Columns 2

Boy Meets Mom

Busted flat in Barstow, I realize the desert is no place for an old Plymouth. The mechanic says something about "a machine shop in Victorville" and I think that is one phrase you never want to hear in a sentence with your name. That and "feeding tube." 

I'm returning to Los Angeles from Las Vegas, where I've spent the weekend with The Boyfriend, introducing him to The Mom, who has inexplicably decided to spend much of her retirement in a cozy little Vegas condo, mastering bingo and familiarizing herself with every buffet and half-decent casino band in town. 

The mechanic won't know for a few hours what the exact prognosis of the Plymouth is, so The Boyfriend and I cross the dusty, sun-baked road to the Bun Boy, where it's just about time for the early bird special. 

I pretend to read the paper, but I'm mulling over the events of the weekend. I conjure an image of my mother looking right through The Boyfriend, not asking about his job or where he's from. She's met so many by now, and I think she and my step-father just don't want to get attached in case he gets disappeared like a political prisoner buried under some Latin American soccer stadium. In case he goes the way of the last few boyfriends, gone with little explanation. 

This time, however, I could swear my mother wasn't seeing the Boyfriend but instead a giant sperm, a sperm which may or may not fertilize her daughter's egg and bring her the thing she most wants: a grandchild. 

That Saturday, we had all lounged in the pool. Mom's elbows propped on the edge, she joked about when said grandchild would be coming. "I don't care if it's illegit," she said earnestly, following the great Strasser tradition of voicing what should really be an inner monologue. 

And "illegit"? What was she, MC Hammer? Her choice of words wasn't nearly as disturbing as the sentiment. Than again, I couldn't be too annoyed because I understood where she was coming from. It was about a year ago that I woke up and suddenly found dogs and babies cute. Men don't exactly look big sperms to me but I have begun to wonder how, when and if this whole family thing is going to go down. 

The Boyfriend and I are polishing off a carafe of jam-like Burgundy at Bun boy when we decide to check on the car. It's going to be at least another hour, so we return to our diner booth. 

I pretend to be discouraged but I'm secretly thrilled to be stranded. I don't want to go home. I love to be stuck between places. Barstow seems as good a place as any to press the pause button on life. 

And The Boyfriend is a perfect companion. He's totally unruffled by the overheating disaster. He lets me cry without offering too much advice. "It's going to be okay," is all he says. 

"How can you say that when our fate is attached to a machine shop in Victorville?" I ask. He laughs and I realize that hours have gone by without a tense moment between us, despite heat, a cracked radiator and a creepy tow truck guy named Jerry with a leathery face and a mouth full of plaque. 

I'm on the fence about The Boyfriend, but I can't deny that we get along and I sit at Bun Boy wondering how I'll ever be able to tell the difference between a guy who isn't right and that ever-popular "fear of intimacy." 

I don't ever want to leave Barstow, and according to the mechanic, that's a distinct possibility. I won't be able to drive the Plymouth for days. I decide to tow the old lemon back to Vegas, so my mother can return it to the mechanic who fixed the thing just days before in exchange for another family jalopy that has proven desert-worthy. 

It's late when we arrive in Vegas and I can tell my mother is happy just to see me again. She doesn't see much of me these days. The Boyfriend thanks her again for her hospitality. "Just bring me my daughter and you can stay with me anytime," she says. 

"I don't hug," she adds by way of explaining her stance several feet from him. And all at once I understand how much I'm my mother's daughter. And I'm ready to try going home again.