Oct. 8: Mad Max by the Bay

A good part of our rationalization for this scattershot journey is that it might expose our ebullient, 4-year-old urchin to the unpredictable contours of the American landscape and offer him a ramshackle education to rival what he might have received in preschool. In that vein, I hope it’s not too self-indulgent to provide occasional updates on how Max is adapting to life on the road.

And since I can’t seem to fight through the fog today, I turn to Max in an effort to get a little something going. For the first time in three days, we’re not starting the morning at the McDonald’s in Milpitas, adjacent to the four-star hacienda that is the Walmart parking lot. Instead, we’re at Powderface Cafe 2, a New Orleans-style nook featuring chicory coffee and the always-popular, ever-powdery beignets.

The interior is cool and continental. High walls are adorned with classic black-and-white photographs. Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Elvis, Audrey Hepburn, all beautiful, all young and all vying for my attention. Saccharine music, straight out of the late seventies and early eighties, plays on a murderous loop. Sweet Jesus, I do believe that is Dan Fogelberg’s insufferable “Longer,” playing for the third time in three hours.

My sister probably will object to my dismissal of “Longer,” and that’s OK. When I was in love for the first time, deep in the last century, I thought the song cool and romantic. It articulated the chaotic sentiments of my half-baked soul. I was 17, and so was Tricia O’Neill, the daughter of my pastor at the United Methodist Church of Paoli.

Longer than there’ve been fishes in the ocean,
Higher than any bird ever flew
Longer than there’ve been starts up in the heavens
I’ve been in love with you

Well, Trish and I fell out of love, then out of touch. I haven’t been to church in longer than I can remember (what good is church if you’re not a teenage boy raging with hormones?) and, thankfully, my musical tastes have evolved. When the fear of aging overcomes me and I wish I could go back to being 17, I remember a bipedal moron who thought his love for Patricia J. O’Neill was “truer than any tree ever grew,” not to mention “deeper than any forest primeval.”

Yes, I forgot. Max. OK. Here’s a triumphant shot of Max after he somehow managed to skunk me in a feisty match of tic-tac-toe:

A document for the tic-tac-toe hall of fame: Max 9, dad 0.

Part of the transcendental beauty of being 4 is you don’t have to worry about lofty notions like sportsmanship. To hell with Grantland Rice and his One Great Scorer. Turns out it’s not about how you play the game at all.

Winning counts. All else is dross. From the Green Bay Packers to Goldman Sachs, it’s all that matters. Maybe that’s why, to quote my spiritual advisor, 1 percent of the people own 50 percent of the wealth.

Max plays to win, the little fucker. We’ll allow him a dubious victory or two as long as he keeps turning out gems like the one he came up with last Sunday near the close of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.

After Justin Townes Earle wrapped up at the Rooster stage with a rousing version of “Harlem River Blues,” we decided cross the street to the Arrow stage to check out the Dark Star Orchestra, the most renowned Grateful Dead tribute band. I’d never call myself a Deadhead, but I’ve always loved the music. Well, not always. There was a time when I loved the Eagles, and Elton John, and Peter Frampton, and before that Helen Reddy. But that’s another story.

Anyway, the retro-sixties scene was in full flower on this sunsplashed Sunday afternoon. The tribal rite was seemingly complete when, in the middle of “Franklin’s Tower,” one exuberant communicant tossed aside his boxer shorts in an effort to return to a state of nature.

As he bopped up and down, his braids and penis flapping in the breeze for all to see, Max sauntered over to Becky and asked, “Is that the emperor?” (We had recently watched a 1985 adaption of the “Emperor’s New Clothes” on Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre, starring Alan Arkin and Art Carney.)

And for Max, he was the emperor for the rest of the show, even after the authorities arrived on the scene, closed the gates of Eden and insisted boxer shorts and decorum be restored.

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