Monday, November 19, 2007

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

I'm looking down from my office right now at people ice-skating in Pershing Square Park downtown.  It's considerably less glamorous than ice-skating at Rockefeller Center, but it's something.  It's not easy to get a proper holiday atmosphere out here in Southern California. 
It's the quiet, dark time of the year -- the time of year when you look forward to a few quiet moments at a busy airport gate full of people trying to get home.  You're almost always sort of sleepy.  All the paper coffee cups have gone Christmas red and green, the cozy holiday music is playing.  The traffic in the morning begins to thin.  There's a feeling at work of the tide going out, as offices stay empty and dark during the day, and emails are returned with extended absence messages. 

The big Coke billboard on the way home has been switched to a Santa drinking Coke ad.
It's the same kind of cold-outside-staying-in-bed-past-noon-in-my-pajamas-rereading-Franny-and-Zooey-until-it-gets-dark-while-someone-is-making-Christmas-Blend-coffee-and-warming-up-a-pumpkin-pie-downstairs-in-the-kitchen feeling that I used to try to recreate every Christmas vacation during high school and college. 
It's full of something that's somewhat difficult to describe: a sense that things are changing, and that it's time to sort of check out for while while they do, the sense that the year is being retired, with new chances around the corner, with the warmth of people gathering together in public places all trying to do the same thing, and a general shameless laziness.

For the past couple years, my family has been having large reunions.  We all get together, twenty or thirty cousins (most of them younger than me), we play touch football, we play soccer, we have foot races, we play Pictionary.  I am genuinely excited and looking forward to a good hour or two of touch football with my brothers, Mrs. Octopus, and my cousins in the field of some undeveloped lot in one of the gated communities my cousins live in in Palm Beach County.  I am excited about the prospect of whiling away an afternoon playing Trivial Pursuit or Pictionary with everybody while we wait for dinner.  I am also excited about the half hour or so Mrs. Octopus and I will spend at the airport gate before we get on our flight, sitting there sipping airport coffee, reading magazines we picked up at Hudson Booksellers, nibbling at a muffin.

So that's my world this week, here in America. Meanwhile, back in the country my parents came from, thousands of people are missing and dead. A friend asked why these kinds of things always happens in third-world countries. It occurred to me that maybe it's because these kinds of things happen in these places that they are third-world countries. Nothing like that ever happened in Connecticut. I look at the photos of the victims of the cyclone in Bangladesh and they look just like my cousins and me. While rescue workers will be searching for survivors in the devastation in the Sundarbans this week, I'll be playing touch football with my cousins in Florida.

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