later. “Oh, heavens, you kids.”
That’s when my grandpa said, “You told them not to leave the couch and they didn’t.” and we all started laughing.
We spent the next hour piling up cushions and seeing if we could stand on them, spreading them out for leapfrog, or blocking them all together to make a large tumbling mat for living room gymnastics. Grandpa would stand beside the pile and hold out a steady hand, ready to stop us from falling over into the tv or cracking our heads open on the coffee table.
Exhausted from play, we settled down into watching cartoons and most of us took a long nap there before dinner. But we never left the couch!
I saw the word “lexicon” and immediately went into a dialog with myself.
Lexicon? I want to go!
Go to what?
It’s not a place. It’s a word for a collection of words, a vocabulary used by a specific group.
Well, it sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Would you dress up as a word and see if people can guess what you are? Or the group the words are used by? That doesn’t sound like as much fun.
What in the world are you talking about? Dressing up for what?
The con, silly! The Lexi-Con! It’s like ComiCon but for word nerds like you, a whole convention center filled with word nerds. I went to a Library Conference once. I imagined it would be so quiet, wall to wall stereotypical libertarians from every movie you ever saw.
Sort of, but not really. I saw Ray Bradbury there. He was the keynote speaker and read from his book The Halloween Tree. I bought that book for the kids. It’s one of our very favorites!
Why were you there? You’re not a librarian.
At the time I was volunteering for a state-wide homeschool advocacy group, CHN, and we had a booth there. The idea was to show library’s our publications, what we do, and how they can share information with their communities. Homeschoolers LOVED libraries when I was homeschooling.
Yeah, I remember those days. Story times, craft activities, and all those books the kids would bring home every week. They’d have them all over the coffee table. The one place we never had to say, “No, you can’t have that.” The answer was always, “Yes! Let’s get that one too!”
…sigh…yeah. Good times.
And remember all the weekly walks to the library?
Through all those neighborhoods. We’d play at the park a bit, stop to look at gardens, the train tracks. An all-day adventure.
As if a bookstore doesn’t brighten the world all on its own, I made a glorious attempt at public humor yesterday. It’s story time!
“Oops, I did it again…” Yeah, I’m dancing like Britney!
It wasn’t an “oops” at all. It was a deliberate act of disobedience to my spending plan!
I meant to just have lunch and maybe get a few things at Costco; important things like tequila and a new pair of shoes. And then it happened. Someone suggested the bookstore and a cup of coffee.
Damn. My weakness.
“Ok, sure. I’ll just look around. I could use a cup of coffee, maybe a cookie.”
We walk in and start browsing.
“Oh, look! That book of poetry I was planning on getting!”
No, you don’t need that. You just got his other book.
“I could use a few novels. What’s this? A book about letters going missing, and Neil Gaiman says, “Glorious.” Yes, please!“
“Buy one get one, get one 50% off.” That’s just begging me to buy it. What else looks interesting…
And were we go. You know how this ends, right? You’ve been there.
You know what I really wanted to look for? A new hard copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. That is my dad and I’s book. I can’t remember if he shared it with me or the other way around, but we both loved all of Douglas Adams, and I’ve read the whole “trilogy” several times since high school.
I’m about to admit something terrible, so hold on to yourself.
When we made our big move out to the desert…gulp…I purged many of my books. I know! I’m sorry! We were hiring a mover and the less we had to move, the cheaper it would be. I lost a lot of books in that battle. I still question my judgment. Why THOSE books?
But I digress.
I’ve been meaning to re-read all the Hitchhiker books and I have them on my Kindle, but… What can I say? I love the physical paper in my hands! Mine! All mine!
Add that to the pile.
Now I’m in the second most dangerous section of the bookstore, science fiction. Oh, what’s this? Ray Bradbury? Philip K. Dick? Dammit.
“That’s it! No more! We’re leaving!”
I hear a voice behind me, “But let’s just take a look over here.”
“Didn’t you promise me coffee and a cookie?”
There’s a line at the register. I haven’t seen that in a while.
“Um…excuse me. Are you in line?”
“What? Oh! Yes! Sorry, I was sidetracked by sparkly things in the cue!”
“I hear that. Happens to me all the time.”
I move up.
“I can help the next customer on #1!”
I skip up the counter, plopping down three books. “Hold on, there are more coming!” My friend lags, also distracted by sparkly things.
“Do you have a membership?”
“No, but can I get a percent off for being pleasant?”
She laughs, and I continue.
“What if that were a thing? We can all give any customer a discount for being a little nice and attentive.” I sigh. “Might start a revolution.”
I pay for my books…choke…that was unintended…and head to the coffee counter. While I wait, I take a picture of my hoard and post it on Instagram.
On my drive back into the desert, I start to think about my idea. What if we did have a system like that? I call my while I drive and tell him all about it. At first, we’d get points just for smiling, or reacting to each other as if we weren’t NPCs, but then we’d get used to that and start vying for favor. We’d hold doors, compliment each other. “No, after you, please. I insist.”
It would escalate to spending our time in line thinking of clever retorts and anecdotes to gain more points at the register. Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it?
My brother had another idea about saving on car insurance and state registration for getting good points and charged more for getting bad points. We could all have a QR code on our bumper and people can scan it and give you points and reviews. Like Yelp but for drivers.
Of course, there would be that person that just gives everyone they see bad points because they’re a jerk and have too much time on their hands, but the system would see that and delete them.
I have this all worked out. Please contact me for details and we can create a whole new system that encourages people financially not be a…person of ill repute. (That’s me trying to be polite. Man…it hurts my soul.)
That’s right! My impromptu adventures led a new drive time mantra right to my brain. Like lightning…just struck my head.
So…I had this wild idea yesterday.
“I’ll just run down to In-And-Out and have lunch with a friend!”
Doesn’t seem that wild, right? But there are extenuating circumstances. The first of which is that there isn’t such a burger joint in my town. The second being that my friend lives in the next county.
Yeah, those are my kind of people! People that text, “What are you doing?” and when I answer, “Nothing really.”
“Want to go to lunch and visit?”
I found a place roughly halfway between us and hit the road only to be stopped dead in my tracks when I reached the freeway, thirty minutes into my one-hour drive.
Now, I knew it was President’s Day and that the great return migration of desert campers and off-roaders to Los Angeles and Orange County would be shifted from Sunday to Monday, and I believed I had taken that into account when I checked the map and drive time. But someone miles away had to mess it up and have a bit of an accident after I started my drive and the traffic backed up considerably behind them.
Technology to the rescue!
Every time someone complains about technology, especially smart phones, ruining society, I want to smack them upside the head.
My map app alerted me to the delay. I do wish it would say WHICH lane was closed, but it was better than nothing. I also could see from the screen where the traffic let up. I knew it wouldn’t last forever. With a press of a button, I was able to call and let my friend know approximately how late I was going to be. Stress, relieved.
But there I sat, solidly, waiting for the third cycle of the traffic signal before I could start inching my way onto the freeway. The wind blowing through the pass rocked my car so hard, I was slightly concerned that I might end up a red metal and plastic tumbleweed. I said a quick prayer to the travel gods for the VW bus I passed a few minutes earlier. I have driven this road in the wind in my own VW bus. It was not pleasant.
I’m at the front of the intersection when the light turns green, but there is nowhere for me to go. There are still cars backed up in their own attempt to merge. I wait for a moment to be sure I won’t block the intersection when I hear honking from behind me.
Ok…now I could understand this behavior if I were in a big truck and the car behind me couldn’t see over or around me. Maybe they think I fell asleep or that I was busy on my phone. This time, no. I’m in my mother-in-law’s car, low to the ground and the truck behind me has a clear view of the situation in front of us.
I ignore him and wait another moment. When the traffic ahead moves, I move with it. The angry man behind me, whips around me into the right lane, passes me and promptly stops in that lane two cars ahead. I smile. “Surprise!”
A few minutes later, he and several other people are trying to merge back into the left lane with us, the lane that goes west, the direction all these other poor people are trying to go in. I let a car in ahead of me and keep inching along.
The scene in front of me is familiar. I drive this stretch often. The wind turbines, San Jacinto Mountains, the sand blowing in the high winds of the winter storm that is coming east are all so beautiful. Because I’m stopped here, slowing making my way onto the freeway instead of gaining speed and merging through the slower trucks heading uphill and into the wind like I usually am, I can take a breath and really look at it all.
That’s when I noticed the clouds spilling over the mountain top and gasp. Holy…wow…
I see this happen often. Those mountains are so tall that they block storms coming off the ocean most of the year. That’s part of why our side is a desert. But it’s not every day I can just sit and watch it happen. The clouds tumbled and spilled over the crest and dissipated in the high winds whipping through the rocky passes.
I grabbed my camera and took a picture. Thanks again, technology!
The rest of the drive was typical. People not letting cars merge in, people not understanding that they had to merge, drivers honking at each other. You can feel the tension. One RV pulling a trailer of quads and dirt bikes wouldn’t let me on to the freeway. I shook my head a smiled.
“Man…that’s some bad karma you’re putting out there, dude.”
I waited till he inched past and the got behind him, in front of a nice trucker that probably understands that you let people in so that you get let in. It’s the way of the road. Don’t be a dick.
That’s when my new mantra dawned on me.
I want it on a bumper sticker or stenciled across the back of my truck.
It’s not only a great slogan for California traffic and long vacation drives. It works for life in general. Guess where we’re all going? Death. We’ll get there, each and every one of us, in our own time. Traffic might slow us down. There may be accidents, gas stations, and roadside attractions, but we’ll ALL get there.
Why should we make the getting there suck with impatience, anger, and greed? Why not sit back, look around, and take it all in?
That’s exactly what I did yesterday. I was frustrated that my one-hour drive would now take two. Other driver’s impatience bugged me. Inconsiderate people…ugg. Typically, I use being secluded in the safety of my car as an excuse to yell back at them, shake my fist…or worse, maybe assert my own dominance on the road.
This time was different. I took deep breaths, wished those poor drivers well, hoped they didn’t have little kids bouncing off the walls inside, and took a closer look at the beauty of the landscape around me. And when I arrived at my destination, I was relaxed and ready to enjoy my visit.
Today, I’m searching the internet for a way to make bumper stickers. I’ll be rich!
I wrote 2-10-22 in my journal this morning and smiled. 210. My first car was a 1979 Datsun 210 much like the one pictured here. I loved that car.
When we were kids, probably 12 or 13 years old, my grandpa taught my brother and I how to drive. He drove a manual transmission 1979 Datsun 210. And one day he drove us out between the fields and stopped on the side of the road. Dairy cows watched us watch him get out and slip blocks he had made onto the pedals.
“What are you doing grandpa?”
“What does it look like I’m doing?”
Incredulous, as if we must be the dumbest kids he ever met.
“Did you build a machine to drive the car?” my brother asked.
I kept quiet.
Grandpa stood up and took a step back. Hands on his brown polyester slacked hips, balding head in shining in the sun, I saw his grin. I can still see it. He was usually pretty proud of his wild ideas.
“Hop in there and see if you reach the pedals.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, my younger brother jumped into the driver’s seat. This was a car, a machine. Grandpa MUST be talking to him. I hung back and watched, unsure of what the plan was. I never was one to go running toward anything I wasn’t completely sure of.
Grandpa moved the seat up as far as it would go and reached in to adjust the pedals.
“See if you can push the pedals all the way down.”
With effort he could.
“If he can reach, so can you.” He tossed the words back at me over his shoulder as if he could hear my mind wondering. A thrill rushed through me. I can’t say if it was excitement or fear.
My brother was beside himself with excitement. To us, back then, driving was the beginning of everything. It was a ticket to freedom and independence. Sure, we were still far too young to get a driver’s license in California. Years away, in fact. But we were trusted and getting to learn the ropes and that was one step closer.
“Now, listen close. Your right foot is for the gas and the brake. Your left foot is for the clutch. Got it?”
My brother gripping the steering wheel, pulling himself closer to the pedals, his eyes wandering all over the car in wonder. “Yeah.”
“You’re not paying attention. Look at me and listen.” My grandpa’s impatient voice, the one that warned you to shape up.
For a moment, my brother’s eyes were glued to grandpa’s face but as soon as he started to talk, they went back to the windshield and the panel. His hand moved to the stick shift. My grandpa’s hand moved quicker and cracked it away like a whip. Now he had my brother’s attention.
“If you can’t listen, you can’t drive. I mean it.”
All eyes are locked on grandpa now, mine included. He does not expect to repeat himself for those who were present when he said it the first time. When grandpa is talking, he is talking to the whole room.
The lesson moved on. My grandpa is in the passenger seat, my 12-year-old brother in the driver’s. I’m in the backseat watching carefully.
These lessons went on as you might expect with young kids first learning the finesse of a five-speed manual transmission, with lurches and stalls, curse words and gasps. Sure, this was California, but we lived in a mostly rural community back then surrounded by dairies, chicken farms, alfalfa, and corn fields. There was plenty of room on these roads for a couple of kids and their grandpa to learn to drive.
We had a blast every time we went out. And the blocks with bungie cords stapled to one end stayed in the back seat just in case we needed to take the wheel, at least that’s what we thought.
We took turns driving around the fields for several weekends in a row. Once we had the hang of driving on flat roads, coming to a stop, turning around, and parking, my grandpa graduated us to starting while the car was pointed uphill. In a manual transmission, this is the trickiest lesson other than parallel parking (which I have never mastered).
There was no warning that I remember. There I was, driving along the empty road as it started to incline, when my grandpa told me to stop the car. I did and then looked at him, one foot on the clutch the other on the brake.
“Why are we stopped?”
“What if the light turns red on a hill, you stop, and there are cars behind you? Can you get going again without rolling backwards?”
“Of course!” I take my foot off the brake and start for the gas, but the car rolls back. I slam my foot back on the brake and look at him wide eyed.
I can still see his sideways grin as he chuckles, “Yeah. You didn’t think of that, did you, smartass?”
My eyes narrow at him, and I grin in determination. My grandpa and I are peas in a pod, both stubborn, both inclined to be a bit explosive, both tend to be egged on by a challenge. I grip the steering wheel and pull myself upright to think.
Over and over again, I start to roll back and then stop, until I get the idea to sneak my heel over to the gas before letting my toes off the brake. Seemingly all at once, I let of the brake, give it gas, let out the clutch and away we go.
I stop. “What? Why?”
“Do it again.”
By the time we were done, my brother and I could hold the car at stop going uphill, the clutch and gas balanced for a moment before speeding off. We were both well-versed in driving years before we were allowed to take Driver’s Education in high school and then get our licenses.
I don’t know why it was so important to him that we learn to drive so early. I guess it didn’t seem early to him. Looking back, it’s still a wonderful memory, one of the proud ones I used to tell my kids when they were learning to drive our Baja Bug with their dad in the desert. They also were well-versed by the time they were old enough for a license.
My grandpa gave me that 1979 Datsun 210 when I turned 16 in 1988. I drove it nearly six months before I rear-ended someone getting off the freeway, a probably expected. The only one with a driver’s license at the time, several friends and I piled into my little car to take ourselves to Knott’s Scary Farm for Halloween.
It wasn’t too bad of an accident, no physical injuries. Only my precious car didn’t make it, and my pride was badly bruised. My mom came to the rescue and had the car towed home. She dropped us off at Knott’s to enjoy the night despite the trouble getting there.
Funny, I’m thinking… How did I call her? There were no cell phones. I was on the freeway. The police were there. Maybe they called my mom? I can’t remember. It reminds me how awesome cell phones are though. My sons have been all over the world and I can always at least get a text message almost immediately.
Stopping in the drop off area in front of Knott’s Scary Farm, I lean over to my mom. “I’m sorry, mom.” I was pretty shaken up, not knowing what was going to happen next.
“Go play with your friends, baby. Don’t worry. We’ll figure out what to do tomorrow.” She kissed my head, and we ran off into the Halloween fog and screams.
Within a few days my grandpa found another 1979 Datsun 210 at the junk yard for $200. Over the next few weeks, I watched him and my brother switch the old engine into the new body in our driveway. I cleaned up the inside of the old car, vacuuming out the seats and floor, wiping down the dashboard and dials. My brother came running in to show me the dead mouse he found in an air-conditioning duct. It was a family project.
And I loved the new 1979 Datsun 210 more than old one because it was orange and a coupe instead of a hatchback, way cooler. I drove it until my brother turned sixteen, then passed it on to him when I bought an ’86 Ford Ranger, but that’s another story.
#bloganuary Day Ten? Where have I been? Can I join in late? Since I’m the boss of me, I’m going to say, “Yes, you can, young lady. Better late than never!”
What are five things I am grateful for today? Only five?
I can get crazy, so I think I’ll stick to the physical things I can see right now.
My leather sofa. It’s been almost two years since this beauty arrived from Costco. it’s beautiful and comfy. This is my office. I spend my morning here, reading, writing, and harassing people on Facebook. My feet are up, my head is supported, my butt is warm. I’ve rarely been as happy with a purchase as I have been with this chocolatey sofa recliner.
The green blanket. Technically this belongs to my eldest son. He got it as a gift from my friend’s daughter about…wow…fifteen years ago. It’s a fleece blanket, one of those no-sew, cut and hand-tie things. It’s big and super warm. It covers me every morning and I can’t live without it.
The laptop. A gift from my husband because he believes in me. He gave me this so that I could take myself wherever I need to be to get focused and write the words. He knows that’s one of the things that fuels me and was worried that I was too tied down to my desk, which it not always the best place to work.
The wood fireplace. Ahh…nothing like a woodboring fireplace, right? This one doubles as a stove. You can’t see the fire in it right now because the glass it blackened with use this winter, but it’s super burning and has a fan the recirculates the warm air into the house. I can get this living room up to 85 degrees, easy. I won’t, don’t worry. I don’t like it that hot. How can I use my snuggle blanket if it’s too warm?
My reading glasses. For some reason, I accepted my graying hair long before I believed I really needed reading glasses. I insisted they were printing words in books smaller and smaller. Now that I have embraced the spectacles, I have a pair in every room. I’m looking for a chain to keep a pair around my neck like a little old lady in a movie.
They sound superficial, but if you can’t be grateful for the little things, how can you even start to see the big things!
To expect that when I speak, write, post, or text, someone will respond.
That’s too much to ask, they say.
Say what you want to say, and let it go.
But then, what’s the point of saying anything at all?
To have put my own thoughts into the world.
I have a page of short stories here that desperately needs attention. Maybe this will be the year I unleash the creativity, stop being so timid, and have the temerity to do what I really want to do, say what I need to say.
Have you ever been to a cart race? A shopping cart race, that is!
Costco was a madhouse. Don’t go on a Sunday afternoon. But really, is there ever a perfect time to go to Costco in the city?
We drove by, couldn’t find a parking space. No, not a “good” parking space, NO parking space. I’m not going in there. Decided to go to Target instead. And it was a good thing we did because I found the perfect Fall sweater. I don’t want to hear it. I can be a little extra if I want to.
Then I was too hungry to go anywhere else, so we stopped for a sandwich.
“What are you looking for?”
“Something different. I always get the same thing.”
He sighs and loudly proclaims, “Finally. I’m so tired of watching you eat that! Sheesh!”
“Ok. What are you getting?”
Clicks on the same sandwich he’s gotten twenty-two times in a row. “My favorite!”
We laugh hysterically.
“Let’s try Costco again. I’m dangerously low on my favorite tequila and I don’t want to pay more somewhere else. I’ll brave the masses for a $5 discount!”
Plenty of parking at the end of the lot this time, but the driveway into the discount gas station is a madhouse and the front of the store…geez… I don’t see the sense in waiting forty-five minutes to get gas. Where do all these people come from? And why are they so frantic to get inside Costco?
We start to go inside but then realize we’re going to need a shopping cart, circle back out immediately and return to the Greeter to show my membership card again. Exclusive club, you know.
I attempt to climb in the cart, but he says I can’t.
“Who says?! This is my emotional support cart. I need safety! Stat!”
I hear someone behind me giggle.
I shop Costco in a completely different way with my friend than with my husband. When my husband and I go, we travel all the isles systematically, looking at everything even though we have no intention of buying it. It’s a date we look forward to each month and we extend the mission as long as possible.
With my friend, it’s a totally different thing. It’s a casual mission, one with no set outcome in mind. We’re just there to see what’s there, enjoy the coolness, or wander around and laugh, possibly make others laugh or jealous of our adolescent antics. We see one thing and head towards it, get distracted, head to the other side, and argue about who gets to push the cart because they’re more responsible.
“Do these underwear make me look sexy?”
“Look! Wrinkle cream! You need this!”
We did find the tequila I wanted, and the peanut butter pretzels my family adores, and headed to the checkout. The cashier picked the bottle up off the belt and looked at me, “You’re not old enough to drink this!” I laugh back, “Yes I am!” I tap my friend on the shoulder, “Dad, tell her that I’m old enough.” He narrowed his eyes at me, and we all laughed.
On the way out, carts and shoppers bottle-necked at the door, employee checking receipts, we’re giggling about being patient and telling each other not to run into people. Leaving this store is like trying to get to the entrance of carpool lane on the freeway in time. Come on people! Let’s go!
Once we’re relatively free, crossing the parking lot, I realize how sloped toward the street it is.
“I bet if I get on, I could coast all the way to the truck!”
I grab the handle and jump on the shopping cart, coasting. He runs to the front and adds his weight to the front. Immediately we start to drift toward the cars.
“You’re ruining my trajectory!” I holler as I jump off laughing.
Unloading the shopping cart into the backseat, still snickering about how funny we are, he takes the cart to return it. I shut the door and start in his direction, watching him try to get it going fast enough to ride into the corral. Another woman turns to return her cart and does the same thing right behind him.
“Race! Race! She’s right behind you!”
We all end up at the corral at the same time, cracking up!
“You gotta be loaded and going downhill to get good speed.”
“I know! I saw you guys try it and gave it whirl myself. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to stop!”
We all laugh as we walk back to our cars.
Getting in, start the truck, put my seatbelt on, I sigh.
“We just met a cool person.”
Many times in my life, almost every day that I go out, I find people that are fun. They respond when you say funny things. They make jokes about the items at the grocery store. Say things that inadvertently make everyone around them laugh.
I want to stay connected with those people, hand them a business card and tell them to follow me on Instagram or read my blog because I’m definitely writing a story about this, but it seems so awkward. Like I’d ruin the moment, make it weird.
Maybe the fleetingness of it is what makes it awesome. One quick encounter with the hilarious. An immature joke shared between complete strangers.
But still…I dream of being able to pull these people together into a team. We’d be an unstoppable force of joy and spontaneity.
When I was a kid, the movie magic and the theater were the domain of my dad. He’d frequently pick us up, go to Thrifty’s for two candies each, and head to the theater for the latest movie. There’s an anecdote about my active imagination that my dad loves to tell. I’ll try to recreate it but remember that it’s far better when he tells the story.
There was a day we were at the movies and, as was our custom, before the movie started, my brother and I would run down the front of the house to explore that big space in front of the screen but before the seats. “Back in my day” you had to show up to the theater early to get a good seat, so we had plenty of time to kill before the previews started.
This time I came running back with my serious face and sat beside my dad leaving my little brother to explore on his own. My dad asked me what was wrong, and I replied that I was afraid of the monsters. My dad scoffed and reminded me that monsters were only in the movies. I turned my six-year-old face to my dad, wide-eyed and dismayed, “Dad! This IS the movies!”
You can’t argue with that. Movie magic comes with movie monsters!
As I grew up, movies with my dad became more and more rare. Teenagers don’t go to movies with their old parents! But I did keep going with my friends until well into my 20’s. As an adult, they fell out of favor. I’m not sure why. It may have simply been the expense of taking the whole family.
Over the past five years, I began to rediscover movie going and was reminded of how much I love the experience…only to have it whisked away by the “pandemic” but theaters are open again and this past weekend a friend asked if I wanted to go.
At first, I jumped at the chance, then I looked at the offerings and wasn’t impressed. There weren’t many movies to choose from and they all seemed lame. But it has been blazing hot this summer and sitting inside a cool, dark theater sounded so nice. We picked a comedy and decided to go on Saturday.
Then I started thinking. Would it be crowded early on a Saturday afternoon? I don’t want to be surrounded by people during normal times, and even more so now. Would there we weird ass restrictions that make me uncomfortable? I’d rather just stay home than jump through hoops so that everyone FEELS safe and really isn’t. Human behavior can make me crazy sometimes.
I decided I was being ridiculous, and it would be better to go out and experience the world, take notes, and make observations in person, than to stay at home and speculate.
I’m glad I did, because people are so damn weird and movie magic is real.
We purchased our tickets online about an hour before the movie started. It’s the kind of theater where you pick your specific seats when you purchase the ticket. I thought that was pretty cool BCB but now it’s even cooler. They can separate people before they get in the theater, put empty seats between groups, because we’re all too collectively dumb to do so for ourselves (insert eyeroll).
When we bought the tickets, we were the first to do so. That was weird. I assumed more people would be buying tickets just before the movie and the theater would be fairly full. I mean, it’s Saturday and over 100 degrees outside…again. I messed up my timing (again) and got to the theater five minutes before showtime to find the theater empty but for one other family, who had bought tickets for seats directly in front of us.
Think about that for a moment. Those people looked at the seat chart, saw that only two other seats in the whole theater were already taken, and selected the seats directly in front of those. Really?!
With the way they build theaters now, sightlines are not a problem. And maybe you’re not that worried about strangers breathing and eating and talking less than three feet above and behind you because you’re vaccinated. But what about personal space and privacy? I get it if the theater is full and those are the only seats available, but the whole theater was empty. Why would you CHOOSE to be that close to other people?
Humans are so strange. I sat down in those seats because I those are the assigned seats I bought, but within a couple minutes the previews started, no one else was coming, so we moved up a couple rows. I laughed in my head the whole time thinking about my Dad and how he always complains that people choose the seat directly in front of you no matter how empty the theater is. I couldn’t wait to tell him.
As a side note, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is hilarious. I chose that movie purely by the title and the genre. I assumed it would be as stupid as the title, but it was inside and air-conditioned, so what the hell! I was pleasantly surprised, laughed the whole time, and loved every minute of it.
There was something else interesting that was thinking about while I was at the movies and for several hours after. Things are changing…duh…but not necessarily in a bad way.
I had stopped going to the movies mostly because the hassle of going, the cost, being among a large group of people that (from the story above) seem to have no sense of manners when it comes to movie etiquette. Screaming kids watching clearly inappropriate movies, sick people over my shoulder, talking people, etc. Why spend that much on a movie when I can sit a home and watch them on my big screen with a beer and chips? The ability to pause when I have to go to the bathroom? Yes, please!
Moving my watching time to earlier in the day, before 2pm, helped a tremendous amount. Why is it that no one goes to the movies at 11am or 1pm? We had been going on Christmas day for the latest release of Star Wars and walking into an empty theater for years. Walking out, we’d see a long line of people waiting for the late afternoon showings. Crazy.
I was bored with the selection of movies at one point. It seemed there were only action movies and coarse and crude comedies. I was so completely disappointed with first Hobbit movie, that I never went back to see the next one. There’s no dialog, no depth of meaning or character, just chase, chase, explode, and kill. It’s exhausting. And loud.
We chose to stay home to watch movies instead and I love the new streaming movies. There are so many new limited series shows based on books, history, etc. It’s awesome. Traditional movies have to be made to fit a niche: a time frame people can sit through in one stint and that a large swath of people will watch. A two-to-three-hour movie has to leave a lot of details out to get the story told. And it has to be made so that as many people as possible will watch to be profitable, so it’s catered the lowest common denominator.
It’s expensive for a theater to show a movie, so they need as many people there as possible. Streaming movies are cheaper to distribute, so they can be made for a smaller market. Limited series shows based on books or history, can be as long as they want. And now we have movies that cater to a very specific audience. It’s awesome.
But something is missing for me. Where’s the movie magic?
When The Force Awakens came out, something strange happened to me. This was the first movie I’d seen in a theater in years. When those yellow words started scrolling up the screen and the music began, I got a chill. I could feel the energy around me. And when the whole theater gasped in excitement to relive old memories and see the continuation of a story that we had all grown up with…it was movie magic. A collective memory, we were all connected emotionally. It felt…primal. I’m tearing up just writing about it.
The best part of that movie was the fact that we were all sitting there watching it together. Like watching your favorite band perform live or a live performance of a play, we are experiencing something together and for a moment we had a bond with our fellow humans. It was weird.
Right now, I’m reading “The Righteous Mind” and he’s talking about humans and how their evolved edge over all the other animals is their ability to work together, to trust each other (as in The Rational Optimist), and to bond into large groups of non-family. This is what has made us thrive and spread out over the world, to master our environment, and create technology that makes us fatter and happier than any other species. Call me crazy, but I think the movie magic is an extension of that.
I remember huge movie houses when I was a kid, packed full, shoulder to shoulder with little leg room, to watch a giant screen. The last movie I saw like that was Jurassic Park at the Cinedome in Anaheim. This movie was HUGE and was touted as having huge sound that had to be “experienced,” so we went there. It was amazing. You could feel those dinosaurs walking and hear them coming up behind you.
Those huge movie theaters are gone, I know, and that’s ok because their replacement is so much more intimate and comfortable. Smaller theaters, with comfortable recliners, tiered up so no one’s view is obstructed. Seats far enough apart that you don’t get kicked in the back by the long-legged dude or coughed on by the squirmy kids behind you. It’s fantastic.
But ticket sales had started to fall BCB, and I hope after being closed for over a year, they don’t continue that trend and theaters close forever.
There’s just something about the collective experience that I had forgotten was so special. The arrival, the popcorn, the finding of your seat. The lights dimming, the previews we watch and then look at each other for a thumbs up or down. The movie itself with the collective laughs, gasps, and painful silences. And then the end: the applause, the standing and stretching, walking from the theater laughing or crying, the looking to other patrons with the “Did you feel that?” look. It’s movie magic.
I don’t have a book quote to riff off of, or a podcast to share. I don’t have some special insight, or some polished bit of advice, not even an anecdote. But I still wanted to write to you today, so I’ve decided to write a love letter to my friends. Let’s see what happens.
Big news: my youngest son found work this week and is now looking for a place of his own, probably just a room at this point. He’ll be leaving our desert again. This time heading for the coast, where all the action is. At this time, he wants to continue his college classes and then transfer to a UC school next year, so he found some restaurant work because of its flexible schedule. He’s a smart one. I’m just happy that he won’t be in another state like the rest of our family. No offense to you guys, I know you’re all doing what’s best for you and that’s awesome, but, yes, if I had my druthers, we’d all live in the same area and party every weekend.
I spent an amazing afternoon with one of my closest friends this week. We went to the Macaroni Grill and ate something so glorious that I can’t keep my mind off it, butternut asiago tortellaci. So good, that I went home and looked up a copycat recipe to see if I can’t recreate this piece of heaven at home. You know how good it was? I usually eat as if someone will take the food away, but this I savored one tiny bite at a time while my friend and I solved all the world’s problems. I told the waiter all about it. And he was another win of this week.
That guy! There were only a couple other people in the restaurant, so he had time to stop and chat. My friend asks great questions, and he seemed happy to stand there and talk to us. I left that restaurant with a renewed faith in the people of this world. Here was another young guy, not unlike my own sons, that had moved all the way across the country to start a cool new life of his own, struggling a bit, like everyone else, but making it and happy. I would have liked to talk more. Why did he come here? And where was he going? We may need to eat there again next week. I think I’m in love.
Here is the biggest win of all: for the first time in my life, I noticed an emotional reaction and consciously chose how I would respond to it. Thank the maker! I’m catching on. Yes, I’m 48 years old and FINALLY starting to have some self-control. I was having a conversation with a friend and something he said just triggered something nasty in me. We don’t need to get into specifics because that’s not the point here. The point is that I actually had (and noticed) a moment where I felt thrown into an emotion.
Have you ever felt that? Something you see or hear just moves your whole soul to a sore point in your life and you feel like it’s brand new? Like…let me see…you burned yourself severely years ago, it’s been healed, a scar is barely visible, but then you see something that puts you right there at the moment and you feel the burn all over again. It really sucks. I’m sure I’ve been in the place before, but in the past, I reacted before I realized what was happening and created a new wound. Same analogy, I felt the burn memory like it was real, scraped at my body to get the heat off and went running for safety.
This time was different. I slowed down for a fraction of a second, took a deep breath and thought, “This is an emotion. Emotions are temporary.” In the next few minutes I thought, “Where did that emotion come from?” Then I sat with it awhile, wrote out the feelings, and moved forward. I didn’t need to be angry. I did mention what I was feeling and why, but I didn’t blame anyone or (my typical MO) snarl and bite like a dog protecting a wound. A few hours later, it was gone, and the journal entry of my process remained. I had done it. Success!
Now, I am well aware that next time might not go so nicely. I’m not a Zen master. But I now know it is possible to do this. And I’ve got one practice under my belt. I’m a happy girl.
There were other things that happened this week, as you can imagine. For a woman that doesn’t have a job and lives away from people, I sure do have a lot of activities. Well, maybe some people wouldn’t call it activity. I’ve been enjoying the company of my son while he is here, had several great text conversations with some friends, helped someone with a homeschooling question, and read and wrote a lot. Oh, and reorganized by books because I got a new bookshelf. I feel peaceful and, what’s the word, together.
And, as if this week weren’t amazing enough, I made another cheesecake from scratch, and it did not crack! First time EVER! This one is extra special because I wanted it to have a chocolate cookie crust and they didn’t have that at the store…so I googled it and made my own like a freakin’ boss!
A special, heart-felt, THANK YOU, to all my readers, the ones I know about and the hidden ones, the likers and the lurkers, the ones that read now and the ones that may read in the future. Thank you for reading my love letter, for allowing me to pour my heart out every day. Thank you for letting me in. Your interest in my humanity is felt every time you visit, and it feeds my soul. If I could, I’d buy you all a round of drinks.
What did you win at this week? I’d love to get a love letter from you!