July 18th, 2005 | Published in old and busted
Somehow, the day we planned as an idyl at a park on the coast ended with Ben wrapped in a towel and me saying to Al “Don’t stab him in the base of the skull!”
I guess I could complain up a storm if I really set my mind to it, and Ben was full of complaints by the time we put the scissors down, but it doesn’t seem like such a bad day in retrospect.
A quick inventory:
Ben woke up a little before six. It was one of those “no breakfast, no peace, no nothing” mornings. By 7:45, he had taken to orbiting the living room, periodically flopping to the floor and acting like he wanted to go back to sleep. So I put him to bed, he went to sleep, and I went down to the basement to deal with some laundry.
As I set the time on the dryer, it lurched then stopped working. A little prodding, a check of the fuse box, and I found a thrown breaker next to the label “Dryer.” Ah ha. Flipped the breaker back, started the dryer, learned that when the dryer gets to the end of the cycle, it now keeps going. No one who knows me can possibly think that me in a house with a dryer that doesn’t know to stop but instead depends on me visiting it in time to make it stop before bursting into flames is a good idea.
Ben woke up. Not mad at the world, but still not big on the idea of breakfast. We drove to GI Joe’s in search of a water bottle and pack, Al commenced to prepare for the day’s trip.
Got back, loaded the vehicle. Ben fell asleep in the car. Awesome. Somewhere outside Cannon Beach, the car began to lurch and threaten to stall. Yes … that car. No further queries or comments, please. I’m still digesting the matter.
Lurched to a stop. Decided the vehicle had best be allowed to cool down. Decided to put Ben in his stroller and look for food. Wandered into sight of some place called The Wayfarer. I’m irritable, Al’s irritable that I’m irritable.
Something in the back of my head says “You’ve eaten here before, four years earlier, and it was memorably overpriced and not so good, plus the portions were miserly.” It doesn’t say it loud enough to drown out the part of my irritable male brain that is committed to being in control of something, even if the car, dryer, and Ben’s mood are out of my control. So I point myself there.
The hostess ignores us briefly, because she’s busy saying numbers to no one in particular. It’s like a movie where everyone’s given a new, numeric language and some sort of dementia to go with it. “19 should have been 32? No? 19? 26? No? 32? No! I don’t know! 29!” Then she spoke English.
“I’ll get someone to give you a table. I have no idea!” She leaves.
We get the table. We sit. And sit. And sit. Two water refills worth of sitting and the reasonable part of me is thinking “We should just go to one of the many other fine eateries in town.” But at some point, the act of being ignored by every single waitron in the place becomes a matter of fierce pride and determination. I’m going to see being ignored through, even if it means the hostess panics and calls the police because no one remembers us doing anything besides sitting there and drinking water, defiantly. Besides … If Ben had a full diaper and was in a bad mood, what would he do? He’d keep sitting in that diaper, getting madder and madder. No arguing with the cherubic wisdom of children, really.
So eventually the hostess comes and says “Oh my god! I’m sorry. I totally forgot that you were supposed to get numbers! Someone will be right over.”
Someone does come over. He’s tall. He speaks in what sound like really self-conscious britishisms … like he imagines that a waiter at a fine restaurant might talk like Alfred from Batman, only in a sort of Yoda-like syntax that involves replying to “May I have” sorts of queries with odd little stammered grantings of permission. It dawns on me that he’s mad we’ve been given to him, that he wants to take it out on us, but he’s afraid to commit to just blowing us shit or acting like an ass. I’ve been there, so I concentrate on moving him along. I think (though shock might have caused me to mis-hear something entirely different) that he called Ben “the young master.”
Al is a much bigger person than I am. Once he clears out, she asks me to sit on her side of the booth. I happily do so and peace is restored. We jokingly recap the morning.
“Damn dryer,” I say. “Well, it’ll be fine as long as we remember to turn it off. Oh. Heh. I forgot to turn it off before we left.”
Al winces. “We’re going home. Is our house going to be there when we get back?”
The first thing that pops into my head is that my favorite t-shirt, a red one with Bruce Lee on it, has been drying and drying and drying for maybe three hours now.
“Sure the house’ll be there … it’s a regulated setting, so the dryer can’t totally heat to some crazy temperature! Worst that happens is Ben gets my Bruce Lee shirt!”
The food comes. United by potential homelessness, our irritability subsides more.
The waiter, having already weirded me out with the whole “young master” thing, takes another pass at cracking me.
“Sorry if I seem distant,” he says, just as I’m thanking him for my plate. That gets my attention and I look at him.
“It’s just really busy. So, you know, if I seem distant, well … just call me on it, ‘kay?”
He leaves. We eat. Al takes Ben to the beach, which is right outside the window. I pay up. The waiter apologizes a third time for his “distance” then makes me box the remnants of the fruit and cheese plate for myself.
I go and find Al and Ben. It involves, at one point, grabbing the stroller and bounding over a small stream with it.
Ben digs the beach, and that’s where the day turns around. There’s muddy sand, which he loves. There’s a dog. There’s a lot of wind and kites. Eventually, though, he’s soaked and his diaper is ballooning. We clear out.
On the ride home, Ben wants to play “give me that thing so I can throw it at you.” He does this for 30 miles or so, then falls asleep. We pull into a Dairy Queen. Al goes in while Ben sleeps in the car and the air conditioner runs. She comes out noting that everyone seemed stoned, and that an angry manager told one of the workers “When I ask you a question, I don’t wanna hear ‘huh?’ as an answer!”
Ben doesn’t stir until we’re so close to Portland that he contents himself to complain every few minutes, but no real waterworks. We get home, I run to the basement, nostrils flared to catch the scent of melted, scorched appliance. The dryer is still going. I approach it. Cool to the touch. The permanent press cycle includes a cool-down phase, and it stayed at that state of “tumbling, cooling laundry” most of the time we were gone. Spike in the electricity bill, perhaps, but no danger. The collective mood is unassailable.
Ben decides to sleep some more, Al and I collapse on the bed. We all get up and take a walk to the park. It’s hot. The park is fine. We head to the Safeway because, you know, air conditioning. We walk each aisle very slowly, doubling back through a few of the refrigerator aisles. We’ve got more than 10 items, but the cashier in the express lane waves us through anyhow.
At home, bath time for Ben and the decision to give him a haircut. We bathe him, comb his hair, and while he’s still wrapped in the towel, we sit him on my lap and Al takes a crack at not giving him a mullet. He squirms. He’s mad. Real mad. He shakes his head at us.
“Don’t stab him in the base of the skull!” I say.
We get the back and decide that’s enough for the day.
He goes to bed pretty easily. “King of the Hill,” a pretty funny “Simpsons,” then an hour on the front porch in the cool of the evening.