Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hamburgers and Diamonds

"The Diamond and Fur Lady in her coat and I in my TJ Maxx cap settled down for a long winter's snack. We exchanged victorious smiles, and smacked our lips upon our burgers. Kindred spirits: We, The Living, of Interstate 70." 

Hamburgers and Diamonds:
A Generation X Love Letter  

“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together.” We have been married 20 years, this November -- we two children who got hitched to each other and a Ryder truck and drove to Los Angeles by way of the Rocky Mountains in winter.

It was a good start for us, married under clear November skies in Bethesda, Maryland. “Bethesda” means “house of mercy.” You gave me a diamond ring and we made our promises surrounded by soft autumn colors, and friends stood by in fine attire. Our proper brick church was arched by bare, grey trees, fibrous and plucky. Our great-grandparents would approve. Those were kindred trees with the German and the Scots-Irish, our ancestors. And like our ancestors before us, “we walked off to look for America.”

After our honeymoon at a house on a windy North Carolina beach (the best kind of beach there is), we struck out boldly for California over the Rocky Mountains in a whiteout, with no chains for the tires. Our ponderous Ryder rental truck clutched around turns and snaked over dark drops reeling into snow-flecked emptiness. Guarded by flimsy tin ribbons of guardrail, we were our own careening Gary Larson sketch, complete with a top-heavy vehicle, hairpin turns, and reckless overachievers (both the guard rails and those two wedded kids). 

I spent that part of the honeymoon clutching the dash, while you white-knuckled the wheel. The vinyl seat my prayer bench, my eyes squinched shut, I prayed like a saint for safety and deliverance. 

Driving on Bald Tires in Blizzards through Plunging Mountain Passes had not been mentioned on your resume nor come up in premarital counseling. What a glaring omission, I despaired, on the snow-melt on the floor of that cab. What a ghastly oversight in our courtship. Who is this man, really? And can he drive a very big truck in blinding snow and ice through steep mountain passes? 

Vows, rings, morning coats, honeymoons, counseling with clergy – none had prepared me for that pressing question: Am I going to die in a rocky valley tonight?

Kyrie eleison, I prayed with Mr. Mister. And the Lord did have mercy.  

And you had skills I didn't know about, and brought us through safely, in that dismissively-casual way of yours when things are dire. Then we nonprofit types stopped at a Wendy's with all the ski-resort-rich travelers, also breathing sighs of relief. We ordered hamburgers, and I sat near a lady in big diamonds and real fur.

Plucked back from the yawning maw of death, no food has ever tasted as good. The Diamond and Fur Lady in her coat and I in my TJ Maxx cap settled down for a long winter's snack. We exchanged victorious smiles, and smacked our lips upon our burgers. Kindred spirits: We, The Living, of Interstate 70. 

“Hamburgers and diamonds” -- a metaphor for the last 20 years and the different places we have called home.

A 15th floor apartment hanging in the air above a snaky Shanghai river and the floating marquees and coal boats of Pudong. You somehow found a coffee press to help me wake up in that Tea Town, and when homesick, we went to Blue Frog for burgers.

A pink-tiled, one-bedroom walk-up in North Hollywood, where we lay in bed each night and listened to police sirens and to the plates in the cupboards tinkling during 100 tiny earthquakes. 

A spread-out suburb in Texas with big and bright stars, wildflowers, and coyotes howling after hapless housecats in the front yard. We bought cowboy boots and tickets to Rangers games. 

A 1950s split level on the Morristown-Gladstone train line in New Jersey. We walked trails in the Watchung Range, sang with the Jersey Boys (we lived minutes from the site of the Four Seasons Bowling alley they took their name from), and ate at Carnegie Deli. 

Home was once a condo next to an ostrich farm in Denver. We hiked near Red Rocks and cuddled at home during a surprise spring snowfall. 

We’ve lived differently in our different homes. 

I had a cleaning lady in Shanghai. I was a cleaning lady in Denver. 

Black tie and Dickeys barbecue. Buddhists, Baptists, and Catholics. 

Wild turkeys and deer crossed the roads in New Providence, NJ and snow fell deep and heavy in 2012. All just "life in a northern town."

You’ve put up with the fact that I unconsciously take on the accent of the locals. In China, this means I speak English with a bad Aussie, British, or Chinese accent, while your eyes plead for me to stop. In Texas, it means I talk like Cooter from The Dukes of Hazzard.  But is it really as embarrassing as that time in D.C. I kicked you under the table and you blurted out, “Why did you kick me?”

Audibly, almost, I can still hear the raspy chain-smoking intonations of our landlady in Los Angeles, telling us we were “good kids” and instructing us not to put nails for pictures in the wall. Sorry, no art in LA! 

Also, I can hear the Chinese-accented clamor from across Weifang Xi Lu of "san gah' haizah!” (My muddled pin yin for, literally, "three pieces of children!") And, yes -- “dui” -- we nodded, pointing to my stomach. “All from one womb!” they exclaim. Three siblings are a wonder and delight to wombs taxed rapaciously by the government to house more than one. 

Over time you have financially supported four dogs, five hamsters, two gerbils, two guinea pigs, and untold numbers of fish fated for an untimely demise. We seem like nice people, but the fact of the matter is, our house is the end of the road for the life aquatic. Motto: Here, the fish sleep with the fishes.

Reader, what happens when the Scots-Irish and Germans marry?  I can tell you. But first, one thing that does not happen is: Boring.

Something that does happen is an unseemly number of U2 concerts and baseball games. Along with passion, persistence, political debates, and poem analysis. Or, as you, you old blasphemer, like to call them: song lyrics. Some Yeats and some Sting.

“Grace trumps karma.” And together we cling to Shakespeare’s ever-fixed mark -- no impediments, no alterations. For “love isn’t someplace that we fall, it’s something that we do” (wrote the poet, Clint Black).

And still more songs and poems and stories -- and that muffled, married, most-private late-night darkness. That knowing that it is just We Two. Who else do we have here in New Jersey-Virginia-China-California-Colorado-Delaware-Texas-Pittsburgh?

Though, to make things current, it is now it is We Five. You cloned yourself, as any enterprising, industrialized German ought, and gave me a small brood of bonny, brown-eyed stalwarts. They are wry, skeptical, and often unsubtle. They like good stories and sports and music. 

Together we try to teach them a sense of humor, both broad and wry, and we make them read books and articles (though you'll never read Sci-Fi and I'll never read Vince Flynn). And we make them get a little fresh air, as a moral duty. That's what the Germans and Scots-Irish share: books, a little fresh air, resolution on a good day, and stubbornness on a bad one. Not to mention a fondness for cheese and butter and bread.

This is a letter to my husband:

Who talks theology and politics with me just exactly when I want to, every night.
Who loves me even when I get a little plump on bread and cheese. 
Who plies me with warmth, and who kisses me so well that I don't want food.

Thank you for the fireworks, still blaze-y after all these years. Thank you for the roof, the bonny babies, and for the books and fresh air. 

Thank you for the hamburgers and the diamonds.

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