The first portion of the trip was allocated strictly for blood kin, but I decided to let my kid have an indulgent day alone with the family... away from my rules and bossy ideas about food and movies and arcade games.
I arranged to meet Mark and Kurt for brunch but swore them to secrecy: with a scant five hours in the city, there was literally no way I could meet up with any of the other adorable friends. Especially since the vast majority sleep through the day.
Riding the ferry over, I pondered the question of how best to avoid accidentally bumping into loved ones (and thus hurting their wee little feelings). Bauhaus and similar are extreme danger zones, so corporate coffee seemed like the only answer. I trudged up to the Starbucks on First Avenue.
It was Sunday. It was Starbucks! I thought that I was safe, but as I stood in line I heard someone shout from behind the pastry case Is that BEE LAVENDER I see?!
Indeed - and it was Shannon intoning the words! It was incredibly thrilling to see her, though I apologized profusely for woeful lack of time.
After a thoroughly delightful afternoon with the boys (dressed in identical lumberjack outfits - if only I had packed my camera) I caught a ride to the Silverdale Mall. Continuing Adult Preparedness 101, I purchased enough Fiestaware to serve dinner for eight (there was even a sale!).
Of course this presumes I will one day have a house to serve dinner in, and that is, well, a bit premature.
Now to... erm... get the dishes back to the continent where I actually live.
The last time I visited my hometown it had a pretty good independent coffee shop (often staffed by members of the beloved Hoyt family). It has since been driven out by Starbucks. Heavy sigh.
Still, I need coffee, and when I'm home I can almost imagine the corporate monstrosity to be local. Or at least, I do remember going there when it was one shop in the Pike Place Market.
I coaxed my mother and son inside for pastries, only to be sucked into a social miasma. Encountering three childhood enemies before 10 am? Amusing, though not especially illuminating. We all turned out as you might have predicted.
A girl I loathed for good reason when we were fourteen years old eavesdropped throughout a conversation with my mother, in which we discussed the advantages of the various (realistic) places I might move next.
It was very odd to feel this semi-stranger glare as I rambled on about schools in Berlin, housing prices in London, the benefits offered by assorted other cities.
Flying first class did not prevent the inevitable sinus infection; I am moping around in my parents pantry, using the dial-up connection to erratically answer email as I drink coffee out of my dead grandpas cup.
When my children reminisce about their early years they often puzzle over the particulars of the memories: Mama, do you remember that dinner... museum exhibit.... train ride....?
They have traveled so much, lived in so many different places, it can take quite an effort to sort out which town or country they are referring to. Venice, Trento, Tallinn, Paris, Nice, Berlin, Frankfurt, London, Edinburgh, NYC, San Francisco, Los Angeles: the list spools. Did they go with me to Zurich, Granada, Prague, Toronto, or a dozen other places? None of us can quite recall.
Whereas almost anything I remember before age twenty took place in a very small geographic area - the Kitsap Peninsula - a forested strip of land between two mountain ranges in the Pacific Northwest.
Four restaurants, two movie theatres (one on the other side of the county), no museums whatsoever; it was a big deal when KMart came to town. We stood in line for free commemorative tshirts.
Neither experience is better or worse than the other. I gave my children the life I dreamed of growing up in a small town. They are consequently cosmopolitan - but both wish for new, different, unexpected lives of their own.
My parents still live in the house they built in 1976. My childhood bedroom is intact, with all the books and dolls sitting exactly where I left them on the shelves. I have boxes in the attic, furniture in the garage, Tonka Toys in the shed.
Most of my surviving relatives still live in the county, still call on each other for help or advice or to celebrate graduations and births. No matter how far I wander, I have a place - a home - to return to. I wish that I could provide my children with the same.
I don't want to trade away the life we have now. I just want everything to be a little bit easier.
The first and most important goal for this trip: visit the relatives. I have a new cousin! I wish his grandpa could have met him:
In my first career I had a strategy for avoiding jobs I did not want: I just set my hourly fee so high nobody could afford the time.
This rule has worked in countless situations requiring subtlety, though I have no qualms about blunt refusal. When I say no people believe me. That is my thing - how I operate - how my life works.
But lately the control panel seems to be malfunctioning. I say no and someone replies would you like to fly (here/there/anywhere) to reconsider?
Um, okay. So long as you understand you are buying my time, not my consent.
Another set of free tickets, this time to Seattle - first class and purchased on short notice - why not?
The external forces attempting to purchase my loyalty continue to offer bribes, although it is unlikely anyone can meet the stated price. My basic requirements have never changed: health care for myself and my offspring, and legal permanent residency in a nation that provides basic services to all citizens.
Cash is nice but irrelevant - no amount of money in my pocket will suffice to convince me to live in a place where other people suffer for lack of food, shelter, and medical care.
If I sound like a pious idealist, that is fine. Remember: I have the wherewithal to act on principle. I left my homeland for a reason.
Though I am also by nature strictly freelance, so I am willing to listen to competitive bids. Where will I live? Wherever I get the best offer, within other stated parameters.
So: a place with excellent public infrastructures, reasonable fiscal policies, decent educational systems. To protect my sensitive skin, weather on the "gray to gloomy" scale. To pander to a strange new fascination with houses, enough money to acquire a home. And couch. In a city with arts theatres, interesting museums, live music, literary intrigue, and good coffee.
See? I'm easy. There are at least three, maybe four options in the whole wide world that match my list!
Today I spent a significant amount of the day in a first class airport lounge reading Tatler. My destination was secret. Though you might be able to guess.
The weather cleared enough to catch a train back to Cambridge. But I arrived to find the taxi rank collectively disobeying queue etiquette - with both passengers and drivers ignoring posted rules.
Clearly this is not acceptable; in the UK you could even state without exaggeration that it is a shocking breach of protocol.
Too many tourists, not enough Brits? Who cares. I schooled them all with ruthless efficiency.
I put one finger in the air and started issuing orders - You are next, you need to go to the back of the queue - the queue forms here!
One or two drivers looked mutinous but they obeyed my beckoning finger.
I planned my own birthday treat - a trip to an exotic destination I have never visited: Penzance! Also known, to enthusiastic and somewhat misguided locals, as the Riviera of England.
The gift was to include three nights lodging in a former geological museum; how thrilling!
Except this is my birthday so we have had the inevitable storm. I am stranded in London by the "weather" ! No ambitious adventures for me....
Instead I went to went to Harrods and bought a Brooks Brothers bag.
I also bought a proper suitcase and (hushed whisper).... it wasn't even on sale!
Then a contingent of the nearest and dearest took me out to dinner, where I set my head on fire. Mmm... kimchi & singed hair!
The New Year has arrived with a leftover question: whatever should I do with myself next?
Five years ago I chose an itinerant existence, and pursued the goal with blithe indifference to the consequences. I wanted mad adventures, crazed pursuits. I wanted to travel. So I did.
Intermittent residency taught me that this town is largely about alcoholism and adultery. I find both banal but I didn't need to worry about it, because I wished to be elsewhere. All the time.
While Cambridge baffled and annoyed, it also entertained, and served a stalwart role. I like my bicycle, my boat, and the river, and the other arrangements that anchored me here on occasion were sufficient to purpose. It was a place to store my things.
But recently I woke up and wanted... a home. Not just a house, and certainly not a fixer or project, but a solid structure, where I can spend all of my time. Where I can sleep, and work, hang out, throw parties (remember my parties?).
With a couch.
Of course I used to have all the standard material possessions - I bought my first house in Portland at age 26, and within a short time had moved on to acquire a Seattle property, on a hill, with a view of the Cascade Mountains. I would never glamorize the experience of home ownership, because I found it annoying. I am not the sort who enjoys renovating or (worse yet) decorating. I do not cook, or clean, or care.
I would rather sleep in a hotel and eat in restaurants.
So why this irrational urge toward domesticity? Why do I keep buying architecture magazines, and ogling kitchen towels? The itch is rather surprising, and has no known source. Maturity, or just age? Both? Something worse?
I have no idea. But I am sitting in a club in Shoreditch drinking peppermint tea and watching the bartender do a crossword. See? Old!