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Every Day Above Ground ([personal profile] mallorys_camera) wrote2017-07-02 12:10 pm

Trapped Forever in the 1990s

How much do I love T-burg in the summertime?

More explosively than a thousand Roman candles detonating across a sky that arches over a fallow farm field on muddy Covert Road.


Teenagers claw at one another, steaming up the windshields of their Daddies’ Dodge Dakotas. Little girls in Disney princess costumes dance in the headlights of their parents’ SUVs. The fireflies dart.

How can anybody not love T-burg?


Of course, my own reconnaissance was of a more strictly maternal nature. I hadn’t seen RTT in many months, Syracuse, NY not being a place I ever want to drive to, but particularly not with a wonky suspension system.

If all goes according to my master plan – in other words, if down payments are saved up, if loans are approved – I want to give RTT my car in a couple of months. Purchase a new-to-me-at-least automobile. One with a hatchback into which I can easily load my bike.

That means RTT needs to learn how to drive a stick shift.

My ostensible purpose in coming to T-burg was to teach him to do just that.

My real mission, of course, was to find out what RTT wants to do with the rest of his life.


Weather patterns were very strange on the day I arrived. Flash flood warnings were in effect all across the Southern Tier. It would rain heavily in 20-minute spurts. I mean, the skies would open up; Noah would lurch out into his backyard, eye the arc anxiously. But then, the sun would peep out from behind phantasmagoric cloud formations, and it would stop raining for 40 minutes or so.

I found B and RTT in their Bachelor BoyZ pad.

I bummed a cigarette from RTT – I always smoke when I’m in T-burg but never when I’m not – and followed him out on to the porch.

“So,” I said. “How’s it going?

Oh, you know. Good. He was taking that class online – in fact, he was doing the last few problems on the test now. His new girlfriend was getting back from France in five days. He’d applied for a job as a barrista at the Gimme Coffee down the block.

“Just think of it, Mom! I can give you all the free lattes you want! With those foam palm leaves on top!”

He didn’t make eye contact, of course. He barely looked up from his phone.

That night he went out with a couple of his pals. Got very drunk. Didn’t get back till 4am.


The next day, I took him out for his first stick driving session. We didn’t get out till mid-afternoon: He had some schoolwork to finish, and the weather was still quixotic.

I’d wanted to teach him stick shift basics in a parking lot where he wouldn’t be able to get into much trouble if he had issues maneuvering the car. I don’t have collision insurance, the car being a 2003 Saturn Ion that with proper maintenance will last forever but that essentially has no Blue Book value.

I drove us over to the T-Burg high school parking lot, and he actually acquitted himself quite well, getting the rhythm of the foot-off-the-clutch and the foot-on-the-gas down:


The T-Burg parking lot is very small, though. No real room to get up to a speed that would allow him to practice shifting into 3rd gear let alone 4th or 5th, so eventually we took it out onto one of the back roads.

And he did pretty well! He hasn’t been driving long enough, though, to have a real sense of how cars handle. So his turns were pretty wide, and he stepped waaay too hard on the gas. Between that and his lack of familiarity with a manual clutch, I definitely did not want him on the county road, which we were rapidly approaching as we veered down a very twisty hill.

“Robin, pull over. I’ll turn the car around, and then you can drive us back to the parking lot.”

“Yeah, yeah, Mom. There’s a place to turn just a little farther ahead –“

The county road loomed. There were cars on it.

“Robin, pull over.”

Chill, Mom. I said I would.”

I think I repeated myself twice more before he finally pulled over.

We traded seats.

There was absolutely no room to turn the car around. I had to pull it onto the county road, and we drove back to the Bachelor BoyZ pad in absolute silence.

Oh, no, I thought. Not another one of these episodes.

With Robin silently fuming, She’s over-reacting. She always over-reacts.

And me knowing: I’m right, Robin. There are factors that you’re not considering. It’s not that I know more because I’m smarter. It’s that I know more because I have more experience.

Back at the casa, I decided, This won’t do.

“Robin, let’s talk about what just happened.”

“There’s nothing to talk about, Mom. I’m not mad or anything. It’s just very irritating when you say the same thing over and over again. I mean, I knew what I was doing.”

Did you? I thought.

But, of course, recounting the specific patterns I was observing would have required a longish, boring description of traffic logistics that I was simply not up to having. Plus, he was right. Even had he pulled out onto the county road and driven back to the Bachelor BoyZ pad, it’s more than likely nothing bad would have happened. Even if he stalled out! Because nothing bad ever happens in T-burg.

“Yes,” I said. “I can see how irritating that could be. I apologize. But did you like driving the car? Did you get something out of it?”

“Of course!” he said, thumbs rapidly working his phone’s virtual keyboard. “And thank you very much for spending the time teaching me!”

“Can I say something else?”


“I mean, don’t take offense at this. I’m not telling you to change your behavior. But when I try to talk to you, and you never look up from your phone, it has a very off-putting effect on me. It makes me feel like you’re not listening.”

“But, I am listening! I can listen to you and pay attention to my phone.”

“I’m not saying you can’t. I’m saying I feel ignored when you do that.”

He looked up at me then. “Poor Mom,” he said affectionately. “Trapped forever in the 1990s.”

See? The therapy has paid off!


Afterwards he dressed me up in an embarrassing hat like a little kid costuming a fat pet pug:


Then he went off with the same set of pals from the night before to listen to bad country western music and watch fireworks.

And come back drunk at 4 o’clock in the morning.


B and I watched the fireworks, too. Drove to the field just outside the winery where RTT was drinking with his friends and sat in a field.


As we did for all 17 years of our marriage, and as we’ve done every day we’ve spent time with each other since, B and I woke up the next morning, drank strong coffee and talked about the Meaning of the Universe for two hours.

“He was very maudlin when he staggered home last night,” B said.

“Oh, dear,” I said.

“On and on and on. About how he wasted four years getting the wrong degree, and he’s financially dependent on me, and if he’s lucky, maybe he’ll get a shitty little job in a shitty little coffeehouse. How he’s such a loser.”

Oh, dear,” I said. “Why won’t he ever talk about those things when he’s sober? I tried to broach those topics with him, and he blew me off. Though I do recognize that as his mother, I’m not the ideal candidate.”

“And anyway, “ I added, “I’m sure one of his frat brothers could help him land a high-paying job.”

“They could!” B said. “On Wall Street no less. But he says he doesn’t want to do that. Says it would be boring.”

“Oh, well,” I said. “God forbid that anyone should have to take a job that pays lots and lots of money and is boring. Anyway, he’s feeling what almost every kid feels nowadays when they graduate from college. He needs a couple of months to decompress from the academic grind and then he can start figuring out what exactly it is that he wants to do.”

“But he’s got those loans to pay off.”

“True,” I said. “But the real issue is that there are lots and lots of things he doesn’t want to do but nothing that he does want to do.”

“He says he wants to write.”

“But he doesn’t write,” I said. “He’s a very talented writer when he does write. But if you want to be a writer, you have to spend at least a few hours a day at it, finding your voice, honing your craft. Gratifications must be deferred; distractions must be ignored. It’s not magic. It’s craft.”

I will say that with all my multiple failings, that’s one thing I realized early on. Throughout my many years in the 9-to-5 workforce, I set my alarm for 3 o’clock every morning. To write. And I still get up at 5 o’clock every morning. To write.