Monday, March 8, 2010

"You suddenly realize what a tremendous opportunity it is just to be alive. The potential."

And then—bam!—we lived in New York. And it only took me 40 years to get here.

I keep waiting for the giant wallop of realization, the smack on the rear end as the door to California hits me on my way out. But it's not like that. I've discovered that instead it's an incremental dawning, a gradual accumulation of signs and moments.

I got my New York driver's license, surrendering my California license in the process. I have no car, but I have a driver's license, on which I've given my permission to donate my organs and tissue and eyeballs in the event of my untimely death. (Realizing that my eyeballs would likely go to a New Yorker, the better to see the Empire State Building, was one tiny wallop of realization.)

I got my first piece of direct mail containing return-address labels in my name paired with my New York address—and considered donating money to the cause just because they were the first. Yes, I'm that kind of idiot.

I give directions to inquiring strangers on a regular basis, and have only once sent someone 90 degrees in the wrong direction.

I launch into conversation with total strangers, as I did today on the subway when I found a car full of people dressed in plastic bags. It was the day of the New York City Half-Marathon, explained the woman on my right, who was proud to have completed it in under 10 minutes per mile.

I group my errands not by which side of the street the stores are on or by how many left turns I can avoid, but by the walking route I'll take to get to them. The other day I had a nice straight-line trajectory from the neighborhood office store to the FedEx office to the Jefferson Market library, back to Three Lives bookstore and home. It was a sunny day and I smiled the whole way.

I'm convinced I love snow and slush as much as sun and blue skies. I do not make myself popular when I express this opinion—admittedly formed after only half a winter on the east coast. But where else can you enjoy scenes like this:

And pat yourself on the back for having survived this:

And then you see things like this in a sidewalk planter, which give you a whole new appreciation for spring and new life and starting afresh and hope and change and you feel like the first person who's ever witnessed the birth of a season:

This morning The Child, home on spring break, said in the midst of a lovely 56-degree day, "I wish I could transport my L.A. friends here and say, 'So, what do you think of the weather?' And when they say, 'Brr, it's cold,' I can say, 'Yeah, no, not really.' "

I promise I'll never become a smug East Coaster who glows with moral superiority because her winters are tougher. I'll probably never call myself a New Yorker, because I haven't earned the title. I'm still an L.A. girl at heart—one who goes to the water for relief and renewal, and who feels calmed by the sun setting over the place where a body of water meets the land, whether it's over the Pacific Ocean...

...or over the Hudson River.

But I'm mighty happy to be here.

* Title courtesy Katharine Hepburn, speaking of her film The Corn Is Green, in her autobiography, Me.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

"Orphaned again!" my dad cried, as My Beloved and I prepared to leave my parents' home for our flight back to New York. My parents have watched a lot of kids (6) and grandkids (13) and great-grandkids (5) come and go from this house, while they stand on the front porch and wave goodbye. They prefer the hellos to the goodbyes.

We'd been staying with my parents for nearly two weeks, ever since escrow closed on my L.A. condo and we'd moved out—watching the moving truck drive away...

...and vacuuming and scrubbing the now-empty space.

I leaned on the third-floor railing and cried for a minute. Stan patted my back. Then we laid out our keys on the kitchen counter, gathered our backpacks and our bottles of 409 and Windex, and closed the door behind us. Goodbye, house.

The two weeks at my parents' house were a gift. Yes, it was a little weird staying in the bedroom I'd grown up in, surrounded by too many pictures of myself in my hideous adolescent state. But the come-full-circle effect was soothing in a way I hadn't expected. I started my L.A. life in this house, and I left my L.A. life in this house. In fact, I literally left my L.A. life in this house, since my mom encouraged us to fill up a drawer with our socks and t-shirts so we'd have them there for our next visit which would be VERY SOON, she suggested.

Stan and I got up early each day and sat in the backyard reading the paper, while the cat put on his Fearless Hunter costume and stalked grasshoppers.

I had the chance to appreciate the stillness and the rustle of leaves and the changing light.

We drove around town in the car we'd sold to my niece and borrowed back from her, now with her bright-yellow graduation tassel swinging from the rear-view mirror. I jammed my camera phone with an L.A. mosaic—from the ridiculous...

 the sublime.

We scheduled as many goodbye lunches and dinners with friends and family as we could, and I always said the same thing: "We'll be back often. We'll just be traveling from east to west to east, instead of from west to east to west." But I discovered we couldn't stop people from treating this like a mournful farewell.

Between outings, we spent mornings at the breakfast table and evenings at the dinner table with my mom and dad, tucking ourselves in among the routines they've formed over 61 and a half years of marriage. I appreciated all over again my mom's unassuming strength, my dad's quick wit, the old Bob and Ray jokes retold with fresh appreciation, the Sinatra CDs playing in the background, the comfortable potato face of Jim Lehrer each night on the big TV, the sound of my mom's voice reading crossword puzzle clues to my dad, now legally blind with macular degeneration. Like a Waltons family of four, we'd bid each other good night and take up our stations in bedrooms down the creaky hallway.

And then, last Monday morning, it was time to go—time to gather our bags and the giant sheep-cat, and head east toward home.

(To be continued...)