Last Monday, Tina and I drove to Wilmington, NC to stay in the heart of its downtown and enjoy a few nights on the coast while our AirBnB in Winston-Salem, NC was rented by a nice Texan family who were dropping off their Freshman daughter to Wake Forest University.
A portion of our trip, we planned to host my parents and sister for two evenings. We rented what we assumed was a large enough space for us to all occupy comfortably. So a few weeks before we left, I called and asked, “Do you guys want to join us at the beach if we get a place?”
“Yes!” the shouted in unison. And high fives were slapped.
On the road, we listened to a podcast about Traci Lords called Once Upon a Time in the Valley about the teenage porn star who deceived her way into the industry as a 16-year-old. And as the podcast shows, there are vastly different stories as to how she both got into porn and got out of it when the FBI ripped her out of it and tried its damnedest to take down the whole kit and kaboodle.
The he-said-she-said drama is largely between the era’s pornstars and Traci Lords, who seems to have lied her way through a memoir. Listen to it. It’s got thrilling twists and turns.
The show’s host, Lili Anolik, has a voice that is almost as sexy as the subject matter. I caught myself a few times turned on by her reading voice alone.
We stopped once for gas and a pee. The gas station featured an almost universal lack of masks inside, and peeled out like real rednecks to get the hell out of there.
When we arrived to the house, Tina approached the door. It was open. And she let herself in. “Hello?” No one replied. We walked through the space.
The house itself was two stories. We were renting a ground floor apartment with two bedrooms. Perhaps the owner lived upstairs.
We walked through. It was spacious and tastefully decorated. Not mind blowing, but not some beach house with “Live, Laugh, Learn” frames or some bible verses plastered on a plaque.
A red flag shot up, though, when we walked through one bedroom to get to the other one. We looked at each other like, “This sucks.” Our concern was having our parents traipse through the room as we like to sleep a little longer in the morning and they, like to sleep less and nap during the day. Had we known that, we wouldn’t have rented this place.
Then we found that there was a back door to the space that was unlocked and led into a laundry room and from there out to the back of the house where there was room to park. So I figured I’d move the car back there to unload. It also appeared we had access to a washer and dryer, which was a welcome surprise.
While we started grabbing our bags of groceries and clothing and walking through the laundry room to the back bedroom, a young girl in a tube top and tight pants appeared from the steps that led to an apartment upstairs.
We said hello. “Are you Shauna (the host)?” asked Tina.
The girl replied, “You aren’t allowed in there.” She wasn’t really looking at us. She was getting in a white Mazda CX-5 and adjusting the seat.
“What?” I said.
“You aren’t allowed in there. That’s off limits,” she doubled down.
“The doors were open and we were unpacking.”
“Are you renting the two bedroom or the one?”
“Uh, the two.” I said. I didn’t know why it mattered. Nor cared. She clearly wasn’t welcoming. And I didn’t know there was another apartment in the house.
“You’re not allowed in there,” she repeated a third time, pulling the car door shut and started backing up the vehicle.
Another person emerged, a gray haired woman. Tina said, “You must be Shauna.”
She was. We didn’t shake hands because Covid, and awkwardly made acquaintance in pandemic world.
We said we were unpacking and I mentioned we were told we’re not allowed in the laundry room. She said, “Yeah, that’s true, but I thought you could at least unpack this way.” She explained that the laundry room housed her personal belongings and that she’d be locking off the doors to keep us out.
I wanted to say, “I would have rather been met with your daughter on the front steps holding a shotgun, wearing a MAGA hat, saying ‘Get off my lawn.”
In France, if you don’t start any interaction with “Bonjour” or “Bon soir” it’s considered rude. One French man at a crepe stand called me out for not starting the conversation with bonjour, but with my order. He said, “Avez-vous oublié dos manières?” (Have you forgotten your manners?”
I said, “Zut, excusez moi. Bonjour Monsieur.” (Shoot, excuse me, sir. Hello.)
“Voila,” he singsonged. “Peut-être vous avez mal dormi.” (There it is. Maybe you didn’t sleep well.)
“Oui,” I responded through a nervous laugh. “Je dors encore.” (I am still sleeping).
I think there’s an element to that in America. At least in my America. You don’t greet someone with “You’re not allowed in there.”
So we were off to a bumpy start.
We briefly spoke to the host. She gave us a quick tour. Talked about the keys and the TVs. “Any questions?”
I started reading the house rules. A single spaced two page document stuffed into a plastic sleeve.
When I got to the kitchen description, it read, “Yes, I know the stove doesn’t work. I had to turn it off per the city laws. Otherwise, she would have to remove the front door and she expressed that she thought guests valued privacy over a working kitchen.”
I immediately went to the kitchen and the burners turned on. I tried the oven. But it didn’t work right away. So I thought, maybe it’s just the stove? That’s weird.
We sat there contemplating what a weird interaction with that girl, how weird the oven doesn’t work, when suddenly we heard pots and pans clanking in the kitchen. When I got up to see what was up, the backside of a girl’s head could be seen exiting the back door. “Hello?” I called out. The door slammed and locked behind her, because, you know, belongings and laundry closet.
So we messaged our host to say, “Um, someone just entered our kitchen, made a bunch of noise and left.”
“That was my daughter,” she explained. “She was asleep when you got here, and she didn’t know anyone was there. She got a pan and left.”
Please make the weirdness stop.
We’re disappointed in the welcome. Disappointed by the kitchen. Disappointed in the layout. And we were also disappointed that the living room seemed a little unconducive to comfortably housing five people when my parents and sister came.
We were not starting on a positive note.
To add insult to injury, the internet was spotty and pretty much out most of the first 24 hours we were there.
In the morning, we agreed that as shitty as it seems, we just couldn’t fathom hosting my parents and sister in the space for two full nights. It just seemed like too much. It’s not that the space was small, but it felt smaller, because the town was practically shut down because of the pandemic, and finding stuff to do would be a challenge. The cost benefit analysis pointed to, “Would you mind changing the plan to one night if you’re still willing to drive down.”
They gladly accepted our request. Which is good.
The following few days were filled with reading and writing. I started reading a Joe Hill book of short stories called “Full Throttle.”. I found a Dave Barry book in a second hand store. Dave Barry makes me laugh out loud and this is somehow a newer release. In Dave Barry form, I can barely hold back loud barreling laughter.
It drives Tina nuts.
I started reading “Becoming” by Michelle Obama. And I finished a book called “The Shack,” a monstrously boring book that attempts to be a modern day Pilgrim’s Progress, but it’s about as thrilling as getting patted down passing through the TSA line at the airport. It makes God out to be a loony tune know-it-all who if something bad happens to you, it’s God’s ultimate plan you’re doubting so buck up and roll with the punches. What a shitstain.
One day we drove to a beach and enjoyed a dog friendly day of sun and surf. It was Josie’s first beach day and Talulah’s first salt water experience. When Talulah swims, she drinks the water, which I tried to prevent her from doing, but she ended up throwing up three times after the beach, so I guess it turned her stomach.
On the beach, there were flags hoisted with Trump 2020 and the general feeling we got from the beach goers was a sort of southern stereotype. But we all had fun, and Josie loved barking at all the big dogs taunting her simply with their presence 300 yards away.
I cooked every night. We just focused on relaxing. I didn’t even go running. The town was ghosted from all the Covid-19, the internet was crappy, so we enjoyed an argument or two and escaped into our books.
My parents drove down on Thursday. I loved that they wanted to come. And genuinely was looking forward to spending time with them. Tina and I stayed with them for days on end when we were buying our NC house, and it brought us closer.
My parents are great people. Seriously. They love to talk. And they love to talk over each other. I’m sure many families are similar. Perhaps they wouldn’t be my parents if I didn’t have certain chiding moments, but for the most part, they love me. They love Tina more, but they love me.
My dad LOVES to tell stories. And it shows. His path to the end of the story is full of detours and roadblocks. The trail is pocked with all kinds of wide bends and vistas. He gets caught up in backstories and leans toward what some might call verbosity. But he loves to tell them. Tina listens with incredible precision. I rarely listen to anyone for any amount of time, so I often get distracted and drift a bit.
He loves to tell people about where last names came from. That it was something Napoleon brought to the world and it stuck. That common folk didn’t really have last names so they assumed names they thought were silly, but then were a little remiss when they were passing them down for generations. Or histories. He loves history. Whether or not it’s really what happened is beside the point. If he wants to drag you through a story of Alexander the Great, get on board. The train is heavy and hard to stop.
Sometimes I catch myself thinking, “I’ve heard this one before.” But then try to shrug it off as young whipper snapper thought. “Let him go. He loves it. He absolutely loves it and I will not deprive the man of something he loves so dearly,” I tell myself.
Or I wonder how many times my mom and sister sat in the periphery of a table, after dinner talk turned into a mess of conversations and then my dad catches everyone’s attention to tell them the story of Arthur Marburg, a Jewish man who survived the holocaust, was drafted and volunteered as a multilingual translator and was able to successful interrogate German soldiers for information regarding their military secrets.
According to my dad, Marburg would have a steak dinner with all the fixings cooked and set on a table, replete with a glass of wine, a pack of cigarettes, and the wine bottle ready for a refill. Marburg would look over captured soldiers and he would pinpoint the one cowering and he offered them the meal in exchange for information.
That same cowering soldier wouldn’t be moved to divulge and betray his patriotism.
So he would strip an American soldier to his bare ass and walk him through the room, naked, and this — this act of homosexual temptation — was the thing that worked to break the minds of the chicken shits that were cowering in a corner, averting their eyes, not strong like bull. Not heterosexual.
The homosexuals could be broken by a bare ass, hairy balls and a dangling dick.
Tina asked, “What? Did the men get to have sex with these naked guys?”
“No, no, no … it was just the ploy to get them to talk.”
I scratch my head intermittently since hearing that story. For one, I wish I would have responded with any questions regarding the weakness of gay dudes over straight dudes.
But I didn’t. I had drifted away so far during the buildup to that point that the climax of successful extracting information from German soldiers was depending on the sexuality of the men. Weakness is a homosexual trait. They’re pussies. They aren’t true patriots.
Should he have found a woman, stripped her naked, pranced her through the room, the straight Germans would unzip their pants to reveal boners and use their dicks to heil Hitler.
Yes, my dad is a bit sexist. He’s racist. Who isn’t? It’s generational. And it’s a bit from a level of not knowing a lot or spending time with someone who is gay. Or if he has, he already concretized his stance and it’s unbudging. Of course he is pretty dedicated to his views and there are very few chances one could amount any level of changed mind. These memetics are passed down from parents and environments and they are rarely put through a wringer, broken, scattered across a table and reformed in different more exciting ways.
But we had a lot of fun. I don’t believe people purposefully want to be dicks. And if they do, that’s dickish. I think we’re all doing our best to be who we think is best, and we all form limitations to the approach of civil discourse.
For dinner the night my parents came, I proposed making homemade pasta, white sauce and North Carolina caught shrimp. “I found a pasta maker in the cupboard,” I told my parents. “I’m excited to finally try one.”
We bought the groceries and I set out to prepare the sauce and pasta. While I was cooking, I noticed a jar behind where the pasta maker sat. It looked like kosher salt. “Sweet” I thought. “I can use that instead of the iodized crap.”
I pulled down the jar, opened it, stuck my finger in my mouth to wet it, dipped it in the white powder, plunged the finger into my mouth and the feeling of eating a thousand habaneros surged through my mouth.
Here’s the deal. I LOVE hot peppers. To the point that just writing it, my mouth is watering. So I went through that nanosecond million thoughts at once process of, “Is this good or bad?” Because the heat side of the burn was making my mouth water. And the burn side of the pain was making me spit out the excess of water and scream in pain.
Through spits and screams, Tina ran to help. She said, “Jeremy, this is Lye! Did you eat Lye?”
“Yes, yes, yes I did.”
I still have a little blister on the tip of my tongue.
So my cognitive test words are now: Covid, Wasp, Fallen Tree, Earthquake, Lye.
What happened that night was clearly God’s wrath calling to remind me that he’s still waiting on my prodigal return from the darkness. He has my number and I keep hitting the spam button.
Nah, it was me being a dumbass.
The container, though, on the side that wasn’t facing me when I removed it from the cupboard read (in all red sharpie): “DANGER. LYE. DO NOT EAT.”
I didn’t let eating lye get in the way of a good time. I drank some almond milk and pushed through. Well, and some beers.
Once the homemade dough had rested, I gathered everyone in the kitchen to roll it out and pass it through the machine. It was a hand cranked device, and a few seconds of a YouTube was all the inspiration I needed … it felt very intuitive. Although I missed the part that said, “Be sure to sprinkle flour on the dough as your working. Otherwise, your noodles will stick together in a big heaping mess.”
The dinner turned out GREAT. And we gobbled it up. After dinner, we got out a new game called Rummikub. We played it twice. I won once and dad one the second. It was a game that we all “got” and were having a great time, egging each other on with, “Would you GO already?” And the winners dance that resembles that of a drunken hippie at Woodstock.
Like all good things, the evening ended and we enjoyed a leisurely morning sipping coffee and talking. Then we drove to a local diner for breakfast.
I carry guilt for not letting my parents stay two nights. I’m sure it would have been fine. But sometimes the best time is just the right amount of time. No political arguments. No real issues of any kind. Which in a room that spans the political spectrum, that powder keg is lingering in the shadows and can blow at any point.
But my parents value friendship and decency over difference. They put deep set beliefs to the side, even though my dad insists on pre-meal prayers and sometimes saying a random thing about the deficiencies of homosexuals. We got along. And that’s all that matters.