West Coastin’: Of Meals and Temples

‘Last scene of all

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.’

Our post-Mass breakfast

Our post-Mass breakfast

Sunday morning, crawling to the bathroom, my sense of touch had the nerve to up and leave me.  Even after stubbing my toe on one of the wine boxes, the numbing sensation in my accelerator foot had lingered long after escaping our Sebring; moreover, my sense of balance insisted that my body was floating underwater.  This of course pointed towards some livid dreamscape, and as I lay there considering the possibility of that mermaid appearing again, Dasad woke.  Damn.  Another night Ariel, my love.

“Dude, what are you doing?”

“Wondering why I lost feeling in my legs . . .”

“No, on the floor,” he yawned.

“Oh, I tripped over one of the boxes in the dark.  On the way to the bathroom.  So very dark in here,” I pondered.  “When you close the blinds like this, its amazing how inclined you are to believe it’s two in the morning.”

“It is two.  Go back to sleep.”

NOTE: I may have imagined all this.  Throughout much of the trip, the line between dream and reality continued to fade and establish itself elsewhere, like the world seen through the bottom of a wine glass.

At any rate, we woke (later?) Sunday morning quite exhausted and indescribably drained from our six-hour exodus to Anaheim, in no mood whatsoever for early morning mass.  Yet sloth could not have its way.  Mothers – especially mine – possess an innate knowledge of their children’s foibles, both mortal and venial, and before we got that phone call, I roused our troops early and ushered them out the door.

The theater at Downtown Disney

The theater at Downtown Disney

Mass in California differs little from services back home.  My presence was still something of a minority, trading in a congregation of aging seniors for young Hispanics and Asians.  Nor did I quite grasp the point of the homily, a heavily accented digression into the meaning of faith, a topic which my own pastor would have muddled with several multi-layered tangents and an unnecessary explanation of didacticism – whatever that means.  Even the church’s heavily stylized windows displays and murals complimented my own: a tangled collage of pictures and symbols buried deep within colorful stained glass, like something by Seurat broken and reassembled with Jolly Rancher shards.  Yet Anaheim’s depiction of the Annunciation of Mary gave me pause.

Along one of the walls, Mary communes with an aged angel; in their midst a dove descends, a red beam fired from the bird’s beak pierces the Blessed Mother.

“It was like a holy laser beam had been shot into her chest,” I remarked afterwards to a yawning Dasad.  “I realize the need to conceptualize the Holy Spirit as something more than swirling air currents and fireballs, but doesn’t the divine ‘pregnancy ray’ oversimplify things a little too much.  Hell, they probably stole the idea from a Superman comic.”

“You would know,” Dasad muttered.  “So what’s the plan for today?  LA?  San Diego?”

“You said something about a triple feature.  A day to kick back and watch movies.”

“Okay . . . yeah, let’s do that.  It’d be good to do nothing for one day.”

I refuse to bore you with many of the details that followed.  As is often the case, these rare relaxing moments seldom translate well as good stories, while relating our ubiquitous humiliations and regrets often prove rather interesting – if not downright amusing.  We decided on three flicks, just recently released and from various genres:

  • Ponyo – a child’s fable, but nonetheless whimsical and beautifully told
  • District 9 – awesome and intelligent; excellent science fiction
  • 500 Days of Summer – if you’ve ever downloaded specific music tracks simply to attract a girl; or abhor dating; or simply enjoy honest funny movies

So excellent was the theater fare that without realizing it, we ate little else but stories for the remainder of the day.

You see, good tales possess a unique aroma, such that one might discuss an excellent tale with the same enthusiasm some reserve for fine cuisine or century-old merlot.  This analogy may be a bit off-putting to some, like my sister Katie, who suffers through most books like a sick child with castor oil, yet for bibliophiles the metaphor is all too accurate.  In my time, many books of such excellent vintage have incited periods of prolonged fasting and isolation (the night I discovered Harry Potter springs to mind), only to emerge again physically weak but nonetheless spiritually enervated several days later.

Excellent stories, thus, provide food for the soul.  And if the soul dies, the body follows shortly, right?  Therefore, reading is more important than food . . . or breathing.  For this reason and more, my family worries for my health and sanity.

Nevertheless, having fed our souls well, we left the theater satisfied and finally able to focus on our all-too-needy stomachs.  Late night dining (a little after ten) is sketchy at best, limiting hungry patrons to stale burgers or scraped bean paste wrapped in doughy tortillas.   Luckily we found a 24-hr Subway across the street from the hotel, wedged in between a Mexican take-out and Chinese restaurant that sold grease spiced with chicken fat (noodles were extra).  Jay opted for Chinese and Dasad tempted the Fates by ordering Mexican.  All in all the movies were better, and we returned to the hotel with satisfied hearts and stomachs in need of Alka-Seltzer.

NOTE: the bathroom at the theater was enormous and clean.  This may sound like an unusual topic to mention in closing but those who have traveled far through many a gas station or rest stop restroom can appreciate the joy of stumbling across clean public bathrooms.  It was breathtaking that I actually took a picture of it (thank the weekly matinees that it was empty).

So clean!

So clean!

West Coastin’: Rest Stops

RT3_pchAnyone who visits California must travel along Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, once in their life.  Frankly if you’re alive and own a car, the trip is required (the penalty is death if you refuse and own a convertible).  I associate it to a rite of passage, as sacred and necessary as receiving your first kiss, landing your first job, or watching your first Indiana Jones movie.

The road slips and glides around the western cliffs, hugging the steep rocky curves the way roads should and cars seldom can.  Signs advising 40mph wink knowingly as your car flies by, nearing twenty-more than safety dictates.  You look outside and gaze straight up or straight down.  Trees dapple the hills and mountains like an old man’s chin, while waves churn and crash on dark cliff walls, breaking stone with milky foam as dark clouds seem to flood the skies with sea.  As fog descends from unseen peaks, cloud and water merge.  The Pacific fades from view like the edge of an unfinished landscape.  At night fleeting wisps of light trace the folds in the peninsula, eventually swallowed by a valley or fold hidden in the darkness. We arrived in Monterey late, exhausted and hungry.

Several hours prior we had stopped for a tour of Hearst Castle, discovering the site during a sudden and expedient bathroom break.

“Damn it,” I cursed, nearly running down the streets of the small town.  “‘Bathrooms are for customers only.’  Do I have to pay admittance before I visit the privy or pay my toll afterwards?”

All of the various shops or cafes in town restricted bathroom use to customers only.  Signs posted in the windows clearly told me to ‘Go away!’ and ‘We don’t want your kind here.’ Or ‘Empty your bladder somewhere else and then come back and try our scones.  Delicious!’  All Dasad could manage was to giggle at my predicament, suggesting various walls and trees, which given five more minutes may have become enticing.   Moreover, he would not pay the ransom, citing something about terrorist demands and the outrageous prices on a worthless sea lion snow globe.

RT3_pch2Nearly jogging several blocks, Jay and I finally found the public bathroom, buried deep behind the local Texaco station: a concrete shack that at one time may have doubled for a bomb-shelter.  Still I wasn’t in the position to quibble.  Despite the notorious reputation of many gas-station bathrooms only a handful I have considered truly disgusting.  Most, though ill-suited for your Aunt Gertrude, are far more sanitary than most locker rooms.  However, in this forgotten town, nestled between two adjacent mountains off the Pacific Coast Highway, I encountered a chimera, something both unique and horrible.

Just imagine the worse possible scenario for each of your senses and you’ll grasp the general aura of this public facility.  Relieved but pale, I hastened outside, where Jay stood waiting.

“How is it?” he asked.

“Just don’t touch or look at anything.  I’d suggest breathing, but if the filth reaches your nose, you might collapse.  And I won’t be going in again to save you.”

I tracked down Dasad to the local candy store, ferreting for some home-made chocolate or sweets, yet most of their confections appeared boxed, mass-produced, or Hershey.  He left unimpressed and quite hungry; thus, we sat down at the local burger place for lunch.  After we had ordered, Jay returned from the bathroom, his face white and wet as if he had just fallen into the polar icecap.  Sitting down, he twisted his hands together, absently, I thought, until he pulled out an empty bottle of disinfectant and squirted it on his hands and face.

“It was full thirty minutes ago,” he said, massaging between his fingers.  When our burgers and fries arrived, he stared at his palms for a moment before picking them up, considering – I imagine – whether any impurities still lingered.

A nearby couple discussed their own vacation at the table nearby.  The conversation turned to their excellent visit to Hearst Castle, only a few miles up the road according to the road signs. Castles and ruins will capture the imagination of a twenty-nine year old as easily as a twelve-year-old, and without a word, we decided to take a gander.

Two hours later as we boarded the tour bus, Dasad and I came down with a serious case of laughing sickness, the kind that overwhelms your senses, making it nigh near impossible to stop.  It began just after the National Geographic film on the life of William Randolph Hearst and the construction of his home, the castle.

RT3_tapestryApart from the breathtaking scenes in European cathedrals and ruins, the whole presentation was essentially camp, recreating the publishing giant into some mythological figure rather than a human being: “There are many stories about William Randolph Hearst and his castle, but in order to understand the man and his genius, I’ll tell you my version.  It’s the one I enjoy the most.  It also happens to be the truth.”  The disembodied narrator, a supposedly sixty-some year-old pilot, could learn something about subtlety in his storytelling.  If they had concluded the film with Hearst curing cancer or turning lead into gold, it would not have surprised me.

So powerful was this performance that Dasad began channeling the man himself, squawking orders to our fellow tourists like a 1940s gangster.

“I’m William Randolph Hearst, see.  When I ring this bell, I want you Cary Grant to dress up like Little Orphen Annie, see.  And you Amelia Earheart shall dance for me.  Dance until I tell you to stop, see?  ‘Cause I’m the Hearst and while you’re at my castle, you’ll do as I say, see?  Or I’ll feed you to my cross-eyed polar bear, nyaeah . . .”

“Why are you talking like James Cagney?”

“ ‘Cause he’s old,” Dasad explained.  “Everyone back then talked like this . . . see?”

Something about that absurd logic and absurd movie that inspired it sent me rolling.  The two of us nearly crawled onto the bus, packed tight with tourists, who just stared quietly at the pair of giggling pot-addicts in the front seat.  When the bus started up the hillside, a train whistle erupted over the loudspeaker, followed shortly by the rest of the train: Chugga-chugga-chugga.  Whoot-whoot!  Chugga-Chugga. Welcome to the Hearst Castle Tour!  Whoot! Are you ready, pardners?

I looked at Dasad, red-faced and biting his fist.  After a few moments, it became difficult to breathe.

“If you guys don’t stop soon,” a lady beside me said with a smile, “I’m going to join you.  It’s contagious, you know.”

“S-sorry,” I giggled between my teeth, earnestly trying to master myself, until Dasad began muttering something.  All I heard was ‘. . . nyeah, see?’ and my willpower crumbled again.  We were no more good until the bus stopped just outside Hearst’s Roman pool.RT3_map