Abandoned Woolworth's, St. Paul MN

Worst. Father. In the World. This morning I had to get Gnat to an event in a distant suburb, one of those newer places with an utter absence of parallel or numbered streets. Nothing but serpentine roads, cul-de-sacs, and the occasional main drive hewn from an old path laid down 140 years ago by farmers ekeing their careful way to market. I planned the route yesterday, and since I knew the area a little I figured it would be easy. And indeed it would have been easy if the streets had intersected where I thought they would. They did not. When I reached the intersection and noted that my street wasn’t anywhere in sight, I had that aw-crap moment get when I’m off the map. I hate being off the map. I like to know where I am at all times. This is why this feature rarely originates from, say, Pantagonia.

I got out the big city directory, one of those finely detailed books cab drivers and deliverymen use. It has every single street in town, arranged on a grid, spiral-bound, 200 pages thick. But since the pages don’t flow together in the same fashion as a map, it can be impossible to digest if you’re lost. I know this is hard to explain, but I’ll try: a map is a reproduction of the way things are, with all possibilities and connections and roads and rivers arranged as the crow beholds them. You can’t do that with a book. If a road runs north off page 112, you may find it at the bottom of page 143. A road that lights out for the territories on page 25 may come in from the bottom of page 225. You’re told which page to consult, of course, but you can’t quite create a simulacrum in your own mind. You’re a monkey looking at a Shakespeare sonnet.

Since I remembered that the road was off a road that was next to a road off a certain highway, I took that highway. It was a nice clean new four-lane road, and after a while it dead-ended. Always a surprise, that. Sorry; no more highway. Please exit or you will run into a hill, and even if we painted a nice tunnel on it, you lack Roadrunner DNA and hence would splatter against it. And you have your kid with you, too.

Which I did. She was silent, observing the great clouds of steam coming from my head. And it got worse. As soon as I found the road, she piped up from the back:

“I think we forgot my lunch.”

Of course we had. Of course. I’d made it the previous night and laid it out and ran right past it in the morning, anxious to begin our 30 minute trek to the ends of exurbia. No lunch.

We found the place, parked, got directions, and made it in time. I asked if there was a convenience store anywhere; one of the assistants gave me directions that might have been more helpful if they included concepts like “Right” or “north,” but no, it was like Old Testament geneology, one road that begat another. I found the store and headed in, hoping they’d have something she could eat for lunch.

“Thanks for holding the door open,” said a sarcastic voice behind me. I turned around – a pale doughy lummox in a sleeveless T, chosen to best accentuate his lack of muscle tone and garish smatter of blemishes had entered the store behind me.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t see you behind me.”

“No prob,” he said, in his best I-love-being-a-dick voice.

“No, really,” I said. “I’m in a hurry, but that was rude.”

“Hey, it’s just something I like to say to people,” he said. “Doesn’t mean anything.”

Oh, so he’s just weird, then. I stood behind him at the checkout line, and he gave the Somali clerk a two-minute lecture on the virtue of hybrid engines. I paid for my Lunchables, got the bag, turned quickly – and knocked a display rack of sausages off the counter. A few rolled on the floor; I picked them up and put them back on the counter, apologizing. I have no doubt they went right back into the bin.

Who buys naked unwrapped sausages? I asked myself as I ran back to the car. I wrapped the bag around the Lunchables, tied the excess plastic in a bow, wrote Gnat’s name on it, and realized that no matter how hard I tried, this was still going to be her first day of this week’s camp, and she was the last one there, all the other kids already had the special shirt, and her lunch came in a plastic bag from a gas station.

Worst. Dad. Ever.

Drove home, filed a column, had lunch, failed to nap, got back on the road to the distand burb. It’s now an hour before I have to pick her up, and I’m at Starbucks. (No free wireless, but at least there’s the possibility of bacon.) The majority of the customers seem to be friends of the clerk, who are coming by to tell her that her new hairstyle is Hot. Some sort of somnambulant samba music is leaking from the speakers. It cannot drown out the hair talk. Then again, it’s not trying.

Two column night; if this is all there is, well, that’s because this is all there is.

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