Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


The view from afar

FutureArchaeologistI’m on a road trip (southern New Jersey, NYC, Las Vegas, South Lake Tahoe, then Kansas) that, with a brief interregnum, will keep me out of LA for the most part of three weeks.

On my flight last night from Denver to Philadelphia, we hit major turbulence. As the plane bucked and swerved, and rose and fell, the woman next to me grew anxious and the woman next to her, on the aisle, started to openly pray. I kept reading my book. (“The Goldfinch.”) The woman beside me turned to me and said, “You seem okay. You’re just reading your book.”

“Statistically, you’re safer in the air than you are on the ground,” I said. “Name the last commercial airliner that crashed.”

She and the other woman puzzled over it and finally fished up an example from five or seven years ago.

“Right,” I said. “And there are thousands of flights a day. Two others things,” I added. “First, I’ve been on a flight with far worse turbulence than this.”

“Worse than this?” one of them said.

“Uh huh. And you’ll note I’m still here. Plus:  This plane has to land safely because I have things to do tomorrow.”

The chuckled over that, and later said that helped, and thanked me.

And here I am.

My good friend Paul, a friend of 35 years, picked me up at the airport, his 80-year-old mother in tow. I said to Paul, “Paul, do you realize we’ve been friends for thirty-five years? You should’ve been more entertaining!” Actually, he’s been plenty entertaining, in his chronically even-keeled way, if you have a dry sense of humor. How do I know we’ve been friends for 35 years? Because, although I feel 100% 32 years old within myself, in the car, we started comparing ailments — he with a troublesome neck ailment that keeps his head straying over to the left, me with bursitis that sometimes leaves me limping around the block. I ventured the idea of medical marijuana — in Gummi Bear form. Next stop: Shady Rest.

One of the things I had to do, so that my plane had to land safely, was to take my great-nephew Brody out to dinner. He’s the middle son of my sister’s daughter, and a smart, interesting kid, newly aged 13, and we’ve been texting about exotic meals and things neither of us has tried. So I decided to take him out for a pricey dinner, where we could appreciate what we had and have a real conversation. I took him to The Knife & Fork Inn in Atlantic City, perhaps the only upscale restaurant remaining in that blighted seaside resort town that has seen far better days. His mother had cautioned him against ordering too big, but I told him to get whatever he wanted — he’s going to be 13 only once, after all — so he ordered the lobster tail and filet mignon, and I ordered the rack of lamb and a side of asparagus in a Bearnaise sauce, and we split an order of tuna tartare. While I was hoping for escargot as the dish he’d try, it wasn’t on the menu, but to my delight he scooped up the tuna tartare, found it to his liking, and kept digging in for more.

Throughout dinner, I got a reminder of what it’s like to be a 13-year-old boy.

Brody talked about his siblings — incredibly annoying, of course — and about video games and movies and about the best possible topic in the world, which is comic books, and also how awful and wrong it is when movies stray from the “true” story found in the comic books. As someone well-versed in the indignity of the omission of Ant-Man and the Wasp — both of them founders in the comics! — from the Avengers movies, I share his outrage. We’re both looking forward to Free Comic-Book Day this Saturday, and were debating whether we’d line up for the free comic books or just dash into the store to try to score bargains. He also talked about girls. He’s had four girlfriends so far, and he was man enough to share which ones had dumped him (those are his words) and which ones he had let go. I shared a story from my own youth, when I was about his age and at an 8th grade dance, and “Nights in White Satin” was playing, and I leaned into the girl I was dancing with and started to kiss her on the neck and she said, “Don’t do that,” and I asked why and she said, “Because my mother is standing right behind you” and I turned around and indeed her mother was.

He howled with laughter at that story.


He also shared once again his interest in old things and said he’d like to be an archaeologist. This is a boy who seems older than his years, and interested in things that wildly predate him, whether it’s history or the antiquity of cultural artifacts from his recent forebears. (For instance:  A few years ago, he desperately wanted a Davy Crockett coonskin cap. That was a fad 50 years before his birth.) Whether or not he winds up being an archaeologist, he seems to me to have a lot of intellectual capacity. Because I think my job at this point is precisely not to offer off-putting sentiments from a middle-aged-adult perspective, the only advice I gave him all night was this:  “Stay open-minded. Form your own judgments.”

But that’s the advice I would offer everyone.


2 Responses to “The view from afar”

  1. Kelly Carruolo Says:

    Lovely. Glad we saw each other on this trip. Before Shady Acres is anyone’s reality. Best…

  2. Dan Says:

    The advice I offer everyone is “If you really need a colonoscopy, pay the extra money and have it done by a professional.”

    So tell us about your meeting with Uncle Rich.

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