April 23, 2018

My Corner of the Canyon: To Iceland and Beyond


The caller ID reads, “FedEx.” It’s still early in the morning and the ringing of the phone has awakened me. I try to sleepily reason, who amongst the family might have ordered something involving a FedEx delivery and how the heck they’ve paid for it. Could the call concern shoes for Miranda, some technical appliance for Riley, surf paraphernalia for the Beleaguered Husband, or perhaps a surprise for me? I answer.

“This is Federal Express,” an accented woman’s voice announces. “May I speak to the person in charge of shipping? I explain that this is just a private home and we don’t really have a shipping department.

“Aren’t you sending five packages to Iceland?” the woman asks.

Although it is an intriguing idea I must confess to the lady that, “No I am not.”

Upon checking her information, the FedEx lady realizes she has misdialed a 2 instead of 3 and apologizes. We say good-bye and hang up. I don’t return to bed. I stand in the same old, more then ever cluttered living room in Topanga, with cat fur dusting the carpet, wanting more.

Five packages to Iceland. I even say it aloud: “Five packages to Iceland.” I love the sound of it. I wonder what on earth those five packages might contain. Maybe weather equipment? Patagonia parkas, freeze dried food or maybe, just suppose, they harbor illegal explosives, smuggled diamonds or illicit drugs? It all sounds so adventurous, so exciting, so mysterious. I rather long to be a part of it…to live a life of intrigue and escapades. Couldn’t I, too, announce—as that International Man of Mystery, Austin Powers brags—that “Danger is my middle name!”? Aren’t I going to board a flight to Iceland and end the day sipping well chilled champagne in blue satin high heels that double as a GPS tracking device? Will I not outwit the enemy at their own game and perform great service for my country? Am I not going to move in and out of shadows?

No. I’m going to toss together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for Miranda’s snack, throw something over my “happy face” nighty and drive my daughter down the same old road to summer school. Then I’m going to stand at the counter at Shaka Shack and sell burgers. Later I will return home to Miranda and attempt to give her a dinner that she will probably refuse to eat, do some laundry and maybe watch what my children term, “an old lady movie.”

It’s pretty well mapped out, that the most challenging aspects of my day are applying eyeliner, negotiating traffic along PCH and battling an ongoing invasion of ants. These days it seems to be only through literature that I truly adventure. Perhaps I long for a life of intrigue because of the pile of books from our own Topanga Library next to my bed. How could it be otherwise when I am reading, Graham Green’s, “Travels with My Aunt”, which indeed includes a trip to Istanbul, loose sex (involving a salty 70-year-old woman, yet), and the lucrative smuggling of whiskey.

Another tome, “Farewell, Fred Voodoo,” takes me to the exotic island of Haiti and secret ceremonies. “Rocket Men,” by Craig Nelson recounts the space race and the exciting, historical journey and man’s majestic landing on the moon.

Lastly, I am reading a memoir of a young photographer’s travels through the dark corners of Southern California’s world of prostitution as he takes black and white photos of, and writes about the women and men who ply that trade.

Yes, sometimes, in the middle of one of those long, predictable and routine summers, a trip to Iceland, or the moon, or a meeting with a Voodoo Priestess, or at least, a scantily clad lady of ill repute seems highly desirable.

“Danger is my middle name.”

Maybe my past was more daring. Could it be I miss my wild youth? What about the time back in the ‘60s when I walked the Sunset Strip wearing a semi transparent purple blouse without a bra? Talk about living on the edge! Or there was the summer we were arrested in Orange County for violation of curfew, the “suspicion of marijuana” charges having been dropped.

Perhaps, however, my greatest achievement in the arena of nefarious, dubious dealings was the time I stole the plaid, wool pants. It was over a winter school break and in order to earn some extra Christmas money, Cindy and I accepted an opportunity to work in a friend’s father’s clothing warehouse in downtown LA. We were going to work all day, unpacking, hanging and tagging merchandise, for $30 each. The friend’s father drove us to the great, ugly warehouse early in the cold December morning. We were shown what to do and maybe things would have been fine if I had not had my name called over a loud speaker announcing I had a phone call. I made my way to the office and, sure enough, was handed the phone. In those days I had an agent, a gruff, frightening woman, who represented me for acting parts that I never got. It was she on the phone having tracked me down through my mother.

“You’ve got to get over to Hollywood right away,” she railed. “The people from Coppertone want to see you within the hour. You might get to be the next Coppertone Girl.”

Of course, there was no way I could get to Hollywood. My mother couldn’t immediately leave work to come get me and neither could my father. We debated my taking a cab but the casting people were leaving soon to fly back to New York. I’d never get there on time.

I wandered back through the warehouse seeing my glamorous future as the golden Coppertone Suntan Girl slip away. It was only 10 in the morning and I no longer had the slightest interest in unpacking clothes. The day dragged on forever.

Sometime in the endless afternoon, Cindy and I were just walking around the massive warehouse taking yet another one of our unsanctioned breaks, to the great whispered disapproval of the regular, dedicated workers, when I came across an opened box of rather ugly plaid wool, bell-bottomed pants. I don’t know what came over me but I scooped up a pair and stuffed them in my purse. On the ride home, sitting next to Cindy in the back seat, I would pull from my purse a little bit of the plaid fabric and nudge my friend and laugh behind the back of the unsuspecting owner of the clothing company, as he drove us past early Christmas decorations, home to the Valley. I kept the pants for a long time but never wore them.

Such shenanigans seem sadly distant as I live this safe, settled, respectful, honest, polite, controlled, (OK, now and then I have some wine) life. In fact, I’m doing some laundry now and am about to pay a bill. I may even head over to the Library to return my books on time.

Although tomorrow seems almost another round of tedious repetition, it occurs to me to question my cavalier attitude towards a calm and civilized summer. Who am I to shun or dismiss my gift of at least temporary blessed ease? How fortunate am I to have a house that will be in all probability still standing tomorrow. My children will not be attacked or goaded into throwing rocks and stones and hate at other children. We will have food to eat and water to drink. Tanks will not roll up our Topanga roads and force us from our homes, or shoot planes from our skies.

So I know now what I will send in my five packages to Iceland and to Israel, Palestine, Russia, Ukraine. It will not be contraband, purloined pants, mischief or microchips: the world has enough. It will be peace.