Driving along Route 518. Penelope’s singing in the backseat. Late afternoon sun flirting like a coquette behind clouds and trees. I’m thinking about The Wizard of Oz which was on TV the other night. When I was a kid I could never get through that movie. Every time those damn flying monkeys erupted on screen I’d panic: “Turn it off! Turn it off!” This time as I watched the Scarecrow singing about not having a brain, or the Tin Man about his missing heart or the Lion lacking his nerve, I realized that not one of them has a penis. I suppose that’s something you don’t sing about, but if you were going to ask the Wizard for something, don’t ya think . . . ? Then again, I guess there weren’t a lot of enticing women there in OZ besides Glenda the Good Witch and Dorothy . . . . Guessing those Munchkin women could do some pretty acrobatic things. . . . . I noticed that the flying monkeys didn’t seem to have anything down there either . . . . then I started wondering what the hell was the matter with me and changed the channel.
Umm . . . where was I? Oh yes, driving along 518 with Penelope in the back seat singing along to “Down the Road Apiece” for the 33,652nd time. I decided to shortcut through the abandoned “Village of Epileptics” in Skillman. Built in the early 1900s, the 256-acre village is a smattering of red-brick buildings and white clapboard houses that once was a self-contained town of hospitals, farms, schools, a theater and a landfill. I hope the village’s slogan was “Where Things Are Always Shaking.” I cruise past boarded up buildings which once teemed with activity, meandering along roads reminiscent of black licorice whipped across a meadow. A cracked pavement spits me out onto a busy county road across from Montgomery High School. A jogging teenager with a face that looks like it just popped out of a lobster pot puffs along a shoulder littered with the green glass of last Saturday night’s drunken revelry.
Seeing the school makes me wonder what Penelope will be like and how she will look when older. But just as quickly I put those feelings aside. I find myself these days, when dreamily lost in thought, trying to freeze particular moments in my heart. Not necessarily snapshotting an image of her in the backseat with the early May sun sliding across her face, but freezing the feeling: the simple bliss and carefree joy of an otherwise commonplace day.
The road weaves alongside Rock Brook ascending into the Sourland Mountains. I contemplate resuming my kitchen experiment which I call “Everything Tastes Good With Hershey’s Syrup On It.” Last time the results were: whipped cream — big yes; banana — big yes; kiwi — yes; Penelope’s animal crackers — big yes; saltine — OK; green bean — tolerably OK; portabella mushrooms… OK, time to put away the Hershey’s syrup.
I’m floating along following the swaying yellow lines of the road. Penelope’s other favorite song — the Jayhawks version of the Grand Funk Railroad classic “Bad Time” — fades into the rushing waters of Rock Creek. She’s playing with a bracelet of string that’s decorating her left wrist. The other day Bernadette went for a hot stone massage, and she’s been advocating I do the same. At first I was surprised until I realized my creative hearing incorrectly heard ‘get stoned with a hottie and get a massage.’ She swears, “you’ve never had a massage like this before. It’s unforgettable.” I told her I could have had an unforgettable massage in China.
Darn, where was I again? Does it matter? Not really. Today, I’m just enjoying the ride. The little calm just before the jolt of surprise that would come at dinner time. But that’s all part of being a parent. For now, I’m enjoying the first honest hints of warm weather, the rush of water slapping the rocks of the brook and my daughter’s singing along to classic rock. Freezing the moment; freezing the feeling.