Monday, June 19, 2006

If I May Ask Just One Question

No news extremely recently because I was in Michigan visiting my parents, with whom I stayed in Ann Arbor. We hung out and watched DVDs and watched the news in Spanish. We visited various relatives and I saw the couple of friends who are still in the area. I can’t tell you what the weather was like as my parents, after decades in the horrible heat and humidity of summer there, now have air conditioning, though it did seem to be quite humid once or twice as I was walking between the house and the car.

My visit coincided with my father’s 50th high school reunion. I went along for one event, which was a tour of their old high school building. My father went to University High School, which was sort of a lab for the Department of Education at the University of Michigan, which has now reclaimed the building for its own use. The high school closed in the 1960s. I thought it would be neat to hear people saying, “Here’s where I threw a spitball at you fifty years ago,” and it was. I also enjoyed hearing afterwards my father’s recollections about some of the people who were on the tour. He told me that one pleasant man had been the captain of the football team, the captain of the basketball team, and the head of the track squad, on top of which he was a talented musician who spent his summers at Interlochen! Sheesh.

I think they all would have turned out better if, like me, they had spent their high school years smoking pot behind the building and made do with Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. (Of course, I had many fine experiences at BLFAC, but Interlochen is definitely the fancy place.)

My parents have a very darling cat, Nigel, who belonged to my grandmother before she died. Nigel is unusually long and very skinny and has the kind of fur where most individual hairs are half one color and half another, like squirrels have (agouti, it’s called). She used to be extremely terrified of people—she was invisible to my grandmother’s bridge-playing friends—but she has loosened up considerably, though she will still sometimes trot away from force of habit, or muscle memory. When you come upon her lying down and pet her, she rolls over and stretches luxuriously, exposing her very long stomach, and then, in what looks like an overflow of ecstasy, she gathers what seems to be six or eight of her very long legs into her arms and licks them tenderly while you stroke her belly. She always looks like she’s smiling. My cat, Thelonious, is theoretically wasting away, but when I got home after spending a week or so with Nigel, she looked enormous.

My parents’ home has been the site of a good deal of overeating over the years, and in the past, I often began to eat compulsively the moment I arrived, which then tends to trigger anyone else who is similarly inclined (who then becomes crabby and blames me for making them gain 10 pounds), but I notice that gets better every year, and this time it was five days before there was a hint of overeating, and what there was wasn’t extreme. Friendly relations were maintained throughout.

I had fun being with my mother, as always. One night we were having an idle argument about something. After she’d presented all her evidence, she said, “I rest my case.” I said, “I rest my case.” She said, “But your case is wrong. You can rest your case in the back hall. You can rest it in the trash barrel.”

Yesterday morning I was sitting with her in her sitting room. I said I was going to go get my spectacles so I could see her. “There’s nothing to see!” she protested, and when I came back, she had draped a shirt over the top half of her body, covering her face, and then put her glasses on over the shirt. The effect was a little unsettling.

When I arrived, she gave me two instructions: Not to wash any of her laundry when I did my own and not to ask any questions. Every day I resolved not to ask any questions, but every one of them seemed essential, so she kept having to say, “Stop asking questions.”

A typical exchange. You’ll figure out who is who.

“I don’t understand why, when you listen to Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor never says, ‘This is Garrison Keillor.’ Why doesn’t he say, ‘This is Garrison Keillor’?”

“Because everyone knows it’s Garrison Keillor.”

I don’t know it’s Garrison Keillor. I can’t stand Prairie Home Companion.”

[Look of disbelief.] “Really? Well, then, don’t listen to it. Or do listen to it and sue them for harassment: He’s harassing you with his show.”

“It’s been on for 32 years, right? He’s been harassing me for 32 years and I didn’t even know it!”

[Pause. Same speaker as previous.] “How long does it take to drive or fly from here to Minneapolis?”

“Oh, jesus.”

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