His ex-girlfriend Maggie still gives him advice, but it seems that no matter what, Alan can only get so far with a girl.
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A Father-Son Moment
With any reasonable luck, I might have begun my university years by flying out west, unpacking a suitcase of clothes, setting up my computer, and waiting patiently while Greyhound shipped a few boxes of essential gear. But no. Somewhere in the how-to-be-a-parent guidebook it says that parents must drive their children to the school, transport the offspring and his/her goods to the dorm room, and then engage in tearful farewells and worthy admonitions.
Admonitions! Pretty good word, isn’t it? See what being in first year has already done for me?
The trip out west took two days, and involved four stops for gas, five bathroom breaks, three fast-food meals, and one overnight stay in a sleazy motel. I was okay with the four stops, five breaks, and three quick meals. It was the overnight that was gruelling.
During the days, I was able to cocoon myself in the back seat of our old Ford, listening to various MP3s through my headphones. It was actually a fairly pleasant zone to be in, watching the landscape roll by, listening to Yellowcard and U2 and my new favourite group, the Thinkertoys.
I was interrupted only occasionally by my parents. My mom would turn back, shake my knee to get my attention, and then wait until I took off my headphones. “This is the Continental Divide,” she would say.
I would respond “Oh,” and put my headphones back on.
My mother and my father would return to their CDs of 1970s favourites and I would go back to the Thinkertoys. Cross-country trips do not make for parent-child bonding any more.
But our one overnight was difficult, at least for me. We had reached somewhere in Alberta–not Calgary, since that would have been too interesting–but some place where the only scenery was oil derricks. To save money, my father had booked a motel that looked like something out of Psycho. An Anthony Perkins look-alike was at the front desk, smiling politely. He gave my dad a key to our collective room: two queen beds, two bathroom towels, and plastic glasses wrapped in crinkly plastic wrappers. The only word to describe this level of elegance would be . . . sanitary. Even the toilet was covered with a piece of paper “for your protection,” making you wonder what the toilet might do if it were not sealed up.
We had supper at the motel “restaurant.” The quotation marks reflect the neon sign and the quality of food and service. It was the kind of place that made Harvey’s seem like a big step up. The “restaurant” had hamburgers the consistency of leather anointed with ketchup that had a vague petroleum taste, as if it were diluted with something from the oil derricks in the distance. Still, the portions were big and the lemon-cream pie almost good, especially in comparison to everything else.
When we got back to the room, my parents put on the TV for Law and Order and I put on my headphones. I had brought a book for the trip, The Iliad, which I was trying to read in preparation for my Humanities class. I was not doing well with The Iliad, though my eyes kept going over the words. Maybe it’s a book that you have to read without listening to the Thinkertoys at the same time.
Eventually I gave up and fell into a comatose state on the bed. There’s another good word–deriving from coma (to which I was headed) and maybe toes (which were glad to be out of my shoes). I fell back on my bed and began thinking about sex.
I apologize for this. I realize that an eighteen-year-old guy about to enter university should be thinking about his studies, his future, his course reading lists, if not the deep meaning of The Iliad–whose surface meaning still escaped me. But I was not thinking about these things. I was thinking about Maggie, this red-headed girl I’d gone out with for the past year. I was thinking about her hair and her eyes, and the funny little laugh she has. Then I began thinking about how she always pushed my hands away when she decided that our making out had gone far enough.
Maggie and I had never had sex. That was pretty frustrating at the time, but probably for the best. At least, Maggie said it was for the best, and Maggie was smarter than me and right about so many things. At some level, Maggie knew she was destined for prime time, starting with heading east to the prestigious Sarah Lawrence College in New York state, while I was destined for afternoon soaps, and was headed west to the undistinguished Burrard University in Vancouver.
Prime-time people don’t have sex with soaps people, it’s as simple as that. Anyhow, I lay on the motel bed and began thinking how much I missed Maggie, even though we had never had sex. And soon I began thinking about why we never had sex, and then thinking about what sex would have been like if we had had it. The last thought was the most interesting, and I pursued that until I fell asleep.
I woke up about midnight when I heard a sound. In a flash, I became convinced that the Anthony Perkins look-alike in the lobby was now lurking in the room, or in the shower, or just over my bed . . . with a knife. Then, of course, I really woke up. But there was nothing to see in the dark room, and nothing more to hear until my mother whispered something like, “Go to sleep, dear.”
But then I was wide awake, thinking about Maggie again. I remembered watching Pyscho as part of Maggie’s Friday film society. I remembered how scared we got, and how much fun we used to have. Then I wondered how her frosh week would go at Sarah Lawrence. I wondered if she was happy, or if she missed me. Of course Maggie had moved on, and I was moving on, and then I felt sad about all that and fell back asleep.