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In My Next Life: A Norman Rockwell twist at Easter

Posted By Karen Young On May 3, 2010 @ 11:34 pm In Features,In My Next Life,spotlight | No Comments

BY DAVID NICHOLS

You have to admit the Easter story is a darn good one. I’m not talking about the one where a giant rabbit goes all over the world dropping off baskets full of eggs and green plastic grass. Frankly that story doesn’t even make sense. Rabbits don’t lay eggs. And I don’t care how big a bunny we’re dealing with. He’s not going to make it across seven continents in a single night by hopping. All I can figure is he has a corporate jet made out of chocolate.

No, the story I’m talking about is the one where a great, good soul is taken captive by those who are threatened by his message. Then they put him to death in an attempt to end things the way they want them to end. What makes the story so powerful and inspiring, of course, is that the hero ultimately comes back and ends things the way he wants them to end. Whether you subscribe to any religion or not, the idea of being re-born, of starting over in order to finish your own story your own way, is worth celebrating in whatever fashion one chooses. Which is how I ended up at the Sunset Marquis Hotel at 11:30 on Easter morning enjoying a vodka and orange juice.

Before N. and The Boy and I took up residence together the two of them lived in a house with a lovely, flat yard. N. had waved her gardener’s wand over the place, which meant there were plenty of leafy green plants everywhere. It was the perfect place to have an Easter egg hunt, so that’s what they did every year. Our backyard here, on the other hand, is mostly vertical. Swiss mountain goats could have a fine time looking for hidden candy up there. And, honestly, so could 11-year-old boys. But their mothers, who tend to worry about things like fractured tibias and third-degree abrasions, find it less than ideal terrain, so a nice brunch seemed like the solution. Some things are expected to remain the same, however.

“Will the bunny still bring me a basket?” The Boy asks. “Why wouldn’t he?” N. replies. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m too old.” It’s a tough town. The kid’s barely old enough to climb the hill on his own and he’s already worried about being over it. I jump in, trying to head off a discussion of whether he should have some work done in order to look nine again. “You’ll be fine,” I tell him. “My Beautiful Grown Daughter got a basket till she was fifteen.” This seems to reassure him and it has the added benefit of being true. The agreement my late wife and I made with MBGD was that as long as she believed in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy they’d continue to show up. Eventually, of course, she ran out of teeth. And when Santa started bringing silk bra and panty sets as stocking stuffers my teeth started to hurt. But it worked fine for a long time.

In fact, it’s not quite over even now. Cleaning out a closet a week or two earlier I found MBGD’s old Easter basket. It’s a fairly girly affair with baby chicks parading around in pastel hues. It’s certainly nothing The Boy would be caught dead with, so I figure I might as well give it to her when she meets us for brunch. Her car registration still comes to me and I’ve recently paid it, so I put the license plate sticker in the basket, thinking that’s a pretty decent present. But old parenting habits die hard. I just can’t bring myself to give my child an Easter basket with nothing in it except an envelope from the DMV. So down I go to the corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura to pick up car magazines for The Boy and candy for My Beautiful Grown Daughter. Coming out of CVS I run into the mom of one of The Boy’s friends, on a basket-filling mission of her own. She rolls her eyes. “How many more years do I have to do this?” she asks. I don’t have the heart to tell her I’m buying Peeps and a chocolate bunny for someone who has her own cubicle on the tenth floor of an office building in Hollywood.

Next morning The Boy’s fears about aging out of Easter are allayed when he discovers his basket overflowing with goodies and Lamborghini pin-ups. As he sorts through his loot we flip through the Sunday paper where N. spots an ad for an open house in Glendale. “Honey, isn’t this in your old neighborhood?” she asks. I check the address. It’s easy walking distance from the house I lived in for fifteen years. “It looks really interesting,” she says. “Maybe we should go check it out this afternoon.” The Boy overhears us. He has several surprisingly mature interests and one of them is architecture. He’s usually up for an open house and when he learns we’ll be going by the place where MBGD grew up his curiosity is piqued. “I want to see that,” he says. It sounds like he’s talking about some historical site – an ancient Roman battlefield perhaps. This fits right in with his astonishment over the fact that there was no Internet when I was his age, “back in the olden days.” I’m sure he’s under the impression Matthew Brady took my driver’s license photo.

Still, it’s a beautiful spring day and N., The Boy, his friend who’s come with us, and I are all in high spirits when we meet My Beautiful Grown Daughter (MBGD) at the Sunset Marquis. I give her the Easter basket with the chocolate bunny and the license plate sticker. She laughs and tells me she’s got a basket for The Boy with exactly the same rabbit. Pretty soon he’ll need the vehicle registration too. Joni Mitchell’s line from “The Circle Game” crosses my mind. “Cartwheels turn to car wheels through the town.” N. and MBGD sip mimosas while we survey the vast buffet and plan our attack. Later, while the adults linger over egg pie, roast lamb, fruit, and croissants, The Boy and his friend conduct military maneuvers in the lush gardens. N. mentions that we’re going out to Glendale afterwards. “I want to come,” says MBGD. But first there’s the matter of dessert.

The three of us ooh and ahh over miniature crème brulées and various tarts, but when our young soldiers emerge from the bushes there’s only one thing they’re interested in. The chocolate fountain. It’s a gooey, gurgling geyser of dark delight, surrounded by anything you can possibly imagine dipping in chocolate. N., My Beautiful Grown Daughter, and I make our selections and go back to our table. The Boy and his friend remain, transfixed in grateful wonder at a universe that offers up such rapturous possibilities. A while later they re-join us, with tell-tale brown circles around their mouths. “We just stood there and ate everything,” The Boy says. “We had our mouths under it,” his friend adds. “But we had to move because a lot of people were waiting behind us.” It seems like a good moment to pay the bill and begin our Easter procession to Glendale.

As it happens the open house we came to see isn’t open after all, so our little band of pilgrims moves east a few blocks to the site of My Beautiful Grown Daughter’s childhood. The place looks pretty much the way we left it. The trees and shrubs that were newly planted a decade and a half ago are well-established and flourishing now. N. can’t resist needling me about my notorious lack of interest in yard work. She points to an azalea in full bloom. “I know those didn’t look like that when you were here,” she says. “Hey,” I tell her, “those wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for me.” “You mean because you paid somebody to plant them,” she says. “That counts,” I say, ignoring the look on her face that clearly says it doesn’t.

We stand in the street, respectfully staying off the grass that belongs to somebody else now. My Beautiful Grown Daughter points out to The Boy and his friend where her room was. They listen politely, but she might as well be Margaret Truman giving a tour of the White House for all it has to do with them. A lot of our old neighbors have moved on as well and we start telling their stories as we point out their houses. There’s where the incredibly old lady lived who owned all the land the Galleria was built on. Rich as she was, the kitchen remained in its original 1935 state till the day she died. Next door is where three little boys used to play catch with their Dad in the front yard. Now one of them is a pitcher in the Angels organization. Here’s where a quiet guy lived with his wife and their little dog until all three of them were discovered buried in the desert. Turns out he was an accountant for a mob business and was cooking the books. Before them the actor Vic Tayback from “Alice” lived there. All fine and good, but life exists in the present tense. Unable to resist any longer, the junior members of our party have begun rolling around joyously on the lawn where My Beautiful Grown Daughter and her friends used to play not so long ago. It’s nice to see again, but it’s time to go.

As we get into our cars, headed back to the houses where we live now, I think about the rather remarkable circumstances that have led all of us to be here on this corner, happy together on a sunny Easter afternoon. Re-births and miracles take on lots of forms. Some pretty dramatic, others less so. But they’re all important to the people living through them. And it occurs to me that even though ours may not be The Greatest Story Ever Told, it is ours. It’s ours and we’re writing it the way we want to. Which in some ways is almost as cool as a chocolate fountain.

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