On the last night home Daughter - ah, hell, Gnat - went downstairs for one last run on the treadmill. I heard the motor stop after a while, and she didn’t come up.
She came up and I asked what she was doing and she said she was half-watching Netflix and looking at Twitter and messages, so yeah, I’d nailed that one. What did I want to talk about?
Oh, only the last few things that needed to be said - no mystery, but just for the record, you are the greatest joy to my life and it has been my privilege to be your dad and a few other mushy things, and then she said some mushy things, and then I asked what sort of hug we should do at the airport. Desperate long clinch? Nah. Tight hug of moderate duration with two back pats? That would do. Okay, see you tomorrow. Let's get this over with.
Then she went to bed. I got a text a few minutes later.
Birch had eaten 40 peanut butter cups from a bag in her luggage, intended for her hosts, and there wasn’t any foil anywhere.
Well. I made a cup of coffee, called the emergency vet to get some info, told them I’d be coming in, and at 1:10 I hit the highway. By 1:30 I was in the room - Birch was all energy and enthusiasm, of course; what an adventure! A while later the vet came out with a big towel and asked “do you want to see it?”
“Ahhh - nah, that’s okay.”
“Some people like to see it to make sure it all came up.”
“Okay.” She opened it up to display a huge bolus of bright foil nuggets, mostly unmasticated - he’d bolted them all down, of course. Seems about a bag’s worth. They gave him charcoal and I went outside to have another cup of coffee and the emergency cigar from the car. It was 2:15. The sprinklers were going. It was a nice night. I was calm. Exhausted and almost grateful for the diversion.
Left at 2:30 AM, drove home with the radio loud on the 80s station, laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, realizing this was providential: a reminder I had other smaller things to look after and keep safe. Daughter was waiting when I got home and we had a laugh and chastened Birch, and then everyone went to bed. It was 3:10.
Up five hours later. Gloomy day, rainy, much like the days of last August when we were looking for Scout. (It was a year to the day since he disappeared.) We left the house at 9:30, checked in, then stayed with Gnat through the very, very long security line - for once, I was grateful. Hugs and kisses and she was off.
I wanted to say gone, but Off is better. Gone is correct, but it doesn’t feel right.
Usually when she takes a trip and I’m not involved I’ll text her while she’s at the gate or on the plane; standard chat. This time I said no: it’s time to resist that impulse, that habit. Because she’s gone - no. She’s . . . goff. How about that.
Wife and I were in pretty good shape afterwards: we did it. Meaning, we got her to the point where she can do something like this, and also we did it, the whole raising a child thing. No tears and no reminiscences and no glum faces. We’d done all that. At this point, you’re almost buoyed that the world didn’t end. The lightning flash had illuminated every corner of your heart. But the thunder was muted and rolled away to the margins.
Now it’s time to clean her room. Of course, that’s what you do, right? I set about the task with a clear mind, and was surprised to find a lot of clutter but not a lot of junk. Most of the detritus was from the last few years. SO. MUCH ART SUPPLIES.
Ding! A text? She had left her ticket at the TSA podium and had to get a new one printed at the gate ha ha so great start
We texted a bit back and forth and ended thus, which is new.
And I figured, that’s that. Radio silence until she gets there. Wife and I went to a birthday party in the far country, 45 minute drive, perfect Minnesota. (The banners this week are all from the house where the party took place.) I was dead on my feet, having gotten 5 hours of sleep and two quick useless naps, but found some great conversation and ended up having a big discussion about WW1 and Europe and Google and Data and all sorts of things. On the way back home - ding!
She was in Miami, waiting for the flight, and wanted to chat. So we did. She wanted a picture of Birch; I sent her one. She said THAT’S OLD so I found one I’d taken a few hours early when Birch had grabbed one of her old stuffed animals. She said NO HE HAS HAD HIS EYE ON THAT ONE FOREVER and I reassured her I’d taken it away and given him the toast pillow.
Of course, I was kidding; the Toast Pillow was from the Japanese culture phase, and I’d bought it at this weaboo store at the mall four, five years ago. It’s cute. I told her I would never give Birch Toastie and had, in fact, encased it in Lucite as a memorial to her Japanese days. Back and forth until she had to take off, Hearts, disconnect.
So I’m not feeling so bad because she didn’t evaporate, and perhaps cold turkey would have been better, but on the other hand, to hell with that.
The Rotary Leaders said you should expect a message maybe once a week, if you’re lucky; the kids will be so wrapped up in their new lives, and also if they’re sad it’s not good to indulge. I won’t. But.
I was talking to a dad at the party, and mentioning the whole texting thing, and he said his kids never replied to texts except to make curt remarks to answer whatever question he’d posed. Which is typical, I suppose - but when I look through my texts with Gnat the matter-of-fact stuff (I am here, dinner’s ready, door’s open, dog’s fed) is 25% of it, and the rest is gifs memes jokes links hey did you see this. I think it’s quite possible - bear with a dad here - that she opened up these chats on the day she left because they mean something to her, too.
Some day she’ll poke through the archives, and find some interesting files. Every message we ever exchanged. I saved them all.
Anyway. I cleaned the room, arranged her stuff, archived detritus, and put an LED nightlight under her desk that turns on when the evening comes, so there’s always a presence in her room. I reserved one drawer for the tiny cloth Pikachu she carried everywhere for years. I left her desk like this.
If I wish, I can wander in the room now and then and strum the strings, and remember when I would be in my study at one end of the hall, and hear her pick out some chords and start to sing - for no reason, except she felt like adding some music to the evening.
I never took that for granted. I felt lucky every time it happened. And that’s why I’m not bereft. To want more, after all these years, would seem greedy. Was I not blessed enow?
I was. And am.
It’s the early 70s, and Life magazine is kept alive mostly by cigarette smokers.
I’m glad we could come here and walk around in our pants that are so modern and fashionable! We can hold hands and still have one left over for smokin’, too!
Later the wind came up and filled the sails of their collars, and swept them off to sea. Not even the weight of the cassette player could hold them down.
You don’t follow trends. You’re not the sort of Joe who gets his back chopped by a stout refugee from a 1930s movie, and you don’t have mad-man hair and hideous pants. MY GOD THOSE PANTS.
No, you’re an iconoclast. A walk-a-mile type. From the start Camel pitched itself as the brand of free-thinking individualists, but they weren’t cowboys - a niche Marlboro exploited when the brand was repositioned from women to men. Camel Filters never really sold well until Joe Camel came along, though; something about his penis really sold the smokes. Head! I mean his head.
One of the most famous campaigns in ad history:
The more you look at the modern woman the stranger she appears. She’s like a praying mantis in human form, trying hard to keep it together.
One of the best brand designs in cigarette history:
Iconic as all heck, and it gave the brand a 30s swank not all smokers might have recognized. I have no idea when it became a predominately African-American brand, though. Wikipedia says they were “notoriously targeted,” but the reference for the assertion goes to this piece:
In the early 1970s, Kool cigarettes were exceedingly popular among African Americans – and tobacco companies wanted to know why.
Hoping to grab a piece of the market, tobacco giant Philip Morris surveyed Detroit menthol smokers in January 1972 to gauge their attitudes about Kool cigarettes and to test their openness to a potential new brand, “Menthol Fats,” according to newly discovered documents from tobacco company archives.
The two surveys found that Detroiters were steadfastly devoted to Kool cigarettes, saying they tasted smooth and were refreshing after smoking marijuana.
“For reasons that these smokers were unable to articulate, Kool is definitely the ‘in’ cigarette among these people, and they are remarkably loyal to it,” Philips Morris Marketing Executive Al Udow wrote in a letter to the company’s new product brand manager, Chris Bolton.
“There is no brand in sight that seems to have the vitality to take over.”
An update of an old ad:
For decades Texaco had been running ads that showed little girls heading off to the lavatory. The message was clear: your child can relieve themselves in a clean place. Gas station restrooms had deservedly bad reps; people weren’t from there, wouldn’t be back, wouldn’t care. People left messes. Texaco required its service station operators to keep the rest rooms spotless, and as someone once joked about my dad: if there were three people in line at the bathroom, your father was in the middle with a rag and a bucket.
This crap felt hollow in 1972. We just weren’t feeling it.
It was rote and tired, and had been ever since the images had been used ironically. Which . . . they weren’t, much, but just using them in 1972 felt a bit ironic. We don’t really mean any of this.
Unless you want to think we do, in which case sure, we meant it! Hurrah for America
This guy again! I really, really wish I knew more. C. White. Try googling that; it’s not very helpful. He had such a distinctive style - shiny, like early Disney animation.
Attention wives: your food will be as good as his mother’s stories.
Ah! Finally found the combination of search terms that gave me more. Charles White III. Google that. But not much about him; just snippets like this.
Charlie broke a lot of new ground in the 1970’s and 1980’s and his name was synonymous with the California air-brush look that graced so many album covers and magazines. His work always brought an unexpected idea and was executed beautifully.