Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My Night on the Town with Niall

I don't talk much about my sons on this blog, unless I am grousing, but Niall did me proud tonight. He showed me his portfolio of work from his 7th grade, and I was impressed by any pubescent lad who can write about Pico della Mirandola, not to mention Dido, Machiavelli, Richard Feynmann's six easy pieces (yeah, right), and Hamlet. Not to mention a tour de force parody of Dante's Inferno in his own triplets. Here he managed to balance a satire on steroids in sports with his take on terza rima.

His teacher in Humanities dinged him, I think harshly even though I am a fellow teacher of such, for not submitting his final essay for the class. His grade was lowered to "progressing towards" rather than "meets expectations" as a result. Harsh standards, but look at his Latin. He's ending his second year with an 88% and he earns the same terse judgment, whereas I as proud father argue he merits acclaim. Still, I suppose Niall's getting ready for the college prep track, in ways I never found in my own hapless self-taught reading and browsing and random library searches.

We went later to The York, where I had a Green Flash Hoppy Red Ale and chips with my fish rather than the fries I enjoyed so much last week with Layne. Homemade, the chips were solid, but I prefer the herbed taters in limp rather than crispy form. No Lagunitas IPA, which I had my heart set on after trying the local Craftsman Real Ale last week, but I suppose it's a good sign for freshness that the draught taps change so often. Niall had chicken wings and ordered, by habit, a refill of his Diet Coke. The waiter explained gently that he needed to go to the bar to do so, it being a bar, but frankly we forgot this etiquette and he gave him one on the house, I think. The bill was exactly what I had budgeted, to the penny, but $40 for a snack at a gastro-bar, as my wife deems this place where a kid can sit along dad, is more an Irish price than an American one, and reminds me how much rarer a treat it's now to eat out at all.

On the other hand, a stop at Big Lots! on the way home found us wandering under Spanish-speaking announcements from the speakers, amidst Sun Chips, baby strollers, lots of pillows, and a guitar-shaped clock for sale. I did not find the particular electronic doohickey I needed that a student told me I could score there. But, we did note $10 for 50 CD-R's and $7 for that small speaker plug-in to an iPod Niall needed for future reference. With but one dollar in my wallet, and that for the transfer to my bus tomorrow from my train, we need to watch our expenses.

The sun was up and the car thermometer was at 91 degrees when we left, so our night on the town, solstice day nearing, ended before sunset. At the bar, Niall and I chatted about the various movie versions of "Othello," the folly of assigning "War & Peace" to teenagers, and Kobe's chances given his knee injury. We ignored the slumping Dodgers.

On the way home we discussed Marx, and the difference between communism and capitalism, after Niall asked if there could be a business that was non-profit. I tried to explain the concept of surplus labor and why the ideals of shared effort and common wealth failed given human greed and laziness and incompetence. We also managed to understand in five minutes or less the crucial differences between the Dems and the GOP regarding laissez-faire economics. Niall approves of such, while he critiqued liberal reliance on bureaucracy. As we pulled up to the house, he paraphrased McCain on NPR today regarding his distinctions from Bush regarding the environment. Again, quite a performance, I admit. Last night, at dinner, I tried a similar discussion at dinner about legalizing gay marriage, but Leo and Layne got in a spirited battle that made me look maladroit for my attempts at intellectual table talk involving the four of us.

I find my thoughts in less politically charged moments lately drifting back to my last summer in Donegal. Our nation depresses me. The economy's tanking. Part of me says just deserts, but part of me also suffers, for my salary's not keeping up either, Layne's business faces uncertain shifts and the aftermath of a 100-day strike. Unlike many denizens of The York and like all the parents at the school tonight, we have more mouths to feed than those who opted out of the breeding of such champions as Niall and Leo. Gradually, but more dramatically the past few months, the impacts of global warming, outsourced jobs, Big Lots! types of bargains, and $40 snacks catch up to our habitual gluttony. The costs of so much we took for granted, the experts warn us, now chide us for our former extravagance, and people may finally be tightening their belts for the long haul. If they can suck in their guts a notch or two.

Perhaps for coping skills, or a less expensive alternative to serotonin regulators or therapists or Oprah's self-help club pick this month, my personal escape carries me back to scenes of Glencolmcille. My own frustrations at my country's future and the squalor of its present recede when I conjure up images of its panoramas under a brisk, cloudy, changeable sky. The air's sharpness and the hint of the sea which you could not smell but which beckoned on the near horizon a few hundred yards off tantalized me. This smoggy city, this endless traffic, and this unending blare all compete against the mental retreat I create of an admittedly romanticized Atlantic vista. After all, that's why I endured an all-day bus journey and pinched my pennies to revel and cringe in Irish-language immersion, two weeks facing my own fears and overcoming my own reluctance to push myself to my limits in that outpost.

But, who's to blame me for my inner sanctum? How long the rays stretched out there along the coast, when you could see them rather than the torrential rain that blanketed the islands a year ago. I miss the mists, but I do find myself drifting back into them regularly. I endure reality, and long for vacation. This gives meaning to our travel, the heightened awareness we create when we shake up our surroundings and delight in the novelty. I suppose millions around me on the trains do so each year, while I trudge along, another commute, another series of stations I've seen thousands of times before. All of us today become natives amidst tourists, at least in Ireland or L.A. Here, I live far away the rest of my busy life in a hectic city six thousand miles away from that steady shore. People come from all over to gawk, while I bury my head in a novel and wonder where's in my native city left any novelty.

P.S. He'll be going to camp in six weeks; here's a snap from him that same summer a year ago, reaching new heights in his own fresh terrain, pushing limits too away from home, there then.

1 comment:

Layne said...

I wrote today about our elder boy and was pleased to find this tribute to the quieter, less dramatic, conservative, sports obsessed, younger version here. I would give you Ireland on a silver platter my love, were it within my realm of possibilities. Instead I proffer the memory of when we both returned from far afield last summer, after weeks of separation, and we found again, in this overcrowded dirty city, each others arms. I cannot imagine a sweeter place to be.