Posted on | February 13, 2010 | No CommentsFebruary 4, 2010 (3:00 am or so)
February in Seattle has a way of turning my circadian rhythms around. So I find myself tired but unable to sleep tonight. This wired fatigue is an interesting place. The mind is quieter and slower. At the same time, a lot of psychic noise disappears, and an unexpected clarity of focus emerges.
Right now, my mind is filled with the taste of Toyoda Sushi and the beauty of the family dinner we had to celebrate my sister-in-law’s 43rd birthday. Maxwell, my nephew, who is in the 2nd grade, tried Wasabi for the first time tonight, tasting it carefully at first, but later asking for maybe just a little bit more to go with his Yellow Tail (evidently also his first raw fish Sushi experience).
As Max was trying the Wasabi, we talked about his cousin Alex’s first Wasabi experience years before, where in an impulsive moment he took a rather big bite and paid the price for it (smoke, as they say, was blowing out his ears). Afterwards, Maxwell asked, only half in jest, whether it was possible for smoke to blow out your ears. And we decided that while we had never personally seen it done, it might be possible, since your ears are connected to your nose and throat.
Then we explained that that phrase was more of a metaphor, and I referenced the Roadrunner cartoons, which Max had never seen, where smoke does sometimes literally blow out of the Coyote’s ears after one of his schemes to catch the Roadrunner has backfired on him. I wondered out loud if this is where that saying came from.
Reflecting in the middle of the night on my dinner conversation with Max conjures up memories of being in Vermont during the summer after I was in 2nd grade. The picture should be blurry, almost 40 years removed, but it remains vivid: Driving out to Vermont from Champaign, Illinois in the Orange Datsun 510 my dad got around that time. Listening to the Five Man Electrical Band sing “Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign” on the AM radio in the car as we drove out (Dad really liked that one). Stopping in Northampton, Massachusetts, I think in part, to pick up the keys to the mobile home we would be staying in for the week (it belonged to my parents’ friends the Fitzgeralds, neighbors from when we lived there).
Then we were up there. Vermont. Green. Clean. Serene. Work shoes on, running around in the woods by myself. Fishing off of a small bridge. Listening to the Band’s brown album on the portable 8-track player my dad bought me for my 7th birthday. We didn’t have a lot of different 8-tracks with us. In fact, we might have only had that one tape. And I suspect my folks were getting pretty tired of the Band in that mobile home, which was not so big for 4 people. But it was workable.
That brown album by the Band was the paradigmatic case: the first rock album that was really mine and mattered to me. I suppose I may have already had the experience of playing Revolver by the Beatles to death, developing an early favorite song on the album, but then listening more and finding things in some of the other songs that I hadn’t appreciated earlier on. But that was my parents’ album. This one was mine. So perhaps I was more aware of this process happening with the Band. “Dixie” and “Cripple Creek” were the early favorites, and I didn’t like “Look Out Cleveland” at all. But by the time we got to Vermont that summer, it was starting to grow on me. Little did I know we’d be living in Cleveland 8 years later.
Over the course of that week, I heard that song over and over again. And as I ran around in the woods, singing it to myself over and over again, it took up residence in my brain. In one form or another, it’s been lodged up in there ever since.
So as I write this, on the back end of my sister-in-law’s birthday, that old music still playing in my head, I wonder what sort of vivid moments Maxwell is having right now (and Sylvia too). They are still so small and seemingly unformed. But I know that isn’t really true. For while I may have been small during those days in Vermont, I was not unformed. I can draw a straight line from this moment right now back to that one. For better or worse, there is more continuity in that line than discontinuity.
That little dude in the woods was pretty happy-go-lucky, perhaps more so than this man at the keyboard tonight. But that little dude also thought about a lot of stuff. He was not oblivious to all that was going on. He was still growing and learning, but he could feel his mother’s irritation ebbing and flowing in the cramped confines of the mobile home. And it caused him concern, which would grow more prominent as the years went by, because this was a vacation, and vacations were supposed to be fun. So this unhappiness didn’t quite compute.
But it also didn’t obscure all happy things. For that little boy could still run around in the woods, something he had done very little of up to that moment, and something he has done very little of since. The running. The quiet. The music playing in his little head. Those were all happy things.
I see that process happening in my nephew now. He’s become a serious little dude. He can be silly. He often doesn’t know where the limits are, so his parents need to show him. But he is also taking more and more of it in with each passing day, already more of who he will be than anyone probably comprehends in the moment (including him). But also I suspect, more self-aware than we grown-ups are inclined to acknowledge or appreciate.
I hope the grown-ups at the table tonight get a chance to visit with Max on the occasion of his 43rd birthday and see what he remembers about this night. The Yellow Tail? The Tempura Fried Ice Cream? Or that first taste of Wasabi?