IT finally occurs to me, after 25 years, that I married Amelia Earhart. Hey, everybody, call off the search. She's right here, in the passenger seat next to me, trying to read a road map that she's holding upside down.
Seriously, my wife is the greatest companion on a road trip — patient, organized and lots of yuks — yet she has no real sense of direction and cannot read a road map to save our lives.
"Um, I think that's the ocean," I tell her.
Cartographically speaking, oceans are perhaps her weakest area. She once called me on the cell to tell me she was driving along the beach in Santa Monica and was a little lost.
"Are you going north or south?" I asked.
"I don't know," said Amelia Earhart.
"Well, is the ocean on your right?"
"Then you're probably going south."
Going south, that's us. After 25 years of marriage, many of them keepers, I think our union is now day-to-day, minute-to-minute. She thinks the problem is me. I think it's the kids. I mean it's only been 25 years. Give me a chance already.
So here we are, our relationship on the rocks, the 4-year-old in the backseat singing a James Brown song he picked up at that expensive preschool he attends. He seems to be picking up a lot of great things at the expensive preschool. Next week, they'll all be getting butt tattoos.
But right now, we are on a road trip — the little guy, Amelia and I — heading off into the mountains for a long weekend. To me, our family vacations always seem more like shock therapy than vacations. There are usually traffic citations and shouting matches over where we forgot the Visa card — Scranton, or Sacramento?
We get into long, complicated discussions over whether to turn back to fetch the pillow the kids left at the Ramada or the flip-flop they hurled into the Grand Canyon.
I find them strangely endearing, these troubled trips together. When you accidentally marry Amelia Earhart, you'd better be prepared for adventure.
Anyway, we are on a little weekend jaunt, nothing serious, which is how our relationship started out — nothing serious. It just seemed to pick up inertia over time, and 25 years later, we have four kids, ages 4 to 24. Or is it three kids and one grandchild? Two kids and four dogs? An iguana and five chimpanzees? In school, I always got Cs in math and birth control.
So we wind up, as we always do, arriving at the resort very late, in the kind of rural area where everybody's found God but they all make a little moonshine on the side.
In our room, we finally settle in, and a skinny little mouse — no bigger than a penny — scampers across the room, dashes about 10 yards before picking up a first down and ducking under a couch.
"Arrgh, a mouse!" screams the 4-year-old, sounding like James Brown.