Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Well, this last weekend, the in-laws and I all took a trip down to St. George to stay at my brother-in-law's swanky timeshare condo. Swanky because I'm on vacation and I'm not in a tent and there's TV. Deluxe! St. George is like Salt Lake's spoiled little sister that isn't as successful as Salt Lake, yet still acts like a totally spoiled brat (only with more golf courses and strip malls). It's the most luxurious thing that's within a day's drive from the city that isn't Vegas or Twin Falls.
I ended up having to go into work early, so we got going a little later than I thought we would, but we still made good time, cruising fast over central Utah's flat, unremarkable prairies. People do well in St. George. The town is surrounded by some picturesque bluffs and boasts a mostly warm climate year round. The landscape is populated with newly built condos, timeshares, hotels and motels by the freeway, cookie-cutter family-friendly restaurants and shops, and sprawling spas probably housing celebrities from LA convalescing from their massively expensive drug addictions, guarded by high adobe walls and dangerous desert plants and patrolled by robotic, night-vision equipped, dobermans. I got to thinking about the real-estate crisis and I wondered how many tracts of houses, maybe whole neighborhoods, stood there brand new and deserted like one of those a-bomb test site facade cities that they built in the 50s. No, nothing of the sort. Business is booming in St. George. I saw a lot of construction on nice looking tax shelters that were probably already bought up by all the nice looking people. Swells, I mean.
Well, today we were the swells. Except, that when we drove up to the brand-new spic and span timeshare development, we found out that my brother-in-law and his family hadn't yet arrived to let us into the place. Good grief! Travel weary, I pulled myself out of the car and into one of the management's buildings to find a place to pee and get a drink of water. Inside, was a burly looking man in his early thirties with a backwards hat and a Minnesota Vikings shirt. This was the weekend of the big annual cross-town football game where The University of Utah would be hosting some little religious school based out of Provo. I had my bright red Utah sweatshirt on and this husky individual approached me and poked a finger into my chest. "You think Utah's gonna win that game?" he asked. "I know so," I said, "BYU's quarterback is used to having a cushy time slot when he's in the pocket, but our pass rush will make short work of that."
"Bullshit!" shouted the hulking neanderthal, his cordiality vanishing like one of the creatine shakes he wolfed down probably twenty times a day. "I used to play football for Vanderbuilt and the CFL. Now, I'm a sportswriter for CBS and I've got a blog and I live in the presidential suite at this here timeshare and who are YOU, buddy." I introduced myself. He kept talking. Talking about himself, his many adventures. I felt suddenly very tired.
Then, he kidnapped me. And he kidnapped my wife and my sister-in-law and he forced us to keep him company up in his hot-shot little presidential suite. He got all het-up on about all the football things he's ever done and football thoughts he's ever had. He was one of those hopelessly extroverted people that always tells you more than you would ever want to know. "I come up here to get away from the wife," he said, clenching and unclenching his massive fists. "Sometimes, I can't stand it when she's around," he confessed to me. I shifted my feet a little. "Maybe, you should see a therapist?" I said.
It was a nightmare. But Amanda was having a great time. She was swept away by this mysterious, psychotic barbarian that lived in the desert. Later, that night, she said that we should go over to his suite AGAIN and maybe see if he had any beer and maybe sit in his hot-tub. Who IS this woman? I can only imagine how that night would've turned out if we had done that. I'd probably watch him crush 57 beers on his forehead and then he'd force feed me Keystone Light until I threw up. Maybe, after that, he would confide to me about his broken marriage and broken dreams. Maybe, he'd cry. Maybe, he'd try to hug me. Thank god, it didn't come to that.
Fortunately, we weren't detained by him for very long. We all beat a hasty exit and went out and got a bite to eat. In a couple of hours the rest of the fam-damily arrived and the requisite commotion for everything got underway. People moving up and down stairs, carrying bags, bargaining, goofing, talking a mile a minute, kids tearing the whole damn place apart. But that all settles down. The evening ended with the kids going to bed, and the grown-ups and teenagers playing board games. Amanda busted out the good bottle of wine like the stand-up dame that she is. I don't know how I'd live without her.
Most of Amanda's brothers and sisters don't drink, but I swear to god they get secretly drunk sometimes. I had a little buzz on and I'm trying to understand this damn crazy game that everybody's playing. They kept giving these answers out that are either secret inside jokes, or they're non-secret outside jokes that I just don't get. They all get very giddy and elated. Naturally high, these people. Maybe we had a gas leak or something, who knows?
The next day we fooled around at the swimming pool and played table tennis in the rec room before going over to a sports bar to watch the big game. St. George, as far as I can tell, is cougar country. But BYU fans are the same everywhere. They're pretty quiet and tend not to cheer very loud for their team. That much happiness can't be moral, can it? The Heavenly Father would probably expect them to guide themselves out of the risky behaviors that are the results of too much mirth and excitement. It could lead to horseplay, and that can lead to harder things. Like dancing. Anyway, I'd be pretty quiet if I was a BYU fan that day, too. Utah put a hurt on the cougs and all of the steroidal maniac's predictions were proved dismally wrong thanks to the Ute's excellent pass rush and stellar defensive backs. Checkmate, random unstable stranger!
The next morning I received a pretty upsetting phone call. My cousin, a troubled fifteen year old living with my father's brother in Illinois, had been killed in a car accident the night before. The last time I saw him was when my grandmother passed away in 2001 and my family made a trip out to Minnesota to pay our respects. He was only eight years old then; cheerful, athletic, exuberant. Everything good about an eight year old boy. I had always thought that some time later down the line I'd see him again. He'd be older and taller. He'd be shy instead of excited to see his older cousin who he hadn't seen in years. He would be starting high school. He'd have a girlfriend, maybe. He'd still play baseball, but more seriously, thinking about his future. I really thought that was a cinch to happen someday. It was a safe inevitability. I just took it for granted.
Later that day, we all got into Amanda's mom's mini-van and went about forty miles east into Zion's National Park. It was a beautiful time to be there. The leaves were turning yellow and red. The sun was just setting over the towering rocks. Everybody else was playing around me, but I started moving inward. It wasn't just about my cousin, but about what a fight it is to be alive anyway. I'm still pretty young and I know for sure that I haven't done everything that I want to do yet. Really, I don't know how to get it done without pulling pieces out of it one at a time. Until, one day I'm sitting in a rocking chair having gotten the whole thing done and over with, and there I am. I don't know how anybody does it. Does anybody really get what they're after, or is it all about the fight to get that thing. Maybe, that's the only thing that really resonates; that's all that matters. I don't know.
I looked up at the tall cliffs; the dying sun casting red onto the towering, indestructible monuments around me. And I thought, as I often do, about ancient people maybe discovering this place. Maybe, a man in the bygone past looked up at the same red rocks that I saw. Maybe, like me, he was filled with fear and wonder. He thought about the menace that nature was, and what a struggle it was just to buy the air to breathe and the food to eat. But that nothing could be more powerful than that instinct to breathe and to eat. And it just didn't matter. The needs of one person, or even very many people, just didn't matter to the secret, evil machinations of nature. At that moment, I knew that I was just as much a man against nature as he was so long ago. And, slowly, carefully, I was walking into the same fire that lent those rocks their beautiful, momentary glow.