Is that a signpost up ahead? No?
There was a surreal quality to our trip to the Southland, as though some alien force had wrought unfathomable personality shifts in everyone but us.
It started just before we left, when I phoned my father to check in and ended up finally breaking the news of both our desire and inability to have children. We had kept up a pretense of disinterest with him over the last couple of years, in large measure because I feared he would chide us for waiting too long, and why didn't I just content myself with focusing on my career? I explained that we had already come to the last medical option--IVF--and waited for him to rail about the moral implications of creating life in a petrie dish. Instead, he said, "I hope you do whatever you possibly can to have a child. Children are the most wonderful and important things you can do with your life. However much it costs, and however much it hurts, I hope that you do it."
Stunned, I sat with the phone to my disbelieving ear, choking up. I told him that, even if the IVF didn't work, we hoped to adopt. I cringed, waiting for the inevitable, "You know, adopted kids can have a lot of problems, and no matter how hard you try, they just won't be the same as having one of your own." He had said something like this not ten years ago, when discussing a friend's adopted son--a juvenile delinquent.
Instead, he simply asked what we'd found out about adoption so far, and I said that we'd mostly been looking into China. His response? "You know, I've always figured that it wouldn't matter much where the kid came from, or what race. It's all in how much you love them and teach them."
I didn't know what to say; I seemed to be talking to some other incarnation of my father--an open-minded, non-judgmental, politically correct version wearing his sonorous voice. Could this enlightened soul full of goodness and light really be the man who uses bile-inducing racial epithets on a regular basis while denying that they're offensive? The man who told me to "find some white friends" when I started at a new school in sixth grade?
Ten minutes later, the phone rang: he said, "I've thought about it some more and, no matter what, just promise me that you won't let money get in the way of having a child, whether through IVF or adoption. Know that I am here to support you; I have the money sitting in the bank. I've helped your siblings in the past but you never really needed my help before, and I want to be there for you whenever you need me." I started crying, and he said something that will stay with me forever: "Children are a completion. Now that I'm near the end of it, I can't imagine my life without children. I hope you have one. I hope you have two. Have a bunch. All different kinds."
The night after we arrived in L.A., we went to a good friend's 40th birthday party. A bunch of 30- and 40-something couples in cocktail attire--a good third of the women visibly pregnant--were sedately sipping mineral water or martinis, as conditions warranted, and catching the attention of the catering staff for another ahi-cucumber appetizer, when the birthday boy sat down at my side and asked me if I'd like "a toot."
"A toot?" say I, not sure I'm understanding him correctly.
"Yeah! A toot! A toot! You know, a little KO-caine!"
Assuming this to be a joke, I laughed and asked, "Do you have any crack instead? I prefer to smoke my coke."
He looked at me sideways for a second and said, "Listen, if you want some, we'll be in the guest house."
He was perfectly serious, and I had seriously just been offered cocaine for the first time since the Reagan administration.
I Just Said No.
Upon arrival at my brother's house for the nieces' birthday party, he proudly opened the door of his three-car garage to display...
...an enormous, 18 MPG SUV.
With nine seats.
He traded in his Neon for an SUV with room for nine.
They are a family of four.
They live in the Southern California suburbs.
They do not haul anything.
They do not go off-road.
Should they develop a daring streak and want to go off-road, they can't do so in their new SUV: it is only two-wheel drive.
My brother used to be an environmentalist. Now he drinks all of his water from 24-packs of Crystal Geyser and thinks it's fine because he puts the bottles out for recycling.
My sister, who told me not two months ago that she had given up on finding a man to love--that she knew she was just not meant to be with anyone long-term--is now matter-of-factly making plans to get rid of her beloved Abyssinian cats because the guy she's dating is allergic, and how can he move in and live with her happily ever after when she has cats?
The boyfriend? He's a great guy--kind and smart and smitten.
He was also my classmate and good friend in junior high school.
The surreality (can that please be a word?) of Joshua Tree's lunar-meets-Seuss landscape didn't hold a stubby wax candle to the Twilight Zone of human behavior we experienced this last week.