Friday, August 03, 2007

A Tale of Two Atlases, or My, It's Been a Strange Summer

This summer, I've met two sets of parents, under somewhat odd circumstances. In each case, the first thing that each father did was to bust out his trusty atlas - kept at the ready in case his son brings some strange girl around? - to plot my location, my location in relation to my hometown, and my location in relation to the family's location. I don't feel like this is normal, though I suppose others can tell me whether they've gotten the atlas treatment. I don't even know if my dad owns an atlas. And actually, I'd thought that nobody owned atlases anymore because why would you when there are computers? But apparently, the atlas business is thriving, or at the very least there are a few sturdy souls who are unfaltering in their love of the atlas.

But so. What does this have to do with anything, you ask? Well, I noticed this odd symmetry in the meeting of the parents because the sons through whom I'd met these parents are so different. Let me tell you a bit about them.

Son #1 is Mountain Man. His family lives near me, and so when he planned his traditional summer trip home, he tacked on a couple of days at the front end to see me. Now, the thing about Mountain Man is that he and I come from very similar backgrounds. A lot of this comes down to class, and a lot of it comes to having grown up and gone to college in the same part of the country. But so MM and I bond over things like classic rock, a love of bowling machines in bars, and a mutual affection for disgusting cuisines of our homestate. MM is the sort whom I tell to fuck off regularly in conversation, and who finds this charming (at least most of the time, I hope). Now, MM is also much-degreed, so with him there's a kind of strange comfort based on all of the above plus the fact that he gets what I do. So it's kind of like hanging out with a boy from high school, except there's no danger of him saying bullshit things like, "ooh, I'll have to watch my grammar when I talk to you!" But so yes, our visit was typified by things like singing along to the Eagles in my car.

Son #2 is G. G. and I first met in 1999 at a conference (but I think I talked about this before, so that's enough background) but the salient point is that since he lives in the UK we've never been in the same place for more than a week or so at a time. Also, because I know him in an academic context, well, our friendship is quite intellectual and earnest, and while there are good times, the good times are not like those that I described above in relation to Mountain Man. Good times with G involve singing old traditional songs when drunk, getting into deep conversations about literature, and discussions of politics and art and things. And in the car with G? At one point we listened to the radio play of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. And there was much classical music, including a moment when I was sleeping my way through the highlands when he put on some Wagner to complement the landscape.

That's the thing, the two visits were revealing in large part because they really exemplify the two worlds that I straddle. One world is a world of Bud Light and "Heartache Tonight," the other is a world of good wine and "Waltzing Matilda." In both worlds you sing along, but there's a definite difference in tone. And clearly I can do both, but it was utterly bizarre to me that both fathers did the identical thing with the atlases when I met them. And even more bizarre that both mothers told me that I should return for a visit with or without her son - that I was welcome any time.

And so now I'm back home. And I'm drinking some decent wine and I'm listening to The Eagles.


Maude said...

hmmm, an atlas. wow. though my dad doesn't bust out an atlas, though i would think it was really cool if he did--i wish i had an atlas! anyway, he's definitely about maps and locations and directions. while i was on the phone with him telling him where i got a job interview, he was on the computer doing geographical research about the city and school and calculating distances from where i currently lived, where they lived, where all my relatives live, etc.

though it's not exactly the same, i think my point is it's a weird dad thing.

Irritated Isis said...

The atlas fiend in my family is my Mother. Every Christmas growing up we would drive from the San Francisco area to Albuquerque to visit grandma. Every time we asked if we were there yet we got the lecture of where we started, where we were going, how far we'd traveled that day etc. complete with several atlas pages. We stopped asking pretty quickly.

k8 said...

My dad is definitely an atlas guy, although more and more he seems to be using the internet for his maps. To make matters more interesting, he and my grandfather were both morticians, so occasionally there is the added benefit of hearing one of them say that 'we buried 'x' there'. A real conversation stopper for those who aren't use to hearing this. Of course, I also grew up hearing the occasional dead body joke at the dinner table....

~profgrrrrl~ said...

My ex's grandmother was an atlas chick. Well, his grandfather was in on the deal, too. They loved to drag out the maps.

My dad doesn't do this stuff at all. He has few interests outside of money and his work (dude is all CFO, all the time). I feel like I'm missing out on something here.

Will be curious to see if an atlas comes out the next time I meet parents.