I returned from my vacation late Wednesday unexpectedly relaxed, having made up for much lost time. One of my sisters and I used to fight like cats and dogs during high school and college, but those days have fortunately ended. As a person of faith, I have to thank God for putting everyone on their best behavior and maintaining decorum and harmony the whole week. I was expecting insulting comments and miscellaneous drama common to past incarnations, but I think everyone has grown up and finally made positive choices in their lives. Only my little sister is still mad at my parents and didn't take the time to visit with us, but I'm sure she'll grow out of it with the passage of time.
My parents, now fully retired, were as meek as lambs. I'm glad they've had the ability to decompress from forty years work of daily work, often in positions of great authority and stress. Dad had his second ulcer a few months back and lost 40 pounds, but he looks much healthier this way. I hope he keeps the weight off. Mom continues to struggle with severe back pain, but has learned to manage it with pain killers and by recognizing precisely how and why her pain flares up. The last time I saw her she was barely able to walk, but now she can take strides without much difficulty. I wish she wasn't so dependent on pain killers, but I trust her ability to mind her condition successfully.
Their new house is about forty-five minutes off of the beach in an artist's commune. I know my mother will be happy among fellow craftsman and my father will eventually find some interest on his own. It really relieves me to not see him launch into angry Fox News political rants for minutes at a time, which characterized our relationship for years. He hasn't lost his blunt personality, but a kind of sweet devotion to his children is what remains. I was never told that this side of him existed, but I didn't believe it until now. He knows he won't live forever and wants to make the most of his retirement.
I've never seen my father, in particular, this docile and kind. He explained that the job he worked for ten years to draw a pension was was stressful and emotional draining. I had no idea how bad the workplace authority really was when he started, which makes me even more glad he has the right to live out the rest of his days away from there. From my perspective, seeing him chilled out and relaxed was the best, most appreciated, most unexpected joy of the entire trip. Men mellow as they get older.
My mother has become a cause lady, throwing her energy behind many worthwhile projects. In particular, she has worked closely with NAMI, the National Association for Mental Illness. Because she has a child (me) with severe bipolar disorder, she has given comfort to family members who have a child with mental illness, keeping them pumped up and informed as best she can. I'm glad for the inspiration.
Her motives are altruistic, but a little less so when you consider the strict goal she seeks to reach. She wants medicine to heal me and others like me eventually. She wants money to be donated to labs and scientists working on more effective treatments for mental illness, and as the eternal optimist, thinks a cure may be discovered in the next ten to twenty years. I certainly hope so, but I don't expect it. Psychiatric medicines are expensive to develop and require much effort and brain power to pass extensive drug trials in order to win FDA approval.
On to my trip. I was in the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Florida, which I and others derisively refer to as the Redneck Riviera. I knew immediately after collecting my bags in Pensacola that I certainly wasn't in Kansas anymore. The number of extremely obese individuals was fairly impressive and and almost all of them were cigarette smokers. In DC, people are exercise-conscious, diet-conscious, and health-conscious, sometimes provided to an extreme.
The working class Southerners I observed had no such priorities. I should add that I smoked cigarettes for 10 years, until I grew out of them and found I was spending money I didn't really have to feed my habit. I'll never regret quitting and would never go back.
I merely want to emphasize that the culture shock was intense. Everyone was extremely nice and the small talk, regardless of how banal it was, came across as comforting. One of the things about the South I love is the friendliness and unguarded desire to engage random strangers in conversation. People in the North are more suspicious of new people. I for one try to buck tradition and take a bit of the culture into which I was born to my daily dealings, even if this makes some uncomfortable.
There were unforeseen sights and sounds. The hotel we stayed at in Mobile was something of a preferred destination for sex workers and their johns. Around 8 pm, both began to enter the hotel. I encountered two on the same elevator as me, making awkward small talk, not mentioning the nature of her services. She was a rough looking woman, but was dressed up in her nicest set of clothes, her makeup heavy, her fingernails immaculately preserved. The john looked desperate to begin.
I think prostitution should be legalized, much as it is in Las Vegas. I consider it a victimless crime and much like the hotel workers they no doubt passed them on their way to the elevators. no one saw a need to report it. There are a million loopholes exploited for the sake of plausibility denial. The black market is a poor substitute to what it could be. Decriminalizing sex work will make a great difference. Men, and even some women feel a burning desire to assuage a biological need. I have no right to judge, particularly because I indulged a time or two before, though not in many years.
I could tell many other stories, but this is a good synopsis, I'm glad to be back inside my apartment, tapping away. I'll be back at full strength next week.