On the Train 16 – El Paso (Part 3)

El Paso, TX
2/22/2011

Sunset

I don’t think my uncle wanted me to leave. I think he would have benefitted greatly if I stayed a couple months and helped him cope with loss, and possibly expand his business. I’m confident that my brief stay showed him that he has family that loves him in more places than one, and that he’s capable of so much as a bachelor. The sexual element of his freedom is not important; the prestige of independent success is worth fighting for. Again, he will do what he must to reconnect with his family. I’m but a catalyst in a post-divorce return to society, and he welcomed the gift of my presence as much as I welcomed all the things he taught me. Like a ripple effect in a great body of water, he and I made motions that would have never occurred if I didn’t take this journey. The need for our entire family to reconnect has never been more paramount. I left around 5pm, and ate a home-made burrito as the sun went down over New Mexico.

On the Train 14 – El Paso (Part 1)

El Paso, TX
2/20/2011

Backyard Sprawl

El Paso is an expansive suburban sprawl. Between mountains and valleys are ubiquitous mini mansions built with palm wood, stone, and red clay. The opportunity for unique, independent, interior design is lost in the faceless repetition of homes. Lawns with burnt-yellow grass are redeemed by epic Italian pines that seem anything but indigenous. Everything is spaced out and requires transportation. The roads are unrestricted playgrounds for billboard signage. Driving down I-10, there are as many ads on the highway as there are on the internet. Couple that with aggressive drivers who drink while driving, and I’m not surprised to hear how high the driver-fatality rate is.

Italian Pine Trees

But that’s just El Paso and its massive roads. The heart of my experience here belongs to my uncle. While we drive, observe the scene, and see the evolution of his achievements, he is coming to terms with divorce. He talks of mistakes that feel like opportunities left to wilt. Quotations from a former life begin to resonate with us, such as “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” and I get the feeling he would give it all up to show his family how good a father he is. Instead, he now belongs to a community of bachelors who have a fringe-like influence on their children.

“You got to teach them how to shave,” I tell him as we drive away from the park where his ex-wife and kids are hanging out with other single mothers and their kids. He and I brought them doughnuts from Krispy Kreme. Minutes out of the day belong to bonding experiences shared between him and his two young, impressionable sons. He doesn’t blame his ex-wife. He blames himself. His work and his hobbies filled a void that family simply couldn’t. That was before he realized how important family is. In the absence of love, he would likely say, there is a void. To fill a void, you need a vacuum.

What’s Everything?

We always looked forward to visiting the Savings and Trust. Our family had a safety deposit box there. We would go as a family; I didn’t really know what was going on back then. My older brother was always excited as a kid, running up ahead of us and jumping up at the teller behind the booth, giggling and smiling. Our father would smile too; he was there to either deposit or withdraw something valuable. I walked with my mother, a few paces behind them, watching everyone.

They all looked like children to me. For some reason, the establishment looked like a backyard social club. The walls were made of pressed sheet metal, and the vault was a crawl space with specifically-labeled racks and trays.

My father showed me what money was. It was a bundle of transparent bills, laser-inscribed with “10 X 10 Thousand” on it. The bundle was worth a hundred thousand dollars, and it looked like a malleable slice of Plexiglas. There were several of them in the box. The rest of the box was filled with baseball cards, comic books, and other indescribable trinkets from former lives I’ll never understand.

The “10 X 10 Thousand” would always resonate with me.

My father was a smart man, a man made by the fruits of his labors. He was always considerate and rational, not erratic and foolhardy. He wore a collared shirt and tie, pressed pants, and wire-frame glasses. He had a receding hairline that crept past his forehead with a waxing horseshoe pattern. He was always smiling, even when I realized it tired him so much at times.

We especially looked forward to the Savings and Trust today. Our family was making a withdrawal. We were all excited, even I was. I was older now, and knew the value of money. Knowing we had money in this imperfect world was a comfort to us all. We all had plans.

My father let me get the box; I knew what it looked like by now. It was uncovered. It didn’t look right, but it had our label on it. As I pulled the tray out of its unprofessional rack, a woman came over, and as if scolding a child, said “no, that’s not yours,” and helped me put it back. I was confused. The label I often remembered was no longer unique to our family, and I went back to my father empty-handed.

He went and talked to the teller. He and the teller went behind the counter to talk in private. I could see my father holding a sheet of paper in his hand, and his eyes affixed to its print. He removed his wire-frame glasses and scratched the brim of his nose between his eyes. There wasn’t enough space between us for me not to hear the teller say “you’re past due on the safety deposit box fee” and “we got rid of your contents.” I heard my father say “that was most of our life savings” with a half-shocked, half-indifferent tone. Did they actually throw out all the “10 X 10 Thousand” bundles, all the trinkets, and all the memories of a hard life’s work?

There was no interlude. The scene changed, and we no longer knew of the small, cramped Savings and Trust. We were outside, in an open field, with millions of other people. We sat on a picnic blanket and talked together, like a family.

My father was different after that. He was no longer wearing collared shirts and ties and pressed pants and wire-frame glasses. He was youthful, more casual, but he still had a receding hairline. He was carefree, and he smiled unrestrained. Music came on over a loudspeaker somewhere, playing Jefferson Airplane’s “Won’t You Try / Saturday Afternoon,” and my father, sitting there on the picnic blanket among millions of other people, began to dance in place with his head and his hands. He raised his arms and banged on invisible drums, singing along to the lyrics. A few other people his age sat around us and joined him in song. He smiled, and we joined him, dancing in place while countless others lived around us.

In this moment, I never felt closer to my family. We embraced my father’s new-found attitude on life, and simply made the most of having nothing else to show for it. The lost articles of our family’s safety deposit box were meaningless now.

“What are we going to do?”

“Now is a great time for me to tell you about my million dollar idea.”

“Money isn’t everything.”

“What is?”

Nobody answered. We got up and walked away from the scene altogether. The Rolling Stones were playing “Wild Horses” somewhere, and somehow we all knew things would be alright. My brother and mother were ahead of me, walking into the distance. My father, his arm around my shoulder, asked me, “You know that drawing you did of the coastline a while back?”

“What drawing?” I never really showed him any of my drawings.

“The one of the lighthouse, with the path alongside it, and the ocean in the distance? I think it’s one of the best drawings I’ve ever seen.”

I instantly knew which one he was referring to, and my heart filled with such warmth that it made my eyes tear.  He always cared, even when I didn’t realize it.

Step Up – 1

Dorchester, November

I’m in my coworker’s car with his girlfriend and 2-year old son sitting next to me, and we’re heading from work to Dorchester and Blue Hills Avenue. The conversation was between him and me, sitting right behind him, about work and the people we work with. His girlfriend sat shotgun and their kid sat next to me. F-bombs and judgments enveloped the air, for good and for worse, and I composed myself as best I could while the kid listened blindly looking out the back window.

A Jamaican super-mix was playing track forty-two, and a brief interlude of melodic vocals helped me escape the fact that people live differently out here. “You’re in the hood now,” he said, laughing like he was joking, “Deep in it.”

Why wasn’t I concerned? Why didn’t I care about the kid or the girl, or the three loiterers inside the gas station while I bought a bag of Fritos through bulletproof glass? The company I had, and the randomness of it all… it was too odd for the neighbors.

My coworker is changing his fate with the help of this job.

We sat in his apartment and shared a Dutch over business talk. It reminded me of nights in Rolling Green when I was younger, drinking and philosophizing about all things. Except back then, I didn’t worry about my safety.

By 7pm, I was wishing I was home, and I felt like he felt the same way. He drove, so he had to drive me back. He quickly changed into something more comfortable while I packed my things. From Perry Ellis Portfolio he changes to light blue Levi’s and a flat white sweatshirt. He threw on his winter jacket and completed a fashionable picture. Maybe he knew; he didn’t really notice, or care.

He was thinking about going to Foxwoods. He could have been using that as a cover for more sinister shit, but I’ll never know. I said my goodbyes and waited for him in the hallway as he said bye to his family. It was a sincere picture; in a “last time” sort of way. It had a genuine impression on my memory. He lifted his head to her through the door, said “I’ll be back,” and closed the door behind him as we rolled out of Dorchester.