The Lotus Eaters
Early in Odysseus’s voyage, his ships anchored among the Lotus Eaters. They were a friendly, easy-going people, who fed the tired travelers tasty lotus. There was lotus tempura, lotus meatballs, lotus dip, lotus frappucinos, and best of all, lotus tiramisu. Even the women were clothed only in skimpy lotus bikinis.
Eating all this lotus made the men not care about anything. Many of them fell asleep and stayed asleep. Some of them were just spaced out and spent their time lighting lotus incense, doodling, and eating lotus chips and lotus brownies. Fortunately, Odysseus wasn’t a big fan of lotus since he was forced to eat the canned stuff in pre-school, so he stayed awake. Once he figured out what was happening, he woke the men who were wakeable and left that decadent land.
I’m back in the land of shopping carts the size of small boats, gallon jugs of juice, thick fluffy q-tips, cheap fruit, bulk buying, second refrigerators, decaf (!), honey, organic food, doggy bags, creamy sweet soy milk, Mexican beers for $1.25 each, outdoor barbecues, turkey jerky,
Three-car garages, SUVs, car trunks stuffed with expensive speakers blaring out into the wide empty streets, cars being washed on driveways filled with autos for each family member, free street parking, expansive parking lots, clearly marked streets, pedestrian right-of-way,
swimming pools, tennis and basketball courts in every neighborhood, sunglasses, baseball caps, sweats, minimal make-up, sun-damaged skin, non-smokers,
walk-in closets, media rooms, vaulted ceilings, master bedrooms, hired gardeners, termites and dry rot,
and space. Lots and lots of space. In the clear blue skies, the supermarket aisles, the loose pants, the unused sidewalks, the sparkling ocean to my left, the prickly hills of oak and manzanita to my right. Room to breathe, room to walk around without having to worry about bumping into people. Space and room and breath.
It’s great to have T here with me because she’s always noticing things I’ve taken for granted. For instance, she pointed out that there was no short size for drinks at cafes. The smallest is tall. And a small drink here at a restaurant would be considered a medium or large in Japan or Europe. Or the way restaurant servers and store clerks casually chat with customers.
Then there are the myriad of things about California or West Coast culture that makes me feel more at ease. Like I can wear sunglasses without people suspiciously looking at me as if I could be a gangster. Here, everyone wears sunglasses.
And on the drive from the airport to my parents’ place I observed a total of 5 men wearing tank tops, my upper body attire of choice. Here, the men wear loose pants, a t-shirt, a baseball cap, sneakers, and are good to go. No $50 haircuts, designer t-shirts referencing rural Americana, and pointy alligator-skin shoes. I’m not putting the alligator-skin crowd down. I just don’t relate to that. Of course, many young men here wear $200 sneakers. And I don’t get that either.
On the walk down to the neighborhood tennis courts, we passed by a total of two people on the sidewalk. They, strangers both, smiled and said hi. I forgot about this ritual, of greeting strangers on the street. But it made me happy to be back home.
I’m happy to eat lotus again. For a while anyway.