“Please don’t crash, please don’t crash, please don’t—OH GOD,” I muttered as the turbulence caused me to whiteknuckle the armrests. I managed to force one eye open to look at the window out into the black abyss: we were still at least 50 miles off the coast of New York. I squeezed my eye shut again and resumed my mantra. Not even the sight of the Brooklyn Bridge or flying past the Empire State Building could calm my nerves. No matter that for the past five hours I’d been totally calm, looking out the window as I flew over the country, rating each state’s looks and personality as I tracked our progress (Statemash, which will of course lead to TheStateBook.com). That shit hadn’t been over an ocean…at NIGHT. It takes more than a lot to rattle me (as will be made clear by the ensuing events and my lack of anxiety later that night), but flying over the Atlantic Ocean at night had my palms sweating and my heart racing like a teenage boy about to get to second base for the first time. Finally the torture was over as we bounced down the runway at JFK. I breathed for the first time in about 30 minutes (David Blaine ain’t got nothin’ on me, son).
We deplaned and grabbed our baggage while checking in with Los Angeles to let everyone know we’d arrived safely. I piled on the layers: my red peacoat over my black t-shirt and blazer, with a black scarf, hat, and gloves. We waited outside on the curb, jumping up and down to stay warm while we waited for Ken’s cousin Laurie and her older son Brian, a handsome 19 year old, to pick us up from Kennedy. Pleasant greetings were exchanged, and we headed off to Laurie’s…we listened to The Beatles and Peter Case as we drove out to Long Island, and Brian was bobbing back and forth with the music as we chatted. He would chime in with adorable quips and more than a few non sequiters.
“I can say some dirty words but not others.”
“What do you mean, Brian, what dirty words can you say?”
We all laughed, and he was tickled that he’d made a funny. Then he requested some ice cream…in 50 degree weather at 9 o’clock at night. We drove over to Carvel, and since I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, I got some ice cream with everyone else. Laurie polished off her sundae with an Edible supplied by Ken, and we headed back to the house. Cue ominous music.
I dragged my luggage up the cobbled walkway to the adorable house that screamed New England and went inside, where I met Connor, Laurie’s 16 year old son. He smiled sweetly at me, then went back to his rhythmic clapping and humming. The tiny El Salvadorian housekeeper Julia started yammering on at me in Spanish. I tried my best keeping up with her, trying to translate for the family and answer all her questions at the same time. She looked incredibly relieved when she asked me “Estan casados, tu y el senor?” “NO! No! Es mi jefe!” “Ai, que bueno, eres tan linda y joven, mi hija!” At that point, she leaned over and started playing with my hair and trying to feed me. 3000 miles from home, and the Hispanic warmth and sense of family is right there. You can take the girl out of the Macias family….
Brian excused himself to his room, Connor stayed downstairs keeping himself occupied and humming commercial jingles to himself while Ken, Laurie and I talked. Her Edible started to kick in halfway through her story about her surgery, and suddenly she started laughing. Her naturally rosy cheeks turned a hot pink, and she kept threatening to kill Ken for getting her so high. She and Ken, both on a “higher level of perception,” were shooting the shit when Connor came in eating something out of his hand.
“Honey, what are you eating?”
“Oh, Connor, c’mon!”
Maybe an hour later, we’re all talking and laughing, when in an instant all the color drained out of Laurie’s face. She immediately stopped laughing, and stared at Ken with terror in her eyes.
“Something’s wrong. I feel wrong. What did you give me?”
“Nothing! It was just one square of the edible!”
“Ken, something’s wrong, it’s reacting with something in me, I’m panicking.”
Cut to Laurie and me sitting in the hall, my arm around her as she was fighting off the anxiety and nerves of a bad, bad trip. She was so scared that something was wrong, that the chocolate had been laced with something else, that something would happen to the boys and she wouldn’t be able to care for them because she felt so off. “I don’t even feel like this is real, I don’t even feel like I’m actually talking to you. Oh god, what did you do to me?” Ken was no help, cracking up and making jokes about it.
“No more edibles to civilians! I forget how strong a punch they pack! Now it’s two people I’ve fucked up with this stuff, the last guy ended up in the emergency room!”
WHAT. Rewind. What happened?
“Yeah, Doug, he’s 6’11 so I gave him two squares since he’s such a big guy…couldn’t even move him, they had to load him into an ambulance to clean him up!”
Wow, that’s exactly what someone at the peak of a bad trip wants to hear. As I talked her down, trying to get Ken to shut up and reassure her that her kids couldn’t tell she was high and that I’d stay up with them to make sure nothing happened and that Julia wouldn’t hear what was going on, I led her downstairs again to watch TV and chill out until the high passed.
I got her a glass of water and a blanket while we watched Letterman and Ferguson. She curled up under the blanket on the couch next to Connor, who was tugging her hair and humming. Ken and I started talking about the show, reworking the season story arc and defining the chronology of events when Laurie finally snapped out of the low and mellowed out. Ken left to go get Dunkin Donuts and coffee for everyone (because, naturally, that’s the common drink of choice well after midnight).
Ken got back around 2AM, handed me my coffee, and we started talking about our fears and neuroses (and holy shit, between the two of us there’s no shortage of those), when Brian comes down with a blanket around his shoulders…and absolutely nothing else on.
“Nicole, avert your eyes!”
“My eyes are glued to my laptop!”
“BRIAN! C’mon, buddy, pants.”
“Cousin Kenny, you can’t remember when you were very young, can you?”
“No, not without looking at photos. Put your pants on!”
“Yeah, you can’t remember being young. Good night good night good night good night good night good night!”
So now I’ve had my laptop out and I’ve typing for the better part of an hour, trying to get my thoughts organized. Ken has been pacing around talking the entire time, trying to carry on eight conversations at once. It’s just another example of how he sometimes struggles with social cues. I’m clearly distracted and trying to write, and he keeps chattering about twenty different things. Every now and then, he’ll ask me “what are you writing? What are you looking at?” And I tell him: taking notes, tweaking my outlines, blah blah blah. “Oh, okay, so anyway, good good good good good, and then she said….” I just smile to myself as I keep typing and talking at the same time, the quality of both activities suffering slightly because of the other.
Connor gets up to go to the bathroom while Laurie, Ken and I are talking about something or other. When he gets back, he has no pants on. Two teenage wieners in one night?! It’s like being at a homecoming dance in Chino! Laurie and Ken shout at him to pants-up, and I just crack up.
I’m one of very few people who could write this story. Not because I’m a good writer or a great studier of characters and situations, but because I fit into this band of people so seamlessly. Nothing shakes me, not even the naked teenagers, the Salvadorian housekeeper talking 100MPH at me in Spanish, the bad trip, the crazy conversations. I’m in a new city, where I don’t know anyone, and I’m totally comfortable. It’s like I told my dad: I’m going to New York with an open mind, a clear schedule, and a sense of adventure for anything that may come along.
And boy, is it coming along.
Tune du Jour: New York, New York by Frank Sinatra – C’mon, like I could resist listening to this song on a loop on my flight!