....go down with a smile on/ Don't bother to pack your nylons/ Just keep them pretty legs showin'/ You know it gets hot down where we're goin...
Sunday, 11 June, 1:19 AM, Bar # 7
For the first time, I buy my own damn drink.
Bin has bought some nasty shit called grappa, which I take a whiff of, deciding that the stuff I use to clean the toilet smells more appetizing. I taste it anyway. It's dreadful.
De arrives with On, and she takes the grappa. It's a challenge. She goads me into a large swig, merely, I suspect, in order to watch me make faces. (She admits as much later.) Bin goads Aunt Col into downing the rest of De's unwanted glass of grappa (the one I sipped) and she progresses quickly from having-a-good-time-tipsy to take-me-home-and-hurry-drunk over the course of the next three and a half minutes.
I'm comfortable, exhausted, not tipsy enough to be cheerful, and on these plush sofas, in grave, grave danger of falling asleep. So I leave three quarters of the only beer I bought, say farewell, and head out at my habitual cruising speed, which, okay, yes, is fast.
I'm motivated. I need to get my kids. I have plans, baby. For tomorrow.
"Sybil! Wait up! We'll walk with you, just hang on a minute!" Jib hollers me down. He's waiting for Aunt Col, his wife, to navigate the stairs.
De smacks him, and corrects his pronunciation. I fail to tell them that my grandfather, De's grandfather, Won's grandfather, was the only person who called me Sybil. And now De and Won's dad. As much as I like him, not Jib.
"We're coming, wait up awhile!"
I have to go in reverse to be as slow as you people.
As proof, I walk backwards. Until I bump into a random pedestrian.
Sunday, 11 June, 3:38 PM, the pool
"You all are the only family I've got, the only family I'm going to have. Won, Gay, and now you. You're it. You're all the family I'll have. Ever. So willya just shut up awhile?"
This is Jib's response to Nif, who complains that Jib never lets anybody pay for anything. I can only verify the last couple of days.
Friday, 9 June, 6:45 PM, the shower
Dripping, I answer my cellphone.
De's voice: "So Oe is coming to pick up the kids, if you can meet him downstairs in the lot outside the main lobby, that would be great."
The children gravitate towards their cousins- second cousins, actually- the children of my cousin, who must be first cousins once removed from me, which would make their children second cousins once removed to my children, and first cousins twice removed to me- as though they are magnetized. This is what always happens when we get them together. Fluff and Uck bond, and Cob and Fuzz are practically in love. My children. My cousin's children. Amazing.
They ride away in Oe's truck, with barely a backwards glance for me.
"So we're going to meet your family at the sushi place," says Ra to De as the three of us walk down the street. "I hope you don't mind, but my husband's going to meet us there, too. I haven't seen him in twenty days."
She thinks it odd when I ask if he's a truck driver.
De's mom walks in, kisses De, is introduced to Ra and Ra's husband. I do not wait. I lean over and put my arms around her neck, kissing her cheek, saying, "Hi, Aunt Col," in her ear.
She pulls back to look at me. "Who're you?"
I'm Cybele, Aunt Col.
"Mahm!" De's voice carries all of its Michigan flatness in that scandalized syllable.
I'm introduced to Nif, of whom Cory spoke very highly. She's lovely. I greet Jib, Col's husband of eight years. I meet Gay, who is thirteen and did not want to be shuffled off with 'the kids' to Oe's house. I think she'll be frightfully bored with us adults, or maybe she'll listen and observe. They've had a longer ride than I, it being eleven hours from where they live in Michigan (Where do you... Won holds up his hand, palm flat, and points to a spot near the base of his thumb. Everyone who lives in Michigan shows where they live in this very way.) but seem ready to party anyhow.
Last, I hug my cousin Won, who was shorter than I last time I saw him. He's much taller now, and looks like my grandfather to me.
Saturday, 10 June, 7:52 PM, the Reception
I just can't stop hugging him! Won, I'm so happy to see you. It's been- has it? Twenty five years. That's terrible. So I can't stop hugging you. I can't stop hugging him.
"I can't help it, either," Nif reassures me.
"I'm gonna get another beer," grumbles Won. "You?"
He shuffles off.
"So in high school, a couple of my girlfriends and I were all like 'Oh, Won, he's so cuuuute,' but he never noticed any of us. So really we didn't get to know each other until we were both at the opening of an art show of somebody we both knew..."
Nif continues. The story of their romance is timeless in the particulars, but fresh in her face and her heart.
When the boquet is thrown, I see De take careful stock of where Nif is standing before turning her back. And here's the toss! I see the boquet in Nif's hands, see her pleased-but-mischeveous smile. I also see her let the flowers slide from her fingers into the clutching fists of ten-year-old Kit.
Kit leaps around, joyful.
Sunday, 11 June, 2:20 PM, the veranda
So we saw these little creatures, like, four or five of them, and they ran into holes in the mulch and gaps in the sidewalk. They looked like chipmunks, but they had bushy tails like a squirrel, so I thought they must not be. When I looked it up, they WERE chipmunks, pictures of just what we saw all over the net, but I swear I thought chipmunks had no tails.
"Only in the cartoons," says Won.
Saturday, 10 June, 4:30PM, the Wedding
The bridal party stands on the lawn in the park. I slip around behind a tree, trying to grab some good shots. The bride is in a gorgeous white gown. The groom is splendid in a tux. The boys, Yan, Nan, Cob and Uck swelter gamely in vested tuxedos. Kit is lovely in green, and Ra looks great in watermelon. The blended family is already blending beautifully. Ra is bridesmaid, friend to De. Cob and Uck are De's sons. Yan, Nan and Kit belong to On, the groom, whom I met minutes ago. I kiss him.
"Have we met?"
Oh. Right. I'm Cybele, De's cousin.
"Nice to meet you."
I guess shaking hands at this point would be silly.
Friday, 9 June, 8:45 AM, I-95 Southbound
We pass the amusement park known as King's Dominion. Actually, it's Paramount King's Dominion, but Paramount, since purchasing it, has not changed the huge sign that overlooks the highway.
I think of the first time I saw someone wearing a King's Dominion T-shirt. One of my little friends from elementary school.
So you've been to King's Dominion. Did you like it? I've never been there.
"Yeah, I been. Last summer. And it's King's Domillion."
Well, it says 'King's DoMINion' on your shirt.
"It's King's Domillion. I should know. I been there."
There are some people too stupid to argue with.
Sunday, 11 June, 6 PM, the parking lot
"Can we go for a spin? In the convertible? Please, Aunt Cybele?" Kit, age ten, has only just become my niece-by-marriage, or rather first-cousin-once-removed, but everybody one generation up gets the title of aunt or uncle, everyone one generation below is niece or nephew, and everyone of the same generation is cousin. It simplifies things.
De suggested that we drop the "Aunt" and "Uncle," and just have the kids call us by our first names. But "Aunt Cybele" sounds so sweet in my ears, I'd rather we didn't.
"Please, Aunt Cybele? I've never ridden in a convertible."
Well, alrighty then.
Saturday, 10 June, 2:30 PM, Main Street
Gay and I have been shopping.
"What are you shopping for?" she asks at the pool.
Don't know. Haven't shopped yet.
We see Won and Nif, walking back from lunch. They want cigarettes. The nearest drugstore is half a mile or more.
Come on, I'll drive.
"Yeah, Dad, let's go," says Gay, who doesn't smoke. Well, not yet. Or at least not in front of grownups.
Nif says, "I've never ridden in a convertible." Well, you know how Primarily Decorative feels about RagTop Deprivation. We go to the gas station, ride back to the hotel parking lot, exit the car to prepare for the wedding.
"Have you ridden in a convertible before, Won?"
"Once. It was a Viper."
Oh, shut me right down. A Viper. Jeeze.
Sunday, 11 June, 9:47AM, the elevator
Nan, Uck and Cob tumble into the lobby in rumpled, slept-in tuxedo trappings. The kids had their own room for the evening, while the adults went bar-hopping. I got mine back, and Gay went with Won and Nif, but the rest of them, On and De's five children, stayed.
Where are you going?
"Upstairs to see our mom."
They look as though they've been on an all-night bender in Vegas.
Friday, 9 June, !2:21 AM, Bar #3
Would I what?
"Would you dance with somebody you don't know just because they asked you? Like De just did?"
I peer around the dark, frat-boy filled dance club.
Maybe. I guess.
"But you looked around first." Ra toys with her drink, her cigarette.
Well, honestly, I don't see anyone that I'd like to dance with, really. But Yes is my policy, so sure, I guess.
"Really? I never would. I wouldn't have the balls to do something like that."
Hmm. First off, it's just a dance, not a trip to Tahiti, and second, I think in the balls department, I've probably got a few to spare.
Saturday, 10 June, 11:50 PM Bar #6
It would be generous to refer to this place as a dive. And yet, I'm so comfortable here. There are people in black clothes here, people with piercings, two men with ponytails, a couple of black people and at least one Latino. All weekend, I've been wondering, where de black folks at?
We've come for the Kareoke. For Nif, because she loves Kareoke. I don't love Kareoke, but I love Nif. I met her yesterday, and I love her.
While we're waiting for Nif's turn at the microphone, we dance to the hopping eighties tunes the DJ spins. I dance, because I can dance. I am not paralyzed, so I dance. Falling from a great height onto asphalt and living, and walking afterwards, means I dance whenever I can.
We dance to 'Billie Jean', and oh how I miss the days when it was possible to enjoy Michael Jackson's music without irony. I sit for a break, but then the DJ plays The Clash, and Bin says, "You GOTTA dance to this," and he's right, and I do.
Nif sings a slow Beatles song. I dance with Won. I've never danced with my cousin before. He's taller than I am. I can't wrap my head around this.
Sunday, 11 June, 1:06PM, the clubhouse
Gay is in trouble.
After having specifically been probibited from this very behavior by Nif, who knows, Gay was making out with a boy. Oh, yes. In front of the kids.
Everyone thought it was so cute when Gay had her first dance with Yan, who is now her cousin-by-marriage.
Nif: (clasping hands at her bosom) "Her first slow dance!"
Aunt Col: (snapping many digital pictures) "Awww."
Won: (glowering) "That's my daughter."
And then it's time to leave our children in the care of Gay and Yan.
"No making out with any of the boys," warns Nif, meaning Yan, though at fourteen, Nan may also qualify as an eligible male.
Gay is shocked and makes protestations. And yet.
"I hope they'll be okay," Nif worries.
"Yan's a good boy," De reassures.
Sixteen is sixteen. And she's stacked, our Gay.
No-one listens to me.
So here we are, thirteen hours later, and Gay has been ratted out by her cousin-not-by-marriage, Uck. Who was upset about the excessive friendliness.
(I heard about Uck being upset and yelling and hitting his two step-brothers from Fluff, who was upset by the yelling and hitting. He mentioned nothing about any -ick- kissing. Guess how happy I am to know he's bothered by violence but not by affection?)
"She's our slave for the day," Aunt Col announces.
"Hey, Frenchie," calls Nif.
"Get me a beer," demands Jib.
Gay sulks silently. She knows she deserves this.
Won is still glowering. The kids are playing cards on the veranda. The shade is cool, the clubhouse cooler. The pool is like a bathtub, but that doesn't stop anyone except when it's adult swim.
Jib is in the pool. He waves to me. I wave back. He mimes holding a cup to his lips. He raises his arms as though embracing an invisible lover.
I wave to him.
He pulls two invisible antlers from his head, and mimes drinking from a cup.
I turn to Nif, who has her hair pulled into two bunches on top of her head.
Uncle Jib is insane. I think he wants a drink, but I don't know what all else he's saying. I show her what he said.
Nif laughes. "He does want a drink, but he wanted you to get me so that I would tell you that he wants Gay to bring it." She holds her arms up in an embrace and waves her tongue around. "This is now the international symbol for 'Gay'. Hey, Frenchie! Uncle Jib wants a beer!"
Gay puts down her cards, sighs, rolls her eyes, and walks to the cooler. What a production.
For the next seventeen years, we'll be able to say, "Hey, Gay, get me a beer."
Friday, 9 June, 9:30AM, I-95 Southbound
What is that building? GodDAMNit, every time I drive through Richmond, I see that building, RIGHT THERE, and it's gorgeous. What is it? What is it? If I could park the car on the freeway, I could jump onto the roof and find the hell out what the hell that gorgeous building is. It has been driving me a low-level crazy for years, just YEARS.
Kids, on the way home, we're stopping to find out what the heck that building is.
Sunday, 11 June, 7:04PM, the parking lot
Hugs are exchanged, and promises of keeping in touch, of getting together again soon, hints that Won and Nif should marry so we can all celebrate, talk of renting a beach house. The children are exhausted, all of them. I get in the car. We'll put a hundred miles behind us, and finish the journey tomorrow. But wait, Kit has left a towel. I hop out of the car.
"You just needed an excuse for another hug," my cousin De whispers in my ear.
There are tears as we pull away from our far-flung family members. Are some of them mine?
(Drive South; John Hiatt)