Homeward Bound [ 2005-01-12, 6:14 p.m. ]

Some vacations look great on paper and then, when all is said and done, end up sucking with the force of a Dyson vacuum cleaner while delivering on none of the many glittering promises of sex, fun and glamour. You find yourself glad to be back home, or worse…glad to be back at work, and when friends and colleagues ask you how your weekend or week or trip was, you plaster on your best smile and answer, “Great! It was great! Everything was so, so GREAT!” and you do not breath a word of the stomach flu or McDonald’s eaten or fights had or the gorgeous Barbie-esque minor celebrity seated at nearby tables (twice! It has happened to me TWICE! Once, in Santa Monica, me suffering from a hideous sunburn and sporting a baaaaad pixie cut, Denise Richards next to me with her breasts on display for Kent; the second time on our honeymoon, when Kent’s Dream Girl, from The College Years – Gabrielle Reese, volleyball player/model – sauntered past in a micro-mini and sat two tables over). You say, “It was GREAT,” and smile and promise to bring pictures in, even though you took two photos on the way from the airport to the hotel and then ignored the camera for the duration, focusing instead on the rainstorms/menstrual cramps/news that a loved one has taken ill/impending unemployment/broken toe. Some vacations sound fantastic, but deliver you back on your doorstep tense, pissed off and poor.

But some vacations are delightful! Some are like a surprise caramel center inside of nummy, nummy chocolate, dipped in rainbows and fairy dust. Sometimes you board a plane expecting bloating and traffic, and you get lucky. This has not happened to me in a long, looonng time. But this past weekend was lovely, from start to finish, and I am a spazzy control freak who does not often make such statements.

Kent and I went to California to visit my family, and on the plane? I was handed an adorable four-month-old infant. Seriously. Well, mostly serious…I sat next to a mother traveling solo with her tiny, adorable baby (Spencer! Wearing baby Timberlands!), and offered assistance to her once I saw her struggling with bags and toys and baby food and diapers and, oh yeah, the actual baby. So she gave me the baby! Three times! I helped her feed him and I held him and held him and held him again and played with him and his toys, and he was the cutest little thing, and he did not cry at all, only fussed a little and made these cute little grunty monkey noises like “Urnh urnh urnh” and smiled and blew bubbles. Then, I handed him back to his mama and got the hell of the plane before I either kidnapped him or he did something stinky and dirty. Kent and I ate and napped and went to the movies – at a giant, shiny multi-plex with huge, reclining seats and nothing mucky stuck to the floor and no lines or scary teenagers loitering nearby. Sometimes, the suburbs are just divine. Easy and clean and so, so much better for movie-viewing. We saw Million Dollar Baby, and by the end of the film, I was the baby, sobbing uncontrollably but in that really good way which is a sure sign of a good movie.

My parents fixed dinner for us and my brother N and his girlfriend came over and we all drank port and scotch after dinner and Kent’s eyes were wide open with the shock of witnessing my family interact versus his. (Mine totally wins!) I was asleep by midnight (well, midnight in California but 3:00 a.m. in New York, and FYI, we had gotten up at 4:00 a.m. to make our flight, so midnight isn’t really all that early considering I had been awake 23 hours at that point), and didn’t even help clear the table or anything. Spoiled brat.

We spent Saturday driving through the Napa Valley, which is so darn pretty that it almost makes your heart hurt to look across the valley and see the rolling green hills and clusters of oak and pine trees and mustard flowers among the vineyards and fog clinging to the vines and hills and trees, and huge eucalyptus trees dotting the highway (and enormous, tacky Hummer limos taking parties of drunkards from one tourist-trap winery to the next…ah, commerce!). There is a super-yuppified “country store” on Highway 29 in Oakville which looks like a dive on the outside but has trendy, expensive (but good) prepared food on the inside; we bought lunch there and literally parked the car facing the mountains and just looked and ate our little picnic in near silence. Rainstorms came and went all day long, but in our trusty rental car, it didn’t matter. We stopped at a few wineries and tasted some wine and bought a few bottles, then drove slowly home, meandering through the Sonoma County hills. When we got home, osso bucco was simmering on the stove and my mom was making dessert. Can we, like…help? Kent asked, half-heartedly. No, no no…my parents reassured us. Then my dad summoned Kent into the living room. “LOOK. AT. THIS,” he said, pointing to the corner of the room. Kent’s eyes glazed over and he turned slightly green with envy as he looked at the Big-Ass Flat Screen Monstrosity my parents had bought. He has been bugging me and bugging me about getting a flat-screen tv, and even walked me through the Sony Store on Madison Avenue last week (more joys of Not Working!), and there in my parents’ home was the object of his desire. Kent spent the rest of the evening fiddling with all the controls and hooking wires to other wires and passing the 2331-page manual back and forth to my dad. And then we ate. And ate and ate and ate. More drinky, more food. More deep sleeping.

Kent and I went into San Francisco on Sunday and ate kick-ass Mexican food on Mission and walked up the biggest hill I’ve ever seen (we had to LEAN into it, and rest halfway. And it’s residential! People walk those damn hills every day!), and then we walked down, down, down the hills, admiring the views and the pretty, pretty houses. We even poked our heads into an Open House (1+BR Condo, apprx 1000 sq. ft, Victorian detail, BEAUTIFUL, $699k). It was one of those few and far between days where I catch Kent looking around and noticing how nice Northern California is – not that he dislikes the Bay Area, just that he always thinks of it in terms of my family – we go there to see my family, it’s their territory, etc…but when he relaxes, I think he sees why so many people have fallen in love with the San Francisco area. It is a damn nice place to live. I don’t know if we ever will, but it sure is easy to leave my heart there.

Our flight back to New York was uneventful, and we were home by 7:00 p.m. on Monday. On Tuesday I got my hair cut and called Kent when I was finished. He met me uptown as sleet and rain darkened the streets and traffic screeched and stalled around us. The train was slow, the stores were empty, the city was unfriendly. Just one of those days, I thought as my newly-straightened hair frizzed in the sleet, just one of those days, I breathed as I stepped in a cold and dirty puddle, just one of those days as I called my mom and heard that the rainstorms were back, pelting her and my dad and my brothers in California. Just one of those days that made me happy to reach my apartment, happy to have grabbed a divine weekend while I could, happy to be home. Whichever home it may be.

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