Monthly Archives: June 2009

Slippery When Wet (or Dry)

            Andy’s graduating from UCLA this week, so we’re driving to L.A. and leaving Jordan in charge of the house and pets. Jordan can’t get away to L.A. because he’s taking (or so he promised) his final class at the two-year Diablo Valley Community College. Jordan’s been there six years. He now has to complete the summer course, “Math for the Perpetual Student.”

            Once he passes the class, he’ll attend San Francisco State University in the fall as a junior, majoring in either Industrial Design, Business Administration,   Parks, Recreation & Leisure Studies, Philosophy, Art, Geology or Women’s Studies. Because he’s so versatile, Jordan’s view is that selecting any one major to the exclusion of his other interests and talents is unreasonably restrictive, like selecting your favorite child among the siblings. His sympathetic friends have urged him to major in Horticulture because of his particular skill with plants that can be smoked.

            Jordan’s unique qualities, including his thought processes, weren’t lost on us (try as we might) when he was a child.

            Once on a family driving trip, when younger brother Andy (age four) kept appealing for gum and candy, I said in frustration: “What would you do if someone said you could have all the candy you ever wanted, if they could take your Mommy in exchange?”

            Silence in the back seat.

           “Do you mean to a butcher or what?” (Jordan, age six)

            Like most kids, Jordan spent his childhood alternating between mayhem and destruction, yet had the uncanny ability to talk his way out of punishment. He once broke Andy’s nose when the two were sparring and Jordan “accidentally” punched his brother in the face.

            “Andy wasn’t supposed to drop his head,” Jordan complained, “because I was aiming low.” 

            Another time Jordan burst into the house yelling, “Mom! Andy’s head is bleeding!” Scrambling outside, I found Andy dazed, sitting on the porch step with blood trickling down his right cheekbone.

            “We were just having a pillow fight,” Jordan said solemnly, eyes wide, “and smashing each other.” An hour later he remembered to explain he’d left his electronic Gameboy inside the pillowcase.

            Teachers in grade school, middle school and high school all adored Jordan. With his innocent blue eyes, he had the looks of James Dean crossed with Brad Pitt, and the charm of Ted Bundy.

             In middle school the only teacher Jordan disliked once bawled him out for tinkering with an electric stapler. The teacher hauled Jordan up to the front of the class and ordered Jordan to staple several sheets of paper.

            “Can’t do it, huh?” the teacher said with a sneer, as Jordan flushed. “You better fix this stapler which I need tonight at home for a big project. If you don’t, I’m giving you an F.”

            At the end of class Jordan returned the stapler which operated smoothly once again. The following day the teacher was overheard complaining to a colleague that the stapler had worked o.k. when he began work at home, but later it inexplicably jammed. The teacher blamed the school district for buying shoddy supplies. Jordan knew better: he had pre-set a couple of magnetic clips far back in the stapler so when the clips contacted each other, the stapler shut down.

            In seventh grade Jordan coaxed a hapless buddy to star in his independent film of the California Gold Rush, which the classes were studying. Jordan’s Gold Rush occurred on the weedy hill that borders our backyard. He and his friend Patrick, dressed in shabby pants and wide-brim raffia hats, carried up the hill a pair of pick axes and old Marie Callender pie pans. On the crevices of the hill, they panned for “gold”— pennies Jordan had planted earlier.

            When they grew dissatisfied with dry-panning, Jordan dragged a garden hose up the hill and for added realism, blasted water down the slope, setting loose a narrow but mighty run-off that careened down the hill, gathering mud, neglected toys, miscellaneous bottles and garden tools. The two shocked prospectors, now convinced their claim lacked sufficient ore to justify the time spent, upended their pans and slid down the path of the mudslide repeatedly. The lesson was not lost on Jordan: when you work hard and don’t prosper, it’s o.k. to slide. 

            By the time he graduated high school, Jordan had lettered in Jumping Off the School Roof, which he’d perfected on top of other two-story buildings in town. The senior class, recognizing his talent, selected him for both “Best Smile” and “Most Like to Succeed at White Collar Crime.”

            He became an outstanding part-time employee at Nordstrom for five years, using his wiles to sell clothes in the Brass Rail, the young men’s department. He developed a lust for high-end labels and just when his bursting closets could hold no more, he was hired by Whole Foods, next door to his old high school. He was comfortable with the store since he’d already walked on the roof for several years.      

             At Whole Foods Jordan talked his way into a plum assignment with the Wine and Cheese department. This allowed him to bring home leftover samples—at least, that’s what he told us— of wine, unidentifiable foreign cheeses, fig spreads, and gourmet desserts. The chocolate chip cookies were made with white grape juice, rice syrup, date paste and other ingredients designed to discourage eating chocolate chip cookies. The upscale cereal boxes featured pictures variously of a koala bear, panda bear, gorilla, puffin, or lemur eating the cereal, as if to suggest these exotic animals required extra fiber, rather than relying on tree bark.

             I was almost relieved when Jordan stopped work at Whole Foods since he’d become intolerant of any food not purchased at the store. Now Alan and I could stop sneaking in food from Safeway.

            Fortunately, Jordan now has his summer school math class to keep him busy—at least for the three weeks it runs. He also promises to behave himself while we’re attending Andy’s graduation. “I may ask some people over while you’re gone,” he says, “but don’t worry, I’ll keep it little.”

            I’m not reassured by “little,” the same “little” as in the phrases “a little drinking” and “little amount of weed.”

            I recall when Jordan was a senior in high school, Alan and I returned home from an out-of-state funeral to discover the beginnings of Jordan’s little impromptu party. As we drove up the street to our house, we found an estimated 400 high school students waiting alongside the street and on nearby lawns for a sign the little party was underway. We maneuvered the car perilously through the grumbling mobs impatiently keeping their distance, then parked on the driveway and escaped into our house to terminate the proceedings.

             It was an exhilarating experience of historic proportions, like being with General Custer moments before—as Jordan would call it— Little Bighorn.