Last year my then girlfriend invited me upstate to her best friend’s house. For the sake of this story she will be known as D_. It was a big weekend for D_’s friend J_. J_, a photographer was having her very first gallery show. It was our first road trip. It looks like it will be our last road trip as well…
I decided to take my usual route upstate. We crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and continued north on the FDR drive towards the Willis Avenue Bridge. I thought I might have missed the bridge but wasn’t sure. I passed what looked like an on-ramp but it wasn’t open to traffic. Before I knew it, I was on Riverside Drive helplessly looking across the water at the Bronx where I should have been. Attempts at reconnaissance proved futile; I hadn’t missed the bridge, it was closed for construction. I apologized to my girlfriend D_ who didn’t seem to mind. Once we were on the New York State Thruway and out of the Bronx the road and scenery opened up in front of us I felt like I was finally able to relax. I think I even belted out some Simon and Garfunkel as we approached exit 16.
Then it happened. This was what I think really set the stage for what was to be a long weekend. J_, like most of her upstate friends, like many people who live in rural, hilly country owned a car with a 6 cylinder engine. J_’s vehicle, like most of her friends’ had a standard transmission. I was lucky to even have a car. It was a hand me down twenty-year-old 4 cylinder with an automatic transmission. My girlfriend and her friend in their infinite wisdom never thought to consider this when they decided that I should take the back way through the steep, Appalachian terrain to J_’s house. We were going over a mountain and the road dipped up and down; it was steep like a roller coaster track. Each time the road rolled down an back up my poor car’s engine let out pained groans as if it was being murdered. At one point I was sure the car was going to die on me; that we were going to be stranded on a lonely mountain road with no shoulder to pull over to.
The car wound up making it to J_’s house with the engine intact. J_ lived in an apartment above the garage that housed her mother’s studio. At this point I thought it was great that a family should have not one but two artists. When we pulled into the driveway problems 3 and 4 showed their furry faces. J_ had two little dogs, Yorkshire terriers. Over the next two days these loud yapping, mud tracking little fuckers helped to erase what little trace of tact and civility a bored, irritated testosterone-producing male can have after his car and ego have been damaged almost irreparably, placing the needle well into red on his RPM gauge.
It was a warm May day and so I thought I would put on my sandals, something I very rarely do at home on the subway. I looked in my bag and realized I had forgotten them. I considered what this would mean. J_’s dogs were allowed in and out of the house at will like cats. Unlike cats, these dogs couldn’t lick the mud off their paw before entering the house. This meant that unless I wanted to walk around in dirty socks all weekend I would be wearing my sneakers.
Just then, J_’s mother B_ made the first of many appearances. I smiled and shook her hand. I turned to J_ who along with my girlfriend I had known casually in high school. I decided to make some small talk. “I have an old phone book of mine with your name in it. ” J_ looked at me inconsequentially as if I just told her the sky was blue and the grass was green. No reaction. Oh well. I began to speak with J_’s mother B_. The conversation turned to Italy. She was of an Italian background and had guided tour groups around Italy a few times. She showed me some pictures from Tuscany and Venice. The countryside of northern Italy…beautiful. I mentioned the part of Italy my father’s family had emigrated from, a town in the south where I had spent some time in addition to trips to the north. She didn’t even try to hide her condescension.
“Puglia?! Oh, there’s nothing but goats and sand down there.”
What was rather funny was the photo she happened to be showing us when she said this. It was of a small, rundown, rustic Tuscan castle. A castle much more modest in scale and really not as nice as the one in the small town I had stayed in while in Puglia. I tried to point this out to the group but again was met with no reaction from either J_ or strangely even my girlfriend. I could have really used some backup in this exchange but I was to learn that when it came to this family, coming to my defense was not something she could be counted on for.
Then there was the sex part. On the drive up I mentioned how I was horny, that we hadn’t seen each other all week and well, you know…
“We’re not having sex this weekend, you know that, right?”
“No, I didn’t know that.”
“Well, now you do.”
I had figured that at some point we would go off by ourselves for a little while; maybe drive to a secluded spot or get a motel room in town for a couple of hours.
“Oh and J_’s mother pops in a lot so you’ll have to watch it with the weed.”
Greaat, I thought. No sex and I have to smoke weed while on the lookout for someone’s mom. I had suddenly been demoted from a man of 29 to a 14 year old boy.