Saturday, July 31, 2010

Saturday Musings, 31 July 2010

Good morning,

The sleeping form on my couch reminds me that three young men trooped into my house at 3:00 a.m. One claimed his birthright bedroom; another went back home; the third bunked in the living room. Awakened from blissfully unaware sleep, I had organized the search for an extra blanket, a sheet and a pillow; then trudged back up the narrow, wood-paneled stairs to my room. Just before I fell into a week's-end coma, a cat thudded onto the mattress beside me; and I heard a small, contented whimper from the foot of the stairwell, as our dog stopped fretting and settled for the night.

The blond curls barely visible beneath the orange blanket belong to my son's most long-standing friend Chris. They met in pre-school, just before Patrick's third birthday and Chris' fourth. They are now nineteen and nearly-twenty. Although they haven't attended the same school together since each started kindergarten, they have remained friends. We haven't seen Chris this summer, until last night, when he materialized in the driveway. Chris is here, Pat told me, twice. They went off with Pat's more recent closest friend, Jacob, to do whatever it is that young men do until 3:00 in the morning these days, leaving me to hope, with no small sum of trepidation, that they would return unmaimed, still at large, and only slightly worse for wear. Now they sleep with the reckless abandon of the nearly independent, and I tiptoe through the first floor, grinding beans as quietly as possible, shushing the boycat who insists on emitting fierce yowls until I get whatever it is he wants.

I am left breathless by the memory of these tall boys crowding into my living room. My fifteen-hundred square foot home seemed more than spacious to me when I first came to dwell in it with my toddler son, and now I feel its inadequacies. They rise above me, sweetly, goofily, sheepishly. I don't inquire as to where they spent the last five hours; I don't inquire as to what they did. I just push them to their rest, and bid the departing neighbor boy safe journey two blocks to his house, idly wondering if Chris' family knows he is here, ruminating on how early I can call to confirm that they are not fearfully ignorant.

With coffee in hand, I contemplate the week just past. My life evolves with breath-taking rapidity these days: divorce, son off to college, new man, new suite, new couch, a piano in the living room. The accouterments of my daily existence seem to sprout as though drawn by animators, with me a caricature of a fifty-four year old woman wandering in a daze from panel to panel. I pull old reliable characters along behind me; I hoist a few new ones from the strip below on the Sunday pages, in slightly crooked colors. Mostly I race, headlong, towards the last sight gag, the heavy-handed pun, the unexpected groaner. I pray for soft landings.

Life has gifted me with many slow rides through crystalline sky dangling from a billowing parachute. I took Patrick, Chris and a third boy, Maher, to Chicago for Game Day as a present for Patrick when he turned thirteen. They earnestly packed their gaming equipment in the matching black carriers for which their mothers had given no small number of hard-earned dollars, then carelessly threw extra jeans and socks into grungy backpacks. Clothes did not matter; what mattered rested in the foam-padded squares in their gaming cases. Painstakingly painted Warhammer figurines; small boxes of pieces that I had learned to call "bits"; tiny bottles of regulation paint colors. Warhammer accounted for all of their pocket money in those days, and quite a bit of mine, but its analog nature and the chance it afforded them to commingle with a good group of guys around a table at the game shop seemed worth the investment.

I drove the three of them to Chicago, in a climate of excitement so palpable that I could have sworn it influenced my gas mileage to the good. We wandered the western suburbs until we found the hotel, then slogged through the lobby, to our room. I had taken only one, which I came to mildly regret over the next three days; I still thought of them as children, but I do not suppose they really were, even then.

We crossed a sky walk to the convention center for the first session, just an hour or so after our arrival, still tired from the drive, but unable to contain the boys' anticipation. When we entered the atrium, above the holding area for participants, the shock of what we saw brought us short. Beneath the rail, on the floor below, thousands of animated teenagers and young adults, many accompanied by parents in various stages of obvious reluctance, awaited the signal for the start of Game Day. Each participant wore a pass, the gamers of one color, the financiers -- parents like myself -- of another. The horde stood at the foot of three escalators, oddly quiet, mostly respectful, orderly. And when the red ribbon fell, allowing them to ascend into the gaming floor, no one succumbed to the temptation to stampede.

I spent the entire convention hovering in the parents' area. Each boy wandered back to me from time to time -- to get money for soda, or ask about lunch; share a victory, or lament a loss. I became acquainted with parents from Iowa, and Indiana, and Illinois. I read two novels. I went back to our room and napped.

On the evening of the first day, we ventured into the city and found a restaurant for dinner. As was our custom in those days, we also found the nearest Game Shop, although anything they wanted to purchase could be had at the convention for a ten percent Game Day discount. I recognized Game Day for the marketing device it really was, but did not mind. In the immortal words of Lucille Corley, on balancing her checkbook to the banging sound of hard rock emanating from the living room, I told myself: Oh well -- they could be out robbing banks.

I have photographs from our visit to my aunt in her nursing home that trip, the boys talking patiently with her, she somewhat confused as to which grandchild or nephew each was. They let her call them by her sons' names, and the names of her son's sons, and they walked her around the corridors in her wheelchair. Aunt Del is nice, they said, as we loaded back into the car.

When the last bell had sounded, for the last round of Warhammer, we packed their armies, and their ragtag lot of blue jeans, and headed to St. Louis. We descended on the Arch at 8:00 p.m., and discovered that the hotel had lost our reservation. The concierge rose to the occasion and gave us a suite, and the boys grabbed my laptop and settled into their separate sleeping room behind French doors, logging on to the World Wide Web through the hotel's connection, murmuring long into the night, as I drifted to sleep, closing my eyes with a lingering image of their three earnest heads bent together over delicate, painted warriors.

And now those eager boys have become hulking figures that tower above me. One of the three, Maher, has long since decamped to Florida with his long-time girlfriend, where they pursue degrees in something too complicated for me to grasp. Chris studies Arabic, in which he is fluent, which I find ironic since Maher's mother is from Beirut. And Patrick, who gravitates between writing, music and theatre, still remembers the best birthday ever, in Chicago, when time stood still, and his mother did not once, for three days, say no, we can't afford that.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.