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.

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