Today is Valentine’s Day. It is also my parents’ anniversary. So it is as good a time as any to pay tribute to three of my favorite people in the world: my parents and my wife Sarah. My other favorite people, in case you were wondering, are my daughter Hazel, my sister Mandy and her family, and Bristol Palin.
My parents were great about visiting me in New York, even though it was almost always a miserable experience. My dad came to visit by himself once during the greatest heat wave in New York history. He ended up having to rent a hotel room because he couldn’t handle staying in my un-air conditioned Brooklyn apartment and I didn’t know how to tell my girlfriend at the time that she wasn’t welcome so she stayed over on the fold-out couch, making all of us somewhat uncomfortable. The hotel he rented was my suggestion; it was incredibly cheap for Manhattan but it was essentially a youth hostel. His room was about four feet by four feet and he had to go down the hall to use the bathroom. It was an incredibly sad state of affairs for all involved.
On another trip, my dad and I went out to a bar in Manhattan with some of my friends and he left earlier than I did. The train he needed was out of commission, but he only found this out after waiting an hour for it to arrive. He figured out how to take another route, but by that time it was after midnight, and I lived in a sketchy part of Brooklyn where even bums were afraid to walk around after dark. He managed to get home without getting mugged, but I’m sure the trip did not exactly take place within what he would call his comfort zone.
Another time, back when I was still living at 21-20, the whole family came to visit. The morning my sister was leaving she woke up to find Scary Gary’s horrible snarling monster of a dog trapped in our foyer. We called the police, but right before they arrived, Mr. Talgot returned from his morning frut run and took the dog into his apartment. My sister missed her plane and the dog missed his one chance to escape from under Gary’s iron fist, so again, lose-lose.
I don’t think it was mere coincidence that things always went off the rails when my parents visited. When my parents are around I magically transform into the image they’ve had of me since I was a small child. For instance, I used to lose things when I was a kid. I don’t really do that anymore. I am mature now, and responsible. But every time they come to visit, I lose things. So they will always see me as the kid who loses things, because when they’re around, that’s who I am. And there’s something about my parents being around that negates all my responsibility and self-discipline. When they come to LA, we always get lost. I try so hard to not get lost that I end up second-guessing myself and getting lost. I have no explanation for this phenomenon, but I am sure it is real and it is full of science.
Maybe the worst example of things spiraling out of control in New York occurred the day they met my wife Sarah for the first time. She wasn’t my wife at the time, of course. I wouldn’t get married without inviting my parents. They raised me better than that.
The night before the out-of-control day, I had spent the night at Sarah’s apartment in Park Slope. I’m not sure where my parents were staying, but it was far enough away from Brooklyn that once they got there, they weren’t about to leave. I lived in Greenpoint, which is a good 1/2 hour train ride from Park Slope on a good day. The day in question was not a good day. We had told my parents to meet us at a restaurant in Greenpoint for brunch at 11:00. We hopped on the F train with plenty of time to spare. The F train went blazing past our stop. We got out at the next stop and took an F in the opposite direction. Then we waited 1/2 an hour for the G to arrive, and had to transfer to another train, which took us to a bus, which took us to Greenpoint. All told, we were about 45 minutes late.
When we arrived, we apologized up and down. My parents were very nice about it, still eager to meet this girl I’d been raving about for the past few months. The three of them got along famously, because, of course they would. I would never marry a girl my parents did not approve of. They raised me better than that.
After brunch, we parted ways with Sarah at the subway entrance and my parents and I headed back to my apartment. She was on her way down to her friend Rosten’s apartment to practice with her band. Oh, which, now that I’m remembering, was why we couldn’t leave Brooklyn … because we were going to see Sarah’s band play in Park Slope at 7:00 that night. That’s how New York works; when you’re in Brooklyn at 12:30 and you have a show to go to at 7:00, you have to find a way to kill 6 1/2 hours. If you try to go back into Manhattan, something’s bound to go pear-shaped.
A few blocks away from my apartment, I realized that my only set of keys was in Sarah’s purse. I called her. No answer, of course, because she was on the subway, underground. I did not know where Rosten’s apartment was located. Thinking quickly, I decided that our best option was to get on the subway and head in a general southerly direction in the hopes that she would realize what had happened and get off the train at exactly the right station and miraculously find the car we were in and hand off the keys to us.
This didn’t happen. Attempts to contact one another by cell phone were met with dead signals. What we did was go to her apartment, where she wasn’t, and wait in the park until she called us. We waited for about 1/2 an hour. It started to sprinkle. Things were not looking positive. Finally, she called and gave us a somewhat central location where we could meet. We didn’t want to get all the way back on the train and head up to our place, only to head back down to see her band later that night, so we decided she would give us the keys to her apartment and we would hang out there until it was time to go to her show.
We all hopped back on the train. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at the station near the coffee shop where I was to meet Sarah. The rain was coming down in buckets, so I told my parents to wait at the subway and I’d brave the storm myself. I found the coffee shop, met up with Sarah, got her keys, and returned to the subway with three $4.99 umbrellas in hand. It’s always raining in New York, but the rain often catches you unawares while you’re out on the street, far from your home. The solution is to always carry an umbrella with you, no matter what the sky looks like in the morning, or buy a street umbrella. Street umbrellas are a flimsy, one-time use item that you buy only under the direst of circumstances. You use your street umbrella to get to wherever you’re going and then you throw it in the trash or the back of your closet. You don’t carry a street umbrella with you as your umbrella of choice. The next time it rains, you just buy another street umbrella.
We then got back on the subway and took the train back to where we’d just come from, walked to Sarah’s apartment in the pouring rain, geting soaked even though we had umbrellas because the umbrellas we had were truly abysmal. There was a moment of panic when I couldn’t get the front door to Sarah’s building open, but I banged furiously until one of the neighbors let us in. Neighbors always let you in in New York, even if they’ve never seen you before.
The adventure was pretty much over at that point. It was now 4:00. We hung out at Sarah’s apartment for 2 more hours then got back on the train and headed to her gig. Where she was brilliant, of course, and my parents were suitably impressed. To their credit, they rolled with the punches, even though I’m sure the minute they finally got some time alone they banged their heads against the wall for raising such an irresponsible child. Ah well. In the end, in all worked out for the best. I got the girl, and they … I’m not really sure what they got out of it. A wonderful daughter-in-law, a brand new granddaughter, and a couple of useless umbrellas.