October 18, 2006

The month that was

Alice is finally getting to flex her fingers, thumbs included, at least part-time. The rest of the time her thumbs remain immobilized, which seems to have immobilized her brain as well. All that aside, Alice has been traveling and birthday-ing, and occasionally attempting to work.

So, late September: Florida. Alice goes to see where her brother and his fiancee have ensconced themselves. She is delighted that fiancee, although half her brother's age, seems to have more intelligence, a better sense of humor and appreciation for irony, and preference for financial independence far more than did wives 1, 2, or 3. Fiancee's favorite book is Pride and Prejudice. Previous wives have favored The National Enquirer or TV Guide for reading material.

Alice, brother and fiancee almost fall off the couch watching the local news. It is South Florida, and the weatherman looks like Lurch from The Addams Family. His forecast has been the same since June: hot, humid, chance of showers or thunderstorms. No hurricanes in the vicinity. By the third night, we are mocking him ceaselessly. We equally enjoy the sportscaster, who regales us with tales of high school football.

There is nothing so delightful as high comedy masquerading as news; it distracts us from "national news," which makes all of us want to hurl sharp objects at the TV. Finally, a potential wife who shares Alice's political leanings. Recent previous wives have not even been registered voters.

Fiancee and brother both work in the service industry, she in retail and he in restaurants. Their customers all seem to share a brain. Apparently gray matter is in short supply in Collier County.

They seem good for each other, based on Alice's quick assessment. And on Alice's refrigerator in Wonderland are now posted sonograms of her niece-to-come. She is going to be an aunt. Another generation waits in the wings (well, in the fiancee's womb, to be precise). This is an experience Alice never anticipated.

Alice returns to Wonderland, where The Croquet Player has snagged a room at a posh hotel for his semi-annual visit. Despite previous protests to the contrary, Alice decides to see The Croquet Player again. In this, our 26th year, the sex has been better than Alice remembers since the first five years or so. TCP was Alice's first love, and he will always have a place in her heart.

The purpose of Wonderland's hotels, in Alice's life, is to offer her a place to get away from real life and think of nothing but great sex. It is the perfect set-up for Alice and TCP: secret assignations in lieu of domestic disharmony. The hotel looks out over Central Park and the Hudson River. Alice knows she will never live there, but it's a damn fun place to visit.

A few days go by. Two days before Alice's birthday, her brother calls to invite her to his wedding. It is to be held in the town in Alabama where the fiancee comes from, an $860 round-trip ticket from New York, and it is scheduled for the day after Alice is to return from London. There is no way Alice can return from London at 8 pm Monday night and get on a 6 am flight to Alabama (via Atlanta; no one flies to Alabama directly) the following morning.

This is the first wedding Alice has been invited to since the disastrous wedding #1, when Alice was forced to be a bridesmaid, and her hideous dress lasted longer than the marriage. With wives #2 and #3, her brother called to announce the nuptials a few days after they had taken place in various Southern City Halls.

Alice, sadly, regrets. Later, a friend suggests that missing the wedding might have been a good thing, since her brother's latest in-laws might not be folks with whom Alice could sustain a conversation. Given that Alice is just a year younger than fiancee/wife's mother, and the mother's life is so far removed from Alice's experiences, she has to agree.

Then it is Alice's birthday. She used to adore her birthday, spoiled by a father who made sure a birthday was a BIG DEAL. Now she receives the occasional card, and is treated to dinner by several friends on successive nights. Alice still likes the celebration, the day that is All About Alice, but she remembers her childhood, misses the days of opening presents, albeit she realizes the gifts of time and friendships are far greater than a new toy in a box.

For Alice's birthday, she and a friend have a once-in-a-lifetime experience: they go to hear Barbara Streisand live, at Madison Square Garden. Her voice is phenomenal. She sings the theme from The Way We Were, and Alice is moved to tears: the first time she saw the movie, she was en route to England for the first time, with her entire family. She was 13.

The next morning, Alice leaves for London, to join her mother. Mom is turning 70, and for her birthday, she wanted Alice to spend a week with her in London, a town Alice has known well over the past 30+ years. While Alice is chief entertainment source and itinerary director, it is Alice's mother who insists on waking Alice at 9 am every morning.

Alice's mother is already babbling and expecting Alice to respond, in full sentences. Alice can scarcely manage 9 am, and she does not speak in full sentences until she is well into her second cup of coffee. Therefore, Alice is perceived as a bitch in the morning. She wonders why her mother can't remember that this is the Alice she has raised, that Alice's morning behavior was implanted in her brain and hence, is unlikely to change, no matter the location.

It is then that Alice discovers her mother believes Alice and her brother, as infants, always slept through the night. Alice suspects the truth is closer to the fact that her parents have always been sound sleepers, a tendency Alice has inherited and embellished.

The day after Alice arrives in London, it is 10/11. She and her mother are dressing for dinner, with CNN on the television, when the broadcast is interrupted by breaking news.

At the moment, 3:08 EDT and 8:08 GMT, the live, breaking news was that an airplane had crashed into an apartment building down the block from her mother's apartment. 9/11 happened five miles away from Alice and her mother's respective abodes; 10/11 occurs in the building that holds part of the hospital where Alice's mother volunteers.

Three days a week, Alice's mother has lunch in the building's cafeteria. Nearly every day of the week, Alice's mother walks by the building. The debris, Alice realizes after returning to Wonderland, could have very easily fallen on Alice's mother. However, her family has a history of barely missing violent events: the last time we were in Haiti, for example, our plane took off at 8 pm, and a coup was attempted 30 minutes later.

In London, on the hotel room TV, videos of the tiny plane flying into the apartment building were surreal. When Alice returned to Wonderland, reality entered the picture, and she was far more shaken up than she had been the week before, when the pilot and his flight instructor, filled with hubris, had veered off course and smack into the vicinity of Alice's mother's apartment.

As for the reporting, what didn't get mentioned in the newspapers was that
the one woman who got burned in the building is the same woman upon whom a street lamp fell one year when a helium balloon went out of control at the Thanksgiving day parade. Note to Alice: do not ever cross the street in her vicinity.

After reading all the news reports, Alice has concluded that hubris was the direct cause of the plane's accident. Many years ago, Alice herself flew small planes, leaving from an airport in the suburban county where her parents lived. She had been told where LaGuardia's airspace was, and decided at the time, that it made no sense to fly where the big boys controlled the turf.

The plane lost radio contact 13 blocks from where it crashed. If anyone sounded the Mayday signal, no one was listening. What puzzles Alice still is that the hardest part of piloting an airplane is take-off and landing. Once you are aloft, unless the rudder pedals break, it is so easy to fly in a straight line that even Alice, whose lack of car-driving skills are legendary, could pilot the plane without going off course.

Back in London, Alice and her mother enjoyed delightfully warm (for Alice) unbearably hot (for Alice's mother) weather. They (Alice's mother) breakfasted. They lunched. They had tea at their favorite hotels. They went to theater. They dined in familiar restaurants. They saw the Churchill War Rooms (a first for Alice), and they tramped through well-known territory: the V&A's costume collection, Kensington Palace, Knightsbridge, Bond Street, Green Park and Piccadilly.

In short, everything they did in London they could have done with equal ease in Wonderland, their hometown. But Alice knows that regardless of what her hometown offers, she would never spend a week there acting as a tourist. Life would intervene: the telephone, the e-mail, her attempts at life maintenance and work.

Thus, despite the early awakenings, Alice's mother's solo cocktail hours, and Alice's having to have countless conversations she could have lived without, Alice did leave Wonderland, and the change of venue was appreciated. The trip, which Alice was dreading, went much better than expected. According to friends Alice and her mother have in common, Alice's mother had a great trip. Alice wouldn't go that far, but it was mom's 70th, and if that was her mom's perception, Alice did her job well.

Back in Wonderland, it has been a few days, and Alice is enjoying her solitude. She has been recuperating from her vacation, from her birthday, from The Croquet Player, from her trip to visit her brother and fiancee, and appreciating some time alone, when the only person to whom she must answer is herself. At the moment, herself is calling time-out on use of hands, so Alice will end this lengthy post here.

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3 Comments:

Blogger The Misanthrope said...

That sounds like a wonderful trip. But, most importantly, your mother treasured every minute of it. It sounds like our birthdays are close -- mine's today.

If wife and I had not reconciled, I would have been in London with On The Mark. I'm happy with the way things have worked out.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Janet said...

This would make an excellent short story.

5:33 PM  
Blogger scout said...

Welcome home, happy belated birthday, and congrats on regaining use of various digits!

I think you've hit on a very important aspect of vacation: It's not that we need to go away to enjoy things that are all that different, simply that we need time away from our daily responsibilities in order to enjoy the activities we like regardless of where we are.

1:41 PM  

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