July 17, 2003
Mind Power


You know how it is. You're thinking about a song from your high school days ...  a song you haven't heard in thirty years, since you were a dumb horny seventeen-year-old in a blue formal, slow-dancing with your boyfriend Dean at your Junior Tolo, four hours before he dumped you ...  and the very next time you turn on your radio at work, voilà!  There they are, playing your song! 

Or else maybe you're thinking about an old friend whose e-mail address you've managed to misplace again -- a friend who once held your hair off your face while you vomited chicken soup and mescaline into her kitchen sink -- and just when you think you may never hear from her again, voilà! You open your e-mailbox, and there she is! 

Or perhaps you write a discreetly whiney Internet journal entry -- all about how your twenty-year-old daughter hasn't bothered to communicate with you in nearly a month, and how you think about her every time the phone rings at odd hours of the day or night, and less than two hours after you fling your journal entry into the cybersphere ...

... voilà!

I was already in bed when the phone rang last night, just after ten o'clock. David was still dinking around on the computer -- it looks like The Great Digitization of Vinyl Experiment is going to be one of those never-ending projects of his, like the Ю僱êrvØ¡ postcards -- and from the bedroom I heard him answer the phone. 

"It's a collect call!" he shouted to me after a moment. ("From Kacie!" he added, quite unnecessarily. The only person who ever calls collect these days is Daughter #2.) I leapt out of bed and ran to the kitchen.

"Mom!" she gasped, as soon as I got on the line. "Are you and David OK??"

She was calling, not because she'd read my whiney journal entry: she doesn't have a computer, she says -- but because she'd been watching TV news reports all evening, all about that old man who plowed down a group of people at a Farmer's Market in Southern California. For some reason, she seemed to think that the accident occurred in Berkeley -- "I know you guys go there a lot," she said worriedly -- and she was afraid that the two of us might have been involved somehow. I was genuinely touched ... if mystified. 

"It's so sweet of you to be worried," I told her. And then I reassured her that the incident took place in Santa Monica, almost three hundred miles south of here. It's an easy mistake to make. When *I* lived in TicTac, all of California blurred together for me, too.

"David and I are fine," I said. "But how are YOU?"

This wasn't your standard, just-asking-to-be-polite 'How are you,' but a 'How are you' fraught with context and subtext and a bazillion unspoken questions. Are you working? Are you eating? Are you sleeping? Are you using? 

She's fine, she reassured me immediately. She's sorry she hasn't called, but she's been very "busy." And she gave me a quick garbled rundown on the state of her life. She has acquired a new boyfriend since the last time we saw her, apparently. ("This one isn't an old guy, either," she proudly announced. "He's only 27.")  She and the new boyfriend are living together, although she's not sure how long that will last. She's still not working, but she's "looking." In the meantime, she's thinking of taking a class at the local community college next month, a three-day workshop on owning/managing your own espresso stand. All of this tumbled out in her usual breathless somersault-of-words. 

I had all of those bazillions of questions to ask her, but it was late and I was tired and I went with the most insipid question first. "How's your mouth?" I asked her. "Your ... your ... thing?" I'd forgotten the technical term for the chin piercing she got when she was here last month. (A labret, I remembered, as soon as we hung up.) She said that it's fine, that she's been rinsing it every morning and every evening with the antispetic I bought her, that it doesn't seem to be infected at all, that it still looks really 'cool.'

"Dad hates it," she added. "And I think he's sorta pissed at you for letting me do it." (Swell.)

I had started to ask her something slightly more substantial -- Did she ever manage to get over the flu? Do I still hear a trace of congestion in her voice? Is she taking anything for her cough? -- when she suddenly interrupted me.

"Mom, I'm sorry," she said. "I really can't talk right now." She was borrowing a friend's phone, she explained, and she didn't want to run up the long distance bill. (Brief dark non-maternal *Grrrr Moment* at this announcement.) There was the usual hasty exchange of I love you's and I miss you's and Let's talk again soons. And then -- just like that -- she dropped off the line and I was left with a dial tone in my ear.

"Everything OK?" David asked, looking at me with concern.

I nodded. "Yeah," I told him. "Everything's fine." And I wandered back to bed, feeling tired and relieved. Yes, it's true that she hung up on me before I had a chance to get a call-back number, or to ask for a mailing address, or to tell her that I'll be coming to TicTac to for a couple of days next month. Yes, it's true that our conversation was like eating half a Twinkie: sweet, tantalizing, pleasant ... and wholly unsatisfying.

And yes it's true that her call IMMEDIATELY rendered last night's *FootNotes* entry obsolete, less than two hours after it went on the air.

But that's OK. I don't mind. This is actually a good kind of obsolescence ... one I would be willing to tolerate on a more regular basis. Plus it makes me wonder if there are OTHER ways I can manipulate the universe with this amazingly powerful brain of mine. I mean, if I can get the radio to play a long-forgotten oldie, merely by thinking about it ... an old friend to write to me after months of non-communication ... an AWOL Tot to call me, out of the clear blue sky ... who knows what else I can achieve, simply by willing it to be so?? 

World peace. Global economic stability. A cure for old age. A Taco Time franchise in Alameda. The perpetual Good Hair Day. The return of Fast Lane Tea. A lotto windfall and early retirement. *FootNotes: The Movie.* (I'm thinking Cloris Leachman to play Upstairs Neighbor Guy.)

Then again ... maybe I'll just settle for a weekly phone call from my daughter.



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the irony here, of course, is that
*my* mother probably feels the exact same way.