Blur: There Goes the Son. It’s All Right.

September 22, 2012

“Maybe we shouldn’t have gone to Italy,” said Andy.  I was in a sour mood on our evening Agnes walk, a pile of bills, tuition payments, penalty-laden property taxes and other such signifiers of a certain sort of “reality” vexing me from their wicked scatter on the kitchen island, and just down the way an empty bedroom where my older son had been for the last ten years adding insult to my transient sense of injury.

But as soon as she said it I knew it was wrong.  I wouldn’t have traded that trip for a few pathetic dollars in an economic IV bag drip-drip-dripping its way toward flat-line end of the line what-was-it-all-about-anyway, Rosebud exhalation.

I’d been waiting all my life to turn fifty-two.  I’m not a card-counter but I have become a year-counter.  Twenty-six brought near death and a loving release in an ICU, it brought new love and a harmonic convergence.

In the full deck that has been my life so far, first came clubs, birth through bar mitzvah, and they didn’t suit me, bludgeoning me with loneliness; then came spades and we kicked that dark suit off on my fourteenth birthday by burying my best friend.  Twenty-seven began my time of hearts, marriage and children, lucky in love; the fourth suit was diamonds, but the kind you can’t sell, the carbon of my very soul pressed slowly into crystal though the process of finally growing up and learning just how much I do not know.

My aunt Lil once said to me, as a young boy smitten with her beauty and glamour in her elegant Gold Coast home, “Do you want to play fifty-two pick-up?”  I nodded eagerly, always game to have her attention.

She took the deck and suddenly threw all the cards wildly about her fancy apartment.  I was not accustomed to grown-ups making messes and she found pleasure in my confusion.  “There are fifty-two cards in the deck.  Now pick ‘em up!”  And she threw her head back and laughed, her elegant neck exposed, her coiffed blonde 60’s doo quivering with mirth.

She wasn’t mean, my aunt-Lil.  She wasn’t really my aunt either.  And as a teenager when she fell slowly into the hole of Alzheimer’s, it was her eyes that shown moist and confused as she dropped in and out of knowing who I was at lunch one afternoon at the most elegant hamburger restaurant in Chicago, the Acorn on Oak.

I turned fifty-two on a plane to Zurich.

I ate schnitzel at midnight at an outside café with my younger son, Will, as Andy and Nate slept in the hotel.

I sat at dusk under a linden tree and ate chocolate with my older son, Nate, and heard the ringing of seven-o’clock bells and a sudden swell of choir music and it was magic.

In the Italian Alps I ate yogurt under soaring chestnut trees in a sun-dappled morning garden, and felt as if I were in a dream.

One night storms rolled in from the mountains and Nate and I stayed up late talking as the trees blew madly about and we retreated to the empty lobby where gusts blew open the shutters and the curtains fluttered and by the flash of lightning I gazed into the eyes of my past and future self and drank in the closeness like a fine grappa.

Tragic news found us in Venice, and we contemplated loss and time and suddenness.

Under the Etruscan sun we encountered lizards and scorpions, butterflies in the lavender and sunflowers shoulder-to-shoulder to blanket the hills.

Andy and I found a little working-class town free of tourists and a café run by Mrs. Vanilli who made terrific espresso, deeply satisfying pastries and all sorts of excellent recommendations.

We played a card game called “Oh Hell,” and lay about on blankets by a lake and drank Prosecco and it was all more than very good.

In small hill town under an inky velvet sky we watched Italy beat Germany in the semi-finals of the Euro-cup, cheering and eating and drinking and honking our way home to our crumbling farmhouse, bonding and living.

At night I couldn’t sleep sometimes and heard footsteps on the stones at the hour of the wolf.  Ghosts and feral cats trod softly upon the ancient hills and eyes peered out of the blackness.  Etruscan tombs and offerings to eternal life lay half-raided under “melons” of rock and earth and oak trees, layers of vanished peace luminescent and ever-present under crumbling ruins of Roman conquest and erasure.

Up in the sky I saw Scorpio, and the great bear’s chalice spilling treasure into life’s cistern as distant trains slid along the valley floor with mournful horns and passing night-lights.

We staked a spot in a famous square and watched a rough and ready horse race, Il Palio, spill about the place and we were intruders in the dust of five centuries.

When the train from Italy could go no further because a landslide had blocked a former goat-herding tunnel, we took a bus over the Alps.

Meanwhile the Large Hadron Collider, just a stone’s throw away, was preparing to announce the biggest discovery of our era:  matter can indeed come into being out of absolute nothing.

This was announced officially on the day we got back to LA, 9am at the French-Swiss border.  I listened live on my Kindlefire though the blur of jet lag.  It was the 4th of July.

Soon we were on the archetypal trip to launch our son to college.

On the long drive to bring Nate his comforter and toiletries (he had spent his first week before college in a church basement helping feed the homeless) Andy said, “Is that a mountain up ahead?”

“No,” I replied, “Those are clouds.”

“I think that’s a mountain,” she ventured.

“If it is, it must be the tallest mountain in the universe,” I declared.

A hundred and fifty miles later we were gazing in awe at Mt. Shasta, an oft-exploded volcano, glaciered with ice and snow, soaring to heaven, a gathering of spirits and yet an anthill upon the hot sands of time.

In the dorm room, when it was time to say good-bye, Nate turned to us and said, “This is big.  This is like a scene you see in movies.”

Andy and I cried for thirty miles down the highway as the moon rose.  We looked over to see a big sweet dog riding with his head out of the sunroof of the car beside us, just as we were beside ourselves.  The wind lifted that dog’s jowls into a feckless grin, an easy rider on the open road.  And so we laughed and laughed.

Back in LA, still adjusting, we ran into a friend who made a movie with an epic weepy college dorm good-bye and we hugged her and told her how we’d just lived her movie.  We talked about parenting and art-making and then dashed off to our days, into the mysterious and eternal movie that we call life.

Even if it’s a blur, sometimes all we can do is tell our story.

On this, the fall equinox, please allow me to wish you love and compassion.  I’m blogging less, but caring about you, and our world, just as much as ever.  If I can be of friendship, comfort or assistance to you along the journey, do not hesitate to ask.  Perhaps I’ll throw all my cards on the table or all about the place; perhaps I’ll help you pick them up.  Perhaps you’ll throw your cards all over; perhaps you’ll help me pick them up—for I’ve never known less than I do now, nor have I ever felt more alive.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

amber_mtmc September 22, 2012 at 11:43 am

These days I think about you and your collective wisdom about bringing the world together quite frequently. Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories.


Kristen @ Motherese September 22, 2012 at 4:44 pm

It sounds like you’ve had quite a journey: the 52 years, the trip to Italy, the drive to college and back again. May your autumn be filled with love, joy, new adventures, and, to borrow the words of Keats, “mellow fruitfulness.”



pamela September 22, 2012 at 6:02 pm

What a treat to have a post from you. I sure have missed them! This story is beautiful and heartbreaking as our short life is. What I love about the solstice is that nature is in perfect balance and we can learn from her.

I have made the drive to Mt. Shasta many times and it never fails to awe and delight me. Your son is in a special place.


thekitchwitch September 23, 2012 at 7:13 am

Oh, this was lovely. So good to see you here–and what an adventure you’ve been on this summer. Full, in so many ways.


sissy September 23, 2012 at 12:35 pm

ahh What beautiful writing. I was with you through all of your trips. I have missed
your blog, and so happy to see it come up. Thank you for all of your blessings, I in return bestow them on you and yours. krk


mark September 23, 2012 at 4:29 pm

You have written some beautiful prose Bruce, but this good telling may be your best. We are going out to see my oldest, also in her freshman college experience in late October. That’ll be two months since I’ve seen her. Just because every parent goes through this doesn’t mean the transition isn’t tricky…


Katrina Kenison September 23, 2012 at 5:00 pm

“Good telling” indeed. I read this post early this morning, after a walk, which I spent thinking about the fact that perhaps I am not adventurous enough in the way I live my life. Your evocations of Italy awakened my senses and my yearning, reminding me that good as home is, there is a big world out there and I should leap into it while I still can. You inspire me, always. Welcome back. I’ve missed you, too!


Wolf Pascoe September 26, 2012 at 9:04 am

Glorious, gut-wrenching. Ah well, no guts, no glory.


Mintydee October 20, 2012 at 3:10 pm

I’m helping to soothe my little guy into a much needed nap right now, and your post is really a lovely surprise…Thanks for sharing these comforting, connecting, & inspiring words :) All the best, D


Stacy @ Sweet Sky October 26, 2012 at 9:25 pm

What a beautiful post — a beautiful life!

Happy birthday. :)



Jenn October 31, 2012 at 11:04 pm

So glad you’re back! My grandfather pulled the same 52 pick up on me…your description is my a tee! What a fantastic experience with your family this summer, so beautiful, wholly full filling. Congrats.


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