It wasn’t a vacation so much as a work trip to St. Louis, Missouri for the National Conference on Addiction Disorders, where Max’s boss sent us to get ideas for marketing and blog posts. Our late registration made it too difficult to get a flight, so we drove and made a vacation of it, stopping overnight in Indianapolis and wandering through GenCon, one of the largest gaming conferences in the nation, then stopping in Louisville and Cincinnati on the return trip, simply because we’d never been there.
Oh marvel of misfits, oh confluence of nerds. How happy I was to see you walking freely in your freak, safely buffered by your own kind. You are not alone. I wish I had known you in high school. I wish I had had the knowledge, the courage, the permission to dabble in weird with others instead of sitting alone with my fantasy books, enraptured and lonely.
Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, St. Louis
This grammatically baffling and startlingly pricey chain was new to me, but when I bit into the most tenderly succulent salmon I’ve ever eaten, I forgave the extra $9 we had to pay for mashed potatoes to go with it. I have a good job and now you have a good job, Max reminded me when we got the bill. We are upwardly mobile.
Fountain parks, St. Louis
You’re allowed to play in the fountains. Let me repeat that. You’re allowed to play in the fountains. And fountains are everywhere! Fountains and statues and statues in fountains and spigots spurting water from the pavement in rows and kids in swimsuits running, wading, splashing, kids climbing on and in the sculpture of the severed head, peeking out its eye-holes, or clinging to the legs of the water nymph in the hot, hot sun.
Warm Welcome Cookies, Grand Union Station Hotel, St. Louis
They gave us warm chocolate chip cookies, just for checking in! I ate mine sans guilt. Do not spurn what the universe gives you. That’s my new motto.
National Conference on Addiction Disorders, St. Louis
What I learned:
· Some therapists think that having sex a week after meeting someone is abnormal and possibly a sign of sexual addiction. Ruh-roh.
· “Questioning” is a new Q in the LGBTQQ acronym.
· The words “limerence” (finally: a word for my teens and twenties) “cisgender” (I am a ciswoman), “buprenorphine” (controversial medication for opioid addiction) and “frotteruism” (aye, there’s the rub).
· Dialogue about spiritual abuse, or Religious Trauma Syndrome, is gaining ground, even in the DSM-V. And it’s not just about cults. From Rooted in God’s Love, by Ryan & Ryan: Spiritual abuse is a kind of abuse which damages the central core of who we are. It leaves us spiritually disorganized and emotionally cut off from the healing love of God.
· Characteristics of children genetically pre-disposed to addiction: novelty-seeking, chaos-tolerant, anxiety-intolerant, restless, irritable, discontent. What I don’t understand is how you can tolerate chaos but not tolerate anxiety. Doesn’t chaos produce anxiety? Also, isn’t chaos-tolerant a GOOD thing to be?
· PAWS is not just the name of the local animal shelter; it is an acronym for Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome.
· This quote: “Don’t punish people for having symptoms of the disease you’re trying to treat.” In other words, don’t kick people out of addiction treatment when they get squirrely.
Missouri Botanical Gardens, St. Louis
The Lantern Festival was somehow gaudy and subtle and fascinating all at once. On the way out, a parent in front of us was trying to herd his toddler in a straight line. We laughed with him, and Max started singing, “What do you do with a drunken sailor?”
Eero Saarinen’s Arch, St. Louis
On our descent from the top of the Arch in St. Louis, we shared a tiny pod with a family of three, and later that day I had the sudden feeling that they were not people at all but aliens in human suits. I can’t explain this feeling. Maybe it was because they were so talkative and jovial in a smug sort of way, as if they thought they were doing really well at what they had rehearsed.
When the woman monitoring the exit gate from the Arch in St. Louis said goodbye to us and then told Max to tie his shoe, Max, while bending to tie his shoe, yelled, “Don’t tell me what to do!” She laughed. I love that my partner is a natural endorphin-booster for friends and strangers alike.
The Embassy, Louisville
The Embassy is just about the fanciest hotel I’ve stayed in. Look at it! Let’s just say you get a lot more for your $$ in Louisville.
Fried Pickles, Louisville
After days of eating more French fries, potato chips, and varieties of white bread than I’ve ever eaten in so short a time, I vowed on our second to last day to take it easy. No fried foods today! Whole-grains only! But the restaurant we chose in Louisville had falafel wraps, and after days of trying to order vegetarian from conventional menus, I was so excited that I ordered it even though falafel is deep-fried and wrapped in a white-flour wrap. And then Max found out I’d never tried fried pickles and ordered them as an appetizer. And by golly, I ate about 7 of them. Turns out I love fried pickles.
Fake Chicken, Cincinnati
Louisville marked a turn in cuisine that continued in Cincinnati when the first restaurant we saw offered a list of at least 10 dishes made with “Gardein” “meats.” I ordered the fake chicken rice bowl—which even came with brown rice! Oh, Cincinnati!—and happily crunched on bright green snap peas, perfectly julienned celery, and matchsticked carrots.
(Note: On this vegan-friendly menu that marked all vegetarian options with a green “v,” none of the salads—not one—had a “v” next to it. None of the many restaurants we chose throughout the trip offered a vegan salad. How hard is it, chefs?? How can you design gorgeous stir-fry bowls and side vegetables without throwing together a bounteous all-vegetable salad? Why do you use arugula on hamburgers but only iceberg lettuce in salads? )
Waterfront part, Cincinnati
The Ohio River is gooey but hosts some beautiful parks and bridges. Like St. Louis and Louisville, Cincinnati’s waterfront park has geyser-like spigots and fountains for kids to run through, various water-pumping machines, a metal winged pig you can sit in while your parents pull on the ropes to make the wings flap, and a keyboard in the sidewalk connected somehow to chimes hanging above it so you can jump out a melody. The only problem with these parks is that it’s hard for a fun-loving adult to play with so many kids in the way.
Car Ride, I-70
Max does things on car rides my family never would have done, like get off an exit in the heart of major city rather than waiting until you get past it all to a simpler place. He drives fast but takes his time at pit stops. Have an 8 hour drive ahead of us? No matter. We can linger in our swanky hotel room and explore the Louisville waterfront before we leave. I like this attitude, although I couldn’t pull it off on my own. On my own, I want to hurry up and get home.
We listened to a Radiolab podcast on voyeurism that made me cry. We interrupted satellite radio now and then to sample Kraftwerk (new to me), Sparklehorse (new to Max), and Lana del Ray (new to both of us). We talked about our plans for our house and for future vacations. Max wouldn’t let me read to him. We didn’t play the alphabet game.
We listened to an Alan Watts lecture on meditation, and David Foster Wallace’s This is Water commencement address. We talked about anxiety and being addicted to anxiety and how anxiety is worse for me than all of the ‘bad’ food I might eat. I told him about the shift I experienced halfway through the trip, a shift to a darker mood that began so unexpectedly, as always, and about how this time I was able to pull myself out of it in a matter of hours. Max said I probably need to get good at that shift if we ever want to travel to Peru and try Ayahuasca.
Do we want to travel to Peru? Do we want to try Ayahuasca, that warm welcome cookie to the universe? That, my friends, is neither here nor there. Home, on the other hand, is always here. Which is where we are now. Here. Home.