VA on a Shoestring
I have a love/hate relationship with my life right now. It seems that the love/hate dynamic seems to enter an overwhelming number of relationships of which I am apart. My life's major qualm at the moment is that I am unemployed, living at my parents house (which is ghetto fabulous), a multitude of dime pieces NOT blowing up my cell, all at the tender age of 24. I mean come on. On the other hand, life is grand right now because....another adventure of self discovery and character building is upon me. This one however is much smaller on multiple levels: duration, distance, and demand. Instead of managing small platoons of Korean devils or (angmas in Korean) intent upon discussing how much teachers head resembles that of a chicken (at least they were discussing in English), I am escorting an elderly couple across the country, from Seattle WA to Richmond VA to deliver them into the warm and chaotic clutches of their son, and cult status second father figure of mine, John Radder (from here on referred to as J.R.). This man is gangster.
I arrived in the dark at seatac int. airport early in the morning on 12/21/06. I am feeling very devoid of holiday cheer facing the task that lay ahead of me. I can barely address letters let alone navigate airports, and I have to quarterback a pretty intense airport situation: eight pieces of huge luggage, two seniors mean age of 90 (one afflicted with moderate Alzheimer's), and 1 elderly poochy named Havie on more drugs than Tom Cruise and heavily sedated. Age and
what constitutes appropriate behavior at different stages of it, is already emerging as a theme to this story. Just picture me standing in the check in line with a massive push cart stacked with luggage and one dog kennel with a visible disheveled mass of black fur snoring at its base. All I knew for that span of 30 or so minutes in that line with that cart were dark dark thoughts that am I scared to revisit. It actually wasn't that bad, and helping these two people reunite with their son and close family friend of mine for the holidays started to feel good in a giving back kind of way.
Highlights of the flight were these: 1. Sat next to a 30 something woman and her 8 month old son that sat on her...everywhere. I'm talkin shoulders knees and toes to name a few locations. This kid had ants in his pants and found comfort in one position for maybe 3 seconds. The woman handled it like a pro and devoted every second of mental and physical attention to the little guy. I couldn't help compare her situation to mine, with an ipod, laptop, enthralling reading material and sleep shades at my disposal. I never felt more selfish in my life. I love kids, I want to have them, I want to play basketball with them, I want to help with their homework, but holy shit talk about a sobering source of birth control. 2. Upon exiting the plane, another parent, literally stepped on his child that he didn't see under the baby carrier in his hands and immediately became abrasive after meeting the burning glare from his wife's eyes. Inconsolable wales of baby agony ensued. 3. Debacle during the layover in Atlanta after Jrad frantically insisted over the phone that I get through to the baggage handlers to let Havie out to stretch her four drug weary legs. I told a Delta Airlines representative "Darnell" of my predicament and he
looked at me like I was jihading terrorist. No go on that one...sorry Havie. Airports and airplanes, full of discombobulation, constricted personal space, horrible food, and emotional greetings and partings. When you really sit down to think about it, you will always come away with a story after going through them.
Touched down in VA shortly after, enter J-rad and his son Coleman. How to describe JR. A man of such puzzling and astonishing behavior, a personality full of the most curious of
quirks. All I will say is this, he is the kind of person to mail order a mountain bike out of an airlines catalogue with every bell and whistle known to man attached to it. You have to picture a licorice dispenser, gps device, reverse beeping horn, fog lights, and a matching aero dynamic suit and helmet. He also calls his dog a "snack weasel."
A little person with even more color on his character pallet is Coleman. At 7 years of age, he stands well above average
height and tips the scales at well above the average weight, looking much more the age of 11 or 12. He does not know the power of his own strength, which becomes an issue as he is a rather tactile youngster who thrives off physicality in play and manner. He is a high functioning autistic and also has long and thick brown hair, the likes of which any backstreet boy would fancy. I liken him to a baby silver back gorilla, a comparison illustrated in the forced group hug he initiated between himself, JR, JR's parents and me. Coleman had his arms around his grandparents in this group hug, and in the quickness and ferocity of the hugs orchestration, the delicate pair seemed a little like rag dolls.
After helping load JRs van with the small apartment sized allotment of baggage, and a quick phone call with Megs that went something like: "Joe, lets go run amok." "Sorry, im kinda in Virginia right now," I finally started to grasp the reality/insanity of my current situation. Its like 10:30pm on December the 23rd, Im in a minivan with three generations of Radder plus one strung out K-9, in Richmond, VA. Whats next? A 24 hour waffle house of course. A place with an inside appearance and aura that makes one greatful for his hep b vaccination. It didnt matter, as I ate at places in southern Thailand without electricity and with water that was gathered from a well. I also voluntarily ingested sizable insects (fried) in Cambodia.
I was hungry, Coleman was hungry, and neither of us were paying. What our gracious host did paid for was probably the craziest concoction of food ever to grace the same counter space. Chocolate chip waffles, which Coleman wanted immediately when he saw them instead of his
plain waffles (so we split half and half), a chicken burger, hash browns covered in chili, and a bowl full of grits. One of the more satisfying meals I've ever consumed; an eating high so euphoric it was completely undisturbed by the very public outburst of rage from JR's father at Coleman which drew the extended attention from every patron inside the restaurant. The verbal outburst was definitely provoked as Coleman calmly slid out of his bar stool chair that was in the protected middle of JR and myself, coolly walked over to the table where his grandparents were sitting, and abruptly snatched the glass of milk out of his grandfathers hand. He quickly began chugging the glass of milk, of
course half of the beverage ending up on his shirt. John (JR's father) reacted in a way that any travel weary 93 year old would, and shouted "Gimme my milk back RIGHT NOW DAMMIT!" followed by a "NO! STOP!" in a vexed senior citizen voice and a flail of his arms in an attempt to recover the glass and the little milk that was left. JR sat silently watching the situation unfold, and rotated his stool back to the counter top and exhaled a slow sigh with his forehead propped up by his left hand, bowl of chili covered hash browns staring back at up at him from the counter. Kinda priceless.
We finally made it to the Radder residence in the Churchhill area of Richmond around midnight. Gayle (JRs wife) was there to meet us in her thick and face swallowing Dolce & Cabanna shades worn to protect her (indoor and outdoor) light sensitive eyes. Gayle is truly a wonderful human being, whose kindness knows no bounds, whose heart I would liken to a bottomless shaft in her never ending capacity to care. I am reassured often of her belief in me and whatever I do. Gayle had been busy making up the guestrooms which were at their least, kingly. They were homey, smelled of rich mahogany, featured many leather bound books, and made me think of a bed and breakfast worthy of fetching astronomical prices for rent. Never have I seen a person with such a passion and talent for decoration; she is without a doubt the Michael Jordan of interior decoration. I finally retired to my suite around 3am to confess my thoughts and honest (slightly scrutinizing) take on transpired events to my laptop and blog. I fought off sleep for maybe 30 minutes, and as I fell into slumber, Coleman's 115 lb footsteps were still thundering away on the wooden floors of the hallway outside my door.
That was an account of one day with the Radder family. I was fortunate enough to stay two more, and those days were full of more like stories of restaurant mayhem/senior citizen assault with a maniacal child at the eye of the storm. My last night with them was spent barhopping in downtown Richmond. While fruitless, as we went out at 1:30am and near closing time, I did get to lolligag in the 5 star Jefferon Hotel (named after Tommy boy himself) bar and lounge. The place was beautiful and more marble laiden then anything I've ever seen (see pic). The night came to an end with a three way cheers at 4am between Gayle, JR and myself. We toasted of course with some fine bubbly, no crys, but stuff worth more than my jacket none the less. We brought our glasses together in celebration of each others company, of being together. When I thought of home during my 8 months abroad, memories that I would frequently visit featured them. As deliciously unconventional as these people are, I am proud to consider them family and for family I would do anything. Including babysitting my younger bash brother protege, which required the protective wear of an NHL hockey goalie. I know one day this life of mine may have the blessing of progeny, but that day is far off. Currently, I am too selfish and seduced with foreign aspirations, wanderlust, and writing in a blog that I think is way cooler than it actually is. Life is interesting and at the moment, far from static....especially in VA, especially in the company of the Radders. God bless them.