September 10, 2004

They always leave something behind when they go home: a hairbrush, a magazine, a bottle of conditioner in the shower, an orphaned sock crammed beneath a sofa cushion.  Half the fun when they leave -- if "fun" can be defined as weeping over a sweaty tube sock, I mean -- is wandering around the apartment, looking for evidence that they were here. It helps maintain that feeling of connectedness, I suppose, even when they're already 35,000 feet in the air. I remember once I found a Berkeley parking garage ticket stub on the bathroom floor, the day after one of them went home ... a souvenir from a Saturday afternoon trip to Telegraph Avenue.  I carried it around in my wallet for the next three and a half years, until the edges were soft and frayed and the ink had completely worn off. I think I've still got that ticket stub somewhere, actually, probably tossed into the chaos of a box of family photos and travel souvenirs. I find it impossible to throw away anything they leave behind.

This time around, it looks like I've permanently inherited a black Scrunchee hair elastic and a travel-size can of Gillette Satin Care Shave Gel: 

and yes, i bought the shampoo on EBAY. shut up.

Daughter #1 also likes to leave notes behind. This is a relatively new development, beginning sometime in the past year or so. (I'm not sure, but I think that maybe this is what convinced her that it needed to become A Family Tradition.) This time, I actually found her goodbye note before we took her to the airport for her return flight home. It was scribbled on a Post-It note and stuck into the little magneted notepad container on the kitchen cupboard, where I wasn't supposed to see it until later: "I heart you guys!" it said, in her endearingly girlish handscribble. As we were driving to Oakland International, I didn't tell her that I'd spotted the goodbye note already already.  I didn't allow myself to touch it or read it or acknowledge it in any way until she was on the plane and David and I were home from the airport, later that night. She left a similar note in the Subaru, though, which I didn't find out about until a day or two after she was gone. For all I know there may be other notes, hidden around the apartment like Easter eggs. 

I'll probably be looking for them for the next few days ... even when I'm not aware that I'm looking. 

And of course there is always food left behind. As you know, David and I go on a marathon grocery shopping spree before they even get here -- Sugar Pops, Pop Tarts, amaretto coffee creamer, crackers, Fritos, two varieties of fancy-pants cheese -- all the stuff we middle-aged dieters secretly crave but never buy for ourselves anymore. ("We've got an out-of-town visitor staying with us!" I explain to the utterly disinterested checkout clerk, as she scans the box of Hostess Chocolate Cupcakes.) And then once they get here, of course, the restaurant leftovers begin to materialize in the refrigerator.  By the end of the visit, the fridge is stacked to the *rafters* with little styrofoam containers of pizza and pasta and limp half-eaten turkey-avocado-and-bacon sandwiches.  Interestingly enough, in spite of all the planning and shopping and stockpiling, not a lot of the food ever actually seems to get eaten while they're here. After they go home, there is usually enough overpriced crap-food left over to feed an army of stoned adolescent boys. Then I'm faced with two choices: I can either make a clean sweep of the fridge and dump everything into the trash ...  or I can eat it myself. 

What can I tell you?  I'm eyeballing that limp half-eaten turkey-avocado-and-bacon sandwich, even as we speak. 


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We had a successful visit with Daughter #1 this past weekend, in spite of a handful of very minor glitches, here and there. (A punishing East Bay heatwave ... forgetting to bring the digital camera along with us on our trip to Santa Cruz ... a couple of phenomenally bad hair days.) Ordinarily I try to get up to TicTac for a late summer visit each year -- that way I can see all three of the Tots, plus my parents and my sister and The World's Cutest Nephew and the nice counterpeople at Taco Time -- but this year the broken ribs sort of put the kabosh on any end-of-summer travel plans I may have entertained. (Fortunately I was just up there for Kyle's graduation in June, so I figure I'm covered until Christmas.) Jaymi had some frequent flier miles accumulated -- or the Alaska Airlines equivalent of frequent flier mileage -- and we decided to put some of it to use and bring her down to the Bay Area for a long three-day Labor Day weekend.  She's had a tough couple of months: work problems, medical problems, the death of a friend, her boyfriend suffering an injury at work and requiring round-the-clock coddling. We wanted to get her away from all that for a few days.  

Once we got her here, of course, we had to decide what to do with her. It wasn't like her annual spring visit, when we do our post-holiday/pre-summer/"I just need a blouse to go with my new skirt" mall run. And it wasn't like her annual November visit, when we do our post-summer/pre-holiday/ just need a skirt to go with my new blouse" mall run. This was a Tot Visit entirely without an agenda.

So ... we improvised.

On Saturday we decided to drag her over to Walnut Creek for the day. Contra Costa County is one of the few places in the general Bay Area that she has never seen, in all of the years she's been coming down here to see us. (This was her thirteenth or fourteenth or six-hundred-and-forty-second trip to California -- we've lost track of the exact count, but it's well over a dozen at this point -- so it's understandable that we're starting to run out of new sightseeing destinations to foist upon her.) Plus Walnut Creek is the town where her incredibly groovy stepfather was born and raised, so there was some family historical value involved, at least by marriage. David really got into the idea, too: the whole day was a regular *This Is Your Life, Ю僱êrvØ¡* episode. He drove us past the hospital where he was born. He drove us past his old elementary school. He drove us over the bridge where the nine-year-old Ю僱êrvØ¡ smoked his first cigarette, with Mike Serles and Jeff Iverson. We stopped by the electronics store where his younger brother works, just to say hello, and then we went by his parents' house for a few minutes, just to say hello some more. (It was great: I got to show off my gorgeous daughter AND I earned valuable "Visiting The In-Laws" points, all in ONE painless visit.) 

Early in the afternoon we had lunch at Hubcaps, our favorite Walnut Creek sandwich-and-tacky-wall-decor emporium -- they make a great turkey club on whole wheat, with more french fries than you can possibly eat at one sitting, unless maybe you're a stoned adolescent boy -- and then we spent a couple of hours at Walnut Creek's snooty upscale version of the suburban shopping mall.  (Think: unsmiling middle-aged women in khaki shorts and pearls.)  "I've never been to an outdoor mall before," Jaymi said in wonder.  At one point I inadvertently found myself sucked into the vortex of a Sharper Image store. Fifteen minutes and $37.50 later, I was walking out of the store with something called a "Personal Cooling Unit." It fits around your neck, like some sort of weird electronic slave collar -- it looks like it belongs in an episode of Star Trek -- and when you fill it with water and flip the switch, it emits a steady stream of cool air on your sweaty neck. Or at least that's the theory.  I wore it all weekend, much to Jaymi's polite dismay, and all it ever seemed to do was hum and gurgle and spit water down the back of my T-shirt.

(Sort of like Jaymi used to do to me when she was a baby, come to think of it.)

Dinner on Saturday night was one of the few weekend activities we planned in advance: we made reservations ahead of time at the seriously fancy-pants restaurant  where they filmed the big 'reveal scene' in "Mrs. Doubtfire."  David felt that it would be an ultra-groovy experience for the three of us to eat at a restaurant featured in a Major Motion Picture Filmed In The Bay Area Starring Robin Williams. (Next Tot Visit: cheeseburgers at the diner from "Bicentennial Man.") And I have to admit, it was pretty groovy.  The menu was typical California cuisine: big plates, tiny food, big pricetag. Jaymi and I both ordered the filet mignon. ("I don't suppose you have any A-1 Sauce?" she sweetly asked her waiter. If he'd smirked at her, I swear to god I would have leapt out of my seat and decked him.) The steak was a little overcooked for my tastes, but it came with a gigantic hunk of garlic butter, melting on top  ...  a culinary idea that seemed to positively mesmerize David. (It's nearly a week later as I write this, and he's STILL talking about the butter they put on our steak.) On the down side, there were substantially more waiters than patrons at the restaurant, which always makes me nervous: every time I turned around, it seemed, there was another one of them sneaking up behind me, refilling my water goblet or giving me more silverware or attempting to wrest my half-finished salad from my hands. But I sucked it up and kept most of the snotty comments on the inside my head, for a change. I know Jaymi hates it when I'm mean to the wait staff, and I didn't want to do anything to spoil our evening.  Besides, it's like David always says: never insult someone who is serving you food. 

(Wait until AFTER you've eaten.)

After dinner, we drove to nearby Blackhawk for dessert at a place called The Cold Stone Creamery. One of David's co-workers had recommended the place, and it sounded like fun. The gimmick: you order your ice cream flavor and your "mix-ins" -- in my case, I ordered something called The Boston Creme Pie, involving copious quantities of French vanilla ice cream, yellow cake, fudge syrup and whipped topping -- and then they smoosh the whole thing together for you on an enormous iron cutting board, with chilled metal spatulas, while you stand there at the counter and watch appreciatively. Sort of like Benihana with dairy products. We sat outside the ice cream shop and ate our dessert as the sun was setting behind the fountain.

By the time we got home from Walnut Creek on Saturday night, it still hadn't cooled off much --  the apartment was like a kiln -- so we stripped down to shorts and tank tops and spent the rest of the evening stretched out across the bed, in front of my dinky little electric fan, watching "Big Brother 5" and bidding for shampoo on eBay. (Hey.  Who says we don't know how to party on a Saturday night?)


Don't bid more than forty bucks on the Soyflower Conditioner, OK?

Sunday was our Santa Cruz day. This was yet another place that we'd never taken Jaymi -- I'd only been there once myself, briefly, two or three years ago -- and I thought it might be fun to explore the town in depth. For a while we even considered getting a couple of cheap hotel rooms and spending Saturday night there, so we could have all day Sunday to explore.  But then I started pricing hotels online, and the closest thing to "cheap" I could find were two rooms at the Santa Cruz equivalent of the No-Tell for a couple hundred bucks apiece ... per night. Forget that.  Plan B was to get up at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning and drive down the coast before the worst of the heat (and the crowds) descended.  We could spend the whole day lollygagging on the Santa Cruz boardwalk ... maybe catch a ride on the The Giant Dipper, maybe gorge on fresh saltwater taffy until our new fillings fell out  ... then drive back to Alameda before dark.  Plan B fell apart, however, when Saturday 11 a.m. rolled around and Daughter #1 was still snoozing soundly on our living room sofa. (Not her fault by any means: it was so hot in our apartment, the night before, that none of us got any sleep. I didn't have the heart to rouse her to consciousness before she was ready.) So it was well past noon before we finally got showered and dressed and on the road. 

Traffic was hideous. We wound up getting to Santa Cruz by mid-afternoon ... just in time to walk around on the boardwalk a little, browse a few tacky giftshops, dodge the gulls, gawk at the drunks.  No time for the rollercoaster, sadly, but we did manage to flatten a couple of souvenir pennies and snag a pound of saltwater taffy at Marini's . We had dinner at a nice little restaurant, right on the beach -- more filet mignon, this time with gluey teriyaki sauce and pineapple slabs thick as intertubes -- and then we drove all the way back to Alameda for another evening of TV and eBay. (I am now completely and hopelessly addicted to eBay, by the way, as a direct result of this weekend.  But that's another story for another day.)

Monday -- a *bonus* Tot Visit day, thanks to the nice people who invented Labor Day -- we fell back on our old standby and went to THE MALL.  The real mall, this time, as opposed to the snooty pretentious Walnut Creek variety of mall. As usual, I walked into the place determined not to spend more than ten dollars in any one store ... and, as usual, I walked out with a walletful of decimated credit cards and more bags than I could carry. (Sweater sets! Pajamas! Blouses for work! Tacky silver hoop earrings! The complete first and second seasons of "Dallas" on DVD! ) David met us at the Food Court at 4:00, and we all grabbed something to eat before the trip to the airport. Food Court food may have seemed like a let-down, after a weekend of white tablecloths and beach-front views ... but then again, there is something to be said for the occasional Arby's Roast Beef Sandwich, fresh from the heat lamp.  Besides, it's like David says: it's not what you eat that matters.

(It's who you're eating WITH.)

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We put her on the plane and sent her home to TicTac on Monday night. It was sad to say goodbye -- it's always sad to say goodbye, as I've told you a bazillion times before: it's like ripping my heart out of my chest with a pair of rusty pliers -- but this time I am able to comfort myself with three thoughts: one, that we had another good, interesting, memorable visit, even if most of it was unscripted in advance ... 

... two, that she'll be back again in November: two short months from now   ... 

... and three, that I've got an entire refrigerator full of overpriced crap food to tide me over until then.


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~ nil bastardum carborundum ~

his cute, personable, SINGLE younger brother, i might add.
[hi, carolyn.]