The day before a journey is always filled with a thousand essential details. I usually pack the day before, too. But there’s packing and there’s final packing – you want to charge up all your electronics so they have maximum juice. The camera. The cellphone. The videocamera. The computer. The iPod. The walkie-talkies. The DVD player for the plane. You have to put each charger in a Ziploc bag so you don’t have a messy tangle of indistinguishable wall-warts when you unpack in the hotel. You realize that 16% of your baggage consists of rechargers. You envy the people who sailed to Europe with nothing but a rucksack and a sketch pad. I shall buy a lump from a native’s brazier, and sketch with humble, honest charcoal. Whatever, Percival. You transfer some TV shows to the iPod for the plane. You buy a book by your favorite guy-to-read-while-traveling. You lay out your money – odd how the Card replaced the Traveller’s Checks; when did that happen? – and cancel the paper. You cancelled the mail a few days ago. You pack the magazines and prepare a Ziploc of plane essentials:
Fiery hot gut-reaming peanuts
Gum, for compulsive anxiety-masking mastication when you hit turbulence
Wetnaps and bleach-soaked spill-cleaning pads, in case your kid dumps a drink down her shirt, or the man behind you gets ebola and bleeds out all over steerage
Earplugs, which makes plane travel so much more pleasant, because you can't hear your wife say "stop screaming, planes are built to take it"; sound-canceling headphones, for the same reason – but that means extra batteries, of course. Pack more batteries!
Anything else? Well, of course; lots more. You print out your boarding passes. You make dupes and set aside the second run in an envelope in your carry-on, just in case. You write the cab number on a Post-It note and put it on the coffee maker so you can call them as soon as you get up: it’s an early flight. Then, with no small amount of pride, you put your bags by the door at 2 PM, seventeen hours before you’re going to leave.
You are ready to go.
In one sense. In another, you’re not. This whole trip – well, it still feels a bit shaky. Impromptu. You made the reservations a month ago, granted. You spent the last week getting your work done ahead of time – if you wrote a daily column, for example, you wrote three a day so you could take time off without actually taking time off. If you wrote a daily website column, you spent the previous weekend writing the next week’s work in advance, along with all the site updates, hoping no one detected the scent of canned meat. You were ready to roll, and when you stepped outside the morning before the trip began, and the 22 degree wind flew at you like the attic scene from “The Birds,” you knew you were ready.
Disneyworld, here we come!
So. Tickets? Check. Dog to Nana’s house? Check. Work done, site complete? Check.
Child with 101 degree fever? Check.
Come to think of it, you haven’t checked in a while. She’d gone to bed early the night before, complaining of a slight headache. She had a slight fever. She had a slight rasp. In the morning she had one of those raw barking Linda-Blair coughs – not a productive cough, but hoarse. She was off her feed - she said she was okay, but it takes a lot to get her to admit she’s sick. You’d made her French Toast and let her watch TV all morning.
She didn’t stir much. After a while she went upstairs and played with her Barbies and My Little Ponies for a while, constantly reporting on her temperature, which she took every ten minutes, because she didn't want it to be so high you couldn't go to Disneylandworld. 100. 101.2. 100.9 101.6. 101.5.
Around three she laid down on the stone slab over a radiator in the living room, and took a long, deep nap. Jasper sat on the rug beneath her. That was usually his spot in the late afternoon; the sun's just perfect. No one had ever usurped his spot. Ah well. Deal, dog. You look at the two of them stretched out. This would make a great picture. But of course your camera's packed away.
When she woke she snuck into the family room and said “BOO” in a husky voice that made Talullah Bankhead sound like Pee-Wee Herman. You took her temperature. Damned thermometer: it had a low-battery warning and had defaulted to Celcius. That’s helpful. So you called up a web C-to-F translator and plugged in the numbers.
It’s four thirty. You call the pediatrician’s to see if they have an opening; they have a spot at 4:30, 17 minutes from now. Off you go. On the way you prepare her: if you’re sick, Disneyland won’t be any fun. You’ll be tired and want to go back to the hotel after a few hours.
I know but I hope we can go.
The clinic reads the temp at 103; a throat culture is taken, ears examined. You read a book while waiting for the culture results. It’s all about Mommy and the things Mommy did when Baby was little. They’re all the things you did, and you have fun pointing this out. After a while she just leans against you and you’re sad and disappointed together in silence.
The doctor comes back; it’s not strep. It’s “viral.” Oh, so she has a sub-rosa corporate marketing strategy? No. Not really.
It’s all in your hands now: go or no go. Head to Disneyworld with a sick kid, infect everyone on the plane, hope she’ll get better and enjoy the trip, or reschedule. Advantages to going now: few. Advantages to going later: you can read that 750-page guide to Disneyworld and actually figure out what you’re going to do; you can get better meal reservations. You can also deal with the nagging feeling you’ve had for the last few days, the odd premonition that this trip was not meant to be, not now.
“Are we going to Disneyland,” she asks when you get home. You sit down. You explain. “Not now,” you say. “Later, when you’re better. Because it’s no fun when you’re sick.”
She nods. She sucks it up. Can I have a toy? she asks in a small, low voice. You say of course. She watches some Jimmy Neutron then asks you to watch it with her. It’s funny. They’re being chased by a horrible evil pizza, but it’s just a dream.
You make supper, which happens to be pizza. (California Pizza Kitchen frozen divots, bought on sale. Not bad. The crust reminds you of something - the salt, the crackery texture, the burnt cheese, the fried spices. What? What? It hits you: My God, it's Shakey's pizza.)
After supper you cancel the reservations. Good on ye, brother: you bought Trip Insurance, which means you spent $100 to prevent the $200 cancellation fee. They figured out every angle, they did. Alas, you have until 9 PM to make new reservations, or there’s a fifty-dollar “because we can” fee. You spend half an hour on the phone with a delightful, kind, sympathetic lady in Florida who tries to recreate your vacation from the pile of ashes the day has produced. It works.
There’s a brief moment when you have to head to the Panic Room – i.e., the bedroom closet – because your wife’s sister & her husband have arrived for a brief celebration for your wife's birthday, and Jasper is barking his head off. After you’re off the phone it’s downstairs for murderously rich cake and gifts, a civil discussion of politics with your French brother-in-law (here’s a detail you'’d never known, and could never have guessed. He said he will be in France for the next runoff, and will be glued to the TV as it slowly reveals the identity of the winner. Eh? Well, it seems that the oldest & most established TV channel doesn’t just announce the winner, but does a slow unveiling of his face. They start with a dark screen and scroll up to reveal an image of the winner. [Sometimes it’s a blurry picture that resolves into a sharp one.] Other channels have a blunter approach, but this is the classic election-night conclusion, i seems – and perhaps for middle-aged Frenchmen, it holds a certain nostalgic appeal, as well as a sense of continuity. The things you don’t know!) You murder a bottle of red, open presents. When they leave you put your croaking daughter to bed, but first you check her temp to see if the Tylenol had reduced the fever.
Then you write this, saving the thing you’d written for tomorrow. The recollection of the day reminded you what a jolt that 103 had provided. It always brings out the better part in you; if the nurse had said “we need your arm, sir,” you’d have cut off the sweater sleeve with your Swiss Army Knife scissors and drawn a dotted line. Well, what's stopping you? Take it.
So everything’s fine.
Except for the fact that you’ll get no mail or newspapers for the next five days.
New Quirk and Fargo. See you tomorrow.