THE slanting orange light caught my eye. I was downing my last bite of buffalo burger at The Dish restaurant in La Canada Flintridge when the sun, bending through the restaurant’s unusually large bay window, prompted me to jostle my pockets for my dark glasses.
The lazy days of July are longer and warmer — finally! — as the sun-worshippers would say. They welcome the triple-digit heat as an antidote for those gloomy June days they’re holding a grudge over.
I’m from the East where heat has a twin brother called humidity. So here, where the hot air is dry, I can’t complain. At the beach two weekends ago it was windy. But it was the beach — so nya, nay, nya, nya Midwesterners. On the drive Sunday from La Canada, the orange sun skipped over the green pines of the Angeles. I half imagined myself in one of those mountaintop mansions off the 210 Freeway. The sun was sending rays like darts at a house with 24 front windows. All I could think of was the streaks in the window panes.
“They must have one heckuva Windex bill,” I said to my wife, who was driving toward the Pasadena/210/Colorado Boulevard tunnel.
“What?” she said, concentrating on the road.
We went to the canyon town to eat and escape the heat. It worked. Yet, six hours before that, my wife was going against cast, attempting a garage cleanup in the noon-day heat. Hey, at least that made me forget the heat.
I poured through each dusty box and unearthed old newspapers chronicling everything from the new millennium (Dec. 31, 1999) to the Whittier Narrows Earthquake (Oct. 1, 1987). There were clips of stories I wrote of the housing boom of the 1980s and a firestorm of the early 1990s. I had written about a young baby needing a liver transplant and a middle-aged daughter about to meet her father for the first time.
I liked writing about family drama. Probably because I was escaping my own.
Also in the boxes were letters from my mother in New York, asking me to find her and my father an apartment. They were moving, retiring, to sunny SoCal. That was June 1979, 30 years ago.
Thrust with the responsibility of helping my parents relocate, then graduating from college and finding a job (and getting married), the letters caused me to compare my life with that of my own near-20-year-old son. Today, the 20 or 21-year-old is studying abroad or attending the Burning Man event.
There were college notebooks filled with notes on comparing political systems or analyzing social communication. One assignment — “the life of a rumor” — came from a true story. Some of my professors thought my friend, Frank, and I and our friend, Serena, were starting a cult. We were thinking of sharing a house, but that’s all. When the leader of an on-campus Christian group to which we belonged heard this, he asked if we were starting our own religious cult. The year — 1979 — was shortly after the Jim Jones cult suicides made headline news.
My wife’s old boxes contained the following: old love letters from a former boyfriend; a Girl Scouts sash with sewed-on badges; and a Polaroid of herself and a high school friend. And oh yeah, some love letters from me.
“I was so sentimental. I saved every one of your letters,” she said.
As the sweat rolled down my back, I was thinking how unsentimental I’ve become. Years of parenting will do that to you. I put aside a box of letters from friends, some who were in grad school in New York or San Francisco. But when I went to read them later, they no longer interested me.
Our oldest son, Matt, 19 and a half, enjoyed picking me out of a fifth grade class photo. I tried to get my younger son, Andy, heading to UCI this fall, interested in his old dad’s UCI notebooks. But he didn’t take the bait.
My family has come a long way from its Italian heritage. We’ve become so American. We don’t complain about the heat and we don’t reminisce about the past. We live in today, sun in our eyes, or not, and try not to open any more boxes.
At least until next summer.