Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Nanny's Bridge

February 2009

Freud says the psyche is like Rome. I've never been to Rome. But he's thinking about how everywhere you go in Rome there's some ancient wall poking up among modern structures. Similarly, your psyche is a patchwork of bits and pieces from different stages of your development.

To get a good buzz from Freud you have to resist your desire to normalize what he's saying. In this case, you need to appreciate how he's saying that we are fundamentally fragmented. It's not just that we have mood changes. Or that our wishes change day to day. No, the point is that some other self inside your brain breaks through the soil of whoever you think you are at some given moment. Something in you caves in to expose a whole different person. We are all Sybil.

Whenever I drive my family into Manhattan we usually take the Manhattan bridge. As you reach the other side, before hitting Canal Street, you can see on the stone base of the bridge a relief sculpture of a lion. The lion's fat paw is on top of a sphere.  
My son noticed it one trip and shouted, "I see a lion with a soccer ball." After that we started playing a game every time we drove over the bridge. "Okay, kids, tell me when you see the lion with the soccer ball." They wait. Then one of them shouts, "I see the lion with the soccer ball!" Or they miss it as we drive by and start crying. This has gotten so ritualized that as soon as we get on the bridge on the Brooklyn side I think about when to start the game.

Then it hit me that I was duplicating a game my father played. To visit his mother, whom we called Nanny, we'd pile in the station wagon and drive the 50 mph speed limit up the Natchez Trace Parkway from Jackson to Kosciusko. It was an incredibly long one-hour drive. Seeing a certain stone bridge meant that we were almost there. We'd shout: "I see Nanny's bridge!"

In that seatbelt indifferent age, we all crowded over the front seat and competed to see it first. Your eyes would play tricks. In the haze behind every cluster of leaves in the distance was a bridge.

So here I am ... the Manhattan skyline looming beyond the harp strings of the bridge, gritty Chinatown approaching ... and I've turned it into the Natchez Trace. And it's too late to say that I didn't. I am my dad.


January 2009

It's one of those days at work where I'm absolutely paralyzed. Hogtied. Brainfreeze. I can't do anything.

So what do I do? I google some old friend. I zoom into street level of Naples, Florida. Looks nice. Think I'll take a drive.

I zoom down some long avenue then it hits me that I could take a drive in my childhood neighborhood in Jackson, Mississippi. Take a look at the old house.

There it is. There's the lawn I mowed a thousand times. Behind that window is the tiny livingroom where ... everything.

Kind of weird to be sitting here at work with tears rolling down my cheeks.

Let's go down Keele Street toward my first school. There's the park. Tripped with my friend Kerry in there. Middle of the night. Looked at a toad for half an hour. Then a tree.

But then ... ouch ... ahhhhhhh ... owwwww ... the real memories. Childhood. Dying of thirst after a field trip. Teachers let all the class play in the park before going back to school. I was only a couple of years older than my daughter is now. The memory of the light on that afternoon day is pure. Some cells in my brain are still registering it. Mississippi is hot in its own special way. Remember running to the water fountain when we got back to school.

Next we have the first of the ugly cheap apartment complexes they were building back when. Deep in the complex we once set up for band practice on Bruce's patio. Got halfway through Baba O'Riley before someone made us stop.

Now we're going over the creek. Where's my school? Gone. Nothing. Except there's the gate I went through in the first grade. My dad once started singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" as we pulled up. I wouldn't get out until he stopped singing. I do the same thing to my daughter now. She jumps up and tries to put a palm over my mouth. Full circle.