Location: St. Vincent & Grenadines

You were driving home in the dark on one glass-slippered heel, window sliced open and bathing in the snowliquor of the night air. We heard you singing, and couldn't bear to wake you.

26 June 2006

It was a ray gun, and it was 1981.

Last week I spent five ghastly days in Rocklin, California, holed up in a Days Inn motel room watching really bad TV. It's been a long time since I watched really bad TV, let alone five days of it. OH MY GOD. Why would anyone drink a diarrhea slurpee for five days straight? Why? I'll tell you why. Because it was 105 in the shade outside, and because in Rocklin there are only three things: strip malls, housing developments, and roads connecting the two. When I say that there are only three things, I mean that literally. There aren't even curbs. The housing developments are all courts and cul-de-sacs with no curbs anywhere, a design that streamlines the process of getting residents to their own driveways and repudiates everyone else. There are no parks, no movie theaters, no bookstores. The only trees are spindly one-year-old transplants tied to wooden stakes. Vast parking lots stretch for flat black acres, baking in the sun. You are either at work, or you are eating fast food, or you are picking up a DVD at Blockbuster, or you are home. And if you're not in one of these places, you'd better be traveling from one to another as fast as you can.

I was in "town" because of a teaching workshop that my employer paid for. It was okay. Nothing wowed me, but I picked up a few good tricks; mostly it was familiar, common-sense pedagogy dressed up in cornball clothing. They could have done it in two or three days, but stretched it to five. Whatever. Hey, I learned to juggle scarves; that's something.

The workshop itself took up only about six hours a day, so most of the time was free time. Not that there was much to do with it. And I did try. Honestly. My characterization of Rocklin is based on solid research, starting from two locations -- the gymnasium where the workshop was held, and my motel room -- and spiraling out as far as I dared, my dread growing with each widening of the gyre. Surely there must be something else . . . surely all these people can't bear to live in such an unrelenting wasteland . . . But there was nothing. So eventually I'd reverse tracks and return to the air-conditioned sanctuary of my room, where the television flickered endlessly, impassively.

I also read a lot, particularly Orwell's 1984. I'm teaching it to my eighth graders next year, along with Golding's Lord of the Flies, as part of a media literacy/critical thinking curriculum that currently exists only in vague theory in my brain. I hadn't read 1984 before, but I could hardly have chosen a more appropriate text for my environment. Horrifying, methodical, pitiless, inescapable, and worst of all, relevant. Written more than half a century ago, its timeliness is almost unbearable. I'm going to be scarring these teenagers for life by making them read this thing. But there are worse things than scars.

Then finally I fled Rocklin for the Pacific coast, where my family was bunking down in a couple of houses near Bodega Bay in celebration of my father-in-law's 70th birthday. A big contingent of New York relatives were there, laughing and kvetching and whining and stomping around and drinking heroically and creating enormous fabulous complicated meals and watching bad TV and wrestling and talking talking talking about everything under the sun.

And now at last I'm back home, in my own real room, more trees than buildings outside my window. The relief is overwhelming. Tomorrow I have no obligations. I will do only that which brings me joy and restores my sanity. I will lie in the grass, in the shade, and watch Genevieve frolic in her blue plastic wading pool. I will sleep in my own bed. I will play guitar on the porch after dark, quietly.


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