Right before I moved to L.A., I got an iPhone. I’d never had a smartphone before, and it’s probably 50 percent thanks to the iPhone that I’ve enjoyed L.A. so much (50 percent of the credit goes to the abundant sunshine). The Google Maps function that shows you where you are in real time and moves along with you is the greatest thing to happen to the directionally challenged since that time a thousand years ago when we understood the whole sun in the sky/east-west thing—or is that how you tell the time?
It got me thinking: Will future generations never know what it feels like to be lost? My most formative childhood traumas involve getting lost. The spatial-recognition portion of my brain was and remains the size of a flea’s baby sock and my parents were brilliantly laissez-faire. Try to imagine the possibilities!
My parents claim not to remember the following story happening, and I’m sure they will dispute the particulars—my mother, for example, will say that I was 8 when the following didn’t happen. That will only serve to reinforce the truth of my tale.
When I was 7, we moved from one side of town to the other. My elementary school was now much farther away. The first morning in the new house, as my parents were sending me off to school as usual, my father gave me directions.
(Really the story could end here, no? On one Philadelphia subway ride in the mid ’80s, my paternal grandmother attempted to explain binary numbers to me. In both these instances, mother and son were overreaching. And in both instances, they did not appear to notice.)
He said, Go to the end of the street and ///////. (I retained only the first portion. Baji knows how this goes.) So I went to the end of the street and was immediately stumped. I turned back. After the end of the street, what next? (I should note here that our house is the last one on the street so my lack of short-term memory was truly impressive.) He said, Go to the end of the street, take a right and keep going ///////. I went to the end of the street, I took a right, I walked two blocks and was stumped. I went back to the house. What happens after Doran? My father said, Keep going to Hamilton and ///////. You’ll note that no one even tangentially related to parenting was perturbed by my multiple returns. Though later on the cats started walking me partway to school; they had perhaps seen a gap that needed to be filled.
I went to the end of the street, I took a right, I went down many blocks to Hamilton. Then I was stumped. Only now I was too far along to turn back. But I also had no idea where to go from there. Fortunately, there was a woman walking down the street. I asked her where the elementary school was and she, pausing momentarily to take in both the question and the half-person asking it, pointed it out to me, down the road.
By this time I was very late to school and it was the day of the standardized CAT test. My teacher was alarmed by my late arrival. I remember this part with total clarity, probably because it was one of the most satisfying moments of my life. My teacher said, “Are you okay?” and I responded: “We moved and I didn’t know where school was.”
The teacher got a look on her face that even at that age I could recognize as one of shock and dismay. What kind of monster parents would move and send their kid off to school without showing her the way? My monster parents! I instantly felt much better.
And so I have felt ever since.