Monday, June 20, 2005

The Meaning of Life

Maybe the meaning of life is to stop wondering what the meaning of life is.

Friday was the excitement of “movie night,” when MZA, Nick and I take in a film after the bambini go to bed. “The Bourne Supremacy.” It was good, Matt Damon’s cute, but it lost me when it got all tangled up in Moscow. Suffering from the “Mission Impossible” over-action syndrome. Like the filmmakers thought, “We haven’t given them enough somersaults on this one—here we go.” Zzzzzz.

Saturday was the full tilt Costco gate crash, in anticipation of lunch with an old family friend. Gorgeous, dry, breezy day. Nick comes with me to scope out possible bike options as his 8th birthday present from the ‘rents. People are lined up already, a throng of basket pushers, an Asian man sits meditating in the lotus position near the door. I lean down and tell Nick, “Look, he’s meditating.” He says, “I know.”

We go in and it’s like one of those contests where you can win everything you manage to shove into your cart in 30 minutes. We’re on a tight deadline, Mary, our guest, is coming at 11:00 a.m. Nick says, “Tell me what you want and I’ll go get it. You keep going.” So this becomes a fun challenge. I tell him, “Go get Charmin toilet paper.” And he runs off, delighted to be entrusted with these tasks, and comes and finds me next to the apples. He’s carrying a lifetime supply of Charmin in a package bigger than he is. Next I ask for Fuji apples. We get Turkey roll sandwiches for lunch from the prepared aisle, bread, oatmeal cookies, guacamole, natural corn chips and supplies for the week. Then we look at the bikes and they’re lame so we blaze for the door. The line is staggering: I forgot about Father’s Day weekend, which has now taken on Christmas-like Hallmark proportions. “Nick, grab that tub of cashews for Daddy, will ya?”

Get home and do the Red Cross bag to bag emptying of the car. Nick mans the basement supplies and gets all that put away in our downstairs makeshift pantry. Mary arrives right on time and I quickly get lunch pulled together. She walks in and says, “How do you cook in this tiny kitchen?” It’s OK. I still like her. It’s her personality. Which doesn’t stop me from wondering, in some small part of my sensitive heart, why people say stuff like that. Because over the course of the next 24 hours I keep looking at my kitchen—my beautiful kitchen that I picked the talavera tile backsplash and ceramic tile floors for—and wonder how I can cook in such a tiny kitchen. It’s hard to explain to people that the kitchen is actually really large, but it hasn’t been built yet. MZA and I live in our imaginary additions to the house really well. We know all the dimensions and enjoy the views from the new, perfectly conceived rooms. Other people don’t seem to see what we see, though. Too bad.

After lunch, I take Nick to a real bike store in “groovy” Wheaton. Yes, the stepchild suburb is getting an aura about it—an Adams Morganny feel of Salvadoran restaurants, bike stores and lots of other ethnic representation. Bike Store is manned by tattooed muscular Bike Guy. Bike Guy is taking apart bikes and hides his irritation at being interrupted with the necessary evil of working in a bike store: customers. Nick picks out a wicked blue Mongoose bike and is so happy. He comes home and washes it carefully (it was "gently" used) and wipes off the water with an old towel.

That night we get a babysitter—oh yeah—and go to a different Mary’s house in Mount Pleasant for dinner. Dinner at Mary’s is like getting to star in your own version of “Babette’s Feast.” Welcoming bohemian house—all warmth and lovely furniture, imaginatively painted with fleur de lis accents on the stair rises. Her bedroom is a newly transformed “Moroccan love den” with a filmy yellow princess veil over the bed and Benjamin Moore glitter glaze on the walls.

Dinner is a magic Indian soup made of pureed carrots and cumin with a cream accent woven through it; next course is a Thai shrimp salad cupped in endive. Mary has matched a wine with each course, something I have never been good at or patient enough to follow. I listen to her and amazingly the sweeter white wine is a perfect accent to the rich, but delicately flavored, exotic Indian soup. The wine opens up and brightens the palette. There! I said it. It was one of the first times I really “got” an elusive element of haute cuisine. Another was at a five star restaurant when we had a chocolate explosion sort of dessert and there was a sprinkling of coarse salt in the corner. The waiter said it would “bring out the caramel” in the chocolate. And it did.

The next course at Mary’s is a boneless leg of lamb marinated in yogurt and coconut and other spices. She grills it and serves a lovely red wine with it. Between courses, we go out on to her small deck overlooking an alley and smoke like prison inmates let free for the night. Moira, Martin, Mary, Susie, MZA and me. Back at the table during the lamb course, we get into Deep Throat and the ethics of his decision to fink out his agency but ultimately save the country. Then it’s on to the war in Iraq, the Downing Street memo, Clinton, abortion, everything. We can’t stop talking and arguing and baiting each other and laughing and then getting intense and frustrated. And laughing. The next thing I know it’s 1:30 a.m. and we are horrified that we told the babysitter we’d be home at 11:00 or 12:00. We quickly kiss everyone goodbye and sail home, back up Rock Creek parkway, to our house. An evening of liberation and maturity, with discussion that makes me feel like my brain had a session of calisthenics after a long hibernation.

Sunday morning is the pool with les enfants. Sunny, breezy, lovely. I am watching Daisy, making sure she is holding on to the sides of the middle pool, and Ian looks at me earnestly and says, “Mommy, I love you.” So that I’ll break my concentration on Daisy and focus on him. Small moment of fratricidal longing, in its own kiddie way. He uses the “I love you” often because he loves the instant response. He doesn’t have to keep saying “Mommy, mommy, mommy," or "Daddy daddy daddy…” He sees us turn every time, quickly, happily, toward him to say, “I love you too, Ian.” He is hooked on the immediacy, connection and power of those irresistible words.


Cynicism is another word for reality

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