The weather feels like the city where we grew up today: damp, gray and windy. It could be 2001, the last time I was here. The smell of pines and grass cancels out the past 18 years. I forget who I’ve become in that time. None of that becoming matters now, as I seem to be going willingly back. Back to 11 and growing up a second time.
Interiors here are as cold in winter as they have to be in summer. We both love people-watching. We can eat our fill and the bill still comes to a joke because the portions are Texas-sized and we only drink water. We talk about the upsides of bad diagnoses, the stages and the odds, the possibility for outwitting and outliving. We are not talking about our parents’ bodies, but our own. We never thought back then about making more stringent lifestyle choices just to keep on living, just to try to make it to our mid-90s like our grandparents. We have to try harder now because the environment we have so messed with is no longer on our side. Even in just a day here, cancer comes up naturally in conversation, as does alcoholism, and racism.
So far almost everyone I’ve met here, even the ones having bad days, open their arms or their smiles to every stranger. The bumper stickers I have seen are of peace signs and Texas flags. I think of Janis Joplin, miserable in Port Arthur. Finding peace, however briefly, in San Francisco.
My friend’s father no longer drinks either. Her mother, in solidarity, joined in. He is the happiest he’s ever been. It’s like facing every stranger, and every strange situation, as if they’re a song you haven’t listened to yet that you’ll come to love. It’s impossible to know from a name or a face what something will become to you. Before, alcohol was muzak to calm the weary traveler. Without it, going from unknown to known is more of a test. That’s one of the things that brought me back here. Here there is no test. Even though we just met today, my old friend’s son and I hold hands for a long time. We watch the adult commercials between the baby cartoons, which are much easier to follow than whatever the shows are trying to teach their rapt little viewers. What was it like before we knew what colors were? This show about colors doesn’t provide any answers.
What was the first ever resort in the world? This one has 12 stories of cars tucked under 12 stories of rooms. It has a lazy river on top of the garage, plus a hot tub and an infinity pool overlooking a small park, where construction workers are piecing something back together, even at 7 in the morning on a Saturday. The rooms are decorated to make the modern Don Draper feel at home. Paneled leather headboards and midcentury light fixtures. Gauzy gold curtains that you can still see the lazy river through.
The gym pumps in a scent that smells exactly like Las Vegas, a strangely positive association for a grandma like me. I breathe it in for two hours and 13 minutes, which is how long it takes me to run 12 miles without letting my heart rate go above 150. That number is still technically too high, but I can’t fathom going any slower. Heart rate training is baffling, but it’s nice, at least, to barely sweat. To not be so zoned out that the song lyrics in my playlist sound like a foreign language. I line up “natural” gummy bears on the treadmill deck next to the watch that says 150. When the gummy bears are all gone, the run will be over. I try to enjoy the DJ skills of the Spotify robot and add its selections to my ‘run 2019’ playlist with sticky fingers. How accurately is this treadmill really simulating the hills of Marin? In a month I’ll find out. Today I climbed 2,300 theoretical feet. When I was done, I found myself still on the ninth floor of a high-rise hotel, overlooking a snaking turquoise pool.
But birds live here. It must feel like real life to them. They move in big swarms, doing their frantic sunset dance, landing in the trees below. I wonder if they get confused seeing their reflections in all the mirrored hotels and office buildings moving in on their greenery. And I wonder if there’s an equivalent in the animal kingdom to the downtown office workers, out to lunch, who laugh at the man on drugs as he runs past them, entranced in an adventure that makes perfect sense to him.
—Houston, TX, February 9, 2019
Photo by Patrick Feller