Friday, June 24, 2011

The Trip

We are all on a journey. Some of us fly off to Argentina or France or China. Others take a road trip from London to England's north country, where they sample the haute cuisine of the region and do spot-on impressions of their favorite actors. Still others travel to the far reaches of Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they sample sustainable ingredients at a local eatery and see a film about two guys on a road trip to England's north country.

This latter was the journey E. and I chose to take earlier this week, and it proved to be an arduous voyage indeed. The day dawned cloudy and threatening. Our plans for a walk by the water under sun-drenched Boston skies were soon rained out, so I proposed instead a trip to see The Trip at the Kendall Square Cinema, preceded by lunch at EVOO, a Cambridge restaurant I'd been wanting to try. So far, so good.

Our drive to Cambridge was uneventful but parking, always a challenge in Cambridge, lived up to its reputation. We saw a spot on a side street near the restaurant and opposite a parking garage. The spot was on some gravel just outside a fenced-in construction site. I looked for signs prohibiting parking and saw none, until E. and I had exited the car and were about to turn the corner. There it was, in no uncertain terms—Your car will be towed if you park here. Into the jam-packed parking garage we went.

We finally found a spot on level A2, then wandered about the garage like wayfarers lost on the moors. Eventually, we located a staircase, escaped the garage, and made our way to EVOO, which, by the way, stands for extra virgin olive oil. Now that I'm eating vegetarian, ordering was easy, since there was only one vegetarian item on the menu, a concoction containing polenta, basil, zucchini, and other mysterious vegetables. Again, so far, so good.

By the time the polenta arrived, however, forty-five minutes had elapsed. Fearing we'd be late for the film, we gulped down our food. The waitress offered to validate our parking, after which we were good to go, or I should say going for good, since the meal hadn't left us with a desire to return.

It was pouring as we exited the restaurant, so we decided not to walk the half mile to the theater. Instead, we dashed to the parking garage to pay and then retrieve our car. Imagine our surprise when the cashier informed us that the validation was invalid. "Only after 4 p.m," he said. So, we forked over $10 and wandered lonely as clouds o'er floors of sedans and SUVs in search of our vehicle. Level A2 appeared to have moved since we parked there, but eventually we located the car and exited the facility. 

We headed up Binney Street to another garage, this one adjacent to the cinema. After parking, we found our way quickly out of the garage, but managed to walk in the opposite direction from the cinema as the rain fell in sheets. Once we realized our mistake, we hightailed it to the box office and, facing the disconcerting truth that at 62 years old we qualify for a senior discount, we bought our tickets and found seats in the near-empty theater.

You may be thinking by now that I've been describing a pretty nice day, albeit a damp one. After all, I was lucky to have the leisure time to do something fun with E. So what if it was a little rainy? So what if the restaurant was a bit of a disappointment? So what if we had to squander a few extra dollars on parking? We had reached our destination and could settle in to watch a good film.

But there you would be wrong, on two counts. We were not able to settle in, at least not comfortably. And the film, while occasionally amusing, did not meet our expectations for a laugh-out-loud movie experience.

Regarding the problem of settling in, the theater was cold. Very cold. I had worn a sweater, but it felt thin and threadbare in that drafty environment. I could relate to the film's two main characters, whose road trip took them through the frozen north country during the dead of winter. They, however, had parkas. I had only my sweater. I attempted to snuggle with E., but this proved impossible, given the metal arm-rest and cup-holder that came between us.

As far as the film itself, while not terrible, it did feature too many meals involving scallops and exotic meats (a running joke, but not so hilarious to a vegetarian). At times, I found the movie rather endearing and almost laugh-out-loud funny, but not endearing or funny enough to justify the expensive parking garages, the disappointing lunch, the $8/person tickets (and that's with the senior discount!).

By the end of The Trip, I actually felt my age, hunched over as I was against the cold. What warmed me was the thought of the Netflix DVD of an MI-5 episode that awaited me at home, to be watched in the cozy comfort of my own family room. And it occurred to me that The Trip might have been a much more enjoyable trip had I seen that, too, on DVD.

I won't go into boring detail about our drive home. It can be summed up in a few words—rain, rush-hour traffic, Memorial Drive. As we sat in gridlock, E. and I reflected on our day's journey and what we had learned—always bring a heavy jacket to air-conditioned places and avoid seeing movies in movie theaters if at all possible. Not the most profound lessons, but in the journey that is life, ones worth remembering.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Spider Philia

I think I might be taking this animal thing too far. In this blog and in my life, I've been increasingly smitten with animals of every variety, from dogs and ducks to fish and chickens. But lately, I've even been feeling kindly toward spiders.

Like many people, I've always had a mild spider phobia and I've definitely had a healthy fear of dangerous species. When I was in my twenties and living in California, for example, I didn't hesitate to kill a black widow that had the temerity to crawl up my kitchen wall. Actually, I called E., who killed the spider with a folded New Yorker Magazine, allowing the creature a literary death more eloquent than my current description of its demise.

One morning this past winter, while I was still in Florida, a small brown spider crawled out of the pocket of my jeans just as I was about to put them on. Fearing that it might be a dreaded brown recluse, I killed the spider immediately, this time doing the dirty deed myself. Over the years, I've realized that E. doesn't like killing arachnids any more than I do, so I really couldn't foist the job on him.

Once I'd disposed of the spider, I spent a considerable amount of time researching brown recluses on the Internet and trying to convince myself that the spider I'd killed was a southern house spider, a non-threatening variety that looks a lot like a recluse. It would have helped my identification had I trapped the spider in a glass so I could get a careful look. But having squished it beyond all recognition, I never could be sure exactly what I'd killed. Consequently, until we left Florida, I shook out every item of clothing before putting it on, lest another brown spider be lurking in some crevice. I'm not a world-class worrier for nothing.

Now that I'm back in Massachusetts, though, I've stopped worrying too much about that particular species. So far, I've mostly seen an occasional pale house spider idling on a wall in my house or garage. For a long while, I've had a policy of leaving such harmless spiders alone, unless they made the mistake of hanging out in my bedroom. Then, my normal response was to kill them. The thought of a spider crawling into my bed while I slept was simply too much to handle.

Now I'm not sure I would even draw the line at my bedroom. During the past few weeks my spider phobia seems to have shifted toward spider philia—I gaze at the little tan spider on my bathroom wall with something approaching brotherly love, or at least cross-species friendship. The thought of killing the innocent creature makes me almost sad. So far, I haven't had to confront a spider in my bedroom or one crawling out of my shoe, for that matter.  But my inclination is increasingly to live and let live, at least if I know the spider isn't likely to administer a fatal bite in return.

Lest you think I've become a total vegetarian wimp, rest assured that I wouldn't hesitate to destroy any cockroach that came my way. The same goes for earwigs, millipedes, and silverfish. Speaking of silverfish, spiders prey on them. So, long live spiders!